POMED Notes: What Are the Prospects for Democratization in the Arab World?
On October 10, Laurel Miller and Jeff Martini of the Rand Corporation held a congressional briefing summarizing one of their new publications regarding democratic transition in the Middle East. The speech started with a brief explanation of the three waves of democracy and a chart showing an increase over the last 40 years in the number of countries worldwide that are rated “free,” as opposed to “partly free” and not “free.” The Arab Spring was implicitly compared to a fourth wave and said to have simultaneously posed a new set of challenges to autocratic rule and U.S. foreign policy, as stability in the region was traditionally secured through autocracy.
For full notes continue reading or click here for the PDF.
Miller emphasized the fact that regime change does not always guarantee democracy and explained that their new publication addresses what strategies will encourage successful democratic transition in the Middle East. Miller and Martini addressed the different levels of success in Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab countries since the Arab Spring, drawing parallels to countries which have experienced similar transitions outside the region. The key factors under comparison were: mode of regime change, external environment with other countries, and transitional justice. Common obstacles to transition were listed as: expectations for the new government, subordinating the military to civilian rule, ensuring accountability for the previous regime and strengthening the economy.
Miller and Martini argued that based on past examples, the current obstacles to democratic transition in the region are not insurmountable. Indonesia and Mongolia were cited as examples of nations which had been considered “unsuitable” for democracy, but despite “turbulent beginnings” they both experienced effective transitions. The cultures of many Latin and Asian countries had also been considered incompatible with democracy just as some Arab and Islamic countries are now, but according to Miller this is a false assumption. Factors which have traditionally been considered critical to the success of new democratic regimes were also argued to be unimportant, such as: past experiences with democracy, failure to immediately improve living standards, abrupt transition to civilian rule, flawed timing of initial elections and deferment of transitional justice. The key factors which are expected to facilitate smooth transition, despite the mentioned obstacles, are: an organized civil society, early constitutional engineering, leadership committed to reform, institution building, and a greater per capita GDP. Higher income is equated to higher democratic endurance, and ability to accommodate the military is also seen as crucial to stable transition. The key challenges for Egypt specifically were said to be submission of the military to civilian rule, incorporating Islamist participation into the Egyptian political process and the drafting of a constitution that “enjoys consensus and advances democracy.”
Both Miller and Martini stressed the importance of reducing the military’s policymaking ability, authority and economic independence. They also stated that the military’s role, whether it be to provide internal or external security, must be clarified in the new constitution and that to delay the constitution would increase the potential for a coup. Islamist participation in the drafting process was also considered imperative to smooth transition as it would increase the new government’s legitimacy and force Islamists to become accountable participants, rather than dissident opposition groups. Even with the benefits of including Islamists, it was also noted that their participation presents a number of challenges, such as ascertaining their commitment to minority rights, adherence to foreign policy agreements with nations such as Israel, and their alarming focus on “identity politics.” Miller asserted that the building of institutions and development of procedural processes are more important than who is elected. She stated that even if the Islamists took power in the new government, the challenges they present would not be detrimental so long as the democratic process continues and the constitution provides checks and balances. The highest priorities of the constitutional drafting process, according to the report, should be nature of the political system, role of Islamic law, and judicial independence. By expediting the drafting process and adhering to the guidance laid out by the report, Miller and Martini argue that consensus of competing factions will be consolidated, forces which were important to the revolution will remain engaged and legitimacy enhanced through inclusion and transparency. Finally, the report also asserts that general economic assistance remains vital to transitions and that it should be directed at building electoral systems, civil society institutions and jobs, and that it should not be funneled directly to the military as it would undermine the supervisory role of the civilian government over the security apparatus.