Stories from the Arab Spring: Will Democracy Take Hold?

Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman is a new half-hour weekly series on ideas and their consequences.

As Tunisia and Egypt begin transitioning away from dictatorships and towards democracy, two Middle East experts assess the progress that has been made, as well as the hurdles that remain for both North African countries.

Transcript

IDEAS IN ACTION with Jim Glassman

Stories from the Arab Spring: Will Democracy Take Hold?

JIM GLASSMAN:
Welcome to Ideas in Action a television series about ideas and their consequences. I'm Jim Glassman. In the spring of 2011 Tunisia and Egypt erupted in protest for freedom and democracy. The success of these movements brought hope to dissidents who had fought through years of repression. Now Tunisia has held peaceful and democratic elections but the future of the democracy movement in Egypt is in question. Joining me to discuss the future of democracy in the Middle East are; Josh Muravchik, fellow at the George W. Bush Institute and author of The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East; and Michele Dunne, Executive Director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council. The topic this week: the outlook for freedom after the Arab Spring. This is Ideas in Action.

ANNOUNCER:
Funding for Ideas in Action is provided by Investor's Business Daily. Every stock market cycle is led by America's never ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. Investors Business Daily helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. More information is available at Investors.com.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Last spring the Middle East and North Africa erupted in demonstrations and protests for democracy and freedom. The movements that seemed to come to life with a sudden spark had actually been nurtured for years by a courageous group of dissidents, some of whom endured beatings, torture, and prison. The George W. Bush Institute has created The Freedom Collection, a series of videotaped interviews with dissidents from around the world. We recently interviewed several of these activists in Egypt and Tunis to record their stories for history and to learn what they believe will happen next. Welcome. Michele, let's just start with Tunisia. How did the elections there go?

MICHELE DUNNE:
The elections that Tunisia held on October 23rd went very well. These were Tunisia's first free elections and they were for a 100 member constituent assembly that will probably be in office only a year, will undertake the writing of a new constitution, and will also appoint a cabinet, that actually has happened now, and rule the country during this interim period. And the elections went very well. They got high marks for the cleanness and the fairness of the elections and probably the best testament to the elections were that the losers conceded gracefully and said well ok this was fair and also I think most of the losers said they wanted to help those who had won the elections. It wasn't really a surprise that the Islamist movement Ennahda won the largest share of the constituent assembly, 41% of the seats.

JIM GLASSMAN:


And Josh you were in Tunisia recently so why were they as trouble free, these elections, as Michele said?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:
Well I think there was a broad national consensus that they wanted to move forward to democracy and they were well organized. Tunisia was-- has in a sense been a kind of anomaly in that all of the Arab world upon independence was ruled by dictators but-- including Tunisia-- but the previous dictator Bourguiba was relatively more mild, or more liberal, than most of the other Arab dictators, and then his successor Ben Ali actually tightened the dictatorship very severely and made it more of a police state than many of the other regional countries. And yet Tunisia is also more western in many ways; all the children learn French as well as Arabic in school, it's a more middle class country, and there was a kind of anomaly between the degree of repression in Tunisia and the degree of development of society. And so when they finally had the moment in which they overthrew this dictator I think there was a very well shared and well understood idea among Tunisians about wanting to have a democracy and what that would mean.

JIM GLASSMAN:
And Michele though there is concern in some corners about the size of the vote that the Islamists got-- Islamist party-- 40% of the vote, really the dominant party, what's your sense about that?

MICHELE DUNNE:
Ennahda, the mainstream Islamist movement in Tunisia, had a lot of credibility with Tunisians because it was very much repressed under Ben Ali, basically forced to go into exile, and they came back and just got off to a very fast start in Tunisia in only a few months you know after having been really not able to be active in the country at all for years, came back in and captured all these shares. But they have made an effort so far to be clear that they're not going to try to overturn the secular nature of the state, that they understand that Tunisia is a fairly liberal place compared to other Arab countries, and that they're going to work with other factions. And they have already now formed a coalition government with two other secular factions.

JIM GLASSMAN:
And Josh you were in Tunisia, what's your view?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:
We don't really know what these Islamists want and I'm not sure that they know. Certainly I think they're not all of one mind, but I spoke to a variety of liberals who are secularists and I found them split down the middle. About half of the liberals I spoke to said Ennahda we're not afraid of them, they're not so extreme, and if they try to really impose anything on us that's undemocratic we'll be back out in the streets tomorrow and Ennahda will be easier to overthrow than Ben Ali was--

JIM GLASSMAN:
Or could they dissolve this coalition that Michele was talking about?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:
Well that depends on two parties and that may depend more on the ambitions of individual politicians than it depends on popular sentiment. But the other half of the group of liberals and secularists that I spoke to were actually quite worried.

