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Democracy in the Arab Middle East

Democracy in the Arab Middle East

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Published by David Montgomery
A senior year paper for Professor Robert Grey's "The Diffusion of Democracy" political science seminar at Grinnell College. I examined the democratization potential of three Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait.
A senior year paper for Professor Robert Grey's "The Diffusion of Democracy" political science seminar at Grinnell College. I examined the democratization potential of three Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait.

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Published by: David Montgomery on Jan 26, 2011
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Introduction More than 4,000 candidates from a wide range of political parties declared their candidacy for one of 454 seats in Egypt’s parliament. Activists took to the streets and openly campaigned, unmolested by the authorities even when they denounced the government under the eyes of passing policemen. One major opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, hoped to gain two to five times their current number of seats in parliament.1 A year later in Jordan, opposition parties are even more confident. They declare that in a fair election, they would receive forty to fifty percent of the vote. The victory of Hamas over the incumbent Palestinian Authority just to Jordan’s west has them convinced that they can win, too. “We are in a peaceful battle for change,” declares Zaki Sa’ed, an Islamist opposition leader. “We represent the will of the majority of Jordanians who seek change.” Opposition candidates are boldly criticizing the government, accusing it of being corrupt and undemocratic and calling for drastic political and social reforms.2 The liberalizing Jordanian monarch has reduced the machinery of state repression and hopes that the upcoming election will mark “a watershed in this pro-American kingdom’s slow but committed march to democratic change.”3 That same year, five hundred miles to the east, the opposition is not hoping to

Salah Nasrawi, “Islam Takes Center Stage in Egypt Election,” The Washington Post, 5 November 2005. Accessed at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2005/11/05/AR2005110500891_pf.html 2 Thanassis Cambanis, “Jordan’s Islamists see a path to political power,” The Boston Globe, 21 March 2006. Accessed at http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2006/03/21/jordans_islamists_see _a_path_to_political_power?mode=PF 3 Thanassis Cambanis, “Jordan, fearing Islamists, tightens grip on elections,” The New York Times, 11 November 2007. Accessed at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/11/world/middleeast/11jordan.html? ref=world&pagewanted=print 1

succeed in parliamentary elections—they already did. Kuwait’s summer elections turned out a resounding victory for the opposition coalition, which won 33 of the 50 seats, an absolute majority in the parliament. It was a “crushing defeat for government supporters,” according to one analyst, noting that the opposition came in first place in 21 of the 25 multi-member districts, sweeping ten of them.4 Moreover, this election had the broadest participation in Kuwaiti history—prior to the vote, the government extended citizenship, including voting rights, to women, making it the first ever Kuwaiti election with universal adult suffrage.5 Was this a wave of democracy sweeping across the Arab world to warm the heart of U.S. President George W. Bush? In the spring of 2005, Bush had famously declared that “democracy is on the march” in the Middle East and that authoritarianism was “the last gasp of a discredited past.”6 In his State of the Union address earlier that year, Bush had rhetorically framed the promotion of democracy in the Muslim world as a cornerstone not merely of American values but of American interests: In the long-term, the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror, and that terror will stalk America and other free nations for decades. The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom.7 So were these events in Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait, as well as other countries and

Oman Hasan, “Election results leave Kuwait grappling with tough options,” Agence France Presse, 1 July 2006. Accessed at http://www.arabnews.com/? page=7&section=0&article=84651&d=1&m=7&y=2006 5 Anway Syed, “Kuwait’s road to democracy,” Pakistan Dawn, 13 August 2006. Accessed at http://www.dawn.com/2006/08/13/op.htm 6 “Bush: Democracy is on the march,” CBS News, 8 March 2005. Accessed at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/08/politics/main678778.shtml 7 George W. Bush, “State of the Union Address,” 2 February 2005. Accessed at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/02/20050202-11.html 2

regions like Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Saudi Arabia a sign of broadening democracy? In 2008, none of those countries is a full democracy.8 By the time elections arrived in Egypt, voters were met at the polling stations by police firing tear gas and rubber bullets to keep them away and avoid a strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood.9 In Jordan, the same Hamas victory that emboldened the Islamist opposition also silenced liberal reform demands and frightened the government, which banned some opponents from running for parliament and was accused of open electoral fraud.10 Even in Kuwait, the newly elected opposition government has no control over government and can be dismissed at the will of the emir.11 Moreover, the supposed “pro-democratic” opposition is dominated by Islamists, most of whom oppose expanded political rights for women and might take steps to curtail their franchise once in power.12 Democracy in the Arab world is complicated business. In this paper, I will examine the question of Arab democracy in more detail, examining its current state and future prospects through a comparative study of three different Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait. Although there are numerous different theoretical approaches to explaining democratization both worldwide and in the Arab world in particular, I will make use of two principal theories of democratization: modernization theory and transition studies. More specifically, I contend that the chances

Freedom House ratings, 2007. Egypt receives a 6 out of 7 for Political Rights and a 5 out of 7 for Civil Liberties, Jordan a 5 for Political Rights and a 4 for Civil Liberties, and Kuwait a 4 for both. Accessed at http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm? page=22&year=2007&country=7203 9 Daniel Williams, “Police attack voters during last day of Egypt election,” The Washington Post, 8 December 2005. Accessed at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2005/12/07/AR2005120702611_pf.html 10 Cambanis, “Jordan, fearing militants…” 11 Syed. 12 “Kuwait hastens women’s vote bill,” BBC News, 6 March 2005. Accessed at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4325207.stm 3

for democratic transition and consolidation in the Arab world depend principally on a state’s political culture and institutional structure. As a brief cautionary note, the subjects dealt with in this paper are all expansive and each worthy of entire books. I will address them in sections of several pages. Obviously this falls far short of an ideal analytic richness. However, the aim of this paper is not to treat any one state or theory in depth but to compare different states through multiple prisms in the hope of getting a fuller overview of the prospects for democracy across the Arab Middle East. II. Theoretical overview Modernization theory holds that democracy emerges as a result of increased economic development. Increased national wealth is held to lead to “an educated middle class” and “produce[s] a number of cultural changes favourable to democracy, such as increased secularization and a diminution in ascriptive and primordial identities.”13 While some modernization theorists focus on the connection between wealth and democracy and try to post “an overly simple and lineal relationship between [development] and democracy,”14 other writers place their emphasis on the intermediary role of mass values. The most prominent proponent of this approach is Ronald Inglehart, the director of the World Values Survey. Inglehart, through his extensive survey research data, finds that independent of cultural variables, countries with similar levels of economic development have similar values, as modernization theory predicted. Instead of one linear

