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CPSA/ISA-Canada section on International Relations

C03(b) - Democratization and Backsliding

Date: Jun 4 | Time: 10:30am to 12:00pm | Location: SWING 406

Chair/Président/Présidente : Mohsen Solhdoost (University of Queensland - St. Lucia)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Mohsen Solhdoost (University of Queensland - St. Lucia)

Aborting Democracy and Funding Autocracy in Post-Mubarak Egypt: Ahmed Khattab (Georgetown University)
Abstract: What might undermine the logic of liberalized autocratic rule? Does instability serve as a sufficient overturning factor? If heightened repression is a corresponding response, why would an incumbent engage in zero-sum interactions with the opposition if it is a temporary strategy? When confronted by popular upheaval, windfall income has allowed resource-rich regimes to successfully maneuver between repression and buying-off political acquiescence. While resource-poor autocratic incumbents would expectedly struggle, I argue that those with access to nontax revenue as external autocratic support are better positioned to create narrow ruling coalitions from the selectorate, even as they confront political and economic challenges to their own survival. Although such assistance may not directly alter domestic politics, it could still have an important impact on the regime’s policies, such as those pertaining to the forms and targets of repression, and the retraction of public goods in the context of economic reform. Resource-poor aid-receiving autocrats thus have a disincentive to pursue the costlier course of greater political inclusion and economic redistribution. In Egypt, and particularly after Morsi's ouster in 2013, the military became the explicit backbone of the regime, and has not only backed repressive policies, but also sought to expand the scope of its economic conglomerate under the auspices of Arab Gulf support. The Arab Gulf states (excluding Qatar) provide considerable financial and diplomatic support, as well as coordinate domestic and regional policies with the post-Morsi governments.

Conceptualizing the Contest Over Local Ownership of Political Reform in Afghanistan as a Meta-Conflict: Chuck Thiessen (Coventry University), Andrew Collins (Kings College London)
Abstract: This paper conceptualizes the struggle for local ownership inside foreign interventions in conflict zones as a ‘meta-conflict’ – multi-level competition over issues of structural significance including the constitution of, and future power distribution between, disputing parties. Focusing on political reform in Afghanistan, this paper’s discussion centralizes on how domestic and foreign parties jostle to ensure they remain in influential positions, relative to each other, given their political aspirations and desires to control foreign aid injections. This paper bases its findings upon face-to-face semi-structured interviews with sixty-three local and international peacebuilding leaders working in Afghanistan for the United Nations, the Afghan and foreign governments, local and international NGOs, and international donors. Findings are structured around perspectives of how power differentials between international and local actors have shaped the meta-conflict over democratization and political reform, and about who should own such processes. We focus specifically on foreign technical advising, and on implanting externally derived norms into the working cultures of political institutions. The conclusions explore what aspects to the meta-conflict remain susceptible to the tools of conflict management/resolution and how the more egregious failings of internationally sponsored missions can be mitigated by bringing interventions more into line with locally identified priorities.

Post-Islamism: A Case Against “Muslim Exceptionalism”: Mojtaba Mahdavi (University of Alberta)
Abstract: The current “political” predicament in much of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has contributed to the rise and revival of the old Orientalist discourse of “Muslim/Islamic Exceptionalism,” attributing such a predicament to the Muslim/Islamic civilization and culture. The Muslim culture, it is argued, is exceptionally immune to democratic ideas and institutions, resisting democratic secularism. Muslim majority contexts, the argument implies, are doomed to live either under a militant Islamist autocrat, or ruled by a modernizing secular despot. An alternative third scenario is unconceivable. This paper argues, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the “unthinkable” has already been materialized: “post-Islamism” as a third alternative way constitutes a “social” condition in much of the Muslim majority states and Muslim communities. This paper is divided into two parts: the first part contextualizes the rise of post-Islamism due to the failure of autocratic secularism (autocratic nationalism and Third World socialism) and Islamism in much of Muslim contexts. It then conceptualizes post-Islamism, demonstrating how it has transcended the false dichotomy of sacred and secular, and contributed to the rise of an authentic homegrown discourse of democracy and modernity in Muslim contexts. It also examines a selected cases of contemporary post-Islamists movements/parties to support the argument. The second part highlights four major challenges of post-Islamists in local, regional and global contexts, and sheds light on how they may overcome such difficulties. The conclusion demonstrates why post-Islamism provides a strong case against the dominant discourse of “Muslim Exceptionalism.”