Across the Bay

Friday, July 23, 2004

Importing Democracy

Tharwa Project had a couple of items from a a recent issue of Democracy Digest that I thought had some interesting points on the issue of importing/exporting democracy.

The first piece, entitled "Modernization, Not Democratization, Dominates Mideast Reform Agenda," echoes earlier comments I've made here (see also Michael Young) that the true nature of "reform" that the ME regimes have in mind is actually economic prosperity, or modernization, and not a true makeover of the system and indeed, the culture (once again, the issue of lexicon emerges. Two different concepts of reforms and two different concepts of democracies. Just because the same word is used, it doesn't mean we're talking about the same thing).

The piece mentions the three major perspectives dominating the discourse:

"The liberal democratic perspective seeks full democracy in Arab states, and calls for free and fair elections, term limits for Arab rulers, and an end to emergency security laws and controls on civil society. Largely associated with a minority of secular, Westernized professionals and intellectuals, this perspective is represented by the Alexandria Declaration of March 2004. The moderate Islamist perspective endorses some liberal reforms but has the ultimate objective of a state based on 'authentic' Islam, in accordance with Shari'ah. This view, which also sees reform as a way to rid the region of Western political and cultural influence, is typified by the reform program of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most Arab regimes espouse yet a third perspective which can be described as modernization, in which gradual reforms are intended to create efficiently-governed and economically-successful states, but not democracies. Modernizing reforms include expanding political participation among women and youth, improving judicial and electoral administration, and lifting some limits on media freedom - all without touching the core structure of the state. The Tunis Declaration issued at the recent Arab League summit encapsulates this approach. So far, Hawthorne argues, Arab governments are largely pursuing reform initiatives that fall into this third category.

The article also points to a major crux:

"The liberal democratic perspective is likely to remain the weakest for the foreseeable future, says Hawthorne, due to the political weakness of its proponents, the strength of the security apparatus in Arab states, and the fact that the US and Europe tend, in practice if not in rhetoric, to support the modernization approach."

Well yeah, but that's because the Arab world, in the EU's perspective (articulated so eloquently by Monsieur Chirac), does not need "missionaries of democracy." But of course...

The second item, entitled "Can Democracy be Exported?" quotes briefly from two seemingly opposing perspectives on the matter. Sadiq al-Azm apparently buys into the notion that "democracy best arises within the Arab world itself." On the other hand, André Gerrits counters by reminding us that "two thirds of the world's democracies were related to some kind of intervention by other nations." This is the position that I've been advocating on this blog, and I've backed it up with historical examples specific to the ME. This position also uncovers the hypocrisy of those who dismiss the "clash of civilizations" theory, and stress the interactions of civilizations (viz. Edward Said), but nevertheless reject the inter-civilizational pollenation in this particular case! Effectively, they're espousing the Islamists' and Arab nationalists' xenophobia -- more accurately, "misoxenia" -- and their fantasies of a autochthonous "purity" as the only remedy of their ills.

Gerrits further criticized the fake nihilistic relativism that I've been challenging as well:

""political and cultural relativism that has characterised development aid for a long time is altogether foreign to democracy advancement"

The whole thing is taken from Politeia and can be read in its entirety here. In a comment relevant to the modernization/democratization dichotomy, Gerrits notes the essential difference between the two initiatives:

"While the export of democracy is at most a side-effect in development, in democratic intervention it assumes centre stage."

As for Gerrits' question, "How would we react if the Saudi Arabian government started to provide Muslim political parties with trainers and money?" All I can say is "where the hell have you been pal!?" Seriously...

Finally, I must quote this paragraph by al-Azm:

"The Turkish experiment, with the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is very interesting. It could bring about a reconciliation between Islam, democracy and the secular state. It is no coincidence that this process takes place in the one Muslim country that has any serious experience with a secular order and a separation of Church and State. It elicits reactions from very different milieus in the Arab world. The nationalists, who have regarded Turkey for a long time as the former ‘occupier’ of Ottoman times, see now with some envy that the Turks do succeed in maintaining the integrity of their territory and do not give in to the separatist demands of the Kurds for instance. The leftists, who were critical about the Nato-membership of Turkey, have to admit that a country that is culturally very close to us does succeed in developing a secular and democratic model. Very interesting is the reaction from the islamists, who have always denounced Kemalism for its secular nature. In their most recent political programme, the Muslim Brothers do not utter a word about the restoration of the caliphate or the introduction of the sharia. Instead they emphasise the importance of free elections. Last but not least, the Arab rulers have a fascination for Turkey. The way Erdogan refused to cooperate in Bush’ invasion of Iraq made them green with envy. One of the reasons why the Americans took no for an answer was that they acknowledge the legitimacy of the parliament. And what Arab ruler can refer to a democratically chosen parliament when confronting Bush?"

Leaving the last section aside, the first part is what's most interesting. In many ways I take it to be supportive of my position! It's the same problem with which I nailed Rashid Khalidi, and that is 1- the absence of an Arab model, and 2- the invocation of a model that was severely influenced by Europe.

What this does however is give credence (perhaps inadvertantly?) to Kemalist forced secularization (Lewis and Ajami would be proud!). Here, the debate on Abdel Rauf's position, that the reader Rami commented on, would take on a whole new shape: reconciliation between Islam and the secular state becomes contingent on a forced experience of Western-influenced secularization! Yet, as al-Azm noted (which put a smile on my face!), the Arab nationalists (who hate the Turks. Just read Ghassan Tueni of An-Nahar) tried that and failed, because their project was never really secular, just authoritarian and Occidentalist, and a biform of the Islamic umma. This should make you appreciate more the ramifications of Joshua Landis' post on secularism and Baathism. (I am hoping to write on this in more detail in an upcoming post).

So Azm's example of Turkey is, as he realizes, the perfect example of the necessity and benefits of Western intervention, that would then lead to the (relative) success of a local system, with all its cultural specificity. The reverse position, that of the Arabs, is a perfect example of the opposite: total failure.