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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

Why Are There No Arab Democracies?

Why Are There No Arab Democracies

The Journal of Democracy is pleased to announce the publication of its January 2010 issue, which marks the Journal’s twentieth anniversary. The following is a list of articles appearing in the issue, plus brief abstracts. The articles featured on our website are Populism, Pluralism, and Liberal Democracy by Marc F. Plattner, and Why Are There No Arab Democracies? by Larry Diamond. The full text of these articles is available online at: www.journalofdemocracy.org

Three factors could precipitate democratic change across the region. One would be the emergence of a single democratic polity in the region, particularly in a country that might be seen as a model. That role would be difficult for Lebanon to play, given its extremely complicated factions and consociational fragmentation of power, as well as the continuing heavy involvement of Syria in its politics. But were Iraq to progress politically, first by democratically electing a new government this year and then by having it function decently and peacefully as U.S. forces withdraw, that could gradually change perceptions in the region. Egypt also bears watching, as the sun slowly sets on the 81-year-old Hosni Muba-rak’s three decades of personal rule. Whether or not his 46-year-old son Gamal succeeds him, the regime will experience new stresses and needs for adaptation when this modern-day pharaoh passes from the scene.
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Second would be a change in U.S. policy to resume principled engagement and more extensive practical assistance to encourage and press for democratic reforms, not just in the electoral realm but with respect to enhancing judicial independence and governmental transparency as well as expanding freedom of the press and civil society. If this were pursued in a more modest tone, and reinforced to some degree by European pressure, it could help to rejuvenate and protect domestic political forces that are now dispirited and in disarray. But to proceed along this path, the United States and its European allies would have to overcome their undifferentiated view of Islamist parties and engage those Islamist actors who would be willing to commit more clearly to liberal-democratic norms.

The biggest game changer would be a prolonged, steep decline in  world oil prices (say to half of current levels). Although the smallest of the Gulf oil kingdoms would remain rich at any conceivable price, the bigger countries such as Saudi Arabia (population 29 million) would find it necessary to broach the question of a new political bargain with their own burgeoning (and very young) publics.

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