TOPIC 2021 / 2
Cf. PUBLICATION: Looking Back at 10 Years of the Arab Spring. As Seen from Theories on Democracy, Transformation, Modernisation and Interdependence, in: Forschungshorizonte Politik & Kultur, Vol. 5, 2021/4, 14 p.
“Contemporary world politics is not a seamless web; it is a tapestry of diverse relationships. In such a world, one model cannot explain all situations. The secret of understanding lies in knowing which approach or combination of approaches to use in analyzing a situation.” (Robert O. Keohane, Joseph S. Nye: Power and Interdependence, 1977; 4th ed. 2012: 4)
“On the tenth anniversary of the Arab Spring, the results from the perspective of Western democracies are mostly negative. But what criteria is this analysis based on? Couldn’t a democracy-theoretical approach also lead to other findings? This article will also discuss other theories that contribute to an understanding of the current crises. The approach of system transformation, or rather transformation theory, points to deeper socio-economic and cultural contexts: According to this, there have already been consecutive processes of transformation or reform in economy and politics in the Arab world in the early 1990s.
One approach that indeed predicted the Arab Spring was modernisation theory. Its marginalisation in the further discourse Is incomprehensible, as it can explain quite simple but important interrelationships. For example, the strengthening of women’s rights in Tunisia was the engine of social progress and a trigger for the revolution. Finally, the interdependence theory helps to assess the Arab Spring in the context of international politics. Accordingly, it was not only an expression of domestic developments; ; instead, external actors bear a joint responsibility for today’s results. This ultimately leads to a reassessment of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). …”
Source: Sabine Riedel, Looking back at 10 Years of the Arab Spring, in: Forschungshorizonte Politik & Kultur, Vol. 5, 2021/4, 14 pages.
MOST BALANCE SHEETS ARE BASED ON DEMOCRACY THEORY – BUT BY WHICH CRITERIA?
♦ Most assessments of the Arab Spring are based on democratic theory. They measure the success of the protest movements in the Arab world by the change in their political systems.
♦ Two models are compared, democracy and authoritarianism. The results are mostly negative: With the exception of Tunisia, there has been no system change towards democracy anywhere. Authoritarian regimes, in contrast, have been able to consolidate their power.
♦ The focus on these two models neglects changes within the existing systems. If, for example, system-relevant constitutional reforms are taken into account in the balance, even authoritalrian states like Egypt and Syria perform much better.
♦ In relation to the 22 member states of the Arab League, the democratic-theoretical approach is applied selectively. There are hardly any analyses of the political development of monarchies such as Morocco, Jordan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, UAE).
THE APPROACH OF SYSTEM TRANSFORMATION AND THE TRANSFORMATION THEORY ALSO ILLUSTRATE THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CONTEXT:
♦ The approach of system transformation is hardly mentioned in the analyses of the Arab Spring. There is apparently little interest in comparing the systems of the former socialist states of Eastern Europe / Central Asia and the Arab world, although synergy effects are to be expected here.
♦ According to findings from transformation research in the 1990s, the democratisation of Europe took place in four waves over a period of about 80 years. Consequently, the negative conclusions about the Arab Spring after 10 years have only limited significance.
♦ The transformation theory addresses the fact that the Arab Spring hardly led to any economic changes. But we could speak of consecutive transformation processes in North Africa. After 1990, Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Syria liberalised parts of their centralised economies.
♦ Decades before the Arab Spring, the entire MENA region experienced a wave of economic liberalisation. In most authoritarian regimes, only the elites benefited from this. External donors such as the IMF and the EU recommended that reforms continue, even though the countries fell into a debt trap.
♦ In the Arab Spring, the same systemic feature came to light: In all countries, governments influence Islamic institutions and teachings. Therefore, Islam remained a vital ideological framework among opposition movements (Riedel 2017).
♦ With the Arab Spring, a transformation process started that could lead to a separation of state and religious institutions in the longer term. Preventing this is the goal of authoritarian (neighbouring) regimes that legitimise their power with oil revenues and “God’s will”.
TODD / COURBARGE (2008) PREDICTED THE ARAB SPRING WITH THE APPROACH OF MODERNISATION THEORY:
♦ Researchers were able to predict the Arab Spring on the basis of modernisation theory: The French demographers Emmanuel Todd and Youssef Courbarge published “The Unstoppable Revolution” a few years earlier (Todd/Courbarge 2008).
♦ They can explain why the protests started not in the Arab monarchies but in the republics. The decisive factors were literacy and the decline in the birth rate. The changed position of women initiated a modernisation process.
♦ Moreover, rapid literacy in patriarchal Arab societies led to generational conflicts. The break in relationships of authority spread from the family to the political system and weakened trust in the elites.
♦ Modernisation theory leads to the realisation that the Arab monarchies remain at a social level pre-modern. Their striving for technological progress may hide this, but like in Saudi Arabia, it produces a schizophrenic situation that can harbour political instability.
THE INTERDEPENDENCE THEORY (KEOHANE / NYE) EXPLAINS THE ROLE OF THE ARAB SPRING IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS
♦ The Arab Spring is often described as an internal event, ignoring exogenous factors. R.O. Keohane and J.S. Nye, on the other hand, coined the concept of interdependence in 1977, according to which domestic and foreign policy can hardly be separated. Since long, transgovernmental and transnational networks have determined political agendas alongside interstate actors.
♦ Building on transformation theory, this approach can explain the interests of states such as Iran or Saudi Arabia: They are expanding their regional supremacy through Islamic institutions and a foreign religious policy.
Map of Member Countries of the Non-Aligned Movement (2019)
Cf.: Sabine Riedel, Looking Back at 10 Years of the Arab Spring. As Seen from Theories on Democracy, Transformation, Modernisation and Interdependence, in: Forschungshorizonte Politik & Kultur, Vol. 5, 2021/4, p. 11.
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