In Islam, Democracy and the State in North Africa (1997), editor John Entelis characterized Western scholarship and media analysis as framing politics in North Africa in six relatively distinct phases. The preface provides a cogent theoretical and historical framework for understanding the recent events in North Africa. The phases began with liberation struggles by people in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.
“The second phase was an era of optimism and hope on the part of both scholars and statesmen, who envisioned a sustained period of “modernization” involving expanded social opportunity, sustained economic growth, and cultural diffusion or “Westernization.” Although this phase of “political order in changing societies” was blatantly authoritarian, the overall benefits were deemed sufficiently important to justify such “benign” political control on the part of “charismatic” leaders such as Morocco’s King Hassan II, Tunisia’s Habib Bourguiba, and Algeria’s Ahmed Ben Bella.”
The other phases described here reflect the ebb and flow of authoritarianism and democratic leanings over the past 50 years. For Entelis, the sixth phase was described thusly:
“The last and most recent phase in the evolution of North African politics has been characterized by the reemergence of political authoritarianism not unlike that of the second and third phases — an army-dominated mukhabarat state. In each instance, liberalization has been curtailed and democracy derailed as military-backed regimes in Rabat, Algiers, and Tunis have used all possible means to maintain their stranglehold on society while faithfully following the advice of foreign patrons in liberalizing their economies.
“The distinguishing characteristic of this most recent phase of Maghrebi politics is the way in which authoritarian regimes have been kept alive “by the unwillingness of external donors to sever the aid tie, usually for strategic as well as humanitarian reasons.” Nowhere have “predatory personalist rulers” been as adept in resisting reform and clinging to office as those currently in power in North Africa, usually “through continued access to external aid, repression, and careful maintenance of select patronage relations.”
Tunisia has apparently entered a seventh phase. Egypt is at the door of entering this seventh phase, but President Hosni Mubarak is following in the footsteps of so many predecessors. Tonite, he conceded power, but not his office. When the chapters are written on the seventh phase, Western social networks will be featured prominently. History suggests that the response of Western donors will be pivotal in ultimately deciding the question.