JIM GLASSMAN:
You know Josh you talked earlier about the kind of democratic or liberal background of many of the people in Tunisia but there was a tremendous amount of repression and I just wanted to run a clip from an interview with Sihem Bensedrine, a Tunisian activists whom you interviewed recently in Tunisia as part of the Bush Institute's Freedom Collection. So let's just run a clip of that right now.

SIHEM BENSEDRINE:
They used a lot of tools of repression against me and my family. They stole my car and the car of my husband. Of course they also used a lot of physical harassment. Each time I do a declaration or statement or an outlet on human rights violation immediately they send the Bandi--

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:
Thugs.

SIHEM:
How do you say it?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:
Thugs.

SIHEM:
Thugs. And they beat me in the street.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Was this common? This kind of repression?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:
It was common. This was a very, very harsh and strict regime. In a sense as I was saying earlier, it's a little hard to understand why because Tunisia was a relatively developed country and not such a difficult country to rule in the sense that it has no ethnic divisions to speak of and the economic situation was advanced of its neighbors, but a lot of people were treated very-- tortured or some killed, many, many imprisoned, and also there was a sense of pervasive spying by the regime so that people were constantly looking over their shoulders and afraid they were being watched.

JIM GLASSMAN:
But Michele what would you caution Tunisians to do in order to keep moving forward in the early days of their democracy?

MICHELE DUNNE:
Actually Tunisians I think have been very, very vigilant since they overturned Ben Ali and we saw Tunisia go through several months of instability in which different interim governments were overturned and eventually they moved into a process of sort of very large round tables, several very large commissions, that were formed and that bargained over a series of months to then negotiate out this transition. So one thing I think will be very important will be to keep that spirit of inclusiveness going forward as they write a new constitution and to guard against a kind of a tyranny of the majority-- well now there isn't really a majority as we said, there's an Islamist plurality-- but a pretty strong plurality in the constituent assembly and they've joined with a couple of basically leftist factions to form this government. So liberals are a little bit on the outside I think right now but still at the moment there's a good spirit of let's cooperate and I think this is a critical thing. In all of these countries that are in transition be it Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Islamists are an important part of the political fabric and Islamists and secularists are going to have to cooperate and are going to have to work out rules of the road so that they can have ongoing democratic processes, people can win elections, lose elections, but that the rights of everyone in the society are protected.

JIM GLASSMAN:
And actually this is something that you have written about Josh; the notion that democracy needs more than just voting and there can be kind of tyranny in democracy and that people need to have established rights and these rules of the road that Michele talks about, which I think brings us to Egypt. Is that part of the potential source of the unrest in Egypt? Why is Egypt kind of in so much more turmoil than Tunisia?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:
Well Egypt I think the transition to democracy is in less favorable circumstances than Tunisia. One is it's a poorer country, second in Egypt we have this very important division that is you have a large minority-- ethnic, religious minority, the Copts, the Christians make up presumably 10% of Egyptians-- there's debate, the Copts will tell you they're actually more than 10%-- but they're at least 10% of the Egyptians. They're not Muslims, they're Christians, and they have-- they're in a sense the original Egyptians before the Muslim conquest of Egypt, those who did not convert. And they've always been second-class citizens but there's a question now of whether they're going to suffer sharper persecutions either by authorities in the government or by fellow citizens, Muslims who are prejudice against them. So that's a very raw sore point in Egypt. And thirdly there's a kind of inflammation in Egyptian politics that I sense, which I think has to do with a sense on the part of Egyptians of the historic greatness of their country, that is it is probably the most ancient civilization in the world. It's also historically the dominant and leading country in the region and it hasn't been that. It's been a very unhappy sort of stagnant country and it gives a kind of-- there's a kind of bitter sense of disappointment among Egyptians that I think you often hear in the way of conspiracy theories and things like that.

JIM GLASSMAN:
And also because Egypt is-- has kind of a less developed even below the surface democratic institutions a party like the Muslim Brotherhood has a lot more clout there.

MICHELE DUNNE:
Yeah the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 so it's got a very, very long history in Egypt-- it's got a long history of political activism, it's got a long history of social and community activism. Look I think that what's going wrong the Egyptian transition, while I agree with everything that Josh said about look it's a much larger, poorer, less educated country, than Tunisia, and it's got some of these divisions within society that Tunisia doesn't suffer from quite as much but what's-- I think the bigger problem right now is that Egyptian demonstrators basically handed over control of the country to the military. What they did instead of having a full revolution was to provoke a military coup. The military removed Mubarak and promised to lead the country into a democratic transition. What we're seeing now is that the military is willing to hold parliamentary elections and to hand over legislative authority but they've shown that first of all they want to hold on to executive authority for a good long time. They have tried to postpone presidential elections as long as they can, postpone them specifically while a new constitution is written. The military has shown clearly it wants to remain in control while a new constitution is written because it wants its role enshrined in a new constitution. It wants the military to remain separate and in a sense above the new elected civilian authorities--

