What challenges and opportunities exist for Middle Eastern nations making the transition to liberal democracy?

Review the articles by Imai and Zeren (2017), (Links to an external site.) Gaffar (2017), (Links to an external site.) and Battaloglu and Farasin (2017), (Links to an external site.) which are required reading for Module 3. Based on the articles, respond to the following:

  • What challenges and opportunities exist for Middle Eastern nations making the transition to liberal democracy?
  • What can Middle Eastern nations do to successfully make this transition?
  • Should the United States and other countries work to promote liberal democracy in the Middle East?  If so, how, and if not, why not?

need at least one paragraph for each question answering each of the 3 questions above based off of the articles attached

From Democratization to Securitization: Post-Arab Spring Political Order in the Middle East

Cihat Battaloglu, MA Statistical Economic and Social Research and

Training Centre for Islamic Countries Ankara, Turkey

Fadi Farasin, MSc Statistical Economic and Social Research and

Training Centre for Islamic Countries Ankara, Turkey


This article examines the question: why and how the wave of democratization in the Middle East has receded, giving way to the prioritization of security in the post-Arab Spring by con- ducting analyses at three levels: societal, state, and international. By applying the main con- cepts and theories found in the literature on democratization and securitization and by analyzing the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Democracy Status Index, the Arab Barometers Survey, and the Arab Opinion Survey, the article concludes that: at the societal level, the tragic unfolding of events after the Arab Spring prohibits the public from pushing a reform agenda; at the state level, the post-Arab political environment raises doubts among the ruling elite about how far political reforms should be extended; and at the international level, with the rise of new security threats, international pressure on Middle East countries to democratize has been restrained, giving way to security cooperation as the top priority.

Key words: Legislative, Rationality, Elections, Public policy, Middle East, Campaign strategy, Social media

De la democratizaci�on a la bursatilizaci�on: El orden político post Primavera �Arabe en el Medio Oriente i


Este artículo examina una pregunta; por qu�e y c�omo la ola de democratizaci�on en el Medio Oriente ha retrocedido, llevando a la priorizaci�on de la seguridad despu�es de la Primavera �Arabe al llevar a cabo an�alisis en tres niveles: sociedad, estado e internacional. Al aplicar los conceptos y teorías principales que se encuentran en la investigaci�on acerca de la democratizaci�on y bursatilizaci�on y al analizar el Bertelsmann Stiftung Democracy Status Index, la Arab Barometers Survey y la Arab

DOI: 10.1111/dome.12116 Digest of Middle East Studies—Volume 26, Number 2—Pages 299–319 VC 2017 Policy Studies Organization. Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.



Opinion Survey, el artículo concluye que: a nivel social, la serie de eventos tr�agicos despu�es de la Primavera �Arabe le prohíbe al p�ublico presionar para que haya una agenda de reforma; a nivel estatal, el ambiente político post-�Arabe crea dudas entre la �elite regente sobre qu�e tanto se deben extender las reformas políticas; y a nivel internacional, con la aparici�on de nuevas amenazas de seguridad, se ha restringido la presi�on internacional para que los países del Medio Oriente se democraticen, lo que ha llevado a que la cooperaci�on en seguridad sea la prioridad principal.

Palabras Clave: Democratizaci�on, Bursatilizaci�on, Primavera �Arabe, Medio Oriente, Participaci�on política,

从民主化到安全化 中东地区后阿拉伯之春的政治秩序


本文通过社会、国家和国际三个层面的分析, 检验了中东地区民主化浪潮为何 会褪去, 转而优先考虑 “后阿拉伯之春” post-Arab Spring 的安全, 以及该过程 是如何发生的 通过应用民主化文献和安全化文献中的主要概念和理论, 同时分 析贝塔斯曼基金会 Bertelsmann Stiftung 的民主状况指数 Democracy Status Index 、阿拉伯民主动态调查 Arab Barometers Survey 和阿拉伯舆论调查

Arab Opinion Survey , 本文得出结论认为 在社会层面上, 自阿拉伯之春后 发生的悲剧事件阻止了大众推进改革议程 在国家层面上, 后阿拉伯的政治环 境引起了统治精英对政治改革应在多大程度上进行的疑问 在国际层面, 随着 新安全威胁的兴起, 中东国家遭受国际要求其实行民主的压力受到了限制, 中东 国家首要考虑的是安全合作

关关键键词词 后阿拉伯之春, 阿拉伯政治, 阿拉伯之春


In the late 1990s, the democratic wave started to batter the shores of the MiddleEast, one of the last strongholds of authoritarianism. This wave gained consider- able momentum after 9/11 when the Bush Administration introduced the so-called “freedom agenda.” Governments in the Middle East bowed to internal and external pressure, acknowledging the need for: democratization, fostering political participa- tion among their citizens, and press freedom. However, the ultimate goal for govern- ments in the Middle East was to weather this wave of calls for democratization, while guaranteeing that they remain in full power.

