Obstacles to Democratization in North Africa and the Middle East

In conjunction with this week’s readings on democracy and democratization, here is an informative video of a lecture given by Ellen Lust of Yale University. In her lecture, Professor Lust discuses new research that comparative analyzes the respective obstacles to democratization of Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt. For those of you in my IS240 class, it will demonstrate to you how survey analysis can help scholars find answers to the questions they seek. For those in IS210, this is a useful demonstration in comparing across countries. [If the “start at” command wasn’t successful, you should forward the video to the 9:00 mark; that’s where Lust begins her lecture.]

‘Thick Description’ and Qualitative Research Analysis

In Chapter 8 of Bryman, Beel, and Teevan, the authors discuss qualitative research methods and how to do qualitative research. In a subsection entitled Alternative Criteria for Evaluating Qualitative Research, the authors reference Lincoln and Guba’s thoughts on how to assess the reliability, validity, and objectivity of qualitative research. Lincoln and Guba argue that these well-known criteria (which developed from the need to evaluate quantitative research) do not transfer well to qualitative research. Instead, they argue for evaluative criteria such as credibility, transferability, and objectivity.

Saharan Caravan Routes

Saharan Caravan Routes–The dotted red lines in the above map are caravan routes connecting the various countries of North Africa including Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Mali, Niger and Chad. Many of the main desert pistes and tracks of today were originally camel caravan routes. (What do the green, yellow, and brown represent?)

Transferability is the extent to which qualitative research ‘holds in some other context’ (the quants reading this will immediately realize that this is analogous to the concept of the ‘generalizability of results’ in the quantitative realm). The authors argue that whether qualitative research fulfills this criterion is not a theoretical, but an empirical issue. Moreover, they argue that rather than worrying about transferability, qualitative researchers should produce ‘thick descriptions’ of phenomena. The term thick description is most closely associated with the anthropologist Clifford Geertz (and his work in Bali). Thick description can be defined as:

the detailed accounts of a social setting or people’s experiences that can form the basis for general statements about a culture and its significance (meaning) in people’s lives.

Compare this account (thick description) by Geertz of the caravan trades in Morocco at the turn of the 20th century to how a quantitative researcher may explain the same institution:

In the narrow sense, a zettata (from the Berber TAZETTAT, ‘a small piece of cloth’) is a passage toll, a sum paid to a local power…for protection when crossing localities where he is such a power. But in fact it is, or more properly was, rather more than a mere payment. It was part of a whole complex of moral rituals, customs with the force of law and the weight of sanctity—centering around the guest-host, client-patron, petitioner-petitioned, exile-protector, suppliant-divinity relations—all of which are somehow of a package in rural Morocco. Entering the tribal world physically, the outreaching trader (or at least his agents) had also to enter it culturally.

Despite the vast variety of particular forms through which they manifest themselves, the characteristics of protection in tbe Berber societies of the High and Middle Atlas are clear and constant. Protection is personal, unqualified, explicit, and conceived of as the dressing of one man in the reputation of another. The reputation may be political, moral, spiritual, or even idiosyncratic, or, often enough, all four at once. But the essential transaction is that a man who counts ‘stands up and says’ (quam wa qal, as the classical tag bas it) to those to whom he counts: ‘this man is mine; harm him and you insult me; insult me and you will answer for it.’ Benediction (the famous baraka),hospitality, sanctuary, and safe passage are alike in this: they rest on the perhaps somewhat paradoxical notion that though personal identity is radically individual in both its roots and its expressions, it is not incapable of being stamped onto tbe self of someone else. (Quoted in North (1991) Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5:1 p. 104.

Documentary on Partition of Palestine 1947–With Map

In 1947, the UN General Assembly voted 33-13 (with 10 abstentions and 1 absent) in favour of a resolution (181) that would partition Palestine between Jews and Arabs. Today in IS309 we watched Benny Brunner’s documentary, Al Nakba (“the catastrophe”, in Arabic), which sets out to tell the story of the partition, the ensuing civil war, and the Arab-Israel war of 1948. The documentary was based on the historian Benny Morris’ book, The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947-49. We discussed (at times heatedly) issues regarding the morality/efficacy of partition as a potential solution to some situations of inter-ethnic conflict. In addition, we read Chaim Kaufmann’s article “When all else fails: Population Transfers and Partitions in the Twentieth Century,” which argues that there are situations where partition is a legitimate policy approach to inter-ethnic violence.

