MENA Democracy Program Strategy

A democratic revolution is sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, born on the populations’ demands for change, representing a cry for liberty and a call for reforms to the traditionally restricted and closed-off political and social dynamics in the region. These citizen revolutions, building on long-established opposition movements, have shown strong and vital societies that have continued to develop despite the environment imposed by authoritarian and closed regimes. Responses to these demands range from the extremes of civil war and violent repression, to offers of greater or lesser reforms, through to total capitulation of previous rulers.
Newly established governments, emerged for the first time from fair and open elections, will be called to establish a system of governance that responds to the impetus of the revolution and meets the needs of the people. In so doing, they will need to turn the commitment made by the interim governments into a lasting reality and they will need to do so through a process that itself promotes and protects human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles, including ensuring full participation by historically marginalised groups, including women, children and young people.
Justice and accountability for past violations are also an essential component of building stable States, to demonstrate a real break with the past and to ensure that emerging political institutions are built on a solid foundation of respect for the rule of law that includes accountability of their current and former leaders to the people. This is of particular significance in a region that has witnessed decades of human rights abuses as well as a slew of crimes committed during the revolutions, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. A strong stand against impunity by the newly established governments will be of critical importance both to safeguard the future and to give life to the principles that underpinned their revolutions.
Since the revolutions began, civil society – restricted almost out of existence under previous regimes if not linked to the government – has flourished. NGOs, organised citizens and individual democracy advocates are playing a critical role in mobilising people and promoting their participation in public life both conducting education campaigns to inform people of their rights and awareness-raising campaigns aimed at empowering people to understand and embrace democracy. In order to reinforce these processes, priorities on the political agenda for future reforms will need to stem from, and be perceived as stemming from, participatory consultations led by in-country democracy and civil rights advocates, and reflect their vision of the end game of the “transition”. In other words, one of the essential components of this transition should be the opportunity for organised citizens to have an impact on the political process.
Active participation of non-governmental actors in the political process and their contribution to the identification of political priorities by State structures are among the essential requirements for liberal institutions and democracy to thrive. The recognition of civil society as a legitimate and necessary counterpart to public institutions for dialogue on issues of democratic reform is one of the key elements that need to be addressed and reinforced when processes of democratisation are at stake.
The overall objective of NPWJ’s MENA Democracy Program is to strengthen the contribution of non-governmental actors to the democratic process by promoting dialogue with decision-makers and State structures. The work of NPWJ is designed to break the unproductive model of “parallel” sessions of governments on one side and civil society organisations on the other side, which often leads to confrontation rather than interaction with civil society producing lists of “demands” or “petitions” that have no real impact on government deliberations, and instead to strengthen the contribution of non-governmental actors.
Specific objectives of the MENA Democracy program include: (a) to build the capacity of non-governmental actors to interact effectively with governments; (b) to monitor and implement on a national level the commitments undertaken by governments and non-governmental actors in regional and international fora on standards and principles of non-governmental actors participation; and (c) to undertake specific consultations between government and non-governmental actors on those standards and principles, to facilitate the establishment of a lasting system, practice or habit of consultation between State structures and non-governmental actors for all decision-making processes on democratic reform.
To this end, NPWJ has developed a program of activities aiming to establish systematic peer-to-peer consultation between Government representatives and activists, politicians, parliamentarians, academics, intellectuals and thinkers, democracy advocates and NGO leaders, opinion makers, editorialists and others within the framework of official institutional decision-making processes on all issues relating to democratic reform and promotion of human rights, the Rule of Law, justice, reconciliation and accountability.