Panel 2, November 17, 2011
Kate Seelye: Thank you all so much for joining us for the second panel of the day, “The Road Ahead for Emerging Arab Democracies.” This morning we looked at the US role in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring, Arab Awakening. Now we’re going to be looking at how local communities are handling the challenges of democratization.
We have moderating the panel our own wonderful Daniel Serwer, an MEI Scholar who is also a lecturer and senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Dr. Serwer is going to take it over. Thank you, Dan.
Daniel Serwer: Thank you. Let me urge everybody to take a seat. I’m going to do a very brief introduction of our four panelists and then keep them each to a strict fifteen minutes of presentations to allow some time for Q&A afterwards.
Michele Dunne has moved recently and is now at the Atlantic Council’s Rafiq Hariri Center for the Middle East. We all know her as the Arab Reform Bulletin. She also chairs a working group here in the Washington, a bipartisan group on Egypt.
Esraa Abdel Fattah is an Egyptian human rights and democracy advocate who was honored last night with an award that has the marvelous title of “Middle East Visionary Award,” and that she is indeed. She is now also the media director of the Egyptian Democratic Academy.
Radwan Masmoudi is the founder and president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. I think of it as the Center for the Study and Practice of Islam and Democracy. He has the distinction in addition to having gone recently to his native Tunisia and acting as an observer initially and later as an unsuccessful candidate for parliament – which, those also serve who don’t succeed. We are looking forward to hearing about that experience.
Larry Diamond is a professor of both sociology and political science at Stanford University. In Washington we think of him as the editor of the Journal of Democracy. He has contributed in a thousand different ways to our understanding of democratic transitions throughout the world.
I’ll say upfront that I have enormous enthusiasm for what I guess we’re calling the Arab Spring today, even if it might have started in Iran, even if it’s not spring – a thousand other “evens.” I have enormous enthusiasm for it, I share the hopes for it that were evident in the first panel – but I also think that as you take a closer look at things that that kind of granularity reveals a lot of issues. This panel I’m sure will focus on a lot of those issues, starting with Michele Dunne.
Michele Dunne: Good morning. I have the unenviable position of standing in for Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who was to be on this panel. I wish he were here so we could get his analysis but I’ve been asked to speak about the Egyptian transition. I’ll do the best I can, give it to you from my point of view and then you can get the real story from Esraa.
There is good news and bad news about the transition in Egypt. The good news is that Egypt is about to hold parliamentary elections that might well be the freest, fairest and most inclusive that Egypt has ever held. Political parties have been formed. There will be judicial supervision of the elections. There is a new electoral system that reflects at least some of what Egyptians were looking for from their electoral system for a long time.
But there is bad news as well about how the Egyptian transition is going. On the elections, there is a little bit of potential bad news, which is that Egypt has chosen an extraordinarily complicated electoral system – I think it’s going to be really challenging for the electoral administration, even if well-intentioned, to carry this system out successfully. There is going to be a lot of room for misunderstanding, for problems in administration and for violence, which unfortunately has been a feature of a lot of Egyptian elections in the past. There is a lot of scope for security problems because the police have not been fully reformed and are not really back out on the streets in full numbers after the revolution. So I have some concerns about how the parliamentary elections will go.
But my main concern about the Egyptian transition is a much broader one, and that is the role of the military in the political system. Because of what I have called Egypt’s “half-revolution,” the fact that power was turned over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, what we see now is that the military leadership is willing to turn over at least some legislative authority to an elected parliament but they are delaying the transfer of executive authority. They are delaying scheduling a presidential election, I think in order to hold onto executive authority through the writing of a new constitution.
A lot of this was going on with smoke and mirrors but it all became right out on the surface in the last couple of weeks with the issuance of a supra-constitutional set of principles that the deputy prime minister, appointed by the SCAF, has put out. I won’t go into the details but what the military seems to be looking for is not only preserving the extensive influence and economic perquisites that it had during the Mubarak era but actually enhancing it quite a bit, formalizing its status and making the kind of influence that it had de facto now become de jure in the new constitution. In other words, freedom from civilian oversight, perhaps freedom from civilian appointments to the military, ability to intervene in legislative and other political processes and to overrule legislation, ability to control those who will be selected for the constituent assembly that is to be chosen. That in fact is supposed to be the main task of the parliament to be elected, to choose a 100-member constituent assembly that will then oversee the writing and passage of a constitution. The supra-constitutional principles put the military in control of a lot of that.
I think that’s really of a great deal of concern and a lot of Egyptians think it’s of concern now. If you have been following what’s been going on over the last couple of days, there are some pretty heated negotiations going on. Many of the political parties, the leading presidential candidates, have been meeting with the military and with the deputy prime minister, who is taking the lead on this, expressing strong concerns and objections. There is this possibility of a very large demonstration tomorrow.
We all know that the military is powerful in Egypt, that it has a great deal of influence and will continue to have a great deal of influence for a long time. We also know from other cases around the world that real civilian oversight of the military in a case where democratization is taking place takes a long time. Even if it’s in the constitution, it doesn’t happen overnight. I think if Egypt is going to move into a real process of democratization, it could take a long time. It could take a decade or more for real civilian oversight of the military and civilian control of the military to emerge.
What I’m concerned about though is that what the military is trying to do right now is place serious obstacles to that ever happening in the new constitution. That would be really a shame. It would be a very unfortunate outcome of the revolution that started on January 25.
Also, I think the continuation of rule by the SCAF for the period of time they are envisioning is quite problematic in itself. We’re going to have parliamentary elections taking place in Egypt starting on November 28 and stretching into March. There will be the lower house, the People’s Assembly, elected between the end of November and the beginning of January, and then after that the Shura Council, the upper house, will be seated probably at some point in March. Then what the SCAF envisions is then Egyptians embark on the process of writing and passing a new constitution, and only at the end of that is a president elected. So it could be quite a while. To be honest with you, the process of writing a constitution should take a while. I don’t think it’s something that should be rushed through in a month or two. It’s absolutely fine for it to take a year or two, or whatever Egyptians need. But if all of that time the military is holding onto executive authority, I predict we’re going to see a lot of problems in Egypt. After all, the military is not set up to run the country. We can see that very clearly, that they are not doing a good job of – I already mentioned the lack of effective police reform to restore security. We’ve seen the mismanagement of some very serious sectarian problems. We’ve seen harassment and persecution of NGOs and some of the movements, like the April 6 Youth Movement, that were involved in the revolution. We’re seeing the Egyptian economy really deteriorating, partly because of all these things – because of the sense of insecurity and the sense that the political transition is hung up, that it’s not happening.
