Archive for the ‘Culture & Society’ Category


By Fareed Zakaria


Does authoritarian capitalism work? For the past few decades, the Chinese economy’s meteoric rise, faster than any large economy in human history, has dazzled the world. It has made many wonder if China’s model of a pro-growth dictatorship is the best path for developing countries. Some have questioned whether Western democracies — with their dysfunctions and paralysis — can compete with China’s long-range planning. Now, as its growth slows to almost half its pace in 2007, the Chinese system faces its most significant test. The outcome will have huge economic consequences for the world and huge political consequences for China and its ruling Communist Party.

Over three decades, China’s growth has averaged 10 percent a year. Beijing managed that because it systematically opened up its economy to trade and investment while investing massively in infrastructure to facilitate manufacturing and exports. Crucially, China had the ability not to pander to its people to gain votes or approval. Unlike most developing nations, China spends little subsidizing current consumption (fuel and food, for example). It spends its money on export-free zones, highways, rail systems and airports. It is investing in education and soon will turn to health care. No developing democracy has been able to ignore short-term political pressures and execute a disciplined growth strategy with such success.

But the model is no longer working that well. Partly, this is the product of success. China has become the world’s second-largest economy; its per capita income is that of a middle-income country. It cannot grow at the pace it did when it was much poorer.

But growth has dropped faster and deeper than many had predicted. This month, the International Monetary Fund forecast China’s annual growth around 7.75 percent for the next two years. But it could slow further because, the truth is, China’s authoritarian system has made significant mistakes in recent years. Read more…

As published in on July 18, 2013.


Despite the chaos, the blood and the democratic setbacks, this is a long process. Do not give up hope.


Roughly two-and-a-half years after the revolutions in the Arab world, not a single country is yet plainly on course to become a stable, peaceful democracy. The countries that were more hopeful—Tunisia, Libya and Yemen—have been struggling. A chaotic experiment with democracy in Egypt, the most populous of them, has landed an elected president behind bars. Syria is awash with the blood of civil war.

No wonder some have come to think the Arab spring is doomed. The Middle East, they argue, is not ready to change. One reason is that it does not have democratic institutions, so people power will decay into anarchy or provoke the reimposition of dictatorship. The other is that the region’s one cohesive force is Islam, which—it is argued—cannot accommodate democracy. The Middle East, they conclude, would be better off if the Arab spring had never happened at all.

That view is at best premature, at worst wrong. Democratic transitions are often violent and lengthy. The worst consequences of the Arab spring—in Libya initially, in Syria now—are dreadful. Yet as our special report argues, most Arabs do not want to turn the clock back.

Putting the cart before the camel

Those who say that the Arab spring has failed ignore the long winter before, and its impact on people’s lives. In 1960 Egypt and South Korea shared similar life-expectancy and GDP per head. Today they inhabit different worlds. Although many more Egyptians now live in cities and three-quarters of the population is literate, GDP per head is only a fifth of South Korea’s. Poverty and stunting from malnutrition are far too common. The Muslim Brotherhood’s brief and incompetent government did nothing to reverse this, but Egypt’s deeper problems were aggravated by the strongmen who preceded them. And many other Arab countries fared no better.

This matters, because, given the Arab spring’s uneven progress, many say the answer is authoritarian modernisation: an Augusto Pinochet, Lee Kuan Yew or Deng Xiaoping to keep order and make the economy grow. Unlike South-East Asians, the Arabs can boast no philosopher-king who has willingly nurtured democracy as his economy has flourished. Instead, the dictator’s brothers and the first lady’s cousins get all the best businesses. And the despots—always wary of stirring up the masses—have tended to duck the big challenges of reform, such as gradually removing the energy subsidies that in Egypt alone swallow 8% of GDP. Even now the oil-rich monarchies are trying to buy peace; but as an educated and disenfranchised youth sniffs freedom, the old way of doing things looks ever more impossible, unless, as in Syria, the ruler is prepared to shed vast amounts of blood to stay in charge. Some of the more go-ahead Arab monarchies, for example in Morocco, Jordan and Kuwait, are groping towards constitutional systems that give their subjects a bigger say. Read more…

As published in on July 13, 2013 (from the print edition).


By Bruce Ackerman


As violence escalates, Egypt’s military is trying to bridge a widening political gap by promising a rapid return to civilian rule. But its gesture of accommodation does not get to the heart of the problem: the presidential system, inherited from the Mubarak era, virtually guarantees a repetition of the tragic events of the past year. A democratic breakthrough requires a more fundamental constitutional redesign, in which the contending sides compete for power in a European-style parliamentary system.

If Egypt had made that switch in the interim Constitution adopted two years ago, or in the revisions that Mohamed Morsi, as president, rammed through last year, it could well have avoided the current upheaval and bloodshed in the first place.

The presidency is a winner-take-all office. This may be acceptable in countries like the United States, where well-organized parties contend for the prize. But it is a recipe for tyranny in places like Egypt, where Islamists have powerful organizational advantages in delivering the vote.

Because their opponents will have great difficulties uniting behind a single candidate, Islamists could probably parlay their strong minority support into another presidential victory. To prevent that result, it is predictable that the military will suppress the political efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood and similar groups — transforming the next election into a democratic farce. The next president would not only emerge with an illegitimate mandate. His victory would convert the Islamists into undying opponents of the regime.

