There has recently been a wave of democratic uprisings sweeping across the Middle East. Starting in Tunisia, the call for democratic reforms spread through Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Iran and many other nations. Many have likened these uprisings to the social unrest of 1848, which gave rise to the Communist Revolution of 1917, but they do so wrongly. While the popular uprisings that continue to inflame the Middle East may have some of the same causes as in 1848, rising food prices and high unemployment, the current unrest lacks the ideological component. The protestors do not want to destroy their government, they want to reform it. In this way the uprisings of 2011 are more akin toward the establishment of a Rousseau-inspired representative republic in that the people were demanding, not a complete social restructuring, but a representative form of government that worked the way it was designed to work, for the benefit of the people not a single leader.
Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote his The Social Contract in 1762, over a century after Locke and Hobbes first presented the idea that a sovereign and his people formed a contract which defined certain rights and responsibilities to each other. While Hobbes and Locke were attempting to define the relationship between a king and the people, Rousseau took the idea of a social contract into a kingless realm. Rousseau's idea of the social contract involved individuals uniting together by mutual consent and agreeing to certain rules and duties each has to the others, in order for mutual protection. Rousseau was an early proponent of the idea of a social contract and his ideas are often criticized as too abstract, or theoretical, and not applicable in the real world. Critics have demonstrated that democracy in practice is often a vague concept used by those in power to enforce their will on the masses (Price 2007) Rousseau's idea of a democracy demands a certain amount of selflessness on the part of individuals, they must be willing, not only to sacrifice certain freedoms, but also will behave in a way that is considered "moral" to the rest of the community. There is an inherent conflict of interest in Rousseau's arguments as each "man" struggled against his personal interests to become a "citizen." (Cullen 2007) Rousseau admitted some of these contradictions when he stated that there had never been a "real democracy" in the strict sense; only forms of democracy. (Rousseau 58)
However, Rousseau promoted a "republican" form of democracy in which representatives would be elected by the people, something he stated was "the method more natural to democracy." (Rousseau 95) For this representative form of democracy to function, those elected to office must always keep the interests of the public at large first, and avoid any personal interests from interfering. Anyone who has ever watched a news program knows that this is the number one problem currently faced by the people of any representative form of government; the representatives either put their own interests first, or they put the interests of special interest groups first. Politicians then often use rhetoric and political tricks to spin their actions, which are often inspired by personal interests, into grand designs of helping the people in general.
Marx and Engels, writers of the Communist Manifesto, viewed the totality of the world in terms of class struggle, and democracy was just a political tool by which one class imposed it's will on another. For Marx and Engels, democracy was the means of oppression, but also the key to freedom. The Bourgeoisie capitalists used the tool of democracy to maintain their control of the people. However, Marx and Hegel's idea of communism was essentially a fully democratic society dominated by the proletariat. The Communist Manifesto stated "the first step in the workers-revolution is the raising of the proletariat to the ruling class, prevailing in democracy." (Marx 81) In other words, when the workers took control of society, they would impose a democracy that would "wrest all capital gradually from the bourgeoisie, [and] centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state…" (Marx 81)
In 1848 a wave of social unrest spread across Europe as inflation and unemployment rose to levels unacceptable to the average person. Marx and Engels wrote their Communist Manifesto at this time, although it remained unpublished until 1915. In 1917, the Russian people rose up against their rulers and created a socialist republic along the lines of Marxist theories. Many have drawn analogies between the 1848 social unrest, which gave rise to the communist revolution in 1917, and the recent social unrest which has spread across the Middle East. However, Jack Goldstone, in his article "Understanding the Revolutions of 2011," correctly pointed out that while the 1848 uprisings contained similar causes, rising food prices and high unemployment, the 1848 uprisings contained an ideological component that is absent in the 2011 uprisings. The 2011 uprisings in the Middle East were directed at what Goldstone referred to as "sultanic dictatorships," which are not based on ideology the way 19th century European culture was. (Goldstone 2011) Sultanic dictators are described as possessing no ideology other than "maintaining their personal authority." (Goldstone 2011) And while they may maintain the facade of democratic institutions, they get around these institutions by placing key supporters in key positions.
These types of dictators maintain their power by accumulating great wealth at the expense of their people, and use this wealth to purchase loyalty through a system of patronage. (Goldstone 2011) The sultanic dictator places himself at the center of a vast and highly departmentalized bureaucracy where all resources are dispensed through the center and contact between different departments is controlled by the center. Thereby the dictator makes himself indispensable to the nation's future; undermining any attempt at change or succession. All of this is held together by an underlying system of violence and fear generated by the presence of spies, informants, and security police.
Recently the Middle East has been rocked by a series of social and political uprisings, with a varying amount of success. The most successful revolution, so far, has been the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. While many have tried to paint the Egyptian revolution in many different terms, it was the uprising of a people who's social contract with their leader had been violated by that leader. Mubarak broke the social contract proposed by Rousseau that the government was supposed to be run for the benefit of the people. Mubarak was supposedly a democratically elected leader of a democratic form of government, but in reality he was a sultanic dictator who put the desires of himself before the needs of the people.
As a result, the people of Egypt rose up and demanded the ouster of their President. While this may have been a popular uprising, it was not communistic in nature. The Egyptian people wanted to reform their democratic government that had been hijacked by Mubarak. (Egypt News) There were already democratic institutions in place in Egypt and the people wanted them to function as they are supposed to, not be a tool for the regime to maintain control. In this way Mubarak was similar to the bourgeoisie Marx and Engels described in the Communist Manifesto, as he maintained democratic institutions in order to control the people. However, the people of Egypt did not want to destroy those institutions, they wanted them to function appropriately. There was no ideology behind Mubarak, so there was no ideology to oppose. The Egyptian people simply wanted a better economy; they wanted a change in the makeup of their government, not a change in the form of their government. Therefore, when the army assumed control of the nation, the first thing they promised was to "…sponsor the legitimate demands of the people." [by] conduct[ing] free and fair elections. (Kirkpatrick 2011)
Iran has also been in a state of social and civil unrest, however, the Iranian leaders have dealt with their problems in a strictly authoritarian way with little regard for the welfare of their people. Currently Iran is ruled by a government which also has failed to provide the people with economic prosperity. Rising prices massive unemployment, and other economic problems have plagued the Iranian people for some time. In 2009, the Iranian people started a popular uprising which was ruthlessly crushed by the government using violence and terror. The Iranian security forces have arrested opposition leaders and prosecuted them for sedition. (Yong 2011) And the Iranian government seems to be oblivious to world reaction as demonstrated in Feb. Of 2011 when two well-known opposition leaders, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, disappeared into secret police vehicles and, despite international pleas, have not been heard from since.
It is clear that the Iranian government has not lived up to it's obligations according to Rousseau's social contract, but, unlike Egypt, Iran is not a sultanic dictatorship, it is a state based upon…