The Middle East and North Africa are known to be one of the least democratic regions in the world. The authoritarian regimes in the region have demonstrated their adaptability to changing political circumstances, and aspirations for a democratic transition have so far failed to materialise. Yet the lack of democracy in the region should not be mistaken for a rejection by its citizens for such reform. Various opinion polls show that the majority of the population in the region are in favour of democratic government and want their voice to be counted. Furthermore, requests for support from political and civil organisations in the region - for increasing public and political democracy in their societies - underscore this desire.
How to engage in democracy support in the Middle East and North Africa region? This question led to the collaboration between NIMD and Hivos. Our organisations have jointly initiated a fellowship - that was taken up by dr Isam al Khafaji – a research trajectory and arranged a meeting of experts. The present policy paper is the intermediary result of these activities.
This publication aims to explore what role - if any - external organisations, such as ours, can play to further democratisation in the region. The authors of this brief have examined and reflected upon the programmatic opportunities and potential obstacles for engaging in and with the region. By increasing our knowledge of the political landscapes of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and by focusing on potential windows of opportunities or the closings thereof - where increased authoritarianism prohibits possibilities for assistance - we hope to improve our understanding of the dynamics in the region and what could potentially constitute vital building blocks for a programme in the region.