“A revolution is not a democracy”

15th DGAP International Summer School

11/07/2011 - 21/07/2011 | 09:00 - 18:00 | DGAP | Invitation only

Category: Arab countries, Democratization/System Change

Although the Western media has already shifting its focus to other topics, the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia are far from over. How will the events in North Africa affect democracy and security in the region? Can the West play a positive role moving forward?

The 15th DGAP International Summer School brought together 30 participants from North Africa and Europe in Berlin to share their perspectives on the topic “Democracy and Security Revisited – Transformations in Egypt and Tunisia and EU Re- (Dis-) Orientation.” They also had the opportunity to hear a number of lectures from experts in the fields of politics, economics, and social policy. The participants’ diverse backgrounds led to passionate discussions and debates, and allowed for fresh perspectives on the complicated situations in Tunisia and Egypt.

For Adam Nuhi, a lawyer in the United Kingdom, hearing about the current situation from Egyptians and Tunisians was eye-opening. Although he thought he had a good idea of the on-going state of affairs, he learned that “the dust hasn’t even risen, never mind settled.” He found the passion and leadership exhibited by the Egyptian and Tunisian participants inspiring.

As a strategic consultant for the Boston Consulting Group’s Cairo office, Sondos El-Faramawy saw getting to know the „other“ as an important aspect of the school. Before coming to Berlin, she was largely unaware of how the West viewed the revolutions, relying only on websites and accounts from friends abroad who returned to her native Egypt. Although the discussions could be „shocking“ at times, she found that many stereotypes and stigmas were broken through the heartfelt exchanges.

For many North African participants, one opportunity they looked forward to was to change the mindset in the West about what has happened and what continues to happen in their home countries. Sally Zohney, an Egyptian women’s rights activist who has been highly involved in the protests and political organizing, thinks that the biggest change thus far has been a change in mentality. Before, Egyptians expected Europe to get involved in some way. “But now, we don’t ask, not anymore.” As the struggle for democracy continues, it is clear that Egyptians will take the leading role.

Syrine Ayadi, who worked for six months in the legal department of the Tunisian prime minister’s office, brought an insider’s view into some of the systemic problems that have yet to be solved. Now as before, government is characterized by a strict hierarchy and a reluctance to challenge decision-making. “This is one thing where everything is still the same as before. The mentality needs to change.” She says that although many are happy that Ben Ali has left, the country is still in a politically, socially, and economically precarious position. “The difficult part is still coming.”

Somaia Metwalli El Sayed, a teaching assistant at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, is realistic about the impact the summer school will have when she returns to Egypt. She recognizes it will not solve the problems of the Arab Spring, but can still have a positive influence. “I think if it changes things, if it improves things, for me and my students, that’s good enough.” The necessary institutional changes will take longer and require more effort. But she is cautiously optimistic: “We need to think of what’s beyond the present.”

They have had an intense 10 days of discussion, lectures, and debates, but are still energized. The valuable exchanges they’ve had will serve as the building blocks of extended intercultural dialogue, even after the summer school ends. North African participants gained insight into Western perspectives on democratization and transformation processes, while Western participants had their own assumptions about the Arab Spring challenged.

Nevertheless, the new political orders are still in their inception, and participants are realistic about the way forward. As Syrine Ayadi warns: “A revolution is not a democracy.”

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