Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Sabina Henneberg's "Managing Transition"

Sabina Henneberg is Adjunct Professorial Lecturer in the School of International Service at American University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Managing Transition: The First Post-Uprising Phase in Tunisia and Libya, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Managing Transition begins chapter 4, which analyzes the Libyan National Transition Council (NTC). The NTC is the second of the two cases of “first interim governments” studied in this book, alongside its Tunisian counterpart, the Tunisian Provisional Administration (TPA). The NTC and TPA both formed in the immediate wake of an authoritarian collapse in early 2011 and assumed the tasks of maintaining stability and organizing democratic elections. Page 99 gives a brief summary of how the NTC formed and the actions it took during its tenure, as well as the challenges it faced in fulfilling its tasks. Importantly, the page also alludes to the fact that each of the NTC’s actions as first interim government in Libya would have repercussions later on.

The information on page 99 is helpful for the reader in gaining an understanding of the book’s content, because it paints a broad picture of one of the case studies and highlights one of the book’s key arguments – namely that first interim governments play a decisive role in shaping the direction of an attempted democratic transition. It also mentions in passing certain points of comparison with the TPA, although these do not give an adequate understanding of the ways in which the book uses comparisons to illustrate the role first interim governments play during democratic transition. Indeed, page 99 cannot possibly give a full representation of the book because it focuses only on the Libyan case, which looked entirely different from the Tunisian case despite the remarkable parallels in circumstances under which the two interim governments formed.

The book as a whole sets out to achieve two broad goals only partially captured on page 99. First, it uses two empirical cases from North Africa to introduce the theoretical proposition that the phase between anti-authoritarian uprisings and first democratic elections is critical in understanding attempted regime change, and the authorities who manage this phase face enormous constraints, such as the need to move as rapidly as possible under extremely difficult conditions. Second, it provides a historical record of two instances of first interim governments, documenting in detail the actors, institutions, and strategies that defined each one and the ways their actions were both shaped by the past and had significant impacts on later post-uprising phases. In Tunisia, for instance, a historical shared sense of state and an existing network of legal experts and human rights/democracy activists helped the TPA draft key interim laws, including an electoral law for governing the first post-uprising elections. These laws laid the blueprint for later democratic reforms. In Libya, on the other hand, where a sense of national identity and strong state institutions have historically been absent, the NTC struggled to fend off internal challengers and ended up taking decisions that were later deemed mistakes. These included deputizing the large number of militias that emerged during the armed struggle against Qadhafi, leading to an inability to establish an effective state security apparatus, and revising the electoral law at the last minute such that the new elected congress would no longer be in charge of appointing an assembly to draft a new constitution. This in turn created confusion around the elections and ultimately stalled the constitution-writing process.
Learn more about Managing Transition at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue