The complex nature of state fragility impedes the search for effective policy responses. Among the factors affecting State fragility is the inclusive and exclusive governance. Inclusive governance leads to less fragile state while adopting exclusive governing policies leads to more state fragility.
In his report, titled: “Closing Space and Fragility” published in Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Thomas Carothers discussed the relation between state fragility and the growing global trend of closing space for civil society.
He stated that “during the past 10 years, a startlingly large number of governments in developing and post-communist countries – by some measures more than 70 governments – have taken steps to curtail, sometimes drastically, independent civil society within their countries. ”
They have done so through legal and regulatory measures restricting the ability of civic groups to organize and operate, extralegal harassment and intimidation, and political messaging that calls into question the legitimacy and authenticity of such organizations. A common element of governments’ efforts to close space for civil society is measures restricting foreign support for civil society and denunciations of such foreign support as subversive activity.
The emerging reality of the power of independent civil society
In the 1990s, when international attention to civil society emerged , as a part of the wave of democratic transitions in developing and post-communist countries, most power holders in these countries did not take civil society all that seriously.
Governments were often puzzled why Western policymakers and aid providers gave so much attention to what seemed to them to be marginal groups led by marginal figures.
However, as time passed citizens in many transitional countries became disillusioned with and alienated from formal political life especially that opposition political parties failed to build strong constituencies and were relatively tamable by power holders bent on maintaining power indefinitely in the many semi authoritarian or dominant party systems that emerged out of once promising democratic transitions.
In this environment, civil society began to demonstrate real power, including even the ability to oust deeply entrenched power holder in different countries in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere which were ruled by strongmen leaders.
In addition, “the growing ability of civic actors to generate serious pressure for specific policy changes on a whole range of social, political, and economic issues – such as the environment, anti-corruption, and women’s rights – further undercut the idea of civil society as simply the dabbling of marginal figures. It became clear in many countries that as citizens withdraw their faith and energy from formal political institutions they are transferring them to the civic sphere,”according to the report.
Thus sobered, and in fact threatened, by the emerging reality of the power of independent civil society, power holders seek” to put the civil society genie back in the bottle.”
“They attempt to paint these efforts in the colors of national sovereignty and authenticity. Yet their efforts are at root a desire to preserve an increasingly outdated idea of states as fully sovereign actors relative to citizens,” said the report.
Closing spaces go beyond democracy and human rights
The United States of America has been a key supporter for human rights. In addition, U.S. government’s response to the closing space challenge has been serious. Yet U.S. policymakers have not adequately drawn the connection
of closing space to the issue of state fragility. They usually frame the problem within its implications
for democracy and human rights, “not through the broader developmental lens of inclusivity and, by
extension, state fragility,” according to the report.
Yet the connection between closing space and fragility is powerful and direct. When a government closes off space for independent civil society,” it is creating a significant structural obstacle to achieving inclusive governance and positive state-society relations,” which will have negative repercussion on the state stability.
An active, diverse civil society is the key to empowering marginalized groups, creating multiple channels for citizen participation, mediating diverse interests in a peaceful fashion, and in general creating state-society relations based on mutual communication, respect, and consensus.
According to Carothers ,”When a government shuts down space for civil society it is not just damaging the U.S. interest in democracy and human rights, it is undercutting the U.S. interest in reducing political exclusivity in developing countries, a principal driver of state fragility.”
Thus, the closing space phenomenon directly connects to “all of the profound negative security challenges arising from the negative effects of fragility playing out in so many countries in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and elsewhere.”
Accordingly, despite US priority in maintaining security stability, however closing spaces on civil society will lead to disastrous security outcomes.
Egypt as an example of state fragility
Stunned by the massive outbreak of citizen mobilization and activism of January 25 Revolution, core parts of the Egyptian power establishment soon began pushing back hard against the independent civic sector.
In 2011, the Egyptian government under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)-which administered the transitional period-launched a high-profile prosecution of U.S. and other providers of support to Egyptian civic groups.
It used the issue of” alleged foreign interventionism “as an entry point for what became a broad, systematic campaign to undercut independent civil society in Egypt.
“This has been an extremely harsh process, consisting of crosscutting punitive legal and regulatory actions aimed at imprisoning, silencing, or driving into exile prominent civic activists, and closing down the most assertive and independent groups,”said the report.
The result of this campaign should not be understood simply in terms of the abridgment of basic political and civil rights in Egypt, serious though that is.” It has been a process of societal exclusion, undercutting basic elements of inclusivity that had begun to develop in the late 2000s and appeared to flourish in 2011. “”It is a rejection of active, open state-citizen relations, a rejection that decreases state responsiveness, increases state brittleness, and worsens the problems of political fragmentation and radicalization. In other words, the closing of civil society space is laying the groundwork for significant potential state fragility in Egypt.”
In this context, many debates in the U.S. policy community over how the U.S. government should react to the Egyptian government’s campaign against civil society are cast in terms of democracy and rights: Should the U.S. interest in democracy and rights in Egypt outweigh the value of maintaining positive relations on security and economic issues with the Egyptian government? Yet seeing the closing space problem through the fragility lens alters the terms of the debate.
The policy question becomes: Should the United States overlook actions by the Egyptian government that are paving a path toward serious state fragility for the sake of near-term security and economic concerns? “Given the devastating consequences of state fragility elsewhere in the region and how they would be multiplied by serious fragility in Egypt, the answer clearly is no,” according to the report.
Negative repercussions of state fragility in Egypt
One of the negative repercussions state fragility which are often discussed in Western policy circles primarily as a loss for democracy and rights, which of course they are. Yet as in closing down civil society as in the case of Uzbekistan, the state has struck hard against inclusiveness in politics, economics, and other domains, “leading to worrying signs of growing societal fragmentation around religion.” In this context, “hard-line exclusion of Islamist actors appears to be contributing to radicalization of some Islamists and an increased tendency on their part to engage in violence against the state. The potential long-term consequences for the country and for regional security are worrying.”
As a result, closing space phenomenon is not just a map of troubling alerts for global democracy; however as being directly linked to state fragility it will have disastrous effect on global security. In this context, Carothers stated in his report that the next” US administration has no alternative but to sustain, and indeed elevate, American leadership
on this issue. The “Stand with Civil Society” initiative – the umbrella for the administration’s current responses on the closing space issue – is closely identified with Obama himself, given his strong personal role in it.” if the closing space issue is understood as being connected to the security concerns associated with state fragility, the need for continuing and in fact broadening the US response to it becomes clear.”