The cosmetic and top-down approach to democratization in the Middle East failed to meet the expectations of the people; thus, a gap between governments and the people emerged, opening up space for opposition voices to register their discontent at the direction of policies. Questions of regime legitimacy arose, trig- gering a chain of events in 2011 that ultimately toppled long-standing authori- tarian leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, and rocking the regimes in Syria and Bahrain to their core. At the time, it was expected that the Arab

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Spring would lead to the democratization of Middle Eastern countries — it did not! The ensuing instability, strife, civil war, and the rise of radicalism and vio- lent extremism made western powers abandon the promotion of democracy and prioritize security instead. Also, Middle East regimes, particularly monarchies, became more prudent about protecting their regimes from the snowballing effects of the Arab uprising. It seemed that the “democratic wave” has ended, yielding to a new age of securitization.

Taking into account the above state of affairs, this article examines the question: why and how the wave of democratization in the Middle East has receded, giving way to the prioritization of security in the post-Arab Spring. It applies the main concepts and theories found in the literature on democratization and securitization. This article also studies different aspects of the issue of democratization in the Mid- dle East. First, it analyzes political transition in the Middle East prior to the Arab Spring to demonstrate the emergence of democratization in the region. This is fol- lowed by analysis on political expectations and public demands, and the resulting political crisis during the Arab Spring. This article also analyzes the new political atmosphere in the post-Arab Spring period focusing on the driving forces that lead to the prioritization of security over democracy by testing three preliminary findings at three levels of analysis: 1) At the societal level, the post-Arab Spring political environment limits the public from pushing a reform agenda and leads them to securitize the idea of democratic transition when confronted with the tragic unfold- ing of events is other places in the Middle East (i.e., Syria, Yemen, and Libya); 2) At the state level, it raises doubts within the ruling elites about how fast or how far political reforms should be extended especially if it increases the risk that the reform process might get out of their control; 3) At the international level, with the rise of new security threats, particularly ISIL, pressure on Middle East countries to democ- ratize has been subdued giving way to security cooperation as the top priority.

Theoretical Approach

The reality of “democratic transition” is far more complex than discussions related to democracy. Democratic transition cannot be analyzed simply as a phenomenon. It implies more than one nominal change and period, multiple characteristics and dif- ferent variables (Hadenius & Teorell, 2007). Transition also consists of more than one stage, and each stage involves moderate and gradual changes within different characteristics. O’Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead (1986) are of the view that democratic transition is “the interlude between one political system to another” (19). It is generally initiated by the desire of a significant member of the ruling elite to demonstrate that “they want to substantially widen the set of respected individual and collective rights, and the population believes this announcement” (O’Donnell et al., 1986:25). Huntington (1991) also addresses the different phases of transition to democracy. He underlines five stages in a typical transition: 1) the emergence of

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reformers, 2) the coming of reformers into positions of power, 3) the failure (and replacement) of early reformers, 4) the subduing of displaced supporters of the authoritarian regime, and 5) and the inclusion of new sectors.

The drivers and actors of democratic transition are also diverse, but four main approaches can be underlined. The institutionalist approach argues that prodemocratic values can only emerge through learning by living under an existing democratic mecha- nism (Rohrschneider, 1996). This approach also highlights the importance of estab- lishing robust democratic institution in a country to fulfil a democratic transition and consolidate it. On the other hand, Rustow adopts the elite-cantered approach in its most radical version. He defines elites as the main political actors in democratization. He believes that “democratic transition comes when political elites make the conscious decision to adopt the democratic rules of the game” (Rustow, 1970:3).

For some authors in transitology, the role of nonelite actors (civil society in partic- ular) is important to consider. Particularly, Linz and Stepan (1996) insist that a vibrant and democratic society is a significant requisite of democratization. Bernhard (1993) also argues that democratization has only existed in conjunction with a civil society in which it constitutes the sphere of autonomy from which political forces representing constellations of interests in society have contested state power. In addi- tion to civil society, democratic culture is also an important subject in the societal context of democratization. As discussed by Schmitter, Karl, Diamond, and Plattner (1993), stable democracy and democratic culture are empirically correlated. The establishment of democracy is not independent from cultural determination and civic culture in particular.

Finally, the international dimension of democratization should not be ignored. As underlined by Huntington (1993), the role of external actors became more influential particularly in the third wave. During these years, western countries, the United States, in particular, were a major promoter of democratization through its diplo- matic actions, economic pressure, and material support for democratic opposition forces.

Democracy has not always been the end result of transition. Studying transitions in the late twentieth century reveals two divergent outcomes: 1) the establishment of a small number of new democracies; and 2) the emergence of a large number of reverse transitions, the majority of which have led to authoritarian regimes. Never- theless, some countries within the transition waves have been categorized neither as consolidated democracies nor as nondemocratic regimes but have remained as “hybrid regimes” (Diamond, 1999). An analysis of studies published after the mid- 1990s uncovers a number of intellectual changes occurring in the transition literature. These new views appear to have led to a more cautious (and somewhat paradoxical) understanding of hybrid regimes, that is, which are neither authoritarian nor demo- cratic and do not represent any movement along a continuum of democratization.