I think we need to be clear about the fact that these parliamentary elections constitute a step in the political transition – they are not in themselves the political transition. I hear a lot of people talking about coalition governments coming out of the parliamentary elections – Egypt at this point is not a parliamentary system. The military is still going to – there is not going to be a coalition government that’s going to come out of the parliament and take executive authority. Until the constitution is rewritten it’s still the president and in this case the SCAF that will be appointing governments, that will be appointing the cabinet. So the military will still be holding executive authority until a president is elected.
Just briefly on the United States, I think the United States can’t escape a degree of responsibility for what’s going on here, because of its very long relationship with the Egyptian government in general and the Egyptian military in particular. I hear US officials saying, “We really don’t have that much leverage.” Who does then? It’s really hard to understand in this situation of very high-level military assistance and so forth why the United States should not have some influence over this situation. Indeed we saw with Secretary Clinton’s speech last week, US officials starting to speak up and voice some concerns about how things are going in Egypt.
I’ve been very enthusiastic about generating various kinds of economic support for Egypt after its revolution. It’s going to be critical to support the economy and so underpin a successful political transition. So I’ve been in favor of debt relief and of once again taking up the issue of free trade arrangements and thinking in pretty big terms about how we can help Egypt through this transition. But I really think those things are only going to be possible and only going to be advisable if Egypt is in a genuine political transition, which means the full transfer of both executive as well as legislative authority to elected civilians. Thank you.
Esraa Abdel Fattah: Thank you, Michele, I think I cannot add more than you said. Maybe I want to talk more about what happened on the ground in Egypt. Maybe also I will mention many bad things but it doesn’t mean that we lose our hope or the revolution coming back. It means we are still in the revolution phase and we still continue our efforts to build a new country.
I think we are in the time of the Arab Spring but it comes after many years of autumns and winters. We are in a very critical time in our Arab countries, especially in my Egypt. Our job is extremely difficult. It is much easier to destroy a regime than to build a new country. We are trying our best to build Egypt from scratch. Of course this needs a lot of time and effort.
In my speech I am going to focus on three points: what we can see on the ground in Egypt, what will happen next, and what kind of focus we have to do. To make this brief, I can start from February 11, but I will focus on the elections phase.
From the last nine months, we can see with no doubt that the SCAF has a lack of experience and ability to lead this critical transition period. During these months we are suffering from military court for civilians, restriction of freedom, a drop in the economy, instability, insecurity of life, very poor government without any authorities. As you know, the [indiscernible] board tried to form a new constitution first but the SCAF insisted on making meaningless amendments of the constitution and called for elections without allowing for good preparation or awareness. We are also suffering that we are having many meetings and many negotiations about the supra-constitutional principles and without any decision until now. We are making many drafts, many negotiations and the last draft was published from [indiscernible] last Thursday, but until now there is no decision. Until now we don’t know why. All this time just to make a document of principles to put a constitution.
In the last session we talked about whether the transition period should be shorter or longer. I think when we choose to speed this transitional period we cannot start by the difficult step. We started by the difficult step – we started by the parliament election, which needs more time and preparation, more efforts and awareness. So we cannot expect that it will take a short time. If we can start with the constitution – maybe it is ideal what happened in Tunisia now, but we start with the difficult one and we need to shorten the time. I don’t know how we can make it.
I tried yesterday to put the challenges we face in this election step. I started with four challenges and today before I come it comes to nine. I don’t know, after some time, what will happen. The most important challenge is that there is no security in the street at all. There is no clear visions of how the [indiscernible] and the people will be protected. What if there is violence between different groups? Who will control it? The judge asked the SCAF many times to declare what is their plan to control the country. Youth activists have announced that they are ready to cooperate and help keep the polls safe but have not received any response from the SCAF or government until now.
The second one: the public is not aware of the new election system, which as Michele said is more complicated. Civil society organizations are doing their best but there is not enough time to reach more than 18 million people all over the country to explain what is this complicated system.
Allowing the members from the ex-NDP to be parliamentary candidates without any restriction. Liberal and leftist parties don’t have enough time to conduct outreach, campaigning and organizing. On the other hand, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are far more organized.
There are no international election monitors. SCAF considers it interference. Also they have interfered in many countries’ affairs, especially in Tunisia recently. They sent people to interfere in their affairs and to monitor the election.
No clear plan of how Egyptians abroad will vote until now. The [indiscernible] says that Egyptians abroad will vote but no one knows how they can vote. The election is after ten days.
The youth has a lack of campaigning experience. It is the first time for them to be parliament member candidates without any chance of [indiscernible] or to prepare themselves to be ready for this election.
The last thing: the attack on the activists and NGOs. They describe them as agents, having money from outside with illegal ways. Now they declare that they will let the security discover or look at our personal accounts in banks. Also they will not find anything and they will not declare that there is nothing for these activists or NGOs. But they put our names on the first page of our national newspaper to say that these people, we will discover their personal accounts.
I think all these challenges will lead Egypt to two scenarios. One, maybe the election will occur and not be an ideal election. There may be limited violence, unrepresentative of political power inside the parliament, which would not be a bad step toward the next steps. This would place the new constitution and the presidential election but without any clear schedule for when it will be.
The next scenario that could happen is the postponement or canceling of the election, which leaves the door open for a new and second revolution in Egypt as all citizens, even those who support the SCAF running the country, understand the main role for SCAF is to transfer power to the civilian rule through elections. But now there is no election, so we would then need to choose another transitional period to set the election and to transfer the country by election to civilian power.
The last point I want to mention is what we need to do in this phase. The youth cannot all fill the same roles and I think we need to work on three parallel levels. We make this now in the street.
