Tunisia’s Success After the Arab Spring

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Beginning in 2010, the Arab Spring sparked the downfall of four major regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. First to leave power was Tunisia’s longtime dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. He and his wife fled to Saudi Arabia after many of his military and political allies did not back him in face of increasing protests. Shortly thereafter Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, eventually replaced by the first freely elected leader in Egypt, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ali Abdullah Saleh, the President of Yemen, fled to nearby Saudi Arabia after protestors and gunmen took to the streets in the capitol city of Sana’a. Lastly, rebel forces captured and killed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi while he was trying to flee from the crumbling capitol of Tripoli. Despite the promising chances for change in the Arab Spring countries, some fared better than others in the aftermath of the revolution.

Egypt faces many challenges ahead in easing the religious-secularist divide and keeping the military out of politics. Libya has descended into a state of lawlessness, the only real security forces being local militias. Yemen has been plagued by deadly terrorist attacks while stagnating in a political transition. It seems as if Tunisia, despite the slow pace of reforms, has the best prospects for prosperity after the Arab Spring. Currently, secularist and Islamic political leaders are engaged in a clear dialogue. In other words, both sides are “sitting at the negotiating table.”

So why has Tunisia succeeded while others have failed? The answer may lie in three main arenas of political activity: the constitution-writing process, the choices of elites, and the role of the military. Tunisian Islamist and secularist political leaders were able to come to a compromise on the wording of some hotly contested sections of the constitution. Among them was the challenge of how to incorporate religion into the founding document. Two years and two assassinations after the initial constitution was written, the Islamist Ennahda party made a few concessions in this crucial section, breaking the stalemate and allowing the constitution-approving process to go forward. As the New York Times reports, the new Tunisian constitution does not set up an Islamic state or suggest Sharia Law. Instead, the bargain-makers agreed to carefully word the document so that it simply keeps Islam as the official religion of Tunisia.

Ali Larayedh, Tunisia’s prime minister and prominent Ennahda party member, resigned in early January, but as the New York Times reports, the resignation was part of a larger political agreement to get to the next level of negotiations. Larayedh’s resignation denotes a shift in political power away from the Islamists and towards the secularists. It is important to note, though, that this agreement came out of a political strategy and not out of a coup, like in neighboring Egypt. The fact that popular support for Islamists is about equal to popular support for secularists is important to note here. This competition forces the two sides to compromise rather than allowing for one side to overpower the other.

Lastly, the Tunisian military took drastically different steps than the Egyptian military in the aftermath of their respective revolutions. Since Nasser’s Egypt, the military has remained a trusted political institution. When something upsets the political equilibrium in Egypt, many look to the military for leadership. Conversely, in Tunisia the military remains largely apolitical after the Arab Spring. The remnants of Ben Ali’s security forces are disabled, and thus there has not been a reactive “crackdown” like we have seen in Egypt.

Tunisia is still far from being in the clear. Many aspects of political, social and economic life have yet to be settled after the Arab Spring. As the negotiation process continues, we can hope that the Tunisians continue down a path to prosperity, possibly providing a new model for nation building in post-revolutionary nations.


Leaving Libya Behind: Two Years after Qaddafi, One Year after Benghazi

According the the U.N.’s Support Mission in Libya, the country has accumulated the largest known stockpile of man-portable defense systems in the world. There are increasing concerns about the looting and likely proliferation of these portable defense systems and the risk to local and regional stability. (Source: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

This past week marked the second anniversary of the death of dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, captured after an eight-month revolt against his four-decade rule in Libya. Since the country’s liberation, its transitional government has struggled with security issues and has exhibited a woeful need for the assistance of external actors that can strike a balance between smothering the nascent state and idly standing back.

The military intervention in Libya was unique in many respects. The United States, with the crucial and historically unforeseen support of the Arab League, orchestrated Operation Unified Protector, a NATO operation carried out by mostly British and French forces that deployed air strikes and imposed a no-fly zone to prevent Qaddafi forces from attacking civilian areas held by rebels. Most notably, international actors did not deploy post-conflict peacekeeping forces after the operation and have continued to maintain this low-profile approach.

