A recent news item on the BBC’s English website neatly captured the sharp contrast in how, five years later, various Arab rulers, citizens and non-Arab observers view the popular uprisings that swept leaders from power in several Arab states and challenged others. The headline read “Arab Spring ‘cost region $600bn’ in lost growth, UN says”, but what the latter actually said differed substantially, notes Yezid Sayigh, a Senior Associate with Carnegie’s Middle East Center:
In its Survey of Economic and Social Developments in the Arab Region 2015-2016 (PDF), the United Nation’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which covers 18 Arab countries, attributed a net loss of $613.8bn in economic activity and an aggregate fiscal deficit of $243.1bn not to the attempt to bring about democratic political transition, but to the armed conflicts now involving nearly a dozen Arab states.
Whether intentionally or not, the BBC’s headline echoes those who portray the chaos and bloodshed suffered by several Arab states since 2011 as the direct result – indeed the essence – of the Arab Spring. But, there was nothing inevitable about this, he adds:
Crucially, decades of authoritarian rule in the Arab states now in crisis or breakdown have eroded their social contracts and constitutional frameworks. As the ESCWA report rightly noted, ruling regimes invested heavily in repressive, bloated security sectors in order to maintain power while budgeting less for social protection, infrastructure and other priorities.
Five years after pro-democracy revolts swept across North Africa and the Middle East, democracy in Arab countries appears more elusive than ever, notes the Project for Middle East Democracy, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy:
With the exception of Tunisia, Arab states are either mired in violent conflict or ruled by authoritarian leaders doubling down on staying in power through repression. Western support for Arab democracy also has waned, and during his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump appeared to reject a role for the United States in advancing human rights abroad. But across the Arab world, the political and economic grievances that ignited the uprisings remain potent, and authoritarian governments are still failing to deliver prosperity, justice, or lasting security for their citizens. Another wave of popular unrest may roil the region, and if pro-democracy forces are unable to lead the demands for change, some fear that Islamic extremist groups could fill that void instead.
POMED’s special forum on December 2 features prominent pro-democracy voices from the Arab world and leading experts on U.S. policy examining regional political trends and the role of democracy advocates in an uncertain and turbulent time.
Panel 1 – Prospects for Democratic Change: Views from the Arab World
10:00 am – 11:00 am
If the best path to long-term security and stability in the Middle East and North Africa is more accountable, legitimate governance, who are the indigenous advocates for democratic reform today and what are their strategies? What lessons have been learned since 2011? How stable are the region’s authoritarian regimes? And what do Arab democracy advocates want and need from the international community during this difficult period?
Moderator: Kim Ghattas, Author and Journalist, BBC News
Amr Hamzawy (right), Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Aboubakr Jamaï, Independent Moroccan journalist
Amira Yahyaoui, Founder of Al Bawsala, a Tunisian transparency NGO
Panel 2 – Supporting Democracy and Human Rights in MENA 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
The incoming U.S. administration is likely to double down on failed strategies of ensuring stability by partnering with repressive regimes. What tools and strategies should U.S. advocates for democracy and human rights in the Arab world use to support genuine democratic change?
Moderator: Michele Dunne, Director and Senior Associate, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
David Kramer, Senior Director for Human Rights and Democracy, McCain Institute
Sarah Margon, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch
Stephen McInerney, Executive Director, Project on Middle East Democracy
Friday, December 2, 2016. 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Avenue, NW RSVP