Did Arab World miss chance to democratize?


Palestinian protesters hold signs that read in Arabic "Corruption is the reason for high cost of living" and "High prices and low wages are the policies of the government" during a protest against the high cost of living in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 11, 2012. Palestinain prime minister Salam Fayyad announced cuts to fuel prices and VAT after more than a week of protests across the West Bank over the spiralling cost of living. AFP PHOTO/ABBAS MOMANI (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/GettyImages)

Nearly six years after the Arab Spring began in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, democracy promotion has once again receded on the list of U.S. priorities in the Middle East, notes J. Dana Stuster, who co-authors the Five-Minute MENA Update. Two recent reports suggest the United States is taking its eye off the ball and running the risk of being caught unprepared for a predictable crisis once again, he writes for Lawfare:

The new U.N. Arab Human Development Report (UNAHDR) argues that Arab regimes have only bought a temporary stay against greater instability in the years since 2011. Economic crises and profound wealth inequality have left the region’s youth population adrift with few prospects, while the space for expressing their frustration or engaging in political solutions has narrowed. Without redress of these grievances, another round of destabilizing protests is likely. Brookings Senior Fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes agrees that the status quo is unsustainable in her new report for the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force and offers some policy prescriptions to enhance U.S. leverage for political reforms.

Though the opportunities for the most direct engagement on democratization have narrowed—many Arab governments restrict the operation and funding of NGOs and are deeply suspicious of groups like those supported by the National Endowment for Democracy—other programs that focus on youth leadership, parliamentarians, and the judiciary remain, Stuster adds.


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