Those in power almost always want to stay in power and they have the official means to manipulate the system in ways that underwrites the status quo. Let’s take an example from the Arab Spring in Egypt. As reported on Al Jazzera, the ruling military tribunal in Egypt released details about the districts and rules governing the upcoming 2011 parliamentary elections. They way they decided to map out the districts and write the governing rules of each favored the election of those favorable to the power structure of money-men and those in positions of power in the current regime.
The new election law split Egypt into 26 voting districts. Within those districts some constituencies will vote by simple majority for individual candidates running as independents. In others people will vote for political parties. The result will be a parliament with two-thirds of its members elected by party affiliation and one-third by individual candidacy.
Hani Shukrallah, the Editor of Ahram Online, says that the voting system favors the ruling élite from the Mubarak Era, even though, technically, it has been dissolved. The more powerful and moneyed candidates can control the election through individual candidacies and by influencing existing political parties by using and exploiting traditional patronage relationships, which existed throughout the Mubarak Era and continue today.
While there has been lip service to democracy, little has really changed with regard to the influence of the money-men. In talks with new political parties, who want free and fair elections, the ruling élite listened, but did not take their suggestions into account. They don’t need to because they have the political power to rig the elections by re-districting and setting the election rules – not unlike what the Perry oligarchy did in Texas where they remapped the voting district to dramatically reduce and inhibit minority voting strength in Texas (Angle 2010). It seems like democracy in both Egypt and Texas, but it is oligarchical governance instead.
This mapping of election districts in Egypt and the writing of the rules governing elections is crucial because the elected parliamentarians will write the new constitution. Lots of members of parliament who favor the moneyed élite will insure that the constitution is slanted in their favor.
Of course, all this sounds very much like Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchy (2010 ). This is a political theory that states that organizational forms inevitably develop into oligarchies– rule by a few. If we accept that this is the case, and history seems to tell us this is a tendency in political systems, the reasons appear to be that those ensconced in office tend to defend their interests and have the means to bring this off. Furthermore leaders are often safely entrenched because of the complaisance of the public and their tendency to revere leadership.
If the Iron Law of Oligarchy applies to large political systems, for example states, does it also apply to smaller
organizations? This is an empirical question anthropologists can investigate. I would think that the “law” does apply to smaller organizations, such as corporations. Recently, a stocks and bonds trader stated on television that states don’t rule the world, but rather Goldman Sachs does. This may make such research more timely and cogent. I don’t know this trader’s exact thinking on this statement, but I suspect that he meant it more broadly i.e., it is corporations that rule the world not political leaders.
If we follow the theater state analogy (Geertz 1980), the politicians are the puppets, as well as the talking heads on television shows, and it is the money-men behind the screen pulling the wires.
Al Jazzera. 2011 (September 29). Story on parliamentary elections in Egypt.
Angle, Matt. 2010 (April 29). Lone Star Project Redistricting Report. http://alt.coxnewsweb.com/statesman/politifact/04292010_TexasRedist...
Geertz, Clifford. 1980. Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth Century Bali. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Michels, Robert. (2010 ). Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger.