Thank you, Fred for that very generous introduction. There are so many people that I would like to thank for having us here. We have had been in contact with several people, from Emily to Amy to Fred to Troy to Josh to Quinn and Donna Lee—all the wonderful people who are hosting us here. Again, this is a wonderful gathering, and it is very nice to be among a whole crowd of students really interested in the politics of the Middle East. For those who are in my class today, they know that when I see such energy, it is very hard to allow anybody else to get a word in. So we will allow you some time for the question-and-answer session today.
One of the things I wanted to talk about this evening is we often get questions—although my colleagues and I, we are academics—we often get questions about what is going on in the region. Where is the region going? Are we really good at prediction? Not really, but we try to be. So this presentation here this evening—basically what I am trying to do is take stock. I am trying to figure out where we are since the Arab Spring. What are the successes, what are the failures since the Arab Spring? For those of you watching the politics of the Middle East, we were very optimistic around 2010–2011. Today, in 2015, we are maybe less so on the optimism scale, but nevertheless there are still some successes that we want to mention and talk about the challenges that are now ongoing in the region.
Several of you are probably much younger but were attentive to what was happening in the region when the Arab Spring unfolded across the region. For many watching these events unfold in the region, this was a moment for excitement. Again, most of us in the Middle East political science community—if not all of us—hadn’t really seen this coming, so we were also surprised that it had happened. Several of us, including myself, we were in the midst of writing about authoritarian durability, and we became very optimistic about these events. And lo and behold, we start talking about the democratic transition sweeping the region. I think in our eager excitement to see that now the region wasn’t the only exceptional region that wasn’t democratizing and the region wasn’t the only region lagging behind the other regions in the world, we began to talk about democracy and democratization coming to the region. I think in our moment of excitement, we also in the Middle East field—and my colleagues can chime in as well later this evening—we also sort of feel to remember that democratization is a very, very deliberate and arduous process; it is not simply a process of being able to mobilize these massive revolutions or protests on the streets. Nevertheless, if you look at the Arab Spring map, we were very optimistic as events unfolded. So if you look here at this chart, you will see that the dark brown areas (I don’t know if you can see way over here), these are the countries that had seen revolution, and then the red countries or the dark red countries, maroonish, civil war. Then basically you have seen some structural or governmental changes, some forecasts of governmental changes, and then you have major protests. In a nutshell, you will see that the region as a whole witnessed or experienced some type of serious shock, mostly protests—but in the case of Egypt and Tunisia, the two most famous cases, you had revolutions.
Here we didn’t really have regime change; we had leaders step down. Tunisia seems to be on that track, on that trajectory towards democratization. There is a lot of optimism about what is happening in Tunisia today. A lot of people are excited. It has almost become the poster child of the democratic success story of the region. But, again, if you look at Tunisia right here (Melanie spent a lot of time in Tunisia, so no disrespect to her), but Tunisia is a relatively small, inconsequential country in the region, right? I am working in Tunisia; we are all working in Tunisia. It is a great country, but compared to Egypt, where we thought the action would be happening, compared to some of these more stable countries where we haven’t really seen a lot of movement, where we are in the Arab Spring, especially with what is happening here on the border between Iraq and Syria with almost state collapse in Syria… We now practically have state collapse in Libya; Yemen is basically a state that is failing; Egypt has retreated back to authoritarianism in a very interesting way. It is not a very rosy or optimistic picture today, unfortunately, and old cleavages and old powers that you thought were being weakened have now reemerged as major players but now are reemerging with more of an open and less shy ability to be authoritarian your face. I mean, Saudi Arabia has really emerged as a key player in the region, but almost every single conflict in the region where the Saudis are involved is a conflict that is taking us back on the authoritarian road map.
