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Civil society support: aid or impediment for change?

Open Panel

Abstract

2011 might be the year where freedom and justice came to the fore in societies as different as Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Belarus. Without the explicit support of the West, citizens across Europe’s neighbourhood took to the streets to protest, and sometimes oust, their autocratic regimes. Thus, do these uprisings support or reject the argument for the need of civil society support from international donors? Or do they support or reject the argument that European coherence in democracy support will necessarily be more effective than every member state following its own lead? Despite Tunisian outcries against France, and the European Union in general, for its support of the Ben Ali regime, the latter might have inadvertently facilitated the democratic revolt in two ways. First, it helped build institutions that before and after the fall of the regime will help Tunisian society prosper. On the other hand, it accelerated Tunisian’s surfeit with a regime that no longer - and in the midst of an extremely rough financial crisis - could respond to citizen’s legitimate demands. But the lack of European coherence - values versus policies - has another far-reaching effect. It actually paves the way for enhanced coherence and coordination between European member states and EU institutions. Due to the fact that regime support is not a legitimate option anymore, coherence wins from the establishment and stabilization of a new democratic system directly in tune with any security or commercial interest donors might have. This article will try to find out in what occasion civil society support has worked, and whether the combination of three factors played a role in its effectiveness: 1) timing, 2) context and 3) demand.