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Incumbent Regimes and the "King's Dilemma" in the Arab World: Promise and Threat of Managed Reform

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Abstract:

Despite passing considerable economic and social reforms Arab regimes continue to avoid substantive political reforms that would jeopardize their own power. Reformers in ruling establishments recognize the need for change to increase economic competitiveness, but the preferred process of "managed reform" is leading to further political stagnation, says a new paper from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In Incumbent Regimes and the "King's Dilemma" in the Arab World: Promise and Threat of Managed Reform, Carnegie Senior Associates Marina Ottaway and Michele Dunne argue that emerging, reform-minded leaders in Arab nations face a dilemma--globalization and better public access to information are prompting calls for modernization, yet history shows that even limited reforms introduced from the top often increase, rather than decrease, bottom-up demand for more radical change, as in the case of the Iranian revolution. To contend with this threat, Arab regimes are attempting to control the process of change through "managed reforms": the introduction of formal, institutional reform without the transfer of real power (Bahrain and Egypt); substantive improvements in citizens' rights without institutional reform (Morocco); or the limited participation of legitimate opposition groups (Yemen and Algeria).