The Struggle for Democracy in Turbulent Times
Practical Solutions for U.S. Policy
CSID Fifteenth Annual Conference
Opening Session: Dr. William Lawrence’s Welcoming Remarks:
Thank you for attending the 15th annual conference of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID). From the beginning, CSID has promoted dialogue between all parties and political viewpoints. It played a central role in Tunisian constitutional development and democracy-building from before the revolution. Today we will continue to talk about Islam and democracy–CSID’s bread and butter–in the context of the crisis in Syria, the political situation in Egypt, the crisis in Libya, and the fragile success in Tunisia and about the implications for U.S. policy.
Democracy is fragile. As Plato said, dictatorship can arise naturally from democracy; aggravated forms of tyranny and slavery can arise from extreme liberty. Plato warned us that democracy needs nurturing. If you google the definition of timocracy–one of Plato’s five types of regimes, in which property and power is valued above other motivations–you will see something that resembles negative trends in many democracies, and where governance can go astray. Samuel Huntington, who wrote Clash of Civilizations in the 1990s-against which thousands of PhD dissertations have been written-previously wrote a better work titled The Third Wave about the new wave of global democratization-a book which came back in vogue with the Arab spring-and wrote an even better earlier work in 1968, Political Order in Changing Societies. which was Huntington at his best and which is more relevant for today and this conference.
In the latter book, Huntington talked about the social change that creates demand for democracy, produces revolution, and leads to tipping points. He talked about how shortly after revolutions countries can tip towards democracy or tip away from it. The main reason countries tip away from democracy is a lack of institutional development. This is a very important idea for us, because today we have democratically enthused populations-about which Plato was concerned when they expect to too much or go too far-and we have rapid social change about which Huntington warned which provokes revolutions, and yet institutions in these countries which are not ready for those changes. This is one reason there is a need for international inputs to help with the changes. And there is no validity to the claim oft heard-from Egyptians, for example-that “We have tasted freedom, and we can’t go back.” That’s not true. If you read Huntington, any regime can go back, and worse.
The remedy for much of this, for Plato and others, was education. But I have often heard in the Arab world, “Arabs aren’t ready for democracy because they are not educated. We need education before we can have democracy.” Every time I hear this I think of my ancestor who fought in the American Revolution who was a farmer from Groton, Massachusetts, and didn’t have much education nor did many of his illiterate minutemen brethren. If he was ready for democracy back then, why can’t these very educated MENA populations be ready for democracy now?
Phillip Gordon, Special Assistant to President Obama and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and Gulf Region, opened the conference by commending CSID President Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, Dr. Lawrence and all of CSID for its very timely and “particularly well-named” conference. He began by noting that “repressive autocratic regimes” have proved durable, but ultimately fail over the long run because they don’t provide their populations “with the economic, social, and political opportunities they need to create the lives that they want.” He stated that successful democratic transitions are “hardly guaranteed” and are not smooth and linear, and that elections alone cannot guarantee stability.
Powerful forces across the region are trying to maintain an old order or dominate new orders that are emerging. Following what was in some respects “irrational exuberance” in 2011, while it was too easy to be optimistic then, it is too easy to be pessimistic now and to “overshoot” by interpreting that we are simply returning today to pre-revolutionary repression. U.S. support for democracy is not simply an expression of its values; it is also important for U.S. national security, because more respect for human rights and democracy is the antidote to instability and grievances that fuel terrorism. Gordon reaffirmed U.S. support for Tunisia and lauded its accomplishments “based on compromise and inclusion.” He insisted that while no country was a model for another, Tunisia had set an important example of inclusivity, inclusivity lacking in Egypt. The U.S. has called on the last several Egyptian leaders to respect human rights and govern in the interests of all Egyptians, which he said Mubarak, the SCAF, and Morsi had all failed to do. He called on Egypt not to “exclude large segments of the population” and to respect “rule of law, civil liberties, and open political discourse.”
Mr. Gordon expressed U.S. commitment to supporting Libya’s transition, including efforts at reconciliation and mediation to reduce violence and overcome political polarization. All groups that renounce violence and agree to democratic rules should be fully included in political processes, whether in Iraq, Libya, or Egypt, and to this end the U.S. had suspended some military assistance to Egypt indicate U.S. desire for more inclusivity and outreach.
U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat from Minnesota and the first Muslim member of the Congress, congratulated conference attendees for involving themselves in “one of the most important issues in the world today.” He noted that after years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans have begun turning their backs on international affairs, so a dedicated group of concerned individuals needs to help refocus U.S. efforts on foreign affairs including advocacy for democracy across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). These issues require citizens “driving the issues” by developing strategies and campaigns, discussing, advocating, organizing, and convincing other Americans and their representatives that the U.S. should promote and assist democracy in MENA.
Congressman Ellison called for much higher levels of financial support for Tunisia and the creation of a $770 million MENA incentive fund.
He called Tunisia a “bright light in a darkened sky” and an “iconic symbol” not only for Tunisians, but also for the region and for the United States. Tunisia’s success will help protect hope and optimism; the Tunisian flame needs to be protected and stoked for everyone’s sake. He also underscored the importance of direct U.S. congressional relations with the Tunisian National Constituent Assembly (NCA).
Rep. Ellison advocated for a constructive and well-considered U.S. actions in Iraq including mediation between the various factions and possibly making inclusive governance a precondition for some forms of U.S. assistance.
