Monday, July 31, 2006

Undefining Democracy

J. Peter Pham takes issue with the lack of nuance in the repeated characterization by political leaders and reporters of the Lebanese government as “democratic.” He argues that while Lebanon is certainly more open than many Arab states, one should entertain no illusions about its “democratic” politics.

Pham raises a critical point--the difference between politicians, and in this case the Bush Adminstration, wanting to label for political purposes a country as "democratic", ends up ignoring the political science "realities" that really determine whether a country has become a democracy as defined by sustainable institutions and political culture.

The problem is that the strict application of the "mature polyarchy" rule would mean that countries like Hungary and Poland, for example, would only be recognized as being full-fledged democracies after 2009. Georgia, which has had considerable difficulties in sustaining democratic transitions, would only be able to start its current cycle from 2003 and so would not qualify under this standard until 2023.

It is just easier to take a country in transition and move it up or down the democratic scale based on your preferences. Ukraine is the best example of this. Over the last five years it has been described as a democracy, a dictatorship, a semi-democracy, a transitional democracy, and semi-authoritarian. I don't think that the country has gone through such dramatic changes. What has happened, though, is that a government in Kyiv has shifted on a number of policies back and forth. Former president Kuchma was a dangerous authoritarian when he tilted to Moscow, he was a reforming democrat when he sent troops to Iraq.

Why do you care about this? This is a non-siise; the Administration is using this as a propganda tool.
Everyone know this: "When you go to states, put up with their kitsch."
The Bush team is in a real bind. Just as in FSU their vaunted color revolutions have failed completely (in Kyrgyzstan) and are on the verge on collapse (in Ukraine), making Georgia the last holdout--so in the Middle East Lebanon's elections were the only ones that even remotely offered a chance for political forces that the US likes to come to power (pro-Israel, secular, etc). But now that window is going to be closed. No one over here has really paid much attention to a fiery encyclical delivered by a Lebanese bishop (George Khodr) who basically said, at the end, we are all Hezbollah now.
Nik, you've raised the quesiton of the democracy paradox in the past. Where do you put Lebanon in this context?
I think Pham was entirely correct to point out the major limitation in Lebanon: it is a confessional system. I don't know to what extent in different confessional communities there is true pluralism and competition (e.g. among the Maronites, Druze, etc.) but generally Lebanon has the problem about who is the "demos" that is meant to be doing the "kratia", and as such is more a power-sharing system rather than a democracy. Lebanon's confessionalism of course does lead to a great deal of pluralism and open-ness, too.

I think that in Lebanon a democracy paradox that was in action was that people essentially voted to "privatize" Hezbollah's conflict with Lebanon and essentially to stay neutral or uninvolved.
Nikolas K. Gvosdev:

When are you people going to stop applying your model of representative republic to the muslim world?

Likewise, when are you going to stop shoe-horning your model of nation-state to the them?

Lebeanon has no realsitic choice but being a confessional state whose system of government has to be realistically based on the confessional representation (in one way or another). This is only a limitation if you have an ideal in place: realism has to do with working with one has not pipe-dreams.

A Western model is un-realistic and impractical; the vaunted Cedar Revolution augmented the Sunni power and thus brought the Christians and Shias closer to counter the increased Sunni power.

Syria and Iraq also are in the same boad as Lebeanon. In the 50s, there coups and counter coups in Syria. The Alawaite dictatorship brough stability to Syria.

Why don't you people wake-up and smell the coffee; that your model has failed in every single Muslim state to which an attempt has been made to apply?

I challenge you to name a single Muslim state that can pass any acceptable definition of a representative republic.

From Malaysia, to Bosnia the Muslim polities have not been able to develop representative republics that have been liberal. Most of them are either hard (Libya, Egypt, Syria) or soft(Jordan, Kuwait) dictatorships.

The two Mulsim states that have progressed the furthest on the path to representative republicanism have been Turkey (staunchly anti-Islamic) and Iran (staunchly pre-Islamic). ANd neither of them is a liberal state or polity and with no prospects either.

I think that almost no Western analyst and historian understands how Islamic societies could possibly work (most do not understand how India could possibly function as a society and or state either).

There is a dearth of deep understanding of these societies and an appreciation of what is realistically do-able.