Recent works in transitology display a better comprehension of the current issues; nonetheless when it comes to the case of the Middle East, transition

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literature does not effectively conceptualize the political conditions that developed after the Arab Spring. The majority of existing literature fails to analyze the period of uncertainty (during the transition) and “the role of violence in shaping post uprising tangents” (Stacher, 2015:262). As a matter of fact, none of these approaches evaluate democratization or the concept of democracy within the framework of security. Yet, as argued in this article, the new political atmosphere in the post-Arab Spring period leads to the securitization of the concept of democracy. Democracy was presented as a security threat. Regimes convincingly advocated security and stability as an alternative narrative to democracy demands, societal actors accepted the restoration of autocratic rule in response to the uncer- tainty about the outcomes of the Arab Spring, and international actors aban- doned the promotion of democracy in return for security arrangements. As a result, at the societal, state, and international levels, actors (referent objects) became more prudent about protecting themselves from the negative outcomes of Arab uprisings. Thus, in addition to transitology, the securitization literature is important to conceptualize the post-Arab Spring political order and to answer the question of why the wave of democratization in the Middle East has turned into securitization in the post-Arab Spring.

The concept of securitization is built on Ole Wæver’s idea of securitization, Buzan’s conception of sectoral security, and, most recently, “the extension and devel- opment of the concept of security complexes into the regional security complex the- ory” (Wilkinson, 2007:6). In the works of the Copenhagen School, securitization is constructed on three elements: “the speech act,” “the securitizing actor,” and “the audience” (Wæver, 1999). The speech act is defined as “an inter-subjective under- standing constructed within a political community to treat something as an existen- tial threat to a valued referent object, and to enable a call for urgent and exceptional measures to deal with the threat” (Buzan & Wæver, 2003:491). According to the Copenhagen School “Security is a self-referential practice . . . not necessarily because a real existential threat exists, but because the issue is presented as such a threat” (Buzan, Wæver, & De Wilde, 1998:24). Also, an existential threat does not by itself create securitization. Yet, “the issue is securitized when the audience accepts it as such” (Buzan et al., 1998:26). To achieve successful securitization and “to prevent `everything’ from becoming a security issue” the following three steps are applied: 1) “identification of existential threats,” 2) “emergency action,” and 3) “effects on inter- unit relations by breaking free of rules” (Buzan et al., 1998).

Although the concept of securitization has its origins in Ole Wæver’s analysis of the Cold War’s ending in Europe, in recent years, the Copenhagen School securitization theory has been utilized in different spheres. As in other countries, securitization offers a useful analytical tool in understanding the Middle East. Particularly in the post-Arab Spring era, Middle East countries became the place where Wæver would expect the “securitization theory to do well by virtue of the ways in which the language of security has been utilized by elites to justify their undemocratic actions and by the social actors

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when confronted with the tragic unfolding of events in the Middle East” (Wæver, 1999). The security landscape in the post-Arab Spring Middle East is characterized by the widening of the “security concept” and by the emergence of “new threats” and “non-traditional threats.” The actors at the state, society, and international levels securi- tize the idea that “democratization demands” led to instability and chaos for the six Arab Spring countries and for the region at large. Therefore, transitiology — albeit within the securitization perspective — is utilized in this article to define the stages, actors, and drivers of the tentative transition, whereas, the outcomes of the Arab Spring are evaluated by using the framework of securitization. The recent portrayal of democ- ratization, as a threat by the actors, is analyzed to encompass the answer of why the wave of democratization in the Middle East has receded, giving way to the prioritiza- tion of security in the post-Arab Spring.

Political Transition in the Middle East and the Turmoil Years of the Arab Spring

World politics has witnessed different waves of democratization and by the mid- 1970s, democratization ceased being a Western phenomenon (Huntington, 1991). Although in the Arab region, the political reform processes have not turned into a full-fledged democratization, the history of prodemocratic reforms did start in 1970s. Egypt led the way by instituting reforms in 1973 — just three years after the arrival of Anwar al-Sadat to power — and Hosni Mubarak renewed Egypt’s commitment to reforms by holding relatively free and fair election in 1984 and 1987. In Morocco, political parties participated in the municipal and parliamentary elections, which were held in 1976 and 1977, respectively. Jordanians went to the polls on November 8, 1989, in the first general elections in 22 years and Algeria promised free munici- pal elections in 1990 (Lust, 2009).

Yet, despite these reforms, democracy did not materialize in these countries. No state made significant, unretracted “steps toward freedoms (as measured by the Free- dom House Survey) during the Third Wave”; and by the early 1990s, these Arab states had largely reversed the reform (Salam�e, 1994). It seemed that the Arab world was immune to democracy, thus giving rise to the notion of “Arab Exceptionalism.”

In the early 2000s, a new wave of transition had been started in the region. Fol- lowing the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States’ pressure on the Middle Eastern regimes increased, demanding more political liberalization. The United States started a number of ambitious plans to foster democratic transition throughout the region. The “Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) in 2002” and “The Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI) in 2004” were launched “to promote democ- racy in the region and to accelerate reforms in governance, education, the economy, technology, development and the role of women” (Khalaf & Luciani, 2006:9). Like- wise, in 2002, the White House established the Millennium Challenge Account, a funding agency charged with linking aid to 17 indicators ranging across three

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clusters: “Investing in People” (health and education), “Promoting Economic Free- dom” (free market reforms as set by the IMF and WB), and “Governing Justly” (political and civil rights as defined by Freedom House) (MacQueen, 2009:169).

