The Windy Road of Arab Transitions and Europe’s Weak Hand

Once again the Middle East is taking a series of unpredictable detours where, seemingly, nothing goes as planned.

Tunisia, considered a trailblazer in the region, origin of the Jasmine Revolution, symbol of a smooth transition process, characterized by consensus and inclusiveness, is torn by ideological cleavages, political violence, economic crisis and a broader lack of confidence in its own capacity to overcome the current stalemate.

Egypt, considered the bad boy of the revolutions, is continuing its bumpy road towards a new form of government and state-society relations. The new constitution, after being analyzed carefully, is less revolutionary than it might seem. While not extremely dangerous in terms of limiting civil liberties, including minority and women’s rights, according to many it will likely create problems given its vagueness and juxtaposition of articles and norms which fail a consistency test. The economy, which until recently seemed on the verge of salvation through an IMF loan, is now set to derail (given the quickly decreasing monetary reserves within an overall economic fragile context) if an agreement is not negotiated.

One thing the Egyptian and the Tunisian transitions have in common is the criticism their ruling Islamist parties are receiving in terms of delivering the public goods they were entrusted with providing. Often cited is the lack of competence, the inexperience, the divisions, found within these parties. Personal charisma of the newly elected leaders in neither country suffices to placate public discontent and discomfort. Both countries show the difficulties of changing political cultures and adapting to new ones: while contestation has become much more widespread than before the revolutions, it has by no means become a standard accepted practice. The Egyptian independent trade union, created after the start of the revolution, struggles to operate and some of its members have been persecuted. Cleavages take many forms in both countries but are not limited to the one between secularists and Islamists of various stripes, or those between urban and rural areas, or even the cross-cutting ones, for example on socio-economic issues. There, unexpectedly, Egyptian Muslim Brothers defend their free market, neo-liberal world view, while the Tunisian Ennahda adheres less strictly to this paradigm.

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