The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

New ARB is out

The March issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin is out. I have an article in it about the future of liberals in Egypt. Here's the full table of contents:

Algeria: Debate on Constitutional Reform
Robert P. Parks

Bahrain: A Year of Decision
Toby Jones

Broader Middle East Initiative: Arab Governments Strike Back
Bahey Eldin Hassan

Egypt: What Future for Liberals?
Issandr El Amrani

North Africa: Islamist Prisoner Releases and Reconciliation
Bassam Bounenni
I think Bahei Eldin Hassan's article is really interesting, especially as Egypt in particular made a great effort to sabotage the BMEI in Manama a few months ago, and besides I like him. An original draft of my article included some discussion of what Western governments could do to help liberals, but it had to be removed for length. My basic point was that countries like Egypt don't have the necessary liberal opposition base to be able to sustain Eastern Europe-style rainbow revolutions, partly because the civil society and NGO base has not been built. Considerable Western funding and capacity-building went into creating the institutions that sustained the rainbow revolutions of Georgia and Ukraine. There was an interesting article on the difficulties faced in creating the same dynamic in Belarus in the NYT magazine in late February, some of the problems described there would apply in much of the Arab world. (I'm not necessarily advocating these efforts, I'm just saying that replicating them in the region is more difficult.)

I should also add that when I wrote that several of the most outspoken MPs lost their seat, I should mention that one remains: Hamdeen Sabahi, an independent former Nasserist who has been blocked from forming his own party, Karama (Dignity). What strikes me is that Sabahi faced a tough fight against voting irregularities in his district; it was the presence of a foreign diplomat on voting day that, according to some, eased some of the pressure off him. The 2000-2005 People's Assembly was, at times, the site of some heated battles and speeches from Sabahi and the other MPs I name (Nour, Abdel Nour and Farghali). One has to speculate that they were specifically targeted because they had made all that noise.