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Thread: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

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    Nobody expects the Senior Member Lemur's Avatar
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    Arrow Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    Interesting article, worth discussing. I'm stuck doing "work" today, so I'm just going to clip and reprint some of the more thought-provoking bits, then circle back later in the day and see what the Orgahs think. (In general, as I've said before, anyone who says they know where a revolution will wind up is a fool. But there are some interesting historical patterns here ...)

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    Besides the dismal record of revolutions of gone bad, four other social and political characteristics help stake the deck against these Arab states: youth, past democratic history, income, and complexity.

    Youth: The George Mason University political scientist Jack Goldstone argues that the low median age of these countries' populations lessens the probability that they will successfully negotiate a transition to democracy. That would follow the pattern spotted by the Stuttgart University researcher Hannes Weber, who in a 2011 study in the journal Democratization looked at data from 110 countries between 1972 and 2009. “Democratic countries with proportionally large male youth cohorts are more likely to become dictatorships than societies with a smaller share of young men,” he writes.

    Why? One hint might be found in an intriguing 2012 study, “On Demographic and Democratic Transitions,” by the London School of Economics population researcher Tim Dyson. Dyson contends that it is no accident that the shift toward lower fertility rates coincided with the rise of democracy in Western Europe. Falling fertility signals that people are gaining more control over their lives. “As the structure of a society becomes increasingly composed of adult men and women, autocratic political structures are likely to be increasingly challenged and replaced by more democratic ones,” Dyson argues. The median ages of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen are 30, 25, 25, 22, and 18 years, respectively. For comparison, the median age of the European Union is 41 years and the United States’ is 37 years.

    History: The fact that none of the Arab regimes have had much past experience with democracy also suggests that their revolutions are probably doomed to devolve into autocracy, at least in the short run. Goldstone maintains that former communist states in central Europe and the Baltics had smoother transitions to democratic regimes than did those of Central Asia and the Balkans because they had some involvement with democratic institutions before the Iron Curtain fell.

    How big has the Arab democratic deficit been? The Polity IV Index measures countries on a scale in which -10 indicates total autocracy and +10 signals full democracy. In 2011, the Dubai Economic Council macroeconomist Ibrahim Elbadawi and his colleagues reported that the Arab countries entered the 1960s with an average polity index score of -5.3—and by 2003 that score had fallen to a -5.5. In other words, while much of the world was democratizing at the end of the last century, Arab countries as a whole had become more authoritarian.

    Income: A 2006 study by the Columbia University political scientist David Epstein and his colleagues found that political regimes have a greater propensity to become and remain democratic as per capita incomes increase.

    Back in 2000, the New York University political scientist Adam Przeworski and his colleagues claimed to have identified an income threshold above which no democratic country had ever reverted to autocracy: About $6,000 per capita GDP ($,8,100 today). “Democracies never die in wealthy countries,” they asserted. According to the World Bank, the current per capita GDPs of Yemen, Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia, are $1,500, $3,300, $3,200, and $4,200 respectively. Given Libya’s continuing political chaos, the Bank doesn’t estimate its per capita GDP, but other sources report that it has fallen by about half to $6,000. None of the Arab Spring countries are now above the democratic consolidation threshold.

    Complexity: It is harder to build democratic institutions than it is for a strongman and his thugs to impose his rule on a country. In their 2012 study, “Complexity and the Limits of Revolution: What Will Happen to the Arab Spring?,” the New England Complex Systems Institute researchers Alexander Gard-Murray and Yaneer Bar-Yam analyzed data tracking regime changes in the 10 years following revolutionary events in countries around the world during the period between 1945 and 2000. They find, “In these events higher levels of disruptive violence result in greater incidence of autocratic outcomes.” The revolutions in Yemen, Libya, and Syria were or are all notably violent.

    The uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia were relatively peaceful, but the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi by Egypt’s army in July and a recent spate of assassinations in Tunisia dim the prospects of near-term democratic consolidation in both countries. As a consequence of their analysis, the two researchers infer that the “new governments are danger of facing increasingly insurmountable challenges and reverting to autocracy.”

    Why? Revolutions often flatten the state’s institutions leaving little for the victors to use for governance. When post-revolutionary social, political, and economic turmoil causes hope for better lives to falter, weary populaces often look for a “man on horseback” to rescue them and restore order. Democratic institutions must take into account a wider range of social, political, and economic interests and are thus much more complex than autocracies.
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    master of the pwniverse Member Fragony's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    I'd like to add number 5, the middle class. It is really number 1. No revolution ever got any momentum without it.

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    The Black Senior Member Papewaio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    All armies are perfected for the last war.

    Where is social media in this? Is it just a spark or does it provide motive force?
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    I think one of the reasons new democracies tend to end up with totalitarian regimes is that the people are so new to popular politics. The uneducated masses don't have much concept of civic society or what we would regard as liberal democracy - when they are given political freedoms, they tend to express themselves in the ways they are used to - religion, romanticism, radicalism, etc.