The first thing, spread awareness. We work with some civil society organizations to spread awareness about the new election system, how they can vote, how they can choose, how they can evaluate the candidates and their problems. Another thing, we are waiting and waiting for months for the law which prevents the NDP members for running in this election but no law. Every time we are negotiating we are putting the law, we are about to declare it, but until the opening of the registration of the candidates we find many people from the ex-NDP are now candidates for parliament. So the 6 April Movement makes our own campaign to implement this law by the power of the people, not by the power of the government or by [indiscernible]. We make our campaign to explain to the people and to say this is a black list for the people who are from the old regime and this is a white list for the people who are for revolution. I think in this way we continue our pressures, by this kind of campaigning and also by continuing our demonstration on Fridays on the street. I think we are about to have one big demonstration tomorrow, November 18.
The last thing I want to mention: we should participate as youth in decision-making positions. We try to do that. We have some youth candidates for the next parliament and also we think about a new thing in Egypt to make us be close to the people who will be in the next parliament, because we know this parliament will be very important for Egypt – this is the parliament that will make the constitution committee. So now we try to prepare ourselves and train ourselves to work as staffers for the parliament members, to be close for them, to continue our pressures and to say in this position we can have pressures and we can say our position, and now we have official role to say if we agree or don’t agree about what happens in the parliament and the constitution committee.
As I said at the beginning, we are still in the revolution phase and we will be in this phase until the SCAF leave. They cannot rule this country. We will start our transitional period actually when we have our first civilian president. We will start at this time our transitional period. But the time of the military ruling the country, it is a time of revolution. It will be the time of revolution. We will succeed when we choose by the will of the people in the street the next president for Egypt.
I will not lose my hope to see Egypt as I dream it can be. I believe in the Egyptian people and I trust their ability to build their own country and return Egypt back as the mother of the world. Thank you.
Radwan Masmoudi: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, your excellencies, friends and colleagues. It is a great pleasure to be back in Washington and to participate in this wonderful conference.
I just returned from six months in Tunisia. As you know, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy has been promoting democracy for the past twelve years throughout the Arab and Islamic world, but since the revolution took place we made the conscious decision to go back to Tunisia and to focus on Tunisia. Of course we are following events very closely in neighboring countries – in Egypt and Libya – and we think these events are very much interrelated and we are hoping that Egypt will ultimately succeed in this very difficult transition, as will Libya and the other countries. But we think that Tunisia, even though it’s a much smaller country than neighboring countries, has the potential and the capability to lead the other Arab countries in this very difficult transition period toward democracy.
This is a new day and the beginning of a new era in the Arab world and the Middle East and North Africa, with popular demands for accountability, transparency, freedom and democracy. Tunisia has all the necessary ingredients for a successful democracy for several reasons. Let me mention just a few of them.
Number one, it has a small and homogenous society. It has a strong and modern educational system. It has a large middle class, a diverse and robust economy, very strong women’s rights and equality, a moderate and modern interpretation of Islam, and a military bent on staying out of politics (unlike what we see today unfortunately in Egypt). The Tunisian military, as you know, has decided and historically has always stayed out of politics. For all these reasons we believe that democracy has the best chances of success in Tunisia and if it doesn’t succeed in Tunisia it will be much harder to succeed anywhere else. Tunisians are aware of this responsibility and that the whole Arab world is watching what is happening in Tunisia very closely, and that Tunisia hopefully will set the path and direction for reforms and for the transition to democracy throughout the region.
As you know we just had elections two weeks ago, on October 23. They were a huge success I think, by any standard. There were close to 16,000 observers in these elections; roughly 1,500 were international observers and the others were Tunisian observers. The elections were as important and as historic as the revolution itself because they really helped consolidate the values and the principles of democracy and the revolution.
It was an amazing day to be part of this election. I saw with my own eyes many people crying from pride and from joy after they cast their vote for the first time in their lives. It was really a great day and a historic day in Tunisia. People were very happy and very emotional to participate in these elections. My own father, who is a retired military officer, 78 years old, also cried after he cast his vote for the first time and after he saw people lining up for four and five hours waiting to cast their vote, and they were very happy to do so.
So there is a feeling that a free and new nation is being born and Tunisians are really happy and excited about what is going on in their country.
As Dan mentioned, I personally ran as an independent candidate in these elections. There were over 14,000 candidates, over 110 parties, and close to 1,000 lists of independent candidates. So it was really a huge event. I had the honor and the privilege, even though we didn’t win any seats on our list, it was an honor and a privilege to participate in these elections and in the campaign – and to have a chance to talk to Tunisians during the campaign, at the street level and to go from house to house, coffee shop to coffee shop, and talk to people about the future of Tunisia and the future of democracy and what it all means. If you have been to Tunisia before, you know that Tunisians historically were famous for not talking about politics and not interested in politics. Of course we know why – because they were afraid to do so. But that has completely changed now. Every Tunisian is talking about politics, from the time they wake up until they go to sleep, whether they are three years old or a hundred and three years old. Everybody has a theory and has ideas and has suggestions on how to move Tunisia forward.
The final results of the elections were released just this week, actually on Monday. Unsurprisingly, the moderate Islamic An-Nahda party won a plurality, with 41 percent of the vote. They won 89 seats on the constituent assembly. In Tunisia we have decided to scrap the constitution and to elect a constituent assembly that will write a new constitution.
Four other moderately secular parties did well in the elections: the Congress for the Republic (CPR) got about 14 percent; Al Aridha got about 12 percent; Ettakatol about 10 percent; and the PDP got about 6 percent. Between them these five parties have about 83 percent of the seats in the assembly.
The most striking summary of the election results, however, is that An-Nahda received 1.5 million votes, which is roughly 40.5 percent of the total number of votes, and all the other opposition parties and independents who got seats in the assembly combined got 834,000, or 22 percent of the votes. This means that An-Nahda got nearly twice the votes of all the other parties and lists who won seats on the assembly combined. It also means that 1.3 million votes went to other smaller parties and independent lists who did not get seats on the assembly, because as I mentioned earlier there were too many parties and too many lists on the ballot.
