I just had a superb few days in Brussels visiting colleagues in the European External Action Service discussing issues around democracy promotion, democracy training, and new areas of research that will be supported by EU funding. The highlight of the trip was giving a keynote presentation at the Representation of the North Rhine Wesphalia to the EU for an event on the Arab Spring and the diffusion of democracy. I was joined by Nabila Hamsa from Tunisia and President of the Foundation for the Future (FFF), a pan-Arab NGO working to secure peace and democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. The panel also included Joerg Faust from the German Development Institute in Bonn and Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, MEP, who was Head of the EU Election Monitoring Mission in Libya. Our audience included Egyptians, Iraqis, Syrians and others from the region, as well as representatives from many EU institutions and other organisations.
Here is a summary of my presentation:
The Arab Spring: Democratic Diffusion and the European Union
Professor Todd Landman, Director, Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution, University of Essex, United Kingdom
Professor Landman provided an overview of the conceptual, empirical and practical issues surrounding the idea of ‘democratic diffusion’ in the era of the ‘Arab Spring’. He argued that popular commentary on the dramatic developments in the Middle East and North Africa since late 2010 have had a tendency to over simplify both the complexity of the region and complexity of democratisation itself. Simple narratives about the inevitable democratisation of the region ignore the diversity of outcomes across cases such as Tunisia and Egypt (regime change and elections), Libya ( international intervention and regime change), Yemen and Bahrain (challenge and crackdown), and Syria (violent and bloody conflict). For Landman, the popular mobilisations in the region came primarily from economic discontent, which was coupled with a larger political critique and desire for regime change, but not necessarily an overwhelming desire for democracy per se.
The process of democratisation itself has a variety of domestic and international explanations, some of which can have a link to policy interventions by the EU; however, such policy interventions must recognise the contested nature of democracy itself and the dynamic and often inconclusive process of democratisation. Democratic diffusion has different unintentional and intentional elements, where direct democracy assistance, economic instruments, diplomatic instruments, and reputational instruments need to be deployed on the basis of a more coherent set of policy formulations within and across the various institutions of the EU. The overall challenge for the EU is to balance the natural tension among complexity, diversity and the realisation of foreign policy objectives with respect to support for democracy in the region and the world. These conclusions are drawn from a ongoing joint project on democratic diffusion undertaken by the German Development Institute and the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution.