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Egypt and Russia's Political Systems Comparison

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 1286 words Published: 11th Sep 2017

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The end of the Cold War was a pivotal moment in history of democratization, since it opened up a possibility of a successful spread of democratic ideals across the globe/at the global level. In this context, a range of scholars predicted that countries, previously known for their totalitarian or authoritarian past, would undergo a process of gradual democratization, which will result in their eventual adaptation of a democratic polity model as the fundamental element of their political systems(). However, almost three decades since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the question of whether democratization process had achieved any meaningful progress remains open, since many states had either retained their centralized political system or had adopted a mixed and hybrid political system, characterized by a unique combination of democratic and authoritarian elements within a single polity (Levitsky and Way, 2002; Haerpfer, 2009; EDI, 2010).

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In order to understand why states had reacted differently to the democratization process, this paper aims to identify similarities and differences in the way political systems are organized in two states, Egypt and Russia, which throughout their modern history were associated with highly centralized and authoritarian form of polity. Although it is possible to identify multiple similarities and differences between these states, this paper will focus attention on four important aspects, namely centralized and authoritarian state model, presidential style of government, limited political pluralism during elections and important role of political culture as an effective obstacle to country’s democratization.

This paper is structured as follows. It starts with a brief introductory section, which will define term political system and will explain the case selection. The main body analyses four important aspects of political system in Egypt and Russia, mentioned above. The concluding section summarizes the main arguments.

  1. Political System and Case Selection

Although the term “political system” has no universally accepted definition, in context of this paper it refers to a socio-political arrangement of “institutions and agencies concerned with formulating and implementing the collective goals of a society or of groups within it” ( Almond, et all., 2009:29; Powel, et all., 2015:24). From this perspective, it includes both formal institutions, such as parliamentary assemblies, governments and executives, but also informal arrangements, such as political culture, history, traditions and dominant norms in any given society (Powel, et. all, 2015:24).

The paper relies on the deployment of the “most similar” comparative research design, which aims to explain similarity or divergence in the policy outputs by comparing cases with similar elements and aspects. In this context, whilst it is important to emphasize important differences between Egypt and Russia, some of which will be discussed below, it is equally important to acknowledge that these states share several common characteristics. Historically, political systems in both states were traditionally resistant to change and democratization, focusing instead on preserving the stability of the existing power configuration. Institutionally, Egypt and Russia are interesting cases for a thorough analysis, since despite the fact that democratic organizations and arrangements continue to exist in both states, the power is located elsewhere with traditional democratic organizations enjoying minimal role in decision-making process (). Geopolitically, following the end of the Cold War, both states were required to redefine their identity and find themselves a suitable position within a new geostrategic balance, heavily dominated by US unipolarity. Having defined term political system and justified the case selection, the next section of the essay will distinguish similarities and differences in the way political systems are organized in Egypt and Russia.

  1. Authoritarian and centralized state model.

Traditionally, the power distribution within Egyptian and Russian political system was highly uneven, with ultimate power for decision-making process placed in the hands of a powerful national leader, supported by several elite groups, who was able to impose his political programme on society through mixture of coercion and consent. This gradually resulted in a popular acceptance of the principle of patrimonialism, defined as the idea that country is considered almost as a private property of a specific ruler, within Russian and Egyptian political societies with very weak levels of trust in democratic institutions (Hopwood, 1991; Remington, 2009). From this perspective, opposition forces had minimal chances of challenging and restricting the authority of the national leader, since they were often viewed either as an unnecessary distraction from maintaining an overall political stability or as open enemies of the regime, which by weakening the power of the governing elite can endanger an overall wellbeing of the society.

The situation changed to a certain extent after the end of the Cold War, when both Egypt and Russia, under increasing IMF and US pressure, undertook a series of reforms, including encouraging the creation of political parties, providing more powers to legislative assemblies and allowing more competitive elections in order to democratize political systems with a varying degree of success. In case of Egypt, the reform programme was aimed at strengthening country’s reputation at the international level, whilst retaining and consolidating existing power configuration. In this context, despite multiple changes in political system, country still remains a military dictatorship with strong repressive and authoritarian elements, whereby, where all primary power mechanisms belong to a current national leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, backed by a mixed coalition of military elites and local bureaucracy (Freedom House, 2016; Osman, 2011; Cambains, 2015).

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In contrast, the majority of political reforms did achieve a considerable degree of success in Russia, particularly taken into consideration the minimal levels of democracy and freedom of political expression, which country experienced during Soviet times (Bova, 2003; Sakwa, 2009; Lucas, 2008). Nonetheless, according to Remington (2009:358), although the political elites in Russia are interested in retaining and upholding existing democratic arrangements, they often resort to indirect and hidden mechanisms of exercising dominance within such institutions.

For instance, although opposition parties are officially allowed to exist and compete during national elections, the multiplicity of rules and regulations regarding party electoral registration make it extremely difficult for smaller opposition to compete and win sufficient number of electoral seats (Lucas, 2008). Likewise, the National Electoral Commission received immense legal mandate, allowing it to disqualify and remove unwanted alternative parties and candidates from ballot for the alleged violations of electoral procedures (Lucas, 2008; McFaul and Petrov, 2004). In this context, although parties may be vocal and critical during electoral campaign period, the majority of parties that receive parliamentary seats have strong incentive to cooperate, rather than criticise the governing party once in parliament (Sakwa, 2008; Lucas, 2008).


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