Challenges in the Arab States

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Women registering to vote in Tunisia Constituent Assembly Elections supported by UNDP Credit : Noeman AlSayyad

The Arab region is going through a tremendous moment of democratic change that is taking very different forms and shapes. Several countries have already taken very concrete steps to address this transformation: first free and fair elections with increased women participation, initial steps towards constitutional or legal reforms, all with very different results and experiences. Some of the other governance challenges include improving social accountability, ensuring greater participation from civil society, better access to information, and in some cases improved enjoyment of fundamental rights such as citizenship and gender equality.

The region cannot be approached as a homogenous bloc and the types of transitions differ greatly from one country to another. In a still very fluid context that still includes occupation, protracted internal conflicts and unresolved issues of power and wealth sharing, the ongoing changes will take time to complete, and much remains to be done. For example, while political participation particularly that of women, has improved in some countries (e.g. 27% of Parliament seats in Tunisia are attributed to women), sustainable change requires stronger participation of all segments of society to the decision-making processes to ensure equitable development.

How we address these challenges

UNDP works in the Arab States with governments, the private sector and civil society to support these processes of change, strengthening the capacity of institutions and individuals to protect human rights, enhance social cohesion and expand public space for dialogue between governments and citizens.

Particularly, at the request of country partners, UNDP supports democratic governance goals through development and strengthening of institutional capacities to protect human rights and ensure the rule of law, increased civic engagement and inclusive participation, effective parliamentary and judicial oversight, and empowered local governments and civil society. This includes:

  • supporting constitutions, legislations, parliament and public administration to protect the rights of women, minorities, and vulnerable groups;
  • advocating for increased engagement of various segments of the population (youth, women, civil society etc.) in the various aspects of the process of change; and
  • explore ways to increase citizen access to justice, information, and public decision making.

Facts & figures

  • UNDP supports the constitutional reform in several countries in the Region, including Tunisia, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya;
  • Arab legislatures and Parliaments have zero young members (below 30), and the majority of their members are of advanced age. In 2012, UNDP is supporting 8 projects in the region working to strengthen civic and political participation of youth;
  • In June 2011, in response to transformation in the region, UNDP organized the international forum Pathways to Democratic Transitions which opened the discussion on some of the key governance challenges expected in times of transition. These included, among others, ensuring the integrity of electoral processes, addressing the needs for transitional justice, and supporting constitutional dialogue, as steps towards the elaboration of a new social contract that will uphold the key principles of social justice and equity. It was followed by series of more focused consultations - regional consultation on Transitional Justice (November 2011); Regional consultation on Constitutional Dialogue (November 2011); Sub-Regional Forum on Principles of Independent and Sustainable Electoral Management (April 2012).

Download this document
Arab Development Challenges Report 2011

This second Development Challenges Report, coming at a time when the region is passing through a critical historical juncture, attempts to go beyond the numbers to uncover processes that have underpinned mutually reinforcing drivers of social, economic and political exclusion.