Countries in the Arab world have been said to be slow in democratizing their societies. One strand of thought in this debate even went as far as posit that the culture of Islamic societies are not compatible with democratic ideals and practices (Huntington, 2002). This argument is not without its critics and detractors. In fact, according to Norris and Inglehart (2002), lack of democratization is not only present in the Islamic societies.
Rather, several political trends and issues present in Islamic societies are also present in other societies in the world, in which democratization is lacking.According to Dahl (1972), there are eight institutional guarantees in looking at democratization in any society:(1) the citizens of the society should be free to form organizations or join existing ones; (2) they should also be able to freely express their ideas and opinions even in contentious issues, (3) the citizens should be able to choose their leaders in elections; (4) there should also be free competition in the sphere of politics and economics; (5) information should also come, not only from government but also from other sources such as media; (6) elections should be free, fair, and without manipulation; (7) institutions should be strong and do play an active part in the political, economic, and social realms of the society; and (8) citizens should be able to freely run for office. Given these guarantees, the democratization experiences of Iraq and of the United Arab Emirates are explored in this paper.The United States has intervened in this process and the country has recently implemented free elections. As such, it is interesting to see how the process of democratization is progressing in Iraq.On the other hand, United Arab Emirates is one of the fasting growing economies in the Middle East.
This is also interesting in the sense that economic liberalization tends to strengthen the democratization process. Democratization in Iraq Iraq used to be led by Saddam Hussein under a dictatorship. The country has been torn by religious strife and conflict between the Sunni and the Shi’ite Muslims. In addition to this, the country has been labeled as a cradle of terrorists and is a torn in the democratic process in the Middle East. Following up on its War on Terror, the United States justified its occupation of Iraq with allegations of the presence of weapons of mass destruction.
However, when none was found, the US justified the war by saying that it sought to bring democracy to Iraq. After the war in Iraq, the US initiated the painful transition from a dictatorship to a democratic system. It even sponsored the first ever free elections in Iraq, even giving suffrage to women. On the surface, this seems to be a step towards democratization.
Yet, there are still a number of issues to contend with. For one, the war continues to rage in the country and the outcome of the democratization process is still unclear (Dawisha, 2004). Institutions are still shaky and the Iraqi people are still reeling in their new-found freedom.Most of Dahl’s institutional guarantees are still lacking in the country such as the effective source of alternative information apart from US and International media. The ability of Iraqi citizens to form associations and express their ideas and opinions freely is yet to be seen. The bigger question, however, is what will happen when the US and International presence withdraw from Iraq? Will the political system succumb to corruption and political repression because of the competition to control oil as is prevalent in countries with heavy revenues from petroleum (Lawson, 2003)? The United Arab Emirates The United Arab Emirates is one of the fastest growing economies in the Middle East.
The oil revenues of the country have been used to fund its development projects.Interestingly, however, the UAE remains a monarchy yet it is composed of seven emirates and its government functions as a federal government. Even if the centralized authority has asserted its role over the emirates, the local rulers are still able to retain their authorities and the tribal identities of their constituents are still intact (Heard-Bey, 2004). The UAE has been ruled by the same leaders for a great number of years now. Hence, there have been no free elections for a long time.
As such, it appears that there is no democratization yet in the UAE. Although this is the case, there has been an interest in the establishment and strengthening of constitution in the UAE.This can be illustrated by the innovations in the area of institutionalization of authorization, the establishment of a limited democracy, and the empowerment of courts, parliaments and other constitutional institutions as autonomous agencies. Hence, there is democratization in the UAE, albeit a limited one (Brown, 2003).
Institutions are being strengthened although the participation of citizens in the political processes is still severely limited. Furthermore, according to Brown (2003), constitutions are being used by authoritarian rulers to justify their rule and accommodate the wishes of their constituents. As such, further progress in the democratization of the UAE may still be far off.