Democratization can be understood as the process by which a political organization becomes democratic in its ruling. Democracy remains to be the most effective and valuable form of governance in the world today. However, this is not the situation in the Middle East countries where people still yarns for real democracy despite gaining political independence from the colonies. The region’s political regimes are characterized by different forms of authoritarian rules regardless of the notable growth in economic income and education levels (Abdellatif et al., 2019). Moreover, the Middle East politics are far from being the sole issue of widespread Islamic resurgence as may be perceived, but a reflection of complex concerns of religion, nationalism, tribal loyalties, ethnic identities, and social-economic issues (Abdellatif et al., 2019). The region has continuously recorded cases of political oppression, civil conflict, violation of human rights, especially women’s, religious extremism, and an undemocratic system of governance calling for political freedom and democratization.
The continued conflict trend in the Middle East has greatly impacted the democracy growth in the region. Countries such as Syria, Yemen, Turkey, and Iraq have recorded the bulk of deadliest conflicts over the past decade, limiting their democratic development (Vandevoordt, 2016). Remarkably, the famous Syrian uprising was triggered by the killing of pro-democracy protesters by president Bashar al-Assad security details that opened fire. The uprising began with non-violent protests and was met with violence as the protests become militarized, leading to the death of about 400,000 Syrian citizens in less than a half-decade. Over 12 million people were displaced from their homes (Bakker & Singleton, 2016). Furthermore, the Syrian conflict has impact children both inside and across the region. Children have suffered displacement, violence, breakage of families’ ties, and limited access to essential services such as healthcare, education, and instead of ending in refugee camps. Around 5.6 million Syrians live within refugee camps as refugees, with another 6.2 million being internally displaced persons with children comprising almost 48% of the population (Bakker & Singleton, 2016). Therefore, it is of significant importance for the Middle East region to develop their democracy to help avert the conflict situation of the region.
Lock of democracy in the Middle East has seen the rise of dictatorial forms of governance such as monarchy, theocracy, and republic system of governance. In a monarchy government, the total sovereignty is based upon a single person who holds onto the power till abdication or death (Hinnebusch, 2016). The position is hereditary succeeded in limiting the growth of democracy. Notably, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy system of governance organized around Sunni Islam that refers to the exemplary conduct of the Islamic prophet Muhammad (Yu, 2020). A king governs Saudi, and her political system is largely dominated by the royal family, who controls vast kingdom posts, thereby limiting other members of the kingdom’s chances to rule. In addition, monarchy governance discourages equality in wealth accumulation amongst the members. For instance, the Saudi royal family makes the most prosperous royal family in the region, with an estimated wealth of around $100 billion (Yu, 2020). Additionally, theocracy type of governance is practiced in Iran under the divine rule or pretense of the divine. Theocracy is operated by religious rulers who claim supreme power in the Lord’s name. Therefore, there is a need for democratization of the Middle East state to encourage equality in governance and leadership and limit religious extremists’ cases that are common within theocracy and monarchy forms of governance.
The Middle East represents great complexity and contradiction when it comes to human rights protection. The region is merged with a widespread human right violation that runs from family to societal levels prompted by a lack of democracy situation in the region (Morris, LaFree & Karlidag, 2020). Notably, countries such as Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are governed by religion-based status codes that largely degrade women. Most laws in these countries degrade women and mainly treat them as legal lesser beings. Women in the region are denied rights to inheritance, marriage, and divorce. Men are mostly considered superior to women following the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the nation that men are the head of household and are never questioned on their actions (Kouider, 2019). For instance, in Lebanon, a maltreated woman is not able to file for a divorce on the grounds of abuse unless she has an eyewitness to testify. Such forms of gender-based violence are largely condemned in democratic countries as all genders have equal rights and freedoms hence the great need for Middle East democratization.
Furthermore, Middle East countries have shown signs of a human rights violation by their determination to crush out any type of opposition to the authorities. The authorities have used excessive forces against activists and civilians who protest, calling for political reforms and social justice (Morris, LaFree, et al. 2020). They did arrest, detain and persecute protesters entrenching their rights and freedom. For instance, the Iranian fuel prices protest witnessed security forces’ violation of protesters’ rights by arresting, beating, flogging, electric shocking, and sexually assaulting women. The Middle East still shows significant gaps in democracy, calling for governance tolerance and respect to individuals’ rights.