Four secular parties, especially the PDP, the PDM, Afek Tounes and the [indiscernible], fared poorly in the elections because they appeared anti-Islamic and anti-religious. There is a big misunderstanding of secularism in the Arab world, especially in Tunisia, but I think across the Arab world historically secularism has been associated with anti-religious sentiments and sometimes even with atheism, and also with corruption and repression, because most of the regimes that we’ve had – including Ben Ali, Mubarak, Nasser, Assad and Saddam Hussein – were secular dictators. So in the minds of a lot of people secularism is associated either with corruption and oppression or with atheism and anti-Islamic feelings.
These secular parties, for example, defended the showing of two movies that were shown, one in the cinema and one on TV, where one promoted atheism, basically promoted the idea that there is no God – the title in fact was “No God and No Master” – and the other film which was shown on TV depicted God in a cartoon. These secular parties in my opinion committed an atrocious mistake of defending the showing of these movies on the idea of basic freedom or freedom of expression. I think they have forgotten that they are not human rights organizations. This is a perfectly acceptable position for human rights organizations to take but not for political parties, because they appeared as if they were putting freedom of expression above religious sentiments of their own people and the electorate. I think this was a major reason why they lost their votes. The PDP, for example, in January had about 20 percent of the vote in the polling and it went down from January to October to about 6 percent of the vote. I think this was one of the main reasons why this happened.
An-Nahda therefore has emerged in Tunisia as the main political party after the revolution. Since they were recognized as a political party – they have been repressed for thirty years under Bourguiba and Ben Ali, they were not recognized as a political party – since they were recognized in February, after the revolution, they have succeeded in building a large political structure with over 285 local branches and offices throughout the country. In comparison, none of the other political parties have more than five or ten branches throughout the country. An-Nahda has 285 branches all over the country.
Read more importantly, An-Nahda succeeded in portraying itself as a moderate and modern civil party that is rooted in Islamic values but also deeply attached to democracy, human rights and modernity. Tunisians do not see a contradiction between Islam and democracy or between Islam and modernity. They do not want to choose between them. They want to be both: they want to be Muslim and modern at the same time. An-Nahda succeeded in providing them with a ticket that promises to do just that.
Before and after the elections An-Nahda has tried to send reassuring messages to all Tunisians and other international observers and allies of Tunisia that despite its commanding lead in the elections, An-Nahda has tried to reach out to all the other political parties, even the ones that only got two or three seats, and invited them to join an all-inclusive national unity coalition government. Most of them refused unfortunately, except CPR and Ettakatol, thinking that it is better for them to let An-Nahda govern alone so that next year – we will have another election next year after the constitution is adopted – they can blame An-Nahda for all the problems and ills of the country. I think this is very short-sighted on their part and I think it will backfire against them.
In an interview with Reuters published November 4, 2011, Rachid Ghannouchi, president of An-Nahda, said the following: “We are against trying to impose a particular way of life. All the parties have agreed to keep the first article of the current constitution, which says that Tunisia’s language is Arabic and its religion is Islam. This is just a description of reality. It doesn’t have any legal implications. There will be no other references to religion in the constitution. We want to provide freedom for the whole country.”
This is exactly what the majority of Tunisians wanted to hear. Tunisians did not overthrow a secular dictatorship to replace it with a religious or theocratic dictatorship. There is a consensus in Tunisia on building a civil state that respects Islamic values but not a religious state. They do not want the state to interfere with or enforce religious practices. Religion should be a personal matter and choice and the state should simply enforce laws that are made by the elected legislative body. The state should also treat all citizens as equal and should respect and protect the individual rights and freedoms for all citizens.
The question now is, can An-Nahda succeed in leading Tunisia to real and genuine and lasting democracy? Tunisians, including members of An-Nahda, have followed the experience of the AK Party in Turkey with great admiration and great enthusiasm. Here is finally an Islamic party that found the right balance between Islamic and democratic values and principles. If An-Nahda is successful in emulating this model in Tunisia, I think they will be very successful and their popularity will continue to increase in the years to come.
The Arab world and indeed the entire world needs to see a successful Arab democracy emerge from the Arab Awakening. Failure is not an option. That is why I think the entire world and especially the United States have a huge vested interest in supporting Tunisia and supporting the democratic transition in Tunisia, and encouraging An-Nahda to follow in the footsteps of the AK Party. Perhaps then Tunisia will become a shining beacon of freedom and democracy in the region and the model for others to follow. Thank you very much.
Larry Diamond: Let me begin by thanking Kate Seelye and her colleagues at the Middle East Institute for the wonderful job of organizing this incredibly large, important and timely meeting. Also I just want to say what an honor it is to be on the same panel as Esraa Abdel Fattah and my long-time friend Radwan Masmoudi. Both of these individuals have been in important leadership roles in trying to move their countries toward democracy. You’ve heard their passion and their very keen analysis and I want to thank them.
I want to talk about some of the challenges underlying these transitions, particularly for the three countries that are on our minds now: Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Of course if we get breakthrough in Syria or in Yemen – in different ways, because there’s enormous variety among these Arab countries – these challenges will arise. I think there may be a breakthrough in Morocco in the coming years from the non-democracy that they have now, even in the wake of the so-called constitutional reform, to a real one. If it were to come many of the same dynamics you were talking about, Radwan, in terms of Tunisia might apply there.
First of all, let me say that you can’t get a good transition to democracy out of a climate of lawlessness, chaos and abuse of human rights. So it’s very important to be mindful of the warnings and concerns that Esraa and her colleagues in Egypt are expressing, that I have no doubt that Saad Eddin Ibrahim would have expressed if he had been here, about the continuing abuses of human rights and civil liberties that are going on in Egypt now. Torture by the state security apparatus that is still going on now. Bloggers being detained and arrested. A climate of fear that has not been entirely lifted. I think those who alluded to this earlier are right: we do have leverage – Michele, I think you made this extremely important point – with the SCAF. One of the mistakes of American foreign policy in the last thirty years has been to constantly underestimate our leverage. One can’t dispute and we certainly should acknowledge right away the cautionary note that Ron Schlicher issued in the last session, that we have to balance our principles and our values with our obvious strategic interests. I’m not saying we should suspend all military aid to Egypt but I think we can push harder than we have been. When the SCAF comes to us and says they have to have again the right that the Mubarak regime had, and then the Bush administration was able to wrest away for a period of time, to veto all of our grants to civil society organizations, I think we have to push back harder than the Obama administration has done in the last ten months. If we can’t get that lifted there’s another way to do it: the Egyptian government doesn’t veto the grants to civil society organizations that come from the National Endowment for Democracy and other non-governmental organizations. So if we can’t do it through USAID we need to move some of the money into other vehicles.
