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2018 Summer Online – Politics 333: Democracy and…

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Welcome to 333: Democracy and Democratization:
Week 3 – July 9:
What’s Next for Democracy? A look at the Middle East and Technology

Last week, we introduced some of the ideas challenging democracy today in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere.  This week we consider two more topics: the now-seemingly-failed-dream of democracy in the Middle East, and a couple of the many implications of the IT revolution – including the Internet and social media – on democracy.

I.  Democracy and the Middle East?

One way to begin this discussion is to define terms.  Very often, in the West, we carelessly use Middle East, Muslim, and Arab interchangeably.  Of course, there are many Arab Muslims in the Middle East.  But Turks, Persians, and Kurds and others are not Arab.  Many Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrians, Coptics, Lebanese, and Palestinians and others are Christians, while Iraq alone has Kakai, Yezidi, Shabaks, Bahai, and other religions – not to mention a sharp divide among its Sunni and Shia Muslims.  The “Middle East” includes the countries on the Arab peninsula – and Egypt, Turkey, and Iran, probably – but what about North Africa – Arabic-speaking Muslim countries? Or Afghanistan? Or Somalia?  All we mean here is, we need to pay attention to what we mean.

As for “Muslim countries,” there are 230 million Muslims in Indonesia, 200 million in Pakistan, 180 million in India, 140 million in Bangladesh. At 80 million, there are as many Muslims in Nigeria as in Turkey or Iran.  Iraq, Algeria, Ethiopia, and Morocco – and maybe China – each have as many Muslims as Saudi Arabia.  Kosovo, Albania, and Bosnia are each Muslim-majority countries; Macedonia, Montenegro, and Cyprus are each 20 percent Muslim or more.  Sweden, Austria, Bulgaria, and France are each about 7 or 8 percent Muslim.  (All these are estimates via Wikipedia – not gospel, but usually pretty close on this kind of thing.)

And so when we ask about Arab democracies, or Muslim democracies, or democracies in the Middle East, we need to be careful that we are saying what we mean, and remembering that these are distinct ideas.

We can start with a graphic from the classic Stepan and Robertson article that made these distinctions.  (Skim this article)

Polity IV, we remember, is database ranking states by year as democratic (closer to +10) and not democratic (closer to -10).  Look at the Arab world – in 2000 (and today, excepting maybe Tunisia), there are no democracies. Look at the rest of the Muslim world – there are some democracies, some in between, and some not democracies – just like the rest of the world.

Michael Ross and others judge that Islam isn’t the problem – oil is.  And Islam isn’t the problem for women in the Middle East – oil is.  Where there is oil, there are a myriad of related problems.  Ross does a great service with his meta-analysis of hundreds of articles about this “resource curse” – we get it all in 15 pages here.  Don’t hurt yourself too badly, but try to get through this article (it’s a lot easier than getting through the 100 it summarizes!)

We can take a third look at democracy in the Middle East by blending it with last week’s work on democratic recession.  After decades of being one of Freedom House’s “partly free” states, Turkey has slipped into the “not free” category.  See Freedom House’s analysis.  Take a look inside of what Turkey’s political purge of the last couple of years looks like, according to the New York Times.

II.  Democracy and Technology

Ok, we take two approaches here.

The first is a short introduction to the question of vulnerability of American elections to anonymous outside influence.  If Putin says, Vote for Trump, that’s one thing.  If a Russian government agency or teenagers in Macedonia post ads on facebook pretending to be almost anyone else, how much should the US worry?

The Washington Post highlighted a Journal of Democracy article on the pros and cons of social media for democracy; it’s followed up by a How Stupid Are We analysis.  A little, sure; but maybe our willingness to be duped is a symptom of our political divisions, more than being duped is a cause of our divisions?

You’ve seen the Mueller indictment (skim this). These Russian journalists claim that much of that information was published by them (read this), months earlier.  Note: even Vox had to acknowledge that (so far), “Importantly, the indictment does not allege that the outcome of the election was changed, and it does not allege that any Americans or anyone on the Trump campaign was aware of or involved in this Russian effort.” This could change, of course, but so far….

Second, how much do we need to mind ourselves?  Edward Snowden showed us the answer might be, Quite a bit.