    For all the talk about the compatibility of Islam and democracy, it is worth remembering that Christianity and democracy once had similar teething problems. Remember how Cromwell overthrew a (sort of) tyrannical king and instituted a free parliament, which then proceeded to force the entire country into observing Presbyterianism. So in the interests of freedom Cromwell scrapped it, only to replace it with a Parliament based on the Jewish Sanhedrin, which was scrapped when it proved incompetent. And in the end they scrapped democracy completely, opting for the "rule of the saints" and imposing Puritanism on everybody. In the end the people opted for a return to the old Stuart monarchs. Perhaps this is what Egypt is doing at the minute?

    So, we've been there, done that...
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    Bopa Member Incongruous's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    I find the concept of the Arab Spring unhelpful, not only do the Arabic dialects of Libya sound completely different to those of the Levant, so too are the political divisions and the cultural baggage which informs them. Syria is not Libya, the Alawites have powerful regional friends. Robert Fisk (whom has called Syria the bloody summer of the Arab spring) doubts what he calls the Arab awakening is necessarily about Democracy, rather it is about Arab dignity. The fact that Egypt has overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood does not mean automatic failureof CNNś beloved Arab "Spring". Unlike Syria, Egypt's "revolution" was not a primarily sectarian one, religious yes, this I reckon is the reason why Syrias version of the Arab "Spring" is so nasty, dirty and apparently long winded.

    Its also interesting to note the stability of the old colonial borders during and after the uprisings...

    I always prefer looking at the opinions of those whom are decidedly in the know and on the ground, have talked to those partaking in the action, thus I find Fisk to be one the best authorities.

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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    I don't know about the Arab Spring failing.
    It might take a form that people didn't anticipate.
    You cut the head off the beast; and its open season. Think "Chance for Power" writ large.
    The best organized groups are religious factions: grassroots community forces which are perceived as legitimate sources of authority.
    Further, they are able to roll in other competing claims under the banner: "For God"; source of unity/salvation or chaos? Depends where you stand in the line of fire.

    Since I'm awake and rambling anyhow :p
    Perhaps the outbreak of violence and social chaos in the Middle-East is not a bug, but a feature.
    Last edited by HopAlongBunny; 08-27-2013 at 10:01.
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    has a Senior Member HoreTore's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fragony View Post
    I'd like to add number 5, the middle class. It is really number 1. No revolution ever got any momentum without it.
    Then I suggest you reread it, as it deals with that.

    And I agree completely with the article. A good read.

    A lot of its premisses could be challenged by Freire and Liberation theory though.
    Last edited by HoreTore; 08-27-2013 at 12:04.
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    I've been making this case for years about the capacity for democracy on the Arab Street, using most if not all of the same points, only to be called a racist. It gets published on Reason and suddenly it's a valid argument worthy of discussion?

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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    Quote Originally Posted by Lemur View Post
    Why? Revolutions often flatten the state’s institutions leaving little for the victors to use for governance. When post-revolutionary social, political, and economic turmoil causes hope for better lives to falter, weary populaces often look for a “man on horseback” to rescue them and restore order. Democratic institutions must take into account a wider range of social, political, and economic interests and are thus much more complex than autocracies.
    Anybody else get a mental picture of Napoleon reading this part? Still a potentially positive direction for the people of the region. No doubt there will be more Gaddafis than Cromwells, but frequent changes of the guard increases the chances.
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    Dux Nova Scotia Member lars573's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    Quote Originally Posted by PanzerJaeger View Post
    I've been making this case for years about the capacity for democracy on the Arab Street, using most if not all of the same points, only to be called a racist. It gets published on Reason and suddenly it's a valid argument worthy of discussion?
    You got called a racist cause you were being racist. Your views on Arabs and Muslims were less than just in times past. To paraphrase a German WWII vet. I'll let you in on a little secret. That article matches up with my own views on the Arab world's politics too. Save the youth point, I hadn't considered that much.
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    Member Member Zarakas's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    In my opinion, you cannot have democracy without wealth and the fair distribution of wealth. The uprisings in the Arab states is about the "have nots".

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    HopeLess From Humanity a World Member Empire*Of*Media's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    Could i say Because of The origins of Arabic Race & Islamic Beliefs ?!!

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    master of the pwniverse Member Fragony's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    Quote Originally Posted by Zarakas View Post
    In my opinion, you cannot have democracy without wealth and the fair distribution of wealth. The uprisings in the Arab states is about the "have nots".
    Sure about that, it were mostly students in the beginning, they can study so they have money. You are from Iran right, it's the middle class that is key

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    has a Senior Member HoreTore's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    Quote Originally Posted by Zarakas View Post
    In my opinion, you cannot have democracy without wealth and the fair distribution of wealth. The uprisings in the Arab states is about the "have nots".
    I disagree with that.

