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Chapter 9: Democratization and the Uprisings (Introduction to Middle East Politics)

The Arab Spring was the move towards democratisation, away from authoritarianism. Since 2011, uprisings have occurred across the entire region, but the results have been mixed.

While there have been some changes towards greater reform, not all authoritarian regimes have been removed. And in many countries that saw widespread protest, there has been little political change.

Democracy is important not because all men are born equal, but because they are not born equal.  

Throughout history, there have been many political systems that have moved from authoritarianism towards democracy, while there have been very few that have moved in the opposite direction.

Democracy has occurred in waves. The first wave was in the early 19th to early 20th century. The second was after decolonisation post-world war 2. The third was the collapse of authoritarian regimes in Latin America and Europe in the 1970’s.

Each of these were followed by reverse waves – especially between World War 1 and World War 2.

In the Middle East, democracies have taken a hybrid form were parliaments co-exist with authoritarian regimes. The resistance to democracy is linked to religion. Authoritarian regimes have argued that democracies would allow the rise of Islamic groups to power who would implement Shari’ah and put an end to democracy.

There was a pseudo transition from authoritarianism to democracy in the Middle East from the early 1990’s and this has enraged a populace that has been given false promises for political change but  have only witnessed economic slowdown and corruption – 2010 was the year this frustration and resentment began to manifest on a mass scale.

Tunisia

Ben Ali was the leader of Tunisia from 1987 to 2011. Under his rule, Tunisia’s economy was privatised and was considered a stable nation, despite a slow economy. Most of the wealth was concentrated in the hands of the few. Very little international attention was given to Tunisia before 2011, particularly because of the prevalence of secularist policies. But Ben Ali ruled with an iron fist and had no tolerance for opposition.

The disparity and inequality in Tunisia, alongside deep state corruption and authoritarian rule, culminated in the outbreak of protests.

Today, Tunisia faces a difficult challenge in managing a deeply divided nation with a struggling economy.

Egypt

Hosni Mubarak won fake elections that kept him in power. The political opposition mobilized against him, especially when it became clear that power would be transferred to his son, Gamal, who was also accused of corruption.

One of the major controversies in Egypt took place when Egyptian natural gas was sold to Israel in 2005 for 40% of the global market price. This was in an economy with great wealth disparity.

The protests started in Tahrir square and gained speed through social media. Clashes between the army and the protestors resulted in a death toll between 800 and 1000.

Elections were held in late 2011, early 2012, in three stages. The Muslim Brotherhood, under the name FJP party, won. The liberal parties only gained a few seats in parliament and were marginalized.

In June of 2012, Morsi won the elections for president. Later, tensions developed between Morsi and the military, after the decision by Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the parliament was unconstitutional. Morsi saw this as a power grab by the military. Clashes erupted when Islamic Militants attacked an army outpost, killing 16 soldiers, before driving hijacked vehicles into Israel where they were killed by the Israeli Defense Force.

The relationship between Morsi and the military became irreconcilable. Morsi asked for the resignation of the leaders of the army and replaced them with Abdul-Fatah al-Sisi. Morsi then assumed full control of parliament in a highly controversial move.

Opposition to Morsi grew and caused public unrest. Clashes took place between Pro-Morsi and Anti-Morsi protestors. On July 3 of 2013, Sisi called for the resignation of Morsi. The latter refused to comply, but he was arrested alongside members of the FJP.

Protestors that were pro-Morsi were forcibly detained and attacked, around 800 died. Since early 2014, Egypt has become reminiscent of the Mubarak era. Elections have been held but with low voter turnout (10%) in the parliamentary elections and a lopsided victory for Sisi in the presidential election (his opponent got 3% of the votes).  

Morsi was sentenced to death for colluding with Hamas and Hezbollah to orchestrate the escape of Islamic militants from prison. Charges against former President Mubarak were dismissed in November 2014.

Libya and Tunisia have seen complete political transformations while Egypt and Yemen have seen the same structure stay in place.  

An Introduction to Middle East PoliticsChapter 9: Democratization and the Uprisings (Introduction to Middle East Politics) 1

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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