Sima Sami Bahous is Assistant Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States.
“Lessons learned: Supporting inclusive political processes and institutions in the Arab States region”
Wednesday, 30 April, 3:00 to 5:00 pm
Permanent Representation of Belgium to the UN
One Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, 41st Floor
Entrance on 48th street & Second Avenue
Ms. Sima Bahous
Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States
United Nations Development Programme
It is my pleasure to take part in today’s discussion and I would like to thank H.E. Bénédicte Frankinet for hosting this roundtable.
I would also like to specifically acknowledge Belgium’s contribution to UNDP’s support to inclusive political processes, at a particularly critical juncture in the Arab region, when countries – such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen – witnessed unprecedented changes, and began their transition towards more democratic governance.
Taken together, this support has benefited ten countries in our region –Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Somalia and Tunisia. In my view, this represents a solid basis for drawing lessons on supporting inclusive politics, and, moving forward, for deepening our engagement to strengthen the social contract between the state and its citizens.
As we know, people across the Arab region have made clear their demands for change towards more inclusive political and economic development. We are also too well aware that transitions will only prove legitimate and responsive to the grievances which drove change in the first place, when they are grounded in fair, equitable and inclusive political processes and institutions.
Inclusiveness is therefore an essential pre-requisite for stability and peace, and to support and sustain effective democratic governance.
Put simply, it is about strengthening Parliaments to improve their capacities for legal research and drafting legislation, to analyze and implement laws, and meaningfully engaging with their constituencies, in an effort to promote greater transparency, and more responsive oversight. For example, in Somalia, UNDP supported setting-up the core law-making and oversight functions of the Federal Parliament, with a focus on the development of a re-organization plan for the institution, and the orientation of MPs on the work of the Committees and their interface with the executive branch. In Lebanon, public hearings were organized to discuss the development needs of select constituencies, to help build linkages between Parliamentarians and communities.
It is also about supporting constitutional drafting as a critical opportunity to redefine the rules of the game through dialogue and consensus, and to establish mechanisms through which future differences can be managed. For example, in Libya, UNDP supported the first ever survey of citizen’s expectations for the new Constitution, as an input towards the work of the Constitution-Drafting Assembly. In Tunisia, UNDP provided comprehensive support to the National Constituent Assembly, through the sharing of comparative experiences, strengthening the capacities of key actors for mediation and consensus building, and the engagement of civil society for the facilitation of citizen dialogues on the new Constitution.
Clearly, there is a great deal to be learnt from the experience in Tunisia, as the National Constituent Assembly adopted a new Constitution last January, following a largely peaceful and inclusive process. The experience which the country has gained through this process remains invaluable for the region, and should be leveraged, as other countries begin renegotiating their new social contract.
Finally, this approach also requires broadening participation to expand the voices, choices and opportunities of women and youth to be engaged in the emerging political dispensation. For example, in Jordan, UNDP supported the development of a gender strategy and action plan to foster women’s participation in elections based on the review of the legal framework of political parties, the mapping of women’s participation, and targeted training. In Palestine, a Youth Palestinian Legislative Council was established to strengthen youth participation in democratic practices.
To conclude, let me emphasize that the topic of inclusion and inclusive politics will continue to strongly feature in the work of UNDP in the Arab States region. As you are aware, UNDP’s Regional Programme for the Arab States, covering the period 2014-2017, has a renewed focus on governance and an explicit emphasis on women and youth participation and empowerment to meet citizen’s expectation for voice, development and accountability. I am also pleased to inform you that the next Arab Human Development Report will exclusively focus on youth as the driving force for change in the region.