There is a wave of change sweep­ing across North Africa and most parts of the Mid­dle East. The peo­ple may be look­ing ex­pec­tantly to­wards demo­cratic so­lu­tions but there are no ideal sce­nar­ios emerg­ing and they may well pre­pare them­selves for more frus­trat

Southasia - - Front page - By Il­han Niaz

Spring Cal­cu­lus

The Arab rev­o­lu­tion does not prom­ise sta­ble democ­racy in the re­gion.

The Arab world is in tur­moil. Faced with un­prece­dented pop­u­lar re­sis­tance to au­toc­racy and ve­nal­ity, regimes that ap­peared sta­ble for decades have been thrown on the de­fen­sive. In some cases, no­tably Tu­nisia and Egypt, the tyrant was over­thrown after pow­er­ful el­e­ments within the rul­ing es­tab­lish­ment de­cided to use the protests to top­ple their mas­ter. In other cases, most no­tably Libya and now Syria, regimes have re­sponded by crack­ing down vi­o­lently, risk­ing pro­tracted civil wars that have al­ready in­vited Western in­ter­ven­tion. On bal­ance, monar­chi­cal gov­ern­ments have proven more flex­i­ble in deal­ing with the cri­sis of­fer­ing a mix of re­form and re­pres­sion. There are a num­ber of sce­nar­ios that may take shape in the Arab world as the protests and re­bel­lions con­tinue into the sum­mer and be­yond.

The most prob­a­ble of these is that the mess in the Mid­dle East gets a lot worse and a lot more com­pli­cated as the pub­lic de­mands change, whereas an ab­sence of or­ga­nized po­lit­i­cal par­ties and le­git­i­mate rep­re­sen­ta­tive bod­ies pro­duces es­ca­lat­ing chaos. One thing to un­der­stand about the Arab world is that the coun­tries within it are tribal-ide­o­log­i­cal oli­garchies re­gard­less of whether the for­mal struc­ture is monar­chi­cal or repub­li­can. In such coun­tries the align­ment of mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus is key to the out­come.

In Tu­nisia and Egypt these pow­er­ful in­stru­ments opted to get rid of the tyrant who was the fo­cus of pub­lic ire

in or­der to pre­serve their priv­i­leges and main­tain the fa­mil­iar cul­ture and prac­tices of tyranny. Take Egypt for ex­am­ple. Hosni Mubarak ruled for three decades, amassed a for­tune be­lieved to be worth seventy bil­lion U.S. dol­lars, and pre­vented the emer­gence of any note­wor­thy lib­eral or mod­er­ate op­po­si­tion party. The only op­po­si­tion move­ment that man­aged to sur­vive in the toxic at­mos­phere of the Egyp­tian po­lice state was the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood.

Mubarak in­tel­li­gently used the specter of the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood as well as the pop­u­lar dis­af­fec­tion with a pro-Israeli for­eign pol­icy to project him­self as the cus­to­dian of en­light­ened mod­er­a­tion. At present, pos­si­ble elec­tions in Egypt are be­ing pushed back as po­lit­i­cal forces other than the Mus­lim broth­er­hood grap­ple with how badly or­ga­nized they are. Mean­while, Egypt con­tin­ues to func­tion un­der mil­i­tary rule.

The 450,000 strong Egyp­tian army is one of the largest in the world, while the six mil­lion strong state bu­reau­cracy (out of a to­tal pop­u­la­tion of 80 mil­lion) makes Egypt one of the most bu­reau­cratic states in the de­vel­op­ing world. The mil­i­tary, the in­ter­nal se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus, and the large bu­reau­cracy are all still there. The peo­ple have no na­tional lead­ers to speak of and there doesn’t seem to be any sort of plan to man­age Egypt’s sprawl­ing se­cu­rity, in­tel­li­gence and ad­min­is­tra­tive ap­pa­ra­tus. The counter-revolu- tion is alive and kick­ing in the land of the Pharaohs even if Mubarak has been shown the door. In Libya, Syria and Yemen, how­ever, the cal­cu­lus of these same in­stru­ments is that the pop­u­lar re­bel­lion must be stamped out and no power shar­ing or re­form that di­lutes the au­to­cratic sway of the tribal-ide­o­log­i­cal dom­i­nant group is ac­cept­able. This at­ti­tude is a recipe for civil war and ex­ter­nal in­ter­fer­ence but it is the log­i­cal out­come of the as­biyah of the rul­ing elite in many of the Arab coun­tries.

Then there is the is­sue of in­tro­duc­ing democ­racy in the emerg­ing sce­nario. The like­li­hood is that such dis­pen­sa­tions, even if they some­how man­age to emerge, are un­likely to sur­vive. The Arab world is a mine­field of sec­tar­ian, eth­nic and tribal ri­val­ries, com­pli­cated by deeply en­meshed western and Per­sian im­pe­rial in­ter­ests. If some kind of demo­cratic or con­sti­tu­tional dis­pen­sa­tion is to emerge from the chaos, it will be nec­es­sary to de­fine and un­der­stand what such a sys­tem should seek to achieve.

The ba­sic ad­van­tage of a demo­cratic con­sti­tu­tional sys­tem is that it al­lows for the pe­ri­odic change of gov­ern­ment through peace­ful means. In or­der for it to work, the vic­to­ri­ous and van­quished par­ties must ac­cept the le­git­i­macy of the elec­tion re­sults. Valid elec­tion re­sults can­not emerge un­less the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion is au­ton­o­mous and the civil ser­vants re­spon­si­ble for con­duct­ing the elec-

An Amer­i­can-style democ­racy could well plunge the

re­gion into greater trou­ble even though that is the model that most pro-democ­racy

thinkers and for­eign ad­vis­ers seem to pre­fer.

tions are apo­lit­i­cal, pro­fes­sional and pro­tected from vic­tim­iza­tion by the po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive. In this re­spect, the In­dian elec­tion sys­tem and model of a con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy un­der­pinned by an au­ton­o­mous cen­tral higher bu­reau­cracy may be in­struc­tive for the Arabs as they seek to re­de­fine their pol­i­tics. An Amer­i­canstyle democ­racy could well plunge the re­gion into greater trou­ble even though that is the model that most pro-democ­racy thinkers and for­eign ad­vis­ers seem to pre­fer.

The Arabs should also ready them­selves for more frus­tra­tion. Even if an ideal sce­nario emerges in which cred­i­ble demo­cratic elec­tions are held in at least some of the Arab coun­tries and the par­a­sitic and in­tru­sive state bu­reau­cra­cies are grad­u­ally pro­fes­sion­al­ized and ori­ented to­wards merit, the be­hav­ior of the new rulers will likely be al­most as ar­bi­trary and cor­rupt as those they re­place. It is very dif­fi­cult to change the habits of the heart within a time­frame im­posed by es­ca­lat­ing pop­u­lar ex­pec­ta­tions. Demo­cratic elec­tions also do not en­sure that good lead­ers come to power — they only en­sure that bad ones can be re­moved ev­ery few years.

The road to a semi-func­tional con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy that pro­vides a greater mea­sure of free­dom while main­tain­ing a sem­blance of or­der is a long one and there are many valu­able lessons that the Arabs could learn from the South Asian ex­pe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­larly from In­dia’s mod­ern his­tory and the last fifty years of the Bri­tish Raj.

No guar­an­tee of cred­i­ble democ­racy in the Arab states.

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