The Problem of Democracy in the Middle East Part 1

By | November 7, 2021

Democracy’s weak position in the Middle East has created a perception that something is “wrong” with the region. Some blame Islam, others Arab culture, the West or oil. Simple explanations are loose when the problem of democracy is discussed. However, there is no simple explanation for why the countries of the Middle East were given authoritarian regimes – and no “mistakes” that will prevent democratization forever. Authoritarianism (authoritarian rule: authoritarian – one who exercises power without consulting others or taking into account their opinions, and who demands to be obeyed without objection) is the result of power relations created by history, which in turn can be changed over time.

  • What historical preconditions did the Middle East have for the development of democracy?
  • Why did modernization processes in the Middle East yield different political results than in Europe?
  • What is the difference between the monarchies and the republics of the region?
  • Are there prospects for democratization?

Democracy as a form of government is based on the principle that all members of a community shall have equal decision-making rights. Special historical circumstances meant that this form of government in the 19th and 20th centuries took root in the West. This has created a notion that democracy is the “natural outcome” of modernization processes. In the 1960s, many viewed developments in the Middle East through the prism of modernization theory. According to this theory, the development of the state apparatus, the educational revolution and the transition to capitalism would create such a complex (active) and active society that authoritarian rulers would not be able to control it. Since then, however, the Middle East has experienced prosperity, a large, educated middle class and extensive political mobilization without ending up with democracy. What is hidden behind the paradox?

2: Historical assumptions

According to clothingexpress, the transition of the Middle East to the modern world has taken place under conditions other than those that were the case in Europe. In the following, we will focus on three fundamental differences that have made it difficult to develop democracy in the region.

Artificial boundaries: A first problem that particularly concerns the history of the Arab world is the way the state system was created . Where European states took shape through civil wars that strengthened national unity, states such as Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq were created on the drawing boards of Western powers. Until World War I, the area from Tunisia in the west to Iraq in the east was formally part of the Ottoman Empire with its capital in Istanbul in present-day Turkey. The Ottoman Empire supported the Axis powers (Germany and others) during the war and in 1914–1918 was defeated by British and French forces. The victors decided that the Arab world should be detached from the Ottoman Empire and organized into territorial states . The consequence was states with weak national identity and ethnic complexity .

The Middle East also began to industrialize late . In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, Europe experienced strong growth, while the Ottoman Empire still had to base its revenues on trade and agriculture. Free trade agreements such as the Balta-Liman Agreement of 1838 gave European countries free access to the markets in the Middle East for their industrial goods, while the Ottoman Empire became a major supplier of raw materials.such as cotton, opium, tobacco and silk. Such integration into the world economy from a dependent position had consequences for the class structure. Because the transition to capitalism was not accompanied by industrialization, it did not create strong bourgeoisie and working classes. On the contrary, the shift to export-oriented sales agriculture strengthened the position of the land-based upper class – a group that is generally seen as an obstacle to democratization.

3: Modernization in the Middle East

During the 20th century, societies in the Middle East underwent extensive modernization . As in Europe, this led to increased political awareness and mobilization ( Mobilization: Organizing and promoting support or opposition to the rulers ) in the population. However, the differences in the historical starting point for modernization led to a different type of mobilization than in Europe. The lack of national units rooted in the population firstly gave great support for subnational and supranational ideologies ( Subnational – gathering within smaller units than the nation – subunits of the nation / state ) and groups. The territorial state was thus challenged

  • from below , by separatist movements based on tribe, region, religion or language group, and
  • from above , by Pan-Arab and Pan-Islamic movements.

Both believed that the basic political unit lacked legitimacy, and therefore did not fight for democratization, but rather redefining the state community. The very shelf on which democracy rests – a clearly defined state – in other words, lacked recognition.

Second, Western imperialism led to the ” struggle against colonialism ” becoming the region’s most important political slogan. Anti-imperialism was the very core of Arab nationalism and Islamism – the two leading ideological currents in the Middle East in the 20th century. This is in stark contrast to the modernization period in Europe, where the inhabitants had not experienced colonization and were primarily concerned with class struggle. The difference in the ideological foundation of political mobilization is fundamental to the democracy deficit in the Middle East. While traditional Marxist theory saw the enemy in the upper class and called for a struggle against an internal exploit that oppressed the people, anti-imperialism focused on the externalenemy. Internal oppression was considered in the Middle East as a result of external manipulation and therefore came second to the freedom fighters.

Third, the Middle East’s dependent position (as a colony) in the world economy led to state-driven economic development that increased the power gap between state and society. In the absence of a strong local bourgeoisie that could compete with the West, many saw the solution in a strong state power that could reduce imports of goods and subsidize local industry. Control of the means of production (factories, machines, etc.) was thus concentrated in the state, and the state apparatus was expanded to control the economy in detail. The republics of the Middle East went particularly far in such a top-down development. Increasing economic power and larger state institutions made it more difficult for civil society to force through political change.

The Problem of Democracy in the Middle East 1