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Semi-Authoritarian Regimes

This sounds familiar:

    “‘Semi-authoritarian regimes’ have political parties and NGOs, hold elections, and look on paper as though they at least have some democratic attributes. But behind the scenes the power elite makes sure it remains in power and reduces the ‘democratic’ activities to a shadow play for the benefit of a restless domestic public and for that of international bureaucrats.”

Middle East expert Juan Cole thinks that American policy in recent years has encouraged the formation of semi-authoritarian regimes throughout the Middle East. Those that were pure dictatorships in the past have learned to hold elections without putting at risk the monopoly of their ruling elites. As Israel hardens its nature as an apartheid state, it is moving toward authoritarianism and away from democracy. In Iraq and Palestine, where the U.S. experimented with democratization but didn’t like the results, semi-authoritarian regimes have become the more comfortable path for U.S. interests. America’s clumsy attempt to support democratizing forces in Iran has led to more authoritarianism, not less. In the two cases he mentions where movement has been in the other direction, Turkey and Pakistan, greater popular control at the expense of the military is “disturbing the world status quo,” creating awkward relations with the U.S.

Cole concludes:

    “You have to wonder how committed most Washington elites really are to democratization, and have to wonder whether semi-authoritarianism in Middle Eastern allies might not be perceived as holding benefits for the U.S.”

The book to which he refers in this post, Democracy Challenged: The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism by Marina Ottaway, can be found here.

Comments

Comment from Imad
Time: March 23, 2010, 11:25

I’m from Pakistan, and hearing about how Pakistan is progressing as a democracy, i was thinking of a headline a read in a newspaper in Dawn ( i think) several months ago; it was that some 60% of Pakistanis believe that the government does uphold human rights. I’m not part of that 60%, but it’s interesting, at least to me.

I have a huge amount of respect for Professor Juan Cole, but i think that he’s wrong on Pakistan, though he sounds right on Turkey (though i haven’t been there).
Even though there isn’t any national service in Pakistan, as in Israel or Turkey for example, the military does continue to have a huge influence in politics and economics. It’s just not as obvious as having Musharraf as the head of state.

Comment from Julia
Time: May 31, 2010, 14:58

I think that semi-authoritarian regimes are temporary. For instance, take a look at the Former Soviet Union (Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan). After years of semi-authoritarian regimes, citizens are pushing back against their rulers.

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