Arab women outnumber men in pursuing university degrees, but since it seems there is still a lot to do, this initiative is more than welcome. It is the New U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative in Lebanon that could help to redress the worldwide exclusion of women from participation in peace negotiations and related political processes in particular in the Levant region of the MENA.
To this end, a sizable grant from The U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative will cover a full semester for up to 900 students per an article of Zawya of July 8, 2020, elaborates on how Students to profit from new U.S.-Middle East partnership initiative tomorrow’s leaders’ program.
The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) has awarded LAU MEPI-Tomorrow’s Leaders (LAU MEPI-TL) a grant of $10 million for a new Tomorrow’s Leaders Gender Scholars (TLS) Program to strengthen undergraduate student awareness, preparedness, and skills in gender education and activism. For the last 12 years, MEPI has been providing scholarships to promising students from across the MENA region to study at either the Lebanese American University or the American University of Beirut.
The grant aims to redress the worldwide exclusion of women from participation in peace negotiations and related political processes because of discriminatory laws, social stereotypes, institutional obstacles, and in particular, to promote inclusiveness at a time when women’s active involvement is pivotal during the current crises across the MENA region.
By supporting pedagogic interventions in higher education and endorsing the delivery of gender studies courses to increase the awareness of university students on gender disparities, MEPI’s objective is to build a culture of inclusiveness and foster an environment for women’s success in the workforce, leadership positions, and policymaking arenas.
This substantial grant covers up to two academic years starting in the Fall 2020 and it targets students who have demonstrated strong academic performance and a need for support towards their tuition fees.
Up to 900 students will benefit from full tuition for at least one semester provided they enroll in and complete a gender course, as well as engage in a relevant conference where they present their subject-related papers, and publish on their scholarly achievements in academic journals such as LAU’s own Arab Institute for Women’s flagship journal Al-Raida. To this end, the School of Arts and Sciences at LAU has designed a bespoke program, a Gender Series of courses, that consists of multidisciplinary sets of problems relating to national, regional and global issues around Gender and its manifestations in the social, economic, political and cultural lives.
The grant is extended to students from the School of Arts & Sciences, Adnan Kassar School of Business, the School of Engineering and the Alice Ramez Chagoury School of Nursing.
“We are proud of our affiliation with world-renowned academic institutions like LAU,” said US Ambassador Dorothy C. Shea. “You are recognized around the globe for the top-tier education you provide. That is a source of pride to the Lebanese people, and to us at the US Embassy. We are your partner, and we welcome this opportunity to strengthen our partnership and, fundamentally, to help Lebanese students.”
Thanking Ambassador Shea and the American people LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra said: “Your continued generosity and support of students in the Arab world gives them hope to attain their aspirations to improve their lives, and the lives of their loved ones and their community. The belief that education is the only answer to the ills that afflict society in Lebanon and the Arab world remains at the heart of our mission.”
The news comes at a crucial time as the university and the country wrestle with the growing needs of families in dire financial distress, as a result of the deepening economic crisis.
“At a time when Lebanon is undergoing such acute social and political change, coupled with economic distress and a pandemic to boot, it is heartening to receive such substantial support from MEPI to promote gender equity in the region,” said Vice President for Student Development and Enrollment Management Elise Salem. “The grant will make a big difference in raising awareness and instituting policy change to achieve gender equality, while encouraging female leadership amongst students.”
In its twelfth year, the LAU MEPI-TL Program in AY 2019-2020 welcomed 36 new scholars from seven different countries. Earlier this year, the program celebrated 13 TL students who presented capstone projects focused on pressing social, economic, and cultural issues in their home countries.
“Indeed, MEPI continues to give hope to the youth of Lebanon and the MENA region,” commented Director of International Services and MEPI-TL Program Director Dina Abdul Rahman. “I dare to say that the Tomorrow’s Leaders Program is ‘lifesaving!’ It transformed the lives of hundreds of underprivileged talented young women and men for over a decade and continues to open up new horizons for our youth into a world of opportunity, prosperity, and success.”
The grant falls within LAU’s drive to alleviate the financial burden placed on students and their parents by Lebanon’s economic crisis. To that end, the university last year implemented a set of measures which included a yearly financial aid budget in excess of $50 million, and the launch of the Emergency Financial Fund last October.
Dnyanesh Kamat, Political analyst inColumns on Black Lives Matter across the MENA region states that From Basra to Beirut and from Tunis to Tel Aviv, anti-Black racism exists in various forms across the region. Here it is :
Black Lives Matter: Racism in the Middle East and North Africa — and how to combat it
29 June 2020
While much of the Western world remains convulsed with Black Lives Matter protests, the Mena (Middle East and North Africa) region should use this moment to address its own anti-Black racism problem. From Basra to Beirut and from Tunis to Tel Aviv, anti-Black racism exists in various forms across the region.
In the Mena region, it is mostly the consequence of centuries of slavery, with Black Africans enslaved and sold in slave markets across the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf. Indeed, in some parts of the Gulf, slavery was abolished only as recently as the 1970s. This is also why racial insults hurled at Black people in these countries often refer to them as “slaves” or “servants.”
This racist mindset also leads to widespread systemic discrimination against Black people throughout the region. Basra in southern Iraq is home to the majority of the country’s estimated 1.2 million Black population. Black Iraqis have long complained of systemic racism, with limited access to housing, education, healthcare and all but the most menial jobs.
While Black communities in some Mena countries grapple with the legacy of slavery, others still face modern-day slavery or conditions akin to it. Mauritania is one of the last countries on the planet where slavery continues to this day. The Global Slavery Index of 2018 estimates there are approximately 90,000 Black Mauritanians, or roughly 2.4 per cent of the population, bound to a caste system that is a form of modern-day slavery, with their enslavement inherited from ancestors and passed down to their children. Slavery was abolished in 1981 but it was not until 2007 that it was made a crime, and that too in response to international pressure, with successive governments failing to eradicate the scourge.
A similar caste-like Black community exists at the margins of society in Yemen. They call themselves the Muhamasheen (“the marginalized”), but other Yemenis refer to them pejoratively as the Akhdam (“the servants”). Many survive by begging. Needless to say, this community has borne the brunt of Yemen’s ongoing civil war.
While countries like Mauritania and Yemen grapple with centuries-old practices, others have seen slavery rear its ugly head in modern times. Black Africans have long used Libya’s long Mediterranean coast as a staging post from which to attempt to reach Europe. Several migrants have been enslaved and tortured by Libyan militias, and subsequently sold in open-air slave markets.
Popular culture in the Mena region is also rife with anti-Black racism, from caricatures of Black people used for comedy to erasing them completely from depictions of national culture. The national media in countries like Tunisia portray the country’s citizens as light-skinned. It might come as a shock that 15 per cent of Tunisians are black.
