A new social contract

The second keynote of the first day of the NECE conference was given by Noha El-Mikawy from the Ford Foundation (Egypt). She focussed on the possibilities for democracy and citizenship education from the perspective of the recent transformations in North Africa.

What seemed to be decades of apathy towards the dictatorships in North Africa were in fact "persistent attempts to engage against some of the most oppressive state machineries that we know of", she stated. And, while the heads of state were ousted, there still lie enormous challenges ahead before the Southern Mediterranean can move towards freedom, economic distributive policies, social justice and cultural sensitivity. She explained how the old social contract that involved the promise of economic growth in exchange for some liberties needs to be replaced for a new one that consists of structural redistribution, full voice for the people, and accountable governance. There are three main challenges that she pointed out, in achieving this new contract. Firstly economic distribution and social justice are conflictive matters that will be hard to attain in a sustainable and long-lasting manner. Also putting in place an accountable government won't be an easy task as many of the guards of the old order haven't disappeared yet and new elites will have to be convinced that transparency is a worthwhile endeavour. Thirdly, as much as civil society has been the hero in the uprisings through the work of new social movements, it also is under great pressure from the middle class who wants to suffocate these new voices in the name of stability.

Another problem that El-Mikawy stated was that the Arab youth has no skills of compromise and consensus that will impede, in the long-run, their ability to make informed demands for improvement, and to “truly respect diversity and manage the conflict that comes thereof”. Who then, she asked, should be the actors that get involved in this process of transformation and what should be the values of the new Arab citizen? On the one side the new actors that emerged in the last two years should try and shape the political decision-making processes to represent the people who's voices have been left unheard for the last decades. On the other side the character traits that the new citizen should have, and thus the qualities that citizenship education will need to promote, are the abilities to find constructive and peaceful solutions in the face of conflict.

Citizenship Education
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