A look at Arab governments and the 2011 uprisings
January 29, 2011
In recent weeks, protests in Tunisia have driven President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from office. Following those protests, other uprisings have been held in the states of Egypt, Jordan and Yemen and there had already been some protests in Algeria. For whatever reason, Western media seems intent on promoting the idea that these aren't related, that they will not spread, that there won't be a domino effect, etc. (the people I have heard, anyway).
Yet, despite their differences, these nations do share some similarities. Many of these countries (like much of the world) are struggling with unemployment and with rising prices on necessities such as food. Additionally, most of them, including Tunisia and Egypt are relatively undemocratic and have been ruled for long periods of time by one person or family. I wanted to take a look at other Arab nations to see what other countries might have the same conditions as Tunisia and Egypt. Below is a table showing the Arab League nations (Palestinian Authority is excluded) showing government style, how long current ruler has been serving and GDP.
Updated March 01, 2011
a: government types: Paper Republic is a government that is listed on paper as a republic and as such has a president and some from of legislature. However in practice, these paper republics have very strong executive power, often unmatched by any opposition and have very weak legislatures that are either partly or largely appointed, are heavily populated with ruling party members, and/or have no real power. I used Monarchy for both monarchies and emirates.
b: GDP : data from IMF (2010) according to Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29_per_capita
c: political score represents the combined Political Rights and Civil Liberties scores from the "Freedom in the World" (2010) report prepared by Freedom House. Lower scores mean greater freedom. http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=22&year=2010&country=7767
d: Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, and Sudan were not examined because they are currently in a transitional state or are failed states.
March 01, 2011 Update
Algeria has held small rallies in January and February but have been outnumbered by riot police. In response to the protests, some measures were passed in late February to address unemployment concerns. Additionally, the cabinet has decided to repeal emergency law - although it seems that they have also added a new rule which allows the army to continue to prevent protest marches in the capital as they had done under emergency law.
Protests have been ongoing since February 14th. The state has responded to the protesters with deadly force. The main focus of the protests has been Pearl Square in central Manama, cleared at one point by security and army forces, the Royal family has called those forces out of the square and it has been reclaimed by protesters. The Crown Prince has called for a national dialogue.
I have seen no reports of protests here.
It is a bit difficult getting news out of Djibouti. There have been some protests they seem to have mostly been suppressed by mass arrests.
Protesters in Egypt have successfully gotten Mubarak to leave office. The current interim government is being led by the military who has convened a committee to study and recommend changes to the constitution.
Jordan has seen some protests. In response Kind Abdullah II, sacked the Prime Minister and the cabinet. There is still unrest but it does not seem to be of the level of Egypt or Tunisia.
Kuwait has had some small protests in recent weeks that seem to be driven by non-citizens fighting for citizenship rights.
A "day of rage" was held on the 25th that saw protests in many cities across the country. They ended up being pretty violent with some 29 people dying. So that's what "democracy" looks like.
Some protests were held in late January over the choice for the new Prime minister. A small rally was held yesterday (Feb 28) to call for the end of Lebanon's sectarian government.
The unrest in Libya almost seems to more appropriately be called a war. Anti-government forces have taken control of the Eastern part of the country. Gaddafi, holding up in the capital has used deadly force against the protesters, including, reportedly, attacks by military aircraft.
I have seen news of at least one protest in Mauritania, taking place last week on Feb 25th. It was a peaceful protest.
Some sizable demonstrations have taken place in Morocco. Protesters are asking more for reform than revolution. There has been some vandalism and violence during the protests.
Oman has recently seen some protests that have resulted in some vandalism and deaths. Relatively small compared to other regional protests, they are the biggest protests Oman has seen in decades and have resulted in some economic reforms.
No protests have yet taken place in Qatar, though calls for them have shown up online.
While no on the ground protests have taken place in Saudi Arabia, there have been some individuals and groups filing petitions and complaints with the government asking for reform, which are quietly pretty significant. In trying to placate discontent, King Abdullah has spent some money (36bn so far) on things such as a public employee salary raise and a financial aid increase for students.
There have been some protests in Sudan. They were broken up by state security forces using tear gas, beatings and imprisonment.
There have been a few very small protests in Syria pushing for reform rather than regime change. One large protest did take place on February 17 but seemed to be a spontaneous reaction to the beating of a shop owner by police.
Tunisian protesters successfully ousted President Ben Ali in January. They continue to protest in an attempt to gain democratic and economic reforms and to remove members of the government left over from the previous regime.
