Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2012

Education for Citizenship in the Arab World: Key to the Future

Muhammad Faour, Marwan Muasher

October 2011

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Any romantic notions in the West that the 2011 Arab uprisings could create instantaneous democracy in countries that have succeeded at toppling their leaders are already shattering. In the absence of strong political parties and viable civil society structures in most of the Arab world, these uprisings are proving to be only the first step in a process that will not follow a clear path and will take years to unfold. Much trial and error will take place and the region will experience multiple ups and downs before stable political and economic systems take hold. The challenge of replacing both leaders and regimes with ones that follow democratic norms is huge and certainly not automatic. As the Arab world starts this long transformation, a self-evident but often ignored fact is that democracy will thrive only in a culture that accepts diversity, respects different points of view, regards truths as relative rather than absolute, and tolerates—even encourages—dissent. Without this kind of culture, no sustainable system of checks and balances can evolve over time to redistribute power away from the executive. Nor can a mechanism be developed to check abuses by any state institution. As the first phase of the uprisings gives way to nation building after decades of authoritarian rule, people in the Arab world will discover that their societies are not equipped with the skills and values needed to accept different, pluralistic norms of behavior.