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The Persistence of Authoritarianism Before the Uprisings Essay


The Political Culture and Its Critics

Considering the outcome of the Cold War, it is interesting to see that the Arab world still lacks democracy. This becomes especially evident when assessing the global impact on worldwide values and institutions that can be attributed to the winners (Anderson 77). The problem, in this case, consists in the fact that historians and social scientists tend to interpret the events in terms of what might have been instead of analyzing the events that actually took place. For the majority of historians, democracy is still an exception, and they prefer to favor it to other aspects of political culture and certain pivotal events (Anderson 77).

Another problem with political culture consists in the fact that many Arab countries have failed to embrace the perversity and have ended up triggering ignorance in most of their citizens. One factor that should be widely criticized is the desire researchers have to explain the inability to install a democratic apparatus by means of citizens’ wrongful behavior (Anderson 77). Another issue relates to the differing attitudes toward democracy, as well as its implementation. This relates to a number of objective conditions that must necessarily be in line with the economic condition of a country, along with the presence of international support (Anderson 78).

The majority of social researchers consider Middle Eastern countries to be democratically challenged, but this supposition is generally not supported by an extensive body of evidence. The phenomenon of this biased and preconceived notion can be explained by the nonstop search for democracy that goes on in Middle Eastern countries (Anderson 78). Overall, the key concepts of Arab political culture must be considered underdeveloped, and more research in this area is needed.

To expand on this topic, one of the factors that define the nation-state relationship is a people’s attitude toward their leader (in this case, Assad is a perfect example). This particular relationship between the leader and the public is expressed by the compliance of the latter. The community tends to be obedient, and the Syrian people see nothing wrong in glorifying Assad because, for them, he is the definition of the state (Wedeen 512).

Regardless, in addressing this issue, it will become evident that Assad’s virtues are being praised by the Syrian people because of the ideas that the leader puts in their heads. These concepts seriously impact the way people talk, use their imagination, and formulate any statements regarding the country and its leader. Therefore, the verbal practices promoted by the regime lead to a kind of propaganda that is intended to gain as many followers as possible (Wedeen 514).

The authority of the Syrian regime consists of the fact that the governmental apparatus sustains deceit in order to make the community obedient and leaves the Syrian people no choice when it comes to speaking or acting. If we address the issue objectively, it becomes obvious that Assad is so commanding, in fact, because the Syrians themselves make him so. According to numerous reviews of the regime, Assad is not a charismatic leader who possesses certain paranormal supremacy, but he still manages to make the Syrian people obedient, simply by imposing his deceptions on them (Wedeen 514). It is interesting how this quality of Assad makes people follow him obediently and servilely.

Institutional and Politicoeconomic Explanations

The intrinsic part of the democratically challenged regimes in Middle Eastern countries consists in the fact that these states are influenced by their authoritarian governance. Despite popular opinion, it is not the absence of the fundamental principles of democracy that interferes with the implementation of a democratic social organization. On a larger scale, the problem is generated by the stubbornness of a political apparatus that is too authoritarian to let democracy slip in (Bellin 152).

This stubbornness is uniquely reflected in a variety of Middle Eastern countries. To say the least, an ample and intimidating authority is present in the region, and that is one of the key contributors to the existing political regime. Even after the Cold War, authoritarian regimes in Middle Eastern countries were supported by local communities and were found to comply with Western apprehensions about security. The most important factor, among others, is the persuasive and inevitable presence of patrimonialism (Bellin 152).

If we perceive these factors as a whole, it will become obvious that any sort of democratic reform is not possible due to the reinforcement of a strong-armed political apparatus. The majority of Middle Eastern states are paying close attention to the significance of organizational reforms. The ability of these states to convert to democracy is still limited by their exposure to the authoritarian outlook of the ruling classes.

Nonetheless, this is an important lesson for Middle Eastern countries because the implementation of democracy is blocked by the patrimonial organization of their governments. It is safe to say that an authoritarian state is bound to endure in such circumstances. The problem consists in the fact that all democratic initiatives are easily overturned by the will and power of the elites in a regime (Bellin 152). It is not likely that a democratic regime will be installed in any of the Middle Eastern countries at any time soon, and international investments are one of the key reasons.

Regardless, the situation is not hopeless as there are certain changes that may trigger the implementation of democracy in the region. First, the development of a unified democratic institution may become a successful organizational model. In the case of Lebanon, this would be difficult because this country suffers from a critical fragmentation of authority, and its political factions are somewhat complex (Diamond 102).

In addition, it is hard not to mention that the Syrian government is affecting Lebanese politics to a serious degree. Moreover, the perceptions of the region could change if US forces were to be extracted from Iraq. In perspective, this would help the government to elect democratic authorities and stabilize the climate in the region. The situation in Egypt is also complicated due to Mubarak’s legacy, making it unclear what will happen with the regime in the future. It is evident, though, that his inflexible authority leftovers will have to be adapted to a new political scheme. The second transformation implies that US engagement in Middle Eastern political dealings should be reduced as much as possible (Diamond 102). This means that the majority of the states in the region should aim to implement democratic reforms.

The positive impact on governmental transparency will be immediately noticeable, and society will become more civil. The problem is that these positive changes are not being implemented gradually, and this puts serious pressure on domestic political forces, which may ultimately become discouraged and confused. One of the main obstacles on the path to democracy is the homogenous attitude of the United States toward Islamic political factions, as well as the inability to expose them to the benefits of the democratic regime.

The question is whether Middle Eastern countries are eager to reduce oil prices in order to find new options for political bargaining. While such countries as Iraq will not be put under pressure, Iran and Algeria will be hit by problems related to Arab minorities and Arab democratic outlooks (Diamond 102). The withdrawal of the Islamist regime will become a key supporting factor in a democratic transition, but one should take into consideration the exceptional nature of Middle Eastern politics.

