World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


TRADITION, EXTERNAL FACTORS AND POLITICAL CHANGE IN THE ARAB MEDITERRANEAN COUNTRIES - 1/3: Studying Democracy in the Arab World: Actors and Processes (201) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 11.30 am-1.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: EuroMed Center at the University of Catania

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Fulvio Attinà and Stefania Panebianco

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The third wave of democratization which started in 1974 seems to have left the Arab Mediterranean countries untouched. What is missing in this regional area is a widespread democratic contagion leading to the replacement of the old authoritarian regimes existing in the area. On the one hand, countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco are going through some political changes which very recently have allowed them to be regarded as ‘partially free’ countries. While other countries such as Egypt or Tunisia have not experienced any political reforms. In the best case scenario, transition to democracy is blocked and hybrid regimes have replaced authoritarian ones.

Which are the reasons of these blocked transitions? This symposium seeks to explore the reasons why the Arab Mediterranean countries are experiencing difficult transitions to democracy (if any at all). It seeks to shed light upon the key issue, i.e. whether the specificity of this regional area requires the elaboration of new concepts. Or, conversely, whether the concepts and analytical categories elaborated by the literature on democratic transition can be applied to the Arab Mediterranean countries, although they are drawn from the democratization processes which took place in other regional areas.

The papers presented in this symposium will be theoretically oriented researches and/or country-based analyses. By adopting preferably a comparative approach, the papers will investigate the key factors leading to political reform and eventually democratic change: domestic political actors; socio-economic development; the respect of the rule of law; the role of civil society; the EU assistance to democracy and human rights, and the role of other relevant international actors; also the influence of religion upon democracy will be investigated.

PANEL I focuses upon the current theoretical debate on the democratization paradigm and the transition one, and particularly the (im)possibility to apply them to Middle East and North Africa. Is there any chance for ‘Arab democracy’? and what does it mean? These are the key issues dealt with by this theoretically oriented panel. These analyses seek to explain where these political regimes are moving to whenever they move beyond traditional forms of authoritarianism. Specific attention is devoted to the actors of these partial processes of liberalization: state and non-state actors, plus local, regional and international actors as factors of democratization.

Chair: Fulvio Attinà, University of Catania (Italy)

Discussant: Francesco Cavatorta,Dublin City University (Ireland)

Paper presenter: Davide Grassi, Università di Torino, “Preliminary conclusions on the processes of political opening in the Middle East”
The encouraging results of the third wave of democratization, that swept the world after 1974, have been largely absent or negligible in most of the Middle East.
Some countries, such as Egypt, represent well the hopes and disillusion that accompanied local political development; others, for instance Jordan, point to the opportunities and partial openings that periodically have punctuated the prevailing oppression. In fact, when political opening did occur, often it took the form of partially free interludes alternating with harsh repression, with only minor changes in the overall distribution of power. Given this dismal performance, this paper aims to review, in a systematic manner, the role of a few variables that have been key to the global expansion of democratic regimes elsewhere, namely: socio-economic development; the national state and the workings of specific political institutions; political culture, legitimacy and religious factors; and the international environment. In short, we wish to understand the extent to which the theorizing, developed by comparativists on the broader democratization processes, applies to the case of the Middle East, and when, on the contrary, these insights fall short. Our conclusions point to a number of relevant dimensions of political change that are consistent with diffusion of more democratic political forms.

Paper presenter: Stefania Panebianco, University of Catania, “Understanding blocked democratic transitions in the Arab countries: do we need new conceptual categories?”
Arab countries seem to be unaffected by the democratization wave of democracy which started in 1974 in south-European countries and was relaunched by the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Instead, they are experiencing (in some cases) forms of hybrid regimes and blocked transitions.
This paper is theoretically oriented. It will review the existing literature on democratization and transition to democracy to test it through the empirical analysis of the Algerian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Moroccan and Tunisian cases.
It will question whether the concepts elaborated by the literature on democratization studies can be applied to Arab Mediterranean countries or whether ‘indigenous’ ways for practising democracy can be envisaged. Democracy as such can be regarded as an universally shared value. But considering that all around the world there are several “varieties of democracy”, with electoral democracy as a category widely spread all around the world, we claim that the key issue is the definition of concepts and their applicability to the empirical cases.

