The experiences of democratic transition in Latin America and Eastern Europe tell us that democracy is not magic or a wondrous invention that is difficult to find. On the contrary, it is a possible process, if the appropriate conditions are provided for it, and if the political elites handle these conditions responsibly and impartially, then they may prompt the start of the democratic process.
The countries that had democratic experiences in Latin America, southern and eastern Europe, were not in a better condition, when they moved from authoritarianism, tyranny, and civil conflicts, than the reality of the Arab countries today. Take, for example, Portugal, which was ruled by more than four decades of a national dictatorial regime led by Antonio Salazar (1932-1968), and fought exhausting wars to preserve its colonies in Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Portuguese Guinea, etc.) One blood, and paved the way for the democratization of Portugal, in what was later known as the "Carnation Revolution".
The American political scientist Larry Diamond writes, in his book "The Spirit of Democracy", that "when the dictatorial regime collapsed in front of the Carnation Revolution, it was not entirely clear that Portugal would become a democratic country. It was not like that before, but in half a century it was suffering under semi-rule." fascist".
The same was the case on the opposite side of Portugal, when its neighbor Spain was groaning under the rule of another fascist dictator, the rule of General Francisco Franco, who came to power in 1939, and continued until he became ill and unable to move, in the mid-seventies of the last century. And that was before Spain began the transition towards democracy in 1977, launching what has become known in the literature on democratic transition as the third wave of democracy, according to the description of the well-known American political scientist Samuel Huntington.
This was the case before in Greece, before the fever of democracy spread to Latin American countries, such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile and El Salvador, until it reached the outskirts of Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which left behind countries that sought to join the train of democracy. The democratic contagion also reached the outskirts of Asia, overthrowing the rule of dictator Fernando Marcos in the Philippines in the mid-1980s, through resistance and a peaceful struggle that lasted for decades, and it was only a few months until South Korea joined the Philippines in April 1987.
This is how democracy found its way, or rather the European, American and Asian peoples found their way towards ending tyrannical experiences and paving the way towards freedom and democratic rule. It used to have the same conditions in the Arab world now, whether in terms of fierce civil conflicts (Portugal and Spain), military generals holding power (Argentina, Brazil, and Chile), or dominant parties in power (the Philippines, South Korea, Poland, East Germany). This raises the question about the failure of the democratic transition in the Arab world, and whether it is related to the Arab culture that opposes democracy, as the orientalists say, or as some of our intellectuals claim.
A quick comparison between these aforementioned experiences and the experience of the Arab world with regard to democracy reveals that there are three basic differences, or at least distinguishing notes between the two experiences:
- The first relates to the pivotal role played by the political elites during the transitional stages. In contrast to other experiences in which the opposition elites succeeded in exploiting the opportunity of the fall of authoritarian regimes in order to achieve a successful democratic transition through dialogue and consensus, the Arab political elites failed to play the same role when they saw Opportunity with the first wave of the Arab Spring. As these elites became mired in political and ideological differences and polarizations, which prompted the old regimes and their allies to return to political life, and to nip the transitional experience in its infancy. This happened in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia and Sudan.
- The second issue is the role of religious movements and institutions in educating the masses of the importance of liberation from tyranny, ending injustice, and achieving social justice through achieving the democratic transition, and preserving its course, whatever the cost, as an alternative to sliding towards individual rule that may destroy peace and civil coexistence. The leaders of the Catholic Church in Latin America and Southern Europe played an important role in delegitimizing authoritarian regimes, as they are against the spirit of religion and peace. There are many stories about the role of priests in El Salvador, Brazil and Argentina in mobilizing the street against authoritarian rule in their countries. Some of them paid a price for that with their lives, including Rev. Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, who was killed by the "death squads" of the Salvadoran regime, whose mission was to target opponents of authoritarian regimes in Latin American countries. As for the Arab cases, religious institutions and religious sheikhs played an important role in preserving and consolidating authoritarian rule, through various religious and theological justifications.
- As for the third difference, it is represented in the role of neighboring countries, near and far, in encouraging or hindering the democratic transition in the countries concerned. In most, if not all, democratic transition experiences in Latin America, southern and eastern Europe, and even Asia (especially the Philippines and South Korea), regional and international pressures played a vital role in the democratic transition and the break with the authoritarian past. Europe encouraged the success of the democratic experiment in Portugal, Greece, and Brazil. as well as in Eastern European countries. The United States, through its pressure on its allies in the Philippines and South Korea, also helped the democratic transition. On the contrary, the neighboring Arab and European countries, as well as America, have played a role in thwarting the democratic transition experience in the Arab world and thwarting it since 2011.
Therefore, without realizing the importance and weight of these differences and benefiting from them, it will remain difficult to achieve a successful democratic transition in the Arab world, and authoritarian rule will be reproduced in different ways and forms even if new uprisings and revolutions occur.