Understanding Tahrir Square
What Transitions Elsewhere Can Teach Us about the Prospects for Arab Democracy
Publication Year: 2014
Amid the current turmoil in the Middle East, Understanding Tahrir Square sounds a rare optimistic note. Surveying countries in other parts of the world during their transitions to democracy, author Stephen Grand argues that the long-term prospects in many parts of the Arab world are actually quite positive. If the current polarization and political violence in the region can be overcome, democracy will eventually take root. The key to this change will likely be ordinary citizens foremost among them the young protestors of the Arab Spring who have filled the region's public spaces most famously, Egypt's Tahrir Square.
The book puts the Arab Spring in comparative perspective. It reveals how globalization and other changes are upending the expectations of citizens everywhere about the relationship between citizen and state. Separate chapters examine the experiences of countries in the former Eastern bloc, in the Muslim-majority states of Asia, in Latin America, and in Sub-Saharan Africa during the recent Third Wave of democratization. What these cases show is that, at the end of the day, democracy requires democrats.
Many complex factors go into making a democracy successful, such as the caliber of its political leaders, the quality of its constitution, and the design of its political institutions. But unless there is clear public demand for new institutions to function as intended, political leaders are unlikely to abide by the limits those institutions impose. If American policymakers want to support the brave activists struggling to bring democracy to the Arab world, helping them cultivate an effective political constituency for democracy in essence, growing the Tahrir Square base should be the lodestar of U.S. assistance.
Published by: Brookings Institution Press
Title Page, Copyright, Quote
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Preface and Acknowledgments
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This book—which seeks to garner lessons for the countries of the Arab Spring from the recent experiences with democratization of countries elsewhere around the globe—is the product of a long intellectual journey. It began in 1990, when, while researching my dissertation, I had the good fortune to live in Prague immediately after Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution. I became fascinated by the rapid political and economic transitions that were reshaping Czech society from day to day...
1. Whither the Arab Spring?
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It is a hard time to be an optimist about the Arab Spring. What started with the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor frustrated by the injustice and ineptitude of his country’s corrupt leaders and then mushroomed into massive public demonstrations across the Arab world now seems to have degenerated into violence, instability, and chaos. Syria has been ripped apart by civil war. Bahrain’s government continues its crackdown on its Shiite majority...
2. Democracy's Long Arc
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Democracy, though conceived by the ancient Greeks, is largely a modern phenomenon. From the time that human beings began to gather together in large settlements—to erect towns and cities populated by more than a single clan or tribe—political power tended to be concentrated in a single individual. History is replete with kings and queens, emperors and empresses, caliphs, kaisers, khans, maharajas, emirs, sultans, shahs, and tzars. Whether they claimed legitimacy on the basis of divine right, hereditary succession, or brute force, power lay in their hands...
3. The Former Eastern Bloc
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Comparisons are often drawn, with some merit, between the Arab Spring and the collapse of communism in the Eastern bloc. The revolts that convulsed Eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union in 1989 and 1991, respectively, and those that shook the Arab world in 2011 were similar in nature. All were largely spontaneous, largely nonviolent popular uprisings that helped topple some, but not all, of the repressive regimes in their respective regions. These bottom-up, citizen-driven revolts transformed politics in both the former Eastern bloc and the Arab world forever...
4. Muslim-Majority Asia
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The Third Wave’s effects, although significant, were more diffuse in Asia, a vast continent whose diverse nations make broad generalizations about their experience with democratization more difficult. Several important Asian countries began their democratic experiment well before the Third Wave. India was established as a parliamentary democracy on achieving its independence from Great Britain following World War II. Pakistan, on partition from India, also was founded as a democracy, although it has struggled through a series of military and civilian governments in trying to attain that ideal in practice...
5. Latin America
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The modern history of Latin America, like that of the Arab world, was shaped first by colonialism and then by authoritarianism. Like the Arab world, Latin America has suffered from significant economic inequality and the legacy of state-dominated economies, factors that have made the challenges of democratization all the greater. Also like the Arab world, Latin America has struggled with the problem of getting powerful militaries to return to the barracks so that civilians could rule...
6. Sub-Saharan Africa
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Like Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa has had more than its share of strong men dominating national politics. Yet a continent that often has been written off as a lost cause—one mired in poverty, kleptocracy, ethnic and tribal tensions, civil wars, and state failures—has in fact had its share of stunning successes. What the grim statistics about Africa hide is that while viewed in the aggregate the continent continues to be extremely impoverished and to experience high rates of conflict and instability, a number of countries within Africa are in fact performing remarkably well, both politically and economically.1...
7. The Nature of Democratic Transitions
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As the transition to democracy has bogged down in Egypt amid political polarization, as Libya and Yemen continue to be dogged by instability, and as Syria’s civil war spirals further out of control, it is tempting to dismiss the uprisings in the Arab world as a false spring and yearn for a return to the region’s old autocratic order. For all its faults, it did provide a modicum of stability. However, the preceding chapters show that at least during the Third Wave, democratization was always a difficult and messy process, so it would be premature to give up on the prospects for Arab democratization just yet...
8. The Strategic Challenges of the Arab Spring
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The experiences of Third Wave democratizers hold further lessons, at the strategic level, for Arab democracy activists. As noted earlier, these activists have been a key driver of the events of the Arab Spring. They have sought to leverage the power of crowds, modern technology, and the support of the international community to create a better future for their countries...
9. Policy Recommendations
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The preceding chapters illuminate the experience with democratization in various regions of the world during what is commonly referred to as the Third Wave. This concluding chapter attempts to translate those lessons into practical recommendations for U.S. and other policymakers seeking to support activists in the Arab Middle East who are struggling to advance the cause of democracy...
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Page Count: 258
Publication Year: 2014