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.

When All Else Falls, Remittances Rise

After the recent military ousting of president Morsi by the Egyptian military, the US has decided to put a cap on military aid to the tumultuous country. This is not the first time. Back in August, the U.S. had cut some of its economic aid to the Egyptian government. Cutting off military aid may have a louder effect, considering military aid to Egypt greatly  surpasses economic aid. Thus far, the Egyptian government has been expectedly peeved in response to these actions.

With government aid in the news, it’s relevant to look at some of the other financial flows to Egypt. At CGP, we try to get a more complete picture of foreign assistance by looking at investment, philanthropy, and remittances.

With the recent turmoil, investment, the most fickle of the four flows, has subsided after the sharp rise in the spring of 2013. Much of this earlier rise came from neighboring Arab nations, after Europe and the US pulled out. Since the military takeover, sources suggest that all in all FDI has dried up and billions have been lost.

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“Think and Do”: The Role of Think Thanks in Emerging Democracies

Think tanks help to bridge the gap between research and decision making. Their work often helps not only policymakers but also the public at large to better understand and resolve the problems that most affect their country. However, even in the best of conditions, think tanks struggle to pass needed policy improvements. Obstacles that afflict think tanks in established democracies prove an even greater challenge to those working to advance government accountability in the developing world. 

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) recently hosted a panel to promote a new report conducted by its Network of Democracy Research Institutes (NDRI), which studied the progress of think tanks in nine emerging democracies. Members of the panel included report contributors Orazio Bellettini, the executive director of the Ecuadorian Grupo FARO and Sami Atallah, the executive director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS). Commentators were Sally Roshdy from the Egyptian One World Foundation and Maksim Karliuk from the Belarusian Institute for Security Studies. Christopher Walker of NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies chaired the event.

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Can Merit-Based Aid Encourage Better Behavior?

Foreign aid plays a critical role in the international sphere. If it is given in a prudent manner, it can provide much needed disaster relief, stimulate economic growth, save lives, and provide a better future for developing countries. Developmental assistance is by no means a cure-all for poor countries, but it can do a world of good.

The inevitable outcome of foreign aid?

At the same time, however, the regime that governs foreign aid is not perfect. One of the strongest criticisms of foreign aid is that it can actually hinder development, subsidizing inefficiency and fueling corruption. The argument holds a certain degree of validity: if foreign aid is not given in a manner that promotes good governance and economic development, it can do more harm than good. On many occasions, aid has been given to undemocratic countries, propping up autocratic regimes. Critics of aid programs are quick to point to misuses of aid under Mubarak’s Egypt, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, or Sen’s Cambodia.

Donors of aid are well aware of the fact and have taken measures to guard against potential abuses. The most popular response has been conditionality, the practice of linking the disbursement of aid to a set of predetermined conditions. Countries that do not meet the minimum thresholds for market reforms and human rights protection may find themselves in danger of losing their aid. While it’s a good idea in theory, it hasn’t been very effective: as it turns out, ex ante conditionality gives little leverage over recipient countries and the conditions are often ignored. Aid donors such as the U.S. are often timid to cut aid because the recipients are pivotal parts of national security strategies and pulling the trigger would produce an unwanted backlash. Continue reading

Reverse Perestroika: Russian Regulation of NGOs

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Over the course of the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that unleashed a new wave of regulations on the nation’s 220,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Passed by the upper house of parliament earlier in July, the legislation will force NGOs that engage in “political activity” and receive funding from abroad to register with the government and file detailed reports of the organization’s activities. Failure to comply with the provisions carry fines up to $9,000 or 2 years in prison. The measures have revived the controversy concerning the transparency of the Russian government and its commitment to democratic institutions.

A reaction to some of the largest anti-government protests since the fall of the USSR, the law was intentionally designed to restrict and suppress opposition political activity, a long-term goal of Putin’s United Russia party. The government, marred by allegations of electoral fraud and widespread corruption, intentionally designed the policy to restrict certain avenues of political speech and expression. Like the recent NGO bans and regulations in Egypt, Libya, and Zimbabwe, Russia’s NGO law will weaken dissent and the establishment of viable competition in the political arena. Continue reading

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