This book explores key theoretical issues involved in the analysis of political liberalization and democratization in the Arab world. It is organized around four topics: cultural discourse, civil society, political economy and external settings. In each part, alternatives are identified and placed in the broader context of comparative policies.
By way of introduction, Saad Eddin Ibrahim maintains that the organizations of civil society are playing limited but growing roles in the political arenas of a score of Arab countries. In recent years, two indigenous processes have been unfolding: democratization and an escalating Islamic activism. These two processes intersect at their edges "through the moderate variety of Islamic groups that are opting to engaging politics as usual" (p. 53). In the Arab world as elsewhere, Ibrahim states, economic development, social equity and civil society must proceed hand in hand. Positive regional developments, especially those regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, can also reinforce democratization in the area(pp. 54-55).
In part one, Michael Hudson and Lisa Anderson provide contrasting views on the relevance of political culture to democratization or its lack thereof in the Arab world. Hudson argues that political culture is an important variable and that it cannot be reduced to other factors such as economics, institutions or externalities. He points out that political culture is not likely to ..explain" dependent variables as general as authoritarianism, stability and democracy even though it helps explain why certain institutions, such as legislatures, function as they do (p. 64). He provides some epistemological advice: avoid reductionist concepts and essentialist assumptions; look at subcultures; study the structure of enduring collective values and orientations; focus on group identities, orientations toward authority, and principles of equity and justice; and_ be methodologically multifaceted(p. 74).
By contrast, Lisa Anderson de-emphasizes biological, cultural and religious causes for the absence of democratic government. She advocates a balance of "political culture" and "structural" approaches, seeking a mid-point between the two (p. 86). Debunking the myth of "permanent cultural inclinations, "Anderson argues that religion is neutral in its impact on democracy and development and that political economy and external forces are indeed key variables in democratization (p. 88). The emphasis on multilevel analysis is also reflected in Gudrun Kramer's essay. The Middle Eastern regimes' strategies toward the Islamists, she notes, determine the political strategies of the latter. The internal dynamics, the theory and the practice of the Islamic movement are closely linked to the political experience of these groups as well(p. 123).
Part two is structured around the emergence and evolution of civil society and democratization. Here, the authors raise serious doubts about the future of civil society in the Arab world. They do so while examining components of the civil society: the press, the Islamic health clinics and the gender issue. Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid argues against any formulation of a specifically "Arab" notion of civil society. Expanding the concept of civil society to include traditional groups or replacing it by other concepts more appropriate for Arab culture would dilute it and render the comparison of the Arab world with other regions rather difficult (p. 144). Al-Sayyidas asserts that the future of civil society in Arab countries is uncertain. Political liberalization has stopped short of full democratization in some countries(Egypt and Tunisia) and been reversed in others(Algeria and Sudan).Moreover, a doubtful commitment on the part of some of the Islamists might endanger the very survival of civil society itself(p. 145). Lise Garon notes that the press in Algeria does not seem to be a driving force in the process of democratization and cannot Prevent the erosion of plural ism (p. 162). Janine Astrid Clark points out that the availability of the Islamic medical clinics in Cairo has not translated into either support for Islamic groups or the need to be autonomous from the state (p.183).
Mervat F. Hatem argues that a theoretical view of political liberalization as "women friendly" is problematic. Political liberalization in the Arab world has been characterized by state ambivalence toward women. In many cases (Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan), the joint legacy of the bureaucratic-authoritarian and the liberal states appears to be a state willingness to use gender for its political ends. The gender issue has been and continues to be lost in polemics between the secularists and the Islamists(emphasis added, p. 204). Off the policies of the Islamist state in the Sudan are any indication, Hatem asserts, then one can expect a conservative Islamist definition of women's citizenship, locating them back in the family and/or workplace(pp. 204- 205).
In part three, which is organized around the topic of political economy, the authors express considerable doubt about the prospects for reform and about the benefits of structural economic adjustment in the Arab world. Giacomo Luciani asks several questions, including how the state will evolve beyond rentierism and whether or not democratization is, or should be part of an agenda to overcommit (p.212). Linking the need to overcome rentierism with structural adjustment, Luciani argues that the fiscal crises of the Arab states are not caused by external players such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund(IMF); rather, they are "solidly planted in the unwillingness of Arab governments to face up to their problems m due course of time" (p. 214).Luciani, who argues that structural programs need not have a regressive impact on income distribution (p. 215) underestimates the defects of structural-adjustment programs, which have accentuated income disparities in the rest of the Third World. His analysis of the so-called "success stories" m the Arab world (Morocco and Tunisia) is subject to debate. It is not entirely clear that structural adjustment can be better achieved under democratic circumstances, a point acknowledged later in the chapter by Luciani, albeit in reference to the case of Indonesia (p.224).
Luciani's comparison of the Arab countries' experiences with those of the East and Central European countries (p. 225) is tenuous at best. The value of democratization in resolving the structural problems of the Middle Eastern countries is still problematic. The transition from rentier to production state is predicated on numerous factors, of which democratization may be the least relevant. Luciani 's argument regarding the relevance of democratization to structural-adjustment programs is not persuasive or, as yet, provable.