I have not seen any reports of protests here.
Large and numerous protests have been held in Yemen for several weeks now. They have been met by deadly force.
There has been a fair bit of unrest in Iran recently. A rally was called for on February 14th to show support for the uprising in Egypt. Additionalprotests have been held demanding for the release of two of the men who had called for the original rally and have been placed under arrest.
Some attempts have been made in recent weeks to organize protests. These protests have been prevented by a heavy police presence at the sites of proposed rallies.
I originally wrote this section on January 29th. Please see above section for more current information.
Just considering the governments of these countries they all seem likely candidates for populist discontent. Of course there are a great deal of other variables that would determine the likelihood of an uprising, but, my suspicion is that the most likely countries for it to happen in would be the ones that either aren't too rich or too poor. The rich nations, though they might not have equitable wealth distribution, still might have the resources to more easily satisfy discontent. On the other hand, the poor nations, may not have the middle class density or the social media capabilities to spark these types of flash mob movements.
I think it is entirely possible that Egypt could be the keystone. If it falls then I think the likelihood of more uprisings will definitely increase. Just looking at the variables I have mentioned above, keeping in mind there are other hugely important variables, such as religion and the military, I suspect it is possible for the following countries to see protests.
Arab League nations
I gathered data from several sources. I put this together rather quickly and did not fact check the way I otherwise might like to. I'm sure there are some mistakes, but this isn't meant as any sort of absolute truth, I simply wanted to examine broad trends. Feel free to point out mistakes, though. Also, since it is fairly general information I am not specifically citing every piece of information.
I used the following sites.
Freedom House http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=15
CIA World Factbook https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/
US Department of State http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/
Algeria is listed in the CIA factbook as a Republic and so has an elected President as the Chief of State. The Head of Government used to be the Prime Minister but a recent constitutional amendment changed that so that the Head of Government is also the president. The President also picks the cabinet so I don't know what the Prime Minister does. The current President is Abdelaziz Bouteflika and is on his third term (term limits were eliminated in his second term). President Bouteflika won his last election with 90.2% of the vote (sounds like a fair election).
Bahrain is a Constitutional Monarchy. The current king, since 1999, is Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. His family has ruled Bahrain for a couple centuries. Bahrain does have a Prime Minister, but he is not elected. The current PM, Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, is the King's uncle and has served since 1971. The King appoints the members for one of the two legislative chambers.
Since gaining independence form France in 1975, Comoros has had only one peaceful transition of power in 2006, when current President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi took office. Comoros is a Republic with an elected legislature. Consisting of three main islands, the presidency rotates between the islands.
It pretty much speaks for itself when a President wins an election with 100% of the vote. The only challenger to President Ismael Omar Guelleh in 2005 withdrew from the elections. Ismael Omar Guelleh has been President since 1999 and is the nephew of the former President, whom he served for 20 years as Chief of Staff and advisor. The legislative branch is filed entirely by members from the ruling party. Opposition groups boycotted the most recent legislative elections.
On paper Egypt is a Republic, however, Egyptians have been living under emergency law since President Hosni Mubarak took office 28 years ago. This state of emergency grants the government extraordinary powers to abrogate the constitutional rights of citizens and to set up rules that inhibit political activity by opposition groups. Even without the emergency law, constitutionally, Egypt provides for a strong executive. The President gets to elect one or more vice presidents, the Prime Minister, a cabinet, and some members of the legislature. The legislature is predominately filled by members of the ruling party and rules are in place which make any serious presidential contender nearly impossible. The closest contender in the last 'election' received 8% of the vote.
Jordan is a Constitutional Monarchy. King Abdullah II has run the country since 1999. As King he appoints the Prime Minister, the members of the upper house of the legislature, approves cabinet members, and appoints judges. The lower house of the legislature is elected but can be dissolved by the King at will, which he did in 2001 and again in 2009. While the parliament was suspended between 2001 and 2003, King Abdullah II passed some 200 "temporary laws".
Kuwait is a Constitutional Heriditary Amirate, which is similar to a monarchy (don't ask me to explain the difference). The current Amir is Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. Though he has only ruled since 2006, the Al-Sabah family has ruled Kuwait since the middle of the 18th century. The elected parliament can have significant power, such as the ability to remove government ministers and the ability to overturn decrees issued by the Amir, it can also, however, be dissolved at any time by the Amir.