On Syria, he advocated greater U.S. involvement in humanitarian protection of innocents whether or not it would require the removal of Bashar al-Assad or his involvement in the actions and even if it would involve working with Iran. The U.S.’s long-term strategy should be to stand everywhere for rule of law and orderly transition of government, even if it pays a short term price for doing so. It is too limited to base U.S. relationships on how countries relate to Israel, how they serve U.S. energy needs, and how they deal with terrorists. The U.S. needs to expand the depth and breadth of its relationships. The U.S. also needs to pressure its ally Egypt to hold further elections on par with international standards and to release prisoners such as hunger striking U.S. citizen Mohamed Sultan.
Democracy, he said, is not just about elections but also about protection of civil society. He said that Egyptian-Americans in particular need to gather and come up with a better approach to dealing with Egyptian social inclusion, including the treatment of Christians. He said that Sisi’s conflation of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Al Qaida, along with the coup that brought him to power, would actually strengthen, not weaken, Al Qaida. He said that it is “devastating to the democratic process” to allow violent extremists to be able to claim that the powers that be do not honor electoral outcomes.
PANEL 1: Egypt’s Derailed Transition:
Finding a Way Forward
Chair: Mokhtar Awad, Center for American Progress
Dr. Emad Shahin, public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and renowned political scientist presented his “Five Messages Sisi Must Hear.” Underlying these points was the need for comprehensive national reconciliation and for political rivals to talk to each other in order for Egypt to move forward. First, the low turnout in the elections was a clear indication of Sisi’s inflated and fabricated popularity. Second, important prerequisites for any free and fair election were missing in Egypt’s elections, including basic freedom of expression, serious and credible alternatives, and the neutrality of the state. Third, there is no clarity about who controls the state, and there is some evidence that Sisi may not be in full control of the “state machine.”
To solve that problem, Amr Musa is working to rebuild a coalition and establish a new party to help Sisi consolidate his power. Fourth, there is lack of vision and real understanding of Egypt’s economic and social crisis. Fifth, Egyptians will no longer accept the model of “president for life,” and young Egyptians for the most part boycotted the elections and will no stay silent forever.
Dr. Dalia Fahmy, Assistant Professor at Long Island University, delivered a presentation titled “Democracy Derailed: Moving Beyond the Ballot Box.” In it, she argued that what is happening in Egypt is not “damage done to democracy,” but a redefinition of authoritarian rule and an institutionalization of the deep state.
The changing reality requires a new way of thinking about three elements. The first is the closing of the political space, such as the new constitution and new laws make it hard for political opposition groups to be formed. Second is the elimination of public dissent, such as harsh sentences handed down to protesters, new policies requiring interior ministry approvals for any political gathering, and tight controls over mosques and preachers. Third is the removal of the trappings of democracy, such as the fact that the order of Egyptian elections was reversed to allow the presidential elections to preceded the parliamentary ones, allowing President Sisi to set the requirements for the elections to follow. This consolidated security, legislative, and executive powers in Sisi’s hands.
For the U.S., the strategic value of Egypt lies primarily in its role as chief negotiator vis-à-vis Israel, along with other security and diplomatic functions in the region. She said that Egypt under any leadership would be unlikely to abandon those commitments. While for decades the U.S. had sacrificed democracy for the sake of stability, the Arab uprisings proved that in the long run stability without democracy was unsustainable.
She concluded by recommending three strategic transformations. First, that the U.S. commit itself to democratic values and not just talk about them. Second, that the U.S. support civil society actors committed to democratic reforms and inclusion. Third, that the U.S. adopt the view and narrative that when democracy wins, terror loses, and that change through democratic means is better than change through violence and terror.
Boston University’s Yasser El-Shimmy delivered remarks titled “Egypt’s Quest for Itself” in which he opined that the crisis in Egypt extends beyond the political system and actors to the failure of the state to fulfill its “social contract” and provide services to the Egyptian people. They have been placed under tremendous stress due to this breakdown in service delivery during the last two and a half years.
Dr. El-Shimmy explained that Egypt is going through a historical transformation and that various groups are trying to redefine what Egypt means from its own perspective or ideological angle. The military like the regime in place adopts more of an emphasis on national security, and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) emphasizes the states role in Arab and Muslim politics. However, the wider society is interested in a state the delivers at least a minimum of services and which addresses high unemployment, high inflation, and low GDP.
The sooner we realize that Egypt and its people are not unified in their assessment of what is wrong or in their objectives on how to fix it, as many of us would like to believe, the sooner we can begin to address the divergent needs of each point of view and can learn how to co-exist.
Dr. Abdul Mawgoud Dardery–former Egyptian parliamentarian and Spokesman of the Freedom and Justice Party’s foreign relations committee and one of the party’s founders–began his talk by thanking the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy for its work and expressing the hope that one day Islamic democracy will replace dictatorship in the Middle East and in Egypt.
Dr. Dardery declared that a democratic Egypt is not only good for Egypt, but it is good for the region and for the whole world. He thanked Egyptians for boycotting the elections in significant numbers, as high as 85%, and for sending a message that they want freedom, social justice, and a resumption of the democratic process. Many inside and outside Egypt were surprised at the low turnout, and it was obvious that those that participated in the elections were military families and those close to the regime.
The main reason that Egyptians had taken to the streets in 2011 and stayed home during the 2014 elections was their insistence on democracy, and not just on deteriorating economic conditions in the country. In order to achieve stability, economic prosperity, and social justice, we must begin by addressing the political crisis in the country that was caused by a counter-revolution led by the deep state. Egyptians, he said, have had enough of cronyism, corruption, and humiliation and the colonial divide-and-rule tactic of “with me or against me.” Dardery said Egypt has three options. First, an anti-coup coalition is calling for constitutional legitimacy and insisting that the military and security forces stay out of politics and let the people elect a new president and parliament. A second coalition blames the MB for not being faithful to the revolution after they were elected and is calling for revolutionary legitimacy–a new revolution that will realize the aspirations of the people. A third camp is calling for the return to the democratic transitional phase that existed before the July 2013 coup.
