According to Professor Nacer Djabi, there are two scenarios for a democratic political change in Algeria. The first scenario is the positive one. This scenario is the peaceful and pacific scenario that may occur for within the institutions such as the current political parties as well as the civil societies through means like elections. Professor Nacer Djabi argues that in order for this transition to occur peacefully, the first generation has to concede its powers to the second generation which is mainly consisting of ministers, prime ministers, and political party leaders. However this approach is problematic because the case with this generation in Algeria is that it had a chance to experience being on the top of the executive branch and have the majority of the seats in the parliament yet they still believe that they do not have the ability of the real decision making control. In other words, this generation executes but does not decide. The second scenario is the violent scenario. This political change scenario comes from outside of the institutions and will be done by the third generation which will oppose the first generation and possibly face the nationalism ideology simply because the third generation views everything the first generation does as negative. This scenario will high likely occur in the streets due to the absence of the third generation in the higher institutions. Finally, in order for Algeria to reach democracy, it has to overcome the challenging obstacles standing on its way in the examples of demilitarize the political decision making, open more venues and assign more role to the younger generations, and increase the quality of social welfare in order to guarantee a peaceful transition.
Where is Algeria Transitioning to?
It is certain that Algeria is facing challenging obstacles in order to transition to a fully democratized state. The power struggles between the political and military elites have been withholding the country from implementing such transition. These power struggles have been seen in the examples of factionalism, the military perceiving itself as the heir of the nation, and the race to acquire a large portion of the economic cake. Moreover, one of the main challenges of democratization in Algeria has been associated with the problem of generations. According to the Algerian sociologist and political science professor Nacer Djabi, the failure power transition that leads to a democratic change in Algeria is associated with three generations. The first generation is the generation of the revolution (la famille révolutionnaire). This generation consists of the people who made the revolution and fought for the war of independence against France. Professor Nacer Djabi describes this generation as being smart and controlling. For instance, this generation is known by not having achieved higher educational levels, yet they have a long experience in governance. This generation forms the top political and military elite currently in Algeria. This generation views the other generations as politically immature and that it is not safe to proceed with an uncertain political transition and hand the country’s affairs to them. This first generation is looked at by respect and fear by the second generation while the third generation looks at them with discontent and unhappiness. The second generation is the generation which was born during the last ten years of colonialism and the first ten years after the independence. The second generation is the generation that participated heavily in building and developing Algeria. They have a better educational level than the first generation and also have the authority to economic and social decision making. However, this generation does not have the authority for the political decision making because it is monopolized by the first generation. This generation is heavily present in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government in Algeria. This generation received its governance training from the first generation which was the generation that placed them in their current positions in the government. Therefore, this generation does not actively look for change because they perceive the first generation as the real saviors of Algeria and are usually fearful and shy from creating a significant change. At the same time, this generation whose age range starts from fifty years old still hopes for reaching the elite’s positions. According to Dr. Nacer Djabi, one can find a sixty year old person who has been serving in the government for decades still hoping to reach higher leadership positions whereas the normal expectation is that people at that age would have to retire according to the Algerian law. Therefore, the real problem that is holding Algeria from transitioning to democracy lies in the second generation. This second generation is the one that implements the quick fix solutions decided for it by the first generation to buy social peace in order to perpetuate the system. Moreover, this generation is a pure product of the single party system, yet it is functioning in the multiparty era with practices of the old one. Even though this generation has high management skills, it is perceived by the first generation as being there to execute only while it is viewed by the younger generation as stubborn bureaucrats. The third generation is the generation which was born during the last thirty five years. This generation forms percent of the population. This generation has still not had its chances to reach medium and high leadership positions. This generation has the virtues of being highly educated, open to other cultures, and master foreign languages. This generation is known by its advanced skills and rapid adoption of new technological inventions. For this young generation, they believe that instead of engaging into formal political parties in which they lost hope to implement change, they use other means to express themselves and their opinions using means such as social media. As previously stated, this generation perceives the first generation negatively; sometimes to the point where they express their doubts about the legitimacy of this generation as far as nationalism and the war of independence. Some of the comments that the third generation makes to the first generation is that they are corrupted and sign of wealth are obvious on their lifestyles while they are isolated from the daily problems of Algerians. This is due to the absence of the young generation in the institutions that are controlled by the first generation. However, the third generation looks at the second generation more positively due to several reasons. The second generation is present in the constitutional institutions, companies, universities, and civil societies where they have access to an immediate contact with the younger generation.
