Small Wars Journal

The Arab Spring: Notes on Nation-Building

Sat, 10/01/2011 - 9:45am

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During the Cold War era, it was useful to distinguish between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.  The issue arose in ritual dualistic fashion, with debates on which form was the greater threat to U.S. security.  In that debate, the “right” tended to support authoritarian regimes for their opposition to the Marxist-Leninism of the USSR and China, while the “left” mocked fear of Communism and opposed U.S. resistance to “wars of national liberation” with strong Communist influence (Cuba, Vietnam).  (The quotation marks around “left” and “right” are necessary because there is far more conflict within both the left and the right than is recognized in the public debate.)

In that debate, authoritarian regimes featured dictators who used repression only to stay in power, while totalitarian regimes had much more ambitious agendas: to pursue quasi-religious, “totalist” visions, following totalist myths.  Over a long period both Democratic and Republican administrations have tended to favor authoritarian regimes, whose limited, inward-looking projects rarely aim at exporting their visions, destabilizing other states.  Totalitarian regimes, on the other hand, are almost always driven by evangelistic passion to export their visions (Marxist-Leninists during the Cold War and fundamentalist Islam in today’s, destabilized Arab and Muslim world). 

The right myth is “exclusive” and looks inward to core values (the Aryan Man in Nazi Germany), while the left myth is “inclusive” and looks outward (the world proletariat).  The quotation marks are necessary because both are myths, excluding (often by eradicating) everyone who fails to buy into the vision.  Both lead into realms of brutality and repression, controlling even elements of private life.  Such ambitions are unthinkable for mere dictators, trying to stay in power. 

The debate is back.  The terms of debate and the false dualism are the same—with no real vision of what U.S. policy should be.  The choice is false and leads nowhere because both positions reflect failed efforts to unify tribal societies.  These will remain the principal, public alternatives—seeking to unify from the top-down—until serious efforts are made, partnering with civil society organizations (CSOs), to combine reform at the top with sustained efforts to bring people together organically from the ground-up. 

This perspective holds that the impulse to unification, creating strong nation-states, creates the powerful attraction of centralization in either form.  This impulse holds greater appeal for middle class elements in a society than it does for more traditional sectors—a fact that explains much of the reason why all of the hijackers on 9/11 came from relatively privileged sectors of society. 

The challenge presented by these competing forms of centralization may have become clearer in the wake of the Arab Spring, especially in comparing events in Egypt and Libya.  U.S. policymakers should have been working in both countries and across the region for at least two decades to avoid the unhappy choices that now face us.  The challenge then, two decades ago, and now—like the challenge during Cold War days—is how to promote social and political development that is essential for the transition of these societies to modern economic and political systems.  Unfortunately, almost no social and political development has occurred—in substantial part because Western aid agencies do not know how to promote it.  This explains the widespread judgment that most of the $19 billion the U.S. has invested in nation-building in Afghanistan has been wasted. 

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About the Author(s)

A. Lawrence Chickering is a social entrepreneur and writer who designs and implements civil society strategies in public policy.  He is founder and President of Educate Girls Globally (EGG), which has developed a powerful program for promoting girls’ education and empowering traditional communities by reforming government schools, partnering with the government of the very tribal state of Rajasthan in India.  He has concentrated his recent writing on the uses of civil society in foreign policy and, more specifically, in counterinsurgency warfare.  He is coauthor of Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security (2006).  His other, great interest is conflict management and the search for a transpartisan politics.  He has written two books on that subject: Beyond Left and Right (1993) and (with James S. Turner) Voice of the People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life (2008).  He is a regular contributor to the SWJ.



Sat, 10/15/2011 - 12:58am

In reply to by Lawrence Chickering

I don't trust the US government to know the difference between inervention and over-intervention. I don't trust them to know what skills they need or to accurately assess what skills they have or lack. I don't trust them to prevent an intervention once started from escalating out of control (this would work if we just had a little more of ------, exponentially multiplied).

