European Council on Foreign Relations

The struggle for pluralism after the North African revolutions



The political transitions in North Africa appear to be faltering, with the early stages of democracy showing the dangers of political competition as much as its benefits. Two years after the revolutions the most pressing question is whether majority domination and social division are pushing out the prospect of genuine inclusive democracies in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

In “The struggle for pluralism after the North African Revolutions” Anthony Dworkin argues that this is a crucial period for the development of competitive democracy in all three countries, and the EU can play a leading role in supporting it. A key message of the last two years is that stability in the transition countries will only be possible on the basis of pluralism and genuine reform.  

  • In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to consolidate its power and the opposition’s rejection of established institutions have provoked a political crisis and led to widespread unrest and violence. The EU should respond by identifying a political compromise that consolidates competitive elections and neutral reform of public institutions.
  • Tunisia has avoided the extremes of confrontation and unrest experienced in Egypt, but recently has faced an increase in tensions and polarisation. Despite its strong secular traditions, Tunisia also has a more violent Salafist movement that is willing to use direct action rather than the ballot box. Europe should use its influence to press all sides to renounce political violence and work toward consensus, and buttress this with urgent support for Tunisia’s economy.
  • In Libya the legacy of Colonel Gaddafi continues to block the consolidation of democracy, and the principle of democratic equality has yet to be secured. Religion is less of an issue than in Egypt and Tunisia, but “revolutionary legitimacy” skews political competition and fuels resistance to the government’s monopoly of armed force . Europe can help by building government capacity, training parliamentarians and forming a credible security and justice system.  

“Differences over religion and revolutionary goals have exacerbated distrust in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. There’s a danger that a vicious cycle of polarisation and disorder could destroy hopes of true democracy. But the years since the revolution have shown clearly that the only path to peaceful development in these countries is through inclusive democracy and a state that treats all social groups in a fair way.” Anthony Dworkin

Listen to Anthony Dworkin examining the prospects for the consolidation of true pluralistic democracy in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and why it matters to Europe:

Published by: ECFR