U.S. ‘mixed success’ in assistance to Arab Spring transitions

POMEDREPORTThe United States “has largely failed to adapt U.S. assistance or policy toward the Middle East and North Africa in response to the dramatic political changes in the region over the past few years,” a new analysis suggests.  

“In general, it is remarkable how little the structure and objectives of U.S. assistance to the region have changed since before the 2011 uprisings,” according to The Federal Budget and Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2015: Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, a joint publication of the Project on Middle East Democracy and the Heinrich Böll Foundation of North America.

“The percentage of U.S.  assistance devoted to supporting military and security forces has actually increased since 2010 while the percentage devoted to programming dedicated to democracy and governance has decreased, despite frequent rhetoric from the administration and Congress in 2011 suggesting that the opposite would take place,’ the reports notes:  

Three years after the uprisings of 2011, the administration has had only mixed success in regularizing its assistance to countries in transition. In 2012 and into 2013, the administration mobilized large amounts of aid to respond to the democratic upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria through significant reprogramming and reallocation from multi-country accounts. Such a response was necessary at that time, when funds had not been budgeted ahead of time.  

By now, the administration should be working to move a greater percentage of assistance to those countries into bilateral accounts to establish a more permanent aid relationship. The administration has just this year made moves in that direction in both Yemen and Syria, but has failed to do so in Tunisia and especially in Libya. 

Support for democracy and governance programming in Syria in this year’s request is dramatically increased to $80 million; if granted, democracy assistance to Syria will be the highest bilateral level in the region. Democracy practitioners have complained for some time that the administration does not have a clear strategy for supporting democracy and governance activities in liberated areas of the country. The administration moved a substantial amount of Syria assistance into a bilateral account this year, including a large request for democracy assistance, which may signal a step in that direction. This new request, coupled with increasing coordination of Syria assistance by Mark Ward, could bring increased clarity to U.S. democracy programming strategy in the country.

RTWT