The so-called ‘Arab spring’ in North Africa and the Middle East in early 2011 took many political commentators by surprise. It challenged international democracy support to learn from its own limitations while potentially offering exciting new opportunities. The global momentum of democratization, which had appeared to run out of steam, could be reinvigorated. The decline in fortunes that democracy support had sustained in recent years might be reversed. The recent development could place in new perspective the growing challenge that countries like China and Russia seemed to be presenting to the spread of liberal democracy because of their increasing role in international politics and the developing world’s rapidly expanding economic ties with China. If international democracy support is to respond constructively to the still evolving political trajectory of countries like Egypt and Tunisia it must reflect on its own past engagement in the world generally and North Africa specifically. It should also take account of what the experience of democratization elsewhere tells us and the distinguishing features of individual countries in the region. Reporting lessons about what not to do is easier than drawing up strategies of democracy support that are guaranteed to succeed. However this need not prevent analysis from identifying lessons of assistance and, probably even more important, the international conditions that will strongly influence whether democracy promotion succeeds or fails.
Burnell, P. Lessons of Experience in International Democracy Support: Implications for Supporting Democratic Change in North Africa. UNU-WIDER, Helsinki, Finland (2011) 36 pp. ISBN 978-92-9230-451-5 [WIDER Working Paper No. 2011/84]