Political Change in the Arab World: A PPE Perspective (24/02/2011)

The Arab world is undergoing momentous political change, dubbed as a revolution by the Western media, like the BBC.

The mass uprising by the citizens was an effect of decades of oppression. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak stepped down last week; the political situation in Libya on the other hand is rather different. as Libya's leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi clings on to political power. In the recent crackdown, Libya has been criticized for human rights violations as military force and violence was (and is) being used on unarmed citizens. Immediately, the European Union has condemned Libya for crimes against humanity and has suspended all economic aid to Libya. It is not difficult to understand the EU's decision, after all it is incongruent with the Human Rights act of 1998 and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On the ground, the Libyans are appealing to the world community to remove Col. Gaddafi from power and end their suffering. But, why do people take to the streets? Why to revolutions occur? Why do unarmed citizens risk their lives and protest against the state/government?

(1) Theoretical Marxism
Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution provides a very useful analytical framework in our analysis. For Marx, conflict in a society is rooted in a class struggle between the workers and the owners of capital, who also control the access to political power. A revolution arises out of a reaction to this social-political oppression, buttressed by capital ownership.

(2) Legitimacy Crisis
Another compelling explanation is the loss of Legitimacy.
Simply put, Legitimacy is the legal right of a government to rule, and a legitimacy crisis arises when a government loses this right. Philosophers and scholars have identified that a government loses it's right to rule (e.g. The governments of Hosni Mubarak and Col. Gaddafi) when the economic needs of the people are not met. When the people's discontent is not met, and when they do not have a peaceful institution to remove an ineffective government (i.e. in the absence of a democracy) people take to the street. This is a reaction to tyranny.

Human Rights and Democracy
Western Liberalism (e.g. European Union and U.S) posits that a democracy is necessary to preserve human rights as the rule of law in a democracy protects these rights (defined as fundamental freedoms) and more importantly, it allows for a peaceful regime change. The democratic mechanism (e.g. voting/ plural party contestation) allow for an unpopular government to be removed, without the violence associated with revolutions.