POMED Notes: Democratization in the Arab World: Prospects and Lessons from around the Globe
On Wednesday, senior policy analyst Laurel Miller and Middle East specialist Jeffrey Martini of the RAND Corporation presented the findings of their research into historical transitions from authoritarianism around the world, and the applicable lessons from these case studies for the Arab world. Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace offered his comments on their conclusions, and Marina Ottaway moderated the discussion.
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Laurel Miller began by identifying the three main questions of their research: what are the challenges to countries transitioning to democracy, how many other countries and overcome or failed in these challenges, and how can the international community help these countries? In investigating these, Miller and Martini found that although transitioning countries in the Middle East face serious economic, sectarian, and experience challenges, historically none of these have necessarily proved insurmountable to a successful transition. For the West, there is a need to support systemic changes within these countries to ensure progress, as well as a long-term outlook that goes beyond bumps in the road and minor setbacks.
Jeff Martini then discussed the prospects of a civilian-military rebalance in Egypt as well as Islamist inclusion in politics. Martini said the battle between civilian and military power would likely play out on four planes: the budget and the economy, the power to make key appointments like minister of defense, the courts and the use of military tribunals, and the power to set national security policy. Martini’s research showed that, while not ideal, transitioning governments can use concessions to successfully ease the military out of power. The inclusion of once banned groups, like certain Islamist groups in the Middle East, has also historically been a positive for democratic transition, as it lends more credibility to governing institutions and turns knee-jerk reactionaries on the outside into inside compromise makers. Martini said the biggest risk in including them, however, was not so much their undemocratic stances on minority rights, but rather that Islamist success in first elections gives them considerable influence over constitution drafting, and therefore these minority stances may be included.
Tom Carothers commended the study, but cautioned the rush to use analogies, which he said was a penchant of D.C. Carothers also found fault in what he saw as considerable comparison to transitions in Eastern and Central Europe in the early 1990’s, examples he considered to be near opposites of the current experience in the Middle East. He also found the report’s conclusion that economic problems were not necessarily determinative of a transition’s success to be questionable. Overall, Carothers said he was more pessimistic than the other two panelists, and expressed doubt over the usefulness of deriving lessons when each case is so unique.
During the questions, Carothers and Martini disagreed over the nature of concessions with the military. While they both agreed they can be a necessary evil, Carothers believed that something has to break the power of Egypt’s military before concessions can be made. Martini also countered Carothers dismissal of examples by arguing that lessons are necessary to condition expectations in policy circles so that the government will be prepared for the long road of transition.