Jean Grugel, Democratization: A Critical Introduction (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 47. 14 Grugel, 48-49. Grugel wrote of modernization as focusing on “capitalism” rather than “development,” but I believe that this is an overly narrow reading of modernization theory. Many other modernization theorists like Lipset (1959) and Inglehart (2005b) do not focus on capitalism. 4

progression from undeveloped and undemocratic to developed and democratic, as earlier theorists hypothesized, Inglehart finds that values change in two axes. Industrialization causes values to become “secular/rational” as opposed to traditional, while postindustrialization and the rise of the consumer-based economy cause values to be focused on “self-expression” rather than simple survival.15 These self-expression values form the “political culture” that supports democracy: In short, socioeconomic modernization brings the objective capabilities that enable people to base their lives on autonomous choices. Rising emphasis on self-expression values leads people to demand and defend freedom of choice. And democratic institutions establish the rights that entitle people to exert free choice in their activities.16 The survey that Inglehart defines as “self-expression” values include prioritizing self-expression and quality of life, considering oneself happy, believing that homosexuality is sometimes justifiable, being willing to sign petitions, and being trusting of others.17 Altogether these self-expression values alone explain 75 percent of the variation in Freedom House rankings for individual countries. They also explain 89 percent of the variation in the World Bank’s “anti-corruption” scores, which Inglehart defines as a measure of “elite integrity” and uses as a shorthand for how effectively a country’s political freedoms are actually experienced by its people.18 Inglehart also modifies traditional modernization theory in one important additional way: he brings national culture back in. He rejects arguments that one culture or another can never support democratic values, but does find that culture has a

Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 1-5. 16 Ibid., 3. 17 Ibid., 51. 18 Ibid., 150-157. 5

significant impact on individuals’ values. Inglehart finds that “value systems … continue to impose strong constraints on human self-expression. The diversity of basic cultural values helps to explain the huge differences that exist in how institutions perform in societies around the world.”19 Pertinent to this paper, Inglehart and Welzel found that Islamic countries tended to report scores .71 points lower on a four-point scale for selfexpression values (the ones that correlate so strongly with support for democracy) than would be predicted by economic development alone.20 I will use Inglehart’s theory and survey data to project the prospects for democracy in my three subject countries. In general Inglehart finds that Muslim opinions towards women and homosexuals, among other values, reflects a current lack of emphasis on self-expression values that suggest a poor outlook for Middle Eastern democracy.21 However, there is a wide range of economic development among Arab countries and among my three subject countries, and more advanced economic development could lead to better chances for democracy. In my analysis of the political culture of Arab countries I will also rely heavily on the research of Moataz Fattah, who has surveyed more than 30,000 literate Muslims all around the world in an attempt to determine the degree to which “Muslim values” affect views of democracy, and how this varies from country to country. While his data is subject to the enormous caveat that it applied only to the population of literate Muslims, I do not believe this will notably affect results. Adult literacy rates in my subject countries are 71.4 percent in Egypt, 89.9 percent in Jordan, and 93.3 percent in Kuwait.22 While
19 20

Ibid., 4. Ibid., 74. 21 Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris, “The True Clash of Civilizations,” Foreign Policy 135 (2003), 62-70. 22 The 2008 CIA World Factbook, accessed 4 May 2008 at 6

Egypt’s illiterate population is worryingly large, in both countries the population of literate Muslims ranges from a large majority to a near totality of the total population, and certainly an even larger proportion of Muslim elites who drive popular opinion. Fattah found that Muslims fell into one of four general groups. Traditionalist Islamists (or just “traditionalists”) “reject democracy on Islamic grounds,” while modernist Islamists (“modernists”) “search for a modern (democratic) government that is compatible with Islam,” which they usually call “Islamic democracy.” Secularists “do not worry about how compatible their ideal system is with Islamic labels” but can themselves be divided into two camps: the “autocratic statists” (“statists”) and the “liberal pluralists” (“pluralists”).23 Generally speaking, traditionalists and statists are opposed to democracy while modernists and pluralists are supportive of it. Thus Fattah concludes that a society where modernists and pluralists outnumber traditionalists and statists is more likely to democratize than one that is not, because of the presence of a pro-democratic majority. Fattah also distinguishes, similarly to Inglehart, between support for democratic institutions (elections and voting) and support for democratic norms (political tolerance).24 He concludes that Muslims are not passionately and irrationally antidemocratic as the popular media and some scholars have often implied, but rather they are conditioned to view democracy with positive expectations or skepticism. This finding offers hope, then, that with the right mix of experience and incentives, Muslims will be motivated to demand more from their leaders and to push for democratic reforms.25 I believe that these modernization/political culture approaches are very promising https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html 23 Moataz A. Fattah, Democratic Values in the Muslim World (Boulder: Westview Press, Inc., 2006), 9. Italics in original. 24 Ibid., 38. 25 Ibid., 4. 7

in explaining the state of and prospects for democracy in the Arab world. Democracy, as a government nominally “of the people,” clearly will not thrive without popular support. However, I think it is a mistake to rely wholly on “structural” approaches like modernization theory. Structural approaches are very good at explaining long-term behavior, but not so good at predicting how individual actors will behave at particular, important moments where the fate of a country can hang in the balance. Put another way, modernization can predict (as Inglehart does) whether or not a particular country is likely to become democratic within the next decade or two, but not whether or not it is likely to undergo a democratic revolution in the next year or how that revolution will turn out. It is for that reason that I have paired my modernization analysis of my subject countries with an agency-focused transition studies approach. Transition studies focuses “on the processes of democratization by examining the interactions, pacts and bargains struck between authoritarian leaders and the democratic opposition. These deals led to a ‘transition’ … in which the institutional rules are laid down for the practice of democracy.”26 In the foundational work for transition studies, Guillermo O’Donnell and Philippe Schmitter argue for a crucial distinction amongst regime supporters in authoritarian states between “hard-liners” and “soft-liners.” The former “believe that the perpetuation of authoritarian rule is possible and desirable, if not by rejecting outright all democratic forms, then by erecting some façade behind which they can maintain inviolate the hierarchical and authoritarian nature of their power.” The latter develop the “increasing awareness that the regime … in which they usually occupy important positions, will have to make use … of some degree or some form of electoral legitimation,” and that the longer such reforms are delayed the more dangerous the

Grugel, 57. 8

situation becomes for the regime.27 A key part of the transition approach is that during the transition, and particularly during the sensitive early stages, the “hard-liners” have the ability to use coercive force to stop the transition. If the soft-liners are not strong enough, then the transition is much more difficult, if not impossible; the hard-liners simply squash any moves towards democracy. Thus transition to democracy requires divisions among the regime in order to succeed.28 Looking specifically at Arab countries, Michael Herb used the transition studies approach to analyze the possibility of a democratic transition in various Middle Eastern states. Herb concluded that the institutional structures of particular states strongly affect the robustness and unity of a regime. Most specifically, he found that some Arab countries—including Kuwait—typify an organizational structure he called “dynastic monarchy,” where the ruling family develops “mechanisms to distribute and redistribute power among their shaykhs and princes, without drawing outsiders into family disputes. At the same time, these families preserve their tight grip over state power” by monopolizing control of the state organs to members of the ruling family. The effect is to unify the regime and prevent the crucial “hard-liner” faction from emerging. Herb concludes that “a ruling class which has a mechanism to regulate its own internal conflicts, which dominates a modern state, and which can attract at least some support within society, is extremely hard to overthrow,”29 though he holds out some hope for topdown liberalization. Non-dynastic monarchies, such as Jordan’s, are much less stable;

