This post may enrage some pro-democracy activists in the Middle East and North Africa, but I'm willing to take that risk hehe.

We have all witnessed the recent push for democracy in the Middle East and the results it gave us. Anarchy and rise of Islamism.
Some Arabs/Imazighen and pro-democracy activists, if not most, see the rise of Islamism as something good. They see it as a valid result of a valid democratic process.
I see the rise of Islamism as something terrible, since it clashes with the secular elite/middle class, the folk/native culture and the merchant classes of a society. Eventually leading to instability and maybe all out chaos.

Thats why I hesitate promoting democracy in North Africa. That doesn't mean that I'm promoting evil dictatorships a la Saddam Hussein just for the sake of stability.
Democracies and Saddam-dictatorships are 2 extremes in the same spectrum. There is a third way, that seems to have been mostly ignored until now.
But that same third way has led to notable successes in some countries.
Kazakhstan, Thailand, Portugal, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Tunisia and Brazil all share the same thing. They all were, or still are, dictatorships were a thriving middle class and civil society was created. In some cases this has led to the establishment of an official, working democratic system.


These countries were governed by an enlightened dictatorship. Enlightened in this case means allied with the West, understanding and acceptance of free market principles, containment of religion and free movement of its citizens.
All these components are necessary for the creation of a serious, stable middle class and civil society. And a stable middle class and a civil society are again necessary to create a succesfull democracy.
Of course they still were/are dictatorships were free elections were non-existent. That of course can be perceived as something bad/evil/whatever.
But I wonder if free elections are of any use for an uneducated society without a stable middle class.
What is the use of free elections if the outcome results in instability, harsh reactions and stagnation?

And that brings me to Morocco. With the upcoming elections and the rise of the reli-mongers (also known as PJD and Al Adl wal Ihsane) I wonder if Morocco really needs these elections.
Do we need more instability caused by the fear of the ruling elite that the islamist might take over?
Is it really worth it to (try) having parliamentary elections if this might endanger Morocco as a whole?
Shouldn't Morocco and the Moroccans be working for economic and educational reforms and stability first?

I definitely believe that Morocco isn't ready to be a "normal" functioning democratic state.
If we look at the country as a whole we see that it is too unstable.
The middle class is just emerging, the educational level of the country is still shamefully low and economic reforms are not fully implemented yet.
Of course, I would like to see Morocco as a fully functioning democracy. But in order to achieve this we have to make some temporarily sacrifices.
Sacrifices that would tighten the kings control on political activities. Yes I know that the king already has a lot of control on whats happening in the political field of Morocco. But the same king tries to implement some kind of democratic reforms. Alongside these democratic reforms, economic reforms are being implemented as well.
I just don't see why those two have to go together. It would be more beneficial if economic reforms would be implemented first.

Tunisia is a good example of what I mean. In my earlier post I posted the ranking of both countries in 8 main indexes. Tunisia performed exceptionally well in the economic indexes, while Morocco performed better in political/press freedom indexes.
Tunisia is an example of a country being led by an "enlightened" dictatorial leadership. This has led to a situation whereby Tunisia became one of the strongest economies of Africa and the Middle East. 80% of the households owns their own house ( house ownership is usually used as an economic indicator) and according to some reports 60% of the population belongs to the middle class. An unusually high number in that region.
The ruling elite of Tunisia emphasized the need of economic reforms and have succesfully implemented most of them.
But the situation in Tunisia must not be regarded as the desirable final outcome for Morocco.

As I said earlier, Tunisia doesn't perform well in the political/press freedom indexes. This can be attributed to the tight state-control on all political and press outlets of the country.
This is what I mean with a temporarily sacrifice.
In order to create stability and democracy we have to sacrifice our liberties for a while.
That is exactly what happened in other countries like Taiwan, Turkey, South Korea, Portugal, Greece etc.
In those countries, the stabilized middle class eventually demanded political reforms in order to achieve full liberty. The ruling elite of the country and the merchant classes realized that in order to attain the economic prosperity the middle class has to be kept "happy".
The transition from dictatorship to democracy happened there without (too much) violence and went almost smoothly.
This has to be the final outcome for Morocco as well.
No Iraq or Sudan situations whereby the transition to democracy was accompanied with all-out chaos and instability.

To summarize the whole post, in order for Morocco to achieve both political and economical stability, the country has to emphasize economical stability first. Since this is the key to a succesfull transformation to a democratic society.
Emphasizing democratic reforms and implementing them without a stable economic society would lead to a short-term democracy.
I am not calling for a total and everlasting repression of everything and every movement. I'm calling for a moratorium on democratic reforms in order to achieve democracy.

