Eritrea’s Prospect: Joining The league Of Hybrid Regimes

The war against superstition and totalitarian mentality is an endless war. In Protean form, it is fought and refought in every generation  (Christopher Hitchens)                         

For years we have debated on the nature of the Eritrean regime some opposing it and others giving it unreserved support, both financially and morally. But what is strange in our debate is – those who advocate for change don’t have clear understanding as to what the change entails. I believe that the origin of their confusion is embedded from the inability of defining the nature of the regime in Asmara. In the classic classifications of regimes, the PFDJ regime falls in to the category of closed authoritarian regimes. However, as a remedy to the confusion we are plagued with so far, this article will attempt to stir the confusion, in order to settle to a conceptual understanding of regimes, thereby rearrange our strategy and ignite our perceptive minds to drive the strategy.

Equally though, this writer will venture, therefore, to suggest the prospect of the regime we expect after the fall of the current authoritarian regime, if it will happen in the near future, depending on the consciousness of our people and the unfulfilled preconditions for a “democratic regime” in Eritrea. In order to do that, I will visit many stimulating theoretical arguments and conceptual scrutiny on the proliferations of the contemporary regimes in the world, by many outstanding researchers and scholars.

To satisfy my inquisitive mind about regimes, states, and government, I found the concept of “defective democracy” and “electoral authoritarianism” the “double-root strategy” authored by Matthijis Bogaard and the taxonomic classifications of regimes by Diamonds, are very helpful for understanding the current Eritrean regime and the prospect of future regime on the horizon. Diamond’s orientation in cataloguing, categorizing, and grouping the current contemporary regimes into typologies, explains the critical institutional features of non-democratic regimes. By mapping those regimes and drawing a parallel inquiry to the prospect of Eritrean dominant political view as of now, we can safely predict how the “politically closed authoritarian regime” will be replaced assuming the current variables remain constant as they existed today.

Therefore, In search of synthesis on the conceptual intake of regimes, let me present a general glimpse on the debates of conceptualizing of contemporary regimes that are going in the institutions of knowledge and “the state of the art in the study of hybrid regimes.”  In the final analysis we will make an educated prediction, taking into an account the current regime we have, the degree of commitment of the Eritrean people in the fight against the regime, and the “self-limitation” of demand from change seekers, as reflected in our continuous debates.

Conceptual Reflections

In political science conceptual issues have been subjected to rigorous scrutiny in the last few decades. The issue of “what is democracy and is not, which regimes are democratic and are not” has been in the forefront of academic research for sometimes, to standardize through a replete of various tools and measurements. Almost three decades into the “third wave” of democratization and transitional movements, researchers have classified most of them, with some still far from consensus but classified as ambiguous regimes.

Interestingly enough, some fairly but procedural definition of democracy and government, like “Polyarchy” by Robert Dahl has become capable of inducing resonance in the research of democracy and regimes.  According Dahl, the conception of Polyarchy, where democracy requires not only free, fair, and competitive elections, but he also include that the freedoms that make them truly meaningful and alternative source of information of institutions and measurement of regimes.

in his book, “A preface to democratic theory”, Dahl gave eight conditions and hypothesized that each condition can be quantified and measured on scales to determine the democratic nature of regimes. But the vexing question in the contemporary of states and regimes is how we classify them. Many of those who adapted the form of electoral democracy are defective in practice and are less than electoral democracy, such as in a competitive authoritarian system (Russia), hegemonic party system (Singapore), or hybrid regimes of some sort (Ukraine and Albania)[Dahl 1956]. Regimes classifications must in part, assess the previous elections, but must also assess the intentions and capacities of the ambiguously democratic elites [1]. In some hybrid regimes their constitutions assign elected military representatives seats in the parliament (Indonesia), and in some like Turkey, the military have the veto-player to force and disqualify the popularly elected party [Bogaard, 2009]

