Separating Religion from Politics: the Future of Egyptian Democracy
27 July 2012
Published in Muftah.org
Uprising in Syria and Comparative Indicators
26 September 2011
26 September 2011
Uprisings in the Arab World have surprised people around the world and especially those political analysts who had assumed that there was no desire for democracy and freedom among Arab people, and that Arabs were not seriously dissatisfied with their dictators. While uprisings have rapidly spread into each and every single dictatorship in the region, a question arises: what are the common causes in these revolts?
Using the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy, I wrote an article after the Tunisian revolution in which I extracted and defined a comparative indicator that could explain a common factor for the uprisings in the region’s countries from Iran to Tunisia and from Egypt to Syria. One of the advantages of this indicator is that its extraction has been based on objective data and credible public opinion surveys and not just on abstract ideas. A reliable indicator, in general, is one which has the ability to explain the incidents, and in addition, can anticipate plausible incidents in the future. The mentioned indicator has both of these features as it was proved reliable in understanding the Tunisian revolution, and by that we could predict the emergence of similar uprisings in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria after they took place in Tunisia.
This indicator, which can be called the index of “scarcity of democracy”, represents the difference between the “supply of democracy” by governments and the “demand for democracy” by people. If in a society, the level of demand for democracy is much higher than the level of supply of democracy, the potential for discontent and protest would be higher. So the pro-democracy uprisings aim to reduce the gap between the supply and demand of democracy. Figure 1 shows the index of “scarcity of democracy”, the mentioned gap, for countries with unrest in the region (and some other Muslim countries).
As the above figure shows, the gap between the levels of supply and demand of democracy in Syria is one of the highest in the region. In Tunisia and Libya, which have had a comparably high level of scarcity of democracy, people revolted and removed their dictators over past months. In the meantime, similar uprisings in other countries - namely Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan and Morocco – have occurred that resulted in the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and some political reforms in other countries, such as freedom of political prisoners, the promise to abdicate and etc. Also in Iran, about a year before the Arab uprisings, Iran was the scene of massive protests against the state which gradually formed a civil movement. This movement was suppressed harshly by the government and has declined to some extent, but it can still be seen and traced in different forms of protests.
Regarding the Syrian uprising, two remarkable and outstanding features distinguish it from other protests in the region. The first is the continuation of civil resistance despite the brutal and continued government suppression of the Syrian protestors. In comparison, when non-violent protests in Iran were suppressed by the government, people set back and left the street protests, unlike Syria. But despite the bloody crackdown by Bashar Asad’s regime in Syria and the killing of at least 100 non-violent protestors per week, demonstrations continue to take place six months after their began. Although several factors (e.g., the spirit of martyrdom, Arab pride, the fear that Asad would massacre all dissidents if he survived the revolt, etc.) can play a role in the resilience of the protests, I believe the key factor of the endurance of resistance in Syria is the spirit of social solidarity among people. To support this, I would like to employ an objective indicator. In one of the questions in global public opinion surveys by Gallup, the respondents are asked, “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them or not?”. The response to this question is considered to be the indicator for the “perception of social support” by Legatum Institute which annually publishes a prosperity index. The result of the public survey by Gallup in 2010 (before the uprisings) indicates that 90% of Syrians say “Yes” to the above question, while only 62% of Iranians had a positive response. Moreover, 82% of Tunisians, 77% of Egyptians and 72 % of Libyans said yes to this question (see Figure 2). The high level of this indicator in Syria shows the existence of a remarkable social solidarity which may give hope and encouragement to those who decide to participate in protest demonstrations despite risks and dangers involved. In contrast, saying like “don’t endanger yourself since nobody will care if something bad happens to you” would be rampantly whispered in those countries with lower level of social support.
The second significant feature of the Syrian uprising is that despite the brutal suppression and bloodshed against the non-violent resistance of people, protestors have not converted their non-violent methods to a violent approach. In Libya such a change took place much earlier. It can even be argued that in Libya the appeal for international military intervention by protesters and the opposition was made very early compared to Syria, while Syrian protesters have till now tried to resist resorting to non-violent methods and have confined themselves to street demonstrations while requesting international diplomatic pressure on Asad’s regime. Again we can list several factors and causes for this difference; however, I prefer to utilize another indicator to explain this issue. The indicator, which I call “confidence in the effectiveness of peaceful means”, is grasped from the question, “Can oppressed groups improve their situation through peaceful means ALONE?” (upper case emphasis by the survey). The results of a Gallup survey, which was conducted before the uprisings, indicate some considerable implications for countries in the region (see Figure 3). In Egypt 60%, Tunisia 52% and Syria 50% of respondents believed in “peaceful means alone”, while in Libya this stood at 41% and in Iran at 38%. The higher perception of effectiveness of “only non-violence” in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria might result in the continuation of peaceful demonstrations whereas in Libya the struggle became violent after a couple of weeks (We should not forget that the period of struggle in Egypt and Tunisia was much shorter than the one in Syria).
