In fragile states, democracy needs, even more, strengthening in times of pandemics as citizens and institutions are exposed to increased vulnerabilities. In some cases incipient dialogue and reconciliation networks may break down as social groups turn inward as a self-protection reflex, cultural barriers might exclude women and other marginalized groups from receiving healthcare, and armed groups might exploit the situation to increase their influence.
Global activists speaking at the United States Institute of Peace.
What are the challenges of democracy and governance work and how you build inclusion, especially amongst youth? DemWorks is back at the US Institute of Peace to continue the discussion on the role of governance in the prevention of violence and to fight violent extremism. NDI’s Lauren van Metre is once again joined at the US Institute of Peace by activists Emna Jeblaoui (Tunisia), Jacob Bul Bior (South Sudan), Samson Itodo (Nigeria) and Aluel Atem (South Sudan).
In Jordan, youth under the age of thirty comprise more than 70 percent of the population. But the growing youth population has faced limited opportunities to engage in politics, leading to rising apathy and low civic participation among young Jordanians. For any democracy to succeed it must deliver for citizens through accountability, transparency and inclusion of all people in the democratic process.
Representatives of six Tunisian election observation groups held a joint press conference on October 17 to deliver their assessments of the 2019 elections. From the start of voter registration in April to the conclusion of electoral appeals in November, the groups organized a coordinated effort of each phase of the electoral process.
As Tunisian citizens went to the polls to elect a new president last month, citizen observers were present in large numbers, including non-partisan observers, pollwatchers representing candidates, and international monitors like the delegation led by NDI and International Republican Institute. Since only two candidates were competing in the presidential run-off election, the total number of candidate agents declined significantly compared to the prior elections simply because there were fewer candidates contesting for positions. Misinformation began to spread that the elections were going unwatched, but non-partisan observers were out in numbers equivalent to the September 15 first-round presidential and October 6 legislative elections.
As Yemen’s tragic war – fueled by a regional rivalry between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on one side and Iran on the other – drags on, the antagonists in the conflict have been stubbornly resistant to the efforts of U.N. negotiators to broker compromise and unwilling to make the first major steps toward peace. Yet, there is a curious and slightly hopeful political soap opera playing out in plain sight. The internationally recognized government of Abd Rabo Mansur Hadi and the Houthi rebels (also known by their formal name, Ansar Allah) are pursuing separate but concurrent strategies to increase their international legitimacy by reinvigorating Yemen’s parliament. Ansar Allah has also released a groundbreaking policy document that may show signs of a new appreciation for democratic processes. By seeking to achieve a legal quorum in parliament and drafting a series of policy proposals that could be used by the public to hold their regime accountable, the Houthis are demonstrating a surprising affinity to some of the forms of democracy. Their commitment to the substance of democracy is yet to be proven.
Recent images of hundreds of thousands of citizens marching peacefullythrough Algerian streets demanding the resignation of their autocratic ruler offer an unmistakable and powerful analog to the 2011 Arab uprisings. The ailing and out-of-touch 82-year-old Algerian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika seeking a fifth presidential term in a country where 70 percent of the population is under age 30 brings to mind an oblivious Hosni Mubarak tragically misreading the seriousness of the first gatherings against him in Tahrir Square. Like Mubarak, who first tried to placate young Egyptians by promising to step down “later,” Bouteflika’s advisors beggar belief by claiming that their man—rarely seen in public over the past five years—will step down after he is “reelected” yet again.
Andi Parhamovich Fellow Alaa Hammouda giving her final presentation at NDI's headquarters in Washington, D.C., on "Strengthening Young Women's Civic Engagement in Gaza. Credit: Jesper Frant
An opportunity to travel from Palestine to the United States was almost an impossible dream for me. When I applied for the 2018 Andi Parhamovich Fellowship Award, I was not very optimistic that I would win. I said to myself, if NDI needs to choose one young woman leader from the whole world, they won’t pick someone from Gaza because they know that traveling out of the country is almost impossible for Gazans. So when I was selected as the recipient of the award, I felt that I was the luckiest woman this year. It was indeed a dream come true. I felt that I was finally breaking through the walls around me to see the world which I have always wished to see.
A young Lebanese activist participates in a discussion during the Youth Activism Academy
Youth in Lebanon have not had much opportunity to learn about democracy or how they can be involved in democratic governance. NDI conducted a survey in April 2017 suggesting nearly one-third of the electorate has never voted in parliamentary elections—not because they do not want to, but because parliamentary elections have not been held in the eight years since they became eligible to vote. Yet, despite the challenges they face, many young Lebanese men and women are highly motivated to act to improve their living conditions and basic rights.