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Conflict in Syria: Opportunity for Future Democratisation? Qualitative Research Essay

Literature Review

The literature review seeks to analyse democracy in a conceptual framework that explores the politics of the Arab world against that happening in the rest of the world.

In so doing, it seeks to demonstrate the meaning of democracy, explore democracy in the Middle East, while tackling political science’s view on democracy, and the concept of faith as well as its influences in the Syrian politics to exploit the major issues in the Syrian democratic question.

The meaning of democracy

The word democracy emanates from two Greek terms ‘demos’ meaning the people while ‘Kratos’ refers to a form of Aristocracy denoting a leadership that is decided upon by the people (Sen 1999, p. 8). In the American context, Lagon (2011) opines that democracy refers to a people chosen government. This definition is shared by other civilised societies that recognise the sovereignty of the people in the concept of governance.

However, the lack of universal meaning of democracy has made different societies pursue different approaches to democracy. The lack of universality of democracy could be traced back to the ancient civilisation in the Athens communities where democracy literally allowed only men above the age of 21 to partake active roles in civic activities such as voting and voicing of their opinions in public.

The vast economy of the ancient Athena City State pigeonholed on slavery of women who as per the dictates of the systems had no amount of say in the affairs of state whatsoever, nor were they permissible to voice honest opinions in the public. Politics, debate, public utterances, and arguments of any kind were the preserve of men.

However, democracy in much of the developing world can never be equated to that prevailing in the developed nations such as those in the West. The overwhelming civil strife in Syria and the raging debate over Assad’s administration intolerance to opposition groupings remains a complex domestic question to solve.

Democracy in the Middle East

In the years following the Second World War, the world turned its focus from the contest between democracy and totalitarianism to emerging threats such as the global balance of power (Hunter 2007, p. 1). The escalating war in most parts of the world provoked the vast continental Europe to endow their colonial holdings with independence.

In part, the succeeding up-thrust of the newly independent and susceptible nations greatly worried the United States, especially with regard to its positioning in world politics.

In the culminating sequence of events, Berlatsky (2012, p. 145) observes that the United States sought to ascertain that the enormous human and massive monetary sacrifices it offered in conquering the Second World War were not in vain, and that the newly established nations would become its allies and further reinforce its eminence as the world power.

According to Husseini (2012, p. 234), the power vacuum in the years following the post-war history greatly troubled the United States, especially in the oil opulent and war-ravaged Middle East. Much of the Middle East was a deep concern to the West, and this was mainly because of its inclination to communist thinking. In totality, the civic authority was largely presumed in the West as either weak or lacking in form.

Another factor that worried the West was the fact that several nations in the Middle East were deeply engrossed in the traditional systems of governance characterised by the Arab dynasties. However, the conquest of the nationalistic movements as well as the collapse of the Pan-Arabism after the overthrow of Egyptian President Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser shocked several Middle East nations.

According to Merrill (2006, p. 29), the 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine took course to extend the primacy of the Truman Doctrine, which essentially increased the US’s commitment and containment to the Middle East.

Observers note that this was a move to contain Pan-Arabism nationalistic vendetta, and further sought to check on the proliferation of communism, which, at the time, was America’s greatest headache. America and Europe sought to nurture a democratic system of government in the Arab world to make their regimes accountable and all-inclusive of their people.

How democracy differs from one country to another

Democracy can never be complete without liberalism. Essentially, liberalism makes democracy to be different from one country to another (Lagon 2011). In an illiberal society, the people are limited in their ability to voice honest opinions. In other words, freedom of speech is curtailed.

In such countries, certain individuals like the poor and women are disenfranchised from all forms of political activities. Most countries in Africa and much of the Muslim world are typical illiberal democracies.

According to King (2009, p. 167), most counties in the Middle East, especially those that are currently struggling with shedding off the shreds of the Arab Spring such as Syria have only known the converse of democracy, which is dictatorship. Within the precipice of democracy, right-thinking individuals in all corners of the world consider such countries failed states.

The word democracy, according to King (2009, p. 168), denotes an all-inclusive political system that drives its power from the people. Therefore, in a democratic society, all eligible citizens have the endowment to participate in decisions that affect them in the concept of governance.

Mature democracies such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Canada are governed by representative democracies. Different countries have different attitudes towards the idea of democracy.

Many people in different countries have a feeling that promoting democracy should be the preserve of the state. However, in Syria and other Middle East nations, there is reluctance on the part of government to make democracy a central theme in its promotional stratagem (Lagon 2011).

