Report: Transitions to Democracy Require More than Elections – Jean AbiNader

Atlantic Council Paper Argues for Inclusivity, Good Governance, and Prosperity

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
February 12, 2015
Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Although there are no shortcuts to promoting democracy and the rule of law, recent reports raise the issue of what can still be done to recover from the instability and chaos spawned by the Arab Spring while countering the rising threats of extremism. The authors of a paper from the Atlantic Council argue in “A Transatlantic Approach for the Arab World: Stability through Inclusivity, Good Governance, and Prosperity,” that there are still steps that can be taken to reduce domestic threats and put in place concrete programs to create jobs, enhance stability, and bring about greater respect for the rule of law.

They point out that “Since 2013, the US administration has downgraded its regional policy initiative on Arab reform, eliminated a special coordinator post for the Arab transitions, and scaled back democracy assistance,” the last factor highlighted by Thomas Carothers in a series of reports. The authors take note that “Although US and European officials occasionally give speeches mentioning the need for inclusive governance, human rights, and equitable growth as part of an anti-ISIS strategy for the region, this rhetoric has not translated into any significant policy measures.”

Is there a way out of this conundrum, as security issues again dominate political reform/stability concerns and lead to an emphasis on hard-power tactics? One casualty of this dilemma is that deep seated grievances that led to initial challenges to Arab regimes have only been directly dealt with in a few Arab countries — most notably Morocco and Tunisia, as well as Jordan to a degree. As the paper describes this situation, “the economic and political exclusion that drove the uprisings remains.” They argue that “The challenges in the Arab world are complex and what is needed is persistent effort rather than episodic attention through grandiose speeches or lofty promises left unfulfilled.”

Yet they also argue that this is the time for developing coherent long-term strategies – targeted specifically for each country – that integrate diplomatic, security, and economic assistance by the US and its European allies to jointly address both short and longer term challenges.

So how is Morocco Doing?

It is not easy to measure moving targets, such as political and economic reforms, when there are internal and external factors that condition outcomes and affect results in areas such as immigration and judicial reform, greater business and public sector transparency, expanding access to local governance, and similar indicators of progress.

Yet there must be accountability on both sides: Morocco must continue concrete progress on political reforms; reducing barriers to new business development; and institutional changes that encourage greater citizen participation at all levels of government. Similarly, donor countries must clearly tie their assistance and support to activities that address both security and stability concerns and enable governments to take more risks in pursuit of economic, social, and political reforms through longer term engagements and emphasis on mutually agreed goals.

Although some may take issue with Morocco’s pace of reform, there are strong signs that it has not diminished its commitment to change, despite growing pressures from extremists and radicals. The legislative calendar has a full slate of reform measures for review by the Chamber of Deputies, ranging from regionalization and judicial reform to amendments strengthening the family law, and  independent status for the transparency commission.

As the report noted, “The United States, the EU, and key European member states should identify joint goals for political reform that extend beyond the fair conduct of elections …” Common areas of interest include promoting greater decentralization of political decision-making to elected local councils, protections for migrants, and extending rights of redress for whistleblowers. These are all in process in Morocco, and most recently, the EU has announced a grant to Morocco to strengthen its recent successes in immigration reform.

Addressing the issues of increasing economic opportunities for youth and women is quite challenging for Morocco, which depends on increased levels of foreign investment to drive industrial development. Yet this too is a priority for the government and for the donor countries. In addition to EU funding for reforms in vocational and technical training programs and strengthening the ecosystem for entrepreneurship, the second US-MCC compact has identified education and training reform as a priority component of the compact. These government-led activities are critical to building a credible business environment that attracts direct foreign investment, such as the recent decision by Embry-Riddle Worldwide University to establish an aeronautics center in Morocco to serve Africa.

The path forward for the Morocco-US partnership is full of unanticipated challenges, from regional terrorism and extremism to the state of energy prices and trade trends. Yet, working as partners, there is more than a glimmer of optimism. As the recent visit of US Science Advisor Dr. Peter Hotez demonstrates, there are incremental steps that reap long-term relationships and benefits on both sides. Dr. Hotez is actually a member of the private sector who, according to the State Department, “will meet with representatives from the scientific, academic, and business communities to discuss ways to build and strengthen research collaboration networks between scientists and engineers in the United States and Morocco.” It is this kind of integrated partnership, which recognizes and supports a broad integrated strategy of collaboration and coordination that will ultimately drive a successful bilateral relationship.



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