Libya has a unique government based on the political philsophy of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, who seized power in a 1969 coup. Theoretically, the people are represented by democratically elected local committes. The leadership of these committees then forms the body of a national committee. it however seems widely agreed upon that the real power in Libya is Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi and his minions. The actual structure of his minions is vague; it was difficult to figure out exactly what officially exists and how they are related. Basically, Qadhafi has a long enough reach to ensure that the democratic process elects members who are loyal to him.
Mauratania is another theoretical Republic. The military ran the country from 1978-1992, at which time Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, a former chariman of the ruling military officers from the previous era, was elected president. He ruled until 2005, when he was overthrown by two army Colonels, Ely Ould Mohamed Vall and Mohamed Ould Abdel
Aziz. Colonel Vall ran things for the next two years while they established a process for democratic elections. The elections were held, and President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi was inaugurated in April of 2007. He was then overthrown by Colonel Aziz (the co-ouster of the previous president) in August 2008. Facing pressure, domestically and internationally, Colonel Aziz stepped down from the government and the military in order to run for president in 2009 elections. Surprisingly he won. Basically I would say this is a Guy-with-the-biggest-gun Republic.
Morocco is a Monarchy. The current leader is King Mohammed VI, who has ruled since 1999. The parliament is democratically elected. The king has all of the familiar king powers; can dissolve parliament, appoint and dismiss cabinet ministers, issue decrees (laws), run the military, etc. However, these super powers have been used sparingly. Even so, the monarchy is the dominant political force in the country.
Oman is an absolute monarchy led by Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said who took power in 1970. As sultan, Qaboos has the power to issue laws by decree, serves as the minister for the departments of finance, defense, and foreign affairs, and runs the central bank. There are two chambers in the Council of Oman. The Consultative Council is democratically elected but can only recommend changes to new laws. The other chamber, the State Council, is comprised of members appointed by the Sultan.
Qatar is a Amirate. The current Amir is Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani who took power from his father in 1995. There seems to be two advisory councils - there was a bit of discrepancy on this matter across the different sites. The one body called the Central Municipal Council is elected. The other, called the Consultative Council is supposed to be elected but has not yet held elections and so is comprised of appointed members. There seems to be some level of discourse between citizen groups and rich families with the Amir, yet, it still remains a monarchy.
Another Monarchy, currently ruled by Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz (since 2005). The Saudi king is not quite as absolute as some. He must follow Sharia law and will consult with the royal family as well as other leading families and religious leaders when making decisions. There are limited municipal elections but these councils only act as advisory boards. An appointed Council of Ministers carries out some of the governments legislative and executive duties. There are no political parties or national elections.
In 2000, a constitutional amendment was passed to reduce the minimum age for the president from 40 to 34, which allowed then 34 year old Bashar al-Assad to run for president. He won the unopposed election with 97.3% of the vote. President Al-Assad is the son of the former president, who had ruled for 30 years. President Al-Assad won his second election with 97.6% of the vote. Emergency Law has been in effect since 1963, which effectively suspends citizens' rights. Syria is categorized as a Presidential Republic, but in practice operates much more like a Monarchy, with the executive branch wielding most of the power. The legislature, The People's Council, is elected, but can only advise and critique laws put forward by the President. Politics are dominated by the single ruling Baath party.
President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali assumed office in 1987 and ruled until being forced from office in the recent uprisings. His most recent electoral victory was in 2009. He received 89.6% of the vote. His most critical opponent received 1.57% of the vote and wasn't allowed to put up posters or hold meetings. The President appoints prime ministers, cabinet members, and governors. The legislature is dominated by the ruling party, but doesn't initiate legislation anyway.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE is a federation of seven Emirates, each ruled by an Emir (king). The seven Emirs, form the Supreme Council, which appoints the President and Prime Minister, the members of the Council of Ministers, and Supreme Court judges, and additionally, formulates government policy, enacts laws, and ratifies treaties. The 40 member pseudo-legislature, which only advises on laws, consists of 20 appointed members and 20 members elected by an appointed electoral college.
Yemen is a Presidential Democracy with an elected President and an elected parliament. The President is elected by popular vote from a pool of candidates approved by the Parliament. The President appoints a Prime Minister who needs to be approved by Parliament. Power is also shared with a Shura Council (a religious advisory council). Current President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has ruled Yemen since 1990 (and ruled North Yemen since 1978). His party, the GPC, dominates the legislature.
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