Hivos International


In this Special Bulletin, Mariwan Kanie maps out the main debates in the Middle East on Middle Eastern transitions. Making sense of the new Middle East is not an easy endeavor. Since the start of the Tunisian uprising on December 17, 2010, the region has been the scene of complex, revolutionary and rapid transitions that defy conventional knowledge and wisdom.

The scope of these shifts and the speed with which they occur surprise even seasoned local analysts in the region and beyond. We believe the insights of this Special Bulletin are relevant to a broad, international audience of academics, practitioners, policymakers, journalists and opinion makers who do not speak and read Arabic and, hence, do not have access to important local knowledge on transitions.

Hivos is proud and pleased to present this special bulletin on the role of Shia clergy in the transition to democracy in Iran. The contributions in this special bulletin present  unique insider perspectives on the potential and limitations of Shia clergy to foster the development of a democratic Iran.

Five Iranian experts - four of whom are clerics – provide informed and in-depth insights into how the Iranian Shia clergy views the relationship between Shia Islam and  democracy and how this relationship could transform in the future.

The Relevance of a Presidential Electoral System in Syria

First Publication of Hivos and SRCC by Rouba Al-Fattal Eeckelaert

Based on the political needs of Syria, a Presidential system is still the best for the future of the country. That said, people’s demands can best be met with a customized Presidential system.

A New Quota System for Syria

Second Publication of Hivos and SRCC by Rouba Al-Fattal Eeckelaert

Since the Assad family took power, they promoted a secular identity for the Syrian state in an attempt unify diverse communities in a region where sectarian conflict is endemic - as seen in neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq. However, Hafez Assad also concentrated power in the hands of his family and members of the Alawite community, who wield a disproportionate power in the Syrian government, military and business elite. Claims of corruption and nepotism have been common among the excluded Sunni majority which explains why the current protests have generally taken place in Sunni-dominated rural areas and towns and cities, as opposed to mixed areas.

Syria’s Electoral Reforms: Myths and Facts

Third Publication of Hivos and SRCC by Rouba Al-Fattal Eeckelaert

The Syrian people need to reject the new constitution because it comes from the point of lost political and moral legitimacy, it comes under continuous violence, and it does not fit Syria's future.

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.

The American military interventions in Iraq  and Syria against Islamic State have brought President Obama full circle. He started out his first term with the clear purpose of extricating the United States from ten years of military involvement in the Middle East and putting an end to what he regarded as an overblown focus on the ‘global war on terror’. Now he finds himself drawn into warfare again, re-applying a counterterrorism lens to the region.

The outstanding result women achieved in the Tunisian legislative elections held on 26 October 2014 (31 per cent of seats in the Assembly), marks a new milestone in Tunisia’s modernist tradition and confirms its pioneering position in the Arab region with regard to women’s rights and their participation in public life.

Having managed to overcome and reconcile their various cultural and ideological differences in the drafting of a constitution that further advances their rights, Tunisian women now face the challenge of turning this legal theory into concrete political practice.

Like their Islamist counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia, Morocco’s Party of Justice and Development (PJD) rode the 2011 wave of popular protests to become the largest party in parliament. Moreover, unlike Islamists elsewhere, they have managed to buck the regional trend by remaining in government. 

The PJD is in the midst of a drawn-out transition to democracy with no other option but to negotiate, compromise and constantly reassure the Moroccan monarchy that its most vital interests are not being threatened. So far, the party seems to have maintained its cohesion and edge over the political opposition, but the hardest work of the democratic transition has not yet started.

Abdelfattah El-Sisi, the former chief of Egypt's Armed Forces, is expected to easily win the Egyptian presidential elections at the end of May. The military dominates Egyptian politics, which is hindering Egypt’s transition to democracy, and has two operating modes: a ‘stability mode’ to defend its own institutional interests, and a ‘crisis mode’ in which defending the state is the priority. The Egyptian military should avoid ‘fighting the last war’ by only focusing on preserving state institutions; it should also enable reform of those institutions and create space for new political actors.