I'm not 100% opposed to intervention, but before we even consider it we need to have a clear, specific, concrete, practical, achievable goal. We need to know exactly what we're trying to accomplish and how what we propose to do is meant to accomplish it. Regarding any of the Arab Spring states, I'm not at all convinced that those criteria are remotely close to being met.

Lawrence Chickering

Fri, 10/14/2011 - 10:56pm


I am for intervention. I oppose over-intervention. I agree we need more skills to do what I am proposing.

I would not want to see any nation end up like Pakistan, or like Somalia, the Sudan, Yemen, etc. I do not believe that American intervention is necessary to prevent that, or that any state will plunge to that fate if American intervention is absent. I do believe that over-intervention, even with the best of intentions, can easily push matters in that direction, if we do not maintain awareness of our limitations, of our tendency to intervene in our own interest and assume that interest is shared or universal, and of the general dangers of hubris. Hubris is an implicit part of any attempt to reshape another society, whether from the top down or from the bottom up, and we do well to remember that. Our intentions may be good, but that doesn't assure a positive outcome.

The US is often criticized for the avaricious machinations of its corporations, but the combination of lofty intentions, hubris, and the ignorance of other cultures for which we are so justly famous can do as much damage, or more.

Restraint and subtlety are critical. We are not, alas, known for our skills in those departments.

Lawrence Chickering

Wed, 10/12/2011 - 11:17pm


Would you be concerned if every country from Pakistan to Morocco became like Pakistan? I am concerned about it, which explains the urgency I feel about this subject.

I don’t want to repeat our polemical cycle here, featuring my advocacy of action you say the institutions that would have to implement it are not capable of doing so—and my acknowledging the problem, agreeing with you that if we make it about us rather than about them, it will cause nothing but trouble.

I have thought of a different path to what I think we should be doing. You write, “The moment we think of ‘empowerment’ as a way to get people to resist insurgency, or a way to get people to develop their society in ways that we think appropriate, or as a means to any end we bring to the table”—you, understanding that this is not my position, but what you are afraid would happen—“it ceases to be empowerment and becomes imposition.” "We tend to make stuff about us; it’s our way.” I hope you know that I agree completely. And it is a big problem. The point is, we are already doing what you are criticizing, and it is a major reason why we are struggling as we are. I believe that TRYING what I am proposing is the only way out of the current mess. It is the only strategy that could move us away from what we are doing, which is about us, to something very different—something that is about them.


Tue, 10/11/2011 - 11:43pm


I'm glad to know I serve some useful purpose in commenting... I know I can be annoying (Robert C Jones tells me so, and I believe him) but I honestly believe that questions need to be asked. I admit that I could probably do it more tactfully at times.

I really don't see why we should assume that "the Arab Spring threatens to overwhelm our resources to respond", simply because I don't think the Arab Spring requires that we respond. It seems to me that the worst thing we can do is to over-respond, especially if we do it in pursuit of our own priorities (such as keeping groups like the Muslim Brothers out of power).

we might do well here to look at the examples of Latin America and Southeast Asia. During the cold war these were among the leading recipients of American intervention, and were among the world's most miserable and poorly governed places. Terms like "tinpot dictator" and "banana republic" were coined to describe Latin American governments.

Now, of course, both Southeast Asia and Latin America are generally peaceful and have made significant economic and social progress... of course there are problems still, and they've a long way to go, but they are way, way, better off than they were. Curiously, this didn't emerge from anything we did. It emerged when we backed off and left them alone. When the cold war ended and we no longer had paranoia to justify meddling, we put a lot less effort into trying to control or influence outcomes, and let people find their own ways. Not surprisingly, they did find their own ways.

Instead of seeing every event as an opportunity for us to step in and exert control or influence, sometimes we need to step back and let people find their own ways. Alittle help here and there is not a bad thing, but we mist always be aware of, and consciously restrain, our well established tendency to over-involve, to attempt to direct and influence, to try and shape events according to our own values and preferences.