Iran has a sizeable Black population living along the country’s southern coast. Their contribution to the culture of that region – whether in terms of cuisine, spirituality or to the unique bandari music – is immense. But Iranian popular culture would have us believe the country is populated only by fair-skinned Persians. This comes largely from the “Aryan myth” of Iranian nationalism. Depictions of Black people are limited to stereotypes or pale-skinned people in “blackface” – theatrical make-up used to portray racist caricatures of Black people. Indeed, early Iranian theatre often featured a type of comedy performance known as Siah Baazi, a term meaning “playing black.”
In the Arab world, more recently, several Arabic-language networks have come in for criticism for their racist depiction of Black people in hidden camera-practical joke reality television shows.
Almost a year ago, protesters marched through cities in Israel calling for an end to anti-Black police brutality and discrimination in housing, healthcare and education. One of the most horrifying examples of anti-Black racism in Israel occurred in 2016 when the government admitted to having given Ethiopian-Israeli women long-term contraceptives without their consent. The community’s birth rate has halved over the past decade.
Perhaps the most egregious form of institutionalized racism in the Mena region is the kafala system of hiring migrant workers in Lebanon and parts of the Gulf, which has been described as a modern-day form of slavery. The kafala system, which is not covered by regular labour laws in Lebanon, gives employers total control over the legal residency of “their” workers. Every so often, horrific kafala-related stories emerge of migrant workers, most of them African, being made to work long hours without pay, tortured, sexually abused and even murdered, with little or no recourse to the law for help. Racism also pervades the tourism and hospitality sector in Lebanon and parts of the Gulf, with African and South Asian tourists complaining of being denied entry to trendy bars and clubs.
If there is to be any impetus for change in the Mena region, it is likely to come from civil society. For example, recent protests against Lebanon’s corrupt political class were led by the youth of the country and included calls to abolish kafala. In 2018, Tunisia became the first Mena country to pass a wide-ranging anti-racism law.
But much more needs to be done. Mena countries need to rethink their concept of nationalism, redefine the meaning of citizenship and re-negotiate the social contract between citizen and state. If there is to be any hope of dismantling racism and every vestige of slavery in the region, those are fundamental imperatives. Let the Black Lives Matter movement be the catalyst.
Mirna Abdulaal in Egyptian Streets suggests that only some ‘Radical’: Empowering Creative Youth and Local Designers in the Arab Region could awaken the currently dormant creation movement, particularly that in the art and design.
There’s one thing that unites generally all creative youth in the MENA region: their lack of representation and trouble in finding a platform that documents their story for others to see, hear and share.
Most media platforms and magazines in the region often fail to represent creatives, and particularly creative youth, through visual and imaginative presentations that help to truly capture their story. The concept of creative journalism and using art, aesthetics, powerful images and podcasts to brand a particular designer or artist is very much absent, with most resorting to mere commercial and celebrity-focused features rather than stories and dialogues to push the creative scene forward.
Nour Hassan, writer and founder of the platform ‘Radical Contemporary’, is the first to recognize this gap and introduce new understandings of how we can represent creatives in media and journalism. “When I started radical, I didn’t have any reference or any online magazine that gathers all creatives together, and it takes a lot of research. So I wanted to help people avoid what I faced in the beginning through this platform,” she says.
“If you want to know who is the best designer in Saudi Arabia, where would you look or who would you ask?”
Initially founded in 2017 as an online magazine that speaks about fashion, art and culture, Hassan began to branch out and do further projects, such as photoshoots, production, and podcasts. Eventually, she expanded into PR and creative consulting, growing from a magazine to a platform that also helps build and market brands.
For her, it is more than just representation, it is also creation – a ‘radical’ and creative process that aims to fundamentally change something in society or culture. In one of her projects, ‘Runaway Love’, she combines storytelling and visual journalism in an attempt to touch upon certain issues, such as the pressure of marriage for young girls. “It was shot on a Felucca boat and it talked about how young girls are pressured to get married, and how she is trying to escape that pressure by riding the Felucca. The photoshoot is a story that is also relevant to the culture,” she notes.
“I am making sure we have conversations, and this is important because there isn’t really any dialogue on creatives in the region.”
Coming from Egypt and growing up in Saudi Arabia, she noticed that there also aren’t any important dialogues and conversations being done on the work of young creatives across the region, which led her to launch ‘The Radical Contemporary Podcast’, allowing several creatives to speak about their creative process and provide a space for others to learn and grow. “I am making sure we have conversations, and this is important because there isn’t really any dialogue on creatives in the region and their work,” she tells Egyptian Streets, “If you want to know who is the best designer in Saudi Arabia, where would you look or who would you ask? And so, this is where I come in and bring them to let them talk in the podcast.”
In times of fast-paced communication and the growth of digital media, consuming content for longer periods of time has become even more difficult, which is why it has become ever more imperative for platforms to push creative journalism ahead and utilize podcasting effectively. “Podcasting is the future of content, it is the new radio,” Hassan says, “Right now, we cannot consume content for more than 15 seconds, so a podcast is like an alternative that helps you listen to the conversations even while you’re busy doing other things. It’s a different way of learning.”
“Podcasting is the future of content, it is the new radio”
It is also a way to introduce more critical conversations in the creative industry, particularly as the fashion industry continues to grow exponentially and young designers are entering the scene. “Our biggest problem is that we don’t have critics. We don’t have someone who critiques the work that is being produced, which is really important in helping young creatives grow and reach their potential. We need to work on being more critical and having critical conversations so we can develop,” she adds.
While it is easy to compare this to other magazines such as Vogue Arabia, Radical Contemporary goes even beyond that, as it is focused on building the creative soul in the region. It is expressive, visual, critical, and communicative – providing creatives an opportunity to learn and document their work. “I think we are the first generation telling our story. From the times of Umm Kalthoum up till now, there is this huge gap, and I don’t think there was a generation before us that really documented their work for others to find and look at.”
“I think we are the first generation telling our story.”
On top of that, it is also supporting local and regional brands, concerning that there is a lack of access to platforms that represent them. “At a time right now where it can be very hard for brands to survive, it is important to support our platform and in turn support these regional brands,” Hassan says.
For future writers, designers, artists, photographers and just about every creative in the region, Radical Contemporary represents the heart of their growth and expression in the rapidly changing region of the Middle East. It represents the face of a new generation, and a new region.
If we put together the words “MENA region” and “women-led startups” into the same sentence most of us probably would not expect the following statement: one in three start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa region is founded or led by a woman, which is a much higher percentage than in Silicon Valley. Women in Arab countries make up for 34-57 per cent of STEM graduates, a figure which is also much higher than in universities across Europe and the US. This led us to ask ourselves: how come, given these numbers, the proportion of female workforce in 13 out of 15 Arab countries remains among the lowest in the world?
