Western Europe, Middle East And North Africa
Nowadays most countries in the world proclaim themselves to be democratic. They provide fair representation of all the members of the society and grant them personal freedoms and rights. Nonetheless, some countries are still governed by autocratic leaders who restrict people’s basic needs and opportunities. In the modern globalized world, the form of rule influences international relations as democratic societies strive for strengthening connections with foreign partners and integrating in the world economy. Autocracies, as a rule, are prone to military attacks, forcible takeovers and hostility towards other nations. The regime in Middle East and North Africa region is a vivid contrast to Western Europe. Economic troubles and political instability that currently take place in these regions influence the global society and countries of Western Europe, in particular.
Western Europe belongs to the oldest democracies in the world. It embodies the main principles of the democratic society: freedoms of speech, fair elections, representation of all minorities and uncorrupt governmental regulation. The region of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) faces an opposite situation. Autocratic governors limit people’s rights; corruption flourishes at every level of regulation; radical groups threaten political and social stability. The main aim of this paper is to research democratic changes in MENA countries and determine prospects of democratization in the region.
The problem of democratic transition of Middle East and North America countries has been addressed by different scientists. Thus, Louise Fawcett studied international relations of the Middle East, historical background, current state and future prospect of the countries. Mohamed Ali Trabelsi studied democratic changes after the Arab spring in MENA. Statistical data from The Economist Intelligence Unit’s publication – Democracy Index, was used in this research. Michael Moran and Geraint Parry studied theoretical concepts of democracy and democratization. Paul Kubicek concentrated on democratic changes in Turkey. Profanter Annemariea emphasized the role of educational reforms in transition of Middle East countries.
In ancient Greece, the first state that established democracy, democratic rule was the only form of state regulation. Our understanding of Greek democracy is incomplete as at that time it meant direct rule of the assembled people. Due to large population, everyone cannot express his/her will directly. Consequently, modern states are representative democracies. Marx has given his definition of democracy as a system in which every person has equal opportunities to participate in decision-making especially, on issues of workplace and leisure.
The tendency to democratization has recently slowed down or even reversed in some countries. Global financial crisis have led to these changes in the political development. Having analyzed the current state of democracy in Western Europe, researches from the Economist Intelligence Unit came to a conclusion that popular confidence in political institutions and parties continues to decline. As a result, populist parties acquired support of traditional institutions. One of the main challenges of modern democratic systems is the declining public participation in politics. In Western Europe, alienation of electorate from mainstream political parties has become pronounced. A culture of obedient and docile citizens is not consistent with the healthy functioning of democracy. Democracies flourish when people are willing to participate in public debate, choose their representatives to governmental organizations and join political parties. Citizen can express their dissatisfaction by not taking part in elections, but in such a case, their voice would not be heard.
The Middle East and North Africa suffered a lot from conflicts and wars. No other countries have experienced more turbulence in recent years than MENA. Authoritarian rule has determined the vector of its international relations for centuries. Today the region includes diverse groups of states: Arab states of Asia and North Africa (members of the Arab League), and non-Arab states of Iran, Israel and Turkey. External forces begin to have a sufficient influence on the region’s economy. Common characteristics of this region are a high level of authoritarianisms, low levels of economic liberalization, and dominance of Islam. Countries of the Persian Gulf form a certain subgroup as due to oil production they have been more influenced by Western nations. Religion influences all spheres of governmental regulation in these countries, being the strictest in Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Liberal democracies are less prone to wars and conflicts. It raises the question whether interstate conflict among these countries would diminish if they become liberalistic. Despite having so many similarities, Middle East countries constantly fight against each other. Moreover, mature democratic states are not prone to solve conflicts with armor, whereas countries at the early stages of democratization are forced to act belligerently. Researchers have come to the conclusion that oil exporting countries are more likely to start conflicts than others. The reason for this is that they have more financial resources to purchase high-quality weapons.
The Economist Intelligence Unit publishes Democracy Index that gives insight into democratic changes in 165 countries of the world and two territories. It analyzes the following categories: civil liberties, pluralism and electoral process and pluralism, political participation, the functioning of government and political culture. Every country is given scores on the range of indicators within these categories. Then one of four regime types is identified: full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid or authoritarian regime. According to the results of this index, nearly half of the world is considered to be democratic, but only twenty countries, or 8.9 % of the world population, live in full democracies. 34.1% of the world population, or fifty one countries, are governed by authoritarian regimes. OECD countries, two Asian countries, one Latin American country (Uruguay), and one African country (Mauritius) were pronounced full democracies. 59 countries were categorized as flawed democracies. Around 2.6 billion of people, the largest proportion of which is the Chinese, live under authoritarian regimes. This evidence suggests that the level of economic development is not a dominant factor in determining whether a country is democratic. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) experienced the biggest deterioration in their Democracy Index scores.
