Workshop 3: Guardians or oppressors: the military-civil relations and democratization in the Mediterranean littoral

MRM 2013



Istanbul Kemerburgaz University, Turkey


Arab Academy for Science and Technology, Egypt




The Arab Spring has drawn world’s attention on social movements and political regimes of the Mediterranean. It was related to the Third Wave of Democratization. Although important divergences exist between different examples of the Third Wave, those examples share many significant points and inherently differ from consolidated democracies.

The general literature of democratic transition should be completed by studies focused on the civil–military relations in transition periods, because the recent events have showed again that the role of the military in effecting the transition process.

The composition and influence of the Arab armies are not only effective in times of external threat. Along more than seventy years since the end of the Second World War, those armies played a major role in all aspects of their populaces’ lives.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Arab states started to gain independence. Afterwards, both the Arab and Turkish militaries emerged as the backbone of the newly established states whether for their cooperation with the armies of the great powers or due to their role in bringing independence.

This workshop will investigate the civil-military relations in the Mediterranean. Do armies help to democratize their countries? What kind of independence of finances and decision making should the military have? Were these political armies guardians of democracy or oppressors against people. It will also investigate if the Arab spring will amend the long standing practices and privileges of the military and compare these cases with others in East Europe or Latin America. 





The Arab Spring has drawn world’s attention on social movements and political regimes of the Mediterranean region. This movement is sometimes interpreted as a part of the Third Wave of Democratization which started by the Carnation Revolution in 1974 and affected a large zone from the South America to the Eastern Europe. Although important divergences exist between different examples of the Third Wave, basic features and problems of regimes making transition to democracy present some common points and differ considerably from consolidated democracies. This was the point of depart for DankwartRustow who was underlying that “the factors kept a democracy stable might not be the ones that had brought it into existence: explanations of democracy must distinguish between function and genesis” (Rustow, 1970: 346). This first study of Rustow was pursued by other important researches (O’Donnell, et. al.,1986; Mainwaring,, 1992). All of these studies can provide an important theoretical base for explaining the recent developments the Mediterranean countries.

On the other hand, this more general literature of democratic transition should be completed by studies focused on the civil – military relations in the transition period, because the recent events have showed again that the role of the militarized politics or the political militaries could directly effect on the transition process. Certainly, some worthy works of democratization make reference to the role of military structure. For instance, Dahl underlined the necessity to put military forces under civil control (Dahl, 1989) while Przeworski emphasized that the military power uncontrolled by civil authority could systematically instability for democratic institutions (Przeworski, 1993). As for Linz and Stepan, who are considered deeply by democratization problems, they analyze the evolution of military forces culture for testing whether democracy is consolidated or not (Linz, 1995). In this context, it is also necessary to cite two eminent works. Valenzuala lists perverse elements that can cause the end of the democratic process. These elements are directly or indirectly connected to the military – civil relations (Valenzueala, 1992). As for Agüero, he works on democratic consolidation and on military role in Sothern Europe and South America. He accentuates that the democratic consolidation is not over until the principles and values of military forces have not been changed.

Based on these principal theoretical and comparative works, this workshop proposes to analyze the effects of civil – military relations on the democratic transition process in the Mediterranean region. The main accent will be on countries affected by the Arab Spring as well as on Turkey whose democratization process is often cited as an example during the recent events although it is very problematical from the point of civil – military relations. 

To put it briefly, the role assumed by the Turkish army during the independence war provided it with the identity of the “guardian of the republic.” Having gained a victory in the independence war, the Turkish army, led by Mustafa Kemal, took a back seat to some extent after the signature of the Lausanne Treaty. The foundation of the republic was declared in 1923. It was possible to establish a multi-party fully-democratic regime right after the foundation of the republic on the basis of the political experiences gained during the late-Ottoman period. Yet the then-leaders of the republic decided on prioritizing reformation over democratization, and became dominant in the political life of the new state. The Turkish republic would wait for the end of the World War II in order to transit to the multi-party system.