This is how Wamda‘s Thought Leadershipon 11 May, 2020 introduced the hot subject of gender equality in the MENA region.
How can we encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship?
Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, Sana Afouaiz, founder of Womenpreneur, an organisation established to support women entrepreneurs, toured three countries in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) to gain an insight into the challenges faced by women founders in the region. In this article, Afouaiz outlines the steps needed to overcome these challenges.
The answer to this is neither short nor simple. It is safe to say, however, that the figures above unveil the amazing potential to be unlocked in the region. For this reason Womenpreneur Initiative and SANAD’s Entrepreneurship Academy joined forces to promote female tech entrepreneurship in the Mena region. The goal of this unprecedented empowerment campaign was to give visibility to women in tech, innovation and entrepreneurship as well as to provide platforms to assess the current state of the tech ecosystem in three countries: Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan.
During the Womenpreneur Tour we interviewed female tech entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. They shared with us what motivated them to launch their businesses, as well as every obstacle they encountered on their journey. Did you know that 71 per cent of Tunisian women started their enterprises with absolutely zero resources and zero support? Or that only 10 per cent of Moroccan women are entrepreneurs despite them representing half of the population of the country? Or that only 6 per cent of women entrepreneurs in Jordan are generating revenues exceeding $100,000?
Mindset as major drawback for women entrepreneurs in the region
Most of them point out mindset as the main barrier preventing women from having equal access to the job market or promotion opportunities. Traditional values in Arab countries are still deeply-rooted and this is reflected in recruitment processes for example, where women are still inquired about their marital status and left as second choice in the presence of a male competitor. High demands in the family setting are another major drawback for women to advance their career. This traditional mindset extends to the investment-seeking process too. Due to lack of precedent in the region, investors are more likely to distrust the profitability of women-led businesses.
What can be done to eliminate these constraints?
Many argued that a change of mindset is slowly emerging. For example, Jordan recently passed a new labour law providing equal day care obligations to both female and male parents in the workplace. This is a great achievement but real changes are taking too long to materialise. During our tour across these countries we also interviewed multiple experts from various fields who shared their recommendations to make the tech ecosystem more accessible and fairer to women. Most of them agreed on the need for gender quotas in the public administration to ensure the involvement of women in strategic decision-making at the political level as well as in board of directors in the private sector to promote that they reach top management positions. Recruitment processes should be revised from a legal perspective as well in order to prevent gender-based discrimination due to marital and family status. On the other hand, many pushed for the need to break the glass ceiling as well as gender roles and stereotypes which traditionally portray women as more suitable in social and human sciences and men as more capable for physics, mathematics and technology.
Further recommendations related to the financial sphere, where some of our experts suggest a democratisation of processes and requirements for opening a business bank account is needed. This would facilitate that women receive funds quickly to start their activities and demonstrate recorded payments and credit history. As a result, female tech entrepreneurs acquire financial credibility and are in a better position to fundraise further. Additionally, the creation of female-oriented or women-only funds for all stages of start-ups, in forms of government grants or equity investments, would facilitate women access to funding and present the investment-seeking process as one based on merit and business skills rather than a risk journey into gender discrimination.
After the great success of our tour we are embarking ourselves into a second edition that will explore three new countries: Algeria, Egypt and Lebanon. This time, however, in the context of the current Covid-19 crisis our aim is to find out how this pandemic is affecting female entrepreneurs’ lives across the Mena region and how the female talent is tackling this challenging situation and bringing about solutions.
If you want to know more about all the inspiring female tech entrepreneurs we met, then watch our documentary
There is a specter of threats on all MENA’s countries, starting with those that are oil-exporters. The risk of dislocation of social cohesion and that of amputation of territorial integrity are perhaps at the forefront.
What are then the scenarios for the future situation in all the countries of the MENA region? Here are some:
According to Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East programme at Chatham House: “The coronavirus has exposed the fragility of the social safety-net systems across the region,” and the “Covid-19 has postponed the inevitable unrest to come.”
Her comments fuelled speculation in the Financial Times about the coming unrest in the MENA region, which many would say has barely recovered from the 2011 uprising that became popularly known as the “Arab Spring”.
With governments lacking legitimacy, restless populations, high youth population and rampant unemployment, the region was already under severe stress. Their lack of financial resources to be able to deal with the virus in the way wealthy nations have been able to, by providing large-scale rescue packages to support businesses and protect jobs, is expected to make their position even more untenable.
While trust between people and the regimes is said to be dangerously low, authoritarian measures adopted during the spread of the pandemic has exacerbated this endemic problem. The shuttering of news agencies and expulsion of foreign journalists that contradicted government handling of the pandemic were cited as just two of the ways in which mistrust has been deepened.
In states like Algeria activists are even accusing authorities of exploiting the crisis by cracking down on political opponents and detaining opposition politicians as well as journalists.
States like Iraq have suffered a double blow of the spread of the coronavirus and the collapse of the global oil market which resulted from a major drop in global supply and a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Baghdad is unlikely to be able to pay as much as half of its staff in the public sector, by far the largest employer, while Algeria, another country exposed to the oil price plunge, is said to be cutting state spending by 30 per cent.
Countries heavily reliant on tourism are also being hit hard. Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco have seen this key sector completely freeze over the past months. As revenues plummet, remittances, which is a major source of income for many countries in the region, have dried up. Lebanon, one of the countries already at breaking point due to economic meltdown, will face major challenges.
This weekend, two banks in southern, and two in northern Lebanon were damaged in separate attacks over the weekend, as public anger grows over the country’s economic crisis.
The real test, according to the FT report, will come after the pandemic begins to ease and the economic consequences of the global crisis are truly felt, particularly for the region’s most vulnerable.
High unemployment rates, oppressive regimes and a desire for better education are some of the reasons cited by Arabs who express a desire to leave their countries.
The Arab world has seen a lot of its youth move in search of better opportunities for employment, freedom of expression, in addition to escaping from social and cultural norms they find oppressive.
According to an August 2019 poll by the Arab Barometer company, titled “Youth in the Middle East and North Africa,” the daily living situation in the region is far from ideal.
Noting that youth between the ages of 15 to 29 comprise about 30 percent of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, the Arab Barometer finds a significant number of them dissatisfied with their economic prospects.
They are also not happy with the education system. Moreover, “less than half say the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed”. Then there’s the high unemployment rates and widespread corruption.
This is why, Arab Barometer suggests, youth in the MENA region are more likely to consider emigrating from their country than older residents. The preferred destinations are varied, including Europe, North America, or the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
Another survey by Arab Barometer, titled “Migration in the Middle East and North Africa,” published in June 2019, notes that across the region, “roughly one-in-three citizens are considering emigrating from their homeland.”