With respect to Libya – Dan, you’re going to appreciate what I’m about to say – the situation looks too much like Iraq in the summer of 2003, in terms of the collapse of the state and the disorder and rampant proliferation of militias. There are certainly very few challenges in Libya now that are more important than DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration) of these militias into an authoritative and legitimate army and police that have a monopoly over the means of violence in the country. One of the things we have learned in Iraq and that Dan and his colleagues have certainly acknowledged when he was at the US Institute of Peace – it’s one of the more important and perhaps more neglected lines of research that went on at USIP that really needs to be consulted here – is the need for effective policing and the role that international assistance can provide in reconstructing on a new foundation of ethics and capacity a national police force that’s capable of maintaining order without violating human rights, and that is mindful of the rule of law. So that’s the first challenge.
The second challenge is constitution-making. Here again the US Institute of Peace organized a very important project some years ago on processes of constitution-making. I’m not sure what all the outputs are – you might tell us, Dan. But one of them was an article that we published in the Journal of Democracy about five or six years ago by one of the participants in that process, Jamal Benamar. Synthesizing many of the case studies and lessons that the US Institute of Peace project brought together in the mid-portion of the last decade, Jamal – who is with the United Nations – emphasized the importance, in very sage advice, of an open, inclusive, participatory and legitimate process of constitution-making. This is what I think is going to unfold in Tunisia, in part because they have had democratic elections and there is going to be a constituent assembly and constitution-drafting process that emerges out of that. If you have the kind of flawed and contaminated elections that some of us are worried may unfold in Egypt, and the concerns that Esraa raised that you may even have the elections completely unfold, then inevitably the constitution-making process that results will be flawed.
Let’s remind ourselves of the heavy price that Iraq paid during the constitution-making process of leaving an important group out of it, that was underrepresented as a result of flawed elections in January 2005, which could have been and should have been anticipated and that proved extremely difficult to repair and was a major stimulus to the explosion of violence that escalated after the constitutional referendum in October 2005. It’s very important to have a legitimate body draft the constitution and to encourage open public participation, dialogue, hopefully compromise. Use this not only as a participation exercise but as a learning exercise for the society.
Third, let me offer some propositions about the content of the constitutions and institutions that the emerging democracies of the Arab world might wish to think about or pay attention to. First of all, I think that if you look at the history of the extreme concentration and abuse of power in Arab states over the last fifty or sixty years, you certainly come away with a sensitivity to the need to keep that from happening all over again, to encourage constitutional designs that have ready and facilitating mechanisms to oversee and constrain executive power. I think the bias should be for purely parliamentary over presidential systems. If you have a semi-presidential system – I think there was at least an implicit reference to this in Egypt – it’s likely to become a presidential system all over again. Even in Iraq we see the unfortunate trends of political leadership under Prime Minister al-Maliki, that there’s no intrinsic brake on the prime ministership itself being used for a potential hegemonic role. But at least it’s harder in a parliamentary system with multiple political parties and the kinds of electoral institutions I’ll recognize.
There are things that can be done to facilitate obvious concerns about political stability and governability in a context where you have multiple political parties in a parliamentary system and so inevitably there’s going to be a problem of coalition formation and coalition sustainability. One of the models that has diffused in the world from the German political system which I think has been one of the most successful experiments in democratic constitutional design probably in the history of democracy – I would really almost put it at the level of the American constitution in terms of its success and influence, or maybe even above it given what we’re going through now – is the innovation of the constructive vote of no confidence. In Germany you can’t bring down a government in a parliamentary system unless the vote of no confidence is also able to have going along with it a coalition to elect a new government. So that kind of opportunism that promotes parliamentary instability can be preempted.
In terms of electoral system design, there has been a trend in the region and in constitutional thinking that started in Iraq, and I think the general principle was a wise one, for proportional representation (PR). And pretty proportional PR – that is, with a very low electoral threshold. I think this is a wise approach. If you’re worried about hegemony or illiberal tendencies, then having an electoral system in which parties basically get the share of seats that corresponds to their share of the vote would be a good thing. One of the things worth noting is that the proportion of the vote that An-Nahda got on October 23 was not that much lower than what Hamas got in Palestine in early 2006. The difference was that Palestine had, because Fatah thought they were going to benefit from this seat bonus, an electoral system that inflated the majority of the plurality winner, or inflated the proportion into a majority. PR allows for more pluralism. PR presents some natural brakes on the trend toward the emergence of artificial majorities. I’d say this is a healthy thing. PR facilitates, as has happened in Iraq very dramatically – it’s a rather underreported story – and has now happened in Tunisia, more entry of women into parliament, which is an extremely important goal.
As Michele referred to, the problem with Egypt now – one of the many problems – is you could say maybe two-thirds of the seats coming from PR is not an unreasonable balance. But the system is so complicated – two ballots, two rounds, different timing, different tiers – it would be hard for me to figure it out, much less an ordinary Egyptian voter who’s coming to real democratic elections fairly new to the game. So simplicity is actually a very important criterion here for the success of electoral system design. I think if you’re going to use PR there is something to be said for at least partially open lists to break the potential for leaders to not be very democratically accountable when they draw up their lists and then just order the members of the list around.
The third item on the agenda of constitutional design that I’d like to put forward is the importance of strong institutions of horizontal accountability to constrain the potential for concentration and abuse of executive power. Having a parliament with real independent authority in the constitution is one mechanism but having strong, autonomous constitutional courts and court systems that are mainly secular in their spirit, design and focus; strong institutions to control corruption, which has been and will be a major challenge to governance going forward in the Arab world, including in emerging democracies, with strong independent counter-corruption commissions, state audit commissions, human rights commissions, ombudsmen and freedom of information laws – there are models out there of these kinds of institutions that can work. The very subtle details in how to structure and design them so they really have at least some chance of working to constrain power and promote transparency and accountability.