It seems to me that a broad-scale attempt to step in and reshape Egyptian, Tunisian, or Libyan society from the ground up would be every bit as inappropriate as an attempt to shape governance from the top down. This isn't about us, and the first and foremost thing we need in our response is restraint... and possibly someone to stand behind us with a large mallet, ready to whack us on the head before we step in something nasty.

"Empowerment" is a great goal, even if the word has been abused to the point where it now means little more than buzz. The moment we think of "empowerment" as a way to get people to resist insurgency, or a way to get people to develop their society in ways that we think appropriate, or as a means to any end that we bring to the table, it ceases to be empowerment and becomes imposition. We tend to make stuff about us; it's our way. It's also a problem, and a good reason why less can sometimes be more.

Lawrence Chickering

Sun, 10/09/2011 - 8:47am

To Graham.N,

Thank you for your kind remark. Your suggestion that we may never understand everything about these issues may be true. However, one way to bring some understanding into these and other issues is to step back from them and see them as processes following a developmental logic. I think, personally, that the Arab Spring was a very good thing—not because we will be happy with what happens in that region in coming decades but because as long as authoritarian regimes created the image that things were positive because they were stable, they retarded recognition about the importance of political and social development to move, developmentally, forward.

One of the great enemies of understanding here is the compulsion, which runs deep in our philosophical DNA, to see everything in rigidly dualistic terms. We see everything as “either this or that”. I have written two books on American politics from a “transpartisan” perspective. One of the centerpieces of both books is that the current dualistic labels of “conservative” and “liberal” mean nothing—nothing. Both camps are divided into “freedom” and “order” wings that are often in conflict WITHIN the left and right. The freedom wings on both sides often come together and oppose the order sides who are together. All of this is concealed in a political idiom that pretends there are coherent positions called “conservative” and “liberal”. How might one look at this four-quadrant political system (freedom-left, order-left, freedom-right, and order-right) so it makes sense? What I argued in both books, and what I believe, is that these positions are all in dialectical conflict, seeking to INTEGRATE freedom and order – the two great values of all modern societies.

You don’t have to get very far into any of this without starting to feel crazy. (That is how I often feel.) For me, bringing coherence into the debate and feeling it is possible to move forward means focusing on issues that bring people together. As we approach the next election cycle, foreign and national security policy have all but disappeared from political debate. The reason is that there is a lot of agreement about national security—or, perhaps a more accurate way to say it is: people are agreed that they don’t know what to do. The Arab Spring threatens to overwhelm our resources to respond unless we think very differently about what we are doing.

I think the key to finding a new path is to reduce focus on governments and increase focus on opportunities to empower populations to address their own problems. There is a lot of agreement about that. Unfortunately, the foreign policy community knows very little about civil society, which needs to play an important part in this empowerment. The key to changing policy is opening the debate to a larger stable of experts who know about these new issues.


Fri, 10/07/2011 - 3:10am

It just doesn't seem that there are things that we are ever going to understand about all of this. The Arab Spring is not something that is looked as a good thing by many people. This is a great article.

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If the <a href="">win at the casino</a> games get stuck or there are other problems then the casino staff will do what is right by the gambler.

Lawrence Chickering

Thu, 10/06/2011 - 11:52am

To Dayuhan,

Although I have often complained about our exchanges, I also need to tell you they give me important feedback on how I am presenting my arguments. One thing I feel very deeply – but when I am complaining about you, I am not following – is that successful communication is about the listener/reader, not about the speaker/writer. Your response to my mention of poetic license is exactly right: if you are not understanding, I am sure you can help (and am helping) me modify my poetry (just kidding) so you are getting the message I am trying to send.