In response to the external pressure to promote democracy in the Middle East, many regimes yielded, embarking on a number of political reforms, and held elec- tions (Battaloglu, 2016). The focus of democracy promotion as Macqueen (2009) argues was on the strengthening of civil society and the surface institutions of democracy. The structure and priorities of this policy fed into the ability of regimes across the Arab world to resist pressures for political liberalization. Here, it is argued that the democracy promotion policy of the George W. Bush Administration has enabled autocratic and authoritarian regimes across this region to enhance their capacity for social penetration and to exploit a lack of effort to promote the idea of democracy, facilitating direct and indirect modes of repression against opposition forces that have drawn from democracy promotion funding. This has enabled these regimes to enhance the processes of elite change — co-option and imitative institu- tion building that have been central to their resilience in the face of seemingly unavoidable challenges (MacQueen, 2009:165, 172).

The reform process in the Middle East remained cosmetic with a top-down approach designed to contain civil society, manage elections in a manner that does not pose a challenge to the existing power structure, and introducing a selective reform agenda. Some Arab states over-relied on rent and militarized in excess of their economic and political bases leading to chronic fiscal crises. Faced by the per- ceived prospect of ruin due to political reforms, authoritarian regimes resorted to “Patrimonialism” to ensure their longevity by “demobilizing the opposition and building a loyal base through selective favoritism and discretionary” (Bellin, 2004:143). This increased “the gaps between regime and public opinion (having) opened up a space for opposition voices to register their discontent at the direction of policy” (Ashton & Gibson, 2014:120). Most of the Middle Eastern states reached a dead end, triggering a chain of events that would be called the “Arab Spring.”

When the first event of the Arab Spring began in Tunisia on December 17, 2010, new hopes for democratization in the Middle East re-emerged. Optimism spread rapidly from country to country and soon affected large parts of North Africa and the Middle East. As the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya fell and other regimes appeared next in line, “analogies were quickly conjured to 1989, when another frozen political space, Eastern Europe, saw one dictatorship after another collapse” (Diamond, 2011:1). The once impossible democratic transition in the Mid- dle East now seemed possible and the “Fourth Wave of democracy” became the ter- minology of the early days of Arab Spring.

Yet this optimism was misplaced and the so-called “forth wave” proved to be no more than a mirage. Autocratic regimes have shown remarkable resilience, not only surviving under challenging conditions, but also re-establishing a more repressive ver- sion of authoritarianism. Egypt is now more authoritarian than during the years of

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Mubarak, and the Sisi regime has not found a way to revive the economy or to satisfy the grievances of the poor and unemployed. The Bahraini monarchy, aided with mili- tary support from Saudi Arabia, forcefully expelled protesters from the Pearl Round- about in central Manama. In some countries, “Arab uprisings ushered in the most violent period of state-society relations” (Stacher, 2015:262). Some transition countries such as Syria, Yemen and Libya became engulfed in civil wars and became failed states.

In Syria, when the first protest started in the southern city of Daraa in 2011, many people believed that the al-Assad regime would be quickly overthrown, as was the case in Tunisia. Yet, such an expectation turned out to be misguided. The regime did not crack under the pressure, nor sacrifice its president. State violence ensued determined to oppress the uprising and protests. More than six years have passed since the begin- ning of the Syrian revolution; it has come to be one of the greatest tragedies of the twenty-first century, and one of the most awful calamities in the history of the contem- porary world. So far, about 465,000 people have been killed, and nearly two million more have been wounded (according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — http://www.syriahr.com/en/). More than five million Syrians are refugees and six and a half million have been internally displaced within Syria, the biggest internally displaced population in the world (according to the numbers of the United Nations High Com- missioner for Refugees — http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html). The combined number of refugees and internally displaced people presents more than half of the precivil war population of Syria. The bloody civil war consumed any hope for democratization. Haddad (2012) argues that “the Syrian tragedy is increasingly more about the fall of Syria [ans] than the fall of the Syrian regime” (p. 115).

Yemen did not fare better. The uprising, which was, in the first place, against Ali Abdullah Saleh, gave way to ethnic tensions involving the Houthi minority in the

Figure 1: Democracy status in the Middle East and six Arab Spring countries (2010 and 2016). Source: Author’s calculation based on BTI Index.

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north and introduced a regional proxy dimension to the internal conflict. Almost six years later, the outcome of the Yemeni uprising is the sad fact that nonstate identi- ties, which are ethnic, tribal, regional, or combinations of these, have emerged a cen- tral power lines (Heydemann, 2013). Optimism and hopes for democratization have given way to a civil war and a failed state.

Libya, at first, seemed to follow closely the pattern established by Tunisia and Egypt before the uprising quickly turned violent. Then, an internationally sponsored military intervention ended with the lynching of the long-time leader Muammer al- Qadhafi and raising new hopes following Libya’s 2012 election (Stacher, 2015). Yet, the fall of Qaddafi’s brutal regime has taken the state down with it. Six years later, Libya is struggling to ensure the national control over its borders and the fragmented state apparatus. There is no central authority in Libya, only multiplying militias, fac- tionalized violence, and political incoherence (Stacher, 2015).

