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Research Report

The State of the Arab Transitions:: Hope Resilient Despite Many Unmet Demands

Mirette F. Mabrouk
Stefanie A. Hausheer
Copyright Date: Feb. 1, 2014
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 29
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 3-3)

    Three years after the start of the Arab Awakening, the people of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen are struggling with the harsh reality that the uprisings were only the first step on a long, perilous road to freedom and dignity, and that the political uncertainty of revolution and economic prosperity rarely go hand-in-hand. Heightened polarization and the quashing of dissent underway in Egypt are hobbling efforts to transition to a more democratic system. Despite delays and several political assassinations, a coalition government in Tunisia has propelled the transition forward. Libya, with militias blocking oil exports and a security situation so...

  2. (pp. 4-4)

    After the initial euphoria dissipated, the past year and a half has been characterized by a profound and significant rise in the polarization between the various political forces in each country. In Egypt, overwhelming dissatisfaction with both the government of Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, and the Muslim Brotherhood he hails from led to a coup ousting him. At the same time, Egyptian activists are struggling to maintain the degree of freedom of expression won since the January 25 revolution. Tunisians, angered by assassinations of two prominent secular opposition figures and emboldened by events in Egypt, held...

  3. (pp. 5-8)

    Each of the Arab Awakening countries has faced the question of how to amend or write a new constitution in order to redefine political systems and enshrine the rights and freedoms demanded by those who took to the street in protest.

    Unsurprisingly, the process of how the constitution is developed and who gets a seat at the drafting table has been just as controversial as the content of the actual document.

    In Egypt, the constitution-writing process has been characterized by de facto exclusion, not once, but twice. The Muslim Brotherhood, overconfident following its significant victory in parliamentary and presidential elections,...

  4. (pp. 9-11)

    Some demands of the revolutions are difficult to quantify; dignity and freedom are essential but often intangible aspirations. This is not the case with bread. When a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in December of 2010, sparking the Arab revolutions, it was to protest the loss of his livelihood as much as his dignity. Indeed it is difficult to separate those aspirations— there is little dignity in being unable to earn a decent enough living to feed one’s children.

    While each of the four countries in transition has differing economic challenges, they all have one...

  5. (pp. 12-14)

    In each of the countries in transition, the majority of the population had suffered decades of injustice—moral, legal, and economic—under authoritarian rule. Those who took to the streets during the revolutions demanded redress for past abuses. Transitional justice processes may be defined in different ways, but according to international law this could include four elements: truth and the establishment of facts; justice, including investigation and, where possible, prosecution; reparation such as financial compensation or even public apology; and guarantees of non-repetition through the appropriate laws and punishment of previous offenders.

    Despite the post-revolutionary efforts outlined below, none of...

  6. (pp. 15-17)

    In politically restrictive environments lacking open political party competition, civil society institutions are often the most relevant vehicles to channel citizen discontent and opposition. The role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media are often good indicators of the relative strength and freedom of civil society, and assessing how they have fared from the pre- to post-revolution era provides an important barometer of the freedom of expression and association.

    Much has been made of Tunisia’s pre-revolution civil society but in fact, NGOs were only welcome as long as they gave politics a wide berth. In the post-revolution environment, there has been...

  7. (pp. 18-19)

    The Arab Awakening gave Islamists an unprecedented level of political power and expanded their reach and influence in all the transitioning countries. The Muslim Brotherhood had participated in elections in Egypt for decades, winning 20 percent of parliament in 2005. However, its candidates had always run as independents, a necessity given that the Brotherhood was banned. In Libya and Yemen, while Islamists had not faced the same legacy of state-led aggression, the removal of autocratic regimes cleared the way for a more robust role in society and politics. In Tunisia after decades of repression, Ennahda won a plurality of parliamentary...

  8. (pp. 20-21)

    At a time of reluctant, halting US engagement in the Middle East, conversations with Tunisians, Libyans, Yemenis, and Egyptians underscore the desire for Western support alongside indigenous transition processes. Yet, the United States seems determined to focus its foreign policy elsewhere. President Barack Obama’s speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2013, for example, focused on nuclear negotiations with Iran and Israeli-Palestinian talks and clearly backed down from his commitment in 2011 to galvanize all available US resources to support democratic transition in the Arab world and “pursue the world as it should be” rather than accept “the world...

  9. (pp. 22-23)

    Three years into their transitions, how much closer are the four countries to realizing the demands of the people who took to the streets in protest? Each has discovered that overthrowing the autocrat was the easiest part of the revolution. The challenges ahead are putting an enormous strain on the people and governments of these transitioning countries.

    The demands for a better livelihood have yet to be met, despite the fact that public sector wages have increased in Egypt and Tunisia and subsidies have been sustained. Most distressingly, many ordinary people feel that by demanding freedom, they sacrificed what small...