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.]
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.
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:
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?
In the wake of the revolutionary changes that have (hopefully) taken place in Tunisia and Egypt, much has been made about the role of social media–particularly Facebook–in facilitating the participatory aspect of the revolutionary end-game. (A Google search of `Facebook AND Egypt revolution’ turns up over 22 million hits.) The Globe and Mail’s Chrystia Freeland is the latest journalist to address the phenomenon, quoting economists Daron Acemoglu and Matthew Jackson.
Freeland notes that social network media have helped resolve what social scientists refer to as the collective action problem.
“It is a question of co-ordinating people’s beliefs,” said Daron Acemoglu, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who, with Matthew Jackson of Stanford University in California, is working on a paper about the effect of social networks on collective action problems.
Protesting against an authoritarian regime is a prime example of this issue, Mr. Acemoglu said, because opponents of a dictator need to know that their views are widely shared and that a sufficient number of their fellow citizens are willing to join them to make opposition worthwhile.
“I need to know if other people agree with me and are willing to act,” he said. “What really stops people who are oppressed by a regime from protesting is the fear that they will be part of an unsuccessful protest. When you are living in these regimes, you have to be extremely afraid of what happens if you participate and the regime doesn’t change.”
That makes publicly protesting an oppressive regime a classic collective action problem: If everyone who wants regime change takes to the streets, the group will achieve its shared goal. But if too few protest, they will fail and be punished. Even if an overwhelming majority wants change, it is smart for individuals to speak out only if enough compatriots do, too.
To Freeland’s characterisation of the collective action problem I would add that the reason it is “smart for individuals to speak out only if enough compatriots do, too” is because each individual reasons in the following manner:
- I am only one person; my individual marginal contribution to the probability of having a successful revolution is infinitesimally small.
- Thus, my taking part or not will not be determinative. That is, the revolution will succeed or fail regardless with or without my participation.
- Given the above, and given potential costs of participating, it is rational for me to not participate.
Social media, however, can help to change the calculus of participation by assuring the would-be participant that millions of others will also participate, thereby decreasing the potential costs of participation to any one individual. I do have an issue, however, with Freeland’s use of the Groupon analogy, which is based on the difference between the types of private goods Groupon specialises in and the truly public good that is a revolution.
The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have prompted similar uprisings in many other countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Though the vast majority of the populations in each of these countries are Muslim, the societies are far from homogeneous. In addition, to social class and ethnic cleavages, Brian Ulrich–Assistant Professor of Middle East History–notes the Sunni/Shi’a sectarian split within Islam:
The sectarian split between a Shi’ite majority and Sunni monarchy and minority matters, but not in a straightforward way. The country’s rulers have played a game of divide and rule, one which seems to have accelerated over the past few years which have seen an increase in anti-Shi’ite discrimination. Presumably hoping to keep smaller the popular base to which they must dispense patronage while tying that base to them ideologically, the Al Khalifa dynasty has portrayed Shi’ites as potential Iranian catspaws and pointed to Iraq as an example of the negative consequences of Shi’ite democratic empowerment. What you see in the government’s rhetoric is an attempt to cast the Shi’ites themselves as the sectarian ones primarily on the grounds of their Shi’ism, much like the Mubarak and Ben Ali regime claimed to suppress Islamic extremism.
Bahrain has also seen major protests before, with a 1990’s “intifada” almost exclusively Shi’ite demographically. During that period, the key to the uprisings’ longevity was a social base in the winding narrow streets of the Shi’ite neighborhoods in and around Manama that the mostly South Asian police had trouble penetrating.
Here’s the video of an interesting debate on the Shi’a/Sunni division in Islam, with some very interesting guests, including U. of Michigan Professor of Middle Eastern History, Juan Cole, who has a very informative blog on Islam and Middle East politics.
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.
Following closely in the aftermath of the dramatic changes that have taken place in Tunisia recently, the political unrest seems to have swept its way across northern Africa, with the situation in Egypt now drawing most of the attention. Alan Cowell of the New York Times writes:
After days of protests that have toppled one president and shaken many others, governments across the Middle East braced on Friday for http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/2011/jan/25/middleeast-tunisia://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/2011/jan/25/middleeast-tunisia/jan/25/middleeast-tunisia outbursts of rage and discontent directed at entrenched regimes confronting an exceptional clamor for democracy.
The immediate epicenter of the protests was Egypt, where Internet and cellphone connections were closed or restricted in Cairo, Alexandria and other places. Riot police took to the streets of Cairo before the Friday noon prayers that in http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/2011/jan/25/middleeast-tunisia parts of the Islamic world have been a prelude to unrest as worshippers pour onto the streets.
The protests have underscored the blistering pace of events that have transformed the visage of the Arab world, particularly among regimes that have traditionally enjoyed the support of successive administrations in Washington.
Note the words that I have changed to red in the quote above. Is this author using these words as synonyms? If so, is he using them as precisely as he could be? Is he using them incorrectly?
For more information, here’s a useful set of reports, with myriad links to video and audio, from the UK Guardian’s Jack Shenker reporting in Cairo. In addition, the CBC website has an interesting flash-type graphic showing how the geographical extent of the spread of the protests.
In intro to IR on Wednesday we addressed global environmental issues and we went over this chart outlining Thomas Homer-Dixon’s overview regarding the link between environmental scarcity and security. According to Homer-Dixon, environmental degradation is not only an important economic, social, and health issue, it is crucially an issue of importance for global security.
We see the important link between increased environmental scarcity and social effects (like ethnic conflicts, deprivation conflicts and coups d’etat), facilitated indirectly at times by the conditions of weakened states.
Homer-Dixon argues that these environmentally-driven conflicts will increase the more the environment degrades. Moreover, it is just those places in the world that have the least capacity to deal with the potentially negative effects of environmental degradation whose environments will be most likely to suffer.
In the far left column is “unequal resource access”. One of the most important resources to humankind is water. The conflict between Syria and Israel over the Golan Heights is crucially linked to water. As we learn from the New York Times:
JERUSALEM — Peace overtures between Israel and Syria moved up a gear on Wednesday when a Syrian cabinet minister said that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel had sent a message to President Bashar al-Assad to the effect that Israel would be willing to withdraw from all the Golan Heights in return for peace with Syria.
The Syrian expatriate affairs minister, Buthaina Shaaban, told Al Jazeera television, “Olmert is ready for peace with Syria on the grounds of international conditions; on the grounds of the return of the Golan Heights in full to Syria.” She said that Turkey had conveyed the message.
Israeli officials did not deny the statement from Damascus but would not confirm it either, offering a more general, positive reaction. “Israel wants peace with Syria; we are interested in a negotiated process,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Olmert. “The Syrians know well our expectations, and we know well their expectations…”
“…Withdrawal from the Golan Heights is a contentious issue in Israel. The territory is a strategic plateau that overlooks a large swath of northern Israel. Israel has objected to past Syrian demands for access to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, a main water source for Israel.
Yehuda Raizner/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together. There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized peace.”
Embassy of Jordan – Washington, DC
Remarks by His Majesty King Abdullah II
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
29′ February 2008
Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim
Fifty-seven countries out of 193 countries in the world.
Fifty-seven countries with a total population greater than Europe and the United States combined.
Fifty-seven countries, representing one third of the members of the United Nations.
Fifty-seven countries for whose citizens the conflict in Palestine is the issue of their time.
We must, therefore, ask the important question. What are the implications for global stability if this continues?