The Role of Civil Society and the Public Sphere

The process of state formation and privileges of social organization are two of the core arguments for the future transformation of the existing political regime. The Arab working class is not static, and this is highlighted by the fact that even after the events of 1980, the regimes in Kuwait and Syria remained reluctant at the social base despite the development of the society-state relationship (Moore and Salloukh 71).

Currently, the middle class has been expanded by several new groups that do not belong to either the opposition or the government’s social base. It is interesting to observe how Sunni and Shia are entering the areas (in the Gulf states) that have been commonly held in reserve for the representatives of the regime. The line between the outcasts and social bases of the regime is gradually becoming blurred, and this is leading to certain complications.

Logically, the factors that previously subsidized the development of the private sector and relationships between businesses and the government became the reason why the regime is being transformed (Moore and Salloukh 71). The question is whether these new groups will be “accepted” by the professional associations located in the Middle East. The political future of these new societal clusters is also questionable because the government tends to consciously manipulate the principles of autonomy and liberty.

Another point is that authoritarianism is commonly perceived as speculation that transpired due to the consequences of the crisis. The ultimate outcomes hint at the fact that any change in the state is possible only on the basis of negotiated agreements. In other words, the standards and prospects of the parties involved in political dealings will not be exposed to the adverse consequences of inaccuracies and misperceptions (Moore and Salloukh 71).

As an example, we may use the situation in Kuwait, where the crisis that followed the succession of the emir was resolved in a timely manner owing to fruitful society-government relations and their positive collaboration. The makings of a diplomatic government are expected to help factions to resolve their arguments in a form of negotiations that are coordinated by society-government relations. It may also happen that the opposition will become dominant. In this case, the shift will be hurried and accentuated—and this would not be a good outcome by any measure (Moore and Salloukh 71).

While the members of the opposition have the opportunity to be demobilized and locked within constricted political environments, the future of democratic governments in the Middle East will be doomed due to the increased possibility of mistakes and misunderstandings. Even though the regimes are different, they are all subject to confusion linked to political parties and their opposition.

The Role of External Actors and Transnational Networks

When it comes to the influence of external actors, one of the major roles is given to the United States. Numerous authors believe that American policy should be revised to provide the Iraqi government with more freedom and eradicate authoritarianism (Blecher).

One of the claims regarding this issue revolves around the idea that even though the US government does not put any trust in democracy in the territory of Iraq, other Middle Eastern countries will be interested in implementing democratic principles if the Iraqi government does exactly that. History may repeat itself, but the United States tends to limit the possibility of choosing between regimes because the choice is not a reliable transformation mechanism. The most evident example is what happened in Iran in 1953 (Blecher).

The problem of choice, at the same time, is used to conceal the intentions of the United States, and the latter is not afraid to use military forces to impose US perspectives on the Iraqi government. While the outlook is optimistic, the discussions regarding democracy and its subsequent implementation remain vague (Blecher). It is safe to say that the process of democratizing Iraq will not be smooth. The administration of the United States is careful, though, because if Iraq chooses to become a democratic state, the interests of the United States will be disregarded. The traces of European democracy were not a positive asset for Iraq, either. The problem is that the Middle Eastern neighbors of Iraq have become US allies.

The majority of the conservative public, nonetheless, has made the right choice and joined forces with the United States. Their position is mainly reflected by the claims that almost all Middle Eastern countries do not realize the importance of the United States in the international arena and do not respect the US attempts to stabilize the climate in the region. One of the most evident signs of external influence is the fact the Middle Eastern researchers were repeatedly accused of “groupthinking.” The problem, actually, consists in the fact that it was Middle Eastern governments that pointed out the group-think inherent in Washington.

The reconstruction of the Iraqi government by means of Japanese or German political models is also questionable because the European democratic vision is not significantly influenced by the United States (Blecher). The willingness to improve the government in accordance with an American outlook is not on the Iraqi books, but it is evident that US military forces do significantly impact the balance of power. The problem of democracy in Iraq does not have a resolution yet, but the local adepts of democracy are still hoping for the best. The events of September 11 motivated the United States to return to world domination with new forces.

On a larger scale, no one tried to stop them because of global hesitation. This event turned the tables and destabilized relations between Middle Eastern countries and the rest of the world. The potential of becoming a group of democratic governments was almost wasted because of Hussein’s stubbornness (Blecher). We cannot remove the United States from the equation because one of the objectives of the American government has been to subjugate the country and remake it to their liking. This has not been the first time that the United States has introduced military forces to take over a foreign government. The problem of external influence endures, and there is an inconsequential chance of removing authoritarianism from the Middle Eastern political institutions.

Works Cited

Anderson, Lisa. “Democracy in the Arab World: A Critique of the Political Culture Approach.” Political Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World: Theoretical Perspectives, edited by Brynen et al., Rienner, 1995, pp. 77-92.

Bellin, Eva. “The Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Exceptionalism in Comparative Perspective.” Comparative Politics, vol. 36, no. 2, 2004, pp. 139–157. Web.

Blecher, Robert. “’Free People Will Set the Course of History’: Intellectuals, Democracy and American Empire.” Middle East Report Online. 2003. Web.

Diamond, Larry. “Why Are There No Arab Democracies?” Journal of Democracy, vol. 21, no. 1, 2009, pp. 93–112. Web.

Moore, Pete, and Bassel F. Salloukh. “Struggles under Authoritarianism: Regimes, States, and Professional Associations in the Arab World.” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 39, no. 2007, pp. 53–76. Web.

Wedeen, Lisa. “Acting “As If”: Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 40, no. 1998, pp. 503–523. Web.

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