Explaining the “democracy-deficit” in the middle-East

A very interesting article by Zakaria delves into the gaping”democracy-deficit” that has permeated the middle-East unrelentingly to the present day.  Research by Eric Chaney is cited in the article in order to answer the question of why and how democracy refuses to take root in the Arab world.

Some interesting points arise:

  1. Many states in the region which are not Arab, such as Iran, Chad, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, feature the democracy deficit.
  2. Many Islamic countries have functioning democratic political systems, such as Turkey, Indonesia, Albania, Bangladesh and Malaysia.
  3. Oil-rich states such as Saudi Arabia have particularly blatant democracy deficits, but so do other states in the region such as Syria which do not have oil-reserves.

How does Chaney explain all the above?  He pinpoints the date 632 AD when lands in the regions described above were conquered by Arab armies after the death of Mohammed the prophet.  “Lands that Arabs controlled in the 12th century remain economically stunted today…featuring fewer trade unions and access to lines of credit and trade, features of a vibrant civil society.”

The argument is strong.  Chaney continues by implying that the balance of power among competing interests in the democratically-deficient states can be blamed by looking at how much control the military has (aka Egypt), and the number and strength of state alliances with other domestic actors, such as religious groups, among others.

The conclusion of the article is, unfortunately, dissatisfying.  I find that the analysis either is not sufficiently covered or falls short.  I believe that utilizing these critical analysis techniques is important, however, they seem to yield quite generalized results.  I think that a global-north vs global-south approach is often left out of the analysis, which could help shed light on the “democracy-deficit” so eloquently described.

I once met and talked with a lovely man from Pakistan who described his own views on such issues.  He explained his opinion on the American war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he believed was just another western affront on the global east.  “Every major empire has tried to invade those lands throughout history.  The ancient Romans did it.  The ancient Greeks did it.  I’m sure the French tried to do it.  The British did it.  Now the Americans have gone in there.  And look what happens every time, you end up pissing the people off who live there and then you end up leaving eventually.”

His point seems so simple but it is so poignantly true.  I think that democracy is a western concept that must be coaxed at the right time and situation, otherwise it will only bring on more east-west hostilities.

About aviaaron

A UBC sociology and political science double major at the University of British Columbia.
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