Blog post

It was Monday, the first day of class, when after spending some minutes introducing ourselves we briefly brainstormed what democracy is! It was on that that I was intrigued by the people’s ability to conceptualize and speak their thoughts with all clarity. Though I didn’t say it, but one student made a clear distinction between ideal and substantive democracy in that preliminary discussion in our first class meeting. This was amazing, and throughout the semester the class remained active with people participating and professor Kendhammer explaining things whenever we stumbled upon something.

Of the assignments, the peer review exercise was very helpful. The comments we received from the instructor and fellow students really helped me get going with the paper I was writing. The democratic index exercise was also another avenue to put theory into practice – it helped explain democracy in concrete terms.

In all, I learned so much from this class. First, although it is difficult to define democracy, it is still an achievable thing. Secondly, democracy depends upon the elite’s willingness and ability to compromise and share power with the masses. Thus reducing the incentives and privileges one would get for being a leader will always help reach that stage.

I think the class was well organized and Dr. Kendhammer gave class members equal opportunity and enough time to discuss the various phenomena we were looking at. The Professor gave enough guidance to make us think, and was also accepting of people’s differing opinion, and I think that was great.

On sequencing democracy

Do we need economic development first before the introducing democracy? If YES, how about the danger of a dictator accumulating resources to make her/his authoritarian regime continue being in power? If NOT how would a starving population enjoy the fruits of democracy? And if democracy should occur amidst extreme economic need, how would a society sustain it in the long run?

While I agree that democracy is not entirely dependent upon what are called preconditions, I also believe that there must be some sort of a culture of tolerance and compromise for it to fair [Dr. Kendhammer has been emphasizing on this point a lot – if I’m not mistaken]. A gradual path to democracy is advised: there needs to be introduced institutions and a mechanism to guarantee effective political competition (Mansfield & Snyder, 6), though we need not wait for the institutions to be as strong as it was the case in the British experience.

Though it is not mentioned that much in political literature, I was imagining a situation where institutions which were meant to be democratic and to support democracy turn into supporting authoritarianism. This was [and remains] very true of the revolutionary democratic trajectory. In the French Revolution for example, we had a series of wars until an effective republic came into existence; the English Revolution also went through so much trouble before constitutional monarchy was effectively introduced. The Egyptians are yet to experience democracy and they are on the streets everyday demanding for a more responsible government. This paragraph could be a side-note, not a necessary part of this blog!

It seems also that there is no smooth path to democratization – democratizing without violence! History suggests that the fiercer a country’s democratic path is the robust the democratic outcomes will be. The English Revolution, the French Revolution and the American Civil War do all point to this fact. More recently, the Rwandan experience serves as a good example. There are countries like Bosnia Herzegovina whose horrible experience didn’t make them democratic though; and there are countries like Uruguay whose smooth transitions made them enjoy democracy today despite some economic difficulties they have been facing.

 

Ballot-box China 2

Despite competition manifested in the Chinese elections as seen in the Fuping example, the villagers are yet to realize the fruits of holding elections every three years. They demand better social services, and generally for their leaders to attend to people’s needs; not the colorful discourse that political parties and the media usually propagate.

We read from the text that decollectivisation could have been amongst ways to redefine people-state relations in rural China (63). In itself this would the first step in discouraging group welfare and would translate into a more individualistic approach where private property would, sooner than later, triumph. But at least a few dangers exist: can the Chinese government contain the potential social chaos coming out of such disorganized tendencies? As well, will this approach better the lives of the rural Chinese masses?

