The International Context of Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World

By Moore, Pete W. | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

The International Context of Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World


Moore, Pete W., Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


The potential for democratization in the Arab World has become a popular topic for academic and policy specialists alike. Unfortunately, the subject's dramatic appearance of late has not meant that its treatment has been comprehensive. One key ingredient in a more satisfying treatment must be a comprehensive approach to the pressures and obstacles present at all levels of analysis. Much of the work on Arab World democratization tends to concentrate on capturing the internal dynamics of reform and state/society relations which affect those dynamics. Hence, this literature often gives scant attention to the roles which external or international factors play. This is particularly perplexing in the case of the Arab World since one of its defining characteristics is national porousness and vulnerability to external influences. A complete approach, therefore, must be cognizant of the effects which higher levels of analysis (regional and international systems) have on the dynamics at the state and society levels. Identifying and categorizing the various external factors shaping current or potential democratization is an important first step in achieving this.

This article will argue that in the Arab context, external pressures have played key roles in setting and altering the environment (both positively and negatively) in the struggle toward democratization. The intent here is not to argue for the primacy of external factors, but rather to underscore the extent to which they are an important component that has not adequately been addressed to date. Moreover, such an approach is sensitive to recent theoretical recognitions that contingency and chance may play a greater role in democratic transformations than rigid theoretical prerequisites for democratization. External factors reflect both contingent and structural dynamics. Conceptualizing the external factors at play in the Arab World draws on the broader theoretical work of Laurence Whitehead and Phillipe C. Schmitter. Their investigations confirm four general categories: control, contagion, consent, and conditionality.(1) More specific categories are presented for the Arab context:

(1) Cultural Diffusion and Demonstration Effects (2) Foreign Governmental Policies and Aid (3) Non-Governmental Activities (4) Regional Security Environment and Regional Actors (5) International Fiscal Environment and Policy

By specifying the theoretical connection to domestic liberalization and touching on some empirical evidence, each category will be examined in order.

Additionally, it should be clarified what exactly these factors are supposed to affect. Though there is some debate over this issue, democratization and liberalization are taken to be separate concepts.(2) Liberalization precedes full democratization by extending or redefining rights which open up some public space for limited participation. At the state level, democratization refers to a change in rules and procedures which institute responsibility on the part of rulers. At the societal level it involves a transformation of the individual from subject to citizen. The point here, following Michael Hudson's work,(3) is to envision a more elastic definition of the process of democratization while retaining the analytically more useful Schumpeterian definition of procedural democracy. The following ideal stages, points along which external factors can impact, are envisioned: liberalization, regime opening, democratic transition, and consolidation of the new democracy. Of course, one can immediately discern a lack of such neat constructs in the Arab World.

In possibly only two instances could recent events in the region be stretched to suggest anything near the democratic transition stage, Yemen and Algeria (prior to their instability). The rest of the region falls at various points along the liberalization/regime opening stages. To compensate for this narrow empirical target, this essay takes some liberty in postulating the potential effect of external factors on the later, more substantive phases of the democratization continuum. …

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