Daniel Bromberg revisits the enduring legacies of authoritarianism in the Arab world. Bromberg explores what he terms the "survival strategies" of the ruling elites, which are designed to respond minimally to the global pressures for change without introducing wide-ranging reforms. He writes that during the 1960s, "populist authoritarianism" in Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Tunisia emerged as a way of reimposing state hegemony. It failed to support the forging of a democratic pact (p.234).The existence of a relatively unified political elite and of ample external financial resources played a critical part in sustaining the "survival strategies" of some Arab countries such as Egypt and Tunisia. But such strategies failed, as in Algeria, or were abandoned to an uncertain future, as in Syria, where such conditions were absent(pp 238-250). True to Bromberg's. thesis, the reform process in Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia was hastened by the depletion of external resources, a development that obliged reformists to bolster economic efficiency and production. By the early 1990s, he adds, leaders of Egypt, Tunisia and finally Algeria abandoned their survival strategies in favor of structural adjustment programs (p. 251). It is not clear how Egypt's depletion of external financial resources can be accounted for in light of the continuous U.S. foreign aid to Egypt since the late 1970s.
While Luciani claims that democratization might enhance the credibility of economic reforms, Bromberg seems to stress the priority of economic reform over political reform. He ascribes the failure of Algerian reform programs during the late 1980s and the early 1990s to the diversion of attention from the task of economic reform to the question of political reform (pp. 251-252). Bromberg makes a weak case for political adjustment, tacitly consenting to the efforts of reformers who maintain autonomy in economic areas while taking exclusionary authoritarian measures in political arenas. He notes: "Much depends on the course of economic reforms. If they take root, even half-hearted efforts to build a political constituency for capitalism may develop a life of their own,compelling leaders to adopt genuine rather than spurious political reforms"(p.253).
Attempting to make realistic forecasts, Bromberg nonetheless cautions that "capitalist development in the Arab world may eventually find an affinity for complex political systems that manage the tensions of markets through a combination of corporatist, pluralist, semi-democratic and clientelist mechanisms" (p. 253). Bromberg concludes that Arab patrimonialist regimes (Morocco and Jordan) have advantages over populist regimes when it comes to promoting economic reforms, if only because such regimes seem less vulnerable to rising populist expectations, claim an Islamic heritage and maintain patronage linkages to those elements of the bourgeoisie necessary for a transition to market economies (p. 254).
Having made the relationship between political and economic liberalization the thrust of their investigation, Samih K. Farsoun and Christina Zacharia argue that structural adjustment and economic reform impact the social classes and sectors of Arab societies differently and that they increase social inequality while creating volatile political dynamics. Contrary assumptions of neoliberal ideology, Farsoun and Zacharia write, economic liberalization undercuts the prospects of political democratization (p. 261). Elite-instituted liberalization (or liberalization from above) is linked to specific tactical ploys. It is not only divisive but also discriminatory. Nevertheless, much like Bromberg, Farsoun and Zacharia conclude that over the longer term, the prospects for genuine political reform are somewhat positive: "... by instituting democracy from above as a 'survival strategy,' elites may, have replanted the expectation of-and hence demands for-democratic rights within those same populations" (p. 277).
The fourth area of analysis, organized around the regional and international contexts, deals with the impact of external forces on liberalization and democratization. The analysis presented by F. Gregory Gause III suggests that the immediate decision to open up the political process is made by leaders concerned with a calculus of costs and benefits in regard to myriad domestic, regional and international pressures. The prevalence of interstate conflict, the importance of transnational ideologies, and the centrality of external rents in the fiscal profile of the state work against political liberalization in the Arab states (pp. 281-293). In countries such as Jordan and Yemen, such regional factors may not be good explanations. Perhaps the most important regional factor that promotes democratic experiments in the Arab world can be located on the intellectual level. The growing intellectual consensus about the interconnectedness of notions of civil society, limited government, economic development and political rights is a region-wide force, which, although still not dominant, relentlessly presses for democratic experiments in the Arab world (p. 304).
Focusing on the interplay of internal and external factors, Gabriel Ben-Dor hypothesizes that the changing international climate of the post-Cold War era and the disappearance of old ideological and political forces have created a positive momentum toward democracy in the Arab world (p. 325). Ben-Dor's analysis converges with that of Gause, suggesting that internal political dynamics and processes are the final arbiter of political liberalization in the Arab countries. Both Ben-Dor and Gause, however, doubt that domestic conditions are ripe for democratic transition.
It is dicey to speak of "ineluctable" democratic trends, trajectories and possibilities in the Arab world. This volume's theoretical contributions are useful even though the gap between normative discourse and empirical reality cannot be readily filled-a fact which is not lost on the editors, who admittedly regard bridging such a gap as a daunting task. Because of this, the book would have benefited from another section dealing with the "leadership role" or "strategic choice-making," or even the political elites' modus operandi. A practical discussion of policy choices would complement the theoretical perspectives. In part, this collection of essays reflects the editors' structural and institutional tendencies. But it also hints at a much deeper issue: the underdeveloped and under researched status of studies dealing with strategic planning and management, resulting in an underestimation of the impact of the decision making process in the Arab world.
Moreover, a supplementary essay, specifically focusing on whether the race of change and transformation should be incremental or synoptic would strengthen the section on civil society. The editors' observation regarding the necessity of looking "not only for dramatic shifts and transformations, but also for extended struggles and incremental change" (p.337) comes at the end of their book but astutely underscores the significance of the pace of democratic transition. In sum, this volume addresses the fundamental issues and dilemmas facing economic and political reforms in the Arab world. Its diversity, theoretical depth and analytical breadth warrant close attention and extensive debates in both policy and scholarly circles, as well as among general readers.