In the wake of the Arab Spring, citizens across the Middle East and North Africa are demanding reforms from their governments. How these governments respond to their people and promote inclusive constitution-making processes may determine whether their new social compacts lead to a durable peace. This report draws from the work of scholars and constitution makers who have been exchanging ideas about how to ensure that modern constitutions incorporate the needs and aspirations of the citizens they are intended to govern. As the countries of the Arab Spring transition from authoritarian regimes and overcome ethnic and sectarian divisions, they can learn lessons from comparative constitution-making experiences—including most recently that of Tunisia—about how to achieve more consensus based social compacts and lasting peace.

Summary

  • Many of the countries of the Arab Spring face daunting challenges. Syria is racked by war. Libya’s transition is challenged by armed militias vying for control. In Egypt, the early promise of popular transformation has reinforced divisions in society. Jordan and Morocco have taken steps toward reform, but it is still unclear whether these countries can meet the demands of their citizens. It is also unclear to what extent Yemen’s mediated transition and ongoing constitution-making process will lead to a more stable and democratic society.
  • Tunisia, though still early in its transition, stands alone as a country that has achieved constitutional reform through a more inclusive and participatory process and has held peaceful elections under this new order.
  • Yet throughout Arab Spring countries, demands continue for participation, inclusion, and transparency to overcome widespread corruption and abuses. How governments respond to these calls may determine whether constitution-making processes unite or further divide their societies, whether they help or hinder the creation of a national consensus on fundamental principles and values, and whether the processes and documents that result from them are deemed legitimate.
  • There is no blueprint for how to make a constitution, but the last two decades of constitution-making experience underscores that inclusive and participatory constitution making should address root causes of conflict and sectarian divisions, and ensure that the political process benefits from the full contribution of all citizens, including women and youth.
  • To achieve such results, constitution makers must have the political will to carry out a genuine process of civic education and consultations, in which the views of citizens are carefully considered. The constitution makers must carefully apply guiding principles, such as transparency and inclusion, and ensure that sufficient time and resources are allocated to the process. A nationwide participatory process must be well managed to avoid risks and reap benefits.
  • Where circumstances are conducive to meaningful constitutional dialogue and reform—at a minimum, a cessation of violence and a willingness of actors and constituencies to come to the table—the countries of the Arab Spring will benefit from using their constitutional moments to draw upon their own historical experiences as well as the lessons learned from the past twenty-five years in constitution making and research about what factors sustain peace.

About the Report

In the wake of the Arab Spring, countries across the Middle East and North Africa are still struggling with societal divisions and citizens’ demands for transparency, accountability, and greater political, social, and economic rights. In many of these countries, constitutional reform has featured prominently in the nature and direction of the transition. Inclusive constitutional reform has been a key component of Tunisia’s path toward democratic consolidation. In Syria, consensus building and constitutional reform will have to wait until leaders can come to the negotiating table.

Where conditions exist to lead a participatory process, this report underscores how inclusive constitution making can potentially assist Arab Spring countries to respond to the needs of their citizens and build consensus in divided societies. While there is no blueprint for how to make a constitution, Arab Spring leaders and citizens can be inspired by the last two decades of modern constitution making, in which citizens have gained a meaningful voice in developing their social compacts. The risks and benefits of participatory constitution-making processes, as well as themes, arguments, and case studies presented in this report, are drawn from a workshop entitled “Opportunities and Dilemmas of Public Participation in Constitution Building,” jointly organized by Interpeace, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), and International IDEA, held in Cape Town, South Africa, April 25, 2009. It also builds upon previous scholarship from USIP, Interpeace, and other external institutes.

About the Authors

Jason Gluck is a senior political affairs officer and constitutional focal point for the United Nations Department of Political Affairs. He is on leave from USIP where he serves as a senior rule of law adviser. Michele Brandt is the founder and director of Inter-peace’s Constitution-Making for Peace Programme. The authors would like to thank Celena Canode for helping with research, Nigel Quinney for editing, and Christina Murray, Tom Ginsburg, and Susan Stigant for their invaluable feedback and advice.

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