Another remarkable indicator for comparing these countries is “the social acceptance of military attacks on civilians”. For this issue, people are asked “Whether the attack of military to target and kill civilians can be sometimes justified or whether it is never justified”. Results of the Gallup survey in 2010 show that 87% of respondents in Tunisia, 83% in Egypt and 86% in Yemen said that military attack on civilians is never justified while, 59% in Libya and 67% in Iran have given the same answer. Unfortunately, this indicator has not been measured in Syria. This considerable difference shows that in countries like Libya and Iran (and probably Syria) a larger part of society can accept and justify the attack of armed forces on civilians. This could be a reason why in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen we have observed the impartiality of military forces against protesters whereas in Libya and Iran (and in Syria) the military has attacked people.
In Syria, even though Syrian people have been protesting non-violently so far, their patience cannot last forever. The result of a recent opinion survey, which was conducted after the Syrian uprising, shows that among 144 countries, Syrian people occupy the highest rank of people who experienced anger, worry, stress and sadness in their daily life (in response to the following question : “Did you experience Anger/Worry/Stress/Sadness during A LOT OF THE DAY yesterday?”). Therefore, it seems unlikely that Syrian people would withdraw from their struggle before the dictatorship falls. Their very high level of anger however, may lead to a change in their method of struggle.
In conclusion, as long as the “scarcity of democracy” exists in authoritarian regimes in the region, the emergence of uprisings to end dictatorships is inevitable. Even If protests appear to have subsided in some countries, fire shall erupt from the ashes. Without filling the gap between the demand and supply of democracy, sustainable state of stability is unimaginable. In order to reduce the gap, the favorite option of dictators is trying to reduce the demand for democracy within the public. Fortunately, this option is not possible anymore because of modern communication tools and widespread public requests for democracy. Therefore, the only possible solution for filling the gap and strike the equilibrium is to increase the supply of democracy. As a result, when an authoritarian regime does not allow people to participate in making decisions for their destiny, people will rise for their rights as we see happening in Syria. Undoubtedly, it will not be long before Syrian people, with their social solidarity, public will and commendable resistance will close the gap in the “scarcity of democracy”, and will become a model for the other countries in the region.
 Two indicators out of five sub-indicators of The Economist Intelligence Index of Democracy which are used in this analysis are: 1-Electoral Process and Pluralism, 2-Democratic Political Culture. For more information see: The Economist Intelligence Unit's index of democracy 2008.
 Maleki, A., (8 Feb. 2011). Uprisings in the Region and Ignored Indicators. Roozonline. http://www.roozonline.com/english/opinion/opinion-article/archive/2011/february/08/article/uprisings-in-the-region-and-ignored-indicators-copy-1.html
 I should emphasize that everywhere in this analysis that I use the term of “democracy”, I do not mean a Full Democracy but a system in which the free election and pluralism is accepted. That is why we see in Figure 1, there is no gap of “scarcity of democracy” in Iraq, but definitely it does not mean that an effective and sustainable democracy exists in Iraq.
 Perceptions of Social Support: Percentage of people who have someone to count on hhtp://www.prosperity.com/prosperiscope/Definitions.aspx
 Retrieved from the Gallup WorldView database in April, 2011
 Retrieved from the Gallup WorldView database on September 3, 2011
 Retrieved from the Gallup WorldView database on September 3, 2011
 Retrieved from the Gallup WorldView database on September 3, 2011
Uprisings in the Region and Ignored Indicators
8 February 2011
What are the underlying factors of the uprising in Tunisia and protests in other countries of the region? Economic problems or political dissents? Although most of the time in such a social predicament the combination of factors plays a role, however, one could ask that which one of economic or political parameter does have an upper hand? and which indicators could help us to have a plausibly objective analysis?
A Glance on Economic and Developmental Indicators
About the Tunisian revolution some believe that it has had roots in economic problems like unemployment and poverty. Another group of analysts relate the protests to the political dissent from the dictatorship. The former have referred their arguments to the initial spark of protest, the suicide of a Tunisian young man who set himself on fire because of the unemployment problem. Despite the fact that it was a shocking start for the movement, yet, reported figures paint a different picture about the economic situation in Tunisia. As illustrated in Table 1, the analysis of various economic and developmental indicators unveils the fact that not only the records of Tunisia are not poor in comparison to its neighbors and other countries1 in the region but in many aspects, Tunisia has a better position. The figures show that Tunisia has better ranking in GDP per capita, Human Development Index, inflation rate, population below poverty line, literacy rate and corruption index than Egypt, Algeria and Yemen. Even in all of these indicators, except GDP and literacy rate, Tunisia is better or almost equal to South Africa and Turkey. Also the unemployment rate in Tunisia, considering the situation in some developed countries like Spain, is not drastically high. Thus, in general, it can be claimed that the economic problems in Tunisia could not be the main fuel of rage to topple the regime.
