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Building democracy

Many ways for justice in Arab countries

by Peter Hauff

In brief

One lesson that Arab Spring activists are learning at present is that, without deaths, they only get few headlines. Yet this is the point at which democratic politics really begin. Three young activists from Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria recently discussed their vision in Berlin.

Western politicians lost a lot of trust during the riots and revolutions that are shaking the Arab world. In the eyes of Arab youth, they sided for too long with autocrats and oppressive re­gimes. “Europe contributed nothing to the Arab Spring,” says Michael Meyer-Resende, the director of Democracy Reporting International, a non-profit organisation based in Berlin. “If you compare EU statements on the Arab Spring and Belarus, you see double standards.” (Please note interview with Ralf Melzer)

Caravans of justice

After the first protests erupted in Tunisia on 14 January, many countries across the Arab world witnessed popular movements in one form or another. Everywhere, the call was for justice, but not necessarily democracy. But are justice and democracy the same? That question was addressed in November at a panel discussion hosted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Berlin. Apart from experts on ­democracy-building, speakers included Habib Guiza, the general secretary of Tunisia’s independent new trade union, the CGTT. He says the strong­est driving force for change in Tunisia was the well educated, but unemployed youth: “We knew for years that the problems of youngsters with no prospects would eventually break the government’s back.”

Several young Arab activists said in Berlin they now have a chance to find their own way to a system that promises more justice. They agreed that political opponents and Islamist forces cannot simply be made illegal, even though they are aware of the risk of religious parties merely ex­ploiting people’s fears and dreams to gain power. But many young democrats believe politics, not repressive institutions, is the right way to fight intolerance.

Peter Hauff