Hivos International


Tunisia and the future of democracy promotion in the Arab world

Even as Tunisians struggle to create a new political order, the popular overthrow of Tunisia's dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, is reshaping politics across the Middle East. That's the bad news. Arab regimes have often been criticized as sclerotic and archaic; they are neither. Over the past two decades, they have confronted and overcome a wide range of challenges that have caused authoritarian governments to collapse in many other world regions. Arab regimes have demonstrated their resilience in the past, and they continue to do so in the wake of the Tunisian uprising. If the United States and its allies wish to exploit the Tunisian example to widen processes of democratic change in the Arab world, they will need to adapt as well. Tunisia holds lessons both for Arab autocrats and for Western promoters of democracy. Which lessons turn out to be decisive will depend, if only in part, on whether democracy promoters demonstrate the same flexibility and responsiveness shown by Arab regimes.

Why Tunisia and Not Iran

In Tunisia, a small, homogeneous state on the southern Mediterranean, a popular uprising forced the overthrow of a long-ruling dictator in early 2011. Ruthless repression of mass protests failed. In just one month, Tunisians ousted an entrenched authoritarian regime.

In Iran, a mass uprising that lasted six months was brutally suppressed. The Green Movement of 2009 never became a "Green Revolution." Instead, an entrenched authoritarian regime reasserted its authority. The regime's violent repression succeeded. The opposition was broken, and the regime has since tightened its grip on power.

The Arab 1989?

The uprisings sweeping across the Middle East portend a political transformation as significant as those of 1989. The economic stagnation of the region, the failures of corrupt and repressive autocratic regimes, conjoined with a disenchanted youthful population wired together as never before, have triggered a political struggle few anticipated. Yet 1989 is not an entirely clear point of reference - the emergence of peaceful mass movements of change is a parallel, but the pull of the West, so marked in 1989, is weaker and more complex. Accordingly, the path ahead for these brave, inspiring, challenging movements is more uncertain.

A Tunisian View before the eruption of the “Jasmine Revolution”

Policy Brief Arab Reform Initiative

Read this fascinating policy brief of Arab Reform Initiative (ARI) that was written three weeks before the eruption of the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia. It provides an interesting insight as to why Tunisia was a serious candidate for a stable democracy.

The Algerian time machine

The scene looks familiar. Crowds of youths are raging the capital and other cities, setting fire to government buildings, especially those of the state party. The army cracks down on the protesters, resulting in hundreds of deaths. But eventually the state leader appears on television to promise a multi-party system, fair elections and freedom of the press. The official ideology is declared redundant. This is Algeria……October 1988.

Middle East Events as a Mirror for Experts

Let us start with a confession: in the last couple of months we both wrote articles and made statements claiming that most Arab regimes – including the Gulf monarchies – were steadily in control for a time to come. Regarding such statements, we found ourselves in good company. The notion that authoritarian Arab regimes, especially the existing monarchies, are quite resilient, gained traction in recent years. Authoritarian regimes, the theory goes, are able to 'upgrade' themselves by adapting to changing circumstances and by learning from the experiences of their counterparts. Compared to republics, monarchies are supposed to have even more means at their disposal and are therefore in a more comfortable position to allow a controllable degree of political liberalization. And yes, apparently monarchs have proven to be adroit at handling what Huntington once labeled as the 'king's dilemma'.

Paradoxes of Arab Refo-lutions

Serious concerns are expressed currently in Tunisia and Egypt about the sabotage of the defeated elites. Many in the revolutionary and pro-democracy circles speak of a creeping counter-revolution. This is not surprising. If revolutions are about intense struggle for a profound change, then any revolution should expect a counterrevolution of subtle or blatant forms. The French, Russian, Chinese, Iranian, and Nicaraguan revolutions all faced protracted civil or international wars. The question is not if the threat of counter-revolution is to be expected; the question rather is if the ‘revolutions’ are revolutionary enough to offset the perils of restoration. It seems that the Arab revolutions remain particularly vulnerable precisely because of their distinct peculiarity—their structural anomaly expressed in the paradoxical trajectory of political change.

Syrian Petition for Political Change: A Dramatic Missed Opportunity

Given the atrocities currently committed in Syria and the spectacularly bad press this generates for the regime, one would think that issuing an effective petition calling for political change in this country would be an easy task. All such a petition needs to do is to jump on the bandwagon of rapidly mounting protests and express the deeply felt anger across large sections of the Syrian population. In addition, any serious public appeal would demonstrate that there is a viable alternative to the regime; by way of clever proposals for political change and in reference to an impressive list of signatories from Syria’s brightest and most respected minds.

Observations on Dar’a: Local Roots of the Uprising

Ruben Elsinga argues that we can learn from local perspectives in Dar'a when looking at the Syrian uprising. Dar’a indicates that the true nature of the uprisings sweeping through the Middle East is one in which local politics mix conspicuously with a wider call for greater freedom. Through an understanding of these local specificities one can get clues on how the uprising is going to pan out in Dar’a, Syria and the Middle East at large.

The Arab revolutions: an end to dogma

The popular uprisings in the Arab world are a great disaster for a radical camp led by Syria-Iran and long indulged by media such as al-Jazeera. A great opportunity follows, says Hazem Saghieh.