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Looking at the rise of community-based political power in the region

LAU professor of political science Imad Salamey’s new publication analyses the decline of state power in MENA countries.

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Associate Professor of Political Science Imad Salamey will hold a book signing this Wednesday for his latest publication The Decline of Nation States after the Arab Spring: the Rise of Communitocracy.

The book, says Research Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of California Arend Lijphart, provides an outstanding analysis of the decline of state power in the Middle East and North Africa, and the emergence of religious and linguistic communities as the dominant players in the region.

We caught up with Salamey ahead of the book signing, which will be complemented by a discussion with expert Marwa Shalaby, director of Women’s Rights in the Middle East Program at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

You coined the word “communitocracy” in your new book to refer to the current power structures dominant in the region. How is it defined?

Just as democracy is the rule of the people, “communitocracy” is the rule of communities, and this is the emerging political system that we are beginning to witness in the region.

The decline of the state and national power has played in favor of local and transnational communitarian groups. Such groups can be confessional, ethnic, and tribal. There are now very few political groups that are ideologically, economically or politically driven. At present, all dominant political parties―whether recognized or not―are formed along community lines and identity.

Which countries adopt “communitocractic” systems?

Communitocratic” systems come in two forms―exclusive and multi-communitarian. Exclusive systems usually have extreme implications related to communitarian identity politics and the exclusion of others, voluntarily or by force. This is very dangerous and can lead to population cleansing, Naziism and the like. Today, examples of an exclusive “communitocratic” system can be seen in Iran, a Shiite theocracy, and in Saudi Arabia, where a Sunni Wahabi monarchy rules. ISIS is also trying to spread a community system, based on Salafism.

Multi-communitarian regimes, by comparison, are more inclusive. Federal states are typical examples of this system. Iraq is a multi-communitarian “communitocracy” based along ethnic lines. Lebanon is “consociational”, whereby the division of power is political and not geographic. It is a model of this system and a true example par excellence.

What was the impetus behind the new book?

I wanted to understand the causes of the Arab Spring and how it came about. Many argued that poverty and corruption were mitigating factors, but they always existed, so I examined the change.

Globalization has spread at various levels―including economic, cultural and security―and I see a direct correlation between this phenomenon and the erosion of the nation state, as its power to rule is undermined. Nationalists are no longer in command of their own geo-political entities and this dysfunctionality of the Arab states is, what I believe, led to the revolts.

Information flows via the internet, and no longer via the state. Culture is also more global, and people are no longer confined to the cultural values and practices they grew up with. This is particularly true of confessional groups that can associate with religious groups across the globe and not only those in their own country. This is what I think Arab states were suddenly confronting and unable to accommodate.

How did you go about building your theories?

I examined various Arab countries, particularly those that have collapsed partially or totally, including Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Syria and Libya, and examined how globalization has been a driving variable in the decline of their power.

In terms of the economy, the ability of these states to export their own national products was undermined and led to negative trade balances.

In terms of culture, we can see how communication technologies have been an instrumental method for spreading protest messages and undermining the ability of the state to control the information system.

I also examined the spread of non-armed transnational military actors and the states’ inability to control the flow of arms and secure their countries on a national level. They needed to rely on more regional, perhaps even global, means but were not able to do so.

Does “communitocracy” bring stability?

It is the emerging trend across the region following the Arab Spring. Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt … each of these states is suffering from instability and exploring new ways of power-sharing along community lines. While in those countries there were groups that were oppressed and unheard, in Lebanon the system accommodates all groups and offers a space through which grievances can be channeled. The multi-communitarian “communitocracy”, in addition to probably being more compatible with globalization, may therefore explain why Lebanon has not drifted into civil war this decade as happened in other Arab countries.

 

The book discussion and signing is taking place on Wednesday 15 March at 5 p.m. at the Riyad Nassar Library, Beirut campus.

 


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