The fourth challenge is to work very hard to develop the organizational infrastructure and the normative foundations of a democratic culture and civil society. I think this is too often neglected in this work, where the focus is on the high level of politics, the constitution, the party system and so on. There is going on in these countries now an ideological and normative struggle for the future. There is money pouring into Egypt and some of these other countries from places in the region – I don’t think I need to name the one in particular – funding a radical Islamist – I’m not talking about even the Muslim Brotherhood but Salafi-oriented, puritanical, extremely illiberal and profoundly anti-democratic vision of these countries. I don’t think that kind of money, which has done so much damage to the political culture and societal prospects for democracy in Pakistan and Afghanistan, should be allowed to be the only financial flow of influence shaping the future. This involves a lot of efforts to not only support civil society organizations that are working in a variety of ways to promote democratic culture but also to promote exchanges among colleges and universities, overseas study. Very importantly, I’d love to see somebody take on the challenge of not only accelerating the translation of academic and more popular literature on democracy into Arabic but just trying to document what we have. I’ve really encountered an extremely difficult challenge in trying to understand what exists in Arabic so that we can accelerate it and not duplicate efforts.
I’d just like to say one last thing in conclusion. I want to strongly endorse what Radwan has said and what a questioner said in the previous session about Tunisia. If there is going to be an Arab democracy in the next two or three years, it almost certainly is going to be Tunisia. If there does not emerge a genuine Arab democracy in the next few years – I know this is going to sound tautological but you’ll understand what I’m saying – it’s going to be very hard to get one. That is, it’s going to be very hard to stimulate, encourage and sustain democratic progress in the Arab world. Models matter. Regional diffusion effects have been very powerful and important in driving democratic change elsewhere in the world. Mainly it’s within regions that these effects happen. It’s been wonderful to have as a model and inspiration what’s been happening in Turkey of a vibrant and economically dynamic democracy with a moderately Islamist party that has precisely the orientation you’ve described and that An-Nahda now seems to have. But in the end Turkey is not an Arab country and Tunisia is, and it may not be as powerful and important and central as Egypt but the example of a successful Arab democracy that is reconciling these different tensions of Islamic faith but a civil state is absolutely vital to the future.
So Millennium Challenge Account, free trade, exchanges – let’s all get on an airplane and go to Tunisia and take our next vacation, because making this country succeed democratically and revive economically is one of the most important things we could do in the next couple of years to advance democracy generally in the Arab world. Thank you.
Questions and Answers
Daniel Serwer: I’ll just respond to Larry’s compliment for the work of USIP, which I did supervise, and note that there is a large volume of nineteen case studies of constitution-making published by USIP Press. I’m very proud of the work that USIP did on policing. There’s a very good book called “The Police in War,” of which my colleague Bob Paredo is a co-author.
Also want to add just a word about some other cases. I’m enough of an enthusiast for what’s been going on to have taken myself into Benghazi and Tripoli in mid-September to see for myself. Though I share Larry’s real concern with the question of militias and the question of law and order, I’ve got to say that what I saw on the streets of Benghazi and Tripoli and the solidarity of the people behind the National Transitional Council, behind the roadmap that it’s laid out, the constitutional framework, gave me good reason for some hope. I feel much less optimistic about what we’re seeing in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, where these are regimes that are making things very difficult, very bloody – very difficult for themselves in the end. I didn’t think we should discuss the Arab Spring without mentioning at least how much those of us who follow these things here hope that things will take a turn for the better in those places.
Question: Marisa Lino from Northrop Grumman, a proud sponsor of MEI. Fantastic panel, as I think you can see from the number of people who jumped up to comment or question. I just wanted to say one thing very briefly and ask a question. I thought Mr. Diamond did a superb job of bringing together all the themes that the entire panel discussed and I couldn’t agree more with some of the things he said. I’m curious, especially for Ms. Abdel Fattah and Mr. Masmoudi, with respect to the man or woman on the street, their interface with government is primarily the policeman on the corner or the equivalent. The frustrations that built up in Tunisia in particular with the petty corruption, has that stopped? Has the movement that has happened in your respective countries, is the cop on the corner no longer doing that? If he or she is doing that, are they being taken to task for continuing something that led to the explosion?
Question: My name is Mehmet, I’m from Georgetown University. I’m an MSFS graduate student. My question will be about Syria, we didn’t touch upon that one in a deep way. Yesterday the League of Arab States warned Bashar al-Assad to stop his current policies in Syria. I really wonder about your thoughts on the issue. Will that be a game changer or just a byproduct? Thank you.
Radwan Masmoudi: I’m glad to report there are no more cops on the corner in Tunisia. There are very few of them left and if they are there they are behaving very well so far. But of course the problem of corruption is much bigger and deeper than just the cops around the corner and it’s going to take a lot of effort to end the corruption that we had before systematically. But I think we are making a lot of progress. People in Tunisia realize that corruption was a huge problem and at the end of the day really it’s corruption that brought down Ben Ali so quickly, because he and his regime became so corrupt that there was nobody left to defend them when the people started rising up.
On Syria, I’m going to make a prediction that this regime is not going to last very long. Once a regime goes down this road of killing its own people and the people of Syria have shown strength and resilience and willingness to die for their freedom, I think that’s it. I think it’s basically game over for the Assad regime. It’s going to be messy and people will die unfortunately because of the stupidity of this regime.
But at the end of the day, the international community has to intervene in Syria. The Syrians don’t like it, because understandably they want to do it themselves. But how can they do it themselves against a military that’s willing to bomb cities and kill thousands of people? There is no balance of power. Hopefully it’s not going to come to an intervention like we had in Libya but there has to be real and serious pressure on the Assad regime. The Arab League, which is really one of the best developments, is finally taking an active role and siding with the people of the region rather than, as it has for the past forty years, the regimes. Now the Arab League understands that the equation has changed a little bit and they are defending the rights of the Syrian people.
But I think the United States and the European Community and the United Nations have to play a role. They have an obligation – we all have an obligation – to defend innocent civilians who are standing up to demand their freedom. We are responsible. If there is one death in Syria or Yemen or Bahrain and we don’t speak up, then we are responsible for that death.