I will end this post with a Robert D. Kaplan quote:

Democracy works best when it is introduced last, as a crowning achievement for societies in which all the other requisites for order are already in place.


7 Comments:

  1. zed0 said...
    Hello, quiet a good analysis!

    Most of countries you have mentioned have had support from either the EU or the US for a few decades now. Mind you, Thailand, Tunisia arent really democratic countries.

    With regards to Morocco, I do agree (from where I am sitting - a thounsand miles from there) that the majority of the population is not fully politically aware to assess the results of the next polls or accept the consequences of the next elections.
    I agree stability is key to the continuity and durability of the democratic process, the economy is one aspect.
    Giving up, albeit temporarily, some of citizen rights would be seen as a setback though and fairly so.

    There is no successful receipe for engaging democratic reforms.

    I dont necessarily think that addressing the issues of the middle class would speed up the process. Reforms would need to implement a bottom-up approach and address all people's issues and the less fortunate first.


    If the PJD gain powers via the poll in Morocco then I sincerely hope that they will be able to implement whatever policies they may have. Algeria is an alarming reminder of what could happen if the winning party is ruled out.
    Myrtus said...
    Congratulations on yet another great post BO. (:

    You say: "That doesn't mean that I'm promoting evil dictatorships a la Saddam Hussein just for the sake of stability."

    Clearly you're not, but perhaps what you do seem to favor (probably without intention), looking at the list of countries you mentioned, is socialism. I'm guessing if you were to take a closer look at the political parties dominating in those countries, you'll find that at least half of them are dominated by socialist parties, workers parties or a combination thereof. As far as I know, the only country that has made socialism work in combination with democracy is Spain. Now that's a country I have a lot of respect for, king and all. The way King Juan Carlos managed to transition his depressed country from Franco's absolute dictatorship into a prosperous democracy is absolutely remarkable!
    BO18 said...
    @ Zedo

    You're right that most of thouse countries had/have been supported by the US and EU. I do think that support of one of these 2 powers is essential in building up a democracy.
    That doesnt mean that the 2 powers cant support harsh dictators as well.
    Tunisia and Thailand aren't democracies indeed. But they're on their way, the necessary elements are there.

    You're right that there is no succesful recipe for democratic reforms.
    Every "recipe" has its dirty tricks and failures.
    About the giving up of citizen rights. I know it would be regarded as a setback. Especially in the case of Morocco.
    But sometimes we need to take a step back to move forward again. (is that how you say it?)
    On the addressing of the middle class. I kind of looked into the history of the countries I mentioned, and it suprised me that the democratic process didn't start until there ware a strong middle class.


    @ Myrtus

    Thank you! :)

    Me and socialism? No way! Haha.
    I get shivers all over if I even think about socialist dictators like the nutcase Chavez.
    Countries like Turkey, South-Korea, Taiwan, Chile, Thailand, Portugal (under Salazar) were staunchly anti-socialist. And to be honest, thats what made them a success.

    I share your respect for king Juan Carlos and Spain in general.
    The transition and the growth of the country is remarkable.
    I was stunned by the recent gayfriendly reforms of the country. Not long ago it was still a staunch ally of the Vatican, and now it is our new Sodom&Gomorra!
    AbMoul said...
    Pure "racist" ethnocentrist western propaganda. Those populations are not ready for democracy. they don't even need it. What they need, it's stop starving . West could even accept a dictator or obscurist power (like in saudai arabia)as long as it can provide cheap gas. The orientalist fantasm of an enlighted oriental dictator.
    the rise of islamist groups is a political (and not only religiuous) consequence of corrupted powers that were so long supported by the west. it's a vicious and etrnal cycle that u're proposing: Dictatorship and corruption then a rise of islamists which will be a legitimisation for these corrupted powers. And by the way western contries did not wake up and find themselves democratic. It was the end of a long and bloddy process which made dozen of millions victims.
    And by the way, Chavez is not a Dictator. He was twice democraticly elected. If u dont like him, it's not a reason to tell lies. At leat he's not occupying any contrya nd he's not considering Saudia Arabia a moderate ally!!!!
    BO18 said...
    Racist etnocentrist propaganda?
    I dont know how you can perceive this as propaganda, racist or even etnocentrist.

    Its a formula that has proven its succes in a lot of countries. (the ones mentioned above)
    Its also a formula that was "invented" by Asians. Do you mean now that the Asians are actively and viciously promoting their formula?
    Its kind of a cheap shot to label it as racist or propaganda.