All three options require reconciliation among political factions and the military. In addition, three preconditions must be met for any of the options to succeed. First the military must stay out of politics. Second, South Africa-style transitional justice must be initiated. Third, the US must engage with all political parties. Everyone must realize that Egypt cannot have stability and prosperity without democracy.
Panel 2: International Responsibilities in Syria
Chair: Barbara Slavin, The Atlantic Council
Recent U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, currently a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, presented his views in a talk titled “Short and Long Term Solutions to the Syria Crisis.” Ford outlined that one short-term strategy advanced by U.S. Syria expert Joshua Landis, Iran, and some voices in the international press is to expand local ceasefires, eventually to extend ceasefires across the country. However, problems or challenges with this approach include that, first, the ceasefires concluded so far have been rooted in al-Assad’s “starve or surrender” policy, which would be a reprehensible basis for a solution. Second, the regime has not allowed cross-border humanitarian operations even where there were ceasefires (with one exception in Qamishli, and even then the mission was tightly controlled). Third, the al-Assad regime would be unlikely to agree to ceasefires if it meant that rebel fighters would remain in place. Fourth, monitoring ceasefire lines would be difficult, and assembling a UN-led peacekeeping force monitor ceasefires would likely take as long as six months.
In short, the ceasefire-expansion approach would be very difficult but not impossible. However, ceasefire lines, if not porous enough, could result in a de facto partition, which no one is advocating. Ford argued that a better approach than a potential de facto partitioning would be to form a new government for the entire country that both sides would accept. In order to get to a new government, first one has to understand that it will be hard to get al-Assad out now given that he has been re-elected and is firmly entrenched in Damascus. However, it might be possible to leave al-Assad in power for the short term, but make changes in control of ministries and the security services as a part of a transitional government so that power would not remain entirely in his hands. One argument for this is that Syria already needs special security arrangements, especially positioned at the fault lines between different communities.
Following that, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other opposition groups would need to be incorporated into the Syrian military, with one strategic imperative being the struggle against common enemies Al Qaida and the Islamic State (which have claimed parts of Syria and proclaimed two new caliphates). Finally, there could be transitional elements, such as a new constitution, new elections, and transitional justice. Any short-term solution that addresses long term political problems would be more likely to be successful and sustainable.
Mohamed Ghanem, Senior Political Advisor for the Syrian American Council and Board Member of the Coalition for a Democratic Syria, gave a presentation titled “America Can Stop the ‘Barrel Bombs’ in Syria.” He painted a dire picture of the conflict and humanitarian situation, with tragic images of slaughtered school children and 40 barrel bombs per day dropped on the city of Aleppo. Each barrel bomb can cause hundreds of casualties. Barrel bombs have caused over 20,000 deaths. They terrorize civilian populations and–too imprecise to use at the front lines of conflict for risk of friendly fire–are generally dropped from high altitudes on civilian areas out of range of opposition weaponry.
Ghanem argued that barrel bombs are a threat to U.S. national security because the borders of the Islamic State (IS) now extends from close to Baghdad in the east to Aleppo, Syria, in the west. Free Syrian forces scored victories against the IS in January 2014, and besieged IS’s headquarters in the eastern Syrian town of Raqqa. However, the FSA could not continue fighting both al-Assad and IS without incurring major loss of territory to al-Assad, and so opted to reduce its conflict with the IS, while al-Assad turned his focus on the militarily weaker FSA. By Ghanem’s logic, it is al-Assad’s barrel bombs and the FSA’s lack of antiaircraft weaponry that gave IS’s a free hand to take over much of Iraq. In other words, barrel bombs weaken moderate Syrian rebel forces, making Iraq and Syria territorial grabs possible.
The West’s problematic arguments used to refuse higher tech weaponry to the FSA–that the weapons might fall in the wrong hands–backfired. And by weakening the FSA, the IS was then empowered to the point that it could seize up to 200 American Humvees in Iraq and even helicopters. To combat the growing IS threat and terrorism in general, it has become a moral and strategic imperative for the U.S. to arm moderate “vetted” Syrian rebels.
George Mason University Director of Middle East Studies and founding editor of JadaliyyaBassam Haddad in a presentation titled “Syria and the Idea of an International Community” asserted that the conflict in Syria had reached a “destructive equilibrium of sorts” in which no side can be decisively defeated militarily in the short term. With 9.5 million displaced Syrians, half of the population in need of urgent aid, and well over 150,000 killed, the conflict has transitioned from a conflict about Syria to a conflict over Syria, a globalized and complex “web of struggles”; the war has become a grand geopolitical struggle with a limited role for the population. The uprising has died, and the “precious civilian component” of Syrian politics has been drowned out by violence.
Those struggling over Syria have no credibility because of previous collusion with the al-Assad regime, so by extension no concern for Syrian welfare. This includes the United States, which has a deplorable and brutal record in the region at odds with its own values and interests. Haddad questioned the notion of an “international community,” which he characterized as a small group of nations that spring to action around the U.S and a handful of its closest allies. The efforts of the U.S. and its Gulf allies in Syria have been destructive, concerned primarily with toppling al-Assad rather than building a new Syria. The U.S.’s “moderate” Syrian allies have even been congratulating Sisi for his victory, while Sisi jails and kills the Egyptian opposition. Failures in Syria to put the population first have also “wittingly or unwittingly” strengthened takfiri groups that wish to repeat their Iraq scenario in Syria (and now back in Iraq). U.S. support for the Saudi crackdown in Bahrain also indicates a lack of serious U.S. support for democracy, and its preference for geopolitics and for protecting world energy supplies. The U.S. is in fact benefitting by seeing its enemies, the al-Assad regime, Hezbollah, Iran, and Al Qaida deplete their strength in Syria (albeit at the expense of the entire Syrian population).
