Browsing articles from "May, 2012"
May 30, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

D&S Vol. 9 Iss. 2, Summer 2012

The newest issue of Democracy & Society, The Arab Spring: Looking Forward, is now available online! Dowload it here: D&S (934 KB)

This special issue is brought to you by and Democracy & Society

In this issue:
 “Civil Society and Democratization in Egypt: The Road Not Yet Traveled”, by Nadine Sika; “A Turkish Model for the Arab Spring?” by Asli U. Bâli; “Fuel Subsidy Reform in Post-Revolutionary Yemen: A Participatory Approach”, by Rafat Al-Akhali; “Military Decision Making During the Arab Spring”, by Daniel Steiman; “State-Society Relations after the Arab Spring: New Rulers, Same Rules”, by Sarah E. Yerkes; “Political Islamists: Trojan Horse at the Gate? Democratization in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring”, by Luciana Storelli-Castro; “Stagnant Competition in Egypt’s People Assembly”, by David Jandura; “Dreams Deferred: Co-opting the Mid East Revolts”, by Yousef K. Baker; “Human Development and Public Engagement: Making Transitional Justice Work for the Arab Spring”, by Maryam Jamshidi.

May 23, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

The Arab Spring: Getting it Right

While the results of the uprisings of the Arab Spring are still uncertain, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy dedicated its 13th Annual Conference, which was held in Arlington (VA) on May 3, to discussing the challenges of democratization in the Middle East and North Africa and the main opportunities for progress and democratic consolidation. The event had was co-sponsored by Georgetown University’s Democracy and Governance Program and counted with the participation of some of our esteemed professors, such as program director Daniel Brumberg. A delegation from the Tunisian National Constituent Assembly was also present.

Professor Brumberg, a senior advisor at USIP, moderated the first panel, “Elements of Successful Democratic Transitions”. He warned that “bringing down a regime may be a victory that doesn’t bring victories” if systemic reforms across a wide spectrum of political and social life are not correctly addressed. For that to happen, it is imperative that political consensus –a necessary part of democratic consolidation– is built at the same time.

The next panelist, Jason Gluck, the director of USIP’s Constitution-Making Program, presented his analysis on the processes taking place in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, highlighting some of the mistakes that might be made along the way. Basically, he believes that these countries must ask the “why” question when trying to create new democratic Constitutions. That is not always happening. He said Egypt, for example, is engrossed in matters of sequencing — discussing whether the Constitutional Reform or the elections should come first– when the real question the country should be asking is what are the fundamental principles that will drive the democratic process and how to build consensus around them.

The distinguished Alfred Stepan, professor of Government at Columbia University, continued the discussion by examining these processes in light of “his definition of successful democratic transitions, which are constituted by four requirements: first, there must exist sufficient agreement on the procedures to elect a representative government and write a Constitution; second, that government must have been elected via a free and popular vote, and seen as such by major political players; third, the government must not have to share power with any unelected groups or individuals (such as the military or religious leaders); and fourth, the government must have ultimate power in generating new policies”. He suggested that only Tunisia achieved all four so far. (Later at the conference, the Tunisian delegation made a presentation on the constitution writing process the country is undergoing.)

The last panelist, MENA director at the National Endowment for Democracy dr. Laith Kubba, stressed that “all these nations, ultimately, have to be led by a new elite, be it by a more enabled youth generation in political parties or in social institutions.” To get there, creating and supporting independent think tanks will be important, he says.

In the second panel, experts discussed regional impacts of the Arab Spring. Radwan Ziadeh, of the Syrian National Council and a visiting scholar at Harvard University, started by drawing a comparison between the conflict that is currently affecting Syria and the Bosnian war. His parallel was made around four characteristics that he thinks are common to both situations: “the positions of the international community, the decreasing support for the Syrian Opposition Council and the increase in support for military defectors, the types of killing and violence being used, and politicians carrying over from the Clinton to the Obama Administration”. Carol Murphy, from the Woodrow Wilson Center, presented the view from the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia. According to her, Saudis are hesitant: “Now it is sometimes said that Riyadh is leading a counter-revolution to the Arab Awakening… I don’t see that. I would say that it is much more accurate to describe Saudi Arabia as aiding or trying to manage the Arab Awakening.”

The rest of the conference focused on the revolution in Tunisia, the interface between Islam and democratization, and issues of specific countries. A discussion about how can the US and the International community help the Arab Spring closed the event.

For those who are interested, a more detailed account can be read online here.

