New social contracts needed for Arab renewal



Since the 2011 uprisings, the relationship between Arab leaders and citizens has been shifting, say Carnegie analysts Intissar Fakir and Sarah Yerkes. While the initial euphoria and hope of a democratic spring quickly faded, today—nearly eight years later—the anger and frustration that led to revolution, protest, and war persist. Across the region, citizens have grown impatient with governments they perceive as ineffective, corrupt, and unaccountable. This sustained anger and dissatisfaction is driving citizens to find and pursue new paths to reshape their relationship with the state, they write in the Governance chapter of a new Carnegie report, Arab Horizons: Pitfalls and Pathways to Renewal:

Citizens are increasingly turning toward informal mechanisms such as protests and boycotts, and focusing more on specific issues of governance, such as service provision, particularly at the local level. Furthermore, with democracy under threat across the globe, calls for broad democratic reform have been replaced by more basic demands…..In Tunisia, some revolutionaries in the country’s marginalized south and interior regions are reportedly joining the ranks of the Islamic State in Libya or Syria—not because of a shared religious ideology but out of hopelessness, frustration, and a feeling that democratic government has done little to improve their lives.

If any semblance of regional order is to return, citizens and states must forge new social contracts that establish accountability and energize systemic political and economic reform. This means new power dynamics that create checks and balances and submit rent-seekers to genuine competition, adds Perry Cammack.

Internal unrest, regional power struggles, and quarrels between neighboring states are likely to endure in this region, which is struggling to find a new equilibrium as its decades-old economic models and social contracts lose salience, adds Cammack and fellow Carnegie analyst Michele Dunne [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy]. But nothing dictates that these problems translate into large-scale armed conflicts that bring about horrific human suffering and the destruction of state institutions, as well as spillover into neighboring regions.

The 2011 Arab uprisings and ensuing conflicts demonstrate that piecemeal reforms are not enough and that military interventions seldom produce positive outcomes. Arab Horizons is based on the premise that citizens and states must forge new social contracts to address massive challenges. The five reports collectively argue for a new approach built upon the following building blocks:

  • NEW INVESTMENTS. In the twenty-first century, success is measured not by resource wealth but by human capital. Citizens are not subjects to be controlled but vital stakeholders in the transformation of their societies.
  • NEW ACCOUNTABILITY. Prosperous societies require new norms of accountability, both within states and between them. Achieving it requires confronting patronage networks which dominate many Arab societies.
  • NEW INSTITUTIONS. To be effective, Arab governing institutions need to build capacity, efficiency, and transparency. New arrangements are necessary to allow local governments greater latitude in managing their own affairs.
  • NEW INCENTIVES. New incentive structures are needed that reward merit, innovation, and initiative over personal connections and nepotism, and that promote new norms of state behavior.


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