A recent article by Nathan Brown in the FP (Americans, put away your quills), argues very eloquently against the advocacy and promotion of ‘American constitutional ideas’ (and ideals) in Arab countries currently in transition due to the Arab Spring. Although the history of U.S. constitutional transplantation is mixed at best (failed in Latin America in the eighteen hundreds, was somewhat more successful in Germany-Japan-Italy after WWII, remains to be seen what happens in Iraq), I respectfully disagree with Mr. Brown’s assertion that “much of our advice will be bad and most will be irrelevant.”
The Middle East – North Africa (MENA) region represents that last remaining undemocratic region of the world. No other region has the highest concentration of authoritarian regimes and absolute monarchies. Although the U.S. has a lot of baggage on its side, especially when it comes to its foreign policy during the past 60 years, the one thing that America can still brag about is its system of governance. The one thing that the U.S. can still educate the rest of the world is governance! [Do as I say, not as I do!]
Mr. Brown is right in pointing out that the U.S. constitutional experience is very idiosyncratic. On the other hand, I would venture to say that the U.S. system of governance is what has contributed immensely to the longevity of the republic and the overall success of the American economy.
A recent article by Charles Lane of the Washington Post (Keep the electoral college) makes a spirited though misguided defense of the Electoral College. Although Mr. Lane acknowledges that Electoral College is not the most democratic system (but then again, which is?), he none-the-less credits the Electoral College for producing political stability throughout our history by encouraging the creation of the two-party system and by forcing candidates to compete in all States and jurisdiction (and not just the most populated areas of the country).
Of course, the Electoral College is a product of our ‘Republican’ form of government, which respects States to be sovereign entities. However, what got lost from the original intend of the framers was that the runner-up of the presidential Electoral College election was to be the vice-president. Also no longer with us from that original grand compromise, the appointment of Senators by State governments in order to represent the State governments at the national level and further preserve the Republican nature of our nation. Therefore, the Electoral College was part of that triangular grand compromise between the people, the States and the Federal government.
Posted in Americans Elect, Federalism
Tagged Americans Elect, Congressional District Method, Democratic-Republican, Electoral College, Federalism, Federalist, Jefferson, President, United States, US, Vice-President, Washington D.C
As the Arab Spring is turning to its second (and harder) phase of conducting elections and forming legitimate transitional government, the need for an economic strategy is becoming painfully apparent. The people, who marched on the streets demanding political freedom, were also demonstrating for economic freedom and the general improvement of their future economic prospects. Rising food prices, inflation, unemployment, all played a significant role in motivating people to demand democratic and accountable governments.
Much has been made about the comparisons of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the Arab Spring. Although similar in origin and motivation, most analysts are quick to point out the glaring difference: Eastern Europeans had a vision of what they wanted – EU and NATO membership. Eastern European countries in constitutional transition during the 1990’s, had something to look towards – something to emulate. The people of the Arab Spring don’t have that.
Now more than ever, the Arab people need a vision of what life after dictators could look. Because of the instability, the Arab people need reassurance and certainty for the political and economic future that awaits them. In essence, they are in need of targets and in need of benchmarks; for something to aspire, both politically and economically.
Ever since the people of the Arab world, from Iran to Morocco, started rising up against their authoritarian and dictatorial regimes demanding accountability and representation, a lot has been said about the perils and obstacles of their undertaking. From historical and cultural legacies, to economic and political shortcomings, nothing looms as a larger obstacle than the specter of tribalism and factionalism (the divergent ethnic/religious/linguistic/cultural identities that divide people throughout the Arab world). When it comes to the Arab Spring, most informed commentators proclaim a long and hard journey of transition (if not full-out failure) due to the significance and potency of tribalism and factionalism in the region.
It is true, of course, that there is not a single country in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) that is not composed of (often) more than one different ethnic or religious groups of people. The factionalism of the populations could prove detrimental to the long-term success of any governance system that emerges in the various MENA nations. The right form of governance for the right society has never been easy to identify under the best of circumstances. Most of the current systems of governance around the MENA region were imposed to them by past colonial masters or short-sighted post-revolutionary uprisings. Therefore, the present revolutionary nations of the Arab Spring need to be very careful when it comes to choosing their new forms of governance.
Which system of governance is best suited to accommodate tribalism and factionalism in the emerging democracies of the Arab Spring? Is it possible for nations that are comprised of diverse ethnic/religious/linguistic/cultural groups to stay together and prosper? How can Libya, Yemen, Syria and Jordan, (but also Tunisia and Egypt) deal better with their internal tribal and factional divisions?
Next month (October 23rd) the people of Tunisia will vote to elect a Constituent Assembly, with the primary task of drafting a new constitution! The National Constituent Assembly (NCA) will be composed of 218 members, and will have to draft a new constitution for Tunisia within a year. Furthermore, the NCS will also elect from among its members a temporary president (and a new interim government) who is to hold power until the writing of a new constitution and the completion of preparations for presidential or legislative elections (based on what system is agreed upon).
As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and we contemplate what went wrong with the past decade, we should look at Libya for lessons on western intervention! In the aftermath of 9/11, American neoconservatives tried to ‘liberate’ the Arab world, and bring ‘democracy’ in the Middle East. It was argued that failed states like Afghanistan and authoritarian regimes like Iraq have allowed and/or contributed to the rise and growth of such international terrorist like Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
America, with the support or just consent of the rest of the western world, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and engaging in nation-building through occupation and ‘reform’ of the political institutions in these two countries. Furthermore, the Bush administration pushed other Arab nations to advance election reforms, improve the participation of women and other minorities in the political system, and overall accept greater economic and political liberalization. Ten years later and ‘democracy’ is still a theory in Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other Arab nations.
Reports coming out of Morocco and Jordan, are both encouraging and frustrating. Both Morocco and Jordan have been beset for months by growing popular demands for political, economic and social reform, after Arab uprisings overthrew leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and shook other regional states.
However, unlike other Arab states witnessing popular uprisings, demonstrations that have taken place in Morocco and Jordan have called for regime reform, not regime change. In particular, in response to such popular demands for reform, the king of Jordan earlier this year sacked his government and swore in a new government that is headed by a former general and contains opposition and media figures among its ranks.
The reforms approved by Moroccans through a referendum last month, and the reforms due for approval by the legislature in Jordan, increase to a certain extend the powers of the elected officials and shift control of some executive powers away from the kings and towards the party that wins the election. However, the process for generating constitutional recommendations was not open to the public, the Moroccan referendum was of questionable legitimacy, and in both countries the kings retain disproportionately more powers than the people’s democratically elected representatives.