Citizens in these countries feel a moral obligation to explore the full meaning of democracy, and, most often, there is substantial rebuttal from the government. A modest minority rule in the Middle East favours promotion of limited democracy in these somewhat friendly authoritarian democracies, which often lead – in some cases – to unfriendly governments.

Consequently, majority chose to put both diplomatic and public pressure on the states to reconsider democratic rights of their citizens. The prevailing democracy in the United Arab Emirates, for example, is a substandard type of democracy whose parallelism cannot be argued on the same table with the American type of democracy (King 2009, p. 169).

To a given degree, all these discrepancies in the concept of democratisation of global politic show openly the lack of universality in democracy.

Viewing democracy as a western ideology

Promoting democracy in countries that view it as a western ideology is often characterised by stiff objection from the governments whose authorities view it as a promotion of strategic policies of the West (Heydemann 2013, p. 60).

Of late, there are concrete stakes for Syria, and, indeed, the Arab world in their quest for democratisation – namely, prosperity, pluralism, and greater peace in all parts of the world (Rahbek 2005, p. 245). Controversial pathways of achieving the full dimensions of democracy and the archetypical mismatches between words and deeds continue to cloud appreciation of democracy in Syria.

Sharp and Blanchard (2012, p. 267) underscore that the quest for democracy in Syria exhibit conflicting priorities, and the Assad regime holds that promotion of democracy is not a panacea for the Syrian problem whatsoever. Yet, among the tried, tested, and trusted findings in international community studies, reports hold that established democracies are never at war, especially with their people.

Democracy by any means is the preserve of an equal opportunity society where everyone has a say in the concept and nature of governance. Democracy, as Morlino (2002, p. 23) notes, makes sovereignty meaningful; dictatorial regimes make sovereignty a mockery of the people. Other governments, such as Syria, advocates sovereignty even when democracy of the people is trapped underfoot.

The oligarchies in Syria have vested interests that have continued to deprive their people of meaningful human rights. However, what makes it hard to achieve the wholesomeness of democracy in Syria is the fact that international foreign policy is not cast on a stone. Many civilised societies continue to work with the Syrian government without considering its legitimacy (Henry and Springborg 2001, p. 45).

If this trend were not the case, then mature democracies would only enter into any kind of dealing with countries that have attested to the willingness of exploring the full dimension of democracy.

Notably, what most civilised democracies fail to figure out is that durable stability emanates from domestic politics founded on peaceful competition in elective politics, which in turn promotes the much-desired conduct by the governments.

The premised pretext on elections as a model of democratic fallacy in Syria

While periodic elections are important pointers to democracy in the concept of governance, elections on their own do not necessarily constitute a democracy (Shin 2013, p. 2). Liberalism, freedom, and civility matters most. The all-pervasive lack of free and fair elections in Syria shows how there are great discrepancies in the concept of democracy.

In remote democracies such as in the Arab world and several African nations, Ehteshami (2008, p. 67) notes that elections are predetermined, not contested, but awarded to the ruling dynasties, making a sharp mockery to election as a civic duty. In the United States, by comparison, elections are highly contested and candidates are elected based on their suitability to the hold a state office.

Overall, it makes sense to argue that democracy as a concept of governance, where the citizens freely and equally participate in the civic duties while elected individuals remain accountable to the people’s preferences is a far cry from being achieved in Syria, at least at the moment.

Achieving democracy in Syria warrants the masses to unconditionally sanction and steer the essentials ideals of true democracy. This has not been the case not only in Syria but also in the Arab world, as well as in most parts of Africa. In much of the developing world, democracy is only a paper representation to some appealing political tune that thrives under authoritarian rule.

Political science’s views on democracy

Politics is a study that embroils both humanistic and scientific facets of socio-economic and political establishments. As a social science discipline, political science is concerned primarily with the studies of state, governance, politics, political parties, and policies that inform them (Lust-Okar 2006).

Political science as a study deals exclusively in the theory and practicality of politics as well as the analysis of political parties and systems of governance such as democracy or authoritarianism. Most constitutions in democratic societies, according to Burnell (2004, p. 5), recognise the existence of political theories with pragmatic establishment of political institutions and practices.

Political Science advocates for a highly scientific and fastidious attempt to explore human behaviour and events that have shaped political history and democratic processes.