In brief, the political elite consisting of the intellectuals, bureaucrats and military officers seemed to be remote of and even unconfident to the people, as Turkey transited to the multi-party system. The people started to express its priorities through the elections between different parties. But apart from the elections, the mechanisms which would provide them with a civil space to associate and negotiate were very weak. Under these circumstances, a polarized civil society came into being very easily and quickly. The escalation of the violent actions boosted that tension. As regards the economic conditions, there were attempts for development, but the country could not stand on its own feet, yet. So, Turkey started the establishment phase of democracy with transition to the multi-party system in 1946, but the political system, being interrupted by the military interventions every ten years since 1960, was impeded in terms of democracy and could not consolidate until the beginning of 2000s.

As for the civil – military relations in the Arab world, the history, structure, composition and influence of the Arab armies are not only effective and crucial in times of external threat. Along more than seventy years since the end of the Second World War, those armies played a major role in each and every aspect of their populaces’ lives.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War, the Arab states started to gain their independence one after another. Due to this new phase, the armed forces in most of these countries emerged as the backbone of the newly established states whether for their cooperation with the armies of the great powers or due to their role in bringing independence to their sovereign nation-states.

An enormous wave of military coups stroke several Arab countries after the Second World War. One of the reasons that provoked the military uprising in these countries was the defeat of the 1948 war (called Nakba- or catastrophe in Arabic literature), which has happened due to many reasons, of which the unfound trust between the political leadership and the military was. That course took place in Egypt, Syria and Iraq during the nineteen fifties. The young nationalist officers in Arab armies felt that their leaders betrayed them in favor for their own interests and for their tight relations with imperial powers as well. They always thought they should clean their own countries from the corrupt kings and their oligarchies before dreaming of freeing Palestine. These new military leaders decided not only to be in charge of the troops but also to take over power and rule their countries as military hegemonic rulers with no space for democratic or non democratic civilian rule.

Those armies were not only confronting Israel in the course of Arab- Israeli conflict but also used to extend regional influence as in the Egyptian- Yemeni relations and Egyptian African relations during GamalAbdelnasser rule, as well as the Syrian army that intervened heavily in Lebanon from the mid 1970s up to 2005. The Palestinian militias of resistance also clashed with regular armies of Jordan and Lebanon during the 1970s. 

Several Arab armed forces institutions found its way to hold power in their capacity through cooperation with the west. The financial, logistic and in kind help that was offered by the United States or the NATO to countries like Egypt, the GCC countries and Jordan started after the Camp David accords of 1978 and the first Gulf war (1980-1988). A second wave of military cooperation started with the second gulf war that stormed the Middle East in 1990 and led to directly attach the administration of several Arab armies to the Western military interests. This cooperation made the military institution directly bended to the Western powers and its interests as the direct recipient of donations and the guarantor for cooperation between the political system and its western friends. On the other hand, the USSR then federal Russia, Iran and even China tried to support other Arab regular armies and militias in Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian military resistance groups and Iraq. Those Arab armies were not only customers who buy arms, but also strategic affiliates with military arrangements with their Western or Eastern allies and the kind of military cooperation they are proceeding was often translated into alliances and enmities with other countries.

The complicated Middle East conflict led to develop immunity for the Arab armies especially in what was called the confrontation countries which were the countries on the border of Israel (Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan). The secret and uncensored budgets, legal immunity and independent decision making was among many other privileges those armies have been enjoying in appreciation for their sensitive situation in a troubled region of the world. It made them untouchable in the face of both executive and parliamentary powers that were not allowed to question the military for any of their activities. The principles of accountability and transparency would have been applied to most of the state affairs except for the military’s.

The immunity given to the military institution in the Arab world led them to interfere in non military affairs of their country and most of the cases, the army became the real ruler and the institution above the law. Even in some countries were non regular armies and militia existed as the Lebanese case, the armed groups were given special position to adapt the frame of the border keeper from external threat even if that would mean threatening the civil nature of their home countries.

Several Arab rulers took the structure, recruitment and composition of their armed forces as a back door for ensuring loyalty and durability of their reign which led them to use sectarian, tribal or territorial standards to recruit and promote both the troops and the leaders of the armed forces.

The recent events of the Arab spring also showed that the Arab armies are a critical mass in determining the fate of their home countries. While the Tunisian armed forces chose neutrality and stayed in their barracks during most of the events of their country, the Egyptian revolution was considered a success only when the Egyptian armed forces supreme council (SCAF) sided with the people and ousted Mubarak. The armies of Syria, Libya and Yemen experienced defecting and the sectarian and/or tribal structure of these armies made it hard for their commandership up to the minor ranks to reach one decision whether to side with or to confront the revolutionary populace. Even in countries like Bahrain, the small scale revolution was oppressed from the beginning with the peninsula Shield force the armed troops of the GCC countries.

