SEPT 30, 2013

Worth Reading: Arab Spring Transitions

This installment of Worth Reading features three articles, each examining a different aspect of the Arab Spring. One paper focuses on economics in Tunisia, while another analyzes public opinion research across North Africa. The third paper discusses the effects turmoil in Egypt may have on other transitional states.

"The Dynamics for Transition in Tunisia and their Implications for the Economy" by Mondher Ben Ayed

The Dynamics for Transition in Tunisia and their Implications on the EconomyAs part of the lecture series on “The Economic Role of Democratic Transitions" organized by the Legatum Institute, the International Forum for Democratic Studies, and World Affairs, and in connection with a June 20, 2013 event on the case of Tunisia, the three organizations published a paper written by Mondher Ben Ayed entitled “The Dynamics for Transition in Tunisia and their Implications for the Economy.” The paper discusses Tunisia’s recent economic challenges, which include inequality between coastal and inland areas, unemployment rates “hovering around 13 percent,” and lingering effects of the deep corruption of the Ali regime. These pre-revolutionary challenges have been exacerbated by a new set of difficulties, including political uncertainty, government inexperience, and a deteriorating security environment. Noting that Tunisia lacks natural resources, Ben Ayed suggests the government focus on facilitating private sector investment. Some reforms to banking, investment, and fiscal policy are already underway; other fixes, including improving the security environment and encouraging foreign direct investment, will require international support.

"Will Egypt's Agony Save the Arab Spring?" by Daniel Brumberg

Forum Research Council Member Daniel Brumberg published “Will Egypt’s Agony save the Arab Spring?” in Foreign Policy on August 21. Disagreeing with the observers of the Middle East who have proclaimed the Arab Spring over, Brumberg suggests that turmoil in Egypt may convince leaders in Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen not to duplicate Egypt’s mistakes. Brumberg discerns several lessons from Egypt’s troubled transition, including the importance of political unity, the inclusion of political ‘losers’ and former regime elements, insulation of constitution-drafters from electoral pressure, engagement with the security sector, and respect for the legitimacy of election results. In Brumberg’s view, Egypt violated all of these rules, and its struggles demonstrate that there is no “third way” promising responsible governance without democratic practices.

"Winners and Losers After Arab Spring" by Ellen Lust

On August 27, Forum Research Council Member Ellen Lust published “Winners and Losers After Arab Spring” as part of the Transitional Governance Project alongside Lindsay Benstead, Dhafer Malouche, Gamal Soltan, and Jakob Wichmann. The piece summarizes three lessons from the project, which analyzed polling data collected in post-Arab Spring Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. First, it recommends that policymakers and activists extend their outreach beyond youth and women to other marginalized groups, including rural voters. Second, the authors point out the difference between “preference gaps” and “participation gaps;” some disengaged groups have interests which align with existing political forces, while the preferences of others go entirely unrepresented. Finally, Lust and her colleagues warn observers that participation and preference gaps vary by country; for example, in Egypt, the gender participation gap is closing, even as it grows wider in Tunisia.

About Worth Reading

Worth Reading is a list of featured readings on democracy disseminated semi-monthly by the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy. We are grateful to the Legatum Institute and Mondher Ben Ayed for their contributions to the Transitions Lecture Series; gratitude is also owed to Research Council Members Ellen Lust and Daniel Brumberg for their work. If you have materials you would like featured in Worth Reading, please send us an email at