Guillermo O’Donnell and Philippe C. Schmitter, “Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies,” in Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, edited by Guillermo O’Donnell, Phillippe C. Schmitter and Laurence Whitehead (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 16. 28 Ibid., 23-28. 29 Michael Herb, All In The Family: Absolutism, Revolution And Democracy In The Middle Eastern Monarchies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), 4. 9

loyalty to the king can provide some strength, but in general “the strategic choices of the monarchs take on a far greater importance, because these kings have a much smaller margin for error.”30 Using Herb’s work as a guide within the broader framework of transition studies, I will examine the regime and opposition forces in my three subject countries. Important factors will be the strength, character and unity of both “opposition” and “regime” forces in the state, and how state institutions affect both that present balance of power and how that balance may change in the future. In general, I argue that the likelihood of a democratic transition in my subject states is strongly affected by the degree to which regime elites remain unified and by the willingness of dissidents to join the opposition. Over the remainder of this paper, I will first do a brief comparison of the socioeconomic situation in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait. After that, I will take each country one by one in case studies, examining their democratic nature and prospects through the twin prisms of modernization theory (and specifically political culture) and transition studies. Finally I will conclude by revisiting the future prospects for democratization for each of the three states. III. Socioeconomic comparison Generally speaking, the Arab world is divided into two types of states by socioeconomic status: the small, oil-rich Gulf states on the one hand and everyone else on the other. While states like Iran, Iraq and Egypt have significant oil reserves, they also have large populations and substantial poverty. In contrast, states like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait have large oil reserves compared to their populations and have largely eliminated poverty among their citizens through lavish state spending and

Ibid., 233. 10

the exploitation of large armies of non-citizen migrant workers.31 These socioeconomic factors are important to keep in mind to understand the general situation in which each country is situated. They will also be of vital importance below for applying modernization theory, which holds that a country’s chances for democratization are dependent on value change induced by economic development. Of the three countries, Kuwait is notably richer and more developed than both the oil-producing Egypt and the oil-bereft Jordan, though all three states have made significant developmental strides in the last forty years. Kuwait currently has an adjusted Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDP/capita) of $26,321, richer than some European Union members like the Czech Republic, Greece and Slovenia. Jordan and Egypt are much poorer, with GDPs/capita of $5,530 and $4,337 respectively.32 The three states have different economic foundations. Kuwait’s economy is based almost entirely around the export of petroleum, which it does to the tune of 2.2 million barrels per day. It also has a substantial service sector, contributing 45 percent of GDP versus 55 percent for industry (which is mostly petroleum).33 Egypt, in contrast, is less industrialized with a large, inefficient agricultural sector. Agriculture accounts for 17 percent of Egypt’s economy but 38 percent of its workforce. It exports around 150,000 barrels of petroleum per

See, for example, The CIA World Factbook and many other sources. These general claims will also be expanded upon below for my subject countries. 32 United Nations Human Development Report, 2007, 229-232. 33 CIA World Factbook 11 Figure 1. Human Development Index scores since 1975.

day and also exports cotton, textiles and metal products.34 Jordan, alone of the three states, does not have petroleum reserves, or any other substantial natural resources. 85 percent of its GDP comes from the service sector, principally tourism.35 It also relies heavily on remittances from emigrants and on donations from richer oil-producing Arab states. These two sources of income combined contribute close to 30 percent of the Jordanian GDP (with the bulk from remittances).36 This economic data does not tell the whole development tale. Despite their moderate wealth, Jordan and Egypt have made substantial investments in the human development of their populations. In 1980, the United Nations Human Development Report ranked all three countries on a host of factors including economic strength and the health and welfare and education of their populations (see Figure 1). The Human Development Index includes three categories: “high development” for a score of at least 0.8, “medium development” for a score between 0.5 and 0.8, and “low development” for a score below 0.5. In 1980, Egypt was a low development country with a score of 0.434. Jordan was slightly better at 0.647 and Kuwait more developed still at 0.789. In 2005, Kuwait had risen to be one of the most highly developed countries in the world at 0.891, while Jordan and Egypt had also made great strides in rising to .773 and .708, respectively.37 As these rankings indicate, Kuwait qualifies as a very rich country that has used its resources to benefit its citizens. Egypt and Jordan are less well off, but should not be considered to be desperately poor. While they both have moderately high poverty rates
34 35

Ibid. Ibid. 36 Warwick Knowles, Jordan Since 1989: A Study in Political Economy (New York: J.B. Tauris, 2005), 89. 37 Ibid., 234-237. 12

(20 percent for Egypt, 14.2 percent for Jordan), they also feature substantial (if often ineffective) state services and sizeable middle classes.38 Of additional note are the educational attainments in the three countries. In addition to the literacy rates discussed above, 78.1 percent of eligible Jordanian children and 76.9 percent of Egyptian children are enrolled in some form of education—figures even higher than the Kuwaiti total, 74.9 percent. All three countries have large educated, literate populations—larger than those of some established democracies like Botswana and India.39 IV. Case study: Egypt A. Overview: Egypt is one of the largest and most important countries in the Arab world, due in large part to its strategic location controlling the Sinai land bridge between Africa and Eurasia, the Suez Canal (which offers a nautical shortcut on the route to Asia), and its proximity to Israel. As a partial result of this prominent role, Egypt has had a tumultuous political history. Prior to World War II, Egypt had a British-supported monarchy with a weak aristocracy. Herb describes the situation: a “king, with his cronies at the palace, ruled and presided over a corrupt parliamentary system.” The army was autonomous, its ranks pulled from the urban middle class and not the ruling elite. To make matters worse, the last king, Faruq, was notoriously incompetent.40 He was finally overthrown in 1952 by a coalition of junior officers led by Gamal Nasser. Nasser ruled Egypt until his death in 1970. While in power, he nationalized much of the economy and launched major state-driven development schemes that had positive social effects but were “not spectacular” economically and driven by foreign aid from the Soviet Union. Abroad Nasser promoted himself, and Egypt, as leaders in the Pan38 39

World Bank Indicators (accessed at http://www.worldbank.org); CIA Factbook UN Human Development Report, 229-231. 40 Herb, 210-212. 13