So really quickly, we often get asked, “What happened? Why did the Arab Spring happen when it did? Why did it happen in 2010? Why didn’t it happen during the third wave or fourth wave? Why did it happen in 2010–2011?” There are a lot of explanations out there. Some of them are about period shifts; you had really bad economic crisis to begin with and things just gradually worsened. In an era of social media and globalization, we are hearing about the effects of social media, the effects of the internet, the effects of being on Facebook and YouTube and Twitter. In this era of mass media, you have raised the expectations of citizens. Now you have this new cohort of citizens who are really moved in sharing the grievances of the economic problems facing the region not being able to find adequate employment. So you have these raised expectations because people began to see that other citizens across the world were enjoying better living circumstances and things of that sort. At least among the youth population, there was the argument that you had these heightened expectations about what constitutes a healthy relationship with your own political system, if you may.
Then you had this old social contract, this national social contract or this rentier social contract, that was basically on the decline. What does that mean? If you look at the 60s or the 70s and the history of the Middle East, in the 60s and the 70s you had these old social contracts where more or less states would try to provide these security nets, these welfare packages. They would try to guarantee employment for their citizens, and in exchange citizens more or less traded it in. I mean, this is the simplifier, but trade in their political rights, for these economic securities. You saw this in the rentier, the oil-rich states, but you also saw it in many of the one-party states, these national one-party states where the states tried to do everything. It became way too large, way too vague. It could not sustain these demands. In an era of austerity measures and structural adjustment, these states were basically going to fall and collapse unless they were going to privatize and reduce the public sector. And as a result, levels of unemployment and levels of growth—all of those were basically clobbered, if you may, and things worsened for the average Arab citizen.
On the eve of the Arab Spring, the average Arab citizen was doing much worse than they were doing in the 70s in terms of real GDP or per capita GDP. They were doing much worse. Employment opportunities were not there; you had people holding graduate degrees who couldn’t find adequate employment; they were moonlighting as taxi drivers at night. So for the average citizen, things didn’t look really rosy. On top of that, they weren’t enjoying the political and civil liberties that other nations were enjoying. So it was a grim picture. Add to the Middle East all the ongoing conflicts. So during this period of the 2000s, you had the Iraqi invasion; you have ongoing tensions on the Israeli/Palestinian front; you have countries sort of entrenching at authoritarianism—so on top of the economic grievances, you also have these political grievances that are ongoing and haven’t been resolved. Many of us, although we were surprised that the Arab Spring happened when it happened, we weren’t surprised about the reasons behind the Arab Spring. For many of us it probably took too long to see this sort of explosion.
When I often talk about the Arab Spring and what the Arab Spring meant—right now we are saying, “Okay, things don’t look too great.” I do think that we have pushed forward in the study of Middle East politics, not only in terms of how we study the Middle East but also in terms of how policy analysts deal with the Middle East. If you look at the Middle East and the way most have studied the Middle East—this is not only unique to the Middle East, but perhaps to compare a political development more generally—the study of the Middle East has heavily relied on the study of political elites. And this is primarily due to the fact that it is hard to do micro-level work, individual level work on the ground in a lot of these countries. So when we couldn’t figure out what Arab citizens were thinking or what were the beliefs and attitudes of Arab citizens, we often resorted to what elites said or what elites thought. It became very easy to draw a lot of conclusions about an entire polity or an entire country or about an entire faith community based on what a few elite might say or do. This has disadvantaged, in my opinion, the way we understand the Middle East—but also the way the other societies, including the West, understand the politics emanating from the Middle East. So not only were the models taking the elites seriously, there was a lot of focus on structures and institutions, the authoritarian structures, the authoritarian institutions. And we sort of assumed that because you have these structures and institutions in place, maybe the natural, logical conclusion is that at some level there might have been citizen buy-in for the sustenance of these institutions. So it became very easy or I think almost convenient to argue that the reason why we have authoritarianism in the region is not because we really have authoritarian leaders and authoritarian structures often supported with external actors that weren’t questioning or weren’t doing enough about the authoritarian realities in the region but because we have these institutions, there must be underlying support for these institutions among the societies.
