Political transitions from autocracy to democracy are a dangerous time. Risks of conflict are high as new regimes struggle to build or rebuild vital institutions and manage public expectation for rapid change – both political and economic. Nowhere is this more apparent in the world today than in the 'Arab Spring' countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
On 30 April 2013 International Alert brought together 32 experts from civil society, academia, the private sector and the UK government to discuss the challenges facing the Arab transition countries. In particular, participants discussed the role of the Gulf states in these transitions and the opportunities for peacebuilding in the Middle East. (Read the chairperson’s summary of the forum here.)
Participants discussed one of the major shortcomings of western state responses to the Arab transitions as a focus on bringing about short-term stability rather than long-term structural change. Actors such as the UK and EU are struggling to formulate clear strategies for engagement in the region that balance the interests of their taxpayers with the need for sustained peace and security.
Gulf states, on the other hand, are only just beginning to connect their economic influence in the region to political influence.
Business and the private sector are filling the gap whilst policymakers struggle to formulate responses to regional challenges. Gulf capital plays an important role in the transitional economies, and has the potential to respond to the economic aspirations and expectations that lie at the heart of the Arab revolutions. However, not all investment to date has been of the type that underpins sustainable, peace-supporting growth.
Since the Marshall Plan remedy for Europe following the second world war, no regional transition on such a scale has succeeded without external assistance. In the case of the Arab Spring transitions, if external actors are to support long-term peace in the region (rather than just short-term stability), it is vital that they seek to understand and address the root causes of the revolutions and continued discontent.
Photo: Protestors oppose Mubarak verdicts. Egypt, 2012. By Lorenz Khazaleh