Continuity and Transformation: The Modern Middle EastGovts in the Middle East have long opposed liberal or democratic political structures because of their reliance on international aid or so-called soft budget restraints. Such basic acts as waging war and seeking peace depend largely upon the effect these would have on the flow of international subsidies, which in turn enable the govts to remain in control of their states. This situation helps explain the mutual exclusivity of peace and democracy for the Palestinians, as well as the acts of regional leaders.
Peace and democracy in the Middle East: the constraints of soft budgets.
On 13 September 1993, life-long foes Yasir Arafat, Chairman of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, signed an agreement to "put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict ... and strive to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security ...." To this end, they agreed to establish an "elected Council for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip" and declared that "in order that the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip may govern themselves according to democratic. principles, direct, free and general political elections will be held for the Council...."(1)For political scientists no less than for political practitioners, peace and democracy often seem to be natural partners. We are told that democracies do not go to war with each other, and the prospects of armed conflicts are said to be further enhanced by the high profile of the military in many non-democratic regimes.(2) Skeptics were quick to question the commitment of both the Israeli and the Palestinian leadership to democratic government in Palestine, however, even after the conclusion of the agreement. As Edward Said, one-time member of the Palestine National Council (PNC), wrote: Will there ever be truly representative institutions? One cannot be very sanguine, given Arafat's absolute refusal to share or delegate power, to say nothing of the financial assets he alone knows about and controls.... Alas one can already see in Palestine's potential statehood the lineaments of a marriage between the chaos of Lebanon and the tyranny of Iraq.(3) These concerns were not allayed by the draft of the "provisional basic law" for the transitional period that was later envisioned in the Oslo Accords. The Palestinian human-rights lawyer Naseer Aruri noted "a serious question about whether the new constitution protects the Palestinian people against autocratic rule." There was also ample evidence that a concentrated, personalistic power structure was envisioned in which, as stated in the document, the basic law "must not infringe [upon] the tasks and responsibilities of the PLO."(4) Although the fate of democracy in Palestine was not sealed when the Israelis evacuated Jericho and the Gaza Strip in May 1994, its prospects appeared dim. Elsewhere in the Arab world, advocates of democracy have been faced with similar challenges. In Algeria, for example, the government steadfastly refused to entertain calls for democratization or liberalization, and instead waged a war against its Islamist opponents that cost more than 40,000 lives in the 3 years after parliamentary elections were cancelled in 1992. The Tunisian government jailed ...