The solution in the U.S. is for Americans not to believe what they hear about intermittent and questionable humanitarian impulses on Syria and to force their government to stop supporting authoritarian regimes throughout MENA.
Najib Ghadbian, Special Representative to the United States of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, gave a presentation titled, “The Prospects of a Political Solution: Can Obama Save Syria?” In response to the previous presentations, Ghadbian called the prospects for a political solution “grim.” One reason was the fact that “peaceful change” that may have been possible in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt (despite the counter revolution in the latter) were not possible in Libya, Iraq, or Syria, due to the extreme brutality of those regimes. The Syrian regime has used every kind of crime against humanity from barrel bombs to chemical weapons, and from torture until death to starvation as a weapon. The Syrian conflict also had more regional and global dimensions than what happened in the other Arab spring countries, even though the initial uprising was genuinely by Syrians and was not fomented by foreign powers, and it was the Syrian government that militarized the conflict by killing Syrian opponents. The militarization of the uprising was also caused by defections from the army and the taking up of arms by young Syrians overwhelmed with brutal slaughter.
Following the UN Security Council veto over Syria, the Friends of Syria was formed in Tunisia, starting with 61 countries and now boasting 114. Only three and a half countries are supporting al-Assad, Iran, the Maliki government of Iraq, Russia, and Hezbollah, but these supporters are doing more than the friends of Syria. Failure of the 114 friends to support the moderate opposition led directly to the success of the IS, which then ironically became a new reason not to support the moderate opposition. Even the UN chemical weapons deal, which was good for the country, failed to hold the regime accountable for any of its heinous uses of chemical weapons that killed some 1400 Syrians.
Both political and humanitarian solutions, the latter already provided for under UNSC resolution 2139, need only the political will of the United States to be implemented. In answer to Ambassador Ford’s idea that a political solution might include keeping al-Assad in place for a period, Ghadbian responded that any solution to the Syrian conflict must begin with the departure of al-Assad and his family. He added that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had cautioned Syrian oppositionists not to count on the West, but also indicated that Russia would relent if faced by strong, organized opposition from the West.
Award Luncheon Banquet
Lessons from the Tunisian Transition – National Dialogue and Consensus Building
‘MUSLIM DEMOCRAT OF THE YEAR 2014’ AWARD
CSID President Radwan Masmoudi kicked off the award banquet by welcoming the assembled guests to the 15th annual conference luncheon and by recalling that CSID had been founded with the knowledge that building democracy in the Arab world would be a long-term objective. Central to this task would be dialogue, compromise, consensus-building, and coalition-building among all concerned parties–but especially between Islamists and secularists. Neither side could do it alone, and neither side would succeed without the other. Democracy is both a core value and in everyone’s interest, more than ever. Without democracy, there would be no future, no stability, no development, and no peace.
Disappointing news from Egypt and Syria should not cause despair or loss of hope, but should increase persistence and resolve. Powerful forces were aligned against democracy, and the battle would be long and hard. CSID has remained a non-partisan advocate for democracy and would work with all parties that believe in democracy. But between dictatorship and democracy, he assured the guests, “We are not neutral.” Only dialogue can lead to a real partnership, and only real partnership can build democracy. In difficult times, there is “no going back to authoritarianism… The days of oppressive regimes are over.”
The people of the MENA region will not accept dictatorship again. In the new age of instant access to information, young people will not accept to live under oppressive regimes whether Islamist or secularist. Young people want to live in freedom, in dignity, and in democracy, and they are willing to pay the price for freedom and democracy. Oppressive regimes have failed miserably and have caused current crises in the Arab world, and they will fail again. And the U.S. must take a clear, principled and unequivocal stand against dictatorship.
Tunisia is a bright light and represents the Arab world’s best hope. CSID has consecrated itself almost entirely to Tunisia’s success for three years, organizing over 80 workshops and conferences on the constitution. The process of building consensus and find compromise around a constitution for all Tunisians took two years, but it was well worth it. In the end, the constitution was adopted by over 200 of 216 members of parliament, representing over 20 political parties.
William Roebuck, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Maghreb and Egypt Affairs congratulated Dr. Masmoudi and CSID for organizing an “outstanding event” and for emphasizing themes that are important to policymakers and to the U.S. government, including dialogue and inclusiveness. He “strongly endorsed” the idea that promoting democracy is usually “a long struggle” that requires “a lot of people working at it.” He agreed that Tunisia is the best hope for democratic transition in the Arab world, which is why the United States is working closely with the government and the people to ensure success by laying the foundation for political stability and economic prosperity.
He congratulated Tunisia for passage in May of a new electoral law, leading to fresh elections before the end of 2014. He called the January 26 passage of the Tunisian constitution a “landmark event” both for Tunisia and the international community. The constitution, one of the most progressive in the Arab world, enshrines rule of law, pluralism, separation of powers, good governance, independence of the judiciary, freedom of belief, freedom of conscience, and freedom of worship, and continues Tunisia’s long tradition of respect for the rights of women and the rights of minorities. He congratulated Mr. Larayedh and Mr. Chebbi for their instrumental roles in Tunisia’s democratic transition and in building political consensus, and promised U.S. assistance to ensure that free and fair elections represent the will of the Tunisian people.