I believe that if this is to happen, it would lead to mass chaos historic in the modern world and that due to population density, China will consequently become a failed state. While I am a big fan of grassroots democracy, I would favor a smooth step-by-step transition to democracy without forcing in such ideas as privatization etc. for doing so would result in massive unemployment and the general collapse of social order.

the “Arab Uprising” -2

While the public managed to get Mubarak and Ben Ali out of power, the same peoples’ power has, for numerous reasons, failed to achieve the same objective in other countries – Syria included (p. 132). Conceptualized as ‘counterrevolution’, some Arab countries financed programs to sustain embattled regimes in some of these countries. While the pro-Arab mainstream media like Al-Jazeera was used to promote change in Tunisia and Egypt, some Arab countries used the same to support the maintenance of status-quo in Syria and other countries. The support that Arab countries offered to their fellow Arab and North African countries aimed at different ends; why that is so and what could have been done differently are yet a few questions we need to speculate upon.

But the story doesn’t stop there: Lynch relates the differing West-Arab intentions to cold war. Unfortunately, the author leans towards one side only by accusing the Arabs of hampering the revolutionary efforts which were to sweep across a majority of authoritarian regimes. Of course, the Arabs did although their invisible support for change in Egypt and Tunisia should not be overlooked. Lynch however doesn’t explain the American shielding of Hosni Mubarak in the early days of the uprisings in Egypt. On several occasions the US top officials – including the US President, his Vice-president and Secretary of State issued statements to let Mubarak stay until September 2011 when Egyptian elections were to be held. As it also unsuccessfully attempted to subdue peoples’ power in countries where the regimes honored its dictates, the US involvement was not necessarily aimed at democracy, but was interest-oriented.

I would conclude that, both the Western and Arab support for change was not value-neutral; they all had reasons why they supported democracy in one country and status-quo in another. And in fact I’d have included the role of Russia in the conflict as well, for its ties with some of the regimes and its anti-Western discourse [and actions] have a lot to do with the on-going situation despite not being much spoken about.

Arab Uprings 1

Of the events cumulatively called “Arab Spring”, the fall of Mubarak stands out. And despite my issues with the label “Arab Spring” as applied to events that happened and are still happening in the Africa’s north plus other middle eastern countries, I agree with Lynch in many respects.

The author is reminding us about the fact that there are countries and leaders that could fake democracy. For example, Mubarak pretended to listen to his country’s ‘youth’ without meeting their demands. Lynch further alludes to the fact that some [if not most] Islamist groups were disappointed with the behavior of their country leaders, and they accordingly initiated change in public culture in their efforts to ‘restore’ Arab order (p.2).  In my views this teaches us that: 1) It is misleading to associate the despots with Islam – for what they did was out of their own greed; 2) Islam is not necessarily incompatible with democracy; it could just be restricting democracy in some ways.

But in all, it seems to me that reluctance to reform during the democratization’s third wave, crumbling economies and arrogance of the leaders before their citizens – all put together made the people feel that their governments had abandoned them. And despite the humility that Islamic culture insists on, confronting wrong doers and discouraging misdeeds is equally encouraged as well. With this deeply-ingrained revolutionary spirit coupled with the role of information and the revolutions’ spill-over effects, Egypt followed Tunisia and other countries added to the list. The impact and magnitude differs from one place to another, but major restructurings have occurred. Just like in any revolutions, the journey is far from over: meaningful changes are not guaranteed unless the contending factions agree to compromise.

While the events in the Arab Spring were more populous – or involved a huge portion of the population, the Eastern European ones were mostly a product of electoral discontents. This is not to discredit the deep-seated issues which could cut across these two worlds, but at least to focus on proximate issues which triggered the uprisings.

On transitions to democracy

It is rightly put that authoritarianism is not universal across countries, nor it is monolithic. It takes different shapes and forms. And although international course could help in transitioning to democracy, much of the pressure to democratize needs to come from within and focus on empowering the majority of a country’s populace. Moreover, the transitions are conditioned and shaped by historical circumstances unique in each country (p. ix). We need to be wary though that even the desire to democratize is in itself an uncertainty and could lead to a more severe and sophisticated authoritarianism (p. 3), and the main difficulty is that despite the fact that rules and procedures are usually present during transitions, the same do usually rest in the hands of authoritarian rulers (p. 6).

