I am convinced that the success or failure of historic political transformation has less to do with moments of violent confrontation, more to do with the politics that precede and follow violence, or are non violent from beginning to end. If the repressive forces back down before a society is torn asunder, success is more likely. This provides the grounds for political creativity that actually make what seemed to be impossible one day, likely the next. Two pieces by informed scholars I’ve read recently notably still think that this is the case in Tunisia and Egypt. Indeed, I just read a piece in today’s New York Times that seems to confirm their optimism.
Alfred Stepan, a long time student of democratic transitions, reports in a post on the Social Science Research Council blog, The Immanent Frame: “Tunisia’s chances of becoming a democracy before the year ends are surprisingly good.” And that “Democratization in Egypt in the long term is probable, but it does not share the especially favorable conditions that we find in Tunisia.”
Deliberately Considered contributor, Hazem Kandil, gives a precise overview of the historical developments and background of the fall of the Egyptian old regime in an interview he gave to The New Left Review. He paints a vivid picture of the interactive forces that made up the old order and of the forces that are going into the making of the new. He also is realistically hopeful. He concludes:
“So the outcome will really depend on how strong the revolutionary tide is in Egypt. If the movement remains as it is now, moderate and pragmatic, we will have a much better Egypt than existed before, not a perfect democracy. If the movement gains strength and momentum, there is no telling what might happen. For, there is no revolutionary movement with the capacity to take over control of all the institutions that need to be purged. Nasser had the army—he could send soldiers out to enforce his agrarian reform, or to run factories, or to become undersecretaries in the bureaucracy. In Russia or China, there were political cadres to carry out these tasks. But so long as there is no revolutionary movement to fill the void, cornering opponents without possessing an organization to take them out freezes the revolt into a position of simply demanding, and then hoping for the best.”
Being a veteran participant observer of the opposition movement in Poland and Central Europe of the 70s and 80s, and an analyst of the Communist and post-Communist systems, I am rooting for a “not perfect democracy” and believe it is good for the Egyptians that “there is no revolutionary movement with the capacity to take over control of all the institutions that need to be purged.”
I suspect that Kandil and I may disagree on this, but that is an alternative political judgment, not to be decided theoretically, in my opinion, but politically. More important are the facts and analysis he provides that can inform such judgments. For his careful account of the Egyptian political terrain and its historical background, I highly recommend Kandil’s piece.