Three years after the Arab Spring erupted throughout the Middle East, a former U.S. diplomat told students Thursday that less politically inclusive countries would continue to grapple with instability.
Edward “Skip” Gnehm, Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Kuwait and Jordan who now teaches Middle East politics at GW, said nations such as Iraq and Egypt have excluded secularists and certain religious groups from the political process, breeding resentment. Meanwhile the Tunisian government has brought minority groups into its decision making.
“Tunisia, Egypt, and Iraq are examples of countries that have taken or are taking different paths as they cope with the present in search for that better tomorrow,” Gnehm said at the Annual Kuwait Chair Lecture in the Elliott School of International Affairs. “Building an inclusive political process is absolutely essential to long-term success.”
He said nearly the same issues – repressive governments, economic instability, poor living conditions and religious animosities – underlay political unrest in each country.
Gnehm, who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from GW, said he doesn’t expect to see in the near future the “democratic institutions, political transparency, end of corruption or an open, competitive economy” that citizens in the Middle East have demanded.
“But I believe those aspirations and hopes remain very, very much in their hearts and minds,” he said.
Tunisia’s trajectory has stood out because the government has been able to compromise secular and Islamic demands. Many Tunisian leaders spent time in exile during the political revolution, giving them “exposure to the world outside of Tunisia,” Gnehm said, while Iraqi and Egyptian officials have been more “insulated and isolated.”
Civil society also grew in Tunisia as leaders constructed a new government, which has reinforced stability.
After a 36-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, Gnehm joined the GW faculty in 2004. The Kuwaiti government endows his professorship. He also served on the Board of Trustees for seven years.
Gnehm said he still had hope for Iraq, where oil production is steadying, security efforts have increased and “political discourse is alive and well.” He called 2011 a “watershed moment in modern Middle East developments,” and he expects further changes.
“2011 is not the beginning, and 2014 is not the end,” he said.