Two years after the uprising that forced President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali into exile, Tunisians are slowly coming to grips with the reality of politics in a pluralist system where opposition is real and the outcome of political contestation is not predetermined. The process is slow and somewhat uncertain, and it would be premature to conclude that Tunisian politicians have fully embraced not only the concept of democracy but also its concrete implications.
Tunisia’s transition to democracy, widely regarded as the most successful to emerge from the five uprisings that shook the Arab world in 2011, is being seriously threatened by violence in the wake of a prominent leftist politician’s assassination in early February. The killing of Chokri Belaid has not only triggered a showdown within the ruling Islamic Ennahda Party between its moderate and fundamentalist wings but also deepened the hostility between secularists and Islamists within Tunisian society.
Of all the states that rose against tyranny, Egypt and Tunisia have traveled the furthest on the road to democratic transformation. However, concerns about the Islamists’ fidelity to democracy continue to mount. This is particularly so in Egypt where the president seems susceptible to authoritarian proclivities and the Islamist elite show little inclination to compromise. In Tunisia, the prospects for democracy are relatively better as Ennahda, partners in the governing coalition, have little choice but to be flexible. It is rather ironic that democratic transformation is left in the hands of those professing fidelity to principles whose compatibility with democracy is contested.
Some call it the Islamist winter while others talk of revolution betrayed. Neither claim portrays accurately what is happening in Arab countries in the throes of popular uprisings and rapid political change. The rise of Islamist parties in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings took most by surprise, including in some cases the Islamist parties themselves, which were more successful than they dared to hope. Coupled with the disarray of the secular opposition, the success of Islamist parties augurs poorly for democracy, because a strong, competitive opposition is the only guarantee against the emergence of a new authoritarianism.
The Syrian refugee issue in Lebanon is threatening to become the real humanitarian crisis in the region. There are more Syrian refugees in Lebanon than in any other country in the region. Straddled by a weak economy, domestic political infighting, and internal divisions over the crisis in Syria, Lebanon is finding it hard to cope with the evolving problem inside its borders. In the absence of a quick and sustained international support, the refugee issue in Lebanon could become a full blown crisis with domestic and regional implications for Lebanon.
After several months of uncertainty, the Iranian government finally agreed to meet again with the P5+1 group in Almaty, Kazakhstan on February 26 for negotiations over its nuclear program. Iran’s economy is suffering the effects of the severe sanctions imposed by the West, but the government is not yet prepared to change course on the nuclear issue. Iran needs to be certain of a positive outcome from the negotiations before it commits itself to meeting the West’s concerns over its nuclear intentions.
The pronounced role of sanctions in creating shortages of life-saving medical supplies and drugs in Iran may have been unintentional, but it is also irrefutable. Iran’s own mismanagement of the situation has aggravated the problem, but it is not the root cause of it. While the list of issues leading to the supply crunch is long and complicated, at the heart of it all are the obstacles that sanctions have created in denying Iran the necessary banking operations and limiting its access to hard currency. Namazi presents findings based on a recent study that he and a number of Iranian consultants carried out.
Many young Saudis admire the youthful protesters of Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Bahrain. But they don’t seek to imitate their tactic of massive street protests. One reason why is that they still hope—despite the lack of available evidence—that the Saudi royal family will voluntarily begin to share power with the Saudi people. Presumably then, the government can rest easy? Not necessarily.
Iran's presidential elections will take place in June against a background of crisis. The ruling elite is deeply divided, reformist leaders remain under house arrest, economic problems are mounting and the stand-off with the West over Iran's nuclear program remains unresolved. Shaul Bakhash discusses the potential candidates, the major issues and vexed question of electoral freedom that are likely to dominate the election campaign.
Since Tuareg nationalists and al-Qaeda seized control of northern Mali in February 2012, the world has been dithering about what to do. Neither the United States nor Algeria, two potentially key actors in the unfolding drama, has decided on its role yet. Mali’s neighbors, the African Union, and the UN Security Council have not wanted to take any risky action and have found ways to put off a military response in the slim hope of finding a political solution.
