The democratic conundrum in the Arab world

The flag of the Arabic language, including the four Pan-Arab colors.

Democracy has been a challenge for the international community ever since the Cold War. Especially in the Middle East, where the conflict and civil war have been deep-rooted, establishing democratic regimes is even more crucial. In 2011, the Middle East faced the Arab uprisings, originating from Tunisia, against the democratic government of President Zein El Abidine Ben Ali, who had been in power for more than 23 years. The core agenda of the protests against him were to focus on the failures of the government to provide the basic needs for the citizens. The uprisings soon spread across the region and led to the event called Arab Spring. The anticipation had been that, after the Arab Spring, the democracy challenges in the Middle East would be sorted out. However, the failed states have increased in number where democracy is not an appropriate option.

In Sudan, for example, Abdalla Hamdok, who was the prime minister, was couped and arrested by military officials. Although the coup resulted from consistent protests of people against the regime, the post-coup tussles against the civilian political coalition, Sovereign Council and the military leadership regarding the governance, created an atmosphere of chaos and dictatorship. Similarly, in Libya and Egypt, the killing of Muhammad Kaddafi and the coup of Hosni Mobarak, respectively, led to the fall of democracy and the rise of the military in these states. Even in Iraq and Lebanon, which are still democratic states, the failure of the government has exacerbated the challenge of stabilizing democracy in the Middle East. 

U.S. President Joe Biden believes that China's model supports stability and order more than political freedom. But, the critics of the democratic conundrum in the Middle East state three reasons for the failure of states under democratic governments. One argument is that, in the list of priorities that the citizens set for the governments to achieve, the basic needs are the most essential, such as food, shelter, clothing, health, etc. The political freedom in this list comes after these necessities. In the case of failed states in the Middle East, the democratic governments failed to provide these necessities. As in Iraq, the communal division and chaos led to change in popular opinion, which is that the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein is far better than the democracy in the current era. Therefore, it is argued that, unless democratic regimes are successful in stabilizing the lives of their people, they cannot be qualified as sound governance systems. 

The second argument behind the failure of democracy in the Middle East is the autocracy in the region's great powers, such as Iran, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. These powers are involved in proxy wars in Lebanon, Syria, Libya and Tunisia, and show little interest in establishing democracy in these states. The third and last argument is that the lifelong history of dictatorship and autocracy in the Middle East has not given the institutions any opportunity to develop and stabilize. Such institutions are at the core of democratic success. Their developmental failure in the Middle East states is one of the reasons that, even though the elected governments rise to power, they cannot provide the best governance experience. It can be related to the situation in South Korea or Taiwan, where the autocracies focused on economic, educational and institutional development, resulting in smooth conversion into democracy.

Considering the above discussion, it can be established that the Middle East lacks a foundation on which the democratic system can be formed. The region requires a shift into a more prevalent mindset and for cultural coherence to shift the system of governance entirely. Until then, democracy can only be an unachievable dream. For the students of political science and international relations who want to pursue advanced studies in the field, the case study of the Middle East carries vast importance, as it enables them to understand the internal dynamics that shape a political structure in a state and the comparison between the states that go through different experiences over time to achieve stability and development.

References used:

Rachman, G. (2021). The discontents of the Middle East democracy. Financial Times. Retrieved from:

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