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Researcher at the Arab Center’s Washington Branch and professor of political science at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies

On Wednesday 21 October 2020, the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies seminar hosted Dr. Khalil Al-Anani, researcher at the Arab Center’s Washington Branch and professor of political science at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, to present his new research on Securitization of Democracy: Democracy as a Security Threat to Arab Authoritarianism, using Egypt as a Model. Al-Anani began his presentation by highlighting current research challenges posed by the failure of the Arab Spring to engender stable democratic regimes, challenges linked with our understanding discourse of Arab authoritarian regimes depicting democracy as a security and existential threat to Arab societies, thus justifying these regimes’ repressive practices and violation of human rights .

At the outset, Al-Anani described such practices as part of a systematic process distorting and obstructing endeavors to achieve democratic transition, as evidenced by the recurrence of a similar course of violations and obstructions across many different Arab authoritarian regimes, with comparable manifestations seen in discourse, public speeches, and behaviours – even in countries not witnessing revolutions. The researcher presented the case of Egypt under military rule as a case in point, clarifying the role played in Egypt’s regime by an “authoritarian fundamentalism” in an effort to introduce a negative conception of democracy and thereby change its nature from a political pursuit based upon dialogue and interaction to being purely a matter of “security”. From such a conceptual deception an entire discourse portrays democracy as an existential threat to the Egyptian state, thereby justifying the regime's employment of violence to confront it, and to expand repressive measures to encompass all movements and currents demanding change, regardless of their differences as ideological and activist movements.

Al-Anani compared this Egyptian orientation with the case of Syria, referencing the Assad regime’s efforts to distort the revolution that had risen up against it by adopting narratives of terrorism and foreign conspiracy in order to justify its suppression and its violence against the demonstrators – from the revolution’s earliest beginnings. The consequent outcome was the militarization of the revolution, and its conversion from a serious attempt to transform the regime in democratic directions into a civil war at a scale unprecedented in the Arab region. Just as with the concept of democracy, so also the concept and practice of revolution was transformed from a political issue reflecting legitimate demands and aspirations for reform and change, to a “security dilemma” that could only be dealt with through the logic of power and authoritarian violence.

In light of these observations, Al-Anani moved on to introduce the concept of securitization, suggesting that it could be used analytically to understand phenomena related to the faltering democratic transition and obstructions of reform in the Arab world since 2011, especially as related to the areas of media, political practice, the war on terrorism, Islamophobia and so forth. The researcher indicated that this concept originated in the Copenhagen School of international relations during the nineteen-nineties, building upon research on security issues, and was later invoked and used in other fields of knowledge such as in comparative politics.

Al-Anani reviewed dimensions of the securitization concept suggesting its validity as an interpretive framework for understanding positions adopted by Arab authoritarians regarding democracy in the post-Arab Spring period, and at the same time explaining shifts in the concept of national security among authoritarian regimes – from a focus on external threats to internal ones, namely, the issue of democracy. The researcher hypothesized a relationship between securitization of democracy and consolidation of authoritarianism such that whenever democracy is “securitized” through its portrayal as a security threat undermining the stability of state and society, authoritarian regimes succeed in consolidating their authority and perpetuating their grip on power, with justification for repressive policies. He showed how the current Egyptian regime’s endeavor to “securitize democracy” as purely an issue of security formed a pillar shoring up the regime’s legitimacy. Al-Anani noted that the most prominent justification for the July 2013 coup, from the point of view of the regime’s supporters, remains the state of chaos and instability caused by the political crisis that transpired between various political forces and the Muslim Brotherhood, after the latter came to power in mid-2012.

The researcher cited critical discourse and case study methodologies as having informed his research and to spotlight the roles and levels of discourse and practice that contributed to creating a situation of the “securitization of democracy” in Egypt – and through which justification was provided for extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, mass death sentences, and killings inside prisons, whether as a result of torture or medical negligence, as well as the imprisonment of thousands of opponents.