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Prospects for Democratization in the Arab World

The RAND Corporation has published Democratization in the Arab World: Prospects and Lessons from Around the Globe, by E. Miller, Jeffrey Martini, F. Stephen Larrabee, Angel Rabasa, Stephanie Pezard, Julie E. Taylor, Tewodaj Mengistu.

The authors analyze past democratization examples over nearly four decades and examine the challenges to democratization in the Arab world and how similar challenges were overcome in other contexts.


Daunting challenges lie ahead for Arab countries where revolutions have upended longstanding authoritarian regimes. These unexpected events created new uncertainties in a troubled region: Would the Arab Spring lead to a flowering of democracy? Would loosening of the political systems in these countries unleash dangerous forces of extremism or ethno-sectarian conflict? Would new autocrats replace the old ones? Through a comparative analysis of past democratization experiences throughout the world over nearly four decades and a detailed look at recent uprisings in the Arab world, Democratization in the Arab World aims to help policymakers understand the challenges ahead, form well-founded expectations, shape diplomatic approaches, and take practical steps to foster positive change. The monograph explores the conditions and decisions that are most likely to influence whether democratization succeeds in Arab countries undergoing political transitions. It identifies the main challenges to democratization in these countries; analyzes how countries in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa have dealt with similar challenges in the past; and suggests what the United States and broader international community can do to help strengthen fledgling democracies in the Arab world.


  • Take the long view of democratization prospects for the Arab world. Democratization is a complex, multi-dimensional process and can take many years to unfold. Foreign assistance and pressure should be steady over a lengthy period of time. Taking a long view, there are reasons for optimism: Factors tending to contribute to or undermine democratization are not deterministic; democracy has spread to extremely varied terrain around the world, including places previously thought unsuitable; and many transitions have been turbulent and still succeeded.
  • Support institutional reform. Restructuring of political processes and institutions has been crucial to successful democratization. Development of civilian control of security institutions should especially be encouraged. This can be done through new or continued help in professionalizing militaries, reforming police organizations, and improving parliamentary oversight. Police reform is particularly important because police interact closely with the population and can affect a public’s calculation of the extent to which democracy has brought real change.
  • Building civil society should also be a priority. Civil society institutions have often helped propel democratization. Aid to independent organizations promoting democracy as well as independent media, anti-corruption and human rights monitoring groups, and organizations that provide civic education should be considered.
  • Encourage creation of mutually reinforcing and supporting structures. Regional structures that create governmental and civil society connections among new democracies could facilitate the delivery of practical institution-building assistance and reinforce democratization through moral suasion. Channeling Western assistance through a regional organization may also be politically more palatable than bilateral assistance for some countries.


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