This class was a great chance for me to learn what I did not know before. I enjoyed the rich content of the class where we had many examples from many places in the world. I could contextualize my knowledge about the challenges of democratization and I am now more able to identify whether a country is democratic or not based on the tools we learned in class. The democratization index was a very good hands on experience for me. Also, the games we played in class to explain the transition process form authoritarian rule to a more democratic one were very beneficial. Countless are the things I learned in this class and I am grateful to have arrived to this point!
Although I am convinced that this will not be as effective as one can hope for a democratic transition in China, I think that using civil societies and NGOs can be a safe bet to promote democracy in the world’s strongest communist regime. For instance, Western democracies such as the United States can make use of the growing number of Chinese students who pursue their degrees in the United States. In addition to the fact that they live a good portion of their lives in democratic countries, they may also demand introducing more democratic practices when they go back. Other than that, U.S and European democracy promotion projects should focus more on improving governance not changing regimes that do not meet their criteria of governance. Also, the strategic goals and interests for these Western democracies with China limit their efforts to pressure China to take the democratic path; in other words, it is status quo situation. Currently, Chinese elites view democracy as an American agenda to destabilize China and hinder it from being a superpower. Therefore, they want to receive guarantees and feel safe that democracy will not interfere with China’s national security. In conclusion, I think that the change towards democracy in China will come from the inside; notably by the new generation which received Western education.
Although when talking about China, the general first impression is that it is an absolute dictatorship with no tolerance of any civil liberties or political and social opposition. However, I think that China is on the right path towards reaching an actual democracy. I understand that democracy looks different everywhere and it is, most likely, not possible to have two identical democracies, there are few things that are holding the Chinese regime from being called democratic. For instance, China still functions on a single communist party system and does not allow for multiple party systems to be formed. This practice itself guarantees any given political authority in the world not to be called a democracy regardless of any other democratic practices that can be witnessed in that country. In China’s case, it is clear that the Chinese culture plays a huge role in determining the local politics. As Pan Mei states in the book that multiple political players and parties are not part of the cultural traits of China. The other factor that makes China undemocratic is the mere absence of civil and individual liberties. With censorship over media and social media, the Chinese government uses its powers to limit the expression channels for its people in order to force the expression to stay within the communist regime. Despite all of these undemocratic practices, I think that China has the status of a strong state that maintains a good grip over its constitutional institutions where the state’s prestige is obvious. I think that if China decides to open the opportunity for other political players to participate in the decision making process in addition to giving more freedom to the media, it will qualify for a an advanced democracy.
The Arab Spring is beneficial to the United States for many reasons. Previous autocratic regimes censored the media so with the newly democratized regimes, the media is free and open which gives the United States a great chance to infiltrate the media market through its local allies and therefore convey its agenda. Another reason is to establish regimes that are allied with the United States and would be open to the United States’ usage of their territories to fight terrorism. Moreover, a freer Middle East and North Africa would help restore the United States’ reputation as being the first defender of democracy after Bush’s era. However, the biggest benefit for the United States from a freer Middle East and North Africa is that these newly democratic governments will be in favor of the security of Israel, which is a great concern for the United States. Unlike the old dictatorships which were making decisions for their people by going to several wars, the people in the newly democratized countries are able to criticize the regimes that they chose. Therefore, when it comes to major decisions such as foreign policy, the people will have influence in reshaping the decision of their leaders. In this case, people would favor economic development rather than going to war with Israel which gives the United States more room to control that.