Arabism movement that sought to unify the Arab world in a single state. This led to an aborted union with Syria and embroiled Nasser in the disastrous 1967 war with Israel.41 After Nasser’s death, his lieutenant Anwar Sadat became Egypt’s leader. Sadat launched a liberalization drive, opening up the economy with an “Open Door” policy and permitting political opposition. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamist militants angry over Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel.42 Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, has continued Sadat’s economic reforms while rolling back his political openings. Egypt has remained under a state of emergency since Sadat’s assassination, and Egypt’s elections under Mubarak are heavily rigged in favor of the government.43 Egypt’s population is 98 percent ethnic Arab-Egyptian, a remarkably homogenous makeup. 90 percent of the population is Muslim with the rest largely Coptic Christians; the latter used to live peacefully but have been subject to rising violence in recent years.44 B. Modernization: Inglehart’s modernization model is not optimistic about Egypt’s chances of democratization. Egypt is a comparatively poor country in terms of GDP/capita, is not entirely industrialized and is Muslim, which has a depressing effect on self-expression values. On an aggregate level, Egypt scored in the 2000 World Values Survey a -1.57 on the tradition/secular axis and a -0.4 on the survival/self-expression axis. Inglehart and Welzel’s model actually predicted a regression in 2005 (the 2005 survey has not yet been publicly released), with a -1.57 on the secular axis and a -0.59 on the self-expression axis.45
41 42

Peter Johnson, “Egypt Under Nasser,” in MERIP Reports (1972), 3-14. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Egypt, Islam and Democracy: Critical Essays (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2002), 35-53. 43 Ibid., 69-81. 44 CIA World Factbook 45 Inglehart and Welzel, Internet Appendix. 14

However, this is not the only way to look at Egyptian values. In addition to compiling a mean score, Inglehart and Welzel also calculated the percentage of the population that expressed some self-expression values. For Egypt, approximately 30 percent of the population fell on the self-expression side of the axis, which is about the same as Venezuela, Peru, South Korea and Portugal. When Inglehart and Welzel plotted self-expression values versus Freedom House scores, Egypt actually severely underperformed, with levels of freedom far lower than popular values would predict. This suggests that Egypt is due for at least some formal democratization over the long term because its government is out of tune with the beliefs of its people. It would not take very much expansion of self-expression values to lead to a major change in this modernization model: “any society in which more than half the population emphasizes self-expression values scores at least 90 percent of the maximum score on liberal democracy.” On Inglehart and Welzel’s measure of “effective” democracy (this is to say, elite corruption), Egypt is a poor performer, ranking among the most corrupt countries in the world. Even if Egypt were to acquire formal democratic institutions, Inglehart and Welzel do not predict any rapid improvements in effective democracy.46 Fattah’s study of the values of literate Muslims is cautiously optimistic on Egypt’s chances of democratization. He notes that Egyptians have among the strongest preferences for democratic institutions in the Muslim world (higher even than Muslims living in the United States) and also show high support for “democratic values.”47 Most strikingly, among the literate Egyptian Muslims he surveyed, only three percent fell into the “traditionalist” category (compared with 26 percent of Syrians, 25 percent of
46 47

Ibid., 153-155. Fattah, 89. 15

Algerians and 46 percent of Saudi Arabians) and another seven percent into the statist category. An overwhelming 63 percent of Egyptians were modernist Islamists and 27 percent secular pluralists, for a total of 89 percent belonging to ideological groups that support democracy in some form.48 Juxtaposing Fattah’s surveys showing high support among literate Egyptians for democratic norms and institutions with Inglehart and Welzel’s showing low aggregate support for democratic norms but a sizeable chunk of the population emphasizing selfexpression values, it seems a fair assumption that the 70 percent of Egyptians who are literate are more supportive of democracy than the 30 percent who are not. It seems fair to conclude from a political culture viewpoint that Egyptians as a whole would prefer that their government were more democratic than it currently is. Inglehart and Welzel believe that institutions follow values; unless Egyptian values turn sharply against democracy in the near future, their formula would predict a liberalization (if not democratization) of Egypt’s government over the next decade. C. Transition studies: Though Egypt’s populace seems supportive of expanded democracy, that might not occur unless the pro-democratic agents can build a strong enough liberalizing coalition to overcome the autocratic elements in the Egyptian state and society. Of crucial importance will be the strength and unity of regime and opposition forces. Looking first at the regime, the most obvious and crucial pro-regime actor is the military. Eva Bellin argues that in Egypt, it can be difficult to even distinguish between the military and the regime, “because the head of state is … closely allied with the coercive apparatus and highly dependent on coercion to maintain power. The mutual

Ibid., 29. 16

controls … endow each with a measure of veto power over the other and make it difficult to tease out who exercises superior agency in the dyad.”49 As Bellin indicates, Egypt’s government is on one level a military dictatorship, albeit one with some democratic features like elections (however unfair and unfree) and a multiparty parliament. Because of this, the support of the military is absolutely essential for regime survival against popular pressure from below. How loyal is the Egyptian military? Bellin suggests that the military has been well-treated by the Mubarak regime and would be unlikely to desert it. When Egypt, as part of an International Monetary Fund restructuring, cut popular subsidies of basic goods by 14 percent, this “did not prevent the regime from increasing the military budget by 22 percent that very same year.” As a result, “even if the country is in poor economic health overall, the state is still able to … ‘pay itself first,’ that is, give first priority to paying the military and security forces.”50 On the other hand, where some countries have bound the military to the regime through patrimonialism—placing relatives and key supporters who have a stake in the regime’s survival in key posts—Egypt’s military is “highly institutionalized” and capable of acting independently. Herb and others agree with Bellin that: “where the coercive apparatus is institutionalized, the security elite have a sense of corporate identity separate from the state. They have a distinct mission and identity and career path. Officers can imagine separation from the state.”51 They have O’Donnell and Schmitter find that where the military is professionalized and independent, “the only route to political democracy is


Eva Bellin, “Coercive Institutions and Coercive Leaders,” in Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Regimes and Resistance, ed. Marsha P. Posusney and Michele P. Angrist (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2005), 26. 50 Ibid., 32. 51 Ibid., 29. 17

a pacific and negotiated one.”52 It is conceivable (despite the close ties between regime and army) that the military could switch to the opposition or remain neutral during a transition. Another key support pillar for the regime is the landed elite. Since Sadat rehabilitated them, the Egyptian bourgeoisie has expanded to control more than 64 percent of total private investments in the country. Currently, the elite largely support the regime but use their influence to press for liberal economic reforms. The elite have also become involved in politics, usually as part of the ruling party but not infrequently as part of the centrist opposition Wafd party. Regardless of which party they publicly support, the elite “generally advocate the same socioeconomic policies.”53 This elite class would seem to fit O’Donnell and Schmitter’s model of “soft-liners” who support the regime because it benefits them rather than because of an intrinsic attachment to authoritarian rule. Any sort of transition involving the landed elite in the role of soft-liners will involve serious trade-offs, however, because the “disadvantaged and the more deprived,” holding the bourgeoisie “responsible for Egypt’s problems” may have redistributional demands if the current state structure is overthrown.54 The opposition to the regime is also crucial to any possible transition. But even where a regime is unpopular, the opposition can be weak, fragmented and incapable of working with the soft-liners to bring about democracy. In Egypt there are three principal opposition groups: the secular political parties, the violent Islamists, and the pacifist Islamists (chiefly the Muslim Brotherhood). Egypt’s secular political parties are largely a sorry bunch. Michele P. Angrist
52 53

