Stabilisation of the MENA with Governance

Stabilisation of the MENA with Governance or lack of it becoming more and more of a world problem that does not seem to diminish overtime but on the contrary, increase the world leadership worries to the point where nowadays, solutions are gradually pointing to the real source of all the current troubles, e.g. governance.  Everyone however knew sometime back that the trends in demographics, economics, internal security and justice systems and social change would invariably lead towards how much governance, could affect the whole region together with each and every nation.  Today’s situation would illustrate the critical role of governance, social change, and justice systems in dealing with each nation’s specific problems.  Here is a Brookings article on the subject of governance that sadly seem to be the common denominator of all the countries of the MENA.  

MARKAZ

Want to stabilize the Middle East? Start with governance

Tamara Cofman Wittes , Senior Fellow – Foreign PolicyCenter for Middle East Policy

tcwittes

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

 

Yesterday, I released a new report on the future of governance in Arab states.

This may seem like an inapt, or even irrelevant, moment to argue for the imperative of improving governance in the Middle East. After all, the region is facing unprecedented turmoil: civil wars that have displaced millions of people and killed more than half a million; vicious extremist movements that massacre civilians, conduct terrorist attacks, and oppress those under its rule; and, of course, the United States and its allies are now invested in a new war in Iraq and Syria fighting ISIS.

I just came back from the Halifax International Security Forum and the only discussion of the Middle East there was framed around terrorism, ISIS, civil war, and refugees. Those are the urgent problems that are seen by many governments around the world as a threat to international security, and that are driving global attention to the region.

But ISIS and civil wars are symptoms of a broader deterioration in the region—they are not the disease. Beginning in 2011, the Middle East endured the breakdown both of states, and of a state system that had lasted for about the prior half-century. That old Middle Eastern state system had advantaged American interests and those of U.S. regional partners, and the United States defended it resolutely. That order is now gone, and the region is in turmoil. The breakdown of that old order is what led to the civil wars in Yemen, Libya, and Syria, and what enabled the rise of ISIS.

We need to understand why and how the Middle East broke down in order to effectively deal with the urgent security challenges that this breakdown generated, and how to return stability to the region. Otherwise, as my colleague General John Allen has noted, the war on terrorism will never be won—instead, we will be fighting ISIS 2.0 and ISIS 3.0 on and on into the future.

In the new report, I argue that the regional breakdown transpired primarily because of failures of governance. The paper analyzes the “how” and “why” of those failures in order to illuminate the future of stable governance in this disordered region, and to suggest policies that the United States and others might pursue to achieve what this paper calls “real security.”

THREE FACTS ABOUT THE MIDDLE EAST’S DISORDER:

1) The regional order did not break down primarily because of external invasions, or top-down decisions, but because of forces within states and societies, pressures that built up over many years. I told part of the story of this breakdown in my 2008 book, “Freedom’s Unsteady March“: the story of how the bureaucratic authoritarian model in the Arab world began to weaken—how the clientelism, the ideology, and the coercion on which these states relied to survive became less and less effective in a globalized world.

The Arab states of the last half-century rested on a particular social contract: a patronage system in which citizens gave their consent to the regime, and in exchange the regime provided all kinds of economic and social goods to people.

The Arab states of the last half-century rested on a particular social contract: a patronage system in which citizens gave their consent to the regime, and in exchange the regime provided all kinds of economic and social goods to people: not just security but healthcare, education, social services, and jobs. In Egypt, for many years, the government promised all university graduates a civil service job, which was essentially a lifetime sinecure. An Egyptian friend of mine, who spent many decades working for a state-owned newspaper, described to me that on Fridays he used to come to work with a plastic bag because the newspaper used to give each of the workers in his office a chicken to take home for dinner. That was the corporatist state, the old social contract in action.

Over time, these inefficient patronage systems became especially challenged by the emergence of three major forces: a massive demographic bulge of young people on the cusp of adulthood; the penetration of a globalized economy; and a radically new information environment generated first by satellite television and then by the internet and mobile technology.

As a result of these three forces, states became not just inefficient, but increasingly ineffective, at providing the goods that citizens expected. And so by the early 2000s, those Egyptian university graduates had to wait to get their promised government job for an average of eight years. Young Egyptians spent eight years driving taxis or pushing food carts while waiting for that job to come at last. And when you are young, in a traditional society, and you have no permanent job, you can’t afford to get your own apartment, you can’t get married—in other words, you can’t become a fully adult person—you remain stuck.

2) Previous efforts to reform the social contract often made things worse, not better. It’s crucial to realize that no one, in the run-up to the Arab uprisings of 2011, was unaware of these problems. In the 1990s and 2000s, many in government, the private sector, and civil society, both in the region and in the West, were talking about the need for “reform.” The Europeans had the Barcelona Process, the United States had the Freedom Agenda.

But when Arab governments attempted to adjust the social contract in their nations in order to accommodate the impact of globalization and the rise of youth, they did not develop a more inclusive social contract that could establish a solid and lasting ruling coalition. Instead, they negotiated adjustments with political and economic elites. They made reform commitments to the World Bank and the IMF. They sold off state assets to those with access and wealth. They reduced government hiring without freeing up the private sector for real growth. They brought new business cronies into ruling parties instead of opening up politics to wider participation. The resulting adjustments further empowered select groups while further excluding others, exacerbated inequality, increased state capture by elites, and thus generated more and more widely held grievances against these regimes.

Consequently, discontent and protest increased, and the forces of globalization and technology meant that governments were less able to use patronage and ideology to keep people in line. Left with few effective tools, Arab governments saw increased expressions of dissent and fell back on coercion to suppress them. And this breakdown in the social contract between ruler and ruled, this cycle of dissent and repression, is what produced the Arab uprisings of 2011.

3) Finally, to understand the challenges that the Middle East faces today, we have to understand the consequences of how certain states broke down. When the protests came, many governments responded poorly, in ways that exacerbated societal divisions, and further weakened and in some cases collapsed state institutions. Some governments responded particularly badly, in ways that generated violence, enabled the growth of terrorist movements, and has morphed in at least three countries into outright civil war.

 

Read more on the Brookings original document

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