Political Space Defined by Addressing Reforms and Safety Issues
With the increasingly complicated and disruptive political landscape in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the debate about the prospects for democracy in that part of the world continues to boil. Some claim the dominoes are falling as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya succumb to violence, and spillover threats spread to Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia. Others point to the deterioration of old regimes and out-dated social contracts as the central issues of concern – people’s aspirations are being thwarted. Challenges from extremists and militants elude simple solutions, though some analysts and pundits point to economic development as the core factor in mitigating the attraction to violence.
Whatever the perspectives being proffered, there is in reality no “one-shot” solution to these crises, each of which has its own local characteristics. These conflicts were years in the making, and it is the speed at which tipping points were reached in the last six years that really separates these crises from previous conflicts in the region. And it raises again the question as to when is the ideal time, and what are the ideal conditions for promoting democracy – beyond the simple exercise of voting.
This is the core of the issue today: how can a leadership of a country pursue a formula for growth and stability without circumscribing civil and human rights, particularly in today’s environment, where pursuing security is often at odds with speeding up political and economic reforms as an antidote to extremism.
Let’s begin with the assumption that there are no “one-size-fits-all” models, whether one’s point of reference is Singapore, Vietnam, or the populist governments in Latin America. So where do we find working examples of moving towards democracy? It may be that we should spend more time on the ground, assessing how countries that have complex yet manageable development priorities define on a continuing basis the balance between security and freedoms.
Democracy-building is a Full-time Job
Morocco is a country that shares American values — both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have noted that Morocco’s foreign policy reflects shared values and, to a large measure our common interests as well in a safe, secure, and prosperous world. Morocco’s own internal reform process has received support and recognition internationally, and the US has responded favorably with strong economic and diplomatic support, ranging from the only Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in Africa, to an upcoming second Millennium Challenge Compact, to American support for a negotiated settlement to the Western Sahara conflict built on the concept of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
Another very critical area of cooperation is in dealing with threats from radicals and extremists. Morocco has constructed an extensive effort that has earned praise from Europe and the US. While some may express concern that security issues are now emphasized more than human development, one only has to look at reforms enacted and in Parliament, the broadening educational program promoting moderate Islam, and security cooperation against ISIL to understand that Morocco is responding to local realities with a balanced strategy.
The pace and extent of Morocco’s reforms reflects the sensibilities of its political culture, which are constantly being stretched by the vision of King Mohammed VI, who is clear and consistent about collaborative progress. In a recent address delivered to the Crans Montana Forum, he noted that North-South and South-South “cooperation must be rooted in mutual esteem, be based on balanced approaches and show that the interests of the various partners concerned are duly taken into account.”
His strategic approach to human development encompasses all facets of Morocco’s society, from ethnic and gender issues to economic, social, and political concerns. And these are also central to Morocco’s effective multifaceted counterterrorism approach – alongside harder measures necessary to address the threat from radicals who oppose Morocco’s liberalizing society, as well as its close collaboration with the US.
As the US debates its strategic responses to encourage both security and human development around the globe, it faces a daunting task. As Danya Greenfield and Faysal Itani write in the Atlantic Council’s Issue in Focus, “The United States struggles with a palpable tension between its immediate security interests and the need for broader institutional reforms in the MENA that would address the root causes of anti-US militancy.”
They argue that “To secure its long-term strategic interests, the United States should urgently and simultaneously pursue its security needs…and support pluralism, basic human rights, and inclusive economic growth.”
Growing a democratic culture is a never-ending challenge — as witness the continuous evolution of the UK and US. When looking abroad for aspiring partners who seek the humane, just, and prosperous world that is a core element in America’s global vision, US policy, according to the paper, “should reflect that political and economic development go hand in hand.” While there may not be ready-made solutions, working with partners like Morocco will enable both parties to more fully exploit opportunities to reduce threats and promote progress through strengthened collaboration.