The surveys were conducted with more than 27,000 respondents in the MENA region between September 2018 and May 2019 in face-to-face interviews.
According to the Arab Barometer’s findings, there had been a decrease in people considering emigrating from 2006 to 2016. Yet since 2016, the trend is no longer in decline but has shown an increase “across the region as a whole.”
The Arab Barometer finds that citizens are “more likely to want to leave” if they are young, well educated and male. The survey has found more than half of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 in five of the 11 countries surveyed want to leave.
While older potential migrants are more likely to cite economic factors as the primary decision, the survey suggests, younger ones “are more likely to name corruption, for example.”
As for the desired destination countries, they vary according to the homeland of potential migrants. Among those living in the Maghreb countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, Europe is the favoured destination.
Whereas migrants from Egypt, Yemen and Sudan point towards Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. The survey has also found that those from Jordan or Lebanon prefer North America, notably the US or Canada.
The survey also notes that while most would only depart if they had the proper paperwork, young males with lower levels of education who may not see a positive future in their homeland have said they would be willing to migrate illegally, “including roughly four-in-ten in six of the 11 countries surveyed.”
In a blog post for Unesco’s Youth Employment in the Mediterranean (YEM) published in January 2020, Sabrina Ferraz Guarino observes that “Migration is a coping mechanism based on the assumption that moving to another country is the best and most efficient investment for their own and one’s family future” and that improving people’s lives in their home countries will likely result in less desire to migrate.
Guarino says the unemployment rates in the Mediterranean region affect youth the most: “Unemployed youth are the highest in Palestine (45%), Libya (42%), Jordan (36.6%) and Tunisia (34.8%), while Morocco (21.9%) and Lebanon (17.6%) fare relatively better.”
She adds: “Viewing this together with the share of the youth that is not in education, employment or training (NEET), reveals how the challenges of youth employment remain self-compounding. The youth NEET rates tally around 14% in Lebanon and 21% for Algeria, but progressively increase across Tunisia (25%), Jordan (28%), Morocco (28%), and Palestine (33%).”
In its MENA report published in October 2019, the World Bank says growth rates across the region are rising but are still below “what is needed to create more jobs for the region’s fast-growing working-age population.”
The World Bank recommends reforms “to demonopolise domestic markets and open up regional trade to create more export-led growth.” Source: TRT World
Carolyn Lamboley of BBC Monitoring thinks that One year on, Algeria’s protest movement is soul-searching. Yesterday, people filled, as usual, all main streets of Algiers and other cities in the country, It was the 53rd consecutive Friday, thus marking the anniversary of the pro-democracy mass protest movement that carries with demands for a radical regime change.
21 February 2020
Around a year ago, on 22 February 2019, Algerians thronged the streets to protest against then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term after nearly 20 years in power.
Mr Bouteflika stood down in April. But Algerians kept on protesting. By this time, the protests had a name – the Hirak (movement).
Ten months into the protests, an election ushered in Abdelmadjid Tebboune as president. But the demonstrations continued.
One year on, some political players and national figures have sounded alarm bells, warning of the movement’s “failure” and “radicalism”. They have called for dialogue with the authorities and the pursuit of “achievable” goals.
But others are more optimistic and insist that things will never be the same again in Algeria.
Has the movement failed?
In January this year, Algerian writer and journalist Kamel Daoud wrote an article in which he said the Hirak had “failed”. His analysis appeared in French weekly Le Point, and made waves in Algeria.
He cited the “myopia” of the “urban elites of the opposition” and a “quixotic war” against perceived foreign intervention – in particular from France, the former colonial power. Daoud concluded that the movement had failed and had met an “impasse”, albeit “temporarily”.
He is not the only one to have said so. Others have warned that the Hirak has reached a standstill as the authorities plough on with their agenda.
Since the start of 2020, President Tebboune – who briefly served as Mr Bouteflika’s prime minister – has been consulting political figures about amendments to the constitution.
A referendum on the amendments is expected in the summer, followed by legislative elections by the end of the year.
This month, Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad pitched his government’s plan of action – dubbed “a new deal for a new Algeria” to parliament, promising to “cleanse the disastrous heritage” of past governance.
But many are sceptical about the authorities’ promises. More than 100 protesters are reportedly still in detention, events organised by the opposition are still often banned, and the judiciary continues to show subservience to the executive branch.
As for the authorities’ purge against former officials and powerful businessmen, it has actually drawn criticism from many protesters and political players, who have called instead for a transitional justice system to be put in place.
“Nothing has changed” is the leitmotiv repeated by human rights lawyer and political activist Mostefa Bouchachi, a familiar face at the protests who gives frequent interviews to the press. That is why Algerians will carry on, he says, far from being discouraged.
To talk or not to talk with the authorities?
Whether or not to engage with the authorities has been a bone of contention, causing divisions in the movement.
Sofiane Djilali, the leader of the Jil Jadid (New Generation) party and erstwhile coordinator of the Mouwatana (Citizenship) movement has warned against the “radicalism” of some segments of the Hirak and argues that cooperating with the authorities is the only way to effect real change. But he has stopped short of saying the movement has failed.
Jil Jadid was set up in 2011. Mouwatana, which was launched in 2018 and has often come under pressure from the authorities, played a leading role at the start of the demonstrations, calling for fresh protests just two days after 22 February, crystallising the Hirak’s momentum.
Mr Djilali met the president in mid-January, drawing the wrath of those advocating a more radical stance.
In an interview with El Khabar, he warned against the Hirak espousing “goals which cannot be achieved” and voiced his opposition to a constituent assembly process like that in neighbouring Tunisia, which has been advocated by some protesters.
“In my opinion, the demands of the Hirak are clear and do not require much discussion. Everyone is demanding rule of law, balance of powers, respect for the people’s sovereignty and an independent judiciary. It is easy for the new constitution to guarantee… all this directly.”
Organizing outside the framework of the state – an approach advocated by some – would be a form of “civil disobedience”, he said, warning that “this approach cannot change the system”.
In contrast, some have called for a complete separation from the authorities. The Political Pact of the Forces of the Democratic Alternative (PAD) – launched last summer by seven established opposition political parties including the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) and the Workers’ Party (PT) – is working on organizing a national conference which will exclude the authorities.
The PAD had opposed the holding of a presidential election and called for a constituent assembly.
Other prominent figures such as human rights lawyer Mostefa Bouchachi have called for more goodwill gestures – in particular the release of detainees – from the authorities as a prerequisite to any form of dialogue.
Despite diverging opinions about the road ahead, many Algerians share the same demands – as Mr Djilali said – and many feel that things have changed permanently.
Some observers are confident that a new dynamic and social pact have been established and will bear fruit. One word that crops up again and again in commentaries is “opportunity”, conveying the sense that the Hirak is a work in progress.
