Event Title: Are There Democracy Lessons Arabs Can Learn From Eastern Europe
Sponsor: The Ion Ratiu Democracy Lecture
Location: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Flom Auditorium
Date: November 30, 2006
Time: 4:30pm -6:00pm
Approximate Number of Attendees: 80
Intern Attending: Ava Jones
Speaker: Dr. Saad El-Din Ibrahim, professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo and director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies.
Dr. Ibrahim began his speech by reminding us of the key events in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and how those impacted the region. Poland’s impact cannot be diminished. Rapid secession of independence movements to overthrow the communist government led to instability. According to Huntington, the third wave of democracy started in 1974 with Portugal. Dr. Ibrahim contends that Egypt has yet to be liberated from dictatorship. “No country is immune to democracy and freedom.” Two thirds of Muslims are living under a democratically elected dictatorship.
The Open Society Institute organized trips for Muslim democrats to Eastern Europe. These trips included seminars and workshops which offered advice on tricks to elude secret police, how to use the media and the outside world effectively, and how to manage fear. The seminars and workshops also addressed the mistakes made and lessons learned from the Eastern Europeans.
Dr. Ibrahim argued that there are three lessons that the Arab democrats can take from Eastern Europe. The first lesson is that there will always be a supply and demand for dictatorship because there is nostalgia for authoritarian rule, dictators, and communism. Under those forms of government there was order, a stable food supply, and no class problems, among other things. The second lesson is the importance of getting grassroots education so that you do not end up taking things for granted. The third and final lesson is learning how to deal with outside power, especially the influence of the West.
There are four critical differences that distinguish the Arab experience from the experience of Eastern Europeans. The first problem is dependence on oil. The second problem is Islamophobia. The third problem is the question of sincerity; there is a dearth of criticism on human rights violations with oil producing countries. Lastly, the Israeli-Lebanese conflict in the summer of 2006 damaged the spread of democracy in the Arab world. There were an unprecedented eleven elections in the Arab world in 2005. Elections in Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia are just a few examples of what Dr. Ibrahim sees as progress towards a democratic Middle East. He remains optimistic that democracy will prevail in the Arab world and he hopes that lessons learned from other countries previously in the same situation will be applied.