There are many reasons why autocratic regimes lasted for such a long time before democratizing. The first reason is that these autocratic regimes adopted a demoralization plan. The demoralization plan consists of creating a “one man state” and inject the population’s minds with the idea that there is no political alternative and future if this man leaves power through the state’s media channels and the education system. As a result, the general public would not think about acting against this regime because they would think that it is the only way for them to live peacefully. The second reason is that autocratic regimes in the middle east and north Africa worked for a very long time on weakening the civil societies. Civil societies, political parties (if any existed), and the parliament became tools in the hands of the autocrats to pass their agendas instead of being institutions that monitor the performance of the government. The third reason is emphasizing police states. Opposition figures, human rights activists, and a lot of times students faced abductions, arresting, and torture for carrying and demanding ideas and rights that did not go along with the interests of the authoritarian regime. Therefore, the strong violent grip of the security forces made the population fear expressing any discontent with the authoritarian regime because doing so would put their life in danger.
If we take a look at the countries where revolutions occured that Beissinger provided examples for, we can see many similarities across the different countries. In the cases of Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, these countries were part of the former Soviet Union and the massive uprisings occurred as a natural result of the still existing Soviet era practices that were withholding each one of these countries from reaching stable economies. After these countries gained their independence in the early 1990s, the people had the chance to compare their situation to other developed countries. Therefore, the massive uprisings that were driven by high unemployment, low income, and spread of corruption made it compulsory to overthrow the Soviet inherited systems in order to reach the development that liberal countries enjoy.
In the case of former Yugoslavia, which was another socialist, pro-Soviet country, the protests were also driven by the population’s displeasure with the system. The Balkan wars led by -what was at the time named- Serbia and Montenegro in Bosnia and Kosovo made the political and economic situation the worst in the region. As a result of the instability the people got tired of the politics of Milosevic and decided to overthrow the regime in order to follow the example of liberal Europe. I think that the protests that demand overthrowing a certain regime occur usually in the countries where the political leaders follow a seclusion and denial. In countries where the civil liberties are limited, economy is not stable, and foreign relations are not good enough, the regime overthrowing becomes a must. Therefore, the protests happen against certain type of regimes, and that is oppressive regimes.
If I was in Bashar Alassad’s shoes I would do certain tactical concessions that still keep me in power as long as possible. The first step is to put an end to the single Ba’ath party system and change the constitution to introduce a new multiparty system. The second step is to make the presidential elections be through the parliament. Making the elections indirect through the parliament can guarantee an extended presidential life for Assad by having new soft liners be involved more into the political operation. The third step would be to give the local media a bigger margin of freedom in order to calm down the general public a bit. The fourth step would be to organize elections where winning is guaranteed for the current president. The fifth step would be to introduce major economic reforms and have the civil societies such as labor unions and organized university student groups get mobilized to adopt these political and economic reforms. The last step for the Syrian case would be to limit the powers of the security agencies in the country. Syria has four major intelligence agencies which usually get involved in the detailed lives of the Syrians and also compete against each other in order to please the leader. With Syrian business owners being used, and sometimes forced, to pay royalties and unofficial taxes to these security forces, this fact made the Syrians get tired of the police state they’re living in. Therefore, in order to guarantee lasting more in power, I would limit the involvement of these security agencies and focus on making them work more professionally.
I think that both approaches are undemocratic simply because they share the same goal which is to win the elections unfairly. However, frauds that add to a candidate’s vote total are still more tolerated than frauds that surpass an opponent’s vote total. In a world where we cannot assume a 100% transparent electoral process anywhere, the open competition between different opponents allows for a limitless, usually unfair, competition between them. For instance, the likelihood that private financial persuasion efforts would occur in exchange for peoples’ votes is high. However, even though it is not democratic to do so, voters can still make their choices of the candidate they see appropriate for them. Therefore, frauds that surpass an opponent’s vote total which usually do not involve voters’ choices at any stage are more damaging to democracy because it makes the population lose confidence in the whole political process which results a low participation rate in the future.