The U.S. is also invested in helping ensure that the Tunisian economy will grow, through $500 in new loan guarantees and support for economic reform. The U.S. would also assist with Tunisia’s security challenges, assisting in thwarting the efforts of those that wish to undermine democracy, assisting Tunisia to enhance its police and counterterrorism capabilities while respecting human rights norms, and working with Tunisia to address challenges emanating from Libya. As Secretary Kerry said in Tunisia in February, “There have been countless debates, discussions and disagreements. But these things are exactly what are central to a democracy. . . . The road to democracy is long and difficult, and . . . in many ways never really ends, as we have seen in old democracies like ours: we’re always working . . . to perfect it.”
Aly Larayedh, Tunisia’s Prime Minister from February 2013 to January 2014, delivered the luncheon keynote address where he highlighted dialogue and consensus-building as the cornerstone for Tunisian success in its quest to build democratic institutions and realize the goals of the revolution: freedom, democracy, and better economic and social relations.
Mr. Larayedh presented four main challenges. First, reforming security and armed forces around a mission to protect and to serve without involving themselves in internal politics is still a major task. Second, in introducing economic and social reforms, a balance had to be maintained between the addressing immediate needs of working families; reducing high youth unemployment, especially in marginalized areas; reforming financial and banking systems; and encouraging small business and attracting foreign investors. Third, to implement transitional justice and reconciliation, his government sought to be inclusive and broaden the civil society dialogue, eliciting the help of international experts, especially from places that lived through similar experiences. This process, coupled with fighting corruption, has proven to be long and difficult.
Fourth, establishing a foreign policy built on cooperation and mutual respect necessitated the realization that Tunisia needs international support to face its economic and security challenges in a world facing its own economic and security crises. To overcome these challenges, political leaders, including the Ennahda party, rely on dialogue as an essential tool. Leaders have learned through this slow process to build trust and respect and avoided the derailment of the democratic transition. Larayedh stressed that despite challenges he remains hopeful that Tunisian will succeed in achieving freedom, democracy, and better economic conditions for its people.
Ahmed Nejib Chebbi–leader of the Joumhouri Party and former minister and presidential candidate–explained that the three reasons for Tunisia’s success were, first, that for decades the army stayed out of politics and during the revolution refused to get involved in oppressing Tunisian youth. Second, immediately following the fall of Ben Ali, the political elite stepped up saved the state while changing the regime.
The first two governments after the revolution put the country on a path to free and fair elections and a democratic transition. They chose dialogue to address serious shortcomings of the troika government on the economic and social front and of the legitimacy of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) after it stayed on beyond a one-year limit. This dialogue kept the country on track following the two political assassinations and the events that followed. Third, the events in Egypt played a major role in reaffirming dialogue as the only choice for Tunisians to resolve their differences and in speeding up the process to ratify the constitution and set firm dates for new elections.
Mr. Chebbi warned that the coming elections must be held in a free, fair, and transparent manner to strengthen the legitimacy of the new government. The deteriorating economic and social conditions also threaten to derail the transition. And instability and violence in Libya is a direct threat to the stability of Tunisia. Chebbi concluded that the Tunisian model cannot be transplanted or exported to another country given the country’s specificities, but that the region could learn a great deal from the Tunisian experience, the main lesson of which was that the political elite chose dialogue over violence in resolving its differences.
Following the luncheon, CSID President DR. Radwan Masmoudi presented CSID’s Muslim Democrat of the Year award to Annahdha Block in the Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly for its efforts in reaching a consensus among the various political parties. Mr. Sahbi Atig, leader of Annahda Bloc accepted the award on its behalf.
Panel 3: The Tunisian Model and the Challenges of Building a New Democracy
Chair: Amb. William Taylor, United States Institute of Peace
Sahbi Atig, leader of the NCA Ennahda Bloc, who accepted the 2014 Muslim Democrat of the Year Award on behalf of the Bloc during the luncheon, focused his remarks on the political crisis of the summer of 2013 following a second political assassination. He stated that when faced with the choice of either violence and chaos or dialogue and compromise, the political parties including Ennahda chose the latter.
The three reasons for successfully overcoming the crisis were, first, engagement of civil society and its important role in organizing the national dialogue. Second, several foreign countries encouraged the various political factions in Tunisia to come together, most notably the U.S.; the EU, especially the U.K., France, Italy, and Germany; and Algeria. Third, the political parties all made concessions, and in particular Ennahda agreed to leave government to save the country from descending into chaos and violence. The coup that took place in Egypt and the bloody events that took place afterwards coupled with the unstable and violent situation in Libya made most Tunisians realize the importance of the national dialogue to resolve political conflicts.
Despite the threats of terrorism and counter-revolution from the deep state, Tunisia has continued to set the course and present a model. Ennahda as a moderate Islamic party is committed to the transition to a democratic system that respects individual and civil rights for all.
Hassan Mneimneh, Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, in a presentation titled, “International Promise and Local Disappointment? How Tunisia Can Break the Cycle,” argued that Tunisia was the one Arab spring country that might result in a genuine revolution. Tunisia not only toppled a dictator and transitioned towards democracy, but it is changing the nature of governance.
Other Arab countries all still share paternalistic systems of governance-whether monarchies, republics, emirates, or sultanates-in which the “father” state provides for the “child” and is also in a position to punish or reward the child. The social contract consists of the state providing health care, education, subsidies, employment, and retirement, in exchange for political subservience. What makes this possible is in some places the nature of the economy and in other places the charisma of the leader offering a better “dream to come.” This has proved to be a false and untenable promise, however. The attempted revolutions by young people of the Arab spring were confused; were they demanding a better deal from the state or an entirely new deal? Part of the “rude awakening” for young people regarding the state’s untenable promise was the failure to provide lifetime employment based on a “nominal” university degree.