“Some people think the Hirak has failed because there was a presidential election… They see the Hirak as a political party that failed to make it to power. But, that’s not what the Hirak is… The Hirak is political, but it’s not a political party,” journalist Said Djaafer said in an episode of Radio M’s flagship Cafe Presse Politique programme.
“It’s a movement that comprises all political currents, all social classes, which wants to change the rules of the political game. They don’t want to take power.”
“Those who say it has failed are not looking at this new dynamic: students are organizing, there are people who have never taken an interest in politics who suddenly are interested, it is these things that are being sown… you cannot talk about a failure.”
“It’s a movement that will not stop, even if the demonstrations stop.”
One journalist threw the ball back at the authorities, saying they were the ones who had “failed”.
“The regime has failed. It is over, and the democratic revolution is only beginning,” Amin Khan said on the Radio M website. “The equation is simple. This is a historic opportunity for the country. The regime is faced with a popular movement characterised by rare wisdom. Algerians are not hungry for violence, revenge, expeditious justice or a witch hunt.”
“They want the peaceful and orderly departure of the regime through the law, via… democratic elections [and] the establishment of legitimate institutions… in other words, the complete opposite of a wild adventure or extravagant ambitions.”
Report reviews human rights in 19 MENA states during 2019
Wave of protests across Algeria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon demonstrates reinvigorated faith in people power
500+ killed in Iraq and over 300 in Iran in brutal crackdowns on protests
Relentless clampdown on peaceful critics and human rights defenders
At least 136 prisoners of conscience detained in 12 countries for online speech
Governments across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) displayed a chilling determination to crush protests with ruthless force and trample over the rights of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets to call for social justice and political reform during 2019, said Amnesty International today, publishing its annual report on the human rights situation in the region.
Human rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Review of 2019 describes how instead of listening to protesters’ grievances, governments have once again resorted to relentless repression to silence peaceful critics both on the streets and online. In Iraq and Iran alone, the authorities’ use of lethal force led to hundreds of deaths in protests; in Lebanon police used unlawful and excessive force to disperse protests; and in Algeria the authorities used mass arrests and prosecutions to crack down on protesters. Across the region, governments have arrested and prosecuted activists for comments posted online, as activists turned to social media channels to express their dissent.2019 was a year of defiance in MENA. It also was a year that showed that hope was still alive – and that despite the bloody aftermath of the 2011 uprisings in Syria, Yemen and Libya and the catastrophic human rights decline in Egypt – people’s faith in the collective power to mobilize for change was revived Heba Morayef
“In an inspiring display of defiance and determination, crowds from Algeria, to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon poured into the streets – in many cases risking their lives – to demand their human rights, dignity and social justice and an end to corruption. These protesters have proven that they will not be intimidated into silence by their governments,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Director for MENA.
“2019 was a year of defiance in MENA. It also was a year that showed that hope was still alive – and that despite the bloody aftermath of the 2011 uprisings in Syria, Yemen and Libya and the catastrophic human rights decline in Egypt – people’s faith in the collective power to mobilize for change was revived.”
The protests across MENA mirrored demonstrators taking to the streets to demand their rights from Hong Kong to Chile. In Sudan, mass protests were met with brutal crackdowns by security forces and eventually ended with a negotiated political agreement with associations who had led the protests.
Crackdown on protests on the streets
Across the MENA region authorities employed a range of tactics to repress the wave of protests – arbitrarily arresting thousands of protesters across the region and in some cases resorting to excessive or even lethal force. In Iraq and Iran alone hundreds were killed as security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators and thousands more were injured.In an inspiring display of defiance and determination, crowds from Algeria, to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon poured into the streets – in many cases risking their lives – to demand their human rights, dignity and social justice and an end to corruption. These protesters have proven that they will not be intimidated into silence by their governments Heba Morayef
In Iraq where at least 500 died in demonstrations in 2019, protesters showed tremendous resilience, defying live ammunition, deadly sniper attacks and military tear gas grenades deployed at short range causing gruesome injuries.
In Iran, credible reports indicated that security forces killed over 300 people and injured thousands within just four days between 15 and 18 November to quell protests initially sparked by a rise in fuel prices. Thousands were also arrested and many subjected to enforced disappearance and torture.
In September, Palestinian women in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories took to the streets to protest against gender-based violence and Israel’s military occupation. Israeli forces also killed dozens of Palestinians during demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank.
“The shocking death tolls among protesters in Iraq and Iran illustrate the extreme lengths to which these governments were prepared to go in order to silence all forms of dissent,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for MENA. “Meanwhile, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel’s policy of using excessive, including lethal, force against demonstrators there continued unabated.” The shocking death tolls among protesters in Iraq and Iran illustrate the extreme lengths to which these governments were prepared to go in order to silence all forms of dissent Philip Luther
In Algeria, where mass protests led to the fall of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years in power, authorities sought to quash protests through mass arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of peaceful demonstrators.
While the mass protests in Lebanon since October, which led to the resignation of the government, began largely peacefully, on a number of occasions protests were met with unlawful and excessive force and security forces failed to intervene effectively to protect peaceful demonstrators from attacks by supporters of rival political groups.
In Egypt, a rare outbreak of protests in September which took the authorities by surprise was met with mass arbitrary arrests with more than 4,000 detained.
“Governments in MENA have displayed a total disregard for the rights of people to protest and express themselves peacefully,” said Heba Morayef.
“Instead of launching deadly crackdowns and resorting to measures such as excessive use of force, torture, or arbitrary mass arrests and prosecutions, authorities should listen to and address demands for social and economic justice as well as political rights.”
Repression of dissent online
As well as lashing out against peaceful protesters on the streets, throughout 2019 governments across the region continued to crack down on people exercising their rights to freedom of expression online. Journalists, bloggers and activists who posted statements or videos deemed critical of the authorities on social media faced arrest, interrogation and prosecutions. Governments in MENA have displayed a total disregard for the rights of people to protest and express themselves peacefully Heba Morayef
According to Amnesty International’s figures, individuals were detained as prisoners of conscience in 12 countries in the region and 136 people were arrested solely for their peaceful expression online. Authorities also abused their powers to stop people accessing or sharing information online. During protests in Iran, the authorities implemented a near-total internet shutdown to stop people sharing videos and photos of security forces unlawfully killing and injuring protesters. In Egypt, authorities disrupted online messaging applications in an attempt to thwart further protests. Egyptian and Palestinian authorities also resorted to censoring websites including news websites. In Iran social media apps including Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube remained blocked.
Some governments also use more sophisticated techniques of online surveillance to target human rights defenders. Amnesty’s research highlighted how two Moroccan human rights defenders were targeted using spyware developed by the Israeli company NSO Group. The same company’s spyware had previously been used to target activists in Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as an Amnesty International staff member.
