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October 08, 2006



Who needs a journal article?

The answer is that Kefaya is by and large a small group of elite leftists who have had a hard time developing crossover appeal among Egypt's pious masses, most of whom are just trying to make ends meet and have yet to be convinced that they have something to gain by joining with a bunch of wild-eyed lefists chanting "yaskut, yaskut, Hosni Mubarak!"


Why have Arab regimes proven so much more resilient than Kuran and Kefaya expected?

Islam. The opposition to the tyrants in the arab world is Islam. Not democracy. People are trying to draw parallels where there are none.

the aardvark

Nice tries, but neither works against the Kuran thesis.

Praktike says that Kefaya was a tiny little group. But in the Kuran model, it only takes a small group of early movers which then signals to other, more mainstream malcontents that others share their complaints, which then snowballs to a very sudden tipping point. If discontent with the status quo were widespread but concealed, then Kefaya should have sparked a cascade. It's hard to believe that discontent with the status quo in Egypt isn't widespread, even if most people aren't Kefaya..

Craig says the people want Islam and not democracy. But that also doesn't respond to Kuran. Most Eastern European protestors didn't really want "democracy" either - it was more capitalism that they wanted at that point, as well as to get rid of hated, corrupt regimes. It's the negative - dislike of the status quo - which should matter, not the positive (democracy or Islam or ponies).

Nice tries, and they may be right - but they aren't satisfactory responses to Kuran's model!


The same role for "Islam" as given by Craig in Poland would be Catholicism--the communists in several Eastern European countries, not entirely untruthfully, described their opponents as tools of old obscurantist religious reactionism. Yet, we are not back to the days of the old Church-state in Poland. So, the answer remains mystery for now.


According to his website, Kuran has come up with a set of reasons why the Arab world hasn't taken off in a capitalist-industrializing direction. Wouldn't those same reasons explain why a revolution-model concocted with industrialized societies in mind won't work here?


Aardvark, I don't think you're being quite honest with yourself if you equate the Islamists in Egypt (lets say, since you mentioned Kefaya) with Catholics in Poland.

If discontent with the status quo were widespread but concealed, then Kefaya should have sparked a cascade.

The reason why it didn't is obvious. The discontented don't want what Kefaya is offering - they want what the Muslim Brotherhood is offering.

What's the obstacle to democracy in Lebanon? Hezbollah.

What's the obstacle to democracy is Iraq? Islamic sectarian violence.

Everywhere in the ME, the obstruction to democracy is Islam.

I'm not sure what the mystery we are trying to unravel is? Looks pretty obvious to me. But what do I know, I'm just a dumb racist American who doesn't look at the "real" issues and instead looks at the issues right under his nose.


Forgot to mention HAMAS.

The simple fact of the matter is, there isn't any democratic movement in the middle east. It does not exist.

Martin Kramer

Read this on state and society. I'm vindicated (again).


The Revolution hasn't come to Arab regimes because, unlike toppling regimes in Soviet Europe, the US government is playing all sides of the equation; buttressing the regimes, hoping the activists will do the work the US government can't quite commit to, while excluding people it doesn't like.

And Craig, Hezbollah isn't an obstacle to democracy in Lebannon; they were members of the government that Israel tried to topple, which was shockingly democratically elected. They're a naturally developing subnationalist group; they've got the whole Sinn Féin/IRA thing down.

The obstacle to democracy in Iraq would be the charming work of the CPA. Or non-work. It encouraged /Lord of the Flies/ style breakdown. And once everyone had guns, well, one thing led to another, blah blah spoilers blah blah unstable political entity.

As for Egypt, you should recall that Kefaya operates as an umbrella organization and is relatively new as an entity, whereas the Muslim Brotherhood has been kicking around for eighty years. There are other issues relating to the development of the cascade--see below.

Ya Marc-Bey, I think the issue with modelling the impact of Kefaya on Eastern Europe is that the Eastern Europeans had the west to look to, as well as a prior experience in the relatively recent past with political freedom. The problem with Egypt is that it was a British colony and then a funtastic dictatorship. The civil society that Havel was able to levy into the streets and the one that brought down Erich Honecker has been relatively made smooshy and suffocated in Egypt.