The second “rude awakening” was that these states could no longer rely on the international donor community to cover their tracks and back false promises. In Egypt, the paternalistic, counter revolutionary president is trying to perpetuate the old false promises and the failed social contract with “injections” of Gulf money, and Tunisia could still return to such a paternalistic illusion. However, it appears that the disappointment of older Tunisians with unkept promises could well be replaced by industrious young Tunisians with ideas who are not waiting for paternalistic state largesse. There has been a realization that the state, neighboring countries, and international donors are neither benign nor malevolent, but can be fickle and cannot help with untenable promises. He also cautioned against “absolutist” or “authoritarian, winner-take-all” strains in both the Islamist and secular camps, which exist in Tunisia and are worse in Egypt, where even calls for massacres of opponents have become acceptable in public discourse.
Daniel Tavana of The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) delivered a paper co-authored with Duncan Pickard of Atlantic Council and Democracy Reporting International and Wafa Ben Hassine, founder and director of Legal Education Advancement and Development (LEAD) Tunisia titled “Recommendations for U.S. Assistance to the Tunisian Judiciary.” Tavana argued that for too long U.S. policy toward Tunisia has privileged short-term security considerations over the long-term welfare of the Tunisian people.
The ongoing paradigm shift in Tunisia has not been accompanied by a commensurate paradigm shift in U.S. policy. Frequent pronouncements that Tunisia is a top priority for the U.S. government has not been matched by levels of assistance befitting a top priority. Tunisia has remained the 9th largest recipient of U.S. assistance in the region since 2010, and assistance is often ad hoc, piecemeal, and risk averse rather than a robust bilateral aid package appropriate for a “strategic partner.” Even Syria and Yemen, not strategic partners, have garnered greater U.S. attention. The Tunisia’s prior economic success and middle-income status, and the resulting lack of a USAID mission, have not helped either. Nor has the over-focus on elections, followed by lack of attention.
The election of a new government in Tunisia should improve Tunisia’s ability to articulate its needs and influence U.S. strategic planning in the context of regional crises and U.S. budget constraints. In the judicial sector, Tunisia will adopt new laws and appoint new judges in the medium term as a part of long term reform, but in the shorter term, the U.S. can assist in the sector by improving technology and online access, strengthening rule of law programs at Tunisian universities, and assisting with public legal awareness and education. The entire panel also agreed with USIP Vice President and moderator William Taylor that Tunisia needs a Free Trade Agreement.
Panel 4: Reconciling The Libyan Nation
Chair: Amb. David Mack, The Middle East Institute
The United States Special Coordinator for Libya,Jonathan Winer, stated that the first main U.S. strategic objectives was to help establish “a stable democracy that uses Libyan resources in ways that meet the expectations and needs of the Libyan people.” A second and very much aligned objective is not to have Libya “incubate or breed” terrorism that threatens Libya, the region, or the globe. He called for new political commitment and technological innovation to assist with every aspect of governance (including basic functions like tracking payments and procurement), security assistance (including the General Purpose Force and counterterrorism cooperation), and political dialogue of all kinds (including assistance with developing principles and roadmaps).
Mr. Winer said that (like Tunisia and Egypt) Libyans from the Islamist and non-Islamist camps wrongly believe the U.S. is supporting the other camp and their complaints with equal vigor is evidence of U.S. neutrality, which has to remain the foundation for U.S. effectiveness, despite the complaints. The parties have moved too slowly on political transition, with the National Forces Alliance and the Justice and Construction Party achieving only minimal deals because the side with the upper hand tends not to want to make concessions and the side with the weaker hand tends to want to wait to strengthen their hand. Like Tunisians, Libyans have to decide to “accept the other.” Positive signs in this direction have been the lack of movement by most militias, positive experiences with elections, and the stepping down of Prime Minister Matig following a court decision.
Dr. Essam Omeish, founding director of the Center for Libyan American Strategic Studies, followed with a talk titled “Libya’s Fault Lines, a Road Map Towards National Reconciliation.” Dr. Omeish explained that national reconciliation needs to overcome both the ills of the prior 42 years and the difficulties of the revolution in order to create a new national identity that can move the country forward. Libya’s less than fully operational judicial system and the lack of security have rendered the government impotent at times to solve disputes.
Libya’s main fault line is that of revolutionaries vs. counterrevolutionaries. While most Libyans support the revolution, much of the knowledge of how to run the system is not controlled by revolutionary forces, and revolutionary grievances remain. Solving the problem of unmet revolutionary aspirations should involve rescinding or reducing the impact of the political isolation law, which prevents previous regime officials from taking positions in the current government, but has excluded opposition figures and apolitical bureaucrats whose skills are needed to serve the nation. The country also needs to facilitate the return of all displaced Libyans (over one million in Egypt and Tunisia); threats of revenge and retribution have kept them out and have kept families apart and communities weak. Libyans have to find forgiveness, and all but the “most egregious” criminals should be allowed to share in Libya’s wealth.
The second fault line is the Islamist, non-Islamist fault line. Unlike its neighbors, Libya is conservative and does not have well-developed secular or socialist traditions to complicate matters. Solutions should include an intra-Islamist dialogue about the nature of sharia and a national pact rejecting violence and extremism. The third fault line encompasses Libya’s tribal and ethnic groups, who must all be fully included in Libya’s political system and redefinition of identity; they can also benefit from decentralization of power.
