The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Arab democracy in The Economist

There's a good overview of the backtracking on democracy by Arab regimes in this week's Economist. Read it while it's free.

One issue I have with the article is regarding Morocco, which I would argue is an exception to the rule described in the article. The "announcement" that the country would move towards democracy was made in the 1990s, partially carried out and given new impetus with the accession of Muhammad VI. It did not particularly stem from US pressure and the general pretense of democratization that has come about in the last four years. And it had already become clear by 2003 or 2004 that despite the talk, there was actually little concrete democratizing (constitutional reform, judicial reform, security reform) being done. While the achievements of the new moudawana and the Equity and Reconciliation Commission should be recognized, there is a distinct sense of disappointment that things have not changed as much as many once believed they would. So while Morocco remains a comparatively better model than many Arab states, in terms of actual reform accomplished (especially on political issues) it has stagnated for the past few years, or, some would even argue, backtracked.

More generally, I do think there are two standards to which Arab countries (or any others) have to be held to. One is a universal one of democracy, not necessarily on any particular model but as enshrined in common sense, political rights and principles such as those found in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and other international legal documents (many of which have been signed by Arab countries) that define a bare minimum for human dignity. The other is an individual one, where improvements are measured in terms of domestic expectations, promises by governments, the pace of change and its evolution over time. Morocco cannot be held up to the same standard as Tunisia, since in that case it will always appear like it's doing a lot better. It has to be held up to its own past. Likewise, political expectations of change in Egypt are quite different than those in Libya, etc. A regional comparison is actually not that helpful, except as a political tool to promote change by example -- such as the (for now) failed neo-con policy with regards to Iraq.