Political conditions in the majority of Arab countries have worsened compared with the pre-Arab Spring years. Figure 1 shows the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s (BTI) Democracy Status Index1 scores for the Middle East as a whole and the six Arab Spring countries. The figure demonstrates how the hopes of democratic transition in the region have failed. Only Tunisia registered an improvement in its democracy sta- tus from a score of 3.8 on a scale of 10 in 2010 to a score of 6.3 in 2016. With this jump in score, Tunisia moved from the category of Hard-line autocracy in 2010 to a defective democracy in 2016, thanks to parliamentary elections in October 2014 that culminated in a peaceful turnover of power, which was cheered by many as a sign of a healthy Tunisian fledgling democracy. Although the case of Tunisia remains cau- tiously optimistic, the remaining Arab Spring countries have failed to transform their political system. As the BTI index reveals, the democracy status of the Middle East has receded, with countries scoring lower on the BTI index in 2016 compared to 2010. Middle Eastern countries, with the exception of Tunisia, are now classified as either (Hard-line or moderate) autocracies.

Taking into account the above state of affairs, it can be argued that the so-called Arab Spring has turned into the regional winter within the six years since the first incident happened. The hopes of democratization in the region have faded, giving way to the age of securitization. To analyze the reasons for such a fate, the next part of this article examines the question of why has the wave of democratization in the Middle East receded, giving way to the prioritization of security in the post-Arab Spring. Multilevel analysis (at the social, state and international level) is employed to draw a comprehensive picture covering all aspects of the transformation.

The New Political Atmosphere in the Post-Arab Spring Period

Democratic transition, as mentioned earlier, cannot be analyzed simply as phenome- non. The above discussion showed that the stages, actors and drivers of democratic transition are diverse. In the Middle East, democratization has transited through a

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number of stages due to different actors and drivers. However, in the Middle East, the terrifying results of the Arab Spring have adversely affected the drivers and actors of the democratic transition. The long-awaited democratization has turned to securi- tization. Due to the new political atmosphere in the post-Arab Spring period, all actors in societal, state, and international levels have started to prioritize security over democracy.

Changes at Societal Level

The historical experience shows that democratic transition has always been fueled by demand coming from the societal level; however, in the Middle East, public demand for political change had been relatively weak during the years when democratization waves hit other regions. Social, economic, and political life in the Arab world has been plagued by political apathy — fueled by decades of authoritarian rule — and revolving, to a remarkable degree, around the bonds of family, clan, or tribe (Haw- thorne, 2004). In the early years of state formation in the 1960s and 1970s, mass mobilizations were motivated by political nationalism rather than public demand for change. Thus, regimes, in most cases, successfully demobilized populace or con- trolled movements by using certain proregime segments of population.

Nevertheless, the advent of liberalization, marketization, and rising urban popula- tion in the 1980s unleashed important socioeconomic and sociocultural changes in the region. It not only led to new elections and legislative reforms, but also to the reorganizing of societal structures in the region. In these years, Islamic movements, particularly social Islam, became the key actors in filling the welfare gap by direct provision of services, such as health care, education, and financial aid (Bayat, 2000). The Islamization trend triggered the explosive growth of Islamic NGOs in the Mid- dle East.

When western democracy promotions were launched after the Barcelona Process in 1995, the societal structures in the Middle East started to become institutional- ized. Civil society organizations emerged and tangibly expanded, particularly after the 2000s. In this regard, the rise of the global human rights and prodemocracy movements encouraged the formation of Arab human rights and democracy organi- zations (Bayat, 2000). Middle Eastern civil society started to play an active role and provided a new avenue to mobilize middle class and opposition groups. This hap- pened despite the fact that during the first decade of the twenty-first century, inde- pendent civic activity was brought under tight state control as civil society organizations were repressed (Carothers & Ottaway, 2010).

Alongside the emerging civil society and opposition movements (based on Islamic movements), economic liberalization, urbanization, and modernization brought new challenges for Arab societies. The long-standing structural problems (such as high unemployment, rampant corruption, and social inequalities) fueled demand for change in the majority of Middle Eastern countries. Equally critical was the fact that

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political systems in the Arab world were repressive, corrupt and unstable. The absence of liberties, freedom of “saying,” political participation, political and social integration, and the rule of law were primary sources for political tribulations in the Arab world. They eroded state legitimacy and induced festering political grievances and dissatisfaction (Farasin, Battaloglu, & Bensaid, 2017:14). In this sense, the Arab world was poised for a revolution.

In the beginning, political demands were made by the existing civil society and political opposition. With time, more voices started to make their way into the pub- lic and political space by using social media to challenge state monopolies of infor- mation in the Middle East region. Civil society became integral to discussions of how to liberalize societies and democratize political regimes. Socioeconomic grievan- ces were inextricably linked with, and fueled political demands. When it came to 2010, many people who were previously silent began to speak out about social and economic injustices and to call for change. What followed was a wave of revolts that swept across the Middle East in 2011.

When the first autocrat was overthrown in Tunisia, the expectation in Arab socie- ties was that the Arab Spring would spread rapidly from one country to another, and open a new chapter in Middle East history, characterized by democratic forms of government. Nonetheless, and within a short period of time, the anticipated democracy festival turned into state violence and authoritarian backlash. People became disillusioned and societies become more polarized.