Because we couldn’t really test this, we were often drawing these conclusions about the religion or certain aspects of the religion in terms of sustaining the authoritarian structures. We didn’t have a lot of micro-level data. When I was a student of political science at Michigan and I was working with Mark Tessler (many of you know that Mark Tessler was doing a lot of public opinion work earlier on in his career), but by the 1990s when I was a student and I wanted to employ public opinion data, the number one concern I would get from some of my mentors was, “Well, you are working in an authoritarian setting. Who cares? Who cares about public opinion? Why does public opinion matter? In the context of the Middle East when the structures and the institutions will not allow the expression of preferences is not going to matter for political outcomes.” So this was a huge challenge. When I went on the job market, I remember that this was one of the questions that I would often get which was like, “In authoritarian countries, no one cares about public opinions.” What I often say now is since the Arab Spring, we can no longer say that public opinion doesn’t matter. I think both policy makers, political elite, external actors, even the way we say the Middle East, we are far more attentive now to this idea of public opinion and what are the public preferences of the average Arab citizen in the region.
So what does the average Arab citizen say? What were the major grievances around the Arab Spring? What we know for sure (and because we now have public opinion data, and I will talk about that in a little bit), is that the vast majority of citizens who are taking to the streets, who are going to the streets were not talking about only democracy and human rights, were not only talking about economic opportunities, but they had this bundle of grievances about what they call the social justice issues. They were demanding more social justice or العدالةالإجتماعية. This was sort of wrapped up in this idea of more dignity, that Arab citizens had lost their dignity or their dignity had been stripped away because of the authoritarian realities that they were subjected to. Again, not only the repression but the lack of economic opportunity, the lack of political opportunity in all aspects of life. So when they were talking about social justice, when citizens were talking about dignity, they were talking about social justices, dignity in all aspects of life including the economic, the social, and the political.
I argue that it is more important today to understand Arab public opinion than ever before, especially because if we were to learn from past mistakes, we shouldn’t ignore Arab public opinion. For those of us who were doing some public opinion work before the Arab Spring, we knew that the situation was dire. We knew that sentiment was very negative; we knew that people were very bitter, and that sort of went unaccounted for. But if we want to understand the nature and the trajectory of the transitions and where they might be going, if we want to understand the nature of the protest themselves, what the people were demanding, what did they want, and who was making the demands, right? We also want to know more about the nature of existing outstanding grievances and what we might do to address those grievances. We really need to look back or look to public opinion.
Okay, so I really apologize about this slide, but it is important. So one moment before I subject you to this really horrendous slide. If you were watching CNN or Fox or even Al Jazeera in the early days of the Arab Spring, a common theme emerged, which is basically when asked why was the Arab Spring happening or why was the Arab Spring happening right now, who was participating in the Arab Spring, who was out there demonstrating, the consensus emerged that, well, you have this new demographic in the world. This new demographic is more youthful, is more cosmopolitan, is more universal. This youth cosmopolitan cohort has been exposed to some of these democratic values in the world, and basically you have a transition at the micro level in the region, and that is why we are seeing demands for more democracy. So the reason, by implication, the reason why we didn’t see demands for democracy before is that the previous generations weren’t as democratically oriented. That was the implication and this was a new youth generation. It was more secular (that was the language used); it was more secular; it was more useful; it was more democratic; it was more keeping with a modern world, and this was basically a common statement that you heard all the time, although nobody every substantiated it with statistics.
So we have data in the Arab barometer. Luckily, some of the best things that happen to you will happen by chance. Trust me. So we were already just about to go in the field in several Arab countries and we had secured funding—which never happens—we had secured funding to do countries that we weren’t given permits to do survey work in. So we had funding for Egypt, for example, but we could not get the government to approve our going in and doing public opinion work in Egypt under Mubarak, right? I mean, they said we could go in and ask about levels of education like, “Are you educated or not?” But we couldn’t ask about opinions about the government. Then the Arab Spring happened, and we had our fundings and we had already mobilized our teams in place, so we went in. The reason I want to show you this is not because you have to know all of this. It is because I do want to show a few things about some of the things that emerged from the way the media covered the Arab Spring and the actual reality.
