2003 June 16 Monday
Islamists Set To Capture Quarter Of Jordanian Parliament

The Islamists in Jordan are threatening not to participate in the elections but it is most likely they will do so and will capture about a quarter of the parliamentary seats.

Jordan's electoral system favors staunchly tribal constituencies over the largely Palestinian cities, which are Islamic strongholds and highly politicized.

But the Islamists are expected to win nearly a quarter of the 104 seats, which 765 candidates are contesting.

Other reports say that there are 110 seats and that the Islamists may win as many as 30 of them. The Islamists will win that many seats in spite of an electoral system heavily tilted in favor of the non-Palestinian rural areas.

According to Mr Samhouri, Abu Zant's Amman constituency has an MP for each 52,255 voters, while Karak, the home town of the interior minister, has an MP for 6,000 voters.

The Islamists are unhappy that the government has diplomatic relations with Israel.

"This will be a chance for us to shed light on official policies that contradict our national principles, such as normalisation with the Zionist enemy and relations with the United States that harm our Arab and Muslim interests," he said.

The presence of a large Palestinian population in Jordan and the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis obviously plays a role in these attitudes. Still, it is worth noting that the Palestinian population turns toward an Islamic party to express their dissatisfaction, not toward a more secular challenger.

Roger Scruton, author of The West and the Rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat, (more about Scruton's ideas in this previous post) has a review in The American Conservative of Fareed Zakaria's book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. There is a portion of the review that brings up an interesting figure about what level of per capita GDP is correlated with a successful transition to democracy.

Elected dictatorships, which extinguish opposition, destroy the political process too. It is only where people are free to dissent that genuine democratic choice is possible. Hence liberty should come higher than democracy in the wish list of our politicians. You can have liberty without democracy, but not democracy without liberty: such is the lesson of European history. Before imposing democratic regimes, therefore, we should ensure that civil liberty is properly entrenched in a rule of law, a rotation of offices, and the freedom to dissent. These institutions tend to arise naturally, Zakaria argues, with the emergence of a socially mobile middle class. That is why the transition to democracy is successful in countries with a per capita GDP of $3,000 to $6,000 but not in countries where it is significantly less.

Let us apply this observation to Jordan. Does the popularity of the Islamists (who would not use power gained from an electoral win to protect liberty) in Jordan fit with the theory that a sufficiently affluent nation should be able to support a viable democracy? Keep in mind that Jordan is not a big oil producer and so what level of economic development it has achieved reflects more the total productive capacity of its industry than it does pure geological luck. Therefore its per capita GDP is a fairly decent measure of how far Jordan has travelled toward industrialisation and a market economy. Jordan has GDP per capita measured in purchasing power parity $4,300 (2002 est.). This is near the middle of the range cited by Zakaria. Yet the elections in Jordan have to be rigged to keep the Islamists out of power.

My guess is that a Muslim country must rise to a higher level of income than is the case with a non-Muslim state to create the conditions which support a democracy that protects liberty. Democratic Muslim states that have democracies and that do a decent job of protecting liberty are rare. But Muslim countries which have achieved a decent standard of living without oil resources are also fairly rare. Turkey has achieved a $7000 per capita GDP and probably does a better job of protecting individual liberty than any Arab country. Egypt is at $3700 per capita GDP. So is Morocco. Neither Egypt or Morocco has a large middle class clamoring for liberal secular democracy.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 June 16 12:50 PM  Civilizations Clash Of


Comments
Kevin R. Lewis said at January 7, 2005 6:27 PM:

It would be marvelous if the citizenry in Middle Eastern states would focus on internal democraticization concerns rather than pretending outside influences are the source of their problems. Even if it were true that their problems derived from outside their countries' borders, the citizenry must gain power to change the course of their countries' politics.

With respect to the criteria of a certain level personal income to achieve democracy, it appears to be a catch-22. Sure, it may take a certain level of wealth to afford democracy. On the other hand, democratic nations with a view of human rights that either includes a highly developed sense of economic liberty (like the US for example) or even a modicum of sense of economic liberty (in the EU for example) is where wealth is made and sustained. In other words, it may be of greatest efficacy to keep trying to democratize at every turn and not hold out until the magic amount of wealth is acheived. Maybe the old saying "at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again" pertains to democratization, too. Moreover, should a relatively poor country acheive democracy, this would be a watershed event washing away any excuse for autocratic rule to bring order needed for developing the economy.


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