The surge in corruption cases deters the political advancement and democratization of the Middle East. Today, of all the region’s problems, corruption is widely spread but privately discussed by the Arabs. According to the transparency international corruption index (2015), the region scored higher in corruption with more than 61 %, just like that of Africa (Murphy & Albu, 2018). Corruption has grown into a galvanizing factor to the widespread opposition movements witnessed, most especially Islamist opposition in the region. Additionally, popular discontent over corruption did show the Arab revolution in the year 2011/2012 that resulted in the fall of different authorities such as the decade-long Tunisia dictatorship government (Murphy & Albu, 2018). Furthermore, the aftermath of the revolt has also seen many countries struggling to develop their democracy, social inclusion, and systemic corruption experiences, such as Jordan, Yemen, and Syria (Murphy & Albu, 2018). According to Egyptian political activist Aida Saif al-Dawla, corruption in the Middle East starts from top-downwards. Following that, it is worth noting that fighting corruption would require more governance initiative in the region since most corruption cases as perpetrated by individuals in authority, and that’s why they resort to non-democratic forms of leaderships to protect their misfortunes.
Other scholars think that the presence of natural resources like oil wells in the Middle East has negatively impacted the region’s democracy development. Development theory presumes that an increase in wealth would directly aid the process of democratization. However, this is not the case in the Middle East, where huge oil revenues are authoritarian controlled with little supply accountabilities mechanisms (Abdellatif et al., 2019). The internal political involvement in the oil sales imposes difficult roads for democratic reforms in the region since oil wealth is negatively used to weaken the modernization process as well as social mobility that are integral factors in democratization (Abdellatif et al., 2019). Additionally, the regional authorities have also used the oil revenues to repress the citizens making it difficult for them to push for political reforms and democratization.
Geopolitical factors such as climate, demography, and topography have directly impacted the region’s democratization process. The regional authorities are mainly concern with security and climatic issues that are the critical primary needs of the region’s population (Farzanegan & Markwardt, 2018). There are threats to land, water, population, and food sources triggered by the climate change situation. The region records an extreme heat situation that is presumed to worsen over time due to the growth of industries that emits Carbon Dioxide and Sulfur dioxide that depletes the ozone layer (Farzanegan & Markwardt, 2018). Due to this, the Middle East nations have resorted to economic development to help avoid crisis and instead achieve microeconomic stability to effectively respond to the climate change situation at hand rather than prioritizing demonization of the region.
Indeed lack of democracy in the Middle East is a worrying trend to the region and the entire world’s peaceful coexistence. Thereby calling for transition through the different modes that work to strengthen democratic opposition to help challenge the authoritarian regimes in cooperative democracy. There are three renowned modes of transitions, including top-down transition, bottom-up transition, and pact transition (McMann, & Maguire, 2018). The bottom-up transition is largely associated with the social group’s initiatives that work to develop broad-based grassroots movements that champion change through widespread protest. The protest weakens the authoritarian regimes to the extent of relinquishing power and often results in a radical cessation with the old regime. Moreover, the pact transition widely encourages negotiation between parties for a pro-democratic movement. It always results in a power-sharing arrangement that preserves some elements of old authoritarian regimes (McMann, & Maguire, 2018). Additionally, the top-down transition involves the adoption of willingly democratic reform by the authoritarian system of governance following a familiar feeling that they are essential for the regime’s survival. The Middle East needs to adopt the use of the pact and top-down transition broadly since they are peaceful and encourages patriotism amongst citizens.
In conclusion, low levels of democratization in the Middle East countries can be attributed mainly to the most challenging factors affecting the region. They run from rooted tradition in the Islamic religion, regime types that are more of monarchy, theocracy and kingdoms, economic development, and corruption. The struggle for economic developments where authorities fight to control natural resources such as oil wells has largely worked against the attainment of real democracy in the region. Therefore cultural diversity, adoption of a multi-party system of governance, international diplomatic ties, and religious fragmentation would help develop democratic regimes in the Middle East.
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