Developing civil society expertise to promote democratic governance of armed forces in Arab states

The Arab states record some of the highest levels of armed conflict and military spending in the world. In 2017, ten were at war with their own societies or with neighbours, while others were at risk of relapsing into conflict. In several cases, national armed forces have broken down, posing the additional challenge of reconstruction. Militarization has reinforced authoritarianism and generated major human rights abuses and humanitarian crises, leading to massive loss of life and displacement, destruction of infrastructure and social capital, and socio-economic inequity.

Reversing this picture requires democratic governance of the defence sector, effective civilian oversight, and an active civil society voice and role. Integrating a strong gender perspective is also key to protecting women amidst armed conflict and sexual violence and ensuring they are represented at all levels of defence and governance. Moreover, transforming attitudes towards renegotiating civil-military relations and situating those relations within democratic governance will be important in moving the dialogue forward. This project contributes to these objectives by providing tools and data for informed public debate, developing professional civilian expertise in defence affairs, and building civil society capacity for engagement with other civilian actors within national legislatures, the civil service, government, and with the defence sector itself.

The project, implemented by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, will build a cross-regional partnership of Arab and non-Arab civil society organizations, research institutes, and independent media. Joint activities will help create an online public knowledge base of defence sector data and analysis; develop professional civilian expertise in defence affairs through open-access policy recommendations and roadmaps tailored for each Arab state; and design engagement strategies to generate discussion and dissemination of project outputs with government agencies and defence sectors. It will also build civil society partnership networks and capacity for effective engagement with principal stakeholders in defence affairs, helping to transform attitudes and enhance the means of effective civilian oversight. The partnership will also complement efforts by the international community to promote professionalization and democratic governance in Arab defence sectors.

Project ID


Project status



36 months

IDRC Officer

Roula El-Rifai

Total funding

CA$ 1,114,700


Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia


Governance and Justice

Project Leader

Yezid Sayigh


Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Institution Country

United States

Institution Website