Before the Arab Spring, optimism for democracy was widespread throughout the region; however, the favorable attitude toward democracy in the Middle East has decreased in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Figure 2 compares the Arab Barome- ters Survey2 results in 2010–2011 (Wave 2) with 2012–2014 (Wave 3). The findings

Figure 2: Arab barometer on democracy perceptions in the Middle East. Source: Arab Barometer Survey.

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demonstrate that, although democracy was still viewed favorably in the region, more people in Middle East have become sceptical of the concept of democracy. The per- centage of people who agree with the statement “Democracy negatively affects social and ethical values in your country” has increased 3% during the Arab Spring years, reaching 32% in the Arab Barometer’s third wave. Likewise, more people have started to disagree with the statement “Democracy is the best system, despite its problems,” with 19% of people disagreeing in the third wave, compared to 16% in the second wave.

Alongside the increasing scepticism toward democracy, the Arab Opinion Survey3

demonstrates that Arab public opinion toward the Arab Spring has worsened over

Figure 4: The rise of political movements: fears of the Arab public. Source: Arab Opinion Index (2015).

Figure 3: Public attitude toward the Arab Spring and its outcome (2012–2015). Source: Arab Opinion Index (2015).

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time. Figure 3 shows that negative public attitudes toward the Arab Spring and its outcomes increased between 2012 and 2015. In 2012, only 22% of respondents had negative attitudes toward the Arab Spring; however, Arab people’s attitude toward the Arab Spring would soon sour, with 42% of respondents having negative atti- tudes. By 2015, the overwhelming majority of respondents (59%) regarded the Arab Spring and its consequences in a negative light. In supplementary written answers to the survey, “respondents who took a negative view of the Arab Spring explained their positions by focusing the consequences of Arab Spring, which involves the large-scale human losses; the spread of discord and chaos and lack of security; the collapse of states and state institutions; and instability more broadly.”

The Arab people also started to view political parties and political activism in a negative light. According to the results of the Arab Opinion Survey, more and more Arab respondents began to grow weary of both Islamist and non-Islamist political movements in the region (Fig. 4). An estimated 57% of respondents expressed their fears with regards to the rise of Islamist political movements in 2015, compared to just 36% in 2012–2013, and 43% in 2014. The fear of the rise of secular or non- Islamist political movements also increased from 37% in 2014, to 61% in 2015.

Six years ago, people in the Middle East were discussing a new social contract, one that granted them freedom, justice, dignity, and a voice in politics. Then events unfolded in a tragic manner. People were massacred or made refugees by autocratic regimes determined to hold onto power at all costs, or by terrorist groups commit- ting heinous crimes on a large scale. People were surrounded by senseless violence, terror, tremendous human suffering, chaos, and the emerging of failed states. Their attitudes toward democracy, the Arab Spring, and political movements — as the above analysis shows — soured. People wanted security and stability above all, and their push for a reform agenda took a back seat. Simply put: at the societal level, democratization yielded giving way to securitization.

Changes at State Level

The state elite, thorough their calculations and strategic choices, play a crucial role in determining whether democratic transition takes place. O’Donnell et al. (1986) and Rustow (1970) emphasized the role of elites as a prerequisite for democratic transition arguing that transition to democracy can only be launched when state elites become convinced that they have more to gain than loose by opening up the political system.

The Middle East is no exception when it comes to the role of the political elite in instituting predemocracy political reforms. In fact, in the Middle East, political reforms have historically been regime-led and top-down. The first set of political reforms in the Middle East were launched by political elites to consolidate their power domestically, and to establish cohesive political entities in the region. Particu- larly in the 1980s, constitutional reforms and elections became the trend among the

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regimes in the Middle East, helping them to defuse tension in society and within the power structure.

In the 1990s, the emerging civil society, new Islamic opposition, need of eco- nomic liberalization, and new social dynamics forced regimes to implement receptive reform agendas. Demand from international powers came after 9/11 and increased the pressure on political elites to launch more reforms to make themselves more accountable to their population and legitimize their power internationally. Despite the positive steps undertaken by regimes to broaden individual and collective rights and initiating new reforms including elections, expansion of women rights, educa- tional reforms, and institutionalization, the top-down changes did not bridge the gap between state and society. Political reforms remained cosmetic in most of the Middle East. As argued by Heydemann (2007) these efforts paved the way for “upgrading authoritarianism” in the region.

When the protests in Tunisia forced Ben Ali into exile in 2011, the expectations were that autocracies are coming to an end in the region. New hopes for the fourth wave of democratization in the Middle East rose. Nonetheless, no transition away from autocracy occurred. In the six Arab Spring countries, the ruling elite responded by resorting to large-scale state violence to crush the uprising (with the exception of

Figure 5: Commitment to democracy in the non-Arab-Spring Middle East countries. Source: Author’s calculation based on BTI Index (2016).