These are distinct areas, but with certain obvious and not obvious overlap.  We begin with a review of one of the great moments in business-government-cyber-privacy – Edward Snowden.  We start with the two articles from the Washington Post that got this all underway in 2013 – the Guardian was doing this at the same time.  Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras id PRISM and other NSA cooperation with all the big tech companies – Facebook, Google,Microsoft, and more. Start with the graphics: the NSA slides that the Washington Post published (also here: snowden – wapo – slides  ), Next, read the story and watch the interview (6:09) of Gellman at the top of the story.  Two days later we learn about the mysterious source, Edward Snowden: read the storyand watch the Guardian’s interview (12:34) of him.

snowden video

The stories are also here: snowden – wapo – Edward Snowden comes forward as source of NSA leaks.

These were massive new reports, for which the Washington Post and the Guardian won much acclaim and many awards.  But this “intersection” of business and government was just one of many different kinds of cyber-privacy questions.  Should the U.S. or local governments (aka, police) be able to track you and your phone without court authorization?

III.  Ok, your turn

There is really a lot to think about here.  Take your time with these readings and videos, and then create your own prompts.  You might want to go back and review What Makes a Good Post.  And then:

— news on facebook by Wednesday night

— your essays here by Thursday night – which of these issues above really made an impact on you? how do some of the issues coalesce, or contrast? which of these is really illuminating, or somehow not quite right? how does one of these help us understand what’s going on today?

— your facebook comments by Friday night, and

— your essay-replies (to your classmates’ essays) here by Sunday night – some of your comments to each other have really been thoughtful and helpful and extended the discussion – read each other’s work humbly but critically – what are you learning from your classmates, or how are your thinking about something a little differently – it’s ok to disagree with each other and to ask each other questions, if what you’re really doing is making the conversation richer, fuller, and at the same time respectful and humble and civil.

Ok, let’s have fun

17 Replies to “CUA-333-DEM-2018-july9”

  1. What struck me the most in this weeks material was the adverse effects that a state with lots of petroleum, aka gas, faces. Gas is an obvious necessity, allowing our modern society to function, but recent data shows harmful effects of being a top petroleum producer. Ross talked about how it allows for authoritarian regimes to maintain power, an influx in corruption, and incites violence among the lower classes. Religion in these countries seemed to be the problem, but it seems to be that petroleum is making these states less democratic. I also found Edward Snowden and his case extremely interesting. He perceived that he was doing the correct thing in informing the American people about the surveillance we were all secretly objected to. He is either seen as a whistle-blowing traitor who put American security at risk, or he is seen as a patriot who told us about the secret things our government subjects us to.

    1. I looked up and saw Venezuela has the biggest oil reserve in the world. We are aware of Venezuela’s political and government issues in the recent years. Ross points out a country that gains most of its wealth without experiencing democracy is more likely to go the way of an authoritarian government. Venezuela has had a history of being a democratic nation. That is until recently, it has become more of a dictatorship. This goes against Ross’ point that a country tends to stay democratic when its biggest natural resource is petroleum.

    2. I feel as though, in terms of the Edward Snowden situation, there are two types of people who view this. There is the first group, who are loyalists of America and anyone or thing that is even remotely close to ratting the US out or talking “bad” about America is a traitor. Then there is the second group of people who, as you said, admire individuals who do this because they apparently have the best interest of the American people at heart and the “government is nothing but corrupt.” Every time a situation similar to this occurs, this happens. But did it really take Snowden “ratting” out the government to show people that they had the capability to do this, or that they were in fact already doing it without people knowing? I would assume that living in a post 911 era would call for monitoring. I would assume that the American people would be understanding that for the safety of the country, this may be necessary. I think people are concerned that we are all being monitored whether there is or is not a reason and that is what people have to educate themselves on.

  2. Q- Will countries start to use trolling tactics in foreign policy? Instead of fighting a war to influence politics will governments pay internet trolls to get behind computer screens and influence elections?

    The Russian investigation has taken up US airwaves for over a year. The 2016 political propaganda in social media, online, and in the news was a lot. But, the investigation into this issue is more political than ever. It is uncertain what the actual impact of the propaganda was or is. The number of people specific Facebook ads have reached is nearly impossible because it is hard to tell between a real account and a fake account. In the WAPO article, Monkey Cage Analysis, looks back at the golden age of propaganda in the 1920’s and 30’s to show what kind of effect it might have had on the election. One of these reasons is conformation bias. People seek out what they already feel, and they will not change their minds.
    One “troll factory” in Russia called the “Internet Research Agency” mimicked their ads off of the Black Lives Matter movement to increase their credibility. They knew source credibility could make all the difference to Americans. Even with experts studying the propaganda, they still know more about us than we do about them. Historically speaking, media has always come out of politics. Now, it is not the case. Media may be more powerful than politics, certainly more influential if not impactful. The Russian troll factories are well aware of this and are using their power over US voters. Or at least attempting to, because no one knows the actual impact. According to Andrey Zakharov, Russian conservatives see all the media coverage the US has on Russia and think”Look at what the Russian’s can do!…Why can’t we establish groups in America and have our own influence?”

