Tag Archives: democratic transitions

Western Academics vs Democratic Idealists: Egypt’s Process

After the military’s intervention on July 3rd that removed elected the Islamic Government from power clashes between pro-Morsi forces and military units have shown no signs of abating.  This appears to be caused in part by the  misguided rush to elections without accounting for the institutions that are necessary for a transition of power.  In short, a democracy is defined more by the peaceful transition of power and not elections.  Robert Gates writes:

A major reason for the relatively democratic outcomes in Southern Africa is that the new regimes left the former oppressors in possession of a political hostage; the private economy… Should the retreating tyrant and his followers own industries or banks, should they control capital, physical or financial, should they, in short, possess economic power, then those seeking their political surrender should respect their rights. 

By focusing on Namibia and South Africa’s successful democratization Bates crafts the argument that a meaningful transition cannot simply replace one ruling group or individual with another.  With this in mind, Bates goes on to say that democracies are never born out of true revolutions as a nation must incorporate some elements of the old regime into the new system of governance.  Take the American Revolution for example, while the states did remove their former colonial masters one of the first things the founding fathers did was to establish British Common law as a legal framework.  Furthermore, they kept the British as a valuable trading partner so  it cannot be called a pure revolution there was  an underlying alliance of old regime and new.

Adam Przeworski writes in his book Democratization and Markets  that succesful democratic transitions are born out of agreements between reformers, the old regime and moderates within the opposition.  This does require that the moderates can neutralize or control  the radicals and hardliners within their own group.

In Egypt this didn’t happen.  Underpinning the old regime were the commercial interests and military, an alliance that was broken on July 3rd when the military overthrew the commercial elite and sided with the opposition.  Przeworski would argue that this left Egypt with little to build on and the transition would fall apart. Not sure I agree with the former but he’s dead on with the latter.

The writings of Bates and Przeworski segue nicely to Sam Huntington and Robert Dahl both of whom argue that institutions of government must precede elections and the expanse of participation.  By gradually expanding participation, newcomers to the system cannot destabilize the system due to their small number and thus democracy begins its modernizing affect.

The rush to electoral politics has been felt in Egypt, Libya and in Tunisia as well.  Egypt’s military is better suited to handle the transition to power due to its identity and respect of the people but in order for those to be maintained it must stop the attacks on pro-Morsi demonstrators.  Furthermore the ban on religions that is currently being considered will most likely fail although a mandated separation of religion and politics a la Turkey may be a better alternative.

While Bates, Huntington, Dahl and Przeworski all make solid arguments they seem to ignore that the countries of the Arab Spring face a unique challenge in the age of Youtube and internet news.  When the whole world is watching how can a society slow the race of democracy and individual rights?

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