We have data here on the population, the entire population of Egypt, the entire population of Tunisia. And I know you can’t see it, so sorry, but trust me. Here is the percent of protestors in Egypt and the percent of protestors or demonstrators in Tunisia. So we can compare the protestors to the population to see where they vary. First thing in terms of the youth, whether these were youth-driven uprisings or protests or whatever we want to call them. In Egypt, the protest population was not different from the population. The same percentage of the population that is youthful, between the age of 18–24, is this same percentage of the population that protested. This was not driven by a younger cohort in Egypt. In Tunisia it was. In Tunisia it was youth-driven. So that was the first thing.
The second thing is a lot was said that it was a poor man’s revolution initially, and these were the poor people taking to the streets. When we look at some of our indicators on income, what you will see is that—well, if we look at education as our proxy, you will see that at least in Egypt, it was the citizens who were more educated who were out there protesting. So this is our proxy for income. About 20% of the population, 19% of the population held bachelor’s degrees. Of the population that protested, 46% held bachelor’s degrees. So it was just proportionally more educated. In many ways, in Egypt, these were middle-class revolutions. In Tunisia that was less of the case, but nevertheless it was also disproportionately more educated. It was more educated segments of the population who were out there protesting. If you look at this idea that the protest population was more secular than the population, that is not substantiated. The protest population was just as religious as the full population. What is also interesting is that the protest population was more likely to have access to the internet. In Egypt, 18% of the population had access to the internet, and of the protestors, 49% had access to the internet. In Tunisia, 33% of the population had access to the internet, of the protestors, 62%. So we think about the role of social media and reducing the costs of collective action and providing information for mobilization, you sort of see it right here.
Nevertheless, the other thing is that a lot was said about these revolutions being open to women. The truth is that they were not very favorable to women. These were very much male revolutions. Fifty percent of the population is male; seventy-six percent of the protest population was male in Egypt. Seventy-nine percent of the protest population in Tunisia was male. So women were a minority in these revolutions, and, as professor Blades mentioned earlier, there were other issues involved with sexual harassment and things of that sort that happened in some of these protests. Nevertheless, this sort of gives you a picture about who protested.
Why is it a protest? Why were the citizens protesting? We wanted to see whether the citizens were prioritizing democracy over economic grievances. Again, the idea was that this was a new generation of citizens who had grown up to appreciate democratic values and whatnot, but the truth is when you look at Tunisians and Egyptians and the reasons why they provide for protest, it is about improving the economic situation. Thirty-seven percent of the protestors in Egypt want to improve the economic situation; fifty-eight percent of Tunisian protestors are also citing the economic situation as a major source of their grievance, right? Remember, levels of unemployment are growing in both societies, especially among the youth populations and especially, especially the double whammy, especially among the youth populations who are educated. So it is very common to have a bachelor’s degree and guess what? You are unemployed. It is very common to have a bachelor’s degree and you are still waiting and you are promised a job that you will probably get in three or four years and you don’t even know why you are waiting for a job for three or four years but you have been promised that you might get something. So you basically have a bachelor’s degree and you are doing a job that does not reflect your skill set. Then we look even at the second most important reason. When you break it down, the second most important situation is basically topping the concerns. You have other things like demands for civil and political liberties which is a close, not really a close second, but nevertheless second. Then in Egypt this idea that you don’t want to pass authority down to Gamal Mubarak because there was a lot of opposition to passing down the political authority to Mubarak’s son. Then there is corruption and things of that sort.
If you look at the third wave of the Arab barometer, you will see that when we ask citizens all across the regions (or at least across the countries where we have data), and the third wave is 2012–2013, you will see that when we asked them, “What are the two most important challenges facing the country?” You will see that the economy comes up on top, and it comes up on top into two revolution countries. So two countries where we had revolutions are the two countries that are citing the economy as the most important challenge. Of course, Morocco was a close third, and all of the countries on average—more than 50% in each in the country—are citing the economic situation as a major problem, but this is cause for concern, right? We are serving now in 2012 and 2013 and you still have about 85% of the population in both Egypt and Tunisia, slightly more in Tunisia, saying that the economic situation is bad. So if we know that they protested when they protested, they were citing that the economic situation was the problem, and still about 85% of the population is saying that the economy is something that is bothering them, it is cause for alarm. We are talking now about democratic transitions and democratic consolidation; nobody is talking about improving the economic situation in these countries. We all know it is a number one problem, but we are talking about other problems in the region like ISIS, like other conflicts, like the civil war in Syria, things of that sort. But getting back the basics, that is, if you want stability in the region, you have to start from the economic building blocks. Very few people are really talking about this head-on.
