Transitions to Democracy: Failure and Success

n-DEMOCRACY-VOTING-HANDS-628x314By: Sean Falvey

It has been six years since the world witnessed civil unrest, revolt, and revolution across many countries in MENA (Middle East and North Africa). Countries that were subjected to colonization such as Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Egypt, finally gained independence during the 20th century, but this did not change the style of rule within their borders. Authoritarian rule had been the style of governing for the people of the MENA region for so long that it seemed this was the customary style of government for those living in the area. Not to argue that this was the preferred method of governing, however, the post-colonial political institutions in these countries hindered potential political reform. These revolts have led to a future for Arabs in hope to reform their previously corrupted governments. In an attempt to move towards a pluralist democracy, the five countries in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt) all held elections in 2011 and 2012, proving that constitutional reform, once again, was on the verge of taking shape in the Middle East (Laremont 148). Despite this, some states have resulted in returning to the previous authoritarian government style of rule, which oppresses many of the people that fought vigorously for revolution. When analyzing the success and failure of these two countries, there are five concepts that have been attributed to determining the outcome after the Arab Spring. These five concepts are “(1) elite coherence on the objectives of the democratic transition; (2) the sequencing of elections and drafting constitutions; (3) the role of the army; (4) the role of Sharia in the constitution; and (5) the protection of minority rights” (Laremont 149).

As previously stated, the path to democracy has taken two different routes when comparing Tunisia and Egypt. In Tunisia, after President Ben Ali was overthrown, the Islamist Party (Ennahda) and two secular parties have worked together to create an interim congress and collaborate together to govern the country (Laremont 150).However, the scenario is a polar opposite in Egypt. Once President Mubarak was disposed of, the Muslim Brotherhood (alongside the military) controls the transition to a new government without the participation of any secular parties or Coptic Christians, as previously mentioned. Although the Muslim Brotherhood was elected in fair, democratic elections, authoritarianism is at the forefront of the organization’s platform. Despite Christians being a minority group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood should not have overlooked the fact that these communities are relevant social actors and a necessary instrument to the cohesiveness of Egyptian society (Laremont 150). It is clear to understand how the divide between people in Egypt has been created, but difficult to understand the motive behind this. As Ricardo Laremont describes “it is important to remember that secularists and Islamist youth organized and led the January and February 2011 demonstrations that forced President Mubarak to resign (Laremont 150). Despite Christians being a minority group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood should not have overlooked the fact that these communities are relevant social actors and a necessary instrument to the cohesiveness of Egyptian society (Laremont 150). It is clear to understand how the divide between people in Egypt has been created, but difficult to understand the motive behind this. As Laremont describes “it is important to remember that secularists and Islamist youth organized and led the January and February 2011 demonstrations that forced President Mubarak to resign (Laremont 150)

Constitutional reform was a main factor regarding the instability of many Middle Eastern countries during the 19th and 20th century and has now resurfaced in post-revolution countries such as Tunisia and Egypt. One of the major problems with the Egyptian constitution is that it was written after the elections were already held (Laremont 152). Tunisia, however, decided that it was necessary to draft a constitution simultaneously during the time of their elections. Due to the lack of a constitution, the leaders of Egypt were unaware of the boundaries that their political authority could encompass (Laremont 152). This was not just a mistake by the Muslim Brotherhood. By doing this, the Brotherhood could govern the country in any way that they pleased, as the people of Egypt were unaware of the rights they had (most likely did not have any) because there was no constitution that was drafted or even in the process of being drafted. As a result, the Brotherhood could marginalize the minority groups of Egypt however it felt necessary, which is just another reason that the lack of a constitution does not seem like a coincidence; this was a deliberate attempt at ruling over the country with an authoritarian style that the rebels of Egypt fought so hard to expel (Laremont 152). Both Egypt and Tunisia were pressed for time after their own separate revolutions. As a result, the two countries scrambled to hold elections and draft a constitution. However, the success of the Tunisian government can be attributed to the drafting of their constitution prior to the elections along with an inclusive strategy that aimed at a pluralist democracy: making sure that all groups in Tunisia could have input on he policies that would govern the nation.

As previously discussed, the role of the military in the Egyptian government contributed to the reasons why the country is in such turmoil five years after its revolution, however, this is not synonymous to the current state of Tunisia. The main differences are that the Tunisian military is more traditional residing within the democratic state, contradictory to Egypt, as the military has had a role in deciding policies. This has been the scenario ever since the deposition of King Farouk in 1952 (Laremont 153). The heavy presence of military governance in Egypt has resulted in secularists and Coptic Christians being unable to have the capacity to determine political outcomes within the community. It is impossible for non-Muslims to have any level of power in Egypt, especially since the judiciary system is still ruled by members that were appointed by President Mubarak during his regime (Laremont 153). The Egyptian military decided not to remove these officials from office due to the fact that they already had political experience and that finding new representatives would be futile. If the military’s role in the government wasn’t enough, the military also has a strong presence in deciding economic outcomes of the country, whether it be light or heavy industry, the military controls it all (Laremont 154). The Egyptian military is also the tenth largest military in the world and receives a substantial amount of aid from the United States: 1.3 billion dollars annually; and that was in 2011 (Laremont 155). It would be possible to say the United States has had a contributing role in the demise of the Egyptian economy and failed attempt at democratization. Contradictory to the Tunisian civilians making the transition into democracy without the aid of the military, it has become clear that the military involvement in Egyptian politics has contributed to the many reasons why Egypt has become a failed democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Military influence, elitist political parties, elections and constitutions all allotted to the success or the failure of the two previously similar North African Nations of Tunisia and Egypt. Tunisia was able to transition into a democratic society that would prove to be sustainable for the time being by implementing elections and a constitution that would ensure the rights of every citizen are protected. On the contrary, Egypt seems to be on the verge of falling to authoritarian rule that will prove to be detrimental to the well being of the country.

Works Cited:

Laremont, Ricardo Rene. “Moving past Revolution and Revolt: Transitions to Democracy in North Africa.” Ed. Larbi Sadiki. Revolution, Revolt, and Reform in North Africa: The Arab Spring and Beyond. 1st ed. Vol. 1. New York City: Routledge, 2014. 148-67. Print. Ser. 1.

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