Many analysts have rushed to declare a political outcome for Egypt's transition. Stacher argues that we must understand Egypt’s transition as a process of change rather than a finalized outcome. In doing so, he details the structural limits of governing Egypt as well as the receding capacity of state elites to deploy repression as a means of political control.
Egypt’s post-revolution constitution does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender or religion. It only recognizes women’s domestic role within a family “founded on religion, morality, and patriotism.” Clerics will have the final word over the new laws.
In 2013, millions of Israelis, Iranians, and Arabs will vote in at least 10 pivotal elections that will, in turn, address basic issues facing the Middle East. These countries have vast political, religious, ethnic, and economic differences. But most confront a common trend—the rise of the right or the religious right—that will influence elections as well as policies both at home and in the broader region.
On December 20, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Resolution “Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations.” This resolution is a very important step in the history of the women’s movement in the MENA region, especially at a time when women’s role and rights are being marginalized in a number of Arab countries.
On the occasion of the second anniversary of the Arab Spring, the Middle East Program (MEP) invited a group of experts from the region, Europe, and the United States to contribute to this publication by answering the question, “Has the Arab Spring Lived Up to Expectations?”
In the wake of President Obama’s reelection, senior Iranian officials close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei are speaking publicly of direct talks with the United States over Iran’s nuclear program. But it remains unclear if Khamenei is ready. His deep suspicions of the United States and reservations regarding the utility of negotiations with Washington remain in place.
Hezbollah’s main strength in Lebanon is not its weaponry. Its real backbone is its popular support, which guarantees Hezbollah’s control over state institutions. Iran may be prepared to lose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but it is certainly not ready to lose Lebanon. Now that Hezbollah’s popular support in Lebanon is waning, Iran will do whatever it takes to overcome the results of Lebanon's parliamentary elections in 2013.
Ottaway, who has just visited Cairo, writes about the future U.S.-Egyptian relationship in light of the current political drift between the two countries and Egypt’s ongoing economic crisis. Egypt’s current attempt to secure a $4.8 billion IMF loan requiring potential subsidy cuts to gasoline and cooking oil serve to complicate matters as ensuing price rises could trigger riots and provoke Egyptians to blame the United States.
Hanin Ghaddar, a Lebanese public policy scholar at the Wilson Center, writes about the role that voting can play in empowering women in the Middle East. She discusses the need for the Arab Spring to be accompanied by a women's spring.
Farzaneh Roudi writes on the Iranian government's recent reversal of its population policy—its fertility policy, to be more precise. Alarmed by the country’s rapidly aging population, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is calling on women to procreate.
On June 20, 2012, the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program hosted a meeting on “The Arab Awakening: Is Democracy a Mirage?” This publication brings together the talks presented at the meeting.
David Ottaway is a senior scholar at the Wilson Center who has recently returned from Morocco. The following piece is an overview of his observations on Morocco’s Islamists.
Former Wilson Center fellow Rochelle Davis writes on the ongoing crisis in Syria involving refugees and the internally displaced. She makes a number of policy recommendations based upon the recent experiences of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees.
David Ottaway is a senior scholar at the Wilson Center who has recently returned from Algeria. The following piece is an overview of his observations of Algeria’s May 10 parliamentary elections.
The following is the text of the keynote address by Public Policy Scholar Moushira Khattab at the Centre for Development and Population Activities conference co-sponsored by the Middle East Program, “Fostering the Next Generation: Evolving Models of Women’s Leadership in the Middle East” held on April 18, 2012.
David Ottaway, a senior scholar at the Wilson Center, has recently returned from Tunisia. This piece is an overview of his observations of current challenges faced by Tunisia’s leadership.
May 24, 2013 // 12:00pm — 1:00pm
June 03, 2013 // 12:00pm — 1:00pm