Moreover, political science as a study prepares individuals not just for employment, but also for survival given its efficacy in making informed citizenry that has the capacity to participate in the political processes within political parties and interest groups that nurture democracy (Freeman 2003). Political science further seeks to expand the scope of political advocacy.

The discipline holds that democracy is a form of community organisation that explores service by the elected or appointed officials to the people. Therefore, democracy is the power behind the formation of political parties, and its efficacy is usually instrumental in revealing the underlying relationships between political events and the conditions that generate such parties (János 2003).

In essence, democracy seeks to construct the general principles for which societal politics works in line with the constitution and the policies under which a government operate. In practice, democracy intersects with political parties, theories of governance, and comparative politics.

Political parties in a democracy

The aim of every political party is to position itself to form a government. Political science is more concerned with the allocation as well as the transfer and separation of power in decision-making. Political parties advocate for greater democratic space. In a way, they are effective channels to develop a politically moral society.

Democracy guarantees what measures political parties can use to gauge the success or failure of a system within the rights and freedoms bestowed upon them by the constitution. Political science holds that under good administration, political parties are necessary for long-term political growth in emerging democracies.

As Noel (2009, p. 2) notes, political parties have been instrumental in advocating for human rights and inclusivity in the concept of governance as a concrete system that seeks to extend the concept of democracy. Political scientists hold that democracy is the preserve of a meaningful civilised society.

Without democracy in a society, governments may become a fetter to freedom, thus denying the parties the meaning for which they exist. Accordingly, political science holds that democracy can never be complete without liberalism. Essentially, this fact makes one political party to be different from another, and nations to be different in their approach to democracy (Lagon 2011).

Consequently, different societies subscribe to different political positioning making democracy function differently in different societies. As such, democratic political parties recognise the eligibility of all their members, and the citizens have the endowment to participate in decisions that affect them as an entity.

Autonomous political parties such as those found in the developed world are governed by representative democracies that recognise the power of the people. The fact that different political parties have different attitudes towards the idea of democracy makes parties to assume different approaches to governance, especially upon the commencement of state power.

Promoting the concept of democracy

Political science holds that promoting democracy in politics should be the preserve of all people in a society. Many parties would like to have a strong association with democracy, yet they usually fall short of the democratic standardisation measures.

As Rahbek (2005, p. 229) observes, memberships in parties that do advocate for social equality usually feel a moral obligation to explore the full meaning of democracy without which, members usually quit. A modest majority rule in political parties favours the promotion of limited democracy in many liberal democracies.

Whereas parties are inclined to dictatorial tendencies, the fear naturally is upon the assumption of power by such parties. Parties in power may turn to be more dictatorial, hence becoming undemocratic and consequently unpopular with the masses. In societies that are more inclined to undemocratic policies such as in Syria, the larger majority are usually left out hence yielding a feeling of marginalisation and consequently revolt.

In such situations, the masses naturally regroup to put both diplomatic and public pressure on the states to reconsider the democratic rights of their citizens. Governance is a duty of every single individual in a society; as such, political parties in Syria must first seek to accommodate the aspirations of the Syrian people to have a wider appeal in the fight towards democratisation of the region (Saikal 2003, p. 293).

Political parties that do not nurture democratic policies are substandard types of entities whose efficacy often demeans the concept of typical democracy that the people of Syria yearn for. To a given degree, all the discrepancies in the fight for democracy in the Syrian politics show open lack of a universal concept of democratisation.

Political science holds that democracy is paramount in extending the hegemony of political parties; as such, political parties have an obligation to nurture democracy as a practice in all their endeavours. In dictatorial societies like Syria and Zimbabwe that view the West as a threat to their wellbeing, promoting democracy in political parties has always been an uphill task.

In Syria, particularly, democracy is more of a western ideology and often characterised by stiff objection from party stalwarts whose viewpoint mirror democracy as a promotion of strategic policies of the West (Heydemann 2013, p. 64).

However, in mature democracies political parties view democracy as a concrete stake in extending the process of democratisation that gives rise to prosperity, pluralism, and greater peace in their regions.

Political scientists often argue that without democracy in political parties, parties may end up being extremely radicalised, thus making them seek power through clandestine activities such as keeping private armies to overthrow the government.

Controversial pathways of achieving the full dimensions of democracy and the archetypical mismatches between words and deeds continue to cloud appreciation of democracy in regions that does not nurture it in their political outfits. Political parties in Syria, as Sharp and Blanchard (2012, p. 275) note, exhibit conflicting priorities, and the Assad regime may not relent to give more space that is deemed democratic.

