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Democracy will come!

Jan 28,2019 - Last updated at Jan 28,2019

Unsurprisingly, the only way to fix politics in Arab countries is through genuine democratic transition. Short of kicking off such transition, we run the risk of never reaching a point to empower people and help them participate in decision making.

Thus far, autocratic regimes have stayed in control almost unchallenged by non-violent protest groups. But that does not mean that people are satisfied with the political status quo. Indeed, without a break in the standoff between the key actors, secular parties, Islamist groups and the ruling autocratic regimes, democratisation is hardly possible.

With the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011, the Arab world seemed to be set on an irresistible course toward democratic transition. Mass protest movements succeeded in putting an end to some long-standing authoritarian regimes. Hopes were high that the Arab world has finally reached a point where democracy was to take root. Nevertheless, hopes foundered as authoritarian forces, supported by the forces of counter-revolution, doubled down. The conflict over the political identity of some Arab countries helped weaken the push for democracy. All of a sudden, the need was to restore stability, especially when Syria became a deadly battleground for undemocratic actors.

Tunisia has achieved marked democratic transition. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity for democratisation has been firmly shut over the last two years. It seems that the so-called “democratic deficit” is to stay for years to come, and that the Arab world is to lag behind the rest of the world in terms of democratic development.

Perhaps, this outcome pleases the forces of counter-revolution. In fact, these forces invested billions of dollars to thwart the push for democracy. But the question is whether this autocratic status quo is tenable. I strongly believe that the status quo is neither tenable nor preferable. Another flare-up of protest movements may lead to an unnecessary bloodbath. As the Syrian regime is set to win the confrontation in the bloody civil war, other actors are watching. Dictators may conclude a lesson from the Syrian crisis: force, atrocities and violence can work in favour of regimes.

The Sudanese president has just concluded this lesson. He makes it perfectly clear that there are those who seek to destabilise the country in service of some external forces. It is as if there is a conspiracy against Sudan. He does not want to understand that the dire socioeconomic conditions push people to take to the street. Therefore, his relentless effort to demonise the protesters means that the standoff will only be solved through more violence.

In Jordan, we need to focus more on two things. Firstly, the window of opportunity for democratic transition is not yet fully shut. The leadership is tolerant and the protest movements are loyal. To maintain stability, we need to continue the reform process to bring about the desired transition. Everywhere in Jordan, people point to corruption as the virus that should be uprooted. To them, the credibility of the government is hinged on its ability to fight corruption. Short of doing that, the gap of trust between the government and people will stay. Second, the regional scene and economic pressure placed on Jordan entails solidifying the internal front. I suspect that the only way to do that is through empowering people.

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