Arab Spring countries need new social contracts, says Nahyan

  • 6 October 2015

Arab Spring countries need social contracts or a voluntary agreement among individuals by which organised society is brought into being and invested with the right to secure mutual protection and welfare, officials and experts told a regional conference on the challenges of nation-building in Arab countries undergoing change.

“The future of the Arab countries, which are undergoing change is pinned on each country’s capability to achieve goals and ambitions of its people – building a stable country where justice, security and happiness prevail, keeping sovereignty and interests and being committed to progress and prosperity for all its citizens,” Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, told the conference co-organised by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research and the School of Policy International Affairs at the University of Maine, USA.

Dr Abdul Hamid Esmail Al Ansari, professor of Islamic Politics, former dean, college of Sharia, Qatar University, agreed and said attention must inevitably be cast on the repercussions felt across the region and the deepening fault lines that have gained traction in the wake of the Arab Spring.

“Various extremist groups and ideological organisations moved quickly to undermine the historical foundations on which these countries stood in order to fuel rising levels of sectarian strife. The social contract between the ruling authorities and the people was broken beyond repair and enabled those driving regional conflict to profit from newfound uncertainty and instability, giving rise to the spread of radical, transnational ideologies,” Dr Al Ansari said.

He added the Arab Spring was a long-drawn-out reaction against regimes that had ruled for several decades and the empty promises that were made regarding the liberation of Palestine; the prospect of unity; the establishment of democracy and social justice; development plans; and the provision of a good quality of life.

“The tenure of these nationalist leaders was largely defined by decades of failure and corruption. Change was consequently seen as necessary and the mass mobilisation of people in solidarity with one another brought down the barriers of fear, trepidation and terror, and led to the toppling of these regimes and the flawed social contracts on which they were based.”

Dr Augustus Richard Norton, professor of international relations and anthropology, the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University, USA, said over the last five years the Middle East has experienced a notable period of tumult and dissent of immense proportions.

“The origin of the significant disruption caused resides in the failure of the state to meet profound economic and human security challenges, as well as rampant corruption — as clearly demonstrated in the likes of Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria where protesters voiced their demands for ‘dignity’.”

Dr Norton suggested it will be a long time before the political systems in these countries are rationalised and recreated — especially considering the regressive instincts of the elites and their determination to cling to power.

“At the same time the region has also witnessed the development of increasingly salient geopolitical rivalries between Iran and its allies on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia and its collaborators on the other. Iran’s rising profile stems in part from the US–UK invasion and occupation of Iraq, as well as its enduring efforts to gain regional supremacy,” he said.

Dr Norton added the sectarian rivalry between Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as intra-sectarian hostilities among Sunni Muslims has further complicated this geopolitical rivalry. The emergence of Daesh and other extremist sectarian movements that have fed on and promoted sectarian hostility has also been a significant factor.