Oh, and Craig, you totally do sound like a bigot.


First, I'm not Marc, so direct your comment where they are due.

The thesis that Catholicism is inherently inimical to democracy and modernity was actually rather popular in 19th and early 20th century (Weber, anyone?)--perhaps as much as the facile attribution of non-democracy in Islamic countries today. While I do not know too much about the Middle East, I can't seem to recall any instance where any one of the cases that you mention (and a few others) actually demonstrably undermined democracy: Did Hamas undermine democracy in the Occupied Territories? No, they just won the election, fair and square. Did Hezbollah ever do anything against democratic politics in Lebannon? No. In fact, they are actually demanding fairer electoral system where their supporters can get representation due their numbers. Did GIA cancel the results of the only free election in Algerian history? No, the secular military government did. Did the Welfare Party in Turkey undermine democracy in Turkey? No, but the secular military did, by stepping and forcibly removing them from power.

So, what exactly did these guys to deserve your claim that they are the biggest obstacles to democracy? And, for that matter, why wouldn't, by your logic, the argument that Catholicism is inherently inimical to democracy be untrue, as of, say, 1930 or so?


Our friend the Lounsbury, at one time, remarked that the same formula that brought Western-style democracy and capitalism to Eastern (or, more accurately, Central) Europe did not work in Russia, and I wonder if the same logic is at work: Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians did not have much historical hostility to the West--except, maybe, the Germans, who were safely tamed. Likewise, Western policy and attitude towards them was essentially inclusive--they were going to be more or less treated as one of their own, so to speak, once they broke off from the Soviets, and this was a common knowledge, especially among the populace.

Russia, and I think, Turkey, on the other hand, don't have comparable assurance. Quite the contrary, there are many signs that they are treated at least with much suspicion, if not outright hostility, which only serves to reinforce their belief that becoming pro-Western (as democracy has often come to be confounded with) is a losing bargain. (China would be even more blatantly so, when its turn towards "democracy" comes, I suspect.)

In these cases, there is merely perceived hostility, without overt action, but in the Middle East, I suspect that the widespread belief that they are constantly subject to direct or indirect hostile action from the U.S.--this engenders, no doubt, deep suspicion of the pro-Westerners among those who would ordinarily support pro-democracy movements. In this sense, then, I suppose Craig is right in one dimension--Islam does become the solution, so to speak, since it would be only legitimate body that can organize and mobilize people without the taint of being the enemy's trojan horse....


The eastern European regimes' final collapse was begun by Solidarity, which was not a small group but a very effective and well organized, coherent opposition to the Polish regime.

More to the point, it offered an ideology that directly contrasted with and undermined, or nullified, the ruling ideology. The Communist Parties in eastern Europe cloaked their pathetic and monstrous records in the ideology that they organized the state in the interest of all workers. Here was a group saying that Communist rule was actually antithetical to workers' interests. Once they were allowed to carry their point for a few months, Solidarity had hollowed out the ideology of all the ruling regimes.

From that point, the Communists' claim to retaining power was merely the fear they could instill in citizens of a crackdown on dissent. When in the second stage Solidarity resisted and survived the Polish crackdown, the end for the eastern regimes was practically in sight. That is why Poland tried to compromise, hoping it could neutralize the building momentum toward reform. Instead, Solidarity's success simply encouraged other dissidents in neighboring countries.

That series of revolutions is particular to the Soviet Union, therefore. I do not see a shared ideology as such among the Arab governments. So even if some of the dissidents have an ideological focus, any success of one group in one country is far less likely to set of a chain reaction of dissident movements around the Arab world.


Then again ...


Three points.

