About one year after the Arab Spring, North Africa is living its first steps toward democracy and the rule of law. But there is fourth common misinterpretation or misperception about the last spring riots that must be corrected.
First, the Arab Spring wasn't really more about democracy than against dictatorship: people were tired of human rights violations, poverty and police violence. Democracy is a consequence and a way to make acceptable the riots, in particular in front of the West and, of course, NATO. That was not a valuable argument for the "End of History" thesis. Though NATO should support this democratic process, by avoiding two major mistakes:
- NATO cannot take an active part and should only offer its expertise and its resources on demand. It should not "interfere" without a clear mandate of these countries.
- NATO cannot be eager. It took a century to create a stable and modern democracy in France and about 300 years in United Kingdom. The West cannot import this model: 50 years after sub-Saharan decolonization, everyone can see that "imported states" do not work as they should.
Second, North Africa isn't the Middle East. Each spring revolution in North Africa led to the fall of the dictatorship (except in Morocco, but the King made some major changes in the Constitution). The riots in the Middle East failed. In Yemen, in Oman, in Iran, in Syria, in Bahrain, the changes were minor or null. Each case is particular and should be analyzed singly. However, in order to further regional stability, NATO should enhance the roles of regional organizations:
- Keep a double open dialogue with the Arab League and the African Union. These organizations have better legitimacy in these regions and giving them greater influence will enforce regional stability.
- Enforce the Mediterranean Dialogue. It should involve Libya and Syria and invite the Arab League and African Union.
Third, the NATO's intervention in Libya was necessary but not understood. The resolution 1973 of the UN Security Council authorized to "take all necessary measures [...] to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack" and decided to "establish a ban on all flights in the airspace" of Libya. The debate about the limits of this authorization was intense. Nevertheless, a lot of NATO's partner countries felt betrayed by the intervention in Libya. The current Chinese veto about Syria is an example. But, in this region, NATO shouldn't be a threat to all these countries but rather a favored partner for peace and security. In order to improve NATO's image in this region, it should:
- Not intervene anywhere in this region (and especially in Syria) without a clear mandate from the UN Security Council and not transcend this mandate.
- Have better communication in case of a coming operation. Every action should be fully explained to the public both in NATO's member states and countries where the operation takes place.
- Propose relief and reconstruction after each intervention.
Fourth, the Arab Spring is not an asset for global security but it could be. It was not an asset because it was partly led by extremist leaders. It was not because of clan society like Libya, where the unity of the nation is now weak. It was not because it created the strain for political power. It was not because it put many weapons in circulation, especially in Sahel where the Al Qaeda for Islamic Maghreb bases are. But it could be and NATO has a role to play.
- Encourage a disarmament program in the region and by helping new political leaders to train valuable security forces.
- Be aware of the political tensions in the concerned countries and by using diplomatic ways to avoid them.
- Last but not least, NATO should accept a rise of radical leaders in these new democracies. For example, as long as it respects the Rule of Law, the Muslim Brotherhood has a real role. These democratic transitions will be long, and the rise of extremism is natural at first.
The Arab Spring is a unique and unprecedented event. So the answers to this event have to be new. With these recommendations, NATO will let the people build their own new political systems, support them when they need it and create a regional dialogue for peace and security.
Gautier Uchiyama is student in Master of Political Science at the University Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne and specialized in International Relations and international cooperation policies.