Skip to main content

About the Project

The 2010-2011 Arab uprisings have broken many myths and questioned the underpinnings of US and EU engagement with the region. We believe the ‘Arab Awakening’ represents a critical juncture in regional politics and in international relations, redefining a number of assumptions and approaches. Among these assumptions, the belief that pluralistic change could likely take place thanksto exogenous factors. In parallel, a widely shared assumption was that of weak Arab societies, unable to become protagonists of history on their own terms.On the other hand, an over-emphasised role attributed to external actors.Today, even though the dust has not settled and transformations are ongoingin many of these countries, it is necessary to start to analyze the nature of the emerging political regimes.

euspring mediumThe first objective of the project is to understand the ways in which theconcept of democratic polity, and one of its structural components, citizenship,is understood by different social and political forces in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. Against the background of a comparison between Western and Arab interpretations of rights, the project will examine which social and political forces advocate the expansion or limitations of some specific rights. Citizenshipis considered as a dynamic analytical concept, evolving according to the rights individuals enjoy within three categories: civil rights (eg: freedom of expressionand association), political rights (eg: passive and active electoral rights) and social rights (eg: social welfare). Analyzing discourses and debates surrounding rights provides unique lenses for an innovative and informative analysis ofthese transitions. It also provides an excellent entry point for assessing the wayin which US and EU democracy assistance policies discursively and practically empower some actors over others, and the extent to which they have been re-configured since the uprisings

Many of the current debates in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco currently focus on citizenship rights and their evolution. Without understanding the terms of these debates, ranging from the implementation of sharia, the clash over the confessional or the secular nature of the State, of a social welfare agenda, the expansion or reduction of the role of the state or of the market, any external approach will run the risk of either be totally ineffective or backfire. As far as the methodological toolbox is concerned, the project will analyse the new constitutions or constitutional drafts, the negotiations

dsc00744.jpg

over the terms of the norms, and the way in which they have been presented to the public,criticized and defended. It will then triangulate these findings with two additional methodologies, in-depth interviews and focus groups. The mix ofthese three qualitative methodologies has rarely been applied to empirical work in the MENA region and we expect it to generate innovative insights and understandings of role conceptions, interests and preference formation by different actors. This will offer new highly policy-relevant elements to be takeninto account by external actors formulating new MENA strategies and approaches.

The second objective of the project is to analyze to what extent international actors are redefining their democracy assistance policies as a consequence of the epochal changes and the actual shapes North African polities are evolving into. Through discourse analysis and in-depth interviews,we will look in particular at the ‘world views’ behind democracy assistance by US and EU policymakers. We will couple these actors’ policies and the governance modes they have created in the region. Understanding the changes that the experience of the Arab Awakening may have triggered inWestern policies towards MENA will also contribute to reformulating actor-based conceptions of their international role. Indeed, much literature on the global role of the US and the EU has been engaged in assessing their track record as pro-democracy actors, casting them, especially the EU, as soft,civilian, smart, or normative power. The ways in which the US and the EU willredefine their goals and engagement paradigms will have an impact on the model they claim to pursue and on the theoretical understandings of their role.