“The Role of Assemblies in Fostering Social Cohesion and Peaceful Political Transformations in the Arab States”
Background and key questions
The Arab region has in recent years experienced significant political upheavals, which have produced diverse results ranging from concrete steps towards democratization in Tunisia to protracted crises in Libya, Yemen and Syria. While this variation in outcomes is clearly due in part to historical and contextual divergences, it is important to understand and respond to institutional factors that may be facilitating or impeding peaceful and democratic transformations.
The continuing political transitions in the region underline the timeliness of activities to build better understandings of the conditions and processes conducive to inclusive and democratic transformations, thus providing knowledge and tools to governments and other democratic actors within the region. This approach is firmly anchored in the framework of inclusive and accountable governance promoted by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda. Constitution-making bodies and parliaments are situated at the heart of political transitions, both as the bodies required to enact accountable governance frameworks, and as the main link between the citizen, civil society and the state.
There is increasing acknowledgement that social cohesion and the quality of governance institutions are mutually interdependent . Representative institutions cannot function effectively or accountably in the absence of social cohesion, while social cohesion cannot function without representative and accountable governance.
The conundrum in building inclusive political systems is to move from a situation of limited social cohesion and insufficient representative and accountable institutions to one with responsive institutions that provide an environment in which social cohesion can develop and in turn reinforce democratic institutions.
International donors and agencies, including the United Nations, have launched numerous programmes in support of transition processes in the Arab region. Comparative evidence of the impact of implementation of these programmes, however, is relatively scarce; the links and interrelationships between structural governance factors and the trajectory of political transformations remain insufficiently understood. Further, there is often limited integration of international community responses. At a time where many organizations are rethinking their approaches and strategies, the conference seeks to add empirical evidence in support of a more nuanced understanding of the deeper structural factors of successful democratic transformations, to facilitate a harmonised international response and to enhance empirically corroborated programming in order to effectively support political transformations.
The regional forum on the role of assemblies in fostering social cohesion and peaceful political transformations in Arab States will explore these questions, focusing on the crucial roles that constitution-making bodies and parliaments need to play in re-configuring the relationship between citizens and the State.
The Forum aims in particular to address the following key questions:
• Why do countries across the region differ significantly in the nature and outcome of their political transitions?
• Under what conditions can parliaments and constitutional reform help to build inclusive, dynamic and robust societies?
• How can these institutions prevent the degeneration of political changes into violence through ‘preventive governance’?
The conference seeks to provide answers to these questions through discussions which will hone in on the expertise of participants including parliamentarians, government officials, donor organizations and academics. The dialogue will illuminate findings from empirical research, including cross-country comparative analyses. Outcomes of the conference will include analysis on how the international community can support non-violent and democratic transformations, practice guidelines, and potentially in the longer term, a regional programme mobilising a network of experts on inclusive and accountable transformations in the region.
The objective of the conference is two-fold:
1. Develop innovative and realistic approaches to foster inclusive political processes in the Arab States, specifically strengthening parliaments and constitution-making bodies to enable them to act as bulwarks of social cohesion through enhanced preventive governance capacity, accountability, participation and representation to promote legitimate and dynamic social contracts in line with SDG 16.
2. Integrate the international response by developing international guidelines on the role of parliaments and constitution-making bodies in political transformations, informed by regional lessons learnt, a participatory approach and empirical research.