O’Donnell and Schmitter, 34. Ibrahim, 127-130. 54 Ibid., 130. 18

argues that the Egyptian government has emasculated the political power of opposition parties by “permitting only a subset of opposition groups to compete for parliamentary seats … Included oppositionists are reluctant to persist in mobilizing the masses for fear of jeopardizing the regimes preferential treatment of them and out of concern that such mobilization could be hijacked by excluded oppositionists.”55 The official government body that must approve all new political parties “has only granted one party licence in twenty-five years” and closed seven of the sixteen official opposition parties since 1998.56 The ruling NDP party is never permitted to fall below a comfortable two-thirds majority in the parliament, and uses the full control of the state machinery to prevent the secular opposition parties from posing a serious threat. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a liberal Egyptian academic and dissident, notes with dismay (in a chapter written from a prison where he was serving a seven-year sentence for opposition activities) that “Egypt’s [secular] democracy advocates are the weakest of the three salient actors at present,” along with the regime and Islamists, because instead of “viewing them as an ally against extremism, the state has repeatedly repressed democracy advocates.”57 Unless things change drastically, the liberal opposition looks to be an ineffective advocate for democracy. The violent Islamist groups warrant but a brief word, because they are not democracy supporters and their victory would probably not lead to democratization. These groups, like Islamic Jihad, believe that the Egyptian regime is profoundly immoral and have waged violent war against it, trying to overthrow it through coup attempts and

Michele P. Angrist, “The Outlook for Authoritarians,” in Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Regimes and Resistance, ed. Marsha P. Posusney and Michele P. Angrist (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2005), 223. 56 Joshua A. Stacher, “Parties Over: The Demise of Egypt’s Opposition Parties,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 31 (2004), 215-221. 57 Ibrahim, 268. 19

revolutions. Despite the considerable sophistication and strength that these groups have shown, however, they appear to be capable only of disrupting the state and not destroying it.58 That is not to say that Islamist militants cannot play a substantial (if inadvertent) role in a democratic transition. The assassination of Mubarak (like militants assassinated Sadat), for example, could have a dramatic effect on the rules of the game. Additionally, by resisting the regime and disrupting the state and economy through terrorism, these militants could make soft-liners more willing to make minor compromises in the hopes of turning over the country to a more moderate opposition. The final, and most interesting, opposition group in Egypt is the pacifist Islamists, and most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a powerful (and illegal) network that renounced violence in the 1970s. The Brotherhood are embedded in Egyptian society like no other opposition group and pose the most serious threat to Mubarak’s political hegemony. The Brotherhood is decentralized and provides vital social services to the Egyptian people. For example, when the Brotherhood expands into a neighborhood, it “would first establish a branch headquarters and then immediately begin a public service project … Muslim Brotherhood public works brought millions of Egyptians into contact with the organization and its ideology.”59 Even when banned as a political party, members running as independents routinely form the largest opposition bloc in Egypt’s parliament. As one demonstration of their clout, in the late 1980s the Brotherhood systematically took over, through free and fair elections, many of Egypt’s most prominent professional associations, including the organizations for doctors, engineers,

58 59

Ibid., 69-79. Ziad Munson, “Islamic Mobilization: Social Movement Theory and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood,” The Sociological Quarterly 42 (2001), 501. 20

university professors and pharmacists.60 The biggest question with the Brotherhood is not whether they are strong enough to be a credible opposition organization—if they are not, then no one is, and all indications are that they are—but what kind of opposition group they would be. On the one hand, the Brotherhood has, since renouncing violence, consistently endorsed democratic principles. Brotherhood rhetoric uses terms like “democracy,” “liberty” and “freedom” “freely and repeatedly,” and the Brotherhood “consistently dismiss the argument that Islam and democracy are incompatible.”61 Ibrahim notes that the Brotherhood is skeptical of regime democratization “not that it does not welcome democracy, but rather because it perceives the regime as halfhearted in this regard.” The Brotherhood loudly and repeatedly agitates for expanded civil and political rights.62 On the other hand, the Brotherhood’s talk of democracy can sound suspicious to secular liberals. Brotherhood democracy is Islamic democracy based on sharia law. “Western critics,” notes Sana Abed-Kotob, “are fearful that the Brethren are using elections as a tactic to gain power and subsequently do away with the democracy that gave them their voice.”63 Some note with worry the statements of “Shaikh Muhammad alGhazali, a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt,” that “the penalty for apostasy in Islam is murder, to be carried out by any Muslim.”64 Sharia law in countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan has brought with it undemocratic elements. Even
60 61

Ibrahim, 58-59. Sana Abed-Kotob, “The Accomodationists Speak: Goals and Strategies of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 27 (1995), 325. 62 Ibrahim, 41-42. 63 Abed-Kotob, 330. 64 Mustapha Kamel el-Sayyid, “The Concept of Civil Society and the Arab World,” in Political Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World: Volume 1, Theoretical Perspectives, ed. Rex Brynen, Bahgat Korany and Paul Noble (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1995), 138. 21

granting the Brotherhood the best of intentions, a Brotherhood-led democracy will probably contain many objectionable elements to secular liberals. But for democracy advocates in Egypt, firm military support for the regime means that the Brotherhood is the only effective opposition group. On the Brotherhood’s good intentions may ride the prospects for Egyptian democracy. V. Case study: Jordan A. Overview: While Egypt’s monarchy was overthrown in the 1950s and replaced by military-backed dictatorships, Jordan continues to be ruled by the same family that took power there in the 1950s, the Hashemites. Prince Abdullah of the Hijaz, whose family controlled Mecca prior to the Saudis and whose brother Faisal worked with Lawrence of Arabia in the Arab revolt against the Ottomans in World War I, claimed the British mandate of Transjordan in 1920 and managed to get British support. He built Transjordan from a backwater territory into a credible state before being assassinated in 1951. His grandson Hussein eventually acceded to the throne and ruled Jordan for almost half a century until his death in 1999. Hussein’s son Abdullah II became the new king and has ruled ever since. Jordan is divided demographically between Bedouin tribes from the East Bank of the River Jordan, and Palestinian refugees from the West Bank. The former have been traditionally supportive of the regime while the latter often pose severe difficulties. B. Modernization: By Inglehart’s model, Jordan is even less favorable ground for democracy than Egypt. It is poorer, with fewer state resources and a heavy reliance on rentier income for what little cash it has. In the 2000 round of the World Values Surveys Jordan rated, on aggregate, -1.57 on the secular axis and -1.01 on the self-expression axis.


