Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Democracies of the South: The Separation of Capital and Freedom | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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One of the fixed axioms in social and political studies states that democratic transformation is a natural result of successful economic growth and that it results in creating a wide middle class that is considered the backbone of political reform and its necessary momentum.

This axiom is based upon clear evidence of the Western experience, where the democratic systems began in Western Europe and the United States before they expanded to include southern Europe in the 1970s and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, when totalitarian communist regimes collapsed.

Failure of Arab countries to achieve political freedoms is often regarded from this perspective of economic backwardness and the inability to shift from revenue distributive economy to productive economy which creates a social equation that is compatible with the process of democratization.

However, three major international experiences had put this thriving equation (the homogeneity between economic growth, political freedoms and the mechanism of democratic organization) to the test, allowing a radical review of this rule that had dominated contemporary political thought.

The first of these tests was the Chinese model, which currently accounts for a widespread international interest due to its uniqueness, which is a combination of advanced capitalist vitality and a closed single-party system.

The majority of analyses of the late 1980s concluded that the Chinese communist experiment would share the same outcome as the Soviet experiment which collapsed after the reforms adopted by the last President (Gorbachev) of the fallen Soviet Union. The events of Tiananmen Square were an indicator of this anticipated shift; however China had witnessed various developments ever since the early 1990s. These shifts focused on comprehensive economic reform by adopting more open capitalist systems while maintaining a single party system and preserving its dominant role in the political arena.

This success allowed China to climb to the fourth position in the world economy owing to its maintenance of a high growth rate that exceeded 10% and that resulted in creating a rich capitalist class that is integrated into the economic system of globalization. It should be noted that this exciting breakthrough was based upon the inclusion of scientific and technocratic elites who accepted the postponement of political reform in return for pushing for development, opening the way for scientific and academic research and creating limited spaces of freedom of expression and thought in this scope. Given the fact that the economy of the second wave of technological economy is based upon knowledge, scientific elites formed one of the strong social forces that benefited from the shift to capitalism which has been witnessed in China in recent years. The Chinese experiment now seems to be stable with regards to its aforementioned characteristics and it is no longer threatened by desires of sedition and chaos that had swept the experience of communism in Eastern Europe, set back primarily for economic reasons (scientific and developmental regression).

The second model that this article will look at is the distinguished Latin American experience, the distinctiveness of which is represented in the difficulty of creating public revolutionary and radical systems through transparent and fair democratic elections. This disproves the perception that bourgeois classes which are integrated into the system of economic liberalism are the beneficiary of democratization. In the 1970s, these countries had seen the mightiest military dictatorships and in the 1980s, these countries were able to create free democratic systems by striking successful deals between ruling military institutions and opposing political forces. However, primary experiments of democratic governance failed to create the aspired societal change. This was mainly because of the association between political elites and networks of financial and administrative corruption that had controlled the privatized economy within some circumstances that liberated the state from the burdens of running the public sector as well as its burdens of citizen integration tasks; a fact that had negative effects on the living conditions of the population.

In recent years, new forces from outside the classical elite had emerged from the political field. These forces were focused upon the dynamics of national action and the struggles of national minorities, alternative globalization movements and new leftist formations.

These protest movements managed to impeach Brazilian President Fernando Collor De Mello who was accused of bribery, as well as Fernando De la Rua in Argentina. Ecuador and Bolivia had experienced similar events through the same trend which is the uprising of the public that is packed with new social forces within the constraints of an institutional democratic mechanism.

The majority of South American countries are currently governed by national leftist leaders who adopt the most radical and revolutionary concepts of rejecting capitalism and the developmental approach upon which it is based. The most important of these experiments is that of Lula da Silva in Brazil, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Nestor Kirchner in Argentina.

The third model, which we will briefly refer to, is the African experience that I have mentioned on previous occasions. The issue refers to experiences of political reform and the peaceful transition of power, which proved to be successful in aggravated contexts when the mechanism of democracy proved to be an inevitable way out from the state of civil unrest and comprehensive destruction that was witnessed by most countries of sub-Saharan Africa after the end of the Cold War. From this perspective, the democratic system was not the positive outcome of a successful developing liberal path. Democratization of these countries was rather an embodiment of a difficult deal between political actors (most of whom were leaders of sects, ethnic groups, leaders of gangs and militias) to end a state of armed conflict and destructive civil strife. Democratization had proved effective in achieving this jump from violent clashes to peaceful conflict over power, instead of fueling discord as some may suggest.