I like their many treatments and conceptualizations of the various terms associated with transitions [strictly in the context they are discussing]. For example that democracy heavily relies on deliberations, and that liberalization is mostly about rights (pp. 7-10). But again, all these are relative concepts whose application usually varies from one place to another – just like the way the universality of human rights is contested even within different territories of the same country. Should we then say that democracy also varies across countries, which I think the answer is YES it does – then upon which standards shall we point fingers at a country accusing it of being a dictatorship? For example, if we have to condemn monarchies, and this is a very mild example, why are we quiet about England and Norway but we are so mad at Swaziland? Are we driven by the technical know[s] who? Why would we praise Vatican’s conclave but have our eyes open and hands on when it comes to Ayatollah, or discredit the Shura? And by the way, Shura is far better in regard to democracy than the Vatican machine!

Thinking about this and many more questions, we could surmise (and in fact we have seen this already) that democracy is hard to define and so is authoritarianism. This difficulty then makes it even harder to understand transitions. While I totally agree with the authors in many instances, and especially that of letting democratic transitions develop organically with less international involvement [and if international actors are to be involved they need to mainly take the role of a facilitator], on the ground things are quite different: we spread democracy using the barrel of the gun; we transact peace by using swords and machetes! And evidence exists that these too are called transitions. Something must be wrong in human civilization; there must be more to democracy apart from what we usually tell our people through books – this ‘something’ could be our economic interests and our deeply-ingrained tendencies of imposing our values onto other societies and cultures!

Whichever position I would take in the Syrian crisis would require me to have a more people-focused approach. This can be a little challenging as moving towards democracy requires more efforts and tranquility, at least amongst citizens, who are expected to vote for their leaders after Assad is ousted. Immediately after take-over I will get people from different sects of the Syrian population represented in the government – some sort of a coalition. This will allay any fears of the new regime turning into a dictatorship. At first I’ll have no much to offer to the public considering the fact that much of social programs have already are on the merge of collapse. After stabilizing however, I will put more effort into rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure and regain lost trust through creation of a people-elected government after a period of between two and four years.

 

America’s minority and their voting rights

First of, I’m glad that we’re discussing some disturbing areas in the acclaimed US democracy. Outside academics, a majority of Americans are quite uncomfortable to discuss issues like this – and race, and poverty inclusive; they all want to be ‘good citizens’, whatever that means. And secondly, I believe that despite the existing silence and anxiety, these issues still exist today and impact on the country’s democratic practice. From the readings, we can see a deliberate sidelining of African-Americans and Native Americans (yet some other disputable labels that for numerous reasons I’m uncomfortable with) as a means of state consolidation – in moves such as controlling migration to states with ‘minority-friendly laws’ (Keysar, pp. 43-46). I consider this as statecraft. And the same manifests itself quite vaguely but in rather more complex ways through limited access to empowering services like education and healthcare. That is, the poor and vulnerable one is, the more prone s/he is to making irrational decisions, including voting along racial lines or be easily manipulated by unscrupulous politicians. Should I criticize myself, then, I’d say that state-sponsored structural violence exists in all countries  though at differing magnitudes.

Tuck says that “His [White’s] pleading fell on deaf and mostly hostile ears.  […] “No African American would be elected to Congress for almost 30 years, no black Southerner until 1970s.” {See pages 580-581}. Posed with nearly the same question some months ago, and after pressing hard on him, a white American friend of mine hesitantly and uncomfortably responded “based on the no tax no representation principle, it was logical to deny them any voting rights”. That is, property ownership determined one’s rights to vote and be voted for. And because blacks were themselves owned as ‘property’, affording them the right to vote would have amounted to derogation of the white first class Americans. They even dared to call blacks and Native Americans  dependents, and despite his very sound analysis, Keyser’s scholarly impartiality is still taken away by this discourse. Would a property owner buy property for it to depend on him or for him to benefit from it? Also, did all white Americans own property? And how come that a perpetually oppressed person and whose land has(d) been colonized be able to generate wealth? To me, I’d consider this denial of people’s rights to vote as a dirty game of blaming the victim.