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f_0023432_19175 - After the Arab Spring The Road to Reform...

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Fall 2011 The Ambassadors REVIEW 5 After the Arab Spring: The Road to Reform in the Middle East and North Africa William Sweeney President and Chief Executive Officer International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) nce the first protests erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, a wave of unrest quickly spread across the Middle East and North Africa as citizens expressed their discontent with the region’s regimes. The Arab Spring was the result of mounting dissatisfaction with the status quo but also the result of blatant government corruption, brutal human rights violations, the economic downturn, low wages and rising unemployment rates. The socio-economic problems were truly the boiling point that pushed protesters, particularly youth, over the edge. The rising urban youth population played an important role in sparking the demonstrations and continues to be a force for change. Young Arabs are now connected through various social media platforms and are acutely aware of what the world looks like in other places. A yearning for socio-economic change and freedom invigorated the youth movement and its anti-regime advocacy. The question now is what lies ahead for the region as some countries take the long and convoluted path to reform while citizens in many other countries continue to take to the streets and struggle for their basic rights. While Tunisia and Egypt have actually deposed their leaders, there has been movement toward opening up political space in most countries where protests have occurred, and the current governments of the region are under extreme pressure to deliver and address the concerns of their people. These calls for a democratic regime change and a desire for a new order that respects citizens’ rights must ultimately fulfill people’s democratic aspirations and at the same time result in a political process that is credible. A fair vote is critical to establishing both domestic and international trust in the new governments. Let us consider the case of the Soviet Union. Since its demise, it is fair to report that introduction of a credible election process is more than one event or election. In some former Soviet countries, a democratic culture or tradition has been successfully introduced over the past generation. In others, a credible election has really never occurred. As we mark the 20 th anniversary of the attempted coup d’état in Russia, history shows that the next chapters of the Arab Spring will involve elections; however, political events alone will not fulfill the aspirations of the populations in the region. O
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Fall 2011 The Ambassadors REVIEW 6 IFES in Tunisia and Egypt The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) supports citizens’ rights to participate in fair elections. We have a track record of success as an independent global leader in election assistance and democracy promotion. Since our founding in 1987, we have worked in 133 countries—from developing to mature democracies. Every IFES project is staffed by national and international personnel and developed
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