2019 / 4 / 6
Title: Building Bridges´-or-Digging Trenches? Civil Society Engagement after the Arab Spring
Authors: Timo Behr & Aaretti Siitonen
Publisher: FIIA “The Finnish Institute of International Affairs”
Access to the internet: 7 March/ 2016
Date of my completing review assignment: 2 February, 2017
Table of Contents:
- Civil society and democracy
- The concept of civil society
Civil Society and Transition
- Civil society prior to Arab Spring
- Civil society after the Arab Spring
Donor Policies and Strategies
- The EU’civil society strategy
- The Finland’civil society strategy
Conclusions and Recommendations
Building bridges´-or-digging trenches? is a working paper published in 2013 by Timo Behr and Aaretti Siitonen, researchers at the Finish institute of International Affairs. The paper explores civil society engagement after what has been called the Arab spring. Revolutions in the Eastern Europe and Latin America in 1980s represented the moment in which civil society transformed from merely normative concept into an explanatory variable for democratization in non-Western context. After that, the recent wave of uprising in the Arab world has reflected the renewed attention to the role of civil society in democratization.
After 2011, there is a responsibility that should be taken by international donors, civil society, and state to establish democratic institutions and not just adopt top level approach to change. This point is the main argument in the paper.
Arab civil society includes religious charity and liberal organizations which contain trade -union-s and professional associations. Liberal associations played a dominant role in struggling for independence. In postcolonial era, civil society shaped by authoritarian context. Therefore, CSOs were co-opted by governments.
In 1980s, state withdraw from providing basic services due to liberalization, this led to the emergence of more NGOs as the third sector which filled this gab. However, distrust between state and civil society remained. The authors assert upon trust, reciprocity, and cooperation between state- civil society and among CSOs as the key habits for democracy. This is the basic task of civil society in the Arab region after 2011. It can do so by participating in agenda setting and associating with state institutions to enhance legal framework. The writers approach civil society from neo-Hegelian position. In the Anglo Saxon context, civil society and state opposed each other. In the Nordic countries, neo- Hegelian interpretation could be useful to understand associative relations between state and civil society. The authors belong to the second ontological background. Applying this analysis, the two researchers emphasize upon the role of international donors in building trust between state and civil society on the one hand and among fragmented CSOs on the other hand. Both EU’s and Finish strategies are relied on promoting a vibrant, pluralistic civil society based on the rule of law in the Arab world. Nevertheless, the EU’s strategy looks at civil society as antagonist to state and separated from private sphere: family and religious communities. It also doesn’t pay attention to the issue of primordial connotations. The Finnish strategy acknowledges that the line between civil society and the public and private sectors is blurred. In the Arab context, boundaries between private and public are fuzzy. Primordial relations may replace formal institutions because they are more powerful than formal institutions. The paper explains that the Finish strategy is more valuable for the Arab context to promote a cooperative relationship contributes to the legitimacy of the new political order. It focuses not only on watchdog civil society, but also concerned with gender and minority rights. Finland could share experience with the Arab world of its model of state-civil society relations through exchange programmes. These efforts can build bridges between state- civil society, Islamists and secularists.
The responsibility should be taken by all parties to consolidate democracy and to build trust. Thus, the paper recommends greater dialogue to prevent a politicization of civil society assistance. International agencies must look at civil society as a context specific, particularly regarding state- civil society relations to build bridges not to digging trenches.