Democracy and its components. Arab opinions I.

As indicated by recent Eurobarometer data (see previous post), most of the Europeans are ready to provide help for the developing world, even if they do not know precisely the scope or magnitude of the problem (poverty). But do people in the West know how people living in the ‘developing world’, the Middle East included, think about themselves and the world around them? Or how poverty, development and democracy is related? Lipset (1959, 1960), Rostow (1960), Przeworski and his co-authors, to mention only the most influential ones were pretty much successful in exploring and analyzing the relations between development and democracy. As observed by Lipset ‘the more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy’ (1959: 75). To capture the essence of ‘well-to-do’, Lipset listed a list of conditions related to (correlated with) democracy, such as, industrialization, urbanization, wealth, and education and other ‘conditions’. The survival or sustainability of a democracy depends on its legitimacy which is ensured by its effectiveness, understood as stable economic development (Lipset 1960: 41). Being interested in the interactions between democracy and development, Przeworksi and his peers asked whether development brings about democracy, or it is development which helps sustain an already established democracy (2000). Their conclusion is the following in a nutshell: a certain level of development is needed for a democracy to endure, but development does not make democracy more likely to emerge. Taking a closer look at the results, further research was done and publications written related the debate (Wucherpfennig and Deutsch 2009).

Regardless to the academic debate surrounding data collection, methodology or the validity of findings one cannot get rid of the conviction that democracy and development is somehow related and (in)equality plays a great role in people’s capacity to democracy. If inequality matters, its definition definitely does. It is widely accepted to measure it by income and its distribution, Gini coefficient, other indexes and ratios. However, it is not that common to measure inequality by ‘public opinion surveys’, by asking people about their views and behaviour on equality in general.

Taking a closer look at the Arab Opinion Index conducted by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACPRS, Doha) the 2012 survey shows great theoretical support for democracy and democratic changes in all the 12 Arab countries, the population of which was sampled representatively (more about the sampling: ACPRS 2012). At the same time, answers to an open-ended question on the definition of democracy revealed some sort of disagreement (variation) over the most important element(s) of democracy. While, 86% of the respondents (ca. 13000 people) was able to give a meaningful definition, the answers were very different in terms of the essence of democracy. 35% of the responses named ‘freedom, civil and political rights’ as the core element of democracy definition, only 21% defined ‘justice and equality’ as needed for defining democracy, whereas few others emphasized the ‘democratic system of government (8%), ‘improvement of citizens’ economic situation’ (6%) and ‘ensuring security and stability’ (6%). Acknowledging that even the academic sources can offer more hundred definitions to democracy, it cannot be doubted that modern democracy can neither exist, nor prosper without equality between its members. Gender equality, at least equal opportunities in daily life and human decision-making are minimum conditions for democracy. To measure it is more difficult than to measure income inequalities or to count voting rights.

Recalling Reinhold Niebuhr, the American political thinker’s famous thought – man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary – one may say that the ‘Arab Spring’ – the revolution(s) or intifada(t) – has been very promising and unpromising at the very same time. It has proved masses’ inclination to justice, but failed to produce the needed capacity for (creating) democracy. And even it is not necessarily the ‘revolution(s)’ which is (are) liable for creating the needed capacity, capacity (for justice, for democracy), a strong commitment for equality included, has not been strong and visible enough.


ACPRS (2012): Arab Opinion Index 2012,

ACPRS (2013): Arab Opinion Index 2013,

Lipset, Seymour (1959): Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy. American Political Science Review. 53 (March): 69-105,.

Lipset, Seymour (1960): Political Man. The Social Bases of Politics. New York: Doubleday

Niebuhr, Reinhold (1944): The Children of Night and the Children of Darkness. p. xxxii. University of Chicago Press

Przeworski, Adam, et al (2000) Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Material Well-being in the World, 1950-1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rostow, Walter (1960) The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wucherpfennig, Julian –Deutsch, Franziska (2009): Modernization and Democracy: Theories and Evidence Revisited. Living Reviews in Democracy, Vol 1


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