The Tipping Point: Transitions to Democracy in the Middle East and Latin America
The Kellogg Institute for International Studies in association with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies released a report, “Transitions to Democracy and the Arab Spring: Does Latin America Hold Lessons for the Middle East,” that examines how insights from Latin America’s democratization experience may be relevant for the Middle East today. The symposium was divided into two panels: the first explored the domestic challenges to democratization in Latin America and the Middle East; the second explored the role of external influences.
The first panel discussing religion, culture, and democratic legacies noted that the Catholic Church was often “hostile” to democracy in Latin America until it reached a turning point in the 1980’s and became a champion of democracy and human rights. The study stated that there is “strong empirical and normative evidence” that Islam “is not incompatible” with democracy, and cited several examples of majority-Islamic countries with successful democratic processes. The question which remains to be answered is how the countries in transition define their interpretation of Islam.
The report also discussed the differences in the level of external support of democratic transition seen between the Arab world and Latin America and was critical of what it saw as outdated U.S. foreign policy. While the U.S. played an important role in Latin America, the U.S. tends to “view the region through the prism of the old regional order” and is “partially hobbled” by “certain interpretations of its alliance with Israel. The report found that “when U.S. policy was favorable toward democracy, the likelihood of [democratic] transition increase and the likelihood of breakdowns decreased.” Regional players like Saudi Arabia have also acted as a counterrevolutionary force in the region.
The authoritarian legacy of the Arab world is something that the report believes is working against the countries in transition. The Arab world’s “monarchic, colonial, one-party nationalist, and personality dictatorships” have left much of the Arab world bereft of institutional/organization necessary to facilitate transition. “Rentier economies” have allowed leaders to “lessen the accountability” to the people. Regimes have “manipulated culture, Islam, and the regional conflict with Israel to bolter their claim to rule. ”The report also compiled a list of twelve “interconnected political, economic, and cultural challenges” necessary for transition to democracy as well as general diagnosis of the progress of the Tunisian and Egyptian transitions.
The report concluded saying that the “outlook for democratization” is uncertain and the desired outcome by the protesters who overthrew their dictators remains uncertain as well. The revolutions remain to experience “much less support” than those that took place in Latin America, calling U.S. foreign policy “ambivalent.”