MENA’s need for long-term aid stressed in new report

The flags of Egypt and Tunisia on display during a demonstration in Tunis. Tunisia emerged as the best performer on a report by Freedom House on the state of democracy and governance in 35 countries. Photo by: Wassim Ben Rhouma / CC BY-NC-SA

Fragile progress toward democracy in the Middle East and North Africa is at constant risk of being reversed, a new report finds. Its prescription to preserve existing gains and promote new ones:  sustained and long-term support from the region’s development partners.

The Freedom House’s “Countries at the Crossroads 2012” report examines the state of democracy and governance in 35 countries, including seven in the MENA region: IranBahrainYemenSaudi ArabiaEgypt,Tunisia and Jordan.

Tunisia and Bahrain emerged the overall best and worst performers on the report’s analysis of the countries’ performance against measures of accountability and public voice, civil liberties, rule of law and anti-corruption and transparency.

The report explains the gap between Tunisia and Bahrain to the outcome of the wave of uprisings that swept the countries, and the rest of MENA region, starting some two years ago. Tunisia has made significant progress at establishing democracy following the uprising there while Bahrain remains largely under authoritative rule.

But even Tunisia, which scored an average of 4.11, failed to meet Freedom House’s “passing score” of five out of seven. The scores of MENA region countries suggests new governments there still lack the institutional strength to resist crackdowns and interference from neighbors while remaining responsive to the demands of citizens, says Vanessa Tucker, director of analysis at Freedom House.

That’s why sustained support from democratic forces within the countries and from their development partners is essential, Tucker says. New governments in the region, she explains, need such support to see them through legal, regular and procedural changes beyond breakthroughs on urgent issues such as the conduct of free elections and release of political prisoners.

At the height and in the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring, the collective name given to the wave of popular uprisings in the region, bilateral and multilateral donors pledged millions of dollars in assistance.

The European Union, for instance, introduced a €350 million ($474.85 million) initiative to support democratic transformation, institution building and economic growth in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan.

Leaders of the world’s top eight economies, meanwhile, promised to mobilize some $40 million to support economic and political reforms in these countries. The World Bank, for its part, pledged up to $6 billion worth of new support for Egypt and Tunisia.

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About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.

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