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Tunisia). In half of the six Arab Spring countries — namely, Syria, Yemen, and Libya — the situation escalated into a bloody civil war where parties are fighting for power and control of the state. The end result in these countries is statelessness or at best, failed states. Thus, to analyze the calculations and strategic choices of the ruling elite within the context of the Arab Spring, it is better to direct the analysis to the non-Arab-Spring Middle East countries (Middle East countries excluding the six Arab Spring countries).

Figure 5 assesses the state’s commitment to democracy before and after the Arab Spring. The assessment covers the areas that are considered the basic pillars of democracy: free and fair elections4; Association and assembly rights,5 freedom of expression,

6 and civil rights

7 ; separation of powers

8 ; and independent judiciary.

9 As

the figure shows, in all the areas, the non-Arab-Spring Middle East countries scored lower in 2016 when compared to 2010, clearly indicating that after the Arab Spring those states stepped away from prodemocracy reforms preferring instead to reinforce their autocratic rule.

In the non-Arab-Spring Middle East countries, the tragic events observed in neighboring countries raised doubts within the ruling elites about democratization in the region. The aftermath of the Arab Spring also made the elite more cautious about the idea of change and reforms. In those countries, democratic reforms came to a halt. The tragic outcomes of the Arab Spring provided the ruling elites with the perfect pretext to justify authoritarian practices and limit civil society’s room for manoeuvre. The slogan “Amen wa Aman” which translates to “Security and Safety” is the slogan that is nowadays clearly heard in Arab capitals and streets alike.

Changes at International Level

Causes of democratization vary in world politics; however, when discussing waves of democratization, Huntington (1991) underlines the role of external actors in promot- ing democratization and the regional snowballing effects as one of the reasons of transition to democracy, especially in second and the third waves.

Upon examination, it is apparent that the processes and consequences of demo- cratic transition in the Middle East differ from previous democratization waves in the world politics. Yet, when it comes to the factors causing reforms in the region, the active role of international actors can be marked. Alongside societal and state actors and drivers, political reforms resulted from outside pressure.

In the mid-1990s, Western powers became fervent supporters of conversion through democratization among Middle Eastern countries. After 9/11, “the Bush administration became more vocal,” and announcing that “the United States had adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom” to foster democratization in the wider Middle East (Kechichian, 2004). During the first decade of twenty-first century, a number of U.S.-led initiatives (i.e., MEPI in 2002) was launched to pro- mote democracy by cooperating with political elites in the region.

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With the Arab uprising, international democracy promotions plan moved from elite/ regime level to societal level in the Middle East. In May 2011, in the thirty-seventh G8 summit, “Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries in Transition” (Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen) four priority areas were established: stabilization, job creation, participation/governance and integration. Nevertheless, in the post-Arab Spring period, a change the international paradigm on democratization occurred, thanks to the rise of new threats, particularly ISIL/DAESH and al-Qa’ida, and conflicts in the region (in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya). The outside pressure on Middle East to democratize began to give way to security cooperation and advancement of arms policies.

At the discourse level, western interest in democracy also lessened, due to the ris- ing security threats in the region. When comparing the presidential speeches in the United States before, during, and after the Arab Spring, it can clearly be argued that the U.S. policy toward Middle East has shifted from democratization to securitiza- tion, at least at the discourse level.

When analyzing the years before and during the Arab Spring, both former presi- dents, Bush and Obama were underlining the importance of democratization. On January 13, 2008, President Bush made remarks in Abu Dhabi about the importance of freedom and democracy in Middle East. He highlighted the importance of “fos- tering freedom and justice” in the Middle East (National Archives and Records Administration, 2008). Similarly, in his remarks on the Middle East in 2011, Presi- dent Obama laid out a bold vision of future American policy toward the Middle East. He marked the importance of democracy. He stated “It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region and to support transitions to democracy” (“Remarks by the President,” 2011).

Nevertheless, almost six years since the start of the Arab Spring, the discourse of the main democracy promoter, the United States of America, has changed. In U.S. presidential speeches on Middle East, particularly after 2015, security issues and the rise of terrorism in the region — instead of democracy or transition in the region — have become the main topic. The Middle Eastern interview with Obama in May

Figure 6: U.S. Military and policy aid to Middle Eastern countries. Source: Author’s calculation based on Security Assistance Monitor.

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From Democratization to Securitization . . .314



21, 2015, the president emphasized three topics: The War against ISIS in Iraq and Syria; “The Nuclear Deal with Iran; and The President’s Relationship with Israel and the Jewish People” (The Atlantic, 2015). The promotion of democracy was obviously absent. In the same vein, when President Obama met with the Gulf Mon- archs, the declaration following the U.S.-GCC summit at Camp David in 2015 highlights the focus on security over democracy. In the Joint Statement it is stated that: “In this spirit, and building on the U.S.-GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum, the leaders discussed a new U.S.-GCC strategic partnership to enhance their work to improve security cooperation, especially on fast-tracking arms transfers, as well as on counter-terrorism, maritime security, cyber security, and ballistic missile defence” (U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council, 2015).

