The Seventh Annual Conference on Democratic Transition, “External Factors and the post-2011 Democratic Transition in the Arab Region” was held on 21-22 September 2018, in the Tunisian city of Hammamet. The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies organized the meeting in participation with many scholars hailing from wide range of disciplines, dedicating this session to the role of regional and international factors in the democratic transition experiences following the Arab revolutions of 2011. Additionally the conference aims to fill a research gap by documenting different aspects of this external influence and its implications for the democratic transition process in the Arab countries.
In his keynote speech, Dr. Mehdi Mabrouk, director of the Tunisia branch of ACRPS, pointed out that the academic question concerning what happened during the Arab Spring has narrowed, while the gap between the two extremes in the subject has widened. In one corner is the foreign conspiracy camp, facing the grassroots camp in the other. The question needs to be re-addressed in order to identify objective and accurate explanations of how the Arab revolutions unfolded.
The first session of the conference focused extensively on the theoretical aspects of the relationship of the external factor with the democratic transition, through a critical review of the prevailing academic literature and theses on the 2011 Arab popular uprisings. This included the European Union's policies towards democratic transition in the Arab region and their strategic considerations in contrast with normative and ethical standards, the historical legacy of the regional states and the role of foreign actors, the Western hegemony that frames Western-Arab relations, and the discourse of US think tanks and their influence on policy.
The second session focused on United States policy towards the Arab revolutions; the American position on the Arab popular uprisings, and the dialectic of principles and interests. The sessions analysed US policy evolution in Syria and Tunisia. The third session examined the Maghreb region and the French role, especially in Tunisia, and the impact of foreign forces on the democratic transition in Libya. Finally the session reviewed the role of external factors in the stability of Moroccan authoritarianism.
Later sessions were devoted to security and economics issues in the democratic transition process. The researchers looked at how counter terror rhetoric still frames perceptions about dealing with this region and the impact of international financial institutions on promoting authoritarianism. The impact of regional intervention was also examined, with presentations covering the expansionist aspirations or Turkey and Iran as well as the role of Saudi Iranian rivalry.
The conference concluded with a panel discussion moderated by Mehdi Mabrouk to draw conclusions from the conference sessions and debate prospects for the future. The topic of the eighth Democratic Transition Conference in 2019 was revealed to centre on transitional justice and democratic transition.
The Annual Conference on Democratic Transition
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