In 2005 Inglehart and Welzel predicted that Jordan’s secular rating would remain the same while its self-expression value would actually decrease to -1.20.65 Unlike in Egypt, these aggregate numbers do not mask a large pro-democracy class; only 15 percent of Jordanians emphasize self-expression values, among the lowest levels of all the countries surveyed.66 Anti-self-expression values on women’s rights and homosexuals (98 percent of Jordanians say that homosexuality is never justifiable) by a large part of the population are not counter-balanced (as they are in Egypt) by more progressive values elsewhere in the population, and Inglehart and Welzel’s modernization model would expect democracy to be a long way away for Jordan.67 Fattah is only slightly more optimistic based on his surveys of literate Jordanians. He finds that 20 percent of his survey respondents are traditionalist (anti-democratic) Islamists, along with nine percent statist. Modernists compose 48 percent of the population and pluralists 23 percent, which rates toward the middle of the Arab world. Fattah rates Jordan as having a “medium” democratization potential, versus “high” for Egypt.68 His Jordanian respondents had strong support for democratic institutions— befitting a country with a respectable parliamentary tradition—but mediocre support for democratic norms. This result is deceptive, however: The relative deficit in Jordan’s democratic norms is attributed mainly to polarized views regarding the political rights of women. At one end of this spectrum, 33 percent of the respondents would refuse to give women any political rights. At the other, 42 percent want to give women full political rights. Another factor … is the attitude toward Muslims from different sects: 55 percent of the respondents would refuse to give others any political rights. As one respondent commented, this may be because of a fear of the effect of tribalism and sectarianism on the unity of the country
65 66

Inglehart and Welzel, Internet Appendix. Ibid., 154. 67 Ibid., 128. 68 Fattah, 29. 23

rather than because of prejudice or bigotry.69 By either Fattah or Inglehart’s metrics, Jordanian political culture does not seem exceptionally supportive of democratic norms. Economic growth or other changing structural factors could change these norms, but for the time being this divided society does not seem likely to produce bottom-up pressure for democracy. Any democratization will likely be introduced from above at the whim of the king. C. Transition Studies: Jordanian society does not seem ripe for any sort of bottom-up transition, but the regime has introduced some liberalizing measure in the past decade. What regime institutions and actors would be willing to tolerate and even support expanded democratic rights, and what opposition groups (if any) might be willing to militate for expanded political rights? While Egypt is institutionally a military dictatorship, Jordan is a monarchy, a somewhat different institutional situation. The Jordanian monarchy’s formal claim to power comes from tradition and inheritance, not policy goals, past military victories or electoral mandates. As such, the kings of Jordan could feel free to introduce democratic reforms because they held themselves above the power of the legislature. King Hussein, for example, “studiously avoided any indication that he is bound by parliamentary election results in choosing either prime minister or cabinet.”70 Because “few are willing to imagine Jordan without its monarchy,” Hussein has greater liberty to ignore popular opinion. On the other hand, Herb argues that Jordan’s monarchical structure does not monopolize the country’s political elite in a dynasty, which leaves the monarchy much
69 70

Ibid., 104. Rex Brynen, “The Politics of Monarchical Liberalism: Jordan,” in Political Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World: Volume 2, Comparative Experiences (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998), 77. 24

more vulnerable to elite divisions and a pact between soft-liners and opposition reformers.71 Beyond simple loyalty to the regime, however, Jordanian strength rests on the military. Here, unlike the Egyptian military, the Hashemites have practiced extensive patrimonialism. Bellin notes that in Jordan, “the king regularly appoints his male relatives to key military posts to guarantee against military rebellion.” It is notable that in doing this the military has remained somewhat professional and under the control of the state, where in many Arab countries “the military has been a key route to personal enrichment.”72 Beyond appointing a few relatives to key positions in the military, King Abdullah also relies heavily on support from Bedouin tribesmen and East Bankers. Those two groups are privileged in the military, while Palestinians cannot rise above the rank of major or lieutenant colonel.73 The loyalty of East Bank Jordanians and Bedouin to the monarchy has let Hussein and Abdullah “adopt, at times, a highly repressive policy toward many of its citizens,” namely the Palestinians.74 By promoting the East Bankers on a tribal basis, the Jordanian kings have given them a stake in regime survival: “Regime change would jeopardize the predominance of favored tribal elites in the Jordanian” military.75 This patrimonial structure makes the military a strength for the Jordanian regime in its struggles to maintain power. East Banker support for the monarchy extends beyond the military; Jordanian electoral districts are heavily gerrymandered to maximize East Bank representation and keep the parliament from
71 72

Herb, 231. Bellin, 33-34. 73 Ibid., 33. 74 Herb, 231. 75 Bellin, 34. 25

Palestinian control.76 The collapse of the monarchy could lead to a bloody civil war between Jordan’s two major factions, giving the favored East Bankers additional incentives to support the regime. However, Herb argues that support for the monarchy is only lightly embedded in the Jordanian society and that Abdullah “would do well to devote energy to creating strong institutions of political participation” in order to co-opt feuding groups into the political system in a peaceful manner.77 What role, if any, do oppositional groups play in demanding more democracy from Jordan’s rulers? Scholarship on the matter is pessimistic. Jordanian civil society “showed little independence or politicization”78 before 1989 and even today is more “an instrument of state control than a mechanism of collective empowerment.”79 Major newspapers are still largely controlled by the government, and independent papers face substantial legal and financial obstacles. Civil society pressure groups are either focused on “sectional issues rather than a broader political agenda” or have been co-opted by a combination of official patronage and moderate electoral representation.80 Quintan Wiktorowicz argues that this is due to a strong state effort to observe all activities by civil society groups, ensuring that only approved activities occur: “The bureaucracy is used to penetrate society and enhance social control. In this manner, public administration can be used as an instrument of state power vis-à-vis civil society.”81 Political parties are also largely weak, with more than half of the Jordanian parliament composed of independent

76 77

Herb, 227-229. Ibid., 233. 78 Brynen, 84. 79 Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Civil Society as Social Control: State Power in Jordan,” Comparative Politics 33 (2000), 43. 80 Brynen, 84-85. 81 Wiktorowicz, 49. 26

candidates.82 Potential challenges also come from Islamist groups and Palestinians. The Islamic Action Front (IAF), related to the Muslim Brotherhood, has been “in many ways Jordan’s only truly successful political party.” The IAF contains both radical and moderate wings with differing levels of support for democracy, but at the present time, “it is clear that the ‘moderate’ wing of the IAF currently occupies a dominant position in its leadership, and that the IAF has been a full, active and often constructive participant in political life in Jordan since liberalization.”83 Palestinians could be an effective opposition group to the regime, and have struggled with—and been repressed by—the Jordanian state since 1948. However, Palestinian influence is limited both by official discrimination (discussed above) but also by reticence on the part of Palestinians to participate in Jordanian politics lest “largescale political representation in Jordan … damage the case for self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza.”84 The goals of the Jordanian Palestinians are of course heavily determined by the contours of the Arab-Israeli peace process, but for the meantime the Palestinians may challenge the state but seem unlikely to threaten the regime. VI. Case study: Kuwait A. Overview: Kuwait has been under the control of the al-Sabah family to varying degrees since the 18th century. Moreover, the al-Sabah are notable for pioneering a remarkably resilient form of government, the dynastic monarchy. Following several feuds within the ruling family in the early 20th century, the emir Ahmad brought his whole family into the government, finding “ a formula for sharing power … that excluded
82 83

