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.