The dignity revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are ‘political Big Bangs’ that have shocked and awed almost everyone in the world, including the revolutionaries themselves. The Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia (CSWA) is certainly no exception. Until the fall of the Tunisian dictator Ben Ali on 14 January 2011, conventional wisdom – both in the region and beyond – held that Arab autocrats were ‘here to stay’ and that the region was doomed to governance by authoritarian regimes. Against this background, this Hivos CSWA Briefing Note argues that there is a strategic and urgent need for two paradigm shifts and paying attention to six strategic principles when considering the role of Western donors in supporting social changes in MENA.
Despite the daunting challenges and possible setbacks ahead, Hivos believes the dignity revolutions are the start of the reconfiguration of state-society relations in favour of empowered citizens and actors who are determined to fight for and negotiate new social contracts aimed at achieving accountable, inclusive and responsive political and economic systems. Western donors cannot fail to grasp the historicity and strategic momentum of this grassroots movement towards democracy and accordingly accompany tough transitions initiated, led and ultimately determined by the people of the region.