CCDP convenes major regional consultation in Amman, Jordan.
From April 18 to 20 in Amman (Jordan), a team of professors and researchers from the Institute, coordinated by Dr Thania Paffenholz from the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP) convened a regional consultation workshop on the role of civil society in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. This consultation is part of a new project of the CCDP on “Arab Spring: Challenges during political transitions and comparative lessons for civil societies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)” launched in February 2012.
The consultation brought together more than 70 participants from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon and Jordan which included civil society activists, international and regional researchers as well as diplomats and donor representatives. This consequently created a unique space for exchange of ideas. The event was the first of its kind to provide a comparative analysis of transition processes, both inside and outside of the MENA region. Prominent international transition experts such as Philippe Schmitter and Andrew Arato were involved. They discussed the challenges facing the MENA region and presented possible response strategies for civil societies based on the experiences of Latin America as well as Eastern and Western Europe.
Three days of plenary discussions and small working groups revealed the main challenges facing civil society actors in the aftermath of the popular uprisings. Among the key issues discussed were the changing nature of the current transitions; the tensions between different segments of civil society; the relationship between the civil and the political sphere; internal and external factors that block civil society in their efforts towards meaningful participation in the transitions as well as the potentially problematic nature of external funding in the region.
Participants agreed that the popular uprisings in the MENA region constitute a historical event that has fundamentally changed the notion of governance in the region. It has shifted attention from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to broader issues such as putting an end to authoritarian rule and negotiating a new social contract. Participants also raised the concern that the movements started because of severe economic, social, or cultural problems that are now being sidelined by political issues. Moreover, some groups that participated in the movement (youth or women) are not necessarily those that profit from the changes. Many secular civil society groups have strong resentments against religious groups, in particular those representing branches of political Islam. They fear they will be at a disadvantage after the reform process because they do not trust political parties and state institutions. As a consequence, there is little cooperation between these different actors.
Also discussed was that in opposition to these findings, a historical overview of transition processes elsewhere demonstrates that only inclusive processes have lead to democratic governance. Moreover, the lack of vision and leadership, the scattered nature of many civil society activities, and the dependency of civil society on state approval are factors that reduce the contributions of civil society actors. Participants were also concerned with the way Western and Arab funding to civil society is driven by specific interests, and called for a better understanding of civil society among the donors. The participants therefore suggested strengthening the dialogue between a) the conflicting groups within civil society, b) political parties and civil society and c) donors and civil society.
This workshop was held in cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the Arab Reform Initiative, and the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. The project aims to make systematic use of existing research knowledge to help strengthen the role and sustainable participation of civil society groups in the MENA region. It represents a unique cooperation effort between different faculties, centres, and programmes to make full use of the Institute’s intellectual capacity for research-policy transfer. Collaborators include Institute faculty members Riccardo Bocco, André Liebich, Elisabeth Prügl, Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, Benoit Challand of the CCDP, and PhD students Lyna Comaty, Zina Sawaf, Claudie Fioroni and Zuzana Hudáková.
Following the Amman consultation, a briefing note will be published and further events will be held in Europe and in the MENA region. In parallel to this research to policy transfer objective, the project will produce a series of research publications for an academic audience.