More broadly, Amnesty International recorded 367 human rights defenders subjected to detention (240 arbitrarily detained in Iran alone) and 118 prosecuted in 2019 – the true numbers are likely to be higher.
“The fact that governments across MENA have a zero-tolerance approach to peaceful online expression shows how they fear the power of ideas that challenge official narratives. Authorities must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally and stop harassing peaceful critics and human rights defenders,” said Philip Luther.
Signs of hope
Despite ongoing and widespread impunity across MENA, some small but historic steps were taken towards accountability for longstanding human rights violations. The announcement by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that war crimes had been committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and that an investigation should be opened as soon as the ICC’s territorial jurisdiction has been confirmed offered a crucial opportunity to end decades of impunity. The ICC indicated that the investigation could cover Israel’s killing of protesters in Gaza. The fact that governments across MENA have a zero-tolerance approach to peaceful online expression shows how they fear the power of ideas that challenge official narratives. Authorities must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally and stop harassing peaceful critics and human rights defenders Philip Luther
Similarly, in Tunisia the Truth and Dignity Commission published its final report and 78 trials started before criminal courts offering a rare chance for security forces to be held accountable for past abuses.
The limited advances in women’s rights, won after years of campaigning by local women’s rights movements, were outweighed by the continuing repression of women’s rights defenders, particularly in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a broader failure to eliminate widespread discrimination against women. Saudi Arabia introduced long-overdue reforms to its male guardianship system, but these were overshadowed by the fact that five women human rights defenders remained unjustly detained for their activism throughout 2019. Governments across the region must learn that their repression of protests and imprisonment of peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not silence people’s demands for fundamental economic, social and political rights Heba Morayef
A number of Gulf states also announced reforms to improve protection for migrant workers including promises from Qatar to abolish its kafala (sponsorship system) and improve migrants’ access to justice. Jordan and the United Arab Emirates also signalled plans to reform the kafala system. However, migrant workers continue to face widespread exploitation and abuse across the region.
“Governments across the region must learn that their repression of protests and imprisonment of peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not silence people’s demands for fundamental economic, social and political rights. Instead of ordering serious violations and crimes to stay in power, governments should ensure the political rights needed to allow people to express their socio-economic demands and to hold their governments to account,” said Heba Morayef.
The University of Pennsylvania’s 2019 Global Go To Think Tank Index (GGTTI) launched in 2006, marks its fourteenth year of continued efforts by reviewing all world countries’ in its Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP). Doing so was through focusing on “Researching the trends and challenges facing think tanks, policymakers, and policy-oriented civil society groups” per one of the leaders of the study.
This study showed that within the MENA region, the top three places in this year’s rankings were in this order, the Israeli think-tank: Institute for National Security (INSS), followed by the Lebanese Think-tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East Center. Third place in this ranking in the MENA region went to the Egyptian think-tank Al Ahram Center for Political Strategic Studies (ACPSS).
Here are some excerpts.
Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and North Africa continue to see an expansion in the number and type of think tanks established
Asia has experienced a dramatic growth in think tanks since the mid-2000’s
Many think tanks in these regions continue to be dependent on government funding along with gifts, grants, and contracts from international public and private donors
University, government affiliated, or funded think tanks remain the dominant model for think tanks in these regions
There is increasing diversity among think tanks in these regions with independent, political party affiliated, and corporate/business sector think tanks that are being created with greater frequency
In an effort to diversify their funding base, think tanks have targeted businesses and wealthy individuals to support their core operations and programs.
Reasons for the Growth of Think Tanks in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
Information and technological revolution
End of national governments’ monopoly on information
Increasing complexity and technical nature of policy problems
Increasing size of government
Crisis of confidence in governments and elected officials
Globalization and the growth of state and non-state actors
Need for timely and concise information and analysis that is “in the right form, in the right hands, at the right time”
2019 Top Think Tanks in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Table 13
Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) (Israel)
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East Center (Lebanon)
Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) (Egypt)
Al Jazeera Centre for Studies (AJCS) (Qatar)
Brookings Institution (Qatar)
Emirates Policy Center (United Arab Emirates)
Policy Center for the New South-FNA OCP Policy Center (Morocco)
International Institute for Iranian Studies, Rasanah
Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) (Israel)
Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) (Turkey)
Egyptian Center for Economic Studies (ECES) (Egypt)
Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches en Sciences Sociales (CERSS) (Morocco)
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (Israel)
Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR)
King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre (Saudi Arabia
Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) (Turkey)
Association for Liberal Thinking (ALT) (Turkey)
Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace (Israel)
Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC) (Egypt)
Dubai Public Policy Research Center (United Arab Emirates)
European Stability Initiative (ESI) (Turkey)
Royal Institute for Strategic Studies (IRES) (Morocco)
Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies (Israel)
Libyan Organization of Policies and Strategies (Loops) (Libya)
Economic Research Forum (ERF) (Egypt)
Reut Institute (Israel)
Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFA) (Egypt)
Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR) (Egypt)
Tunisian Institute for Strategic Studies (ITES) (Tunisia)
Emirates Diplomatic Academy (United Arab Emirates)
Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (Bahrain)
Cercle d’Action et de Réflexion Autour de l’Entreprise (CARE) (Algeria)
Moroccan Institute for International Relations (Morocco)
In Equal Times (a trilingual news and opinion website) OPINIONS, an article by Jesús A. Núñez Villaverde titled Something is shifting in the MENA region – and it is happening from the ground up brings to light a near year-long movement of streets protests. These are affecting nearly all the so-called republics type of countries of the MENA. Fun fact, it was at the beginning generally thought of as being only a short trip by all leading elites. What they ignored then and/or overlooked was Mobile telecommunications and social media making quite a difference. Tomorrow will be the 50th Friday of streets pavement beating in Algiers as well as other town and villages of Algeria with yet again and as highlighted here by Nunez Villaverde, to no significant and noticeable effect.
With all the caution that any generalisation implies, the central feature of the mobilisations/revolutions now taking place, with varying intensity, in a growing number of countries – Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria and Sudan being the most recent cases – is the huge public frustration with failed, corrupt, inefficient and totalitarian rulers who are incapable of guaranteeing decent levels of wellbeing and security for all. In this image from 11 January in Tehran (Iran), a woman chats with a policeman.(AP/Mona Hoobehfekr)
For too long, the Arab and wider Muslim world of the Maghreb, the Near East and the Middle East, has been perceived as synonymous with underdevelopment, instability and violence. Within the framework of imperfect systems – socially, politically and economically – the interests of dominant elites, determined to maintain their privileges at all costs, clash with those of increasingly critical citizens, driven by the inability to satisfy their basic needs, the violence they suffer in the flesh, the daily rights violations committed by their rulers and the denial of their right to a decent life.