Brynen, 85. Ibid., 85-86. 84 Ibid., 90. 27

others from control of the newly enlarged Kuwaiti state.”85 Dynastic monarchy will be discussed in greater detail below. Also of great importance when discussing the democratic prospects for Kuwait is its long parliamentary tradition. A National Assembly was first established in 1963 and featured, from the start, a vocal opposition. Constant struggles between the parliament and the al-Sabah for influence have led to the parliament being suspended several times, often for years, but on a whole parliamentarism “has led to a gradual weakening of the dynastic monopoly of power that is characteristic of dynastic monarchism, but the increasing influence of parliament has not proven incompatible with family rule.”86 Of vital importance in understanding Kuwaiti politics is the structure of its society. Like many other Gulf states, Kuwait has restrictive citizenship policies and a large body of exploited migrant workers. Non-citizens make up about 60 percent of the population and more than 80 percent of the work force. There is a sharp division in wealth between the citizens and the migrants, with almost all Kuwaitis enjoying high income, education and health care. Kuwait specialist Jill Crystal argues that “ironically, the presence of so many foreigners and the Kuwaitis’ vague fear of social and cultural inundation by these foreigners have been important factors in consolidating the strong sense of identity among the Kuwaitis.”87 Where the society is divided, it is between “the rich and the not-so-rich,” between descendants of different tribes, or between the majority Sunnis and the Shia who compose 15 percent of the population. B. Modernization: Being much richer and more developed than Egypt and Jordan
85 86

Herb, 75. Ibid., 82. 87 Jill Crystal, Kuwait: The Transformation of an Oil State (Boulder: Westview Press, 1992), 3. 28

leads modernization theory to be more bullish on Kuwait’s chances of democratization. The World Values Survey sampled Kuwait for the first time in the unreleased 2005 survey, and so has not yet disclosed the small nation’s actual rankings. However, Inglehart and Welzel did use their model to predict Kuwait’s 2005 location: -0.70 on the traditional/secular axis and -0.08 on the survival/self-expression axis. Inglehart and Welzel also used their model to make predictions about the 2000 survey; there it had an average prediction error ranging from .13 in Turkey through .28 in Egypt to .45 in Jordan. With Arab countries the model tended to underestimate traditional and survival values. Thus, one can expect Kuwait’s actual scores to be slightly lower than predicted, but they are still notably higher than the results for Egypt and Jordan.88 As they explained, “our model predicts that Kuwait, because of its high economic level, will show more-secular values than most Islamic societies.”89 The writers did not release a percentage of Kuwaitis who they predicted would emphasize self-expression values, but given higher levels of self-expression values than Egypt it does not seem unreasonable to think that the proportion of citizens emphasizing self-expression values is no lower than Egypt’s 30 percent. Inglehart’s modernization model predicts that Kuwait will be somewhat democratic—but this is arguably already the case, so it is unclear whether or not Inglehart would predict future democratization. If so, it is likely to be slow and incremental. Curiously, Fattah, who was more optimistic than Inglehart about Egypt and Jordan, is more pessimistic about Kuwait. He finds that 17 percent of literate Kuwaitis (who are a close stand-in for the Kuwaiti citizen population as a whole) are traditionalists
88 89

Inglehart and Welzel, Internet Appendix. Ibid., 89. 29

and 11 percent statists. Compared to Jordan and Egypt Kuwait has higher levels of secular pluralists and lower levels of modernist Islamists, but about the same “democratic majority”—73 percent being either pluralists or modernists. Kuwait is rated as having a “medium” democratization potential, two points ahead of Jordan on a 100-point scale. It is worth noting that, as Inglehart and Welzel predicted, Kuwait does appear to be more secular than most other Arab countries.90 Fattah also finds that Kuwaitis express lower support for both democratic institutions and democratic norms than Egyptians or Jordanians. Their low support for democratic norms appears to be heavily affected by polarized opinions on women’s rights, with “45 percent of respondents refusing to support women’s rights to participate in politics at all.”91 The low support for democratic institutions is more interesting. On the one hand, when asked whether “Muslim countries should have democratic rulers instead of the current political rulers,” 88 percent of Kuwaitis picked democracy, with only four percent choosing the incumbents—more than 10 points more support for democratic rulers than Muslims in any other country and around forty points higher than the views of Muslims living in more democratic countries like Turkey, India and Iran.92 On the other hand, Kuwaitis are more ambiguous when it comes to potential conflicts between Islam and democracy. Fattah’s “democratic institutions” scale asked respondents whether “democratic institutions and procedures are against sharia” and whether “public elections of rulers will lead to taboos.” On this question, Kuwaitis, despite being more secular than other countries, were also warier about whether democracy might be un-Islamic.93
90 91

Fattah, 29. Ibid., 100. 92 Ibid., 66, 156. 93 Ibid., 172. 30

Taken as a whole, Inglehart and Fattah’s survey data suggests a polarized Kuwait between highly traditional Muslims and modernist and secular Muslims that could impede future democratization. Anecdotal evidence, too, supports the conclusion of Inglehart and Fattah that Kuwaitis are supportive of their current system but not too eager to radically reform it. A May 6, 2008 New York Times article notes that “it is unlikely that many Kuwaitis would be willing to trade their political rights and freedoms for more economic opportunity. But the notion that democracy is somehow holding Kuwait back is common.”94 The political culture data would suggest caution in making bold predictions about Kuwait’s future democratization. C. Transition studies: Kuwaitis on average seem content with their current semidemocratic state. But political struggles between forces in the Kuwaiti regime and the opposition could transform the system quickly and in ways that Kuwaiti political players might not expect. A brief examination of regime and opposition forces is necessary to better understand the political situation from a transition studies perspective. The Kuwaiti regime appears to all indications to be in an incredibly strong position. Herb’s research found that Kuwait’s dynastic monarchy has successfully handled power struggles and infighting that could have torn apart weaker regimes, all while maintaining a common front against outside enemies. Though the al-Sabah tolerate a parliament, it does not “tolerate the interference of outsiders in their internal disputes, for it is a recognized rule … that the family, alone, sets dynastic policy.”95 The most striking example of this dynamic at play was in 1986, when the emir suspended the

