Although the uprisings that shook regimes across the Arab region were spontaneous, reflecting a breaking point in people’s tolerance of the system, organized civil society now has a crucial role to play in ensuring that the euphoria and momentum generated by the revolutions is not lost. This was the general consensus of a plenary session at the 2011 CIVICUS World Assembly, which brought together over 800 people representing civil society, government, multilateral bodies and the media to discuss civil society’s role before and after revolutions.
As transitions from virtual dictatorships to democratic rule are under way in much of the region, analysts warn that getting rid of the dictators was the easy part. The systems of patronage that they presided over will be much more difficult to dismantle. What may look like revolution can simply be rotation of elites. It is in this context that civil society groups are needed to exercise vigilance as new constitutions are formulated and state institutions are recast.