Democracy should take root among the elites before it start to diffuse into the larger population [2]. There is no common understanding within the Eritrean elites as to what contemporary democracy entails and how it fits to the reality of our people. Dahl in his book “Democracy and its critics, (1989)” have formulated five criteria in order democracy to flourish (a) effective participation of citizens – to form their preference and ask questions on the public agenda (b) voting equality – citizen’s  judgment must be assured and counted (c) enlightened understanding –  equal opportunities for discovering and affirming what choice would be best serve for the common good (d) control of the agenda –  citizen must have the opportunities on what political agenda be subject to deliberation (e) inclusiveness –  everyone has  a legitimate stake in the political process and therefore equality must be extended to all citizens. Are our elites ready to germinate the seeds of democracy in the public sphere? So far I don’t see their efforts. It bothers me much, because reformist elites are resisting for an open and uncontrolled democratic participation.

Typology: Hybrid States And Hybrid Regimes

In recent decades there has been a proliferation of hybrid regimes that comprise both autocratic and democratic characteristics. Those countries that are identified by Huntington in 1991 as the transitioning authoritarian regimes, in his description of the “third wave of democratization” have ceased with their transitions [3]. Actually these countries do not fall in to the criteria and working type of democracy that includes free election, enlightened conscious citizens, equality and freedom of speech. According Diamond these states fall into a “political grey zone” that can be identified as hybrid states [4]. It is therefore, quintessential to remember that while the hybrid state are positioned somewhere between democracy and autocracy, they cannot be defined as “transitional states”. The hybrid states must be considered their own type political regime rather a transitional states [5].

What is a hybrid regime then? A hybrid regime is a political system that contains elements of autocratic and democratic system. They are electoral regimes with strong presidency or one party system, or one dominant party that marginalizes other parties that exist. It has a mix of democratic and autocratic features with some competition in the access of power via election but with severely limited civil liberties stemming from the authoritarian practices [6]. Ostensibly, Ekman in 2009 characterize Russia, Venezuela, and Tanzania as the archetypal hybrid states based on Levitsky and Way’s idea of competitive authoritarianism with the legitimacy that are seen as relatively free and contested elections [7]. Akman didn’t stop there, he further explained that in hybrid states, government often subordinates judiciary, weakened rule of law, controls media, and restrict civil liberties to stabilize their authorities.

Hybrid regimes as the products of hybrid states have become very prevalent phenomenon in the contemporary world of electoral authoritarianism or also distinctively termed as “pseudo-democracy.” In such form of regimes it is difficult to mimic democratic transitions. Virtually all hybrid regimes that exist today are quite deliberately pseudo-democratic, in that the multi-party electoral competition often masks the reality of authoritarian domination [8]. Some hybrid states and hybrid regimes draft a document of hybrid constitutional governmental structures to fit and satisfy their hegemonic natures.

Leaving aside the ambiguous regimes for now, we shall see the five categories as classified by Diamond for purposes of our political discourse and debates. They are (a) liberal democratic regimes (b) Electoral democratic regimes (c) competitive authoritarian regimes (d) Hegemonic electoral authoritarian regimes (e) Politically closed authoritarian regimes. With the Exception of (a) and (b), the three categories are hybrid authoritarian regimes with limited and different degree of political rights and civil liberty rights.  Diamond and Dahl’s indicators are not only sound, but it is empirically appealing as it performs better than others when testing relevant hypothesis; because democracy requires direct and indirect popular decision making.

Developmental State

According the academic literatures, the developmental states have two components: They are (a) ideological (b) structural. Certainly this ideology-structure nexus distinguishes the developmental states from other forms of states. At the ideational level, the elites must be able to establish an ideological hegemony with a discourse framework of policy-makers in a self-fulfilling manner. With developmental states there is always contradiction between diagnosis and prescriptions and hence it reflects in their contradictory positions. To paraphrase Gramci, it is the pessimism of the diagnosis and optimism of the prescription that found themselves in difficulties to have a joint distribution of “democracy” and “development”, to stabilize and privatize the economy, and to engage in good governance and democratize the state.