Robert F. Worth, “In Democracy Kuwait Trusts, but Not Much,” The New York Times, 6 May 2008. Accessed at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/06/world/middleeast/06kuwait.html?hp 95 Herb, 82. 31

parliament after it took a side in a family dispute. He dissolved the parliament “despite the fact that it was his own brother … who benefited from the attacks within the assembly on their cousin.”96 These closed ranks around the principle of dynastic monarchy means that the al-Sabah can tolerate policy disputes amongst themselves without putting the regime at risk. Even though there is “an authoritarian wing of the royal family that has long wanted to curtail Parliament’s powers” and a liberal wing that supports the parliament,97 this does not appear to translate into a typical soft-liner/hard-liner split that the opposition could exploit: “efforts by opposition politicians to curb the powers of the Al Sabah by exploiting conflicts within the family would lead not to a weakening of the dynastic regime, but instead to an end of the parliamentary experiment.”98 The regime has also depended on support from the Bedouin, who are seen as “more pliant and less interested in political reform.”99 However, younger Bedouins have been politically less loyal than their fathers, and scholars have noted that “the tribal candidates [appear] to be increasingly developing their own agendas and leaders.”100 Even though the Kuwaiti regime seems strong enough to be able to deny any undesirable democratic reforms, that does not mean that the Kuwaiti opposition has no role to play in democratization. By demanding moderate change and reforms, the opposition can keep up pressure on the al-Sabah to continue liberalization. One opposition group that does not appear likely to play any particular role is the
96 97

Ibid., 82-83. Worth. 98 Herb, 83. 99 Worth. 100 Jill Crystal and Abdallah al-Shayeji, “The Pro-Democratic Agenda in Kuwait: Structures and Context,” in Political Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World: Volume 2, Comparative Experiences (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998), 119. 32

business elite. Crystal’s research indicates that in Kuwait, merchants, who “historically pressed [their] claims most effectively on the state,” have withdrawn from politics “because of a tacit deal between the rulers and the trading families, a trade of wealth for formal power. In effect, the merchants renounced their historical claim to participate in decision making. In exchange, the [emirs] guaranteed them a large share of the oil revenues.”101 The effective opposition includes both Islamist and pluralist elements. At times these groups work together in favor of expanded democracy and reduced corruption. On other issues, most notably the enfranchisement of women, liberals and Islamists split. Usually when the regime moves to restrict parliamentary power or dissolves it altogether, the opposition unites in favor of democracy, such as during Kuwait’s moment of greatest crisis, the Iraq invasion: The opposition … reconstituted itself in exile and continued to press the [emir] to make a public commitment to the restoration of the National Assembly in the postwar period. The political crisis surrounding the invasion and the ruling elite’s behavior in exile solidified the pre-invasion opposition alliance. The Islamists, the former assembly members, the merchants, and all the groups who had supported the pre-invasion prodemocracy movement joined in calling for an assembly. … [The opposition] came to an agreement with the [emir] and crown prince: After the ouster of the Iraqis, the [emir] would restore the suspended constitution and institute more participatory processes.102 When, on the other hand, basic democratic demands are met, the opposition can split based on particular policy predilections. Of the major parties in parliament, only one, the populist Popular Bloc “is primarily concerned with challenging the ruling family, whereas the liberals and Islamists display more desire to do combat with each other than

Jill Crystal, “Coalitions in Oil Monarchies: Kuwait and Qatar,” Comparative Politics 21 (1989), 427. 102 Crystal and al-Shayeji, 105-106. 33

with the monarchy.”103 This means that the regime can usually co-opt one group or the other, depending on the particular issue under discussion. The opposition is rooted in society through a number of different institutions. One of the most important are the diwaniyyas—“institutionalized weekly gatherings of family or friends” that have become greatly expanded and politicized—picture groups of men gathering and talking late into the night about politics. Some diwaniyyas are full-scale political meetings with thousands of attendees. Regardless of the size, Kuwaitis of all stripes defend this institution and protested “attempts to close down the politicized diwaniyyas … as an infringement on the social right to entertain guests.” Other institutions are elected cooperative societies and mosques, both of which have strong public support and are difficult to repress. Jill Crystal and Abdallah al-Shayeji conclude that “these institutions provide some autonomy for social groups vis-à-vis the state.”104 As a result, the opposition can effectively organize and even demonstrate publicly and successfully against the regime, such as in recent years when public protests forced the emir to accept a popular electoral reform package and to back down from the attempt to close the diwaniyyas.105 From a transition studies perspective, Kuwait’s parliament, when open, provides a ready forum for regime criticism, so long as the opposition is wise enough not to tread on the taboo areas covered by dynastic privilege. However, the parliament, by granting the demands that unify the opposition, serves to divide them on other issues, allowing the regime to navigate between liberal and Islamic opposition on an issue-by-issue basis.

Michael Herb, “Princes, Parliaments, and the Prospects for Democracy,” in Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Regimes and Resistance, ed. Marsha P. Posusney and Michele P. Angrist (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2005), 177. 104 Crystal and al-Shayeji, 112-113. 105 Worth. 34

When the regime tries to scale back democracy, this opposition snaps into action and mobilizes to defend their privilege. Thus, it seems likely that the opposition will provide at most a low-intensity demand for expanded democracy, and that future democratization will depend on the regime and opposition coming to consensus rather than making radical demands. VII. Conclusions Arab democratization has been at the forefront of American foreign policy since September 11, 2001. Our most notable efforts to promote democracy, however, have at best been horribly expensive and bloody victories and at worst disasters. Does this mean that democracy in the Arab world is impossible, or at least a long way off? Or, on the other hand, do elections in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon mean that a wave of democracy is already spreading across the Middle East? As is often the case, the answer is more nuanced. In Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait, demands for expanded democracy on the part of opposition forces have been met with varying degrees of resistance from regimes. Modernization theory and the political culture approach indicate that the populations of all three countries are not so undemocratic as some critics allege. Kuwait’s economic development, in particular, has created mass values that support a certain amount of democracy. In Egypt democratization is likely to come from the bottom up, with a broad segment of the population emphasizing pro-democratic values. Jordan has much more lukewarm support for democracy, largely due to intolerant views towards women and religious minorities. Political culture approaches indicate which countries might demand and support democracy. However, particular political structures shape both when a democratic


transition might begin and what form that transition might take. In Egypt, the regime’s support depends on the military, which is presently loyal but is independent enough to possibly defect. The opposition is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, which looks like the most potent regime challenger; of more interest is where or not the Brotherhood would pursue democratic policies if it actually gained power. Within the next decade or so (possibly following the death of Mubarak, Egypt’s long-time president), Egypt should undergo some sort of transition, though not necessarily to democracy. Jordan has a weak but surprisingly resilient regime whose hold on power is strengthened by the weakness (due to regime efforts) of Jordanian civil society and opposition. Any liberalization will require regime leadership. Kuwait, perhaps the most intriguing case, has a very resilient regime but also a very vocal opposition. It offers perhaps the best option for a gradualist democratization fueled by consensus and pacts between a moderate regime and the opposition. Kuwait is likely to move, slowly but surely, in the direction of a government accountable to parliament rather than a government chiefly accountable to the ruling family. In all three countries, however, democratization will be a complicated, messy affair that resists oversimplification.


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