Digital Media and Political Unrest

Via the Oxford University Press blog (what a great idea!), Philip Howard assesses the link between digital (specifically, social) media and political unrest in the Middle East and north Africa. Although he cautions against running afoul of the common “correlation is not causation” fallacy, Howard does make an illuminating point about the impact of social media and civil society on the potential for a country to experience political unrest:

Digitally enabled protesters in Tunisia and Egypt tossed out their dictator. The protests in Libya have posed the first serious challenge to Gaddafi’s rule in decades and the crisis in that country is not over. Several regimes have had to dismiss their cabinets and offer major concessions to their citizens. Discontent has cascaded over transnational networks of family and friends to Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Ben Ali ruled Tunisia for 20 years, Mubarak reigned in Egypt for 30 years, and Gaddafi has held Libya in a tight grip for 40 years. Yet their bravest challengers are 20- and 30-year-olds without ideological baggage, violent intentions or clear leaders.

The answer, for the most part, is online. And it is not just that digital media provided new tools for organizing protest and inspiring stories of success from Tunisia and Egypt. The important structural change in Mideast political life is not so much about digital ties between the West and the Arab street, but about connections between Arab streets.

But a reasonable foreign policy question remains. If digital media changes the political game in countries run by tough dictators, who will fall next?

Here’s a handy chart that gives us an indication of the answer to that question:

Regime Change, Freedom, Democracy, and Islam

In our IS210 class, we’ve been assessing nondemocratic regimes. I had my students read an article by M. Steven Fish, published in World Politics in 2002, titled “Islam and Authoritarianism.” In it, the author notes the striking empirical finding that a majority of Arab Muslim countries had nondemocratic regimes, even after controlling for potentially confounding factors such as oil wealth, level of political violence, poverty, etc. Fish asks what it is about Islam that is linked to authoritarianism. Or, to put it another way, he searches for the causal mechanism lining Islam and regime type. He tentatively finds it in the status of women in contemporary Muslim societies.

 

Nothing could be less heartening to democratic idealists than the notion that a particular religion is inimical to democracy. Religious traditions are usually constants within societies; they are variables only
across societies. Societies usually are “stuck” with their religious traditions and the social and psychological orientations they encode and reproduce. Yet religious practices and the salience of particular beliefs can change. Even if Muslim countries are more male dominated in some respects than non-Muslim countries, there is no logical reason why such a state of affairs must be immutable. Rigid segregation according to sex and male domination does not have a firm scriptural basis. The Koran provides no justification whatsoever for practices such as female genital mutilation and it condemns all infanticide as a heinous sin, even if it is motivated by a fear of want (17:31; 81:1–14). Much of the Koran’s instruction on marriage, divorce, and other aspects of relations between the sexes (for example, 2:222–41; 4:3; 4:128; 33:1–5; 58:1–4) is more liberal than the sharia (religious law) as practiced in some modern-day Muslim societies. It is therefore as dubious to try to locate the sources of social practice and order in scripture in Islamic settings as it is to try to locate them there in Christian and Jewish settings, because as with all holy injunction based on sacred text, interpretive traditions are powerful and ultimately determine practice. The status of women in Muslim societies is thus both paradoxical and mutable.

At the present time, however, the evidence shows that Muslim countries are markedly more authoritarian than non-Muslim societies, even when one controls for other potentially influential factors; and the station of women, more than other factors that predominate in Western thinking about religious systems and politics, links Islam and the democratic deficit.

What do the recent upheavals in the Muslim-majority states of north Africa and the Middle East portend not only for democracy but for the status of women in these societies. CBC Radio’s “the Current” program set out to try to answer that question in a show dedicated to “women and political upheaval.” Here’s a description of the women interviewed on that evening’s show:

We started this segment with a clip from Mona Seif. She was heavily involved in the protests that brought down former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. And in the days leading up to his resignation, she told us she really believed the revolt would lead to a significant improvement in the lives of Egyptian women.

But since then, there have been reports that the situation for Egyptian women has regressed to the way it used to be. So we checked in again with Mona Seif. She’s still in Tahrir Square. But she’s feeling a little less optimistic.

Women have often played leading roles in pushing for change in the Arab and Muslim worlds. But when the dust settles, the gains they think they have made are often elusive. For their thoughts on why that is and whether things may be different this time … we were joined by three women who have spent decades trying to improve the position of women in their societies.

Before the Iranian revolution, Mahnaz Afkhami was Iran’s Minister for Women’s Affairs. She’s now the Founder and President of the Women’s Learning Partnership. She was in Washington, D.C.

Asma Khader is a former Jordanian minister of culture. She’s now the Secretary General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women. She was in Amman, Jordan.