The contradiction has occulted the African developmental states, that I could argue, not only have the states are dysfunctional in terms of managing larger societal issues, but also can not withdraw from state dominated economic and societal spaces. The developmental states run the risk of being tautological concentrating around the success made by mere fact of “trial and error” nature of policy making. Democracy and development are not separated in the broader sense of development. In fact democracy is good for good governance and sustainable development is not possible without democracy. (More detail in my next tebeges edition).

Taxonomic Classifications of African Regimes

Hybrid authoritarian regimes are political systems with a limited, non-responsible pluralism without an elaborated and guiding ideologies, but with distinctive mentalities [9]. Their political systems have ill defined rules and procedures that serve only to their interests and the degree of pluralism and institutional structures are determined by the sitting authoritarian regimes.

The minimum threshold required for a regime to be called a “democratic regime must include (a) universal suffrage (b) free, competitive, recurrent and fair elections (c) the existence of more than one party (d) different and alternative media sources (e) real guarantee of civil and political rights. Regimes that allow some and disallow part of the measurement scales fall into one of the hybrid regime categories. Assuming that all democracy are “electoral democracy” but all electoral democracy aren’t liberal, then below is a table of classifications of African regimes only, extracted from the comprehensive worldwide regimes charted by Larry Jay Diamond.


**Traditional Monarchy

PR = political right,   CR = Civil liberties, Scale of measurement on PR & CR    = 1 Rep. the most free, 7 Rep. Least free

For our immediate references Ethiopia is classified with the “competitive hybrid authoritarian regimes” while Eritrea is currently classified with the “politically closed authoritarian regimes.”

PFDJ Is Ruling Not Governing

Currently the Eritrean political mind is embedded on military and military establishments to seek stability and resist democratic changes. EPLF as a politico-military wing, they have a long standing of military order and structure since they have entered the city. Even after EPLF is transformed into a political party (PFDJ), the army is totally merged as part and parcel of the party’s structure to fulfill the goal of the party.

Steven Cook amazingly had played an important role in his insight about “institutionalism” regarding authoritarianism regimes. In his argument regarding authoritarian regimes, he said institutions are not merely instruments for resolving collective action problems, and are not necessarily designed for efficacy, but rather to preserve the power, prestige, privilege, and distributional advantages of the dominant elites and its allies at the expense of society at large [10]. Unlike the Eritrean military institutions, Cook found that the founding officers of  Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey were all high modernists defending their worldview based on scientific knowledge – the pattern of political regimes of military dominated states with civilian alliances to benefit themselves – a clear difference to classical establishment of military dictatorships [11]. In such regimes, the officers usually tolerate political dissents until they perceive them as a threat to their power and to their interests that comes with the power.

Keep in mind the political thought of our reformers and the followers of PFDJ will eventually end up for hegemonic institutional regimes, as they are allergic to fundamental changes for democratic regimes. Ruling and not governing is the overall impressive political thought in their mind. They are for stability without democratic institutionalism where civil liberty and group liberty become the antithesis of their regime and their interests. I will come later to explain as to why from the get go the hybrid constitution was designed for hybrid regime.

Uncertainty And Changes

Uncertainty and changes have been an inseparable part of politics. They are inherently linked to each other. Institutional structures, worldview, and organizations that once gave sense of security and stability are collapsing in front of our eyes. But changes and uncertainty are not also inherently bad. They could bring a new high order structural change, and along with it, the insight, tools, skills, and technique to run the institutions. While we cannot stop the unfolding political discourses, we should forge some kind of capacity to respond to changes and uncertainty with some wisdom and acute awareness.

