Improving Governance in the Arab World

WASHINGTON, DC – A recent survey of 100 Arab thought leaders conducted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace revealed a sweeping consensus about what underlies many of the region’s problems: a lack of good governance. Indeed, those polled emphasized domestic problems resulting from that failure – authoritarianism, corruption, outdated education systems, and unemployment – over regional concerns, including the threat of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) or interference by regional heavyweights or outside powers.

This is not new information. The Arab Spring uprisings brought to the fore the inadequacy of the region’s outdated social contracts in the face of current political and economic challenges. Yet Arab governments still seem not to have gotten the message.

Five years after the uprisings erupted, Arab citizens have little – in some cases, even less – voice in running their countries’ affairs. Moreover, they depend on rentier economies that are unable to create enough jobs for their young, educated populations. And they face an alarming absence of the rule of law, leaving them with no assurances that they will be treated equally, regardless of gender, ethnic origin, or religion.

But poor governance today does not mean the Arab world is doomed to failure. Tunisia serves as a beacon of hope. After the 2011 revolution, it pursued a consensual, inclusive process to develop a new social contract that upholds all of its people’s individual and collective rights.