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Toward a New Contract?

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Apr 15, 2015 / 0 Comments

By Agnès Levallois*


Four years after the protest movements in the Arab countries and the transition period that followed, socioeconomic issues now need to be urgently tackled.  This is the biggest challenge facing the new authorities. However, these issues can only be addressed in a peaceful political atmosphere and in the context of Constitutions that set forth the new social contract between governments and the people.  The constitutional issue emerged in the aftermath of the ouster of the Tunisian and Egyptian Presidents, as did the issue of the ability, or lack thereof, to reach a political compromise in order to establish democratic standards.  This is the context in which work was done on the Constitutions of Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Yemen, with different results in each country.


The work of the constitutional drafters was underpinned by three powerful issues: determining the kind of State to be built, as the old model had been rejected in favor of a State that was fairer and respectful of the rights of citizens; creating an economic and social model that took into account social, generational, and territorial balances; and lastly, heeding calls for greater participation by citizens in order to move away from societies with authoritarian, bureaucratic, and quid-pro-quo traditions.


Although societal unrest started in 2011, led mainly by young people who were seeking better lives, it was heightened by the problems faced by the new governments in crafting inclusive political, economic, and social contracts, given the persistence of a culture of patronage. Governments and the elite therefore have a responsibility to take action in this area.


However, Europe must also assist with these transitions, particularly as they relate to young people and women.  It can provide training and knowledge transfer as well as technical and financial assistance programs that commensurate with the democratic challenges posed by the transition processes in the Arab world.


Tunisia managed to reach a truly historic compromise among its different political stakeholders.  Each had accepted to make concessions that allowed for the drafting of legislation that could serve a basis for ushering in a new political dynamic.  The situation was different in Egypt where the second Constitution was prepared without political input from the Muslim Brotherhood, following the collapse of the regime of Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi. In the case of Morocco, there was no break or revolution as there was in Tunisia or Egypt.  The Kingdom opted for what I would describe as “peaceful” reform.  In fact, reforms had been underway prior to 2011 and work on the Constitution, which was put to a referendum in July 2011, continued with the aim of striking a better balance between the power exercised by the King and the Prime Minister, that is, achieving a separation of powers.  It could be said that while the framework of the Moroccan Constitution remains the same, changes are nonetheless being made within this framework.


These situations give rise to several questions.  How should these Constitutions be effectively implemented? What political, economic, and social contracts can be forged, on what basis, and with what kind of future for each of these three countries?


The future of the political reform process is yet to be determined.  It will depend largely on the influence exerted by the political stakeholders, the vitality of civil societies, and international assistance – from both Arab and Western countries – on these change processes, particularly as they relate to young people and women.  This poses a joint challenge for northern and southern Mediterranean countries; one that will have to be collectively addressed.


Agnès Levallois

Agnès Levallois is a consultant and specialist on the Arab world and Mediterranean issues.


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