Foreign actors had good reason to limit their role in the early post-conflict stages. Under the aegis of NATO and the United States, international actors have refrained from excessive involvement so as to not undermine the fragile legitimacy of the Libyan authorities—cognizant of the mixed record of United States security assistance—as bloated foreign assistance absent of investments in institutions and people that support local entrepreneurship often leads to poor governance and disincentives for exports.

In contrast with the post-conflict situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the immediate post-war situation in Libya was much calmer. The country’s uprising was a byproduct of the neighboring positive political trends in Tunisia and Egypt. Regional, tribal and other cleavages that were instigated by the 40 year authoritarian regime were temporarily put aside as diverse groups fought against Qaddafi. Key infrastructures were mostly left intact through attentive NATO military planning. And most importantly, the country was also relatively wealthy on account of its energy resources ($14,100 GDP per capita in 2010) and, therefore, less desperate for financial assistance. Richard Weitz, senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute surveys the situation likewise:  “There is a bit of a concern in Washington as well as in Libya itself that the government is seen being … too closely attached to the western powers that intervened militarily to overthrow Qaddafi and so it is better if in public, the government … attacks the US for violence and sovereignty, even if in private they are collaborating with the United States.” It is clear that for Libya to be stable and prosperous in the future, concerted and nuanced international engagement is needed.

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has requested help from Western governments in dealing with a growing number of jihadi groups taking advantage of Libya’s security vacuum, many of whom came in across its porous southern border. David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy visited Libya in 2011. (Source: Reuters)

Libya is devolving into anarchy and observers forecast an oncoming civil war.  Rival factions continue to act autonomously, showing they are the ultimate arbiters in a struggle between rival tribes and radical Islamist leaders. In the past year alone, more than 80 people, many of them high-ranking military and police figures, have been killed in eastern Libya.  Just last week, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped  from the Corinthia Hotel. Upon his release, the premier thanked a rival armed group for his rescue in what can be a harbinger of future threats. The tragic attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on September, 11th, 2012, which resulted in the death of 4 Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens, punctuated the abysmal failure to disarm and reign in the revolutionary brigades into a single national force. It now appears that southern Libya has become a new base for al-Qaeda. Can any type of government be built in such a climate? The sine qua non of post-conflict nation building endures: without a security guarantee on the ground, political and economic goals are unachievable.

When President Obama addressed the nation on Libya in 2011, he said, much to the consternation of some observers: “There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are…In such cases, we should not be afraid to act–but the burden of action should not be America’s alone.  As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action.” Garnering the attention of the international community has been diluted and complicated by the fact that Libya is not pivotal to the geostrategic interests of the United States vis-à-vis Egypt or Afghanistan. On the other hand, Europe’s oil flows are suddenly at risk.

The sine qua non of post-conflict nation building endures: without a security guarantee on the ground, political and economic goals are unachievable.

But this goal is not impossible and now requires imperative action. The Libyan state needs to monopolize the legitimate use of force in order to solidify its sovereignty. Ergo, NATO has recently agreed to a Libyan request to advise it on the strengthening of its security forces, an ancillary engagement that should vitally assist in the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants via a holistic approach that includes financial, social, and security incentives.  Only then can deliberations on the role of shari’a law and the appropriate balance between centralized power in Tripoli and local authorities occur within a constitutional drafting framework. If Libya’s current challenges are handled adroitly, the state could become a valuable partner against al-Qaeda in an increasingly unstable region and a vindication of a less costly approach to nation building where the United States acts at a low cost to defend human rights by putting allies in the lead.  So far these outcomes are only a chimera as states, intergovernmental organizations, and NGOs alike have left Libya behind.

Standing By For the African Standby Force

Basic security and political instability have been significantly impeding African development despite the decades of aid flows to the continent. Security is necessary for sustained economic growth, but it alone does not produce development, rather its absence prevents long term growth from taking place. This, combined with political instability, undermines productivity and prevents the accumulation of private wealth and public sector growth.

