- Of Empires and Citizens: Pro-American Democracy or No Democracy at All? by Amaney A. Jamal
With Of Empires and Citizens, Amaney Jamal makes an important contribution to our understanding of the conditions that support democratization in the Arab world. Arab citizens, she argues, recognize that their countries are heavily dependent on American patronage. As a result, when debating the merits of greater democracy within their political systems, citizens take into account what they think will happen to their countries' ties to the US patron in the event of a democratic transition. When citizens worry that greater democracy will bring anti-American forces to power, which [End Page 326] could jeopardize ties to the patron, they support the authoritarian status quo, even if they value democracy in the abstract.
This theory is anchored in a strong comparative study of Kuwait and Jordan with evidence drawn from open-ended interviews and cross-national attitude surveys. Both are client regimes, authoritarian monarchies reliant on the United States for their territorial and economic security, respectively. Yet, while Kuwait has made substantial progress toward democracy in recent years — granting women the right to vote in 2005, for example — Jordan has witnessed a number of democratic reversals, cutting back on civil and political freedoms. To help explain the divergence, Jamal illustrates variation in her key explanatory variable: the degree of anti-American sentiment found in the Islamist opposition. In Jordan, the Islamist opposition is far more anti-American than it is in Kuwait. Thus, citizens in Jordan, particularly those who stand to benefit from access to global markets, are far more hesitant to push for more democracy; they worry that democracy may bring anti-American Islamist forces to power, which could threaten ties to the patron and jeopardize economic development. Because the Islamist opposition in Kuwait is less anti-American, citizens are more comfortable with democracy, and less worried that Islamist gains may threaten the patronage relationship.
This is a provocative, compelling argument. By introducing the role of the external patron, Jamal shows how recent international relations theory on hierarchy and empire in the international system can enrich knowledge about the conditions under which countries do — or do not — democratize. The empirical evidence grounding the core argument is also very impressive. Interviews reveal that citizens do reason in the ways that Jamal suggests, worrying more in Jordan than in Kuwait about the consequences of greater democracy. As one Jordanian interviewed by Jamal remarks, "I can't blame the government for removing democracy. The government has had to revoke these laws to control the Islamists. Before we move on to demand more democracy we need to ensure that the economic well-being of Jordan is secure" (p. 71).
Cross-national survey evidence is also used productively to substantiate the argument, and to test its plausibility against alternative explanations for regime support. Jamal shows that citizens in both Kuwait and Jordan who positively evaluate globalization are also more pro-American, supporting her claim that citizens who stand to gain from access to global markets want to safeguard the patronage relationship that protects that access. She also shows, in Jordan but not in Kuwait, that those who favor political Islam are more likely to be anti-American; this supports her claim that the Islamist opposition in Jordan is more anti-American. Finally, she illustrates that, in Jordan, those who are more pro-American are less supportive of democracy and more supportive of the existing authoritarian regime. In Kuwait, the results are strikingly different. Those who are more pro-American are more supportive of democracy, and less supportive of the existing authoritarian regime. Significance levels hold when controlling for a host of factors, including fear of the regime, religiosity, and ethnicity/nationality.
As the Arab Spring continues to unfold, the insights from this book should prove valuable, even if, at this early stage, it is not entirely clear how well the book's main argument sits with these recent developments. Since 2011, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have...