Azmi Bishara, Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies
Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.
At a time when the last democratic flame in the region (in Tunisia) is perilously flickering, presenting our region as a site of fresh thinking on democracy and democratization might look a bit audacious, to put it mildly. In our recent book (After the Arab Revolutions) we go further than that, advertising the “Decentering of Democratic Transition Theory”, as the subtitle puts it. Our argument is that lessons learned about the dynamics of the Arab uprisings, and even the factors that caused democratic experiments to collapse, are as enlightening as those that had caused democracies to thrive elsewhere. They could also explain provenance of the threats facing established democracies in Europe, the US and elsewhere, as populist rebelliousness is pushing democracies perilously towards the edge.
In both cases, constructed insecurities are the key factor. In the West, issues like immigration, terror threats, economic precariousness and mutual mistrust are pushing both governments and important constituencies into self-destabilizing paranoid reactions. In the Middle East, precarious regimes and some influential constituencies have come to see the specter of democratization as the greatest threat to the status quo.
The two processes are intertwined: Western insecurities have prompted aggressive interventionist policies in the Middle East, including support for dictatorships and outright invasions. The resulting destabilization provoked even more radicalism, and created flows of refugees that in turn exacerbated insecurities at home.
Theories of democratization cannot ignore these dynamics. In trying to bring this dimension into focus, we hope to refute arguments by Leonard Binder and others about the region’s theoretical impoverishment and marginality (and that of Middle East scholarship in general).
Abdelwahab El-Affendi is Provost and Acting President of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies in Doha, Qatar. His most recent book, After the Arab Revolutions: Decentering of Democratic Transition Theory (co-edited with Khalil Alanani) was published by Edinburgh University Press last August. He is also editor of Genocidal Nightmares: Narratives of Insecurity and the Logic of Mass Atrocities (Bloomsbury, 2015). Before joining DI in 2015 as head of the Politics and IR programme, El-Affendi worked at the Centre for the Study of Democracy and Islam Program at the University of Westminster (1998-2015). He also lso worked as a pilot, diplomat, and journalist and magazine editor in the UK. Dr El-Affendi was visiting fellow/professor at the Christian Michelsen Institute (Bergen, Norway, 1995 and 2003), and the Universities of Northwestern (Chicago, 2002), Oxford (1990), Cambridge (2010-2012), and the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (Malaysia, 2008). Delivered keynote speeches and lectures at most major universities in the US, UK and a number of universities in Asia, Africa and South America.
Azmi Bishara is one of the most prominent scholars in the Arab world, known for his work on global issues and those pertaining to the Arab region in particular. As a public intellectual, Bishara is one of the most influential critics of authoritarianism and colonialism and a staunch supporter of democratic transition in the region. His most prominent publications include Civil Society: A Critical Contribution; The Arab Question; Religion and Secularism in a Historical Context in 3 vols.; Sectarianism Without Sects; Answering the Question What is Salafism; and The Transition to Democracy and its Problematique: A Theoretical and Applied Comparative Study.
To Join the Zoom Meeting