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.]

Development and Underdevelopment–the Commanding Heights

We addressed the topic of development and underdevelopment in POLI 1100 this week. Amongst the many issues covered, we started to explore some of the alleged causes of economic growth and development. Why is there still such disparity in income and economic growth around the world, not only between countries, but within? Why have countries in the global “South” lagged behind, for the most part, their counterparts in the global “North”? There are various answers to this question and we addressed a couple of them in class. I showed clips from a fantastic documentary series put together by PBS, called (and based on the book of the same name) The Commanding Heights. All the information you’ll need is at the PBS website. Fortunately, each of the three 2-hour episodes has also been uploaded (in its entirety) to the Internet. From the narration at the beginning of the first episode, we learn that

This is the story of how the new global economy was born. A century-long battle as to which would control the commanding heights of the world’s economies–governments or markets.

I encourage you to watch all three episodes.

 

Global Debt Crisis and Relief

The issue of the global debt crisis–and particularly the onerous debt levels of developing world (“Southern”) countries–was a topic that we covered in POLI 1100 today. It will allow me to combine two class topics–issues pertaining development and underdevelopment, and interest groups (NGOs)–into one blog post. The interest group, Global Issues, is dedicated to analyzing “social, political, economic, and environmental issues that affect us all” and has a section on debt relief for the developing world. Here are some facts and figures related to the scale of the debt crisis in the developing world:

Consider the following:

  • In 1970, the world’s poorest countries (roughly 60 countries classified as low-income by the World Bank), owed $25 billion in debt.
  • By 2002, this was $523 billion
  • For Africa,
    • In 1970, it was just under $11 billion
    • By 2002, that was over half, to $295 billion
  • Debts owed to the multilateral institutions such as the IMF and World Bank is currently around $153 billion
  • For the poorest countries debts to multilateral institutions is around $70 billion.

$550 billion has been paid in both principal and interest over the last three decades, on $540bn of loans, and yet there is still a $523 billion dollar debt burden.

Here are some remarks by Professor Susan George on how to tackle the debt crisis. Money quote:

…there is no level of human suffering, which in and of itself, is going to change policy. The only way policy changes is because people demand it, and in this case, it has to be the people of the North, because the people of the South have very little political clout.

ICG claims Ivory Coast on verge of another civil war

In a new report, the International Crisis Group (ICG) claims that the Ivory Coast is on the verge of another civil war. The ICG places the blame for the precarious political situation in that west African country squarely on the shoulders of Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to acknowledge defeat in the most recent president election. For the executive summary, click here, where you can also find a link to the full report, which is only available in French currently.

Côte d’Ivoire is on the verge of a new civil war between the army loyal to the defiant Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to acknowledge he lost the November 2010 presidential election, and the “Forces nouvelles” (FN), the ex-insurgency now supporting the winner, Alassane Ouattara. The vote should have ended eight years of crisis, but Gbagbo, staged a constitutional coup and resorted to violence to keep power. The result is a serious threat to peace, security and stability in all West Africa. The African community should not be influenced by the support that Gbagbo enjoys from a part of the population that has been frightened by the ultra-nationalist propaganda and threats of chaos of a militant minority. It must act decisively, not least to defend the principle of democratic elections, but key countries show signs of dangerous disunity. Any proposal to endorse Gbagbo’s presidency, even temporarily, would be a mistake. His departure is needed to halt a return to war.

The November election was intended as the culmination of a painstaking peace process that began after the September 2002 rebellion and was endorsed by many agreements, the latest being the Ouagadougou Political Agreement (OPA) of March 2007. Gbagbo, like all other candidates, took part in the election on the basis of a series of compromises reached on all aspects of organisation and security.

There is no doubt Ouattara won the run-off.

 

 

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?

Egypt’s Mubarak Seeks Dissolution of Government Amidst Mass Protests

In today’s session of IS 210 we analysed the concept of the state and also talked about the related political concepts of regime and government. We noted that they were conceptually distinct political phenomena with differing levels of institutionalisation–with the state being the most institutionalised, and the government being the least.

In the midst of continuing mass demonstrations against his rule in Egypt, president Hosni Mubarak has asked the government to resign. Mubarak seemingly hopes that the government’s resignation will appease the demonstrators. What’s interesting from our perspective–as students of comparative government–is that Mubarak hopes to maintain his regime at the expense of the government. It is accurate to call the current leadership of Mubarak a regime, since the norms/rules associated with political authority at the national level have been institutioinalised over the course of the almost three-decade reign by Mubarak as Egypt’s president. The question then becomes will the protesters be satisfied with a change in government alone, or will they insist on a change in the nature of this authoritarian regime, which will obviously not be effected without the removal from office of Mubarak himself. As in the case of many authoritarian regimes, in Egypt it is also true that the autocrat is the regime himself.

Here’s more from the CBC on Mubarak’s latest moves:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says he has asked the government to resign and promised reforms as protests engulf his country.

In a televised speech broadcast early Saturday local time, Mubarak used his first public comments since the unrest began to defend the security crackdown on demonstrations.

“I assure you … I’m working for the people…. as long as you’re respecting the law,” Mubarak said.

“We have to be careful of anything that would allow chaos,” he said.

At the same, Mubarak tried to speak to the demonstrators who have filled Egypt’s streets for days.

“I’ll always be on the side of the poor,” he said. “I am with bettering the economy.”

Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for three decades, has been facing the biggest pressure of his tenure.

Before the president spoke, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters defied a night curfew and some reportedly set fire to Mubarak’s party headquarters in Cairo. Flames were seen licking at the National Democratic Party headquarters shortly after 6 p.m. local time, though it was not immediately confirmed how the fire began.

The best real-time coverage of the political events in Egypt is, in my opinion, Al-Jazeera. You can watch live streaming coverage of Al-Jazeera here.