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The role of national parliaments in the Arab transformation processes

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ARAB PARLIAMENTS (The role of national parliaments in the Arab transformation processes)

Reporting period: 2017-02-01 to 2019-01-31

"The research analysed the role of national parliaments in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia especially after the ""Arab uprisings"" in 2011, and assessed their contributions to the political transformation processes in their countries. Were legislative assemblies mere ""rubber stamp institutions"" within the region's authoritarian settings, the mass protests and eventual removal of various long-term dictators raised hopes for increased levels of democracy across the Middle East and North Africa. If higher levels of democracy would indeed be achieved, parliaments would indispensably gain importance within the respective polities. However, the project has revealed that since only Tunisia remarkably gained in its democratisation level, only here parliament has achieved higher importance and more recognition, while in the three other countries, the national assemblies have not achieved any meaningful growth in importance (Jordan, Morocco), or even lost it (Egypt). Given the overall dominance of the executives in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, the project's underlying hypothesis, namely that Arab parliaments may have influence only in policy areas that (a) do not tackle national security and (b) are of domestic nature, can hence be verified.

The project has diminished an existing research gap since Arab parliaments had received almost no consideration in international scholarship until its beginning. Thus, a further aim of the project – behind the generation of fundamental research findings and enrichment of knowledge about the analysed countries' political systems – was the networking and linking of the ongoing research activities with similar scholarship conducted by fellow researchers, and the stimulation of further research on Arab parliaments. This has been achieved through the organisation of various theme-related panels at international conferences and the preparation of a ""special issue"", in which articles will analyse the ""relevance"" of parliaments in various Arab countries from a comparative perspective.

Lastly, the project aimed at bringing together practitioners (i.e. parliamentarians and administrative staff members) from Arab countries with scholars and experts in order to stimulate an exchange of ideas and the identification of best practices. This has been achieved by an international conference organised in Tunis in December 2018, in which parliamentarians from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia engaged in discussions about ""Parliamentary work and scientific counselling"". In this conference, also experts of the scientific services of the European Parliament, the German Bundestag and the Hellenic Parliament of Greece participated.

The project has been conducted at the Institute for European Studies of the Vrije Universiteis Brussel (IES-VUB) in Brussels, Belgium, with two larger visiting research stays (""secondments"") at the Centre for Contemporary Middle East Studies of Southern Denmark University (SDU) in Odense, as well as one additional visiting research stay of two months at the University of Warwick (UK). Besides, various research stays in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia were conducted, during which semi-structured interviews with local parliamentarians, academics, NGO representatives, diplomats and similar decision-makers produced primary data which – after the definite conclusion of their evaluation – will lead to the publication of several peer-reviewed articles and a monograph, with which the the project's findings will be widely disseminated.

The findings will be of relevance for future research on contemporary Middle East politics, as well as Euro-Mediterranean relations. In addition, they might be consulted by journalists, diplomats, and practitioners in development cooperation, who work on questions of democratisation in the Middle East and North Africa."
The project was based at the Institute for European Studies of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (IES-VUB), with frequent research stays in four Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. The researcher spent more than three months in these countries and conducted approx. 50 interviews with local and international stakeholders. In addition, he attended several MENA-related events at the European Parliament in Brussels and spent six weeks during two secondments at the Centre for Contemporary Middle East Studies of Southern Denmark University (SDU) in Odense. In December 2018 and January 2019, the researcher interrupted the MSCA project for a visiting research fellowship at the University of Warwick, UK, where he nevertheless continued the research for his project. All in all, the researcher gave 36 paper presentations and public lectures during the MSCA fellowship and the visiting research fellowship at the University of Warwick, in which he presented different aspects of my research to fellow researchers and the general public, in order to get their critical feedback, which was crucial for the further specification of the whole project.

The researcher has published 11 articles, book chapters and blog contributions during the period of the fellowship, and some more peer-reviewed journal contributions will be ready for submission soon.

The project has shown the difficulties many Arab parliaments are still struggling with. After the initial enthusiasm for democratic openings during and after the 2011 Arab uprisings especially in Egypt and Tunisia, but also Jordan and Morocco, not much of this enthusiasm has remained. Except for Tunisia, democratic progress has stalled or even retarded. For this, also national legislatures have lost much of citizens' hopes and belief in their abilities, so that parliaments and parliamentarians in Arab countries are perceived to a large extent as powerless as before 2011.
The researcher organised with financial and administrative support of the Tunis office of the Hanns Seidel Foundation a two-day conference in Tunis in December 2018 on “Parliamentary work and scientific counselling”. This conference had two aims: a) to discuss perspectives for increased scientific counselling in parliamentary work in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia; and b) to connect Arab parliamentarians and parliamentary staff with academics and experts from civil society. Besides, high-level representatives from the scientific services of the European Parliament, the German Bundestag and the Hellenic Parliament in Greece gave insights into their daily work and their experiences with scientific support for parliamentarians.