Democratization in Eastern Europe: A Viable Model for the Middle East?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Following the end of the Cold War and the rapid democratization of Eastern Europe, expectations that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) would soon follow suit ran high. (1) Due to the lack of any significant changes that could be interpreted as a sign towards democratization in that region, however, such expectations were gradually replaced with increasing pessimism. Numerous factors that emphasize the socio-cultural, economic and political characteristics of the region have since been offered to explain the persisting authoritarianism throughout the MENA. Meanwhile, however, any possible impact of the nearby East European transformation-or its absence-over the same region remains unexplored, and constitutes the starting point of this study.

The significance of this issue is self-evident, given the fact that almost a decade before the end of the 20t" century, most parts of Eastern Europe were still under the communist rule and, with a few exceptions, the Middle East was checker squared with varying degrees of authoritarianism. Almost a decade into the 211 century and East European countries are now considered as democracies. (2) The Middle East, however, continues to be dominated by authoritarian regimes. What are some of the outstanding characteristics of the democratic transformation in Eastern Europe? What are some of the conditions that help prolong the lifespan of the current authoritarian regimes in the Middle East? In art, putting contrasting colours together intensifies their effect. Similarly, going over some of the basic points addressed by these questions in this comparative exercise can help to understand any problems identified with them better. It also constitutes the main goal of this simple study. While it does not offer an overarching theory that explains the success of the one and the failure of the other, overviewing some of the factors that have marked the political developments in both regions can provoke some ideas toward constructing such a theory in later stages. On a wider theoretical scale, if pursued further, a comparative overview of these two contrasting outcomes can contribute to the general theories on democratization. From a non-scholar view, it can also form a step in developing policies and measures that can promote international peace and security.

Although studies on the political reincarnation of Eastern Europe or the dearth of change in the MENA are plenty, they have not been conversant with one another. In a few studies that exist, this lacuna is attributed to two factors. One of them is the lack of any dramatic or immediate effects of the East European experience on the MENA. According to Moore (1994), the relative lack of communication between two regions during the Cold War and certain key differences in the state and administrative structures, have engendered "the model of democratic transformation presented by Eastern Europe ... generally useless as a strategy to those aspiring for such a transformation in the Arab World."

The second reason, meanwhile, stems from mundane academic realities. Valerie Bunce (2000: 721) aptly describes it regarding regional studies as: most comparativists have spent their academic lives working on one area. Given the invested amount of intellectual capital, shifting to another area is very costly. Moreover, regional studies tend to develop their own concepts and their own research agendas. Both considerations carry one implication: Regional differences can arise, not because of empirical validity but because few studies cross regional divides and the divides themselves may very well manufacture interregional contrasts. This is a real version of an old problem, that is, case selection determining the conclusions drawn.

Nevertheless, at least two counter-points can be made to justify the necessity of a general comparison between these two regions. One of them is historic. At least some parts of current Eastern Europe, to some degree, share some history with the MENA, due to the Ottoman Empire. …