In your second graf, my statement makes you think I am being inconsistent: either it is about indigenous civil society or about foreign aid agencies. It is about both. Or, more precisely, it COULD be about both if aid agencies knew how to do what I am saying, probably working through local NGOs. In your third graf, you say aid agencies “are congenitally incapable” of dealing with problems in any way other than throwing money at them. This is a slight exaggeration because USAID does support some organizations that focus on empowerment. But in the main, it is true, and it is a huge problem. It is part of a much larger problem involving multiple dimensions of the whole relationship between the Army and USAID. I don’t want to say more about this here. I am writing my next article about the subject.

I completely agree with your point in the fourth graf. EGG is now merging with another organization that has a treasure trove of horror stories about this problem. The easiest way to avoid it, as EGG does, is to focus entirely on empowerment and give no money. Your final grafs are well-taken. I need to write an article that says, concretely, how to do all of this. I will do that soon.

Thank you for hanging in. Your comments are enormously valuable in helping me present my perspective in the strongest way possible.


Thu, 10/06/2011 - 12:06am


I am not inclined to grant any great ration of poetic license: we aren't writing poetry here, and it behooves us to say what we mean. I persistently respond to you in the way I do precisely because I'm often unsure what you actually do mean.

For example, you agree that development has to emerge from within, and that "we" as outsiders have a limited and supporting role to play... and then you write that "almost no social and political development has occurred—in substantial part because Western aid agencies do not know how to promote it". Which is it? Is this about indigenous civil society, or about foreign aid agencies?

You agree that these problems cannot be solved by throwing money at them, but you propose to involve government and multilateral aid agencies that are congenitally incapable of addressing problems in any other way. If you bring in aid agencies and governments, they will throw money at the problem. It's what they do.

You agree that if we try to work through indigenous civil society in post-dictatorship environments where indigenous civil society is just beginning to emerge, we run the risk of providing an incentive - money - for civil society groups to conform to our agendas, and to stop being civil society groups at all. I don't see you suggesting any ways to avoid or address that problem.

After reading a great deal of what you've written, I get repeated hints that you've discovered the magic bullet, the key to building ground-up development... but I still don't have a shred of a clue about what it actually is, who's supposed to apply it, and what they're actually supposed to do. That's frustrating. The argument would be more effective if you'd choose a specific environment and tell us what exact course of action you recommend, who is supposed to implement that course of action and what roles the various implementors are supposed to play, and what the expected outcome is going to be.

In short: what exactly do you propose to do, who exactly is going to do it, how are they going to do it, and to what expected end? The generalities, alas, really don't get us anywhere.

Lawrence Chickering

Wed, 10/05/2011 - 12:55am

To Dayuhan,

You and I have had this conversation in each of the multiple articles I have written in the past twelve months for the SWJ. In my last comment I explained what I meant by the statements you quote. You don’t like the way I say it, but it should be perfectly clear what I mean. I suggest you write off your unhappiness with my means of expression to poetic license. If you respond to what I mean, there seems to be much agreement between us.

“When we work with local organizations we tend to work with money.” Yes, we do. And you know from my past comments that my focus is on empowering people rather than helping them with money. I agree with much of your lengthy critique in the long graf of what “we” are doing with money – as you know from our past exchanges. Here you say it precisely: “There is important work to be done in identifying and supporting truly locally generated initiatives, but it has to be subtle, low profile, and attuned,” etc. I totally agree with that. The only thing I would add is to share world experiences on how people are doing this. This sharing is best done by people from inside communities or people from other developing countries.

I agree with all of your last grafs. These grafs are restating precisely my point. I do, however, believe it is possible to do this at large scales while staying true to the spirit of what you are saying.


Wed, 10/05/2011 - 9:36am

In reply to by Dayuhan


First off, I am not looking to retrain anyone. I am actually looking to do the opposite, use the right resources for the right mission. Take for example, tactical or sensitive site exploitation. Why don't we call it what it really is, crime scene investigation. Why don't we have Military Police doing it instead of the Infantry (or the Armor or the Artillery)? Got me.