Esraa Abdel Fattah: Maybe I will not add a lot but I will confirm what Mr. Masmoudi said. We need a very long time to try to catch all the corruption that happened in our countries. Every day we discover a new kind of corruption, a new level of corruption in our institutions. It will take a lot of time to catch what happened and we will continue our revolution, as I said in my speech – we will be in the time of revolution until all this period is finished. I think we will start to try to build our new institutions by when the next president comes to Egypt. But now we just try to discover all the kind of corruption that happened in our country. We will insist and continue our revolution and continue our pressure to try to stop this corruption.
Michele Dunne: I’ll just add a word on that. Will the Arab League move be a game changer regarding Syria? I don’t know if it will be a game changer but I think one of the things that’s most significant about it to me is that we’re seeing most of the Arab governments tell us what they think is going to happen in Syria. I don’t think they’re doing what they’re doing out of love of democracy – they’re placing their bets on whether Bashar al-Assad is going to last or not. Most of them, with the exception of Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, are saying no. So that’s quite interesting in itself.
What could begin to be more of a game changer is if there will be real economic sanctions by Turkey and the Arab states to follow this. We’ll have to see about that.
Larry Diamond: I agree it’s just a matter of time, but time is very important because a lot of innocent Syrians will die. Many more than otherwise would if the time is long. So the pressure has to be ratcheted up.
In addition, two other things need to happen. One is that the incentives for defection need to be accelerated. On the negative side, it would be a very good thing if the International Criminal Court could indict Bashar al-Assad and make it clear there’s a lot more coming if the people under him don’t defect. At the same time we need to engage people under him – it’s probably going on anyway through a variety of means – to say look, jump ship now before you go down with him.
The second thing, which I know US and other actors are really trying to facilitate, is the opposition has got to get its act together. If you don’t get consolidation of opposition forces in a situation like this, even if there’s a fall of the regime you could have a very chaotic aftermath.
Daniel Serwer: I can’t resist inserting a word just to say that there’s clearly a struggle going on within the opposition about whether to use violence or not. The simple fact is that violent revolutions succeed far less often, with far higher casualties, than non-violent revolutions.
Question: Jeff Steinberg with EIR. I have a question for Michele and Esraa concerning the other unspoken outside factor in the Egyptian situation, namely Saudi Arabia. There has not only been evidence produced by the government commission about vast amounts of money going into some of the neo-Salafi and MBs in Egypt but there’s also a much more government to government factor. When the Egyptian government went to the IMF and had trouble getting a loan and the population resisted the conditionalities, the Saudis stepped in and made a $4 billion loan – ostensibly without conditionalities but the implicit conditionalities are quite significant. Clearly the Saudi royal family was not pleased with Arab Spring and particularly with the sense of US abandonment of President Mubarak. So I’d like an appraisal of this factor and how large a role it may play as events move forward. Thank you.
Question: My name is David – I’m unemployed. I have another question about Egypt. We hear a lot in this country about the supposed danger of Islamists and the threat they pose to democracy, especially the Muslim Brotherhood and An-Nahda. But what I seem to get from especially Michele Dunne’s presentation and Esraa Abdel Fattah is that the SCAF is actually more of a roadblock to democratization than what we know about Islamists. What we have seen from Egypt over the past nine months, especially Esraa mentioned the Constitution First campaign and supra-constitutional principles, there was some really vicious rhetorical attacks between liberals and Islamist groups about these campaigns. Is there any coordination between liberal groups and Islamists to press the SCAF? If there is, does that really have any chance of succeeding?
Esraa Abdel Fattah: Yes, I have the first question about the aid of Saudi Arabia to the Salafist or Islamist groups in Egypt. Yes, we have this concern and we also ask it. You ask activists and the organizations and civil society about their money and funds and how they get it. They ask it to discover the personal and even the company accounts, and they totally ignore what happened and how these people – from what resources comes their money. We find a lot of money in the street from Islamist groups and no one asks – the government and even the military don’t care at all to mention that we need to know where this money comes from and why we make this money in the street in this way.
Yes, we have this concern. I always say, we are welcome to be under the law and we are welcome to an investigation with us – but not alone. We need to implement the value of equality. We need not to have an investigation with us – yes, okay, we need to make it, but not alone. We need the Salafist and all the people say what is their source of money, and if they have money from illegal ways we need to stop it. But I don’t know. I have a very big question mark. I don’t know why the military totally ignores this thing.
According to the point of the cooperation between liberals and the Muslim Brotherhood – actually no, there is no cooperation in this election between the Muslim Brotherhood and liberals. I think it is difficult to happen. The Muslim Brotherhood have their agenda and their ideology and they want to apply their strategy in the next parliament, maybe in the next constitution. But it is difficult to work together. They have their groups and they cooperate with some small liberals or leftist groups but it is not strong. No one knows what is the name of the group they cooperate with. But we have other liberal and leftist groups and other leftists who are competitive with the Muslim Brotherhood and we try to support them in Egypt, and also with Egyptians abroad, to support these liberal civic groups. But I don’t think there will be any cooperation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the liberals or leftists in the next elections.
Michele Dunne: On the second question, while I agree that electoral cooperation is limited, it does seem that there has been some cooperation specifically in reacting to the SCAF. For example, on the supra-constitutional principles, you had all the presidential candidates, including some Islamists and some liberals, and also regarding the protests that might happen tomorrow, largely Islamist groups but also there may be –
Esraa Abdel Fattah: But these are different reasons. The Islamist groups and the liberals will go to the streets tomorrow but with different reasons. The Islamists come to refuse supra-constitutional principles but the other groups come to the street because they want a clear schedule or time agenda for transferring the power. So they will be in the street but with different reasons.
Michele Dunne: Okay, great. Then on the issue on Saudi Arabia and the IMF and so on, certainly we have seen Saudi Arabia and some of the other Gulf states step up and make some large pledges to the Egyptian government. My understanding is that most of them have not been delivered, however. The amounts of cash that are going to go are actually limited. That would have a number of different reasons. There was a pretty intensive round of s between the Egyptian government and the Saudis and other Gulf Arab governments after the initial Egyptian initiatives toward Iran. Then we saw that sort of cool down, that process of Egypt improving relations with Iran.
