Workshop on “Security Sector Reform in the Arab Region”

epa02614586 Jordanian policemen walk in front of an anti-government march in Amman, Jordan, 04 March 2011. Thousands of Jordanians demonstrated following the Friday prayers calling for swift political reforms, a day after Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit rejected calls for a constitutional monarchy. The protests, which began at the Grand Husseini Mosque in central Amman under heavy security, were led by activists from the Islamic Action Front and its ally in boycotting November's parliamentary elections, the left-leaning Popular Unity Party. EPA/JAMAL NASRALLAH

Hosted by the Centre for Strategical Studies (CSS), a two-day workshop on “How to promote security sector reform processes in the Arab countries” was held in Amman on 12-13 June, 2006, with the participation of a small group of Arab and international academics and experts. The purpose of this brainstorming meeting was to set the basis for a full-fledged project on this decisive issue, to be launched at the beginning of 2007.

In accordance with its comprehensive, comparative and global approach, ARI considers the security sector as one of the key areas of reform in the Arab world. Due to the sensitivity attached to it, there is little or no discussion in the Arab countries so far on how to promote good governance, transparency and accountability of the security sector. Hence, a specific effort should be devoted to assessing the security domain which largely remains a taboo issue.

The workshop’s main objectives included fostering an informed internal discussion on SSR, identifying the challenges and promoting the idea that Arab societies have a right to debate and question the role and functioning of their security sector; while reasserting that this debate should be rooted within the region and reflect local concerns.

The discussion focused on the following topics: The evolving civil/military relations and their impact on SSR; The consequences of SSR on the stability of state institutions and national cohesion; How to foster a constructive debate on governance of the security sector; Civilian and institutional oversight on the security sector; The external factor in SS reform processes; What can be learnt from other countries and regions. The wrap-up session was devoted to drawing the main conclusions of the workshop as to the selection of themes, case studies and the setting-up of a working group for the following phase of the project.

The workshop contributed to formulating a concrete research agenda including a range of thematic sub-issues and relevant case-studies. A tentative list of countries to be covered was defined: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. As SSR research has just started to develop in the Arab world and the Middle-East at large, methodologies and instruments were discussed at length with the conclusion that empirical and incremental approaches should prevail. As to the taskforce, ARI member institutes are well equipped to address this area in terms of research capacity and adequate connections among decision making circles. The working group should also engage in building up a network of research institutes, international organizations, institutions in other countries of the South and advocacy groups involved in SSR studies.

The outcomes of the project planning phase: in addition to the survey poll conducted in Jordan by the CSS, ARI has commissioned a paper to Dr. Yezid Sayigh —as part of its thematic studies series— whose purpose is to define a conceptual framework for a critical assessment of SSR in the Arab region.