Professors Compare Emerging Democracies
Published: Friday, September 6, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 6, 2013 03:09
Three Georgetown professors highlighted the similarities among the maturing democracies of Egypt, Turkey and Brazil at a panel discussion Wednesday.
Government professor Charles King, international relations professor James Vreeland and government professor Diana Kapiszewski spoke at the event, which was co-sponsored by the Mortara Center for International Studies, the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and the Center for Latin American Studies.
While seemingly variant, all three countries have featured some form of civil unrest in recent months.
“With respect to the emergence of democracies, we do see some association between democracies emerging and poor economic performance in an autocracy,” Vreeland said. “When an autocracy is struggling, its economy is not growing and discontent is more likely to lead to the overthrow of a regime.”
Additionally, Vreeland suggested that countries with oil stray from democracy, while countries with highly unequal societies are more likely to revolt.
Turning to Egypt, Vreeland said that while the country’s economic growth has decreased substantially since 2010, its economic state is not beyond redemption at approximately $5,000 per capita.
“The single most important predictor of the survival of a democracy is probably per capita income,” Vreeland said. “No democracy has ever fallen with an income above that of Argentina in 1975, which was about $8,000 per capita.”
King continued the discussion with the role of social media in uprisings in Turkey, where citizens protested a plan to raze a park in Istanbul over the summer. Police responded to the protests with teargas and protesters alleged police brutality.
King stressed that it is important not use an outdated lens to view such a complex situation.
“Our categories don’t quite match the reality of what is happening in the street,” King said. “We talk about regime, we talk about regime transition, we talk about consolidation of democracy, but those really look like such 1990s concepts compared to what’s actually happening on the ground.”
“We don’t have a very good way of talking about how democracies behave,” he added.
Kapiszewski spoke about Brazil, where 250,000 citizens protested a 9-cent increase in public transportation fares. Kapiszewski explained that the demonstrations stemmed from a burgeoning, wealthier middle class, which is calling for a better government with less corruption.
According to Kapiszewski, the fare increase was only the short-term cause of the desperate riots. She said the real anger is rooted in Brazil’s financial inequality and citizens’ disgust with politicians.
Manassinee Moottatarn (GRD ’15) enjoyed the comparative discussion.
“It encompassed a bunch of different countries and continents but the common thread was the thread of not consolidating democracy while making interesting comparisons with the U.S.,” Moottatarn said. “It was a very informed discussion and it was very interesting.”