Hivos International

Democracy

This policy brief paper argues that democracy without Islamists is now inconceivable in the Middle East. Their exclusion from any democratic process would put the legitimacy and sustainability of the entire process at stake.

However, merely lifting the barriers to inclusion is not enough to cure the region’s persistent democratic deficit. It is necessary to revisit socio-economic structures, broaden participation and implement comprehensive transitional justice processes that confer legitimacy on emerging political systems. Even among radicals, such measures can help reduce the incentives for resorting to violence. Among organisations committed to engagement, they can help transcend ideological dogmas.

Gender equality is missing from most of the studies on transition processes in Syria. This gender gap in transition planning prompted the publication of this policy brief by IFE-EFI and Hivos. The insights are based on more than two years of debate between Syrian women’s rights activists both inside and outside Syria and our common work bringing together researchers, activists and policymakers from Syria and internationally. 

At the height of the Gulf’s financial prowess and regional political clout, Europe faces the dilemma of how to engage with the ruling regimes without condoning their reactionary policies towards domestic reform. An undercurrent of dissatisfaction ferments in pockets of the Gulf’s population. Consistency with the stated European support for transitions elsewhere in the Arab world and real politik arguments demand a more nuanced EU approach to the Gulf States.

This article is a summary of the book Civil Society and Democratization in the Arab World (Routledge, 30th September 2010).

This book illustrates that the popular view in political sciences and policy making that civil society activism plays an important role in processes of democratization is for many reasons not valid for Arab countries. Building on Jamal’s work (2007), this study by Francesco Cavatorta and Vincent Durac discusses the authoritarian and sectarian wider political context of countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Yemen and Lebanon. These contexts have specific effects that tend to move away from the conventional wisdom that civil society activism generates democratizing trends. More significantly, civil society activism in authoritarian and sectarian settings strengthens the authoritarian regimes.

Crisis is a much-overworked word in social sciences generally and in politics in particular. Phrases such as ‘democracy promotion is in crisis’ or ‘civil society can never be a force for democratization’ are simplistic overstatements. However, one cannot deny that there are serious challenges on the road to democratization, both of a conceptual and of a practical nature. The second issue of the newsletter of Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia deals with the challenges faced by the concept of civil society and the much-debated concepts in the ‘democratization industry’.

Crisis is a much-overworked word in social sciences generally and in politics in particular. Phrases such as ‘democracy promotion is in crisis’ or ‘civil society can never be a force for democratization’ are simplistic overstatements. However, one cannot deny that there are serious challenges on the road to democratization, both of a conceptual and of a practical nature. The second issue of the newsletter of Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia deals with the challenges faced by the concept of civil society and the much-debated concepts in the ‘democratization industry’.

This publication is part of the working paper series of the Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia. 

The uprisings in the Arab world had not even been in full swing before various political agendas scrambled to appriopriate them. Many opinions appear to be caught up in clichés and analyses colored by blatant attemps to only see self-serving and worn-out world perspectives confirmed. It is against this background that sobering and thorough academic research on the origins and nature of the Arab uprisings gains urgent value.

This publication is part of the working paper series of the Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia. 

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.

The political landscape of the Middle East is undergoing its most dramatic transformation in sixty years. Through the force of popular uprisings, consolidated authoritarian regimes have been overthrown in Tunisia and Egypt. Popular militias are pushing toward the overthrow of Muammar alQadhafi in Libya. In every other country from Morocco to Iran governments confront popular demands for democratic political change.

While celebrating a historic turning point in Egypt and Tunesia, it is also clear that authoritarianism will remain a prominent feature of Middle East politics. The spectrum of regime types in the region will expand. It may even come to include democracies. Yet as the cases of Syria and Iran demonstrate, not all regimes will experience political openings. Eventhough the region might be transformed in the years ahead, the cases of Syria and Iran remind us that the political landscape of the Middle East will retain familiar and troubling features. This paper presents some key parameters for a rethinking of democracy and reform promotion in this part of the region.

This publication is part of the working paper series of the Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia.

This policy paper provides unique perspectives from Middle Eastern   activists who are part of popular protests across the region. The   recommendations are based on their perspectives and addressed to the EU   at large European Commission, the Dutch government and  Non-Governmental  Organisations in order for them to best support the  democratic  transitions in the region.

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