Added to this is the traditional and pernicious interference of regional and global powers, much more attentive to the local elites than to the local populations, determined to meddle in the affairs of their neighbours and increase their global sway, with no regard for the malaise and insecurity generated for others.
A structural hotbed has thus been created, a breeding ground for the temptation to resort to violent repression, for some, and for social unrest and protest, for others. The result is a highly worrisome situation with no way out, or so it may appear at first sight.
For decades, violent repression has been by far the preferred option of the governments in the area, combined with variable doses of patronage and paternalism aimed at maintaining social peace. To maintain their grip on power whilst showing little sensitivity to the needs and demands of their respective populations, it has become commonplace for them to resort to punishment as the preferred method for preserving, in clear collusion with many foreign governments, a status quo of which they, and their allies, are the prime beneficiaries. Hardly willing to allow free speech, and even more so after the experience of the so-called Arab Spring, a real counter-revolution is now underway, the protagonists of which are the regimes of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Egypt (not forgetting Iran on the Shia side).
With the passing of time and the impact of the successive crises that have seriously impaired the capacity of the aforementioned regimes and most others to continue ‘buying’ social peace, what they are left with, above all, is their repressive capability, and they are applying it with great resolve. This means that no substantial change can be expected in their behaviour, as they cling on to a strategy that primarily seeks to keep them in power without giving up anything substantial in return.
And the same can be said, unfortunately, of the external actors with interests in the region, given that they generally prefer to deal with the current rulers – no matter how uncomfortable it may make them feel and no matter how much their own civil societies may criticise them for their crude ‘realpolitik’ – rather than risk allowing grassroots mobilisations to bring new rulers to power and jeopardise a regional order that has long served their interests.
This powerful dynamic is countered by another, driven by a growing number of citizens who want to find a way out and see a substantial change in their situation.
It is they who are really trying to overcome the current challenges and to find solutions to the problems that define their lives and life in their countries. They have far less power than that accumulated by their rulers and those who support them from the outside. But they have lost their fear of repression and their resolve seems to be growing ever firmer, fed by the visible disgruntlement that has built up over the years.
With all the caution that any generalisation implies, the central feature of the mobilisations/revolutions now taking place, with varying intensity, in a growing number of countries – Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria and Sudan being the most recent cases – is the huge public frustration with failed, corrupt, inefficient and totalitarian rulers who are incapable of guaranteeing decent levels of wellbeing and security for all. All it takes, on such potentially explosive ground, is a simple spark to ignite the flames of revolt – such as the young man who set himself on fire in front of a police station in Tunisia; the repression of children who painted political slogans against the government in Syria; the attempt to apply a monthly fee of almost €6 for WhatsApp calls in Lebanon; the increase in the price of fuel, in Iran; or less outstanding factors, in the case of Libya, Yemen, Syria or Algeria.
The substantial difference with previous episodes of grassroots mobilisation – when the application of structural adjustment programmes at the end of the last century triggered revolts that were limited to demanding the reinstatement of subsidies for basic necessities – what we have been witnessing since 2011 is a movement with a decidedly political profile, demanding not only the removal of the ruler of the day, but also the dismantling of a status quo that, at best, offers no more than the crumbs of paternalism and clientelism. The more recent protest movements have been, and continue to be crosscutting (going beyond the usual signs of ethnic or religious identity), young (in keeping with the demographic structure of these countries), spontaneous (in the sense that they emerge from society itself and not out of foreign manipulation) and peaceful (it is the powers that be, faithful to their repressive pattern, that resort to violence as the default option).
Support for legitimate and representative regimes without delay
What is also clear, however, is that these movements have yet to be structured and the only factor seemingly uniting them is the desire to rid themselves of the current establishment. In many cases, this means that they have even stopped identifying leaders and do not, as a rule, have coherent government programmes. And all this reduces their strength to overcome the resistance of actors who are better organised and experienced when it comes to seizing and maintaining power.
This is why simply wishing them luck, trusting that they will finally succeed in overcoming all the obstacles in their path, will not suffice. It is likely that in addition to the persistent repression and in keeping with the Lampedusa paradox [“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”], some of these governments will be willing to accept cosmetic reforms to ultimately prevent any substantial change.
It is essential that Western democratic governments actively support these movements, overcoming the traditionally short-sighted approach that is content with merely patching up the surface in the hope that time will eventually bring all the pieces of the puzzle together.
The current rulers are not going to relinquish power without a fight, and even less so if they feel that they are supported by Washington, Brussels, Moscow or so many other administrations with interests in the region. The current socio-political and economic management model is totally spent, and the millions of people living in these countries no longer expect anything from leaders who have amply demonstrated that the only thing that moves them is the desire to increase their privileges. The elites have squandered any political capital left in the eyes of citizens who, fully aware of their plight and the fact that there are other ways, in the 21st century, of ensuring that their basic needs are met and their security guaranteed, are calling for a thorough clean-up of a profoundly dysfunctional system.
Although many unknowns remain, there is already scope for concluding that, without public pressure, none of these imperfect regimes is ready to change course. The problem is that the foreign powers involved in the region seem no more ready to stop aligning with them. They do not yet appear to have realised that backing failed governments is not the best way to defend their real interests, not to mention the fact that such behaviour clashes head-on with their own values and principles. It can only be hoped they will eventually come to the realisation that the best course of action would be to contribute to the establishment and consolidation of legitimate and truly representative governments.
The first two decades of the 21st century saw the return of mass movements to streets around the world. Partly a product of sinking confidence in mainstream politics, mass mobilisation has had a huge impact on both official politics and wider society, and protest has become the form of political expression to which millions of people turn.
Following moments of open class warfare in the late 1960s and early 1970s, battles against the political and economic order became fragmented, trade unions were attacked, the legacy of the anti-colonial struggles was eroded and the history of the period was recast by the establishment to undermine its potency. In the post-Cold War era, a new phase of protest finally began to overcome these defeats.
This revival of protest exploded onto the political scene most visibly in Seattle outside the World Trade Organization summit in 1999. If 1968 was one of the high points of radical struggle in the 20th century, protest in the early 2000s once again began to reflect a general critique of the capitalist system, with solidarity forged across different sections of society.
The birth of the anti-globalisation movement in Seattle was followed by extraordinary mobilisations outside gatherings of the global economic elite. Alternative spaces were also created for the global justice movement to connect, most notably the World Social Forums (WSFs), starting with Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. It was here that questions over what position the anti-globalisation movement should take over the Iraq War, for example, were discussed and debated. Though the WSFs provided an important rallying point for a time, they ultimately evaded politics.