In the current Eritrean politics, with the wave of changes, there is great uncertainty as to what will happen to the Eritrean politics with the demise of the current regime. Many of the uncertainty of fears comes from the recent history of some countries like Libya, Syria, and Iraq that are plagued with dysfunctional governance in limbo fighting for a stable state machines to control the unfolding social crises. The problems with these unfound fears are simple, our elites instead of studying the political frictions within our society, they are exploiting the events of the aforementioned countries to consolidate their own “hegemony state” and working hard to set a discourse for forming a hybrid hegemonic regime as an alternative to the current regime – a closed authoritarian regime and authoritarian state that defies human dignity and human decency.

Most Eritrean Highlanders believe on the “hybrid constitutional structure” as envisioned in the 1997 constitutional document. And most Eritrean Lowlanders disown the document as it doesn’t give them a space  and place them as stakeholders for a fair sharing both in political administration and economic distribution. That is their grievances we always hear from them. Actually their argument isn’t structural and ideological argument. They don’t argue on the structural flaw that is designed for the concentration of power to few bureaucratic elites.

This writer’s argument is, if Presidential powers ascended from an assembly or parliament, they give to the rise of a “hybrid regime” and the state run by hybrid regime is a “hybrid state” naturally. Advocating for the 1997 document, no matter what someone try to give rosy argument, the real essence of its constitutional structure that reflect a hybrid in nature and the product from its constitutional structure will be a hybrid regime and a hybrid state. My argument is then, with the current trajectory trend, unless we change the current discourse before it is too late, we will end up with hegemonic authoritarian regime. To change the current trend, the role of civic society is paramount to educate the public and to redirect the course of our politics to build our nation to be home of all its’ citizen living in peace and equality without fear.


The social core of reformers constitute unbalanced social make up of our society. What the outcome from that entails will be everyone’s prediction if their discourse continues in the same trajectory. My point is the situation deserves attentions before they took us in to alien territory. The trend of the prospect of change by the reformers will lead us into a state of “hegemonic electoral authoritarian regime” – a hybrid regime of their nature.

Once they manage to put their foot in to the pedestal of the state machine, the political marginalization will be achieved by the combination of police repression and the use of their ideological apparatus as it will be adopted by the elites of the new hybrid regime, for their own legitimization. If somehow they form coalitions, it will be anti-something rather for something. Basically when they form hegemonic and homogeneous coalition, they will rule by coercion as a continuous of the past regime, with limited openness to election and without autonomous civil liberties and civil societies. We have time to change this unwanted trend to avoid “a coalition of dominance” planned for purposes of coercive resources, influence, and status to achieve their objectives. To do that all the established civic organizations must evolve and develop to specific specializations to exert the needed pressure to the process of our politics in order to change the current trend set up on the horizon. Civil society will tackle to the ill defined rules and procedures of democratic process that serves only to the alliance of power and challenge to the degree of pluralism determined by any sitting authoritarian regime in our nation.


[1] Diamond, L. ., “thinking about hybrid regimes”, journal of democracy, 2002.
[2] Diamond L., “thinking about hybrid regimes”, journal of democracy, 2002, pp 13, 21,
[3] Bogaard M., “how to classify hybrid regime: defective democracy and electoral authoritarianism” 2009, pp 16, 399-423.
[4] Karl T. “the hybrid regimes of central America, journal of democracy 6, 72, 1995.
[5] Ekman, J. “political participation and regime stability: A framework for analyzing hybrid regimes, International political science review, pp 30, 7- 31.
[6] Diamond L., Journey of democracy, volume 13, April 2002, pp 21-35, published by John Hopkins’ university press.
[7] Robert Dahl, “ Polyarchy: Participation and opposition”, New haven, Yale University press 1971, pp 33-36.
[8] Juan J. “Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes” Boulder, Colorado, 2000 pp 60
[9] Juan l Lintz, “An authoritarian Regime: the case of Spain”, 1964, Westermarck society, pp 255.
[10] Steven Cook “Ruling but not governing: The Military and Political in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey”, John Hopkins University Press, 2007 pp 6.
[11] Ibid, Steven Cook, pp 15.


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