Dr. Hafed Al-Ghwell of the World Bank spoke in his own capacity on “The Role of the International Community in Libyan Reconciliation.” He expressed guarded optimism for Libya because of a growing realization among Libyans about their post-revolutionary failures and the need for reconciliation. Any international role in Libya has a strong foundation; Libya was given independence by a vote of the UN, which also played a role in the writing of its first constitution, and which stepped in again in 2011 to help Libyans make a needed change. Unfortunately, this led to a Libyan civil war that has still not ended, with hundreds of thousands of Libyans still in exile, roughly 20% of the population.
Libya needs the international community to play the role of neutral arbiter and guarantor of agreements. Libya faces tribal, regional, political, ideological, and religious issues, and each group is retreating into its own corner or trying to dominate the process because there is no neutral arbiter to mediate. The international community can convene and guarantee outcomes of agreements, and Tunisia offers an excellent example of what Libya can hope to achieve. The National Transitional Council, the General National Congress, and some six successive governments have been “obsessed with talking about the past,” when they should be focusing on the future, including economic development and reconciliation, which depend on trust in credible mediators and credible partners.
CSID conference chair Dr. William Lawrence of George Washington University delivered remarks titled “Holding Libya together.” He began by de-emphasizing the importance of tribes in Libyan society, especially Libyans under forty who revolted in part against the Qadhafi governance strategy based on tribal control. Second, he underscored that Libya had both a revolutionary uprising and a civil war, not one or the other as is often argued.
While quite different from Egypt and Tunisia, there were important similarities with Tunisia, and in particular in revolutionary aspirations, fiscal issues, youth bulge and unemployment issues, and a political crisis resulting in part from political assassinations that morphed largely into a debate over who would be Prime Minister. He dispensed with the notion that Libya has been in a civil war for three years, but asserted that it could be on the brink of a civil war now not because Libyan militias want one but because of the logic of spiraling violence. He said Libya meets all the extant definitions of a failed state, but is not yet one because the definitions of failed states do not capture the Libyan phenomenon of municipal or revolutionary militias employed by the state, and with only a handful of rogue militias with little coercive power.
Libyan political development needs to build on strong municipal foundations and on traditional Libyan methods of dispute resolution. Similarly, national reconciliation should pursue both formal and informal (Libyan) channels. An international guard force is needed immediately in Tripoli and Benghazi to establish minimal security at Libyan ministries, foreign embassies, and the parliament to withstand both terrorist and political threats from militias, without which the state cannot function and reconciliation cannot happen. Finally, CSID and its partners can engage with all Libyans about the coming debate on sharia in the Libyan constitution, since most Libyans agree that unlike Tunisia it should be referenced directly in the constitution and will therefore have to be defined.
Panel 5: Redefining U.S. Policy Towards MENA: The False Choice between Stability and Democracy
Chair: Lorne Craner, Millennium Challenge Corporation
Lorne Craner of the Millennium Challenge Cooperation, and formerly of the U.S. National Security Council, the State Department, and the International Republican Institute, opened the session by pointing out that when it comes to democracy in the MENA region, U.S. policymakers tend to prefer the “devil they know” to the “devil they don’t,” unless a clearly viable and consensus alternative comes along. Just as the Bush administration appeared to downgrade democracy promotion after the 2006 electoral victory by Hamas, the Obama administration appears to have downgraded democracy promotion in 2012-13 following Ennahda victories in Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood victory and coup in Egypt, and the growing instability in Libya.
Jocelyne Cesari, a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University and Director of the Islam and the West program at Harvard University, delivered a speech title “Why Political Islam Will Not Die and What It Means for U.S. Foreign Policy” by arguing that Political Islam will be much more durable than Islamist parties and movements because of the fundamental role of nation states in encouraging political Islam through a wide variety of means, including universities, mosques, endowments, and clerical appointments.
To a large degree, the Ottoman Empire and European colonial administrations had let Islam operate independently of the state, but the newly independent nation-states of the Muslim world incorporated religious institutions and functions into supposedly secular states. This politicized Islam far more than anything accomplished by Islamist parties and movements. For example, Saddam Hussein’s construction of an Arab Sunni state-populated mostly by non-Sunni Shia and non-Arab Kurds-was just such a project of imposing an invented politically Islamic superstructure on a community of others. In this way, in the Muslim world, nations did not create states, but states created nations. Pakistan was a constructed state, transforming communal and syncretic forms of religion into a new politically Islamic nation state. Turkey is also a product of a Kemalist construction. Iran and Morocco may be two of the only exceptions of states that may have evolved more organically from the nation, but in the others political Islam was a major tool of nation-building.
This occurred through the creation of state religion and the narrowing of the definition of the umma from the entire national community during the Ottoman era to just a homogenized community of Muslims. Rare exceptions to this process were Senegal and Indonesia. Ataturk and Bourguiba in Tunisia did close religious institutions, but replaced them with institutions at the service of the state; Nasser also incorporated Al-Azhar into the state. Democracy in Muslim-majority countries does not require secularism, but requires that all religions have the same relationship to the state. The current imbalance was not created by Islamists, but by how the nation states were built, delegitimizing certain categories of citizens based on religious affiliation; the claim that Christians in Syria and Egypt faire well under al-Assad or Mubarak is simply untrue.
Policymakers should not take at face value the terms “secular” and “liberal”; the “secular, liberal” coup in Egypt was anything but secular and liberal. The most democratic forces in these societies are often those most rooted in an Islam independent of the state, rather than state Islam. The new challenge is to make religions equidistant from the state. The Tunisian constitution is the first constitution in Arab world that clearly does not make reference to blasphemy or limitations on freedom of speech based on religion.