    I know the rise of islamist is also a political consequence. But that doesn't mean we have to accept it or cant start an "counter-attack" like they did as a reaction to the corrupt powers (something perceived to late by, for instance, Iranian leftists)

    I know that Western countries didn't wake up and found themselves democratic. Thats why I'm in favour of this formula. I never stated that western countries turned democratic overnight.

    And by the way, I didn't call Chavez a dictator until a couple of days/weeks ago when he suddenly "reformed" the constitution and made himself a lifetime leader (although he didnt state that clearly, but reading through the chanes says enough) ruling by decree.
    That ís dictatorship. Nothing wrong with it though.
    I just dont like leftist dictatorships. They tend to fail.
    eatbees said...
    It's true that I can't even read all the way through your analysis without getting stirred up :)

    I think you have an excellent point early on that bears careful thought: "I see the rise of Islamism as something terrible, since it clashes with the secular elite/middle class, the folk/native culture and the merchant classes of a society. Eventually leading to instability and maybe all out chaos."

    You are certainly not alone to argue that Morocco isn't ready for full-on democracy. Most people still vote their tribal interest, or they vote for the party boss instead of the program; national unity is fragile and only the king holds it together; going too fast means entrusting plans for development to a populace where the majority can't even read — I've heard all this and more, and I accept most of it, because I've heard it too often to dismiss it.

    Yet I have to ask, what is the solution? How long are we going to wait? Indeed, isn't the pitiful state of affairs we are witnessing now ITSELF the result of the democratic evolution of the nation being derailed 40 years ago (disappearance of Ben Barka) or again 25 years ago (Years of Lead)?

    The nations you cite as examples of a "middle way" are a decidedly mixed bag. For those who have succeeded in transitioning to true democracy (Brazil, Portugal, South Korea, Turkey — and I could add Chile, Bolivia, the Philippines, Indonesia, South Africa... the list goes on) a phase of popular upheval was necessary. Massive international pressure was necessary too. Does the majority in these countries have fond memories of the "enlightened" dictators that helped them on the path to a "working democratic system"? What do you think?

    It's true that in some cases (Chile, Singapore) the discipline of a martial regime allowed economic growth that ultimately helped pave the way for political reform. But just as often, corrupt leaders, their families and cronies pocketed the cash, and the people got nothing. That was the case in Indonesia, Brazil, Mobutu's Zaire....

    When are the people ready for democracy? How do we define that readiness? Most importantly, WHO will define that readiness? The dictator? His American and World Bank backers? Some self-appointed blogger elite (you and me)? How can anyone define readiness for democracy but the people themselves? The arrogance of any other answer is unforgivable.

    It's true that democracies make mistakes. The American people chose a childish bully as leader at a time when we needed something different, and he led us into a war that 70% of us now regret. On the other hand, Turkey completed its transition to democracy by electing an Islamist party, and they seem happy with their choice. Venezuela and Bolivia chose socialists. Mexico chose an advocate of the free market. Democracy is as unpredictable as the popular mood, so institutional barriers should be in place to prevent too much of a swing. Aside from that, we have no choice but to trust it, because it is the only form of government that can prove its own legitimacy. As someone once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."

    "Shouldn't Morocco and the Moroccans be working for economic and educational reforms and stability first?" -- So can you explain why, 50 years after independence, this is still an issue? Is it possible that lack of democracy, and the transparency it brings, is part of the problem here? To look at it another way, if Tunisia's economic success is so great, why do they NEED the political repression that is so obvious there? I'm convinced that economic and political freedom are inseparable, part of the same basic human instinct.

    I respectfully suggest that we should be working to create the conditions, as quickly as possible, for democracy to work in North Africa rather than thinking up excuses why it WON'T or CAN'T work. Fortunately, discussions like this one are part of the solution!
    sanaa said...
    You seem to think that the mere fact that the middle class feels threathened by the Islamists is enough to disqualify them. You are right to say that the Moroccan middle class is adamantly against the islamists, or in fact against any political party that would give some power to the people they exploit (even the poorer by employing practically cost-free servants). I heard a French educated woman say that she would not want any change in Morocco because she wants to be able to have maids for practically nothing. The anything-is-better-than-islamists argument was used against socialists in the 60's and 70's, with the wonderful results we now see. By the way, it is not that the people have to be ready for democracy, it is democratic institutions that make people democratic. Otherwise, no country would ever be "ready". The Germans who voted Hitler to power were a middle class, educated people, but in the special circumstances following the defeat in WW1. It is a risk you run, but if you don't run it, you can never have a democracy.

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