If all political parties were democratic in Syria, then it would be easy to make elections free, fair, and transparent. Given that the realisation of democracy in the Syrian political parties is far from the truth, political activism within these parties is always imminent. Such activism often seeks to make the political parties more realistic to the desires of their membership.

Moreover, political scientists hold that as parties become more democratic, their appeal progresses, thus making such parties secure higher membership. With minimal boundaries to membership, parties become more relevant to the masses, making them have higher positioning to take up the government in a free and fair election.

Foreign policy naturally has the feeling of the masses and usually find it easy working with governments or political parties that cherish their ideals. Liberalism in the concept of governance is usually the interest of international community irrespective of which political parties are in power, and they habitually extend an olive branch to all elected governments.

Recognising the mandate of political parties that are in government legally helps to preserve democratic appeal while making other less democratic parties to own up and nurture democratic practices (Lagon 2011). Most governments advocate sovereignty at the expense of democracy. Such practices deprive the political parties their meaningful roles in advocating for human rights and democracy in Syria.

The popular opinion amongst civil society groups in Syria is that there is need to cut any link with political parties or governments that do not nurture democratic practices. Sheer interests by different bodies make it possible for parties to seek governance regardless of their approach to nurture democracy.

The all-pervasive lack of free and fair elections in several parties in Syria shows the great discrepancies in the realisation of this moral societal concept. In remote democracies such as Syria, party primaries are predetermined, not contested, but awarded to the ruling dynasties, or the money bugs, making party politic a big sham (Haldon 2010, p. 242).

In civilised societies, by comparison, party primaries are highly contested based on the suitability of individuals to the hold a public office. The idea of democracy in the developed world makes such governments robust and consistent in the delivery of their pre-election pledges.

Overall, it makes sense to argue that democracy is the preserve of most, if not all, political parties. It explores the freedom where the citizens freely and equally participate in the civic duties while elected individuals remain accountable to the people’s preferences.

With democracy, political parties stand a formidable chance of appealing to the masses, thus making them accrue greater membership in readiness for state duty (Stepan and Linz 2013, p. 18). With greater democracy, political parties have the capacity to rule with the power of majority, which makes parties in power to govern smoothly with limited interference from the opposition.

In many parties of the world today, democracy is the measure for which parties appeal for higher membership. As such, the political parties in Syria needs still have a lot to do in order to nurture democracy within their outfits before they face off with the undemocratic ruling regime.

Without democracy, even the parties that stand a fair chance of winning elections may become intolerant, weak, and, finally, obsolete. This is so because many subscribers to an undemocratic party may opt-out and seek allegiance in other parties that nurture democratic ideals.

Democratic participation in Syria

The concept of participation in democratic process as a political or civic duty emphasises the link between the levels to which individuals within a society are informed. Observers of democratic participation reckon that institutional setup may not offer sufficient grounds to establish why some democracies flourish while others wallow in abject political limbo (Sharp and Blanchard 2012, p. 276).

Of great importance in any democratic arena are the political orientations of individual citizens and the extent to which such individuals show congruency to the values of the institutions that make up a democratic system. Judging from the nature of political parties and their administration, this congruency is still a mirage.

Political parties in Syria have shown a tendency towards militarisation and lack of consistency in the concept of democracy. While arguing the case for consistency with the political domains that characterise a people, active participation in the politics of extremism is not necessarily the case. What has been the face of politics in Syria is not of active participation, but rather political extremism and ideological intolerance.

There is a big disconnect with the knowledge for a greater common good that democracy pursues. Elements of a democratic stability, as Sharp and Blanchard (2012, p. 277) argue, consists of exclusively cognitive mobilisation. This, in turn, is propelled by an individual’s interest in public affairs as well as the possession of sufficient knowledge and the willingness to participate in a democratic process.

Essentially these assumptions hold that individual citizens are doing the society the good whenever they take up their democratic roles in a political process.

The logic of civic competence

The logic of civic competence and the drive to have an impact in the concept of political life and shape the democratic process of a people delves essentially on the ability to grasp the political concepts that defines a people (Congress of Local and Regional Authorities 2011). Elements such as the logic of civic competence are essential ideals of democracy that the Syrian political landscape lacks in abundance.

While this may be construed as true in the Syrian context, other schools of thought hold that active political participation and high levels of self-expression are essential for a healthy democracy. In other words, these cliques of people insinuate that individual citizens are ill-informed about political issues that characterise people.

