Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Meanwhile in the Middle East

Tunisia is undergoing a period of severe political instability. Massive street demonstrations calling for the resignation of President Zine Ben Ali who has been a relatively benign dictator since 1987. The latest reports have Ben Ali fleeing the country with the Prime Minister he appointed having taken power. These demonstrations have been going on since December but the rest of the world has taken little notice (probably because Tunisia isn't a major oil exporter and the government doesn't take high profile anti-western or anti-American positions). You can see Tunisia's CIA World Fact Book profile here.

According to the Polity IV project which provides broad measures of the level of democratization in countries, Tunisia (higher scores mean more democracy, lower scores mean a more authoritarian regime) has seen a period of significant improvement in political freedoms in the first half of Ben Ali's rule but has recently been slipping backwards in a more authoritarian direction.

Tunisia's economic situation makes me cautiously optimistic about their medium future. They have a fairly diverse economy and a relatively high per capita GDP for a non oil exporting country. There are concerns though. Decades of rigged elections has left a party system that has been untested in a fully democratic environment. We don't really know if they are up to it. In many new democracies, party systems become badly destabilized and in the worst cases, this can make people disillusioned with democracy and/or provoke a coup d'etat. But if the parties can manage to represent constituencies and compete with each other without resorting to violence, things could get very interesting in a good way.

Tunisia is a cross roads here. It is entirely possible that they could emerge from this with something resembling a stable democracy. If that were to happen in a predominantly Islamic country in North Africa it would be a great development for the region!


The Law Talking Guy said...

I take issue with the phrase "a period of political instability." Instability to me suggests something longer-term. Tunisia seemed quite stable until three weeks ago when it fell apart. It will likely soon be stable again. This is about political transition rather than instability.

I mention this not for terminologial reasons, but to emphasize my conviction that sudden political transitions such as this are actually a common feature of authoritarian regimes today, as we have seen repeatedly in the last 30 years. The problem is that authoritarian regimes are inherently prone to such uprisings.

Raised By Republicans said...

You are right that rapid transitions are common in authoritarian regimes. But when such a regime is played out and is on the verge of being replaced with something resembling a democracy (as I hope is the case in Tunisia), then the period of uncertainty can last months or even a couple of years before a new equilibrium is arrived at.

USWest said...

My concern is that this wasn't due so much to internal movement was movement from the outside. French media seems ambiguous on the issue of potential Islamist involvement.But I don't know enough about Tunisia to offer any insight.

Is it, RBR, equally true that if Tunisia fails to establish a stable government we could see a negative knock-on effect in say Algeria, etc. It's a genuine question. The problem in today's world is that instability in any of these countries can be exploited by radicals looking for a new base of operations.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Egypt is next, I think.

Raised By Republicans said...

I've recently read some stuff about a possible domino effect in the North African region. I'm not sure we should expect one for a couple of reasons. First, Tunisia has been a bit more open than Egypt has been and less plagued by Islamist insurgents than Algeria has been. Tunisia is also quite a bit wealthier than most non-oil producing countries in the region. The wealth may be a big factor as there is a well established observation that democratization seems to kick in most solidly at about the level of wealth that we see today in Tunisia. I wouldn't want to argue that per capita GDP is the only factor in democratization but I do think it may an extremely powerful one.

USwest said...

Reports I've heard on BBC mention that Egypt tried to play down events in Tunisia by claiming they were the result of "mental disturbed" people.

I fear for Egypt as well. I am somewhat relieved by French reports that say trouble has been brewing for awhile in Tunisia. The regime has been unstable.

As of t his post, the transition government is not holding. 3 ministers have left already and there are demonstrations in the streets. If this Green movement in Iran ever takes hold, this may be what it looks like.