Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Do Islamic Orientations Influence Attitudes toward Democracy in the Arab World? Evidence from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Algeria.(World Values Survey)

Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Do Islamic Orientations Influence Attitudes toward Democracy in the Arab World? Evidence from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Algeria.(World Values Survey)

Article excerpt

The Absence of Democracy in the Arab World

During the last two decades, democratic currents have swept across the developing and post-communist world. While democratic regimes were in the minority just a few years ago, electoral democracy is the predominant form of government among today's nation-states and guides the lives of more than half of the world's population (Karatnycky 2000). The Arab world, however, has been largely unaffected by this political revolution, which Huntington has called the "Third Wave" of democratization (Huntington 1991). According to Freedom House, not a single Arab country qualifies as an electoral democracy (Karatnycky 2000; Sivan 2000:70).

The 1980s and early 1990s did witness halting moves toward democratization in some Arab countries. Confronted with popular anger fueled by economic difficulties, government mismanagement and corruption, and the violation of human rights, a number of Arab governments enacted programs of political liberalization. For the most part, however, these reforms were part of a containment strategy designed to increase regime legitimacy at a time when calls for political change were widespread. Accordingly, and not surprisingly given their strategic purpose, most of these democratic experiments were slowed or even abandoned during the 1990s. By the end of the decade, as Anderson wrote in 1999, the political landscape was littered with "the remnants of so many of the democratic experiments--from the spectacular crash and burn of Algeria's liberalization to Tunisia's more subtle but no less profound transformation into a police state, from Egypt's backsliding into electoral manipulation [and repression of Islamic movement s] to the reluctance of Palestinian authorities to embrace human rights" (Anderson 1999:6).

This situation is acknowledged and lamented by Arab intellectuals as well as Western scholars. A Lebanese political scientist writes, for example, that unchecked authoritarian rule is "paving the way to a deep crisis in the fabric of society" (Khashan 1998:43-44). Similarly, according to a Jordanian journalist, "one of the leading sources of instability and political-economic distortion in the Arab world is the unchecked use of state power, combined with the state's whimsical ability to use the rule of law for its own political ends" (Khouri 2000). Against this background, intellectuals from thirteen Arab countries attending a December 1999 conference in Amman, Jordan, issued a final communique emphasizing the need for "greater political freedoms and intellectual pluralism" (Al-Farawati 1999). Their concern, in the assessment of still another Arab scholar, is that "Arab countries do not allow freedom of thought. . . Where necessary, their surveillance spares neither the telephone nor the mail, neither the fax nor the Internet" (Talbi 2000:62).

There are some partial exceptions to this depressing characterization. In Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Qatar, for example, some would argue that there is continuing albeit uneven progress and that it is possible to have a meaningful debate about whether the glass is half full or half empty. In the Palestinian Authority, too, there have been accomplishments as well as setbacks in the struggle for democratic governance. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the Arab world clearly stands apart from other world regions with respect to the authoritarian character of its governments and the limited influence of institutions and individuals working for democracy. This point is emphasized by the recent Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) of the United Nation's Development Program, published in 2002. The report observes that, as in the 1980s, political openings remain "heavily regulated and partial" and political systems "have not been opened up to all citizens." Thus, the report continues, "political participatio n is less advanced in the Arab world than in other developing regions" and, with understatement, "transfer of power through the ballot box is not a common phenomenon" (AHDR 2002, chap. …

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