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Opinion: Fukuyama and the Tunisian Democracy Exception - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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An article by Francis Fukuyama published in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, and translated lately into Arabic and published on a number of Arab news websites, has been making waves this week. In the essay, entitled “At the ‘End of History’ Still Stands Democracy,” Fukuyama takes a broad look at the concept of democracy 25 years on from the publication of his now famous essay “The End of History?” However, I take issue with Fukuyama’s more recent article, which is dominated by an intellectualist and abstract interpretation, where ideas are presented in an absolutist tone without providing logical arguments based on objective analysis and a comprehensive approach.

It was striking that the majority of the Arab media was happy to convey the main ideas in Fukuyama’s article without providing any analysis or commentary. His latest essay, while published across the Internet and on a number of websites and widely read, was met with cautious silence. Yet the ideas discussed in the article should have provoked discussion, debate, dialogue and even disagreement. Fukuyama, in his book The End of History and the Last Man published in 1992, famously set out the theory that history ended with liberal democracy. Fundamentally, he believed that the end of the Cold War represented the end of non-liberal, non-democratic totalitarian regimes.

However in his latest essay, Fukuyama states that democracy still needs time, and there is no such thing as a quick transition to democracy. In this context, he refers to the European revolutions of 1848, Europe’s “Springtime of Peoples,” and states that democracy needs another 70 years to “consolidate.”

Fukuyama agrees with the idea that the world is currently experiencing a global democratic recession, and up until this point, his article seems to be progressing logically. However his position regarding the Arab Spring and his claim that “it doesn’t look like it will yield a real democracy anywhere but the country where it started, Tunisia,” is—albeit flattering to Tunisians—completely at odds with the other ideas that he puts forward in the essay. Moreover, this position seems to go against the ideas for which Fukuyama is known in general regarding what one might call “democratic inevitability.”

In fact, it seems that Fukuyama has intentionally ignored the effect of “democratic recession” in major states as much as in the emerging Arab democracies. The fact of this recession is in itself a symbolic and political obstacle for these Arab countries.

Furthermore, why does Fukuyama correlate democracy solely with the so-called Arab Spring and ignore the paths of reform that several Arab and Islamic countries are currently following? Moreover, Fukuyama’s pre-emptive judgment that the Arab Spring will not result in any real democracy seems hasty and contradictory to his argument that democracy requires time and that revolution does not result in a quick transition to democracy.

Fukuyama’s article is steeped in a negative perception of the Arab world: that the Arab environment is ill-suited to the concept of democracy. He is forgetting about the phenomenon of terrorism, something that Arab and Islamic states are suffering from and one of the main reasons for the “democratic recession” in deep-rooted democratic states where national security requires sacrifices to be made in the field of individual liberties.

Let us now look at Fukuyama’s comments regarding Tunisia, which he considers to be the only Arab Spring country in which “real democracy” will emerge. First, Tunisia cannot be viewed as an exceptional case in the history of democracy. Therefore democracy in Tunisia will require time, as it will elsewhere in the Arab world and as Fukuyama himself acknowledged it did in Europe in 1848. I also question the extent to which we can talk about “real democracy” in light of the fact that its most important gains—political participation and pluralism—are still in their early stages and are lacking in some of the most basic elements that will guarantee these gains in the long term.

I believe that Fukuyama’s interpretation is based on the reality of political harmony that is present in Tunisia, which was imposed by a range of internal and external factors. There is a very big difference between political consensus on the one hand and historical consensus between political actors in post-revolutionary Tunisia on the other. Therefore, any discussion about a “real” democratic political system can only be the result of a historical consensus, which has not yet taken place in Tunisia. This means that the democratic transition phase in Tunisia is still fragile and needs protection.

Fukuyama’s revised ideas seem to be a partial, qualitative overthrow of those featured in his book The End of History and the Last Man, and specifically the concept of the inevitable nature of democracy. Twenty-five years after the publication of the essay that led to this pivotal book, and more than three years after the start of the Arab Spring, are we still heading towards democracy?