Saturday, February 05, 2011

Intifada II - The Democratic Gap

Dr. Tamir Sheafer and Dr. Shaul Shenhav, political science professors at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, are known as prolific producers of insightful studies in politics and public policy. Recent work includes a study of the the dysfunction of Isreali political discourse regarding Gaza and the Palestinians, and an in-depth 40-year-study of media coverage of Isreali elections. A search on their names will yield an overview of their work.

Just this week, on February 1st, Hebrew University released an “Ahead of Print” article about a study where Sheafer and Shenhav analyzed 90 countries with respect to the expectations of the general population regarding democracy and human rights. Then, using objective data from they assessed the actual levels of democracy and human rights that exists in each country. Not surprisingly, the study arrives at the very intuitive result that it is not the level of democracy/freedom that indeed exists that determines a population's unrest, but the difference between this level and the expectations that have developed among the people.

Like most brilliant insights, it is remarkably simple, and the study distinguishes a concept that is now going viral amongst educated political scientists and astute government officials, that of the “democratic gap,” i.e. the difference between the freedom the population expects and the freedom the government provides. Time Magazine wasted no time reacting to the story and published an article referring to the story, as did International Business Times.

The research data were collected in 2008 through public opinion polls and objective international indices, which measured the "democratic gap" in a large number of countries and revealed that the popular uprisings which took place recently in Thailand, Iran and Egypt could have been predicted as early as two years ago.

In countries like North Korea, for example, revolution is deemed unlikely because the population has been beaten down to where expectations consist of little more than bare subsistance. In the West, where expectations are high, revolution is unlikely because democracy and freedom are well established.

According to the data, countries that can expect difficulty include Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Belarus, and China. While a nervous Jordon recently took steps to appease its people, the findings for Jordon (as well as Algeria and Malaysia) in fact show a "positive democratic gap", meaning the the government is providing an environment that exceeds expectations, which suggests wide scale revolt is unlikely.

Let's face it, democracy is like the genie and the bottle, and taking the long view, it took thousands of years for humanity to develop functioning (well, more or less) democracies. Right wing hacks go on and on about the US founding fathers as the inventers, but historians know that the US Constitution relied heavily, very heavily, on lessons painfully learned over centuries in the evolution of Britain's government.

Once the genie was out, while very slow from the perspective of a person's relatively short life, from a historical perspective democracy is taking the planet by storm, now everywhere in Europe and North America and working its way into the rest of the world.

Expect the democracy gap to become a household word in the next few weeks, and by its very nature this metric gives dictatorships and repressive regimes cause for concern.


Blogger Sirocco said...

Sooooo ... given the events and reports of today, I think it is all but inevitable the military will end up in power.

The $64,000 question is whether this power is used to stabilize the country temporarily while something approaching true democratic elections are held, or whether yet another strongman is placed in the Presidency?

2/10/2011 12:33 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

Very interesting turn of events in Egypt. It only remains to be seen if the caretaker/military government handles a peaceful transfer of power.

They've already complied with pro-democracy demands like dissolving the parliament. No release of all political prisoners yet, but things could develop in the next few days.

2/13/2011 1:33 PM  

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