Paper presenter: Haizam Amirah-Fernández, Real Instituto Elcano – Madrid,
“Studying Democracy in the Arab world: what role for political culture?”
The role played by Arab and Islamic cultures is among the most intensly debated issues in contemporary scholarship on Arab democracy (or lack of). Different positions exist on how to approach the study of Arab politics from a methodological and theoretical point of view, but also on the prejudices and pre-assumptions that often accompany such academic debates. Some scholars argue that certain aspects of Arab and Islamic political values are incompatible with basic principles of democratic rule. Others consider that political culture is a useful tool to understand the evolution of both authoritarian and participatory trends in Arab political systems. While for a third group of scholars, political culture is to be avoided as an explanatory variable in the analysis of regional processes of democratization.
This paper will argue that, when avoiding reductionist and essentialist approaches, political culture studies are one essential component of any academic effort to understand political conditions in any given system. The study of political culture as a multilayered phenomenon requires nuanced approaches, more empirical in nature, that are sensitive to effects of history, social structure, political economy and the complexities linked to a particular context. It would be argued as well that cultural knowledge no doubt improves political analysis and the outcomes of policy-making processes. Finally, it would be argued that this can be best achieved through the support of graduate training of "area studies" specialists and the promotion of study abroad programmes for undergraduate students.

Paper presenter: Yahia H. Zoubir, Euromed Marseille Ecole de Management, France
“The Maghreb’s Resistance to Democratization: What Roles for the United States and the European Union?”
The outlook for the Maghreb countries in the late 1990s seemed quite promising. The relative victory of the Algerian security forces against Islamist extremists, the reasonably successful reforms in Morocco, the progressive return of Libya to the community of nations and its commitment to international norms of conduct, the promising changes towards democracy in Mauritania, and the economic success in Tunisia provided well-founded optimism. Furthermore, new leaderships in Algeria and Morocco in 1999, provided ground for positive perspectives. However, the regimes in the five countries that make up the moribund Maghreb Arab Union (UMA), despite claims to the contrary, remain authoritarian. No one would dispute some progress as far as relative freedom of the press in Algeria and Morocco is concerned or the remarkable reforms to the family code in Morocco, which gave more rights to women than ever before. However, if one looks at the overall picture, it is rather bleak; the regimes are aware that authentic democratization, no matter how gradual, would reduce their power and force them to become more transparent. They have, nonetheless, become adept at organizing regular elections in the hope of gaining a degree of legitimacy; “electoral authoritarianism” has become the norm in the region. The regimes set in place “institutional façades of democracy,” including regular multiparty elections, for domestic reasons, but also to placate any criticism from the US and the EU, which periodically make promotion of democracy part of their policies to prevent instability in the South to spill over into the North.
Indeed, following the events of September 11, 2001, both the EU and the United States were convinced that the underlying reasons for terrorism and instability in the Arab World in general and in the Maghreb in particular were the result of enduring authoritarianism; thus, they made the promotion of democracy part and parcel of their policies toward the Arab World. However, the victory of HAMAS in Palestine in 2006 resulted in a shift of policy which has consisted of supporting Arab regimes provided they serve as proxies in the “Global War on Terrorism” and cooperate in stopping illegal migration. While these policies have strengthened the power of the incumbent regimes and dissuaded them from initiating genuine political reforms, they have done little to improve the conditions of living of the people in the Southern Mediterranean region. In this paper, it will be argued that the EU and the US have had a security response to what is fundamentally a problem of governance. It has become obvious that unless the US and the EU make genuine democratization one of the preconditions of their policies toward and close cooperation with the regimes in the region, the status quo, with all its potential consequences, will prevail. Recent events have shown that the de-radicalization of Islamism has not meant stability. Threats of a new nature will inevitably emerge. And, whilst security is an important component of North-South cooperation, it should not be the predominant one. Addressing issues of governance, human rights, physical quality of life, and efficient management are more likely to bring about stability and prosperity than military security policies.

Paper presenter: Stelios Stavridis, Zaragoza University, and Roderick Pace, University of Malta, “The international politics and policies of parliamentary bodies and sub-state regions as external (f)actors in the democratisation of Southern Mediterranean states”
Parliaments as factors and actors of democratisation have been relatively under-studied in the existing literature. Regional or international parliaments and their impact on Southern Mediterranean states is not a subject of systematic academic enquiry either. This paper will consider possible (and to a large extent, preliminary) lessons from the competition or complementary of two regional assemblies, the EMPA and the PAM
Indeed, there are in the region at least two existing parliamentary assemblies that claim that one of their roles is to help democratisation: the EMPA (that stems from the Barcelona Process) and the PAM that is an autonomous institution (that stems from the previous work on the Mediterranean of both the IPU and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly).
This paper will assess (1) the work of both assemblies in the democratisation of Southern Mediterranean states: and (2) investigate their possible complementarity or competition, as a factor that helps or hinders such a process. Its preliminary lessons will finally (3) offer a background for future research on the role of national and sub/state parliaments, as well as other parliamentary assemblies in the region (e.g. the PACE, the NAA, the OSCE PA, etc.).