Briefly, regarding the IMF loan and so forth, now the Egyptians are going to have to go back to the IMF. They had negotiated a loan in June but they decided not to take it – but it wasn’t because of conditionality. I think there was very little conditionality. It was because first of all they thought they were going to be getting some large cash transfers from the Gulf and maybe elsewhere, from the G20 and so forth, and they ended up not coming through.
Question: Reva Masmar [phonetic], I’m a Palestinian journalist from Ramallah. Thank you, Esraa, for all the youth in the Arab world by this revolution – we really need it and we support you totally in Palestine and all over the Arab world. Truly, do not criticize yourselves a lot, at the moment you have civil society, you have your own law, you have your own institution – just work on that. Do not destroy as much as think to develop things because developing will reach you to a point where you can really manage to find where corruption is and where good things for the people exist already.
The idea about a model democratic country in the Arab world – already we had it in Palestine. We had Yasir Arafat as a leader, then he died, then we had according to the Basic Law –
Daniel Serwer: I’m going to ask you to get to a question.
Question: Yes, my question will be exactly after a few minutes. We already had our transitional time, by Abu Mazen, then a temporary president, then [indiscernible] president, then Abu Mazen. We had the election in 2006 and we had Hamas which was elected by people – and that is not our fault, it’s democracy. Unfortunately we had the sanctions.
I’m totally afraid for the people, especially Arab choice in Arab countries. If they choose something different –
Daniel Serwer: I really do need you to get to a question.
Question: I’m asking, sir, would you please just listen to me. I’m asking. How can we really support the Ghannouchi government right now, at the moment they are reflecting the street opinion? This is what the Arab people need when they are reflecting their opinions. Thank you a lot for this conference.
Question: Michelle Steinberg from EIR. This question is to Esraa Abdel Fattah and Michele Dunne especially. First, Esraa, thank you so much for all of the perseverance, the Friday demonstrations, the continuation. There are many of us American people who also are in the streets sometimes that support you.
What Larry Diamond said about Libya looking Iraq, I support completely. I fear to quote Ambassador Chas Freeman that Iraq was a regime removal not a regime change. Right now I even see at this conference somewhat of a feeding frenzy against Syria, maybe against Iran next, to adopt a different model than Egypt and Tunisia, which is the Libya model. So I ask: do you think that an armed insurgency supported by superpower military force is going to lead to a good end and actually in a sense, after usurping what Egypt did, make it even worse?
Larry Diamond: I’ll say something about Libya. I’ll repeat again what we all know in this room: each of these cases in the Arab world, every single one, has its very distinctive elements. One of the worst mistakes we could make is to analogize too far and lose the kind of deep texture of distinctiveness of each case. So I strongly supported the American and allied NATO military intervention in Libya. I think it was the right thing to do. You’ve got this moment where people are risking being slaughtered and they’ve taken great risk to rise up. An odious regime. A chance for a new start. The resistance had already happened, it’s not like we started it. It was logistically possible because of the way that Libya is laid out geographically and physically – I might add, in marked contrast to Syria – to do this with airpower alone and use airpower in a very selective and strategic way to diminish Qaddafi forces’ prospects for crushing the resistance. So what worked there might not work in Syria.
The whole point that I was making is for very intense, creative diplomatic pressure from the West but very crucially through the Arab League to try to prevent the Syrian situation going on for so long that it’s going to result in a military solution. There are signs of the regime starting to crack and now that the Arab League has done what it’s done, more and more people in the regime can probably read the writing on the wall. What’s needed is to give them a way to push Assad out, secure their own future and move on.
I just want to add one more general point, really directed to what Esraa said before about NDP candidates running in the elections. It goes back to Iraq and so on. My moral and historical sentiment is strongly for sweeping accountability and punishment for the crimes of the past. But the more you do that and the more you ostracize and punish people, the more you turn them into opponents of the transition and the potential new political order. Iraq paid a very high price for doing that in too sweeping a fashion. I’d say you’ve got to cut practical bargains with people and give them a scenario where their interests can be secured in the future or that’s the alternative you’re looking at: a civil war.
Radwan Masmoudi: A very quick comment about Syria. We all agree that peaceful demonstrations and peaceful revolutions are much better than armed rebellions. There is no question about that. The problem is that the Syrian people have been demonstrating for eight months now – peacefully – and the Syrian regime has been cracking down daily on them and killing between twenty and thirty people on average every day. So how long can this continue? The revolution in Syria has been peaceful. You can’t blame the Syrian people, it’s the Syrian regime that has refused to listen to the demands of the people.
The question about will we support the Ghannouchi government – it’s not the Ghannouchi government, it’s the Nahda government. This is a major issue and the major question. For the last twenty or thirty years the problem and the question have been how to deal with Islamic movements in the Arab world. Should we recognize them as political parties? If they come to power, how should we deal with them? I think we really have to move on with that question. I’m very happy that the United States and the European Union are moving on. They have passed that stage of are we going to recognize it or not, are we going to deal with them or not. The United States, France and the European Union have expressed strong support for this transition in Tunisia and for the new government, which is the government elected by the people.
Of course we will see how they do in the next six months or year and if they maintain human rights and democracy and all that. They will be judged based on that. But we cannot pre-judge them and say, no, because you have an Islamic agenda or because you are an Islamic or Islamist party – there is a big debate about which word is better, Islamic or Islamist, and what the difference is between them. We have to accept democracy. We have to deal with whoever is elected by the people. They are legitimate representatives of the Tunisian or Egyptian people. We have to support them to go in the right direction. As I mentioned in my talk, we have to support An-Nahda to become successful and follow the AK Party model. If they don’t do that and if we don’t support them in that, and if An-Nahda fails in Tunisia, then democracy will fail in Tunisia. Then we will have huge problems not only in Tunisia but across the region.
So we really have no choice but to recognize the reality and to deal with it and to support An-Nahda movement, which as I mentioned is a moderate Islamic movement. That’s the only choice we have. People in Tunisia want Islamic values to be a part of their tradition and the future. That is a reality we have to accept and we have to deal with.
Kate Seelye: Thank you. I regret that we have to bring this panel to an end. We have so many questions that remain, it’s been an amazing panel. Please join me in thanking this superb group of panelists.