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Charles (5) defines the Arab Spring as the series of revolutions characterized by protests and demonstrations that are currently taking place in the Arab world. The Arab Spring commenced on December 18, 2010 and has taken place in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Kuwait, Oman, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. A notable trend associated with the Arab Spring is the increasing cases of civil uprisings and wars that have resulted in the fall of governments and resignations of heads of states (Wolff 955). In addition, the Arab Spring has been manifested by civil resistance techniques that are evident through the sustained campaigns that entail rallies, protests and demonstration. The Arab Spring has also deployed social media for the primary purposes of organizing, communicating and increasing awareness associated with repression by the state and internet control.
According to Charles (5), most of the protests have been addressed by brutal response from the governments, pro-government militias and the anti-demonstrators. A 2002 report by Arab Human Development noted that there is a considerable lag in terms of participatory government between the Arab World and other regions (United Nations Development Program 78). The report further asserts that there are relatively lower freedom scores for the Arab countries than the other regions on the globe. It is inferable that this freedom deficit culminated to the Arab Spring because it served to underpin human development in the Arab world. Furthermore, the freedom deficit imposes significant constraints towards the attainment of democracy, inhibits learning and motivation (Charles 5). The regional demonstration effects facing the Arab world can be correlated to Samuel Huntington’s third wave of democratization, which denotes a series of changeovers from democratic to non-democratic administrations. Using Dahl’s “Polyarchy” and Huntington’s “Third Wave of Democratization,” this paper discusses the characteristics of the Arab Spring.
Huntington’s “Third Wave of Democratization” is presumed to have commenced during 1974, and was mainly motivated by the freedom deficit (Huntington 89). This is a notable characteristic of the Arab Spring, which is mainly centered towards the need for domestic and global peace, the increasing need for political freedom and accountability of the administrations. These factors characterized the Arab Spring, which resulted in the expansion of democracy. The Arab Spring was marked by the need to protect individual and group rights for protesting and demonstrating, ensuring that there is a free flow of information, supreme respect for law, and ensuring that government leaders are held accountable for their actions (Wolff 970). Basing on Huntington’s “Third Wave of Democratization”, it is evident that Arab Spring was motivated by democracy deficit. The Arab world was initially non-responsive to the third wave of democracy that began during 1990s.
Unfortunately, freedom deficit is one of the characteristics of the Arab world. Charles (5) asserts that the downfall of autocratic administrations in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt is a clear indication that the Arab Spring marks the beginning of the fourth wave of democratization, which is based on the historical analysis by Huntington of the global democratic process. Huntington argues that the acceptance of democracy took place in three distinct waves, with the first wave occurring during the early years of 19th century. The first wave took place in North America and Western Europe after the French and American Revolutions (Wolff 970). The second wave of democracy commenced after the Second World War, while the third wave of democracy began during the mid 1970s. A notable characteristic of all of the democratic waves was an abrupt upturn in nations that began embracing democracy ideologies, resulting in a political shift towards democracy. For instance, an outcome of the third wave of democracy was the increase in the number of democratic countries from 39 to 123 in the period between 1974 and 2005 (Wolff 970). An interesting fact is that the Arab world was the only region in the world that was not responsive to the third wave of democracy. Irrespective of this surpass, it is apparent that the Arab world has began adopting democracy, which was manifested through the recent Arab Spring (Charles 5). Despite the fact that it may sound erroneous and premature to label the Arab Spring as the onset of the fourth wave of democracy, it is evident that its characteristics depict the democratic shift that is similar to the previous waves. An inference that can be derived from this observation is that the Arab Spring is a purely a democratic manifestation, which stems from the freedom deficit in the Arab world (Wolff 965).
The second framework that can be used to interpret the Arab Spring involves the authoritarian adaptation and succession, which entails the substitution of traditional forms of Middle East authoritative regimes with new administrations (Charles 5). This is analogous to the removal of Nasirism by the ancient regimes of King Farouk during the 1950s. In light of this argument, the Arab Spring is an indication that the secular and socialist nationalism in the Arab world is being replaced by Islamist political organizations that embrace democracy. The fundamental objective of the Arab Spring was to result in a democratic society and states. Numerous socio-economic and cultural factors of the Arab world have contributed to the democracy deficit in the region. The Arab world lacks democratic states, which is characterized by the succession of authoritarianism (United Nations Development Program 96). In addition, the few autocratic states have used controlled liberalization as a tool for mitigating threats directed at the administration. This is not an instance of genuine democratization. It is also evident that the cultural perspectives on the Arab world regarding political legitimacy depict a grim picture. This is evident by the fact that Arabs share the view that governance should be based on the provisions of the Shari’ah Law (United Nations Development Program 102).
On a similar account, the regional dynamic is a significant impediment towards the attainment of positive and democratic development. This is the case of Middle East, whereby aspects such as accountability, regard for the rule of law and individual rights are poorly rated. The modern autocracies in the Arab countries have resulted in the destruction of the middle class and the end of liberal constituencies. This can be attributed to the absence of effective opposition of the traditional regimes. As a result, only the organized Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood, have the capacity to exploit the available opportunities to rise to power. The economic structure of the Arab world also indicates the democratic failures. Presently, eleven out of the sixteen Arab nations get at least 70 percent of export income from oil and gas; this is the income acquired from the ground and not from the productive efforts and tax impositions on the citizens. Since the Arab nations do not rely on imposing taxes on their population, it is apparent that they have failed significantly, and they are likely to failing in the future with regard to the expectations of answerability and representation when the nation relies heavily on taxpayers (United Nations Development Program 105). An inference that can be derived from this authoritarian succession viewpoint is that the autocratic administrations are adapting or that they are being replaced by theocratic ideologies and not democrats, which still results in a democratic void. According to Robert Dahl, reforms that result in a democracy must facilitate the surfacing of a political regime that is responsive to its citizens by providing them with an opportunity to develop and express their viewpoints. From Dahl’s viewpoint, it is arguably evident that the Arab Spring was motivated by political reforms that did not favor democracy. This is not the case in the Arab world because it is characterized by an intense concentration of authority within the executive, which may take the form of a king, a strong presidency, ruling family set ups and religious establishments. This is a basic hindrance towards the achievement of democracy in the Arab world.
Robert Dahl is of the opinion that democracy is characterized by responsiveness and not institutional arrangements; responsiveness facilitates the process of differentiating the changes that are vital towards the achievement of democracy (Dahl 145). For instance, the concern is not the regularity of conducting elections; rather, the concern is whether the elections results in the establishment of responsive regimes that are not power-centered. As a result, such governments have an obligation of accountability and meeting the demands of their constituents in order to remain in power. The political reforms in the Arab world are not headed towards purely democratic; rather, the autocratic administrations are adapting using controlled liberalization (Dahl 125). The case of late democratization and replacement of traditional authoritarianism, results in a regional state of failure. This is a core contributor to the Arab Spring, which is considered a response strategy to the fragility and disintegration of Arab nations.
In conclusion, the Arab Spring conforms to the Huntington’s assertion on the third wave of democratization. In addition, the Arab Spring is a clear indication of a state of failure, which is due to the failure of political reforms to favor democracy; this is in accordance with Robert Dahl’s perspectives on democratic reforms, which should focus on the establishment of responsive political regimes. Using Huntington’s framework on the third wave of democratization, it is evident that Arab states are characterized by freedom deficit, which ultimately culminates to democratic void in the region. Therefore, the Arab Spring is purely a democratic manifestation that stemmed from the freedom deficits. Using Robert Dahl’s view on polyarchy, it is apparent that the political reforms in the Arab world were not democratic, in the sense that they were not responsive.