Now you see this, when we compare second wave data 2010–2011 data—that is the year of the transitions of the Arab Spring against the third wave, you will see that in Tunisia, economic grievances have increased by almost 20 percentage points, right? So this is the percentage of people who say one of the two most important challenges facing their country is the economic situation. You will see in Egypt about an increase of 5% of the population will cite the economy and then in countries where we didn’t really have—to the extent that Lebanon was stable, Lebanon has always suffered from some instability—even in countries that we weren’t watching, you will see that economic situation has deteriorated. Lebanon is also a country now that I think we need to keep our eye on. Across the board, minus Yemen, people are citing that the economic situation is deteriorating, and if we get into Yemen today, I think we will find even a bigger difference here. When we ask citizens, “Do you think of immigrating?” this is a good measure of how satisfied people might be staying in their home countries. And you will see that a good percentage of the population of Lebanon and Yemen and Morocco would like to immigrate. About 38%, 36%, 35%. Among Egyptians and Tunisians, that percentage has declined. Again, this is third wave data, and we see this as a byproduct of the Arab Spring.
After the Arab Spring, citizens felt that there is more hope in their countries, so they would like to stay in their countries. However, if the economic situation doesn’t improve, it is going to create even more grievances, especially with populations that want to stay in their countries. When we look at the youth population, you will see among the youth populations in each of the countries is a stronger desire to immigrate. This could be that the youth are more adventurous and want to leave their countries and do something else, but it also could mean that the youth don’t really see much hope for economic opportunity in their countries, and they are looking to immigrate. So you see that these percentages are quite high among the Tunisian population, especially because there is a strong desire among the youth population for immigration. Now, when we ask people about what are the most important features of democracy, the percentage who says it is about political equality—it is a very low percentage. This is not to say that people in the region don’t see political equality as important for democracy; it is to say that when we ask people in the region about democracy, what they are citing as very important for democracy is economic opportunity. So it gets us back to this question of, “Can we keep talking about democracy and enhancing democracy and expecting these societies to democratize when the economic factors are not in place for democracy?” Again, I said this in my class today. In social sciences, we don’t do well with very overwhelming, overarching theories of anything. We are always testing different variations of various arguments. What we do know is that the correlation of economic development and democracy is a very strong correlation. Democracies tend to be wealthier; wealthier countries tend to be democratic, minus the gulf countries. So this is a correlation that is robust. This is something that we need to pay attention to when we think about the future trajectory of these countries.
This sort of shows this point in a more illustrative way. We are looking at first wave data from Algeria, Jordan, and Palestine. And then Algeria, Jordan, and Palestine in the second wave, where we ask people, “Is democracy more about political accountability or about economic improvement?” You will see that roughly, among each society, societies were divided about whether it is more about political accountability versus economic improvement. When we conducted open-ended interviews with citizens and we asked them to elaborate on their view points, they talked about the importance of economic opportunity. So this gets at the point that when we think about why there isn’t democracy, and we sort of locate a lot of our explanations in the political culture of the region, we often make the argument that citizens in the region don’t appreciate democracy. Although I have shown you here that citizens tend to equate democracy with economic opportunity, it is not the case that Arab societies are not appreciative of the democratic institutions. In fact, when you ask citizens across the region—and this finding is robust across almost every single wave we have conducted—democracy may have its problems, but it is better than any other form of government. The percent that agrees with that is always above 70% across the board. So there is this idea that democracy is a useful system of government. Unfortunately, after the Arab Spring, in places like Egypt where democracy might have produced leaders that didn’t support, support for our democracy has declined. But it is not because they weren’t democratic or they didn’t appreciate these diffusions of democracy; it was because they didn’t like the outcomes of democracy. That is another debate, which we should probably pick up in Q&A, this issue of tolerance and accepting outcomes that are not desirable.