    1. Does it seem at one level, “Wow, Russia is really smart,” and at another level, “Well, duh!”? US and Russia have always interfered in foreign elections, including each others? The US was even transparent in some ways about trying to make sure Russian President Yeltsin got reelected in 1996… (and working on sneaky dark alleys to make sure as well). The US has interfered in elections for decades – sometimes not with facebook ads or cash but with completely overturning elections it didn’t like the outcomes… Iran, Guatemala, Chile, more?

    2. The United States have been involved in election interfering to get someone we found fit elected. This election interference in the 2016 election may have been the first of it’s kind with countries using social media to attempt and swing a vote in their favor. It seems to me that governments are adapting to todays world and finding new ways to interfere in an international election.

  3. The era of whistleblowers is among us; first it was Chelsea Manning in the State Department in 2010, then Border Patrol Agent Christian Sanchez in 2011, and Edward Snowden then 2013. The list, unfortunately has continued to grow and is much more extensive than these three individuals. These agents who turn their backs on their country and duty, are nothing short of traitors. They disobey their training, dishonor our republic, and above all commit high treason. It is not entirely their fault; technology in democracy has created the opportunity for more and more federal employees to blow the whistle on government secrets. But it still does not make it right; if the government is hiding secrets to protect its inhabitants, it needs to stay that way. Edward Snowden was a government contractor from Booz Allen who released data and surveillance information about the National Security spying on U.S. citizens. They were apparently using secretive ‘data-mining’ network programs that gathered the phone numbers and call lists, email addresses and conversations, and internet search histories of hundreds of millions of internet users around the world. Technology has created a dangerous game around the world. It is definitely a threat to democratic republics and stable governments like ours. It undermines the idea of a free society with a trustworthy government. There is no doubt that this will only get worse. Technological advances will go much further, thus creating more opportunities for whistleblowers to blow the lid off of huge stories, and for power grids to be accessed by foreign aliens, among other things.
    One small, yet positive aspect that may come out of this will be that certain businesses and software companies will make a fortune in creating new cyber-security softwares and secure firewalls around the internet.

    1. You raise interesting questions – when is it appropriate for people to speak out, even in violation of the rules, for the best interest of their country (or even company)? Deep Throat revealed a series of presidential crimes and misconducts. Daniel Ellsberg revealed lies about the Vietnam War. Linda Tripp is a great-grandmother of the #metoo movement. Others revealed gross corruption in the NYPD, or lies about nuclear safety, or … I’d like to see someone produce a useful algorithm of when whistleblowing is the right thing to do…but I suspect it’s too personal and subjective to do…?

    2. I agree with you that whistleblowing puts your country and it’s citizens at danger. There are instances of whistleblowing that’e helpful, such as if a country is violating human rights. Edward Snowden put America at risk by doing what he thought was a brave patriotic act. I see that as foolish. He was only putting his country in danger by exposing us to cyber-security threats worldwide.

  4. The first thing that occured to me when looking at the graph was the relation between Muslim majority countries and a non-democratic system. This reminded of the readings from last week; specifically “Democracy’s Third Wave”. Samuel Huntington had focused on the difficulties of promoting democracy in the Middle East. The readings pointed out “culture” being a reason why countries cannot efficiently practice western democracy. In Muslim majority countries, there is a blend of religion and politics. We see a country like Saudi Arabia which is a totalitarian absolute monarchy, where the kind must abide by Sharia Law. The Quran is considered to be part of this country’s constitution. We take separation of church and state for granted and it has helped us instill democracy. I believe that is why it is challenging for us Americans to help these countries. We have not experienced a time when there was neither separation of church and state or a democracy.
    Although as we see in the readings, Michael Ross would beg to differ. First, he points out how natural resources play a significant role, in providing support for the country’s government. There is a relation behind how a country acquires wealth and what type of government they have. I look at the lowest rated country on the “21 point scale”, I looked up and saw Saudi Arabia have the 2nd largest oil reserve in the world. Even though, we are not sure why there is a correlation between a nation amassing wealth through petroleum and an authoritarian government.
    I believe if a country can acquire a mass amount of wealth, political figures are going to do what they can to not disrupt that. They want to suppress any potential problems and have the funds to do so. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar religion as an excuse to run an authoritarian government. According to Ross and other scholars, there is a “curse” around petroleum and non-democratic governments. If that’s true we should wonder if petroleum was not such a large natural resource, would these countries still be authoritarian states?

