According to Sorenson, democratization “must be seen as having two distinguishable and separable dimensions: first, increasing competitiveness, that is, political liberalization or pluralization, and secondly, increasing political equality, that is, inclusiveness.”[1]  Some efforts that appear as democratization are in reality not full democratization.  For example, it is possible to increase the scope of competition for some parts of the population without increasing inclusiveness.  In this case political liberalization represents a move from autocracy to oligarchy or a limited class “democracy”.  On the other hand, inclusiveness can be increased without an increase in competitiveness.  This is represented by mass-mobilizing anti-oligarchic revolutions where the public tends to be demobilized in the post-revolutionary period due to the lack of competition.  Lastly, increased competitiveness can be associated with a decline in inclusiveness, which is evident in the Middle East’s liberalizing post-revolutionary regimes.


Before the Arab Spring, several authors wrote that no democratic transitions are occurring in the Middle East and North Africa because the collapse of authoritarianism has not occurred and that no Arab leader, except Mahmoud Abbas in Palestine in 2005, had risen to national power democratically.  It follows, then, that we must identify the causes of authoritarianism in order to develop a strategy for stable democracy.  Most analysts privilege more complex to explain the “authoritarian impulse” in the region, like economic growth and stagnation, social-structural transformation, state formation and institutional inertia, and ideological transformation.  However, another argument to be made is that the state’s coercive apparatus works to highlight the robustness of authoritarianism.[2]

Entelis posits that the state’s coercive apparatus argument provides the most useful framework in analyzing the persistence of authoritarianism in North Africa.  The next step is to identify the determinative conditions of a successful state coercive apparatus.  Eva Bellin identifies the following determinative conditions.  First is the status of a state’s fiscal health.  The Maghreb ranks above average in the proportion of GNP spent on security.  The figure was approaching 5% in 2000 while the global average was 3.8%.  The second is the level and kind of international support networks.  The Maghreb has become the critical staging area in the fight against Islamic terrorism and thus has gained large support networks with the West.  Third is the degree of institutionalization of the military and whether it operates according to legal-rational criteria or patrimonial ones.  The Maghreb security apparatuses are shot through with patrimonial influences.  While increased expenditures in Maghrebi countries have resulted in increasing spending on security apparatuses to fight the threat of terrorism, the patrimonial privileges have only deepened.  Fourth is the existence of popular political mobilization.  Only among Islamists has mobilization in large numbers been sufficient for forced regime change or to cause regimes to seriously consider political reform.  Fifth is the use of perceived or real threats to state security.  Palestine has been used in the Maghreb by governments to further their advantage in their ability to stand up to ideological, political, global, and military challenges that Israel presents to the Arab world.[3]


The removal of authoritarian regimes does not naturally lead to democratization, as is evident by the war in Lebanon and Somalia as well as occupied Iraq[4].  This means that the removal of Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, possibly Qaddafi in Libya, and the changing role of Mohammed VI in Morocco is not enough.  There needs to be a constant striving within each country to keep the changes being made as democratic as possible.

There has been a large focus in the region on upcoming elections, particularly with Egypt and Tunisia, as elections are supposed to mark the transition from authoritarianism to democracy.  However, elections are easily manipulated and contaminated in various ways.  First, there is electoral fraud, which is the introduction of bias into the administration of elections.  Second, there is political repression, which is subjection of adversaries to selective and intermittent repression.  Third, there is the manipulation of the actor space, which is when the fluid political situation is taken advantage of in order to manipulate the number of opposition actors via exclusion and fragmentation.  Fourth, there is the manipulating of rules of representation, which is when self-serving electoral rules give a certain ruler or party a decisive edge.  Sixth, there is the manipulation of issue space, which involves the construction of societal cleavages through the deployment of external or internal violence.  Lastly, there is unfair competition, which is the controlling of state media to destroy the reputation of opposition parties.  Therefore, extreme caution must be taken with the upcoming elections in order to ensure the elections are the best step towards democracy that they can be and represent both an increase in competitiveness among, and inclusiveness of political parties[5].

Entelis and Bellin’s theory on the role of security apparatuses in the persistence of authoritarianism in the region also suggests that the changes to the security apparatuses of each country should be included in the process of democratization.  This has been discussed to some extent already in Egypt and Tunisia and is a constant demand of the protestors that led to the ousting of their rulers but should be addressed more adequately.  Security apparatuses should be of increased concern in other North African countries as well.

Jennifer Bubke

Spring and Summer 2011 Maghreb Center Intern

[1] Hinnebusch, Raymond. “Authoritarian Persistence, Democratization Theory and the Middle East: An Overview

and Critique”. Democratization. 13.3 (June 2006). 373-395.

[2] Entelis, John P. “Democratic Desires and the Authoritarian Temptation in the Central Maghreb”. North Africa: Politics, Region, and the Limits of Transformation. Ed. Zoubir, Yahia H. and Haizam Amirah-Fernandez. New York: Routledge, 2008. Chapter 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Schedler, Andreas. “The Nested Game of Democratization by Elections”. International Political Science Review. 23.1 (Jan 2001). 103-122.

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