Just how democratic is the Middle East getting?Written by Angelique van Engelen
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To truly affect Arab countries in heart of their political systems would first neccessitate an overhaul of legal system, in order for constitutions to be reformed, And this is something that needs most governments’ approval before it can go underway. The way an opposition party recently has started out in Egypt is an example of just how precarious it is to tread this water. To be legitimate, a party needs approval from incumbent rules, who control entire judicial system. The push for democracy hits a brick wall here. You can have as many programs as you like assessing possibilities for democracy in a society, but so long as working out practical recommendations of such programs remains an illegal activity, democracy will be a higly desirable, yet unachievable goal. What is needed is a change in countries’ judicial systems if any of over-researched ideas can begin to become plausible in reality. In a paper entitled ‘Beyond Liberalisation’, Daniel Brumberg, an associate professor of government at Georgetown University hits nail on head, drawing a sharp distinction between democracy and political liberalization. The latter is about promoting a freer debate and competition in media, civil society, and political parties. Democracy rests on rules, institutions, and political practices through which voters regularly and constitutionally replace or modify their leadership by exercise of representative political power. “Political liberalization is a necessary but far from sufficient condition for democracy, which is something that is effected when you have a most opportune intersection between demand and supply”, says Brumberg in his article which is published in Wilson Quarterly. Work on creating necessary ingredients for democratic pie has long gone underway and hopeful signals are being heard that puzzle might begin to come together. Civil society organizations are virtually agents of what Brumberg terms ‘a demand-driven model of slow reforms’. And now more than ever, given their refocused agendas. The grassroot demand combined with greater participation in discourse on possibilities of democracy is slowly bearing fruit. Incumbent Arab regimes are protected from all too dramatic challenges but will have to bow down to people demanding their rights. What was taking place in Lebanon and Syria last few weeks was a good testcase of how a power struggle is done peaceful way. Events have proved that governments do not necessarily cede control when street rallies take place. In a sense Arab people’s love for their leaders is something Western states might even envie. If democratisation in Middle East becomes a reality, these societies are likely to flourish in ways hardly seen elsewhere. It will be interesting to see if US role in Middle East will stay largely same as its Cold War programs to aid democracy, a policy whereby country aided its friends by supporting government structures and undermined its foes in hope that communist regimes would collapse. Later on friendly stance was seen as inducing terrorism. It remains to be seen whether in future, Arab states will lend themselves as easily for such accusations.
Angelique van Engelen is a freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for over three years and currently runs www.contentClix.com. She also contributes to a writing ring http://clixyPlays.blogspot.com
Kyrgyzstan’s Revolution : a New Definition of “Partytime”?Written by Angelique van Engelen
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The events in Kyrgyzstan did surprise leading parties as much as rest of world. The irony in this is that leaders apparently think they have eternal rule so long as they manage to create circumstances that keep this situation status quo. By foregoing their duties to create truly collaborative institutions with their neighboring countries and by failing to instigate domestic democratic support, they relied on mechanisms similar to those their predecessors before them had relied on without considering that their home base was expecting change. Not creating systems necessary to effect better democracies and market economies, leaders slowly developed a blind spot for possibility that a transfer of power might occur. Over time, dramatic catharses tend to be result as Kyrgyzstan has shown. Observers say that now it’s likely dawned on everyone that Russia is not going to be able to increase its role in country and that US will only lend its support to democratic movements. It’s all up to people themselves to create a new structure out of what they so joyously went to town on during their short revolution. The only other source that could manifest an ambition toward becoming a regional hegemony wishing to exert influence is Uzbekistan, which is better equipped on a unilateral level and also happens to be region’s largest natural gas developer. The country has indicated its wish to improve intimate ties with its neighbours and has on occasion started to officially delineate its borders, an old Soviet way of showing who’s boss. However, after events in Kyrgyzstan, country quickly pinpointed on its map where border had been and closed it off without further deliberation. Kyrgyzstan’s largely impoverished market economy has hardly got a chance of picking up rapidly and international worries that its largely Muslim dominated population might turn to religion as an alternative to economic prosperity are still downplayed. Even though initial disappointment over benefits of independence 15 years ago led to a renewed focus on Russia, if country’s civil society turns out not to be adequately responsive in soaking up new disappointment and resultant negative sentiment, it’s unlikely that people will turn to their religion. Kyrgyzstan has never really been prone to fundamentalism. By comparison, Uzbekistan poses a way greater Islamic fundamentalist threat, and its leader Islam Karimov is held up as an example of how to manage these sentiments. Should anyone feel need to create insurgencies, they’d likely team up with Chinese Western region Xinjiang separatists, who’ve got plenty of experience in this field. The country’s ethnic differences were also highlighted in its revolution, but are not believed to have been a major factor in events. People also cited chisms in Ukrainian population along ethnic lines, yet recent elections proved opposite there. It is likely that as soon as people belonging to an opposition find they have a legitimate basis and can go about their business freely, ethnic issues tend to become associated with old regime. Ethnic Russians living in Kyrgyzstan –what’s a characteristically pieceful country- also are way less overtly Russian still than their peers in Ukraine. They are near assimilated and cross cultural marriages are common.
Angelique van Engelen is a freelance writer based in Amsterdam. She runs www.contentClix.com and contributes to a writing ring http://clixyPlays.blogspot.com