May 22, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

A Democratic Model for a Post-al-Asad Syria

 While the uprising in Syria goes on, discussions about a likely transition are bursting all over the place in DC and other political centers far removed from the battlefield. Assuming the revolt succeeds, the next decade will present enormous challenges for a transition that may or may not be democratic in shape. The topic was recently addressed in detail by my colleague Daniel Steiman, a recent graduate of the Democracy and Governance MA program in Georgetown, in a great final paper that advocates a consensual democracy model for a post-Asad Syria. Daniel was kind enough to share his thoughts on what Syria should look like in an ideal post-conflict scenario with this blog:

“For those who believe that the al-Asad regime has no chance of surviving the current uprising against it, it would appear to be wise and pertinent for the Syrian opposition, as well as outside observers, to begin making concrete proposals for what the institutions for a future democratic Syria will look like. This is of utmost importance given that the chance for chaos and civil war after the regime’s demise seems very high. No one should confuse the eventual fall of Bashar al-Asad with the fall of Mubarak and Ben-Ali. The president of Syria represents more than interests of his family and the ruling party; he represents the entire Alawite community, an esoteric offshoot of Shia Islam, whose members have dominated for more than forty years a majority Sunni-Muslim country.

In some ways, the situation has more similarity with the transition process in Apartheid South Africa than anything so far seen in the Arab Spring (with the exception of Bahrain which has a similar sectarian divide). Just as the South African whites, who represented 10% of the population, agreed to give up total power, so will the Alawites, who also make up 10% of the population, have to agree to such a compromise in order for there to be true democracy in Syria. Similarly, just as the whites feared domination and retaliation from South Africa’s majority blacks, so today do Syria’s Alawites (along with Syria’s 10% Christian population, and Syria’s non-Alawite Shiite minorities) fear Sunni-dominance (Sunnis are 70% of the country) and religious-based violence if the regime were to give up power.

Add to the mix the non-Arab Kurdish population in north-east Syria, who represent 10% of the population, and have long suffered under Arab domination, the 3% Druze population in the south who have historically faced discrimination by the Sunni-majority, and the almost assured rise of anti-Shia Salafist factions that will attempt to gain political influence after fall of the regime, and one has all the elements of vicious sectarian conflict among numerous groups.

With that in mind, the ideal democratic system for a post-al-Asad Syria is the consensus model advocated by political scientist Arend Lijphart, which allows for minorities to have real representation in the government, as opposed to a majoritarian form of democracy in which the majority group dominates the government. In Syria’s case, this should require the implementation of a federal system in which the country is divided into autonomous sub-units. Fortunately, the major sectarian groups are generally confined to certain regions of the country, thus enabling the Alawites, Druze, and Kurds to each have control over their own groups.

The type of government in Syria should be a form of parliamentarism, and not a presidential system, as having a president directly elected by the majority of the people will almost assuredly lead to a Sunni president who will only feel the need to represent Sunni interests. The parliament should be divided into two houses: The upper house will have one or two representatives who are directly elected by the citizens of each federal unit, thereby ensuring minority representation. Similar to Lebanon’s confessional model, the lower house should be required apportion seats based on the sectarian demographics of the country, i.e. 10% of the seats to be filled by Shiites, 10% to be Christian, 10% to Kurdish, and 3% to be Druze. Lastly, the electoral system should be a form of proportional representation to prevent two or three political parties from dominating the parliament.

I am of course arguing for the implementation of an ideal system under ideal conditions. This means ignoring how the power of religious and ethnic extremism tends to overcome rational decision-making. I’m also not taking into account how Syria is at the center of intense geo-political rivalries between the governments of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other countries, who will likely manipulate events on the ground in Syria for their own national interests. Yet, if leaders among the Syrian opposition begin articulating plans for a future Syrian system of government that ensures representation for all Syrians, perhaps more Syrians may begin to believe in the prospect of a peaceful, democratic Syria, and not simply see the near-term future as a zero-sum fight for control of the state.”

 All of this makes perfect sense, but my question for Dan is this: how can we hope that a consensus model would work in such a dire context, when there are practically no examples of success elsewhere? But then again, I suppose stalemate and fractured politics are the better option when civil war is the alternative.


May 16, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

When Lightning Strikes

Merkel and Hollande in Berlin

Merkel and Hollande discuss the fate of Europe

If there are such things as signs, this one is unmistakable: the airplane that was taking France’s new president, Francois Hollande, to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and discuss the Greek Disaster (aka “the end of times”) was struck by lightning shortly after it took off and had to return to Paris. Apparently the universe is trying to make things harder for Europe.