This workshop will investigate the role of the militarized politics or the political militaries in the Mediterranean countries. To what extent do these armies help the democratic transition of their countries or stand as a dead end in the face of civil democratization? What kind of independence of finances and decision making –if any- would be granted to the armed forces institutions in a way that does not jeopardize the state of law in these countries? Were these political armies guarantors for democracy and constitutional legitimacy or were they oppressors against their people and blocks against the public will in several Mediterranean countries? This workshop will also try to investigate the possibility of the Arab spring and the new political realities in the region for amending the long standing values, practices and privileges of the military in these countries going through democratic transition. All of the works focusing on civil – military relations’ effect on democratization in a Mediterranean country or comparing recent developments with the experiences of Southern Europe or South America are welcomed.

Suggested Bibliography:

Agüero, F. (1995) Democratic Transition and the Military in Southern Europe and South America.In Gunther, R. (eds.) The Politics of Democratic Consolidation (pp.124-165) London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Barak, O. (2009) The Lebanese army: a national institution in a divided society. State University of New York Press.

Cizre, Ü. (2000) Politics and Military in Turkey into the 21st Century. EUI Working Paper.

Dahl, R. (1989) Democracy and Its Critics. New Haven: Yale University Press.

FitzGerald, B. F. (1982) The Syrian army: an activist military force in the Middle East. Defense Technical Information Center.

Friesch, H. (2008) The Palestinian military between militias and armies, Middle Eastern Military Studies.Routledge.

Frisch, H. (2003) Arab Armies: Religious, Economic and Structural Dimensions. Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University.

Hale, W. (1994) Turkish Politics and The Military. London: Routledge.

Katz S. (1988) Arab Armies of the Middle East Wars.Osprey Publishing.

Koonings K. &Kruijt D. (2002) Political Armies: The Military and Nation Building in the Age of Democracy. Zed Books Ltd.

Linz, J. J., &Stepan, A. (2001).Toward Consolidated Democracies. In L. Diamond, & M. F. Plattner, The Global Divergence of Democracies (pp. 93-112). Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

Linz, J. J. (1995). Democratic Transition and Consolidation in Southern Europe, with Reflections on Latin America and Eastern Europe.In Gunther, R. (eds.) The Politics of Democratic Consolidation (pp.77-123). London: The John Hopkins University Press.

MacDonald, B.S. (1997) Military Spending in Developing Countries: How Much Is Too Much. Carleton University Press.

Mainwaring, S., Issues in Democratic Consolidation.The New South American Democracies in Comparative Perspective. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.

McGregor, A. J. (2006) A military history of modern Egypt: from the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War. Praeger.

O’Donnell, G. (1986) Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Southern Europe. London: the Johns Hopkins University Press.

Przeworski, A. (1993) Democracy and The Market. Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America.Cambridge University Press.

Rachwani, M. &Soliman, A. (2011) View from the ground. Public Policy Research, 2011, 18: 212–215.

Rostow, D. A. (1970).Transitions to Democracy – Towards a Dynamic Model. Comparative Politics, Vol.2(No.3), 337-363.

Sakallıoğlu, Ü.C. (1997) The Anatomy of Turkish Military’s Political Autonomy.Comparative Politics.Vol.29, no.2.

Schlumberger, O. (2007) Debating Arab Authoritarianism: Dynamics and Durability in Non-democratic Regimes. Stanford University Press.

Serra, N. (2010) The Military Transition - Reflections on the Democratic Reform of the Armed Forces. Cambridge university Press.

Tarock, A. (1998) The superpowers' involvement in the Iran-Iraq War. Nova Science.

Valenzuela, J.S. (1992) Dmocratic Consolidation in Post-Transitional Settings: Notion, Process, and Facilitating Conditions. In Mainwaring, S., in Democratic Consolidation. The New South American Democracies in Comparative Perspective (pp.57152). Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.

Yetiv, S. A. (2004) Explaining Foreign Policy: U.S. Decision-Making in the Gulf Wars. Johns Hopkins University Press.


Page last updated on 19 June 2012