First, why on earth should Arabic-speaking countries and post-Soviet Eastern Europe have similar dynamics? I find the comparative framework of the Kuran thesis (at least as you've explicated it) unconvincing. All of the eastern European states were highly industrialized, integrated economies based around states with (the former Yugoslavia aside) a shared political and social history. Moreover, they were dominated by a centralized Russian imperial network, which exercised a great deal of control in terms of both industrial production and political authority. Arab states, by contrast, tend to be heterogeneous internally, with indifferently constructed boundaries and a massively underdeveloped hinterland; have little unity between them; and range from tiny city states like Bahrain to transit economies like Lebanon to rentier states like Saudi Arabia to half-developed agricultural economies like Egypt, to zones of anarchy like post-Bush Iraq. Internally, the regimes are (paradoxically) protected by their very diffuseness--as praktike rightly points out, they need only keep control over control a small urban elite, not a whole country. More to the point, there is little external commonality, let alone a poltiicaL or industrial network, binding them together, no runway for any "domino effect." A transnational command economy and party system can create such a venue. Satellite television alone, with all due respect, can't. The seeming failure of the Kuran thesis then may serve as a rebuke to simplistic models of technological determinism.

Second, the resistance against Eastern Europe's socialist governments took at least from Prague Spring until 1989 to mature. The Muslim Brotherhood may have been founded in the early part of the 20th century, nobody *really* gave a shit until Nasserism went out the window the 1970s, and arguably a decade later. Dominos may fall very quickly, but it takes ages to set them up.

Third, I gather that you and/or Kuran imagined the domino effect would be a liberal democratic one on the Euro-American model? If so, this would to me be a category error. As Bush has spent the last six years busily demonstrating, the referent of "liberal democracy," no less than "terrorism," is rather malleable.

To Mr. Kramer: I'm curious what you see as vindicating your argument. Can you be a a bit more explicit?

No Preference

Everywhere in the ME, the obstruction to democracy is Islam.

Craig, your conclusion doesn't mesh with empirical evidence assembled by Mark Tessler of the University of Michigan here:

Arab and Muslim Political Attitudes: Stereotypes and Evidence from Survey Research

One poll shows that not only do almost 80% of Egyptians prefer democracy, but there is little difference in attitude towards democracy between highly religious and not very religious people. Another shows that in Jordan over 70% oppose clerical influence in government, and fewer than 20% support it. Once again the degree of religious committment made little difference in people's opinions. Tessler goes on to say "with very few exceptions, these patterns hold across different countries".

At some point you should try to find some facts to go with your opinions.


I think the explanation is opposition fracture. For example, in Egypt most of the elites would rather take Mubarak over the brotherhood, even though they don't like mubarak very much and might prefer democracy.

Until you can get secular elites and the popular opposition (most often islamic) on the same page, it's just not going to happen.


Huntington's argument in The Third Wave is that the key to democratic transitions in Catholic countries was an actual change in the Catholic Church codified by Vatican II. Whereas the Church had been authoritarian and aligned with tradition, order, and the ruler, it became democratic and even liberal in some areas.

That was the key, in Huntington's analysis, to a largely Catholic "Third Wave" of democratization during the 70s and 80s and early 90s.

Has Islam had its Vatican II? No, but there are encouraging signs that political Islamists now recognize that democracy is the way to go. The Muslim Brotherhood just elected its parliamentary leader, something the NDP doesn't do. That, in my book, is a good sign, despite some contrary indicators, e.g. the Ikhwan's social views and its position on what it calls "the Zionist entity."


Another reason Eastern Europe fails as a comparator: for the Lech Walesas and the Vaclav Havels, a global superpower was giving substantial financial and rhetorical support to the main opposition movement. In this case, the superpower refuses to fund the main opposition movements because it doesn't like their ideology: in fact, it actually bars thoughtful European exponents like Tariq Ramadan from entering the country! Instead, it picks groups that a) have little grassroots support; and b) conducts its foreign policy in a way that makes such support politically embarrassing to its recipients.

Martin Kramer

I'm asked to be more explicit about being vindicated. Abu Aardvark writes: " Arab regimes look as entrenched as ever. That has to be something of a puzzle." To me, it is a puzzle why anyone would be puzzled. In my article, published the same year as Kuran's piece, I warned against precisely such prophecies of upheaval, and gave an appraisal of the powerful forces militating against change. The change did not come; I am vindicated. Unfortunately, my neocon friends have been suckers for all this transformational theorizing (which is just modernization theory in disguise), with the difference that they had the means to test the theory. Well, the results are in.

