The Social Justice Blind Spots in the New Arab Constitutions

Source: The Century Foundation

Author(s): Zaid Al-Ali

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The Arab uprisings that began at the end of 2010 were motivated by a number of concerns, not least of which were unacceptably low standards of living and growing inequality in much of the region. The millions of people who participated in the uprisings were acutely aware of their situation, and articulated their demands in a number of slogans that included specific references to concepts such as “social justice.” In response to these demands, ten different countries (close to half of the region) engaged in what was supposed to be wholesale or partial reform. This includes countries where former heads of state were removed from office (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen), countries where heads of state survived and promised serious reform (Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, and Bahrain) as well countries that descended into conflict almost right from the start (Syria).

Creating new constitutions or amending existing ones was a critical part of the reaction to the uprisings. As the basic legal reference for a country, a constitution is the axis from which all other laws and policies will emanate. A well-crafted constitution cannot, of course, guarantee good governance and the rule of law. But a poorly crafted constitution can almost guarantee failure for attempts at broad political and social change. Equally, constitutions can have implications for countries’ economic outcomes, particularly when it comes to economic outcomes with deep social implications, such as the levels of inequality and poverty—in other words, matters of social justice.

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