Second, reality is we already do this type of thing in an uncoordinated fashion. Theater Security Cooperation (TSCP) includes things like MEDCAPS and exercise related and humanitarian construction in countries like Mongolia and Cambodia. Are we syncing these efforts with anyone? Yes and no. Some guy or gal from State asks the local leader what they want and we build it. But no one asks how it fits in with the plan for good governance or actually supporting the local government effort. This goes back to COL (Ret) Jones point that we are in a cold war mentality - support whomever is there regardless of whether what they are doing is working. You can see how well the civilian rapid response force worked out. State is not going to invest in fixing this and we are going to be the stuckies when everything goes to hell.

Third, if we build this as part of TSCP the, when the worse happens, we are prepared to assist the one portion of the host government most likely to be left standing in a Arab Spring type revolution, the military. We have the established knowledge base and relationships to help them put together a transitional government to help them get out of the business of government before they get too deep into it.

What is required is some policy guidance, doctrine, and implementation. I would venture that it would be cheaper to do this than to fund then the next generation strike fighter. If placed with SOF Civil Affairs it does not require retraining the fighting force. It will allow us to persevere the lessons learned from our current engagements (or at least keep us from having to relearn them in ten year). It is an economy of force effort filling a void that no one else seems to want or be able to do.

Finally, everything anyone does is self serving. To me that is not an argument. We have carrier groups running around the oceans in a self serving effort to keep the peace and the shipping lanes open. I don't really see this as strategically any different.


Not that I want to be another curmudgeon, but if a "proactive COIN" effort was taking place "long before any conflict occurs", why would the military need or want to be involved at all? Surely development and governance-building efforts are better managed by civilian specialists, unless the security situation makes that impossible. I'm not comfortable with the idea of retraining the armed forces as development workers, because that will compromise their ability to carry out their military functions, which we might need someday.

It is of course true that do-good meddling can get us into trouble. Self-interested meddling can too.


Tue, 10/04/2011 - 10:14am

A short answer on what it would look like.

First, it would be based on a national security policy that stability and economic growth globally is in our long term security interests. It would not be based on some do-good idealism. That kind of meddling will get us in trouble.

Second, it must be based on a firm understanding of the socio-cultural nature of political change. Not sure we are there yet. It is going to have to recognize that stability does not always mean democracy and change is a long term process, not something that will be accomplished in ten or twenty years.

Third, doctrine would be developed to implement reasonable measures where the host nation is interested in our help. It would be similar to the Theater Security Cooperation Programs. Lead would be SOF Civil Affairs. It would use the idea that COL (Ret) Jones states in "Understanding Insurgency: The Conditions behind the Conflict" - "the most effective 'COIN' is proactive and occurs long before any conflict occurs and is in the day to day efforts of civil government".

It would have to be a targeted program. In this light we are looking at an economy of force effort designed to limit expense yet yield stable systems not apt to support or tolerate criminal or insurgent activity. That is a tall order.

Of course the military is only one part of this objective. Other agencies would be required. Whether NGO's would be involved would be a matter of their discretion.


Regarding this:

<i>you *know* "we" cannot "develop policies" for other countries -- and you know I don't propose that</i>

I know only what you write, and when I read this I see a great deal of "we". How can I read this:

<i>The question remains how to develop policies that gradually and organically open up those societies, starting at the grass roots, community level—empowering people in ways that do not threaten the central government but create partnerships with it. Why don‘t <b>we</b> do it? The major reason (I believe) is that <b>we</b> do not know how.</i>

and not come away with the conclusion that you're proposing that this undefined "we" are supposed to develop policies to open up societies? Subsequent comments suggest strongly that "we" refers at least in part to foreign aid agencies.

If we're speaking specifically of the Arab Spring, I do not believe at all that "we" in any sense have any business trying to develop policies for implementation in Egypt, Tunisia, or Libya.

