Brookings Doha Center: Between Interference and Assistance: The Politics of International Support in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya
The Brookings Doha Center and The Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World released a November 2012 paper entitled, “Between Interference and Assistance: The Politics of International Support in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.” The publication was co-authored by Salman Shaikh, Director of the Brookings Doha Center, and Shadi Hamid, Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center. The working group brought together a “diverse group of mainstream Islamists, Salafists, liberals, and leftists, along with U.S. and European officials” for the purpose of discussing “economic recovery, civil society development, regional security, and the role of the United States and other international actors.”
The paper focuses on a number of post-revolutionary challenges facing the new governments in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia. In Tunisia, the new ruling party has experienced its own angry protests over a slow economy and claims of excessive force by the security apparatus. In Egypt, political polarization has ensued and internal conflicts have raised serious questions about the balance of power within the newly formed government, especially in the absence of a finalized constitution. In Libya, Islamist parties were unexpectedly defeated in the first parliamentary elections however, “tribal divisions continue to threaten national unity” and issues of transnational justice continue to dominate the post-Qadhafi era.
U.S. foreign assistance was deemed critical in guaranteeing successful democratic transitions, but it continues to face a “perception gap.” U.S. policy is “to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy,” but some still see conflicting impulses to both “provide support to dictators” as well as “stand side by side with the people.” While U.S. officials argued that they have drastically changed their policy in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt at the risk of angering their allies in the Gulf, some still perceive them as being behind the revolutionary curve in the Middle East, criticizing them for continuing to “arm, fund, and otherwise support many of the region’s most autocratic countries.”
Though U.S. assistance is critical, to what degree it should be conditioned is debated. Increased assistance with “economic recovery, civil society engagement, and regional security” were deemed important, but requirements for conditions were said to risk being perceived as political interference. As the paper states, there is a “fine line between encouraging political reform and exercising political influence.” Egyptian leaders urge that conditional aid “should focus on transparency and good governance, but not on specific political decisions.” Despite calls for increased civil society engagement, the paper warns that the wrong types of engagement can be misconstrued as promoting partisanship or “foreign agendas,” even if it advances civil rights and national dialogue. Enhanced security was also listed as vital to transition, but when promoted by an outside actor the paper warns that “any stability that compromises people’s rights and dignity [is] illusory.” Israel is also a critical factor as popular sentiment in these countries are typically not in line with U.S. interests regarding security and stability.