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The Crisis of the Arab State: Institutional Reform and Democratic Transition in the Arab World

This project will analyze three state institutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen - the judiciary, state-controlled religious institutions, and state-owned media - to assess the extent to which these institutions are responding to calls for reform in the wake of the Arab Spring. Numerous scholars and commentators, in writing about the events of this period, highlighted what they saw as the weakness of the "state" across the region. Their analysis rests on the notion that the region's longstanding monarchies and one-party states were challenged to their core because they failed to deliver essential services to most of the population. This study contends that effectively delivering goods and services is not enough for a state to avert crises. States must be well-governed. Citizens must believe their key institutions are legitimate, responsive, and accountable. No social contract between state, citizens In reality, long periods of autocratic rule have weakened existing state institutions and eroded their legitimacy in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. Yemen's state institutions have relied on traditional tribal structures, while Tunisia and Egypt relied on an elite class. The Arab revolts have brought more freedom for people to express political, social, and economic demands, but they have not reformed state institutions in a way that enhances legitimacy and accountability. As a result, state institutions are not playing an active role in helping to shape positive state-society relations. There is no new social contract between the state and its people. Instead, the judiciary, state religious institutions, and the state-owned media remain cloaked in a culture that lacks transparency, legitimacy, and accountability. This project will evaluate the problem and make recommendations on how these institutions should reform to support democracy in these countries. Suggestions will include reforms to de-politicize these institutions. The idea is to make them more accountable to citizens and more responsive to their needs. The research team will document main challenges, including capacity, the degree to which these institutions are politicized, and the level of political will to change. They will also explore the role of civil society and outside actors to support the reform process in each institution.

Project ID
Project Status
End Date
24 months
IDRC Officer
Roula El-Rifai
Total Funding
CA$ 290,100.00
Governance and Justice
Arab Forum for Alternatives for Studies
Institution Country
Project Leader
Mohamed El Agati
Arab Forum for Alternatives for Studies, Ltd.