The Emerging Order in the Middle East
After more than a year of Arab uprisings, the emerging political order in the Middle East is marked by considerable shifts within individual countries as well as at the regional level. Domestically and internationally, new actors are emerging in strong positions and others are fading in importance. Islamist parties are on the rise with many secular forces losing power. And across the region, economic concerns have risen to the fore. These domestic changes have implications for both regional and international actors. There are a number of more ambitious economic and political steps the West should take to respond to these power shifts and engage with these new players.
In the political realm, demanding that Islamist movements adopt broad ideological agendas that endorse secularism or blanket philosophical commitments to core values such as women’s rights is the wrong approach. Instead, international actors should focus on a few, very specific issues for special emphasis, such as international human rights standards, the maintenance of existing treaty relationships, and the principle of peaceful settlement of international disputes. Such pressure will be most effective if it is uniform, so all parties should strive to behave consistently. The international community should also expand its engagement beyond a small number of elite political actors, focusing diplomatic efforts on building bridges to entire societies. In the end, there may be little the West can do to decrease the mutual suspicion that exists between Islamists and secular forces in these countries, but it must act to include both Islamists and secularists in all dealings with the Arab region.
This type of collaboration is likely to be most effective when it comes to certain concrete issues like economics. Because many of the new governments across the Arab world have short mandates in which to bring about change before the people vote once again, the immediate focus should be on short-term goals that can be implemented within one electoral cycle. Creating employment opportunities will be a priority across the Middle East and North Africa, and the international community can support that process by increasing financial assistance, providing technical expertise, and helping to establish regulatory and legal frameworks that will promote large-scale public works projects and thus create jobs. International actors should help develop the private sector in these countries to fuel growth and assist domestic players in managing the economic expectations of Arab publics. And the European Union in particular should modify its protectionist trade terms with the region.
In the end, the best hope for reconciliation in the Arab world comes from a focus on economic reform and other concrete issues. A deliberate effort to bring antagonistic factions together in this way would be a greater contribution to bolstering democracy in these countries than either democracy promotion projects or the imposition of political conditionalities.
by Sinan Ülgen, Nathan J. Brown, Marina Ottaway, and Paul Salem /CDEC
©2012 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED THE AUTHOR(S) AND THE PUBLISHER
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