The shifts in U.S. discourse from democratization to security correlates with US spending on official development aid (excluding humanitarian assistance) and on military and policy aid. Before the onset of the Arab Spring and in 2010, the United States spent US$3.96 Billion on military and policy aid for Middle Eastern countries (Fig. 6). After the Arab Spring started, this number gradually declined to US$2.57 Billion in 2013. Faced with the aftermath of the Arab Spring and with the rise of security treats stemming from terrorist organization and civil war, the United States reversed gear and increased spending on military and policy aid to reach US$4.87 Billion in 2015 (Fig. 6).

U.S. spending on official development aid (ODA) — excluding humanitarian assis- tance — tells a similar story. U.S. spending on ODA, which was hoped to facilitate democratization, dramatically increased right after 9/11 and reached its peak levels in the few years prior to the Arab Spring. With the onset of the Arab Spring, U.S. spend- ing on ODA dropped from a peak value of US$29.39 Billion in 2008 to US$21.56 Billion in 2012. Since 2012, U.S. spending on ODA has been largely flat (Fig. 7).

The rise of terrorist organization like ISIS and the emergence of weak and failed states jeopardized the interest of Western powers. Western powers started to abandon the promotion of democracy and adopted instead a security-focused approach to the

Figure 7: U.S. spending on ODA (excluding humanitarian assistance). Source: OECD Data (2017).

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Middle East. International pressure, which is vital for democratic transition, was now absent. At the international level, security was prioritized over the promotion of democracy.


The Arab word has proven to be an anomaly, stubbornly refusing to bow to consec- utive waves of democratization. Reform processes in response to public demand, international pressure, or as a drive-by ruling elite to defuse tension within society and gain legitimacy remained superficial. These superficial reform processes failed to meet the expectations of people and were insufficient to place these countries on the path of fully fledged democracies. Then came the Arab Spring in 2011 and the hope was that it will lead to democratization of the Middle East. It was not meant to be; instead, civil war, bloodshed, autocratic backlash and the rise of terrorist organizations ensued. Actors at different levels were dismayed abandoning democra- tization and embarrassing securitization.

At the societal level and when confronted by the unfolding tragic events after the Arab Spring and the bloodshed, destruction and the atrocities committed by terrorist organizations and by regimes determined to hold onto power at all cost, people for- sake their demands for democracy. To them, safety and stability stood above every- thing else. Today people in the Middle East have grown sceptical toward democracy, the Arab Spring, and political movements, Islamic or not.

At the state level, the ruling elite have abandoned prodemocracy political reforms. The status of democracy in the majority of countries is worse off today than it was before the Arab Spring. Free and fair elections; association and assembly rights, free- dom of expression, and civil rights; separations of powers; and independent judiciary have all receded. The ruling elite capitalized on the aftermath of the Arab Spring and reinforced their autocratic rule. Today Middle Eastern countries are classified as (hard-line or moderate) autocracy.

At the international level, western powers have shown the same reflexes that they have always shown; putting their self-interest above all other values. When western powers saw their interest jeopardized after the Arab Spring, they abandoned the pro- motion of democracy and human rights and instead prioritized security arrangements with dictators and autocrats.

As a result, democracy has yielded to securitization. This is a sad state of affairs, since there is no guarantee that securitization is the solution to the tribulations of the Middle East. The causes that gave rise to the Arab Spring remain unaddressed and unresolved, waiting to ignite again at the first opportunity.


1. The BTI Democracy Status Index goes beyond the minimalist definitions of electoral democ- racy by including the rule of law and the separation of legislative, executive and judicial

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From Democratization to Securitization . . .316



powers with checks and balances. The index reflects the extent to which a democratic

order is consolidated in terms of acceptance, interest representation, and political culture.

Thus, the index seeks to assess the extent to which the ground rules of democracy are

both established and accepted within society. The score on the BTI Democracy Status

Index presents an assessment along five dimensions which are: staleness, political partici-

pation, rule of law, stability of democratic institutions, and political and social

integration. 2. The second wave of surveys was conducted in the years 2010 and 2011 in 10 countries: Algeria,

Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen. The

third wave of the Arab Democracy Barometer was fielded from 2012 to 2014 in 12 coun-

tries: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan,

Tunisia, and Yemen. The surveys seek to measure and track over time citizen attitudes, val-

ues, and behavior patterns relating to different aspects of democracy. 3. The 2015 Arab Opinion Index is the fourth in a series of yearly public opinion surveys across the

Arab world. The 2015 Arab Opinion Index is based on the findings from face-to-face interviews

conducted with 18,311 respondents in 12 separate Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq,

Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania. 4. The score on free and fair elections is based on the criterion: to what extent are political repre-

sentatives determined by general, free, and fair elections. 5. The score on association and assembly rights is based on two criteria: to what extent can individ-

uals form and join independent political or civic groups and to what extent can these groups

operate and assemble freely. 6. The score on freedom of expression is based on the criterion: to what extent can citizens, organi-

zations, and the mass media express opinions freely. 7. The score on civil rights is based on the criterion: to what extent are civil rights guaranteed and

protected and to what extent can citizens seek redress for violations of these rights. 8. The score on separation of powers is based on the criterion: to what extent is there a working

separation of powers (checks and balances). 9. The score on separation of independent judiciary is based on the criterion: to what extent does

the judiciary have the ability and autonomy to interpret and review existing laws, legislation,

and policies; to pursue its own reasoning, free from influence; and to develop a differentiated



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