What prospects for stabilisation and reconstruction in the Middle East and North Africa?
A common assumption among policy-makers and pundits is that stabilisation and reconstruction will come after conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa region have been settled. Indeed, in most previous cases, conflict settlements – brought about by the decisive victory of one party or by the successful conclusion of a peace agreement – had always preceded post-war stabilisation. Internationally-assisted reconstruction, intended as both the physical rebuilding of destroyed infrastructure and the rehabilitation of the economy and governance institutions, were considered part and parcel of stabilisation efforts. The MENA region’s wars do not seem to fit this model. Although violence has begun to diminish, the conflicts are not over. No comprehensive settlement has been achieved to date, and the drivers and root causes of conflicts are not being addressed. Stabilising the MENA region remains a top priority on the international agenda. However, the new concept of stabilisation is elusive and ill-defined, often hiding the diverging political objectives of the international, regional and local players involved. There is no agreement on what the final outcome of stabilisation should be, nor on the appropriate tools to achieve it. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground is moving towards a reconstitution of political and economic systems with strong similarities to the pre-2011 situation. Old political and economic elites are returning and reconstruction has already begun in Syria and Iraq. Because of the political economy dynamics at play, reconstruction will likely be used to re-establish patronage-clientelist mechanisms and to pay back friends and allies. The result might well be increasing corruption, inefficiency, exclusion and inequality, and new conflicts in the medium-to-long term cannot be excluded. To avoid major unintended consequences, international actors will need to consider local and regional political economy actors and dynamics when thinking about the future of conflicts, as well as when planning reconstruction policies and actions in the MENA region.