Only a parliamentary system provides a realistic path to a more stable, inclusive future. Even if Islamist parties won a substantial share of the vote, they would not be able to monopolize power.

Consider the Brotherhood’s best-case scenario: Although millions of Egyptians took part in the street demonstrations that preceded President Morsi’s ouster, the Muslim Brotherhood could still win a quarter of the seats in the parliamentary elections, with the more orthodox Salafists gaining another 15 percent. In contrast, the non-Islamist forces are fractured into a number of different factions, ranging from Christian to social democratic. Although the Brotherhood might well emerge with more seats than any other single party, its non-Islamist opponents might nevertheless cobble together a governing coalition. Even if its opponents failed, the Brotherhood could not form a coalition either, unless it reached out to some secularists for support — especially since the Brotherhood could not count on the Salafists to always back it. Read more…

Bruce Ackerman is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University.

As published in on July 10, 2013.


How Egypt’s Turmoil Echoes Algeria’s Bloody Civil War

By Vivienne Walt


Millions of voters elected an Islamic political party to run the country, but the military stepped in, forced out the winners of the election and handpicked a group of politicians in their place. No, this is not Egypt in 2013. It was Algeria in 1992. And in the eyes of some, the bloodshed that followed that fateful Algerian decision 21 years ago offers sobering lessons for the generals in Cairo, who forcibly removed President Mohamed Morsi from office on Wednesday, one year after he’d won a democratic election, igniting violent street fighting between members of his Muslim Brotherhood and the massed ranks of protesters that had pushed for his ouster. “There is indeed a similarity,” Faycal Metaoui, a political columnist for Algeria’s al-Watan newspaper, told TIME on Sunday, adding that Algerians had been gripped by the news from Egypt playing on satellite networks all week. “In both countries, the army arrested a political process involving Islamists.”

The history of the two desert countries along North Africa’s Mediterranean coast has many differences, of course. Algerians fought a brutal war against French colonial rule, which ended with independence in 1962. As the victors, the main revolutionary movement — the National Liberation Front or FLN — has dominated political power ever since. Egypt emerged from underneath Britain’s suzerainty decades earlier and by the 1950s was in the midst of its own revolution, having deposed the country’s King and installed one of the coup leaders, the populist military man Gamal Abdel Nasser, as President.

Yet for all the divergences, Algeria’s more recent conflict offers some chilling parallels, and began when the Algerian constitution was amended to allow political parties other than the FLN to contest elections — not unlike the tumultuous political scramble that has played out in Egypt during the past two years. In December 1991, an Algerian political party called the Islamic Salvation Front, or FIS, which had formed just two years earlier with a platform based on the Muslim faith, swept the first round of parliamentary elections and looked certain to clinch an all-out majority in the second round weeks later. The second vote never took place, however. In between, Algeria’s generals stepped in, dissolved Parliament and banned the popular FIS — a crucial difference from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party has held sway for the past year and will likely be allowed to contest elections again soon.

That move in 1992 sparked eight years of brutal civil war in Algeria. With Islamic politics banned, a militant insurgency quickly formed, led by the Armed Islamic Group — the forerunner to today’s al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, whose affiliated militias seized a huge swath of neighboring Mali last year. About 200,000 Algerians are believed to have been killed in the 1990s war, many of them in horrific massacres, as the Islamist groups split into different factions, some intensely militant, with killings both among themselves and against the military; foreigners were also targets for assassination, and as Westerners fled en masse, Algeria’s economy plummeted. The exhausted foes finally called a truce in 1999 under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who still rules Algeria. Read more…

As published by Time on July 8, 2013.


By Shadi Hamid


When Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected president last year, it was an especially sweet victory for the Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s oldest and most influential Islamist movement. After a long history of repression, the Brotherhood had finally tasted triumph. But their short-lived rule ended Wednesday when Egypt’s army deposed Mr. Morsi.

The Brotherhood’s fall will have profound implications for the future of political Islam, reverberating across the region in potentially dangerous ways. One of the most important political developments of recent years was the decision of Islamist parties to make peace with democracy and commit to playing by the rules of the political game. Leaders counseled patience to their followers. Their time would come, they were told.

Now supporters of the Brotherhood will ask, with good reason, whether democracy still has anything to offer them. Mr. Morsi’s removal will breathe new life into the ideological claims of radicals. Al Qaeda and its followers have long argued that change can’t come through the democracy of “unbelievers”; violence is the only path. As the Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri once said, “What is truly regrettable is the rallying of thousands of duped Muslim youth in voter queues before ballot boxes instead of lining them up to fight in the cause of Allah.”

Al Qaeda’s intellectual forebears emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, and were shaped by events that bear an eerie similarity to those of this week. In 1954, a popularly backed Egyptian Army moved against the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting thousands and dismantling the organization. Prison had a radicalizing effect on Sayyid Qutb, a leading Brotherhood ideologue, who experienced torture at the hands of his captors before being executed in 1966. Many of Mr. Qutb’s followers later left the Brotherhood’s embrace and went their own way, setting up militant organizations that would begin perpetrating acts of terrorism.

In 1954, no one could have guessed that the brutal crackdown against the Brotherhood would set in motion a chain of events that would have terrible consequences for the region and America.

Shadi Hamid is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow in Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution.

 As published in on July 4, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 5, 2013, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Demoting Democracy in Egypt).
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