Now, the question arises on how we can examine other plausible reasons that are linked to the political situation. Regarding the political condition, sometimes a skepticism attitude is seen, questioning the desire of people in these countries towards democracy and whether or not they will appreciate it.
The general belief among some political analysts and many people in the world is that the undemocratic regimes in that region are supported by their nation and there is no reliable indicator to convince them otherwise. But is this a genuine argument or are there indeed any operational indicators that can explain the political factors of a recent uprising in Tunisia and similar protests and movements in the region?
Indicators to Measure the Demand and Supply of Democracy
In order to answer the above question, I will identify some political indicators by which we could plausibly analyze and explain the emergence of such protests. Since 2006, the Economist Intelligence Unit started to produce a biennial report about the state of democracy in 167 countries. They generated an index called “Democracy Index” which is calculated by averaging scores of five defined categories (which in turn are scored in the scale of 0 to 10 based on 60 items2). The score of Democracy Index for each country determines the type of political system in that country; classified as, full democracies (8-10), flawed democracies (6-8), hybrid regimes (4-6) and authoritarian regimes (<4).
Among five categories3, ”Electoral Process and Pluralism”(EPP) measures to what extend the election process is free and fair, how transparent is the allocation of power ,and how acceptable; and whether citizens are free to form political and civic organizations. Another category is “Democratic Political Culture” (DPC) by which the societal acceptance and degree of popular support for democracy is evaluated in a country. In fact, these two are indicators to measure the level of support for democracy by the power-holders and by the citizens respectively. The average score of these two categories for countries in four types of political system are shown in Table 2.
As it is seen and expected, the average score of EPP is extremely low for authoritarian regimes, whereas, the variation between average scores of DPC is surprisingly low. Indeed, the high average score of DPC for full democratic countries is evident to an expected sign of established democracy. However, when comparing the DPC’s averages of other types of political systems, an important truth is revealed, in countries with authoritarian regimes the demand for democracy is not overly lower than in countries with democratic regimes. Therefore, it can be argued that if the score of DPC (demand side of democracy) falls around 5.78 - average score published for democratic countries - yet at the same time EPP(supply side of democracy) is scored at the low end, occurrence of a conflict between nation and the government is very plausible. Meaning that a wanted democracy which is not given by the government will be asked by people, sooner or later, violently or nonviolently!
In case of Tunisia and other unrest countries, the reported democracy indicators are as presented below (Table 3), but what are the implications of these numbers?!
We can observe from the table that whereas in those authoritarian regimes the electoral process is completely disrupted, there is a considerable demand for democracy according to their scores of DPC. In case of Tunisia, the score of DPC is 5.63 which is close to the average score of this indicator for democratic countries (5.78). It is interesting that many countries in the region namely Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Libya, Morocco and Iran –except Saudi Arabia - have almost similar score of DPC. In the following figure, the scores of two indicators for aforementioned countries are illustrated and accordingly the gap between the demand and supply of democracy can be evidently observed.
Now a better analysis can be presented on why in recent months and weeks in some of these countries, such as Iran, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, we have been observing several movement, uprising and demonstrations. No matter what the initial spark of protest is, either unemployment, poverty or fraudulent election, the underlying demand in all demonstrations has quickly been defined as changing the undemocratic system. If these scores can show a part of the truth at least, then it can be anticipated that the other countries like Morocco, Algeria and Libya can also face the same protests sooner or later.
The Message of Indicators for Dictators
These political indicators have a serious message for all authoritarian regimes in the region and their allies. The case of Tunisia, in which the economic figures are relatively acceptable, reveals that relying on the positive trend of economic development cannot guarantee the stability of the power position of a dictator. As important as having eyes on economic indicators, is to have an eye on those political indicators which show the volume of the public demand for having a voice and the power of choice. Watch out the numbers dictators!
1) Spain and South Africa, in addition to other countries in the region, are purposefully mentioned in order to have representatives of all types of political systems
2) The items are determined by experts’ assessments and public opinion surveys. For more information please see “The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy 2008”
3) Five categories are: 1-Electoral Process and Pluralism, 2-Functioning of Government, 3-Political Participation, 4-ِDemocratic Political Culture, 5-Civil Liberties