Academic journal article Hemispheres

Trapped in Neighbors' Conflicts: Democratization in the Middle East and North Africa, 1972-2013

Academic journal article Hemispheres

Trapped in Neighbors' Conflicts: Democratization in the Middle East and North Africa, 1972-2013

Article excerpt


The concept of the "bad neighborhood" (i.e. a region with high levels of violence and instability) is regarded as a major factor against domestic peace as highlighted by contemporary literature, since civil conflicts tend to spread amongst neighbors.* 1 However, a gap remains in recent literature with regards to the effect of neighbors' civil conflicts on the level of democracy. The analysis of this relationship is critical for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where the "Arab Spring" has unleashed a wave of civil violence and warfare in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Furthermore, this region is rich in terms of cross-border ethnic groups, which exacerbate the bad neighborhood effect.2 Thus, the investigation of the neighborhood effect can provide insights for the future of democracy in the MENA and inform policy recommendations.

This study examines the impact of neighbors' civil violence and warfare on the level of democracy in the MENA by conducting a quantitative analysis of 18 predominantly Muslim countries for the period 1972-2013. Our findings consistently show a significant and negative impact of neighboring civil conflicts on democracy in all models with several socioeconomic and political control variables. This study provides new insights for democratization in the region by showing that political rights and civil liberties are trapped in neighboring civil conflicts. Turkey is a partial exception to this phenomenon, since this country benefits from peace and stability in its Western (European) neighborhood.

Democracy and its determinants

Virtually all definitions of democracy include competitive, multi-party, and periodic elections, and universal suffrage.3 For instance, Dahl has set the five criteria of democracy as effective participation, voting equality, enlightened understanding, control of the agenda, and inclusion of adults. O'Donnell and Schmitter have distinguished between democracy and democratization, and defined the latter as the process in which citizenship rights are extended to more people and coercive governance is replaced by inclusive institutions. Furthermore, they have argued that democracy is a better form of government than alternatives for delivering more freedom, human development, and political equality, as well as economic productivity, innovation, and the rule of law.4

There are several approaches to measuring democracy for the purpose of global-level comparisons. For example, the Polity IV dataset assigns scores to political regime characteristics and transitions of all "polities" for the period 1800-2011. The democracy and autocracy scores of each country are coded on a ten-point scale, and their difference gives the combined Polity score for each polity/year.5 On the other hand, the Freedom House has distinguished between political rights (electoral democracy) and civil liberties (liberal democracy) and coded the levels of freedom around the world starting in 1972.6

Adopting the criteria for electoral democracy, Huntington argued that democratization occurred in three forward waves (1828-1926, 1943-1962, 1974-) and two reverse waves (1922-1942, 1958-1975) with each forward wave bringing about more democracies than the previous one.7 8 9 However, Diamond has pointed out that there are many "shades of grey" between democracies and autocracies. He has coined the term "pseudodemocracies" in which opposition parties are allowed to participate in elections but do not have the actual power to form a government due to several overt or covert barriers, including access to the media outlets.8 Similarly, Zakaria has noted that third wave democracies have mostly failed to provide civil liberties (i.e. autonomy of the individual and the civil society from the state) and thus constitute "illiberal democracies."9 In any case, predominantly Muslim countries in the MENA region have missed the three waves of democratization with a few exceptions (Lebanon and Turkey). …

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