The optimism experienced at popular prodemocracy mobilization in 2011 has turned to dismay and worry at the metastasizing violence that characterizes today’s Middle East and North Africa, according to Real security: Governance and stability in the Arab world. The future of the region will largely be determined by the quality of governance, not its mere existence, it adds:
Governance that will last, and that positions states to be effective and reliable partners in maintaining regional stability, will have four key characteristics: it will be more inclusive, more transparent, more effective, and more accountable. Liberal democracy is far more likely than any other regime type to exhibit these characteristics, and the hunger for democratic self-government endures today. But the path to democratic government is neither swift nor linear.
Three models contend for dominance in today’s Middle East: fragile democracy (Tunisia); order through savagery (ISIS); and renewed authoritarianism (Egypt under Sisi), the analysis contends:
The latter two models do not offer a stable or successful path for the future of Middle Eastern states. Given the level of violence suffusing the region, the fear and mistrust that suffuse local populations, and the ugly “race to the bottom” underway where extremism and authoritarianism compete as alternative models for Arab governance, it is no surprise that many—publics, elites, and external powers—express a degree of “buyer’s remorse” about the Arab uprisings of 2011. But the breakdown of social trust, particularly in societies now enmeshed in conflict, makes it hard to imagine how a new social contract could be negotiated, established, and implemented. Imposing a new social contract from the top down is unlikely to produce a stable positive outcome.
“The corporatist systems of Arab autocracy, sustained by rents, ideology, and occasional coercion, were challenged at the end of the twentieth century by the emergence of three major forces: a massive demographic bulge of young people on the cusp of adulthood; the push and pull of local economic stagnation and global economic integration; and a radically new information environment generated first by satellite television and then by the Internet and mobile technology,” the report adds. “These forces, in combination, fatally undermined the ability of the region’s governments to deploy ideology, rent-based patronage, and selective coercion to maintain consent for their rule.”
Because of the twin crises of order and authority generated by the regional breakdown, Middle Eastern states will simply not succeed in reestablishing an effective social contract and generating sustainable governance using the same (top-down, exclusionary) model as before, the report continues. To begin repairing trust between citizens and government, and reestablishing the authority of state institutions through consent, governments in the region must focus on several priority areas:
- Ending civil wars is paramount—but so is fixing governance in existing states.
- Inclusive governance and the avoidance of violence demand respect for human rights.
- Prioritize the justice sector.
- Build opportunities for youth participation.
- Cultivate platforms and skills for dialogue and conflict resolution.
- Nurture and elevate civil society.