I can see the point in trying to work with indigenous civil society organizations, where they exist, but the pitfalls of this need to be looked at frankly as well. When we work with local organizations we tend to work with money. Our decisions on who to fund invariably reflect our priorities and values, which may not be shared by those to whom these organizations should be accountable. This creates an inherent and destructive conflict of interest for local civil society: do you scale your work to what the foreigner wants, and get the cash, or do you strive to meet the goals of the people? It's very different for outsiders to accurately assess which organizations really represent the people, because we seldom have any way to know what "the people" in any given place really want. Pouring money into "grassroots" or "ground-up" efforts typically results in little more than a scramble for the money, not in empowerment or social cohesion.

There is important work to be done in identifying and supporting truly locally generated initiatives, but it has to be subtle, low profile, and attuned to the need to let organizations grow at a natural pace. One of the fastest ways to destroy a promising civil society organization is to throw a whole lot of money at it.

<i>You keep repeating these charges without ever having seen how this can work; yet you have expressed no interest in seeing it first-hand. </i>

I'd love to see it first hand, but it's a long expensive trip... and in any event I would have the linguistic and cultural knowledge or the baseline pre-project exposure to the communities in question needed to evaluate anything in any meaningful way.

I am a skeptic by nature (comes with 30+ years in the developing world and exposure to more projects than I can readily remember) and I am disinclined to believe in magic bullets. Yes, there's useful work to be done at the grassroots level... where we're invited to do it, and where we can keep ourselves restrained, subtle, and in a low profile role. If we go all American and start shipping in bucketloads of cash, we will make a terrible mess. If we deceive ourselves into thinking we are going to resolve insurgencies, or guide nations through the transition from dictatorship to whatever they will eventually develop... well, we're just going to be badly disappointed.

We can help, a little, if we accept that our role is to help, a little, where we're asked. If we set out to transform societies, we're biting off more than we can or should try to chew, and we're likely to choke on it.

Lawrence Chickering

Mon, 10/03/2011 - 11:49am

To Rex Brynen,

Every country is anomalous. Every *community* is anomalous. The reason my analysis seems vague is that the subjective issues I raise are not usefully addressed by more mechanistic nuance and detail. Where is the evidence that the several rooms of literature on fragile states has produced serious nation-building? You think Afghanistan is anomalous. What about Pakistan? Have the rooms of literature been deployed usefully to overcome that country's continuing dysfunction? The approach I am proposing, based on experiences in a number of countries -- building organically from the grass roots -- has been powerfully successful everywhere it has been tried. What we need now is investment in the approach at strategic scales.

To Dayuhan,

Repeating our many exchanges on these issues, you *know* "we" cannot "develop policies" for other countries -- and you know I don't propose that. What I propose is no more complicated than sharing global experiences on what work. You think people will be upset if we do what I am proposing. Please send me details of any community that has been upset when people from other developing countries, or people from their own village -- which is the most effective way to do what I am proposing -- relay information on what other people are doing that might improve their lives.

No one could expect that significant social and political development would have occurred this quickly as a result of the Arab Spring. There will be some, and, as you say, it will take time. I was referring to much deeper social development that occurs with personal engagement village-by-village. I agree with you that "such development has to emerge from the inside". What Western aid agencies don't understand is how to encourage and promote such development from inside. And if it happens organically and consensually, as in the model my program, Educate Girls Globally (EGG) has developed -- with the first operational model developed by our Indian partner, Educate Girls -- the process will *not* be "slow, halting, and fraught with conflict". You keep repeating these charges without ever having seen how this can work; yet you have expressed no interest in seeing it first-hand. I struggle to see the value in repeating these points in the face of thousands of counter-examples you have no interest in observing.

To TheCurmudgeon,

I am especially interested in your reflections on the role of the military in all this, although I do not understand your comment that "we have no interest in this". In COIN, everywhere I have been -- at West Point, in Tampa, and in Kabul -- the military express huge interest in these issues. The relationship between the State Department, especially USAID, and the military is hugely complicated and is not working as it should. USAID and the army frequently work at cross-purposes, with no overall agreement on strategic objectives. It is too big a subject to address here, but there are real problems here that need addressing.