In my book, Ivory Towers on Sand, there is a chapter on the self-delusion of the political scientists in the civil society feeding frenzy of the 1990s. It's been replaced, in this decade, by technological determinism (the "new media" and all that), against which I also cautioned in my 1998 article. Sorry, Abu Aardvark. I expect to be vindicated there as well.


Mr Kramer:

First, you write here that "Arab regimes look as entrenched as ever." That is not the argument you make in your article, where you ask, "What should American leaders know about Muslim politics and society?" answering, "In the Muslim world, the state is still stronger than society."

Obviously Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, and arguably, countries with provincial Muslim majorities like India and Nigeria, are all places where there is a high degree of latitude and vitality in the public sphere (I assume you are using "society" in this sense), presenting difficulties for your analysis. Moreover, places like Afghanistan, Somalia, Chad, and so on, are anything but state-dominated. Apparently, Islam is not an independent variable.

Perhaps you are using "Muslim" as a veiled way of talking about Arab countries. Even there, one would be hard-pressed to call Lebanon or the Palestinian territories "state-dominated." And given the many structural dissimilarities between Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and the fact that there are many authoritarian countries in the world (and in the region) that are not Arab, I find even that generous reading hard to vindicate.

If I said at the beginning of the season that the Royals were going to miss the baseball playoffs -- on the grounds that I find Kansas City ugly -- I certainly wouldn't feel "vindicated" when the regular season ended.


in fact, it actually bars thoughtful European exponents like Tariq Ramadan from entering the country!

Yes! Imagine that!

Well, you guys just keep puzzling over how your own intellectual prowess has failed to explain the situation in the middle east, ok?

I'll bow out of this convesration by stating the obvious again - the problem is Islam. When people in the middle-east lose their addiction to polictial Islam, they may possibly have a realistic shot at democracy. There is nothing the US or anyone else but muslims can do about it.

Thanks for the "bigot" comment, by the way. Pretty typical for self-styled intellectuals to make personal attacks on those who disagree with them :)


Incidentally, I do agree with you about the poverty of "civil society"/modernization theory and technological determinism. But your idea that these are somehow uncontested dogmas in the academy just isn't tenable.


Oh! One last shot across the bow! You intellectuals are once again behind the curve. The democracy project in the middle-east is yesterday's news.

Kinda reminds me of when I was studying COmputer Science in the late 80s/early 90s and I learned all about COBOL on the mainframes and RPG on the AS-400s. And then I got out in teh workplace and found out nobody even used Mainframes anymore, and COBOL was a dead language. I did see an AS-400 once! But it was running UNIX - luckily I had taught myself C/C++ and wasn't relying on the quality of real-world knowledge that an intellectual was capable of displaying.

Perhaps you guys should do the same. When you get outside the ivory tower you may discover that you not only don't know shit, but that everyone else knows a hell of a lot more than you.


Craig, you didn't answer a single one of hk's arguments.

Anyway...this discussion kind of reminds me of Marx's theory of historical inevitable progression towards socialism. I don't think that actually happened anywhere. It's the political equivalent of fortune telling, and just as reliable.

I would suggest the breakdown of Communist Eastern Europe was the breakdown of an ideology - after all, one was told Communism was for the benifit of the workers. When it proved to be the opposite, it was set up to fall. There is no such ideology spanning the Arab countries. Also, Communism was seen as Russian imperialism, and escaping that meant escaping Russia. Middle East/North African dictators are of own breed, and practically void of ideology.

Just far too many differences.


Okay, lets get our boots off and settle down. "Kramer" almost won on syllables with "technological determinism", but he was edged out at the last minute by "Klaus" with "historical inevitable progression". A photo finish! Everyone did very well. Unfortunately no one noticed the clue. "Kuran" is not just a professor, he is a "King Fahd Professor", you have to be alert these days. Da Ali G Show changed everything.

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