Hollande, of course, ignored the universe, got into another plane and headed to Germany, having met Merkel with only one hour of delay. His goal was indeed one that required persistence: to convince his fellow EU leader to focus more on spending, instead of saving, in order to restore order in the Euro zone. He didn’t quite achieve it yet, and the Germans (aka “the key to the safe”) insist on austerity measures, much to the regret of Greeks, Spanish, and others.

As a forced medicine, austerity measures, coming too strictly and too soon, are killing the patient, according to a growing number of economists (and people with good common sense).  Not only that: it might be helping spread the disease, including its political symptoms. Greece is close to game over stage, with the winners of the May 6 elections failing to form a coalition government that could keep the terms of the bailout and the membership of the Euro zone. Meanwhile, European leaders are trying to portray the next Greek elections, scheduled for June 17th, as a referendum on the Euro membership. Greeks overwhelmingly favor sticking with the currency, according to polls, and the rest of Europe hopes that this is translated by a victory of parties more willing to abide by the current rules.

Still, Hollande speaks of stimulating economies (as opposed to imposing cut after cut) as indispensable. The alternative, he says, doesn’t look good so far: Greece’s unemployment is at 24% and the government (when they have one) is far from being able to reduce the deficit to manageable levels. The risk of being forced to print money to pay the bills is rising, and it would make Greece the first to abandon the Euro. Expected shocks stemming from that could make sure it’s not the last.

There is an argument around that the medicine is being applied out of morals. It’s like Europe is making Greece “pay” for the sin of overspending. Germans would argue: “why do we, who have been responsible, have to pay for their mistakes?”. That might even sound fair, but the edge of the abyss is no place to be clinging to moral debates. Greece is falling, and it might take a lot of others with it. Europe should stop being self-righteous and start being practical. We’ll see if Hollande will be able to facilitate that.

May 11, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

The Return of Politics

The drama of the harrassed blind Chinese activist who is asking for help to get out his country and come to the US has captured the attention of the small share of the media that has an interest in China. It has even overshadowed the much more dramatic tale of the ouster of the ex-Communist Party  rising star Bo Xilai. The fate of Bo, however, is much more important for Chinese politics and might be telling a lot about its trends.

The Bo scandal has all the ingredients of a best-selling novel:  power, intrigue, money, and murder. So much so that he made the cover of “Time” magazine this past month. CP secretary of China’s Chongqing municipality, Bo was ousted in March and expelled from the Politburo in April. He is under investigation for corruption and abuse of power, and his wife, lawyer and author Gu Kailai, is under detention for accusations that include arranging for the murder of a British businessman.

Beyond the better-than-fiction surface, the story also shows cracks in the seemingly apolitical structure of the CP, as Fareed Zakaria wrote at one of his recent columns.

“We don’t think much of the [Communist] Party as a political organization these days”, says Zakaria. It is dominated by technocrats obsessed with economic and engineering challenges”. It wasn’t always like that, he contends; the Revolution began with “pervasive” traits of “court politics, intrigue, ideological posturing and mass politics”. Only in the 1970s and 1980s, with Deng Xiaoping, a conscious decision was made to “end the high drama of Chinese political life”.

The author makes it sound like the political purge was successful until now. “For two decades, China has been run like a company, not a country”. It makes sense at first glance, but there is an inevitable factor that has always been present and cannot be dismissed: human nature, and human choices. Parties and countries are not machines, and as much as you try, you can’t completely eliminate the social aspects of politics. Bo may have shed light into it, but there have always been other political wolves operating in China. He is far from the first or only charismatic or corrupt leader around. That much should be obvious.

It doesn’t take out of the fact that the international scandal, let’s repeat, shows the cracks. These don’t surface unless there is a lot going on behind covers. If being more overtly “political” is a trend, perhaps it is associated with the growth of China’s world influence. The larger the empire, the more it has room for new types of leadership to emerge, and more and more control is needed to keep it in the original path.

It is worth noticing one thing here: when we say that “there is a return to politics”, the word “politics” mean conniving activities, corruption, populism and the such. “Politics in China is xenophobic, populist, nationalist, messy and certainly unpredictable –like politics everywhere”, argues Zakaria.

But where is the good part of politics, the search for legitimacy, the conquering of support? Have we become that cynical? Maybe an injection of “politics” would not be so bad for the PC after all. It would also be great if the PC could, for example, change positions with some international bodies that really should not be so “political”. Take the IMF, for example. That is one institution that could learn something from what China tried to be.

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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