WASHINGTON – A new Atlantic Council report argues that US and EU policymakers must leverage greater economic and political support for the transitioning countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to sustain democratic gains and prevent backsliding throughout the Arab world.
As the 2011 wave of uprisings throughout the MENA region prompted policymakers to rethink their approaches to this rapidly changing region, the United States and EU made pledges of financial assistance and political support for the Arab countries in transition. Many of these pledges were meant to stem economic collapse, capitalize on democratic openings and opportunities for growth, and provide incentives to guard against backsliding on reforms.
Yet report authors Danya Greenfield, Deputy Director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, and Rosa Balfour, Head of the Europe in the World Program at the European Policy Center, argue that despite ambitious rhetoric by policymakers, the response of the United States and the EU has not yet captured the potential of the moment. While some specific initiatives are a step in the right direction, and some diplomatic changes deserve to be applauded, the response has fallen short of the high expectations that were set in the early days of these transitions.
To better capitalize on this historic opportunity, the authors present several concrete recommendations for policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic. Among the suggestions, Greenfield and Balfour suggest:
- Establishing a comprehensive economic growth strategy, leveraging the resources of the Gulf countries with the experience of the international financial institutions, to create new jobs in the transitioning countries.
- Indicating country-specific benchmarks for political reform and specifically detail how assistance to partner countries will be affected if they are not achieved.
- Offering free trade agreements and further trade liberalization to incentivize economic reforms.
- Enhancing US and EU public diplomacy strategies with the Arab publics to better demonstrate the commitment to supporting democratic development.
- Visibly continuing robust support for democratic institution-building as a key pillar of the overall strategy.
The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East seeks to produce original analysis of the forces transforming the region, as well as policy recommendations for the United States and Europe about how to promote closer and more productive relations with the region. The Hariri Center recognizes the substantial linkages between political and economic affairs, and will develop policy initiatives to promote successful democratic transitions and greater convergence among the Middle East, the United States, and Europe.