And Leila Ahmed is an Egyptian-born professor at Harvard University’s Divinity School. Her research focuses on women in Islam. And her book, The Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence From the Middle East to America will be published next month. She was in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Kurdish Nationalism

What are the prospects for an independent Kurdish state to form out of the wreckage of Iraq? How likely is it that Kurds who live in 5 separate states will set aside their differences long enough to coalesce around the common goal of creating a state for the Kurdish people? As we now know, the Kurdish territory in northern Iraq has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since the establishment by Great Britain, France, and the United States of the “no-fly zones” in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. (Interestingly, the no-fly zones were established by these three states for putatively humanitarian purposes and had not received official sanction by the United Nations Security Council. For more, click here.)

Following the war-induced collapse of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime in 2003, the Kurds of Iraq have enjoyed de facto independence in northern Iraq, with a temporary “capital” at Irbil (though the Kurds wish to reclaim the city of Kirkuk, located in the middle of an oil-rich region, as the capital of any independent state in northern Iraq). In IS 309, we read Michael Ignatieff’s chapter on Kurdistan, from his 1993 book, Blood and Belonging, which provides a snap-shot of the situation of the Iraqi Kurds some two years following the establishment of the no-fly zones. Ignatieff addresses the potential for greater autonomy of the Iraqi Kurdish region from the Iraqi state/regime of Hussein and finds skepticism on the part of most Kurds. Fast-forward almost twenty years (has it been that long!!) and we find the situation on the ground has changed substantially. The difficulties, though, seem to remain and the prospects for Kurdish independence are no less clear today than they were some twenty years ago, particularly given the Turkish state’s response to Kurdish separatist sentiment on the territory of eastern Turkey. Here are a couple of interesting short documentaries on the current state of the Kurdish independence movement in Iraq and Turkey.

Here’s a video on the Kurdish situation in Turkey.

The Political Economy of Revolution–Egypt

In our last session of IS 210 we looked at the topic, political economy. O’Neil defines political economy as “the study of the role of economic processes in shaping society and history.” The recent overthrow of the Mubarak regime in Egypt is a good case study with which to highlight some of the links between political revolution and political economy. Anybody who has taken a political economy course in political science at the graduate level in the last 15 years or so has almost certainly read Stephen Haggard and Robert R. Kaufman’s influential work, The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions. The authors attempt to answer a series of inter-related questions related to the politics/economics nexus as it appeared to them in the early 1990s:

“What role have economic crises played in the near-global wave of political liberalization and democratization? Can new democracies manage the daunting political challenges posed by economic crises and reform efforts? Under what economic and institutional conditions is democracy most likely to be consolidated?”

Haggard and Kaufman ultimately eschew both liberal theories of modernization and (neo)-Marxist theories of dependency and turn to a rational choice framework that focuses on the strategic actions of political elites–especially presidents and military leaders–under conditions of economic and institutional constraint. In addition, the authors make a few key assumptions, one of which I will highlight here: “…the 0pportunities for political elites to mobilize political support or opposition will depend on how economic policy and performance affect the income of different social groups.” (6) The empirical evidence draws from countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Philippines, Peru, and Bolivia. There argument certainly has relevance for the situation in Egypt today and for the potential for the Egyptian polity to make a successful transition toward consolidated democracy.

Jake Caldwell, Director of Policy for Agriculture, Trade, and Energy at American Progress, and coauthor of The Coming Food Crisis, has written recently about the daunting economic challenges facing any new government with respect to food security. In the midst of rapidly increasing global commodity prices–especially foodstuffs–the government must find a way to continue to feed its people, many of whom live on less than $2/day in income. Caldwell writes:

“Egypt has spent $4 billion a year, or 1.8% of GDP, on its bread subsidization program in an attempt to insulate the 40% of Egyptians living on less than $2 a day from inflation. But prices continue to rise…

…Egypt faces daunting challenges as it prepares for broad presidential and parliamentary elections within a year. Ongoing volatility in global food prices will strain resources during this critical transitional period.

As the world’s largest importer of wheat, Egypt is acutely vulnerable to any surge in food prices. Wheat prices have risen 47 percent over the last year and other staples are rapidly approaching dangerously high levels.

Food price inflation and volatility strike hard at the household budgets of average Egyptian families. Many of them spend 40 percent of their monthly income on food. As prices rise, purchasing power is eroded, and the recovery of Egypt’s fragile economy during the transition is slowed.”

How much time will the new Egyptian government have to provide food security for the Egyptian people before the polity’s patience with democracy is compromised? Or is the public yearning for democracy and liberty so strong that economic crisis will have little effect on democratization in Egypt going forward?