Stacey Pollard of Western Michigan university spoke on “Islamist Political Engagement and Prospects for Democratization in the Post-Arab Spring Environment,” a paper co-authored with Kevin Casey. She began by dismissing culturalist explanations for the “Arab exception,” thoroughly disproved by the Arab spring uprisings (regardless of their success or failure). Rather, their research revealed that institutions have had a much greater impact on political outcomes than other factors. They argue that in Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Egypt, political actors respond to the incentive structures produced by institutions.
Prior to the uprisings, leaders, who ascended to power generally by military coup, kept relatively volatile grip on power by stacking institutions with patrimonial loyalists; dismantling checks and balances; ruling arbitrarily; developing exclusionary institutions; controlling economic, social and cultural activity; criminalizing independent political parties and civil society; and harassing, jailing, and killing political dissidents of all kinds; decimating political parties and civil society; inciting profound distrust; and creating divisions in civil society. While the Arab spring has created more open electoral systems and political competition, but it has not improved rule of law, or government function, with the exception of Tunisia. Physical insecurity and political and economic uncertainty has actual increased levels of grievance and perceptions of state illegitimacy, increased pressure on state security services, and increased factionalization of elites.
Uprisings in praetorian bunker states, such as Libya and Syria, led to civil wars, because those leaders would never relinquish power. In Egypt, the deep state power structure never relinquished power. Policymakers should always prioritize civilian control of the military and enhance accountability and equity under law. Transitional assistance focused just on elections and political rights is not sufficient, and it can be deeply destabilizing if not joined with institutional reform and improved governmental effectiveness. Military to military relationships are also critical; U.S. policymakers must develop deep understandings of the various military institutions in each state and including democracy promotion in mil-mil relationships. Finally, political isolation laws can also foster instability; post-revolutionary regimes should find roles for members of former regimes within the new political systems.
Stephen McInerney, executive director POMED, proposed “Recommendations for U.S. Democracy Promotion in MENA.” He began by pointing out that we are in a “bleak . . . difficult time.” In 2011, there had been a lot of hopefulness in democracy promotion organizations that the changes in the region would force changes in U.S. policy. The U.S. tendency to rely on cozy relationships with repressive authoritarian governments to provide stability would be replaced by a more sustained emphasis assisting democratic development; there was growing recognition was that repressive regimes were unstable.
Nonetheless, little changed in how the U.S. conducts foreign policy. In fact in Egypt, the Sisi government drew the opposite conclusion, regarding the Mubarak regime as having created too much political space and having become too soft in the latter years. Similarly, the Obama administration has drawn opposite conclusions. After very minimal support for democratic transitions, the administration now seems to be concluding that a high price paid in straining bilateral relationships with authoritarian regimes has born little democratic fruit, and therefore democracy promotion has not been beneficial. U.S. foreign assistance has not increased or changed significantly since 2010; with the top six recipients of U.S. assistance remaining unchanged and Tunisia remaining locked in at 9th place and a greater slice of the pie going to military and security assistance and the share of spending on democracy programs has decreased.
While the U.S. needs to increase support for democracy programs both in quantity and quality, the trend is in the opposite direction. One solution might be to focus on the easiest cases first, such as Tunisia, where increased support has been too modest. If anything the demonstration effects of a successful Tunisia could help democracy promotion elsewhere as countries perceive a greater democracy dividend.
Charles Kurzman of University of NorthCarolina, Chapel Hill, for “Have the Arab Uprisings Changed Islamic Party Platforms?”, analyzed over one hundred Islamist party electoral platforms from several dozen Muslim-majority countries. In recent years, Islamist parties have been increasingly been allowed to participate in elections, to the point that there is at least one Islamist party participating in almost every (of the more than forty) Muslim-majority countries. Generally, their successes are noticed and amplified in the international media-notably in Turkey, Palestine, Morocco, and Egypt. But these successes are relatively rare and the mean and median success rates have not increased this decade over previous decades.
Not only do Islamist parties not generally win elections, but there has been a profusion of small new parties that have not fared any better. In fact, the percentage of seats won by Islamist parties has actually decreased in the past twenty years. Platform content has shifted away from discussions of democracy as an unqualified positive, from women’s rights not in the context of duties and reciprocal roles, and from minority rights. Previous trends away from sharia and Palestinian rights have reversed, with greater mentions now of both. Mentions of jihad and a ban on interest have remained low in recent years. Democracy and voting do not guarantee respect for rights; in fact, majorities can often vote against rights. Analysis also reveals that if you sacrifice democracy to protect rights, you often end up with neither. The best practice for democracy is the practice of democracy, despite the fact that new democracies are disorderly and often subject to violence.
Millennium Challenge Corporation
Lorne Craner began by admitting that the Bush administration made a lot of mistakes, starting with Iraq and the conflation of the democracy agenda with the Iraq conflict. Previously, however, both Democratic and Republican administrations had taken advantage of natural opportunities following World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall to invest in democracy. The Bush democracy agenda faded in Bush’s second term, just as the Obama administrations appetite seemed to fade from 2013 onward. But this cannot be the whole story. TheU.S. has more productive relationships in Latin America now that its dictator allies have moved on and have been replaced by more legitimate governments. The U.S. needs to defer modestly to other governments and peoples to make their own choices, particularly about forms of government and what to fix first. The U.S. also needs more patience and realistic long-term goals, as genuine democratic transitions can be slow, including that of that of the United States.
Conference participants recommended the following approaches and concrete steps:
Middle East and North Africa Region