Democratization in the Middle East: Experiences, Struggles, Challenges

By Amin Saikal; Albrecht Schnabel | Go to book overview

7
The democratic process in Syria,
Lebanon, and Jordan
Kamel S. Abu Jaber

Some have suggested that, because of societal and historical circumstances in the Arab world, the term “democratization” does not necessarily imply what it means in the Western world. 1 Theideaofelecting leaders at specified intervals with a certain agreed-upon procedure; the occasional exchange of leadership roles between government and opposition; and indeed the very idea of loyal opposition have not yet taken root anywhere in the Arab world. 2 Freedoms generally associated with human rights, including a free press, remain in the painful process of asserting themselves. Throughout the Arab region, the democratization process is ongoing, with some regimes more liberal than others. 3 This is in spite of the fact that legislative institutions in accordance with constitutional provisions do exist, although the degree of their docility to the executive differs from country to country. Full compliance with the written constitutions, however, remains for the large part a promise against the future. Constitutions are merely a step in the right direction, not living documents venerated by rulers and ruled alike. In many instances the democratization process has hardly begun, with the very term “democracy” not yet fully understood by either leaders or society.

What is meant by democracy? 4 A distinction should be made between formalized democracy and liberalism. If democracy merely means the process of electing officials through the vote to legitimize or, as in many cases in the Arab world, give the illusion of legitimacy, then some may conclude that a certain type of democracy does exist in the Arab world.

-127-

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