JIM GLASSMAN:
And is part of that a money question? Because the Egyptian military controls a lot of the economy, they don't want to see that valuable assets that they own taken away--

MICHELE DUNNE:
It's partly a money question but it's more than that. All Egyptians with whom I had spoken had agreed to set the money question aside, that the economic perquisites of the Egyptian military were not going to be challenged in the foreseeable future because everyone realized that would be explosive. But what the military has been trying to do during the transition is not just hold on to what it had during the Mubarak era but actually to increase it's power to make de-joure the sort of powers it had de facto under Mubarak and actually write them into the new constitution. And what we're seeing now is a renewal of protests and so forth in Egypt specifically asking the military to step aside and allow not only parliamentary but a presidential election so that it must then fully withdraw and turn over to civilian authorities. You know in Tunisia the military did that. The military in Tunisia was never as powerful as the Egyptian military but they stepped back very quickly and the whole transition was carried out by civilians. In Egypt so far the military has refused to do that and it's-- frankly it's messing up everything, it's making a terrible mess of the transition.

JIM GLASSMAN:
But is this partly for stability? I mean is there a way to put a kind of a better face on this?

MICHELE DUNNE:
Well that's the argument of the military is that we are the guardians of the nation and we will see you through this transition, however if one looks objectively-- let's set aside the political process, let's just look at how the military has been running the country in Egypt since February of 2011 when they ousted Mubarak, frankly it's a disaster. They have failed to carry out police reforms so there's a pervasive sense of crime and insecurity. They have failed miserably in addressing the rising sectarian tensions that Josh was referring to, Salafi baiting of Christians and violence against Christians. There have been 100 people killed in Egypt in terrible sectarian incidents. The military has completely failed to get on top of that and even itself has played a role I think in increasing sectarian tensions. The economy--

JIM GLASSMAN:
And the economy, yeah--

MICHELE DUNNE:
The economy is a terrible mess--

JIM GLASSMAN:
Right and they wouldn't even accept any money from the IMF.

MICHELE DUNNE:
They're being forced to change their minds now. They initially refused loans from the IMF back in June but now they're having to go back to the IMF and ask for those loans.

JIM GLASSMAN:
The revolution was very much you know lauded around the world for being peaceful and many of these peaceful protests as we know were made possible by bloggers and young people who use Facebook and twitter and mobile phones to organize. I just want to run a clip from your interview Josh with Mahmoud Salem and before we do that could you tell us a little bit more about him?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:
Well he's a very interesting young man, very irreverent, iconoclastic, very clever and witty. He started blogging in sort of what was the first wave of Egyptian and Arab bloggers around 2004, 2005, and he blogged under the name 'Sandmonkey', that was his moniker, and the reason he did it was not only for his own security but even more so his mother was a part of the establishment. She was a member of the peoples' assembly from the ruling party and as he explained to me he didn't want his irreverency to be chalked up against her. So he blogged under the pseudonym.

MAHMOUD SALEM:
In 2004, 2005, when the Egyptian blogosphere started, it started with about 30 blogs, and they were all secular blogs basically. People used to refer to it as 'the old guard', it included me, it included Ahmed Elbaga, it included a bunch of people like that. And at the time the idea was you're having debates, you have people on the far left, on the far secular right, and you know Christians and Muslims and they're finding the only place they can actually discuss issues of the country at the moment. And it's really funny because when you compare the atmosphere in 2004 and how far we have pushed things until now, stuff that used to be such taboos back then are now non-issues now. So-- but yeah no it was-- I wouldn't call it a movement. We used to joke about that because we're very different, we're not all friends, and it's not a monolithic entity, it's a bunch of walking egos who have large audiences online. But in order to deal with the media, which always needed a movement, we called it the 30th of February Movement and very few of them got the joke. So-- because there is no 30th of February.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Are bloggers and Facebook activists I mean are they still influential in Egypt?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:
Well I think they are but what's happened since the revolution is that there is now a free-- more or less free media in Egypt so you have lots of new television stations, new newspapers, and the thing about the bloggers was that they were in a society where there was not free media. They were sort of the cutting edge. They were a way around the control by the state of news sources and they are no longer that. So they've--

JIM GLASSMAN:
You mean because there's much more. Although I hear, Michele you were recently in Egypt, that another of the failures of the military is that they have really put a damper on a lot of free speech.