I totally agree that the military needs to develop its own doctrine on failed and/or transitional states. IMO, the military has very little understanding of how populations of countries threatened by insurgencies can be encouraged actively to support COIN (but not directly; see my article, "The New Physics: Key to COIN"). I totally agree with your point in the last graf. A major reason I write for the SWJ is to promote discussion of these issues, especially with the military.


Sun, 10/02/2011 - 11:38am

I would agree that in certain cultures, particularly tribal ones, changes to the political structure must be preceded by changes in the "subjective" culture; you cannot successfully "mechanically" implement a new political system that the society does not see as legitimate. I would also agree that sustainable economic development is probably the best first step. Historically developing a middle class has been an important step in moving towards democracy. I also see a place for the military support to this type of operation for two reasons. First, we already are involved in humanitarian assistance construction support in numerous areas throughout the globe usually tied to influencing the population to both support the current government and to hate us less. Second, once we have become involved in an operation (like Afghanistan), after security comes stability. The problem for the military is that we have no interest in this even though it is usually our Soldiers who find themselves involved in these operations particularly where the security situation limits other options.

This is different than COIN, although conceptually related. Although State Department should clearly be the lead on this we should not shy away from helping develop the theoretical basis for policy on this subject (since we are often going to be the ones implementing it). It would appear that, at least for the foreseeable future, involvement in failed and/or transitional states will be part of the military's mission. I believe it is time that we start developing our own doctrine on what can and cannot be achieved in a given situation and what reasonable timeline for achieving that might be.

I believe that the author is correct in his assessment that changing a culture's ideas of what government looks like is a grassroots effort. When and how we assist (with limited assets) will mean that we need to understand when we will get the most bang for our buck (literally). The military has been, and will be, involved in these operations. We should at least be able to participate in the discussion of when and where it makes sense to get involved.

<i>The question remains how to develop policies that gradually and organically open up those societies, starting at the grass roots, community level—empowering people in ways that do not threaten the central government but create partnerships with it. Why don‘t we do it?</i>

Are you suggesting that "we" need to "develop policies" to be implemented in other countries? Somehow that seems to me a considerable overextension of our rights and capabilities, and an excellent way to get people in those countries upset. Do you really think the Libyans, Egyptians, Afghans, or anyone else want Americans - or whoever "we" are meant to be here - stepping in and deciding what policies they need?

It seems a bit premature to suggest that "almost no social and political development has occurred" as a consequence of the Arab Spring, given that the processes involved have barely begun. I don't think anyone seriously expected instant dramatic change; these things take time. I've seen little evidence to suggest that meaningful social and political development can be conjured up by external intervention: the problem is not that "Western aid agencies do not know how" to create such development, but that any such development has to emerge from the inside... and yes, the process by which it emerges will necessarily by slow, halting, and fraught with conflict. Aid agencies and NGOs cannot step in and magically transform societies, nor should they be encouraged to try, IMO.

I'm personally quite happy to see MB candidates running for parliament, and hopefully seated there. I'd rather have them in the house sharing responsibility for the mess (these transitions are always messy) than outside the house positioning themselves as an alternative to the mess.

Rex Brynen

Sat, 10/01/2011 - 2:59pm

We know that the MB won't win the parliamentary elections in Egypt because they will only be running for 30-50% of seats (so as to reassure other opposition parties). Certainly the issue of the MB's future influence in Egypt is one of several important issues in that country, but any useful commentary on it requires a far more detailed and nuanced treatment of Egyptian politics.

More generally, this piece seems rather vague, replete with civil society slogans that are far more complicated in practice. It also seems to fixate on the Afghan anomaly when the international community has decades of experience (for good and ill) facilitating war-to-peace transitions elsewhere.

Given that one could fill several rooms with the literature on fragile states, development, and post-conflict reconstruction, I'm really not sure what is being offered here that is especially new or insightful.