With the exception of Tunisia, not a single Arab state was able to maintain the pro-democracy momentum born during the Arab Spring. The reason: they lack a strong national identity, argues Mustapha Tlili, a research scholar at New York University, and the founder and director of the N.Y.U. Center for Dialogues: Islamic World – U.S. – the West.
To overcome this legacy, Arab governments need to develop a new social contract between authority and citizen, through which a distinct national identity and ultimately allegiance will take hold and put these countries on a democratic path, he writes for World Policy:
The task is not easy: to generate a profound sense of citizenship and national identity, a country will have to engage in promoting modern and secular education and economic and social development on behalf of the poor majority of the population. Political systems will need to be restructured through the adoption of secular constitutions guaranteeing the rule of law, checks and balances and periodic fair and free elections. Civil society will need to bolster voices of reason to combat extremists. Arab elites will need to renounce demagoguery and undertake the hard, radical task of self-examination that may lead them to a healthier and more productive approach to politics as the art of the possible. Most important, it will take time for a new class of educated and enlightened citizens to grow in strength and in the belief that liberal secular democracy, as developed over the last 300 years or so in the West, is the best road to prosperity and a peaceful coexistence.
“Consider Europe, where the notion of a nation-state was introduced at Westphalia in 1648,” he observes. “It was not until 300 years later, with the precursors to the European Union, that the peoples of Europe began to imagine themselves as part of a single entity.”