Transitional Justice and Democratic Transition in Arab Countries: Volume I – Case Studies

As part of the Democratic Transition Studies series, the ACPRS has published Transitional Justice and Democratic Transition in Arab Countries: Volume I – Case Studies by multiple authors and edited by Abdulfattah Madi and Abdou Moussa. The book is 376 pages long and includes bibliographical references and a general index.

The Arab states have yet to witness a complete, successful experience of transitional justice, the prevalence of authoritarianism and the foundering of reformist movements in many of them. The situation continued in the wake of the 2011 revolutions with the emergence of some partial attempts, which open the door to the research agenda around many questions addressed in this book’s chapters. How might one address demands by the victims of abuses by the old regimes that justice be served, truth revealed, collective memory reclaimed, and reparations rendered? What is reconciliation, and can these goals be achieved simultaneously? How might one harmonise holding human rights violators from the old regimes accountable with maintaining the stability of the nascent democratic system? What is to be done with those who were part of institutions of oppression in the old regimes? What are the guarantees that those abuses will not recur? What kind of procedures have been undertaken as part of these limited experiences in the Arab region? Can transitional justice serve as a gateway for democratic transition and comprehensive social and political reconciliation in some Arab states?

The text begins by underscoring the necessity that transitional justice in the Arab region be conceptualised from both a theoretical and empirical standpoint, bearing in mind that its role in conflict resolution is indirect and the depth of its implementation depends on the intersection of theory and praxis. It is a political process firstly, in that it involves issues and actors in the sphere of politics, and it has the potential to leave a lasting impact upon that sphere. However, in addition to the critiques levelled at transitional justice with regard to its efficacy, it is also vulnerable to manipulation and misrepresentation which compounds the public’s doubts about its ability to ensure a complete redress of humanitarian atrocities. The authors pose several related questions, such as what is truth, what is reconciliation, and how do their goals relate? Can both objectives be sought concurrently, and how is this to happen in the wake of widespread human rights violations?

Next, the book considers the example of South Africa and its experience in the pursuit of truth and reconciliation, emphasising that its usage as a model need not gloss over the limitations of what has been accomplished, such as that the architects of transitional justice in South Africa employed a pragmatism which privileges forgiveness over justice in service of achieving political consensus. The role of these actors was key to the formulation of this project, based on a logical determination of priorities and emphasis on safeguarding South Africa’s democratic transition: toward what was ‘a rational democracy before being an emotional democracy.’

Memory, the authors argue, is central to procedures of transitional justice in South Africa such as unveiling truths about the traumatic past, doing right by the victims of that past, achieving national reconciliation, and working to avoid a return to its oppressive ways via political reform and the construction of a democratic society; the Truth Commission, in this regard, adopted a posture of restitutive (not punitive) justice. The management of collective memory is next addressed in the case of Morocco through the ‘years of lead’ during which the country saw intense state violence and repression, marking a clear contrast with the South African model in that Morocco underwent efforts toward transitional justice in isolation from a broader democratic transition, generally conceived as a specific stage in the shift away from an authoritarian regime toward a democratic regime rooted in the defence of human rights. Nevertheless, in the wake of horrific state violence against citizens, this process contributed to a gradual integration of democratic principles into social, political, and ideological systems despite remaining beholden overall to two competing dynamics: one reformist, the other conservative.

Finally, the volume broaches transitional justice in Libya, which has seen several legislative attempts to redress the abuses of the regime of Muammar Gaddhafi but which have not born fruit. On the contrary, human rights violations and abuses have continued and even intensified in post-revolutionary Libya, this time on part of militias and other armed factions, hindering efforts toward disarmament, achieving justice, and accountability. Recent abuses have included arbitrary arrests and detentions as well as extra-legal torture and killings. Several difficult questions arise from this bloody history of rape, domestic violence, genocide, and state-sanctioned ethnic conflict: how might mutual social understanding bring about a new regime based on the rule in law? What legal options exist in the context of fundamental transformations of society and state? Ultimately, the case of transitional justice in Libya, the authors hold, may offer valuable insight for post-conflict processes in states like Yemen and Syria.

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