Democratization vs. Economic Growth: Which Comes First?

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Both of my bookmarks this week concerned democratization in the Middle East and the role the U.S. has played, the shortcomings in our approach thus far, and what changes need to be made to our assistance methods. My first article was by the Council on Foreign Relations, and discussed the common misconception that the only obstacle in democratic transition in the Arab world is deeply embedded Islamist roots. While this has definitely played a huge role in corrupt elections and political party alliances in Middle Eastern states resulting in failed democratic politics and further civil strife, it is not the only reason our democratic transition assistance has been less than effective. The article shows how monetary assistance in the hands of corrupt authoritarian leaders does not lead to fair democratic electoral processes or stable government institutions. It furthers in suggesting the investment in social and economic institutions rather than focusing solely on the Islamist-Secularist divide. My second bookmark from The Atlantic illuminated the same concepts with a more detailed approach. The author explains that because our methods for democratization in the Arab world has been ad-hoc and unorganized rather than large scale and long term, we need to refocus our tactics towards issues on a systematic level such as civil service, justice and law enforcement, and the military’s role in politics. I chose these articles because of our focus last week on democracy promotion across the world. In our reading from Controversies of Globalization they introduced the idea that growth “creates a favorable climate for democracy consolidation.” Instead of promoting corrupt elections and divided political parties the U.S. must assist the Arab states in reducing poverty and promoting economic growth. Doing so will reduce unemployment, stimulate economic activity as well as foreign investment, and help to combat corruption and poor governance. Prior to the establishment of a democratic government there must be a population that is ready and able to participate in it, forming the government fairly for themselves rather than struggling with one implemented by foreign powers. Democracy promotion assistance should basically shift to a “broader context,” creating stability in civil society and economic activity before trying to place an abrasively new system in the hands of authoritarian leaders.

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