MICHELE DUNNE:
Yeah they're-- in Egypt right now you have a free media and it's true that a lot of the bloggers and Facebookers have moved into television, press, this kind of thing, because they were getting a bigger audience than they used to. But there's still a state media that exists side by side and that state media is really very, very troubled. There have been sort of mini revolutions inside some of the state media but then we also see the state media being manipulated by the military. For example there were some-- a very ugly sectarian clash in Cairo in early October in which there was a Christian march to protest the burning of a church in another part of Egypt and the state media actually called on people to go out into the streets and defend the soldiers from the Christian marchers who they said were attacking the soldiers, which they weren't, and this ended up in just a terrible sectarian clash in which more than 25 people were killed. And the Egyptian military has been exerting I would say selective repression against the media.

JIM GLASSMAN:
I'd like to ask both of you just to wrap up-- What do you see for Egypt in the future? Let's say over the next year. Josh.

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:
I see a lot of turmoil in Egypt and if I were betting I would say 50-50 chance that Egypt will have a successful transition to a democratic system and a 50-50 chance it won't, that the process will break down in much greater internal violence or in some new kinds of undemocratic development.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Is that different from the way you would have felt let's say in March of 2011?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:
I'm a little less optimistic than I was. It was clear I think always that this was an uncertain path that Egypt was on, a very hopeful one, but with no guaranteed happy ending. I think that was clear all along but yes in the early months after the fall of Mubarak it was great sense of unity of Muslims and Christians, demonstrators in Tahrir Square, and the like. It seemed I would say better than even chance at that time if I had handicapped it that the outcome was going to be successful. I wouldn't say that the chances are better than even now.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Michele, what's your view of the future?

MICHELE DUNNE:
I'm optimistic that Egypt will become a democracy but more in the ten year timeframe than the one year timeframe. I mean one year is just frankly for any country undergoing a transition from authoritarianism to democracy, it's not going to happen in a year. Even if you-- now Egypt might well hold its first free elections and so forth and start down the road but I think there are some very rough days ahead. You know what Egypt did back in February of 2011 was kind of a half revolution. They removed Mubarak but not the military. So they didn't remove the power behind the throne. Now what we're seeing is Egyptians I think starting to perhaps carry out the other half of this revolution and it's very unclear where that will lead. But I think that over the longer term Egypt will make a transition. It won't be quick and easy. There may be many sort of diversions along the way but I certainly agree with Josh that Egypt is a whale in the region. The other country that's going to be enormously important is Syria. If both Egypt and Syria overthrow authoritarianism and are making their way, however slowly, toward real democracy it will have enormous impact. It will definitely show where the entire region is going.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Thank you Michele Dunne.

MICHELE DUNNE:
You're welcome, thanks for having me.

JIM GLASSMAN:
And thank you Josh Muravchik.

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:
Nice to be with you.

JIM GLASSMAN:
And that's it for this week's Ideas in Action. I'm Jim Glassman, thanks for watching. Keep in mind that you can watch Ideas in Action whenever and wherever you want. To watch highlights or complete programs just go to ideasinactiontv.com or download a podcast from the iTunes store. Ideas in Action because ideas have consequences.

ANNOUNCER:
For more information visit us at ideasinactiontv.com. Funding for Ideas in Action is provided by Investor's Business Daily. Every stock market cycle is led by America's never ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. Investor's Business Daily helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. More information is available at investors.com. This program is a production of Grace Creek Media and the George W. Bush Institute, which are solely responsible for its content.


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Featured Guests

Michele Dunne

Executive Director of the Rafik Harriri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council

Dr. Dunne has served in the White House on the National Security Council staff, on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff and in its Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and as a diplomat in Cairo and Jerusalem. Prior to joining the Atlantic Council, she was a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she edited the Arab Reform Bulletin and carried out research on Arab politics and U.S. policies. She holds a doctorate in Arabic language and linguistics from Georgetown University, where she has served as a visiting professor of Arabic and Arab Studies.

Josh Muravchik

Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute, author of The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East

Dr. Josh Muravchik is a Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute and formerly served as adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has also served as an adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics; member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Democracy, World Affairs and the Journal of International Security Affairs; former member of the U.S. State Department Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion; was resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; previously a member of the Commission on Broadcasting to the People's Republic of China; Ph.D., international relations, Georgetown University

Episode Clips

Arab Spring 2 Excerpt: The Dynamic of Egypt's Politics

Michele Dunne discusses the myraid of obstacles that stand in front of Egypt's young democracy.

Arab Spring 2 Excerpt: The Roots of Egypt's Blogosphere

Famed Egyptian blogger, Mahmoud Salem (Sand-Monkey), explains the roots of his online political activism.

Arab Spring 2 Excerpt: Handicapping Egypt's Future

Josh Muravchik discusses his views on what will happen in Egypt in the next year.