Our staff had the pleasure of attending the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s event “Arab Fractures: Reimagining the Regional Order?” this past Wednesday, and panelists discussed the Carnegie Endowment’s recently published report of the same name. Below is a short summary of each panelist’s remarks. Video of the event can be watched here
Bassma Kodmani, co-founder and Director of the Arab Reform Initiative and member of the Syrian Opposition
Ms. Kodmani focused on her experience in Syria and said she views authoritarianism as the underlying cause for every problem in Syria. The current government has manipulated sectarian differences, and she stressed the need for a solution that reunifies the country. She believes no solution is possible as long as radical sectarian militias are prevalent, and said the focus for the future must be on negotiating a decentralized government. She feels a successful government would feature strong center state with devolved power to local and regional authorities, and pointed to the role of local governments in providing for its citizens since 2011 as a building block for the future.
Amr Hamzawy, Senior Fellow at CEIP and former MP in Egypt
Mr. Hamzawy focused his remarks on Egyptians’ deep distrust of their government. He said decades of human rights abuses have led to a lack of credibility for the government, and said while Egyptians might not identify be able a specific actor responsible for these abuses, they always believe it was the state. He continued to say the government’s crackdown on dissent is worse now than it was prior to the 2011 protests and that the government is waging war against all autonomous voices. He believes the substitution of populism for democracy has distracted and disrupted Egypt’s growth. Despite this, he remained positive that the social fabric is still strong and resistant, and pointed to the revival of labor unions and trade associations as bright spots.
Mehrezia Labidi, current member of the Tunisian Parliament and executive member of the Muslim Democrat Ennahdha Party
Ms. Labidi began by saying Tunisia is giving birth to a new model of government by reforming and that the old model of citizen mistrust of authoritarian governments is dead. Tunisia has focused on fighting corruption and implementing accountable institutions. She said Tunisia has built a spirit of compromise because the social contract was given adequate time to be discussed, which allowed Tunisians to feel it belongs to them. She stressed the importance of elections in ensuring a participatory feeling among citizens, and she finished saying Tunisians must continue working together to construct a common, shared image of Tunisia.
George Abed, distinguished scholar in residence at the International Institute of Finance
Mr. Abed said the collapse of the rentier model for oil-exporting Arab countries means citizens will begin to finance the government through taxes and other means, and he said this will consequentially lead to them asking questions about transparency and accountability of government.
Hamza Halawa, independent political analyst and lawyer in Egypt
Approximately 65% of the Arab world is under 30 years old, and Ms. Halawa said the attempt to simplify and label youth as a monolithic group has failed. Experts have underestimated how deep the revolutionary demands have gone, and she said young people have no trust change will come from the top and civil society has grown for this reason.