In the years leading up to and following the banking crisis of 2008, food riots and anti-austerity protests escalated around the world. In parts of the Middle East and North Africa, protests achieved insurrectionary proportions, with the overthrow of one dictator after another. After the Arab Spring was thwarted by counter-revolution, the Occupy movement and then Black Lives Matter gained global attention. While the public, urban square became a central focus for protest, social media became an important – but by no means exclusive – organising tool.
To varying degrees, these movements sharply raised the question of political transformation but didn’t find new ways of institutionalising popular power. The result was that in a number of situations, protest movements fell back on widely distrusted parliamentary processes to try and pursue their political aims. The results of this parliamentary turn have not been impressive.
Crisis of representation
On the one hand, the first two decades of the 21st century have seen soaring inequality, accompanied by debt and the neglect of working people. On the other, there have been poor results from purely parliamentary attempts to challenge it. There is, in other words, a deep crisis of representation.
The inability of modern capitalism to deliver more than survival for many has combined with a general critique of neoliberal capitalism to create a situation in which wider and wider sections of society are being drawn into protest. More than a million people have poured onto the streets of Lebanon since mid-October and protests continue despite a violent crackdown by security forces.
At the same time, people are less and less willing to accept unrepresentative politicians – and this is likely to continue in the future. From Lebanon and Iraq to Chile and Hong Kong, mass mobilisations continue despite resignations and concessions.
In Britain, the Labour Party’s defeat in the recent general election is attributed largely to its failure to accept the 2016 referendum result over EU membership. Decades of loyalty to the Labour Party for many and a socialist leader in Jeremy Corbyn calling for an end to austerity couldn’t cut through to enough of the millions who voted for Brexit.
In France, a general strike in December 2019 over President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed pension reforms has revealed the extent of opposition that people feel towards his government. This comes barely a year after the start of the Yellow Vest movement, in which people have protested against fuel price hikes and the precariousness of their lives.
The tendency towards street protest will be encouraged too by the climate crisis, whose effects mean that the most heavily exploited, including along race and gender lines, have the most to lose. When the protests in Lebanon broke out, they were taking place alongside rampant wildfires.
As protesters gain experience, they consciously bring to the fore questions of leadership and organisation. In Lebanon and Iraq, there has already been a conscious effort to overcome traditional sectarian divides. Debates are also raging in protest movements from Algeria to Chile about how to fuse economic and political demands in a more strategic manner. The goal is to make political and economic demands inseparable, such that it’s impossible for a government to make political concessions without making economic ones too.
There has also been a resurgence of the far-right in many countries, emboldened most visibly by parties and politicians in the US, Brazil, India and many parts of Europe. This resurgence, however, has not gone unchallenged.
The convergence of crisis on these multiple fronts will reach breaking point, creating conditions that will become intolerable for most people. This will galvanise more protest and more polarisation. As governments respond with reforms, such measures on their own will be unlikely to meet the combination of political and economic demands. The question of how to create new vehicles of representation to assert popular control over the economy will keep emerging. The fortunes of popular protest may well depend on whether the collective leadership of the movements can provide answers to it.
The economy, corruption and unemployment. These are by far the top concerns amongst citizens across 18 Arab countries, according to a ground-breaking new poll released by YouGov this week.
The optimism and hope that inspired the Arab Spring nine years ago has vanished, upended by a new wave of anger sweeping the region. The result has been the toppling of Algeria’s president and protests across Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt.
The poll also revealed most Arab citizens feel their leaders should prioritise the economy over all other issues, be they national security related, religious or sectarian.
Arab leaders must take note of this data. But it should also inform the decision-making of EU policymakers too. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) after all are the EU’s backyard. MENA and the ripple effect of what begins there will inevitably reach Europe too; the refugee crisis proved that.
The poll results also suggest the EU has a timely opportunity to encourage positive reform in the MENA region. The EU has long hoped to encourage reform through initiatives like the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Union for the Mediterranean. The basis for these initiatives was “shared values.”
This new poll, draw from the responses of thousands of Arabs across 18 MENA countries, shows these shared values exist more today than ever before. Respondents supported economic liberalisation, women’s empowerment, religious minority rights, greater transparency and criticised the politicisation of religion. You could say Middle Eastern citizens increasingly embody the values of the EU itself.
One of the biggest historical criticisms of EU initiatives like the ENP and the Union for the Mediterranean has been that it seeks to impose European standards in an imperial “civilising” effort towards Europe’s neighbouring regions.
Dr. Saqib Qureshi Senior business strategist and expert on democratic policy development
This is particularly notable given one of the biggest historical criticisms of EU initiatives like the ENP and the Union for the Mediterranean has been that it seeks to impose European standards in an imperial “civilising” effort towards Europe’s neighbouring regions.
But with the emergence of a new generation of Middle Eastern citizens embodying home-grown, forward-looking values, it is unlikely such EU efforts will now be viewed by Arab people as an attempt to impose alien values upon the region.
But the window of opportunity is narrow. Should the economic situation in nations like Iraq or Lebanon continue to deteriorate (both nations cited corruption as the biggest problem for their country), the inclination for the masses to rally around more extreme political positions may once again return.
Indeed, economic fears were present across the MENA region. 61% of respondents across the Arab world believed the future would be better if economic matters were put above all other policy issues, be they political, religious or sectarian.
Such a decisive majority opinion on this issue is likely to be due to the sheer anger in the Arab world over corruption. Respondents from every MENA region overwhelmingly cited corruption as the single biggest problem for their country. 42% of respondents were concerned about unemployment, hardly surprising given that across the region, 30% of young people are currently unemployed.
This all makes it timelier than ever for the EU to leverage its trade relations with the MENA region to help bridge the divide between citizens and the State in the Middle East.
But here, too, the EU’s efforts are under threat. The EU’s trade leverage is competing with that of economic powers like China. China’s investment in the Arab world and the conditions attached to them – in relation to equal opportunities, economic participation and fair competition – differ to those of the EU.
Not only is China not concerned with using its economic ties to support forward-looking values and principles, it could potentially halt or even reverse some of the progress that has already been made.
Dr. Saqib Qureshi Senior business strategist and expert on democratic policy development
Not only is China not concerned with using its economic ties to support forward-looking values and principles, it could potentially halt or even reverse some of the progress that has already been made.
If the EU fails to scale up its engagement with the Middle East soon, countries like China will fill the vacuum.
This increases the imperative for the EU to ensure that it engages with the Arab world in a way that strengthens it economically.
Increasing the opportunities and economic standing of Arab populations will alleviate some of the frustration and anger they feel that has built-up as a result of a lack of opportunity. However, this engagement must also build on the increasing convergence of shared values which will lead to a more tolerant and liberal MENA.
Dr. Saqib Qureshi is a senior business strategist and expert on democratic policy development who has advised governments in Canada, London, Washington DC and Dubai. His forthcoming book is The Broken Contract: Making Our Democracies Efficient, Representative, and Accountable.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.