    1. Your last question is a fun one – if KSA and Kuwait didn’t have oil, would they have become somewhat democratic at some point, like most non-oil countries have at least tried? Nice.

      I also like Ross’s question about oil that says if you have democracy first, then you can manage big oil finds (Norway), but if you have oil first, it’s tough to democratize…

      1. I had brought this same point up in another comment, but believe it applies here. I look at Venezuela, a once democratic state, and how it has transformed into a dictatorship. Venezuela has one of the largest oil preserves in the world. I wonder what Ross would say is the reason for this transition, from a democratic state to an authoritarian one?

    2. I agree with you Tyler regarding countries ability to acquire mass amounts of wealth and politicians making sure not to disrupt it. It’s amazing though to see these extremely wealthy countries have their citizens living in shambles, in ruins. Makes us wonder where does the money go. I also agree with your statement on how these countries hide behind religion, and use it to intimidate their people.

  5. Both issues, technology/democracy and democracy/middle east, are really interesting. I chose technology/democracy purely because I don’t know enough about the issues in this area, whereas I’ve taken a couple of courses on middle east politics and have done a good amount of research on the issues within already. This area is so complex, specifically in terms of the Edward Snowden case and then as a result the entire area, that you have to really pay attention which I think is why this is so intriguing to me. I think it was impactful to me and to a lot of Americans because the initial thought when reading this is the government can see and hear everything I am doing!! *cue the sticky notes over your webcams* But after reading this, there is some truth and some myth to that. Obviously, a random NSA agent isn’t looking through your webcam watching you lip-sync to Adele, but apparently they can if they wanted to which is really concerning. Just the thought of some random “rogue” agent having the capability to do this is weird. The companies involved initially denied the report. Clearly it was true, but they didn’t want to get screwed over by their customers (damage control.) This makes me wonder why companies such as Facebook and Apple, give the government such a difficult time when they ask for information. But Cambridge Analytica, for example, was able to very easily obtain millions of individual’s information from Facebook. Many questions arise from this, all pretty much very similar. “should the government tell us?” “should the government be doing this to its own citizens.” And I think the answer regardless is that it depends on the situation. I don’t see any problem with the government tracing conversations or correspondence of its own citizens if it is a matter of national security.

    1. Agencies are on the record with saying that they have the capability to watch millions of internet users through webcams and other devices. There is no more safe space or clear zone out there; everything is wide open. And to make matters worse, government wants/needs to get more involved in this dangerous process.

  6. For this week, I chose the Democracy and Technology piece. I am always intrigued on the elements that has taken place between our growing technology and democratic phase. With our technology and elements of the times changing, one could only hope for something to be just and sound. However, we live in a country that have many ways to go about certain elements. Technology is now becoming the driving force behind many efforts taking place. If we honestly take a look around — we will see that technology has created a critical point in our era. We see this by the ever growing changes in voting, the push through technological advocacy and the aspects of phishing. It is of no surprise to what we may see come about next. Though these are things of no surprise, I do find it alarming of the Edward Snowden outcome. It is one thing to hear of such instances and become concerned — however, as the media took a hold of it… things grew into greater. After viewing the video and articles with pictures, I am conflicted about bringing such to the forefront. On one had the story must be told. On the other hand, we also must protect our democracy. The are great lengths that one will go to protect another. In the United States, post 9/11, many things were done to stand on a higher alert for citizens. Does that make it right? Absolutely, not. It does bring a sense of comfort knowing that this country would do everything in it’s power to keep one protected. I never felt that anything that one does would be kept in the realms of one’s own private takes. Sure, many should be owed that as human being. The reality of it is just not that way. The government will do as it will, whether anyone agrees with it or not. The guidelines with the Patriot Act had scribbled the lines of what protections should and should not be. I feel that if someone poses a threat of any sort, that the government should get involved. In those instances, court authorizations should not be needed. Due to the prior instances in the United States, I for one am okay with a more forceful approach in what goes on here. I have a belief on getting a handle on things, before it becomes greater in size or harmful. The Snowden situation made an enormous impact of the United States. There were instances where many felt that it was okay to out the truth. But — it became a negative on how our country operates. This issue certainly helps to understand what is happening today by the truth it upheld. It gave a deeper look into what was happening and how to move forward of issues like these to come.

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