The failure of US & EU has been a failure of leadership: leading by example. US & EU have been the dominant military, economic, and cultural powers in Muslim states for the last 50 years (in some place like Indonesia for much of the last 400 years). Certainly in the Levant and Persian Gulf they had an enormous leverage.

And the results are there for all to see: wreckage. Really no sustained effort has been made over the last 30 years to nudge these states in a more progressive path; just beat them on the head like the colonials that they are.

I am not unsympathetic with you and the fine job that you are doing at the Nixon Center trying to be a voice for reason, moderation, and prudence. I admire your work.

But I strongly disagree with this type of exercise.

During the 3000 years of Chinese history, the only time that a small number of Chinese people enjoyed the protection of their life, liberty, and property was under the Colonial rule of Britain in the Hong Kong Colony.

This, in my opinion, is what we need as a first step in ME: the rule of law.
Anonymous, that's a pretty intense critique, but I don't think you and Nicolas disagree with each other. He was criticizing the vagueness with which the extent of democratization within a country is characterized, and you're saying that there aren't any real democracies in the ME, and he'd probably agree with you. Also about rule of law as step 1.

None of that means the ideal shouldn't exist. In 1600, you could say that there were no democracies in all of Europe and the place was unsuitable for it. And yet, they emerged.

Jordan W. '02
A confessional state can be a halfway house to democracy because it builds in a certain degree of pluralism; because of this in Lebanon you have a much freer media environment. But it can also retard the transition because as in Lebanon people have no free right to move between communities or change their allegiances and because of the weakness of inter-communal ties. You don't have a socialist party that runs Maronite, Druze, Sunni, Shia, Greek Orthodox and Armenian candidates, for example. And it can encourage an odd loyalty to Lebanon not as a state but as the framework that enables different confessional groups to co-exist.

You are probably right.

I must apologize for coming on so strong. It has been due to my interactions with US and EU citizens who are convinced that they are morally superior to others in the world and know best.

You mentioned Europe: the nation states of (Western) Europe are basically homogeneous. A result which was achieved by blood and sword. They have almost no ethnic subgroups (Muslims being new arrivals). And EU countries have no historical experience of governing a multi-ethnic state. In fact, the EU claim to liberalism and tolerance can only be validated, in my opinion, to the post war period; a war during which they got rid of their last significant religious minority.

More broadly, Europe has had the tradition of liberty of the Germanic tribes. There is no corresponding tradition among Muslim people. For them, it is only Islam.

If you walk in Italy, you cannot but notice how that culture will fall apart if you take away the Cathloic Religion in spite of the fact that they have the legacy of Rome.

In fact, if you notice, the South American countries also suffer from a dearth of Liberty since they were not the inheritors of the Germanic tradition of libery.

You are probably aware of all this and please forgive me for being so long in arriving in my conclusion: that the EU & US models will not work. 1600 Europe had some basis of a liberal representative political order; muslim countries just do not have that tradition. And thus, a "liberal democracy" is an unreachable goal for majority Muslim States
Anonymous 8:04

I agree with you that the confessional system of Lebeanon is a democratic half-way house. And I agree further with you that when it functioned, there was more freedom of expression and association in Lebeanon than in any other Muslim states in the world.

I jsut do not think it possible to move among confessions within the cultural context of the Near East. The public face of the European people is that they are now in their post-Christian phase. That does not obtain for the Muslim people, for Hindu Indians etc. (Even the Communists baptized their children in Italy!)

The parties in Lebeanon are built around individual ethno-religious leaders and not ideas. The only exception being, ironically, Hizbullah which is a true political party.

I agree with you and hope to see Lebeanon as a frameowrk for all these diverse people to live with each other.

But since that state is weak, every one walks all over it. US, Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc.

I almost wish we could have a treaty that would recognize Lebeanon as a neutral country (like Switzerland).
Danger! Danger! Heretics talking about "culture" and its relationship to democracy! More enemies of freedom afoot!
Anonymous 5:46:

"I almost wish we could have a treaty that would recognize Lebeanon as a neutral country (like Switzerland)."

We've already tried that in the Middle East, with a country called Cyprus. Can't say that it was particularly successful, not if one of the guaranteeing powers and neighbors wants to invade you!
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