In the past meeting of class we discussed the general lack of success many of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa have experienced when it has come to democratic revolutions. The only somewhat clear success story is Tunisia and this is a country that still faces a steep uphill battle albeit not quite as steep as others such as Syria or even Egypt.
As previously mentioned in this blog there are a variety of reasons why monarchs are able to maintain power in this region. They play factions off one another, they divide dissent, they crack down mercilessly or they pay off their citizens in just a few examples. With all of these tools so readily available to monarchs and authoritarian regimes in the region does this mean that authoritarianism is there to stay? Is there any room for democracy?
First, it is important to understand why Tunisia has been so comparatively successful in their transition from rule under Ben Ali to democracy. First, Tunisia is not a country that is heavily divided by ethnic groups or religion. This poses a second question…is it religion or ethnic groups which inhibit the development of democracy?
Further, the government in Tunisia does not have strong ties to the military and lacks the overall military industrial complex that is dominant in countries such as Egypt. This was evident during protests early in the revolution when the military stepped in only to put down violence on both the regime and the protesters side without regard to who won.
Finally, many of the institutions currently in place in Tunisia were established well before the revolution, under Ben Ali. These institutions have been reformed and given new leadership but the revolution was not a total dismantling of government.
From the example of Tunisia we can gather a few important keys to facilitating democratic transition and understanding why revolution has not been quite as successful in other countries in the region. First, countries such as Egypt have very close ties between the government and the military. This almost ensures that the military will try to maintain power despite regime change. This can lead to a military dictatorship and ultimately does not facilitate the transition to democracy.
Another key issue found in other nations is the total dismantling of government institutions. This is most evident in Iraq where the entire government was dismantled after Saddam was deposed and executed. The result is a democracy however it is incredibly unstable.
As previously stated Tunisia is relatively unified in both ethnic group and religion. This is not true in many countries throughout the region who have multiple religious and ethnic groups located in one boarder. This most often, is the result of colonialism and a failure to understand ethnic divisions in the region by european powers. The classic example here is the creation of Iraq’s boarders.
An important side note here which was brought up in class is that religious conflict historically, has not been an ongoing issue instead it comes and goes and is often used as a tool for alternative motives. Given this knowledge it would appear that simply because a country has varying ethnic and religious groups does not mean they cannot have successful regime change, instead the issue becomes apparent when the ruler plays these groups off of each other to maintain power.