The Arab Spring of 2011 was an attempt of the Arab world to overthrow totalitarian governments and one of the cases proving people’s striving for the regime change. A conflict between democracy and autocracy was the core of this uprising. After the economic crisis of 2007, the emerging countries were struggling to get back on their feet. Economic troubles and regional disparities encouraged people to protest against their governments. They were calling for more responsive and progressive governments. The Arab Spring signified gave rise the era of democratic transitions. The main aim of these protests was to protect the fundamental rights of people, provide justice, economic development, and establish peace among the Arab states. People wanted to fight corruption at each level of government. The uprising spread across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. People in Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates demanded a change of regime. Some autocratic dictators were overthrown; others promised democratic changes to keep peace in their countries. People wanted to eradicate corruption at each level of governance and provide fair elections.
Nonetheless, the Arab Spring has changed into violent chaos. Radical Islamist groups seized power in many countries at the end of Arab nationalism. Only Tunisia managed to consolidate its democratic gains, becoming a flawed democracy in 2014. Egypt returned to authoritarian rule while numerous countries in the region dragged on a bloody war. People wanted changes, but autocratic regimes did not listen to them.
The youth and women played a substantial role in these changes. According to Islam, women are granted limited rights and cannot participate in political life. Therefore, women’s primary goal is to promote men-women equality as in a democratic society both sexes have the same rights and obligations. Women empowerment will lead to the development of human potential in the Arab countries and increase their international ratings. Tunisian government was progressive in establishing equal rights for women and men, abolishing polygamy, legalizing divorce, and prohibiting abortion. Since 2011 Tunisian women have the same rights as men to participate in elections. The youth can be called the driver of changes for democratization. They accelerate cultural changes and call for educational reforms. As the Arab states follow age-old traditions, it is difficult to change status quo. Nevertheless, some changes are being made. In order to keep up with the global progress, they need to reform old systems of education. For instance, women are limited in their possibilities to get certain degrees even at private educational facilities, which are abundant in these countries. However, one of the signs of the progress is that in recent years, Gulf countries opened their doors to foreign universities, researchers and experts. What is more, the government of Saudi Arabia finances education of Arabian students abroad. Therefore, Gulf countries are more progressive and gradually accept changes, though religion still limits rights of certain groups of people being barrier to equality.
The main characteristic of democracy is the freedom of thought, beliefs, religion, etc. The countries of Arab world observe a completely different situation, with religion determining people’s rights, what they should do and what they should say. Religious-political intolerance dominates in MENA. It progresses into aggression against western communities, lawsuits against journalists, and the ban of foreign magazines. Radical groups go even further, committing offences with the use of the arms, kidnapping people and doing other unlawful actions.
2015 was a year when democratic principles were shaken by wars, terrorism, mass migration and other crises. As a result, the risk of undermining core democratic values, such as liberty, equality, fraternity, reason, tolerance and free expression, is currently growing. Thus, the democratic world is focused on the question of defending and extending the reach of democratic standards across the globe. On the other hand, Islamist terrorists attack democratic states with the aim to instill fear in the targeted countries. World community is deeply concerned with the prospects of MENA region democratization.
Mass migration from MENA region to Europe has polarized public opinion on this problem. Europe has not seen such numbers of immigrants since 1945. In this case, it is evident that democratic values do not always work as economic reasoning prevails. These events have provoked humanitarian crisis across European nations as Europe could not handle such numbers of refugees. Western Europe was not ready to accept all the refugees from MENA region since domestic economies would suffer from such increased migration. However, all democratic states should give the freedom of choice to those people who are forces to escape from political turmoil in their native countries. All migrants in Europe must follow certain administrative requirements and have limited rights comparing to the natives. Deadly attacks in Paris have proved that western society is not safe from Islamist groups and needs careful approach to the migration policy. Some of the attackers entered European Union as refugees. This situation shows that even democratic societies need to increase safety measures as autocratic regimes have radical policy towards westerners.
Turkish model of democratization was distinguished by researchers as a positive example of liberalization and economic development. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, it can serve as a model for other countries. Since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1922, a series of reforms were implemented in the country in the sphere of law, education, economic development, women’s rights and others. Despite occasional political instability, Turkey tried to remain pro-western opening to the whole world. Turkey managed to reduce tension between modernity and Islam, establishing achievement of western standards as a top priority.
Democratization is a gradual process that requires the change of people’s core values. It is difficult to implement theories of democratization in MENA region as people lived differently for many years, and thus reformation may take some time. Recent events when military groups seized power in a number of MENA countries have proved that they react to foreign intervention with hostility and radical actions.
Democracy is a complex notion that changes over time. It has some core principles, such as basic people’s rights and representation of public opinion that society needs to follow in order to be democratic. MENA region is versatile as some countries, such as the Persian Gulf states, Turkey, and Tunisia, have carried out some reforms for democratization while others still remain autocratic, caught in bloody wars. Religion remains the main barrier to democratic changes. The future of the world democratization is unstable as Western values lose their importance, Middle East and North African countries show a tendency to keep authoritarian values. Arab Spring has proved that people want changes: to have more rights, to live better and to stop corruption. It was successful only in some countries, while others did not manage to stop military crisis. Despite such trends, most people in the world still want to live in the democratic society. Globalization, promotion of education and expansion off middle classes support this process.