According to the 2021 DAWN Annual Report on the Arab World, the peoples of the region “continue to yearn for democratization and respect for human rights”. The tyrannical regime and its support by foreign governments are major obstacles to democratization. The old social contract stated that regimes could govern as they saw fit as long as they ensured the security and well-being of their peoples. These pacts have clearly failed. The regimes are no longer able to fulfill their part of the bargain and the aspirations of the people are not satisfied.
The time for a new social contract based on different civil rights-based assumptions, pragmatic approaches to democracy, stability and personal security, and new partnerships within civil society is long gone. Influential outside powers – notably the United States, Britain and France – should re-examine their support for autocratic rule and re-evaluate whether such support really serves their interests.
Autocratic regimes have served US national interests on some important issues over the past two decades, but conditions in the region have changed dramatically since then. The quid pro quo formula between undemocratic regimes and the West has all but evaporated.
External patrons and protectors should work with voluntary regimes and Arab civil society to develop a new social contract that is forward-looking, people-centered and inclusive. Before looking at the details of the proposed pact, let’s review two strategic American national interests that autocratic Arab leaders helped the United States promote instead of Washington’s support for their tyranny.
Terrorism. Since September 11, 2001, US national security agencies have worked closely with Arab autocrats against terrorist organizations and groups, including al-Qaida, the Taliban, regional al-Qaida-affiliated groups, Islamic State or ISIS and other groups in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.
Twenty years after 9/11, the terrorist threat remains, but has diminished considerably. US national security agencies have acquired deep expertise of these groups and significant capabilities to hunt them down, eliminate their leaders and degrade their operations. Support for autocratic regimes is no longer as crucial as it was then.
Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two wars waged by the United States in Afghanistan since the fall of 2001 and in Iraq since the spring of 2003 have practically come to an end. For the past two decades, the United States has relied heavily on its autocratic Arab allies to wage these wars.
Just as during the Global War on Terror, while Washington relentlessly cultivated Arab leaders’ support for its regional mission, it ignored their tyranny, endemic repression and corruption, aggression across their borders and the bigotry that Split. The question of human rights was totally marginalized. As a result, tens of thousands of peaceful Arab dissidents have been jailed on bogus charges in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and elsewhere.
The United States accepted these regimes’ narrative of domestic stability and their false assertion that such stability could only be achieved through increased restrictions on domestic freedom of expression. They got a lot more from Washington than they gave.
Realistic path to stability
Arab scholars have concluded that the old social contract between Arab regimes and their peoples has broken down. Despite the lavish wealth of the rulers, the peoples of the region are mostly taller, younger, poorer and insufficiently educated. They lack meaningful health care and a promising future.
While much of the rest of the world has turned to technology, innovation, job-creating businesses and entrepreneurial start-ups, the Arab world, on the other hand, continues to languish in a system of nation states. hierarchical and ossified run by irresponsible leaders and struggling publics. . Yet these publics continue to yearn for democratic and accountable governance and human rights.
A new social contract seems to be the only realistic path to genuine national and regional stability. To become workable, such a contract would have to involve influential foreign actors – including the United States, former European colonial powers, legitimate community organizations, regimes and the private sector. Pragmatism, inclusion, realism and compromise should underpin discussions leading to the definition of achievable goals and confidence-building benchmarks along the way.
The new social contract should include the following basic assumptions:
• It is not a question of whether existing regimes should remain or disappear, but of the free participation of the public in the political process through fair and free elections.
• Partnerships between government, the private sector and civil society focused on entrepreneurial investments and national job creation initiatives should be funded by major employers, governments and foreign donors.
• Major education and training initiatives that aim to produce a generation of young people – men and women – fully equipped to work in the technology-driven economies of the 21st century.
• Social contract partners should also fund major projects to promote healthy environments and halt environmental degradation across the region.
• Above all, the new social contract should emphasize human dignity, the rule of law, equality of opportunity, and sectarian and ethnic harmony.
Emile Nakhleh is a research professor and director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at UNM and a former senior intelligence officer at the CIA. A longer version has been posted on ResponsibleStatecraft.org.