The Middle East in Transition: Studies in Contemporary History

By Walter Z. Laqueur | Go to book overview
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ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL FOUNDATIONS OF DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

by CHARLES ISSAWI

IT HAS BECOME commonplace that the parliamentary-democratic 1 form of government has not functioned satisfactorily in the Middle East. During the last few years, a series of coups d'état have proclaimed, in no uncertain terms, the dissatisfaction of several countries with their parliamentary governments, and in more than one country the army has taken over power.

The failure of democracy in the Middle East has been attributed to widely divergent, though not necessarily incompatible, causes. One explanation, which is current in the West, is that democracy is a plant of slow growth, which gradually developed, over several centuries, in the congenial climate of Europe and North America and which could not possibly be expected to thrive when suddenly transplanted to an alien Eastern soil which, since the dawn of recorded history, had bred nothing but the thorns and thistles of despotism. The absence of democratic traditions, and of the historical customs, habits, and attitudes required to make democracy work, was one of

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1
In this article 'democracy' denotes exclusively a system of parliamentary government, based on free, popular elections, contested by two or more parties. The term usually covers a much wider range of meaning, and in this broader sense several aspects of Middle Eastern life may be said to be 'democratic'; in particular, there is a genuine and widespread social democracy in most Middle Eastern countries. It is moreover true that political democracy can express itself in other forms than parliamentary government, and does so in several Middle Eastern countries. However, a study of these broader aspects of democracy would carry the discussion too far afield and the present article is therefore exclusively concerned with the narrow meaning given above.

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The Middle East in Transition: Studies in Contemporary History
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