Formed in 2002, the African Union is an organization composed of 53 African member states whose ambition is to foster economic integration and regional security among independent African countries. Alongside plans to create an African central bank, human rights commission, and a single African currency by 2023, the AU is also tasked with providing security to the region capable of combating the political instability and security concerns that have historically plagued the continent.

“Political instability at the local level, or conflicts that engulf regions, are together with minimal resources, the main obstacles in the way of the AU reaching the holy grail of Africa’s integration.”

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Uncivil Society

The promise of the “Arab Spring” seems to fade day by day.  Most recently, in a series of concerns regarding the fate of the 2011 revolutions, are the civil society crackdowns underway in both Egypt and Libya.

Leaders of the Egyptian transitional government revived Mubarak’s strict stance on civil society, taking extreme measures against NGOs and civil society organizations.  On December 29th, Egyptian security forces raided seven different NGOs based in Cairo, detaining numerous employees.  The organizations targeted in the crackdown focused specifically on issues of democracy and were supposed to monitor Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections.  Among the Americans detained by the Egyptian government, was Sam LaHood, son of Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation.

Sam (left) and Ray (right) LaHood

The conflict quickly escalated as Egypt proceeded to investigate over 400 unregistered NGOs, accusing them of accepting illegal donations.  In light of these developments, Senator Leahy proposed that U.S. pull its funding from Egypt, an amount totaling to $1.3 billion of military aid.  Egyptian authorities responded, criticizing the U.S. for funding unregistered NGOs, an action that, as a Washington Post article points out, is illegal in all nations. Egyptian authorities also argued that pulling U.S. aid would constitute a breach of the terms of Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, rendering the long-standing agreement invalid. Continue reading

Growth in an Unlikely Place: Tourism in Libya

After more than four decades of repressive rule under Muammar Gaddafi, opposition fighters in Libya have been successful in overthrowing the authoritarian dictator and setting up a more open, democratic society. Though still in its infancy, the new system has shown potential, drawing upon Libya’s valuable natural resources and fairly educated population. Unfortunately, the future is not all roses. The uprising has largely stagnated the Libyan economy, causing a slowdown in industries across the board and a general sense of uncertainty. Libya plans to address this problem, however, in a way that you may not expect.

When one thinks of vacation spots, sandy beaches and warm sunshine probably come to mind— not the dry, wildly varying climate of Libya. A full-fledged promotion of tourism, however, is exactly what the country plans to put into motion. Officials hope that an influx of tourists can help the country take a big step towards economic recovery. Continue reading

Sec-u-lar-ism (n.) –Separation of church and state

– How Prime Minister Erdogan’s revised interpretation of secularism has reignited the debate on the role of religion in Turkey

Prime Minister Recep-Tayyip Erdogan

As the world watched the 20th become the 21st century 11 years ago, the Turkish government strived to reach new levels with their economy and achieve relevancy on the global scale.  Recep-Tayyip Erdogan, former mayor of Istanbul, and current Prime Minister of Turkey was at the forefront of an economic charge that an Islamic nation had yet to achieve.  Once he took the helm of the Turkish government in 2003, Erdogan started to implement a number of reforms that, while difficult to achieve, propelled Turkey into a global economic success.  However, during this time of national economic success, the country has become divided in their support of Erdogan’s view of religion and its role in society. Continue reading

Assad’s Façade is Holding the Country Back

Tour of the Middle East- Part 5: Syria

–          This series of posts will take you on a country by country tour of the Middle East, showing how economic and social development occurs in one of the most unstable regions in the world.

Lebanese protesters react to the death of Rafik Hariri

Since 2003, Syria has been in the international limelight for all the wrong reasons. When former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri was killed in 2005, a watchful international eye was put on the Syrian government for their presumed involvement. Since then, numerous sanctions have been invoked against Syria by a number of countries. Most notably, the United States has deemed Syria a state sponsor of terrorism and has spearheaded the isolation effort. Amid growing domestic unrest about the state of the economy, President Bashar al-Assad, in 2009, directed new initiatives in the attempt to lure foreign investment. Continue reading