Academic journal article Insight Turkey

From Ballots to Bullets: Arab Uprising and the Reoccurrence of Authoritarian Politics

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

From Ballots to Bullets: Arab Uprising and the Reoccurrence of Authoritarian Politics

Article excerpt

Building the Rule of Law in the Arab World: Tunisia, Egypt and Beyond

Edited by Eva Bellin and Heidi E. Lane

London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2016, 311 pages, $72, ISBN: 9781626372788

The Arab World Upended: Revolution and its Aftermath in Tunisia and Egypt

By David B. Ottaway Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2017, 269 pages, $72.00, ISBN: 9781626376205

Beyond the Arab Spring: Authoritarianism and Democratization in the Arab World

By Rex Brynen, Pete W. Moore, Bassel F. Salloukh and Marie-Joelle Zahar Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012, 349 pages, $20.66, ISBN: 9781588268785

Since the end of the Cold War, much of the turmoil in the Middle East has been caused by the religiopolitical identity of different countries of the region. Since Islam is the dominant religion of the region, almost all of the scholarly work produced about its politics revolves around the theme of political Islam. Previously, academics had attempted to theorize the authoritarian sustenance of the region with a disdainful thread of Arab exceptionalism. But the sudden collapse of that authoritarianism in the wake of the Arab Uprisings seemed to ridicule the existing theories--at least for a while. The institutional setup of authoritarianism failed to stand against the democratic aspiration motivated by decades of tactical suppression and alienation by the existing institutional structure of the state.

Before the Uprisings, no Arab country had witnessed free and fair elections to choose their leaders. Electioneering had always been a mere tool in the hands of powerful military dictators or monarchs to sustain their rule and further their personal interests at the cost of collective suffering. In the absence of any democratic setup, maintaining the rule of law remained the least priority for the authoritarian leaders. The states had institutionalized corruption to an extent that the distribution of resources, services, and employment opportunities were exercised through conspicuous nepotism instead of an individual's merit.

Religion has always played a significant role in shaping the political identity of citizens in the Arab world. Inversely, religion has also been misused by the regimes to seek legitimacy. However, whenever there have been movements, (especially with religious inspiration) which sought to challenge the existing authority, regimes mostly sought refuge in coercion and military power to suppress the dissenters. During the Arab uprisings, the Islamists used popular religious sentimentality to garner support around them and were largely successful in doing that.

Islamists--especially the Muslim Brotherhood--enjoyed greater support in most of the countries where the Uprisings attempted to bring about a change. When the revolutionary flames subsided and actual reform process began to take place, an unprecedented leadership vacuum came to the fore. There was no suitable person to rally behind. Thus, in the first ever democratically held elections, Islamists emerged triumphant. The Islamist victory, however, was not because Islamists offered any immediate and pragmatic solutions to the economic and security problems faced by the society, it was more so an outcome of the lack of suitable alternatives.

When the reform process began in Egypt--starting with the redrafting of the constitution--the Islamists enjoyed a majority in the drafting committee. The influence that this majority was to ostensibly have on the new constitution didn't go over well with the liberal bloc and the deep state and thus they began the counter revolution.

No government could have bailed out the society in such a short span of time. But there are two important factors that played a role in destabilizing the democratically elected government: i) Past experiences had introduced society to a certain level of cynicism and doubt as to the sincerity of any governing regime. …

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