    The batch of dictators we're talking about actually had strong social focus. The poor was taken well care of, and they have been and still are in full support of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, for example. You'll find the opposition in the social layers above the poor.

    The man who set himself on fire in Tunisia who is "credited" with starting this whole revolution, wasn't a poor man. He was an educated middle class man who saw his prospects of bettering his lot in life crushed by the financial crisis of 2008.

    I still believe this revolution is more about hard cash than lofty dreams of liberalism, democracy or fundamentalist religion. The dictators fell because they could deliver the money.
    Last edited by HoreTore; 09-01-2013 at 11:39.
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    Senior Member Senior Member gaelic cowboy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    Quote Originally Posted by HoreTore View Post
    The man who set himself on fire in Tunisia who is "credited" with starting this whole revolution, wasn't a poor man. He was an educated middle class man who saw his prospects of bettering his lot in life crushed by the financial crisis of 2008.
    I heard it said on telly that supposedly he came from outside the traditional boundaries of the old Roman colony. Apparently inside that boundary has historically been integrated one way or another into the European economy.
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    Tovenaar Senior Member The Wizard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    What I don't like about all these quantitative, big data statistical studies of politics is that far from limiting themselves to a small range of variables and claims -- which is what statistical/quantitative theory would have you do -- they make some very bold claims based on some quite extensive, but therefore discutable theories.

    Tl;dr I think a lot of the studies mentioned in the OP suffer to one degree or another from the big problem of "correlation is not causation."

    For instance: how exactly does one get from the objective, statistically observed fact that dropping fertility rates coincided with the rise of democratic regimes in Europe (correlation) to the claim that the two coincide because the one caused the other, because dropping fertility means people (doesn't he mean women?) are taking more control over their lives, which in turn is held to cause/enable democracy (a huge double causal claim)? But theses like these ignore the hundred different factors which are either interacting with these two processes, or make them endemic to other processes. Just one way to think of this is the so-called demographic turn, which indeed describes the plunge in fertility rates, but in a web of many different variables and processes such as industrialization, (bureaucratic) rationalization, improved healthcare, better technology, increased literacy... need I continue?

    None of these factors operated independently from each other -- but that is exactly the assumption standard quantitative research operates on (all variables must be held independent from each other: x caused y unilinearly). What's more, (as in this case) such a simple model is then used to make very large (macro-)historical claims about huge social phenomena like democracy, without testing the theory behind the argument the way the statistical relationship between variables like "fertility rate" and "level of democracy" (how does one even measure that in numbers?) are tested. Thus one argument (the one about the statistical relationship) is verified while the other ("dropping fertility rate => rising individual choice => rising democracy") is not, because it's based on untested theories (of politics, democracy, demographics, history, and statistics, just to give a general sense).

    Why this excursion into the limits of statistical, quantitative, big data research? It's not that I disagree, per sé, with the hypothesis that a society needs to undergo the demographic turn in order to democratize. It's that I think one should be quite cautious about the ostensively "objective" claims made in quantitative research based on statistical data, because they're often based on some untested theory or other which is hidden behind the rhetoric of "unbiased data." And once one looks beyond the title and abstract one can critically examine, and critique if need be, such studies, none of which offer actually "objective" facts. Because it's not the facts that really matter, but how you interpret them.
    Last edited by The Wizard; 09-02-2013 at 13:20.
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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gelatinous Cube View Post
    Interventionism fails again....

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    Default Re: Why the Arab Spring Will Fail?

    Quote Originally Posted by HoreTore View Post
    I disagree with that.

    The batch of dictators we're talking about actually had strong social focus. The poor was taken well care of, and they have been and still are in full support of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, for example. You'll find the opposition in the social layers above the poor.

    The man who set himself on fire in Tunisia who is "credited" with starting this whole revolution, wasn't a poor man. He was an educated middle class man who saw his prospects of bettering his lot in life crushed by the financial crisis of 2008.

    I still believe this revolution is more about hard cash than lofty dreams of liberalism, democracy or fundamentalist religion. The dictators fell because they could deliver the money.
    I would venture to say that most, maybe all, revolutions/rebellions have an economic element in their generative process. How could this not be the case when people are involved.

    My country was founded, and the longest extent democracy begun, in a rebellion that was AT LEAST as much generated by ideas of economics as by human freedom. The Navigation acts etc. were every bit as relevant to that rebellion as were Otis fiery oratory about freedom. Our FF referenced Rousseau and reveled in the words of Paine, but our Articles of Confederation (precedes the current Constitution by about a decade) enshrined Life, Liberty and Property in the preamble....straight out of John Locke. Our Declaration of Independence may have used the phrase "pursuit of happiness," but the biggest signature on the paper was that of John Hancock -- Boston's most successful smuggler, who had a long tradition of evading the navigation acts in pursuit of profit.
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