I considered writing about the Sachs-Easterly debate, but then my attention was diverted to Egypt. Normally, I wouldn't write about what's going on at another corner of the world on the tomzanian, but recent events have been too exciting to contain. Unfortunately, my growing addiction to the Internet has decreased my attention span in reading materials, and has also damaged my essay writing abilities. Thus, I present my thoughts in the most common form of writing in the Internet: headings with paragraphs.
The Fourth Wave of Democracy
In his seminal work, Third Wave of Democracy, Samuel Huntington remarks that the 80s and early 90s was a remarkable time when former authoritarian regimes democratized one after another, much like dominoes falling. There were two sides of the domino effect. One was the neighbor syndrome, where democratic revolutions in one Eastern European country affected another. The other was the somewhat inexplicable phenomenon that failed to explain why countries so far away from each other (think Hungary to the Philippines to South Africa) democratized within such a small time frame.
The latter half of the 90s and the 2000s was disappointing for the global democratic movement. While the rise of Internet and Social Media (fb, twitter, and the somewhat annoying “i-reports”) has empowered the public, authoritarian states have been firm in their grip on power. Dictators of pseudo-democracies in Africa have endured, Malaysia is becoming a model of how to have elections and maintain authoritarianism, and the Middle Kingdom has gained both stability and legitimacy. Thailand, once remarked by a renowned academic that it would never regress back to its past authoritarian form, did just that.
The Fourth Wave seems to be happening in the Arab world. Although it’s only in its infant stages, I have hopes that it grows into regime changes and political adjustments. What has started as an angry college grad reacting to his humiliations from police harassment, has spread to what we now see in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen as well. If I call this the neighbor effect that was observable in the Third Wave, I would call Ivory Coast as the inexplicable simultaneous democratization happening at far away countries. The concerted effort to uphold the results of the ultimate election in Ivory Coast, along with the events in North Africa, shows that perhaps the 2010s will be a decade of democratization. Uganda, DR Congo, and many other weak democracies are holding elections this year, and elections are often a springboard of democratic movement with a spike in civic concern and conversation. On the other end of the world, Myanmar and Thailand’s leaders are facing internal pressures that are both constant and unpredictable in their intensity.
Something that not even the West wants
The Korean government has volunteers in both Tunisia and Egypt, and I often wonder if their respective offices have ordered evacuations yet, and how much they must be cussing the protests for disrupting their work. If regime change occurred in Egypt, the relationships foreign governments have with the bureaucratic counterparts may dissolve, which is an undesirable outcome in an employer’s point of view. This brings me to the second point, a protest for democracy in its escalated revolutionary form, is something that not even the West wants. Since the beginning of governments, democratic regimes have worked with authoritarian counterparts in all matters of politics: defense, trade, etc. As noted by the BBC, Egypt’s stability is an important factor in for US foreign policy in the area. Its proximity to the Palestine-Israel region and Sudan, as well as its cooperation on a host of Middle East issues, have made Egypt an important foreign policy counterpart whose regime type mattered little. Further instability provoked by the protests might yield an unpredictable future regime, possibly anti-American, and even if Mubarak stays power, stronger authoritarian grips on people’s rights, and a shock in oil prices may result. The West’s reluctance towards democratic movements is not new. During the Third Wave, the West’s support for democratization amounted to a couple of statements by high level politicians, while internal communications were filled with concerns of uncertainty.
Unison amongst cacophony
People, skeptics usually, would say “yes, but…” to the positive congratulatory reactions to the democratic movement. To an extent, such voices of cynicism need to be heard, as they are often challenges that the democratic movement face to legitimize itself. One of the “yes, but…” is that the protests are not a concerted voice for democracy, and they rather involve a number of demands and reasons that are not necessarily shared by everyone in the streets. The man who was the ignited Tunisia burned himself out of humiliation and unemployment. Other grievances include the rising food prices. Amongst protesters in Egypt, opponents of ElBaradei may be present as well, considering him to be just another blood sucking power hungry politician. Yet, amongst the cacophony, the unison is the desire for more democracy. I use the relative term “more” for democracy, because I believe democracy should be conceptualized continually, where several factors contribute to determining the extent of a democracy. This conceptualization is important because simplifying democracy as a dichotomy (whether a regime is a democracy or not) brings out simple minded fallacies. For example, a skeptic with a dichotomist view of democracy would comment that there are many different voices in the protest, some asking for economic improvements, and not a concerted the voice for Mubarak to step down and for Egypt to hold democratic elections for the President and the Parliament. I, with a continuous view of democracy on the other hand, opine that all the grievances call for more democracy, one in which people’s voices are better heard and reflected, and this not only involves elections, but also the freedom of civic activity, including assembly, association, press, expression, religion, criticism, etc.
The endurance of a democracy
The Orwellian measures Mubarak is imposing – the cuts in telecommunications, the deployment of military, and the targeting of reporters – exemplifies how authoritarian regimes are susceptible to protests, or large scale demonstrations of public grievances. Protests happen at economically developed and democratically consolidated countries as well: take a look at the US during the 2008 Republican National Convention and Korea during the 2008 I-hate-US-beef protests. While controversies were abundant and political entities took a massive hit, democracies endured because 1. no ridiculous Orwell-Mubarakian measures were imposed, 2. governments had no reason to fear regime change, and 3. governments reflected on not only the public grievances, but how they dealt with the protests. An authoritarian regime like China with strict controls may endure, especially coupled with efficient state led economic growth, but it doesn’t compare with the endurance of a healthy democracy.
And lastly, what the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) must be thinking
I would like to end this longest Tomzanian post ever by reflecting on what the CCP must be thinking. 22 years after what happened in Beijing, the world is a different place. Back in 2005, anti-Japanese protests in China were organized thanks to the cell phone text messages. Now in 2011, we can add social media to sms. Despite the Great Firewall of China, censorship to blogspot, facebook, and the word “freedom,” the Chinese people will use the Internet (somehow) to mobilize. And if 1989 were to happen again today, there’ll be so much more red unless the CCP is thinking of something special as they watch the events unfold in Egypt on television today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the day after the day after tomorrow, the day after ….