Conditioning the Arab Transition

CAMBRIDGE – Nowadays, International Monetary Fund missions come and go in the Middle East without reaching agreement. Meanwhile, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen are becoming increasingly polarized along political, social, and sectarian lines, gravely threatening their democratic future. With the looming prospect of failed states in Iraq and Syria, the international community cannot afford to stay on the sidelines any longer.

The world urgently needs to create a political mechanism to help these countries escape the quagmire into which they are sinking. Without adequate support, their popular uprisings for freedom, justice, and dignity will end in chaos, insecurity, and economic meltdown.

Unlike the European Community’s support for Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the tragedy for the Arab world is the absence of a useful blueprint for institutional reform and the resources to implement it. The Deauville Partnership launched at the 2011 G-8 Summit was a half-baked initiative long overtaken by events. The region’s financial needs are well beyond what the Deauville agreement can deliver. More important, the support must be not only financial, but also political. Economic reforms, on the other hand, can wait.

As in any post-revolutionary situation, the ongoing transitions are highly complex processes. A power vacuum sucks in all political forces and creates incentives to achieve ascendancy at all costs. As a result, the minimal consensus needed to establish rules for regulating these countries’ political transitions has failed to emerge.