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Volume 5, 2021/4, Mar 5, 14 pages  ♦  pdf format

Sabine Riedel


As Seen from Theories on Democracy, Transformation, Modernisation and Interdependence

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  • Applying different criteria from the democracy theory
  • Less attention to experiences of system transformation and (economic) transformation in Eastern Europe
  • The Modernisation theory is entirely underestimated to this day – wrongly
  • In Arab Spring, external factors existed following the Interdependency Theory
  • To sum up: The performance of theoretical approaches to the Arab Spring

The 14 pages include:
Analysis, summary, 8 figures and excerpts, 78 references (linked).


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 ex-pression 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).

“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).

It is worth looking back to the beginnings of mod-ern democracy research in the 20th century and becoming aware of the criteria by which political systems are described as democratic. The US political scientist Robert A. Dahl named a core set of six basic freedoms. These include the right to vote freely and to access political office, as well as the right to freedom of expression and access to independent information.

If these freedoms are restricted, democracies are at risk, as the presidential elections in the USA and the emergency decrees of European democracies in the Corona crisis show. It is also worth mentioning that Dahl called his model “polyarchy”, i.e. “rule of the many”, in order to depict the process character at the end of which the ideal-typical model of democracy stands.

With the help of these formal criteria, not only democratic systems can be distinguished from authoritarian regimes. They can also be used to describe transitions as they were initiated during the Arab Spring. But the quoted negative balance sheets on the tenth anniversary are apparently not satisfied with that. They are results-oriented when they state that Tunisia is the only country where “a fragile democracy has developed since 2011”. If one checks this state-ment against Dahl’s catalogue of criteria, doubts arise as to whether Tunisia’s political system meets all the requirements for a democracy.

A major deficit concerns the right of access to all state offices. Because the new constitution retains the provision that only a Muslim may apply for the office of Tunisian president (cf. art. 38 of Tunisia’s Constitution of 1959 and art. 74 of Tuni-sia’s Constitution of 2014). This requirement is an expression of the Islamic identity of the Tunisian Republic, as stipulated in Article 1 of the Constitution (1959 and 2014). … [S. 3f.]