The approach to democracy in Syria might be progressing on a lopsided scale considering their militarisation of politics. Whereas the Syrian leaders make little effort to shape the democratic process, the Syrian democratisation process, as Saikal (2003, p. 89) notes, could be under serious attack and great violation by the very people who should shape it, and give it a lifeline.

Under these schemes of things, Shen and Liang (2014, p. 235) note that high levels of political consultation and participation are in great demand for a healthy democratisation process. Political scientists view mature democracy under the lenses of active participation in public life with an extremely well informed political background of the institutions of democracy that defines a people.

The concept of faith in Syrian politics

Faith is the basis of any religion; it is not just the conviction of the actuality of a given principle, rather it is the essentiality of the recognition of a principle as the basis for action. Faith is a complete trust in the Supreme Being, and it is a belief not necessarily based on proof whatsoever.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) known precisely as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has its names and acronyms used interchangeably for the perfection of faith (A precarious balancing act Lebanon and the Syrian conflict 2012, p. 175). Accordingly, with faith, the believer finds the right path, seeks the truth, and stalks out the course of life in the concept of reality.

On the other hand, the unbeliever surges towards one misconception after the other while groping into the dark. Faith reveals to the believers the promise of unconstrained progress with the resounding success in the land of the living, whereas ignominy and failure are necessarily the categories of those who refuse to profess their faith. In fact, the ISIS concept of faith is a revolutionary model.

Amongst the ISIS, faith is a tremendously potent doctrine, which is the very foundation of Islam. However, the dissimilarity existing between unbelievers and believers is not the result of clinging to a particular faith.

The prehistoric religious divide continues to fuel a resurgence of political hard-line in much of the Muslim world (Council on Foreign Relations 2012). Perpetual struggles between Shia and Sunni Arabs are nothing less than a region sharply divided on political positioning and religious rivalries that threaten to alter the map of the Arab world.

Between the Sunni and Shia Arabs, there is deep-rooted suspicion that spurs violence, creating tensed relationships in the Syrian politics (Council on Foreign Relations 2012). In addition, sectarian affiliation plays an impeccable role in the politics of the Sunni and Shia Arabs in Syria, making democracy hard to realise.

While the political standoff between Sunni and Shia Arabs has deep roots in a history of treachery and sadism that runs through the centuries, the government in Syria has made no effort to stem this historic outrage.

Shia identity is entrenched in victimhood culminating to the killing of Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Husayn, during the last quarter of the seventh century. Moreover, the Shia has had a long history of marginalisation and domination by their Sunni counterparts (Council on Foreign Relations 2012).

Islam’s dominant faction, the Sunni Arabs, who constitute the world Islamic largest population, view Shia Arabs with suspicion, and the radical Sunni dissidents have portrayed Shias as traitors and heretics, hence the persistent conflicts in Syria.


It is no doubt that the mounting sectarian hard political positioning based on an approach to succession politics and differing opinions on Islamic religious conviction continue to spark the revitalisation of transnational jihadist networks that keep on scuttling the democratic process in Syria. Mass support for a democratic process is entirely a good idea for a healthy democracy, especially as far as it is passionately motivated.

Concerted support for political militarisation as a process to achieve democracy could a trajectory that defines the path to a democratic meltdown. Self-expression, moral-political values and high levels of political participation and consultation reflects a valuation of political tolerance capable of nurturing a mature democracy in Syria.

In fact, such values do imply, to some extent, the inherent preferences for a kind of political institution that most efficiently guarantees human choice — knowledge.

Since knowledge is the basis of independent thinking, citizens must be well versed with the institutions that guarantee the democratic process to shape the course of their public life. Clearly, high levels of self-expression values and political participation are essential for healthy democracy in Syria.


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Athena Barber studied at Texas A&M University, USA, with average GPA 3.03 out of 4.0.

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Barber, Athena. "Conflict in Syria: Opportunity for Future Democratisation?" IvyPanda, 26 Sept. 2019,

1. Athena Barber. "Conflict in Syria: Opportunity for Future Democratisation?" IvyPanda (blog), September 26, 2019.


Barber, Athena. "Conflict in Syria: Opportunity for Future Democratisation?" IvyPanda (blog), September 26, 2019.


Barber, Athena. 2019. "Conflict in Syria: Opportunity for Future Democratisation?" IvyPanda (blog), September 26, 2019.


Barber, A. (2019) 'Conflict in Syria: Opportunity for Future Democratisation?'. IvyPanda, 26 September.

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