Again, to get at the cohort shift argument, this is Arab barometer data where we took the youngest cohort across all the Arab barometer countries (I believe this is the second wave), and we took the not youngest cohort. We compare the youngest group against the older group, and we look at a series of indicators here on elections, freedom to criticize the government, income quality, and basic necessities. In this group over here, it is all the younger generation in the Arab barometer across the region, and this group here is everybody else, that means older generation. So this question here, in this category of citizens who are not the youngest generation, did they believe that democracy was about free and fair elections? You see on this measure, the youngest generation comes out at about .3. (I think this is the four-point scale.) The older generation is slightly below. But if we were supposed to do some t-tests to see if they were statistically different, they probably wouldn’t be statistically different. If you ask, “Is democracy about the ability to freely criticize the government?” You will see that the youngest cohort is very similar to the oldest cohort in that opinion. “Is democracy about reducing income inequality or increasing income equality?” Again, you see that there are comparable results. There is probably more of a difference on this score “Is democracy about the government providing basic necessities for citizens?” You will see that the older generation believes the government should do more. I think the younger generation does not, but that is probably because the younger generation did not grow up under the social contract and has sort of dampened its expectations of what governments would do to begin with. The point is that it is not the case that the youngest cohort is more democratic than the older cohort or it is radically different.
When we look at Egypt and Tunisia, again, to use the same “one step forward, two steps back” that we were using in class—with the Arab Spring, have we taken one step forward and two steps back? Have we taken two steps forward and one step back? We need to really understand the economic conditions underlying the Arab Spring protest and revolutions. Up until now, the economic conditions haven’t improved. If we even take Tunisia, which is the poster child success story, the levels of unemployment today in 2015 are worse than what they were in 2010, especially among that youth population. So these economies are still waiting to be jumpstarted. They are in dire need of some kind of political economy programs, projects, trade, investment. I know Melanie is thinking about these things a lot of the time, but nevertheless, hopefully the taskforce, you guys will have some recommendations for us tomorrow because if you can solve this, it might be very useful. We don’t want the one success story to disappear even though it is like a little dinky Tunisia in North Africa. We need to be monitoring, and we need to be monitoring mass public opinion to gauge where the levels of tolerance are, not only on the political score but also on the economic circumstances. There are going to be heightened expectations, and there is going to be this need to see whether these populations are going to be able to exercise patience during these transitions. One other thing that I do want to mention, when we often talk about Tunisia as a success story, we talk about the fact that its history, its colonial history might have been different, the nature of its Islamist opposition might have been different, its civil society history might have been different, but one of the things that also Tunisia has been relatively immune from is foreign interference. Most foreign actors and countries have not intervened very much in Tunisia’s history, and therefore people will argue and have been making the argument that because you don’t have external actors who are invested in any one particular outcome, it probably one of the reasons why the Tunisians were able to come together to solve their own problems even when they had internal crisis and the possibility of internal breakdown. Unlike the situation in Egypt, when we poll people about the extent of what forward interference does for political reform efforts, you will see that, whether substantiated or not, the vast majority of citizens across the board believe that foreign interference has harmed reform efforts in the region. You see this in Lebanon; you see this in Palestine; you see this in Jordan, Yemen, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco. So this is a widely held consensus. It tells you that people are monitoring the way that external actors do intervene in the region.
What does some of this intervention look like? These are some graphs I am borrowing out of my book Of Empires and Citizens. When you look at it, one dimension of foreign interference is military troop deployments. If you look at the history of military troop deployments at least since the post-Cold War period from 1991 onwards—and even if we had the added extents of 2010, this pattern holds—you will see that we have more US military troops now in the Arab world than any other region of the world. Even in this period of reducing troops, we still do have a large troop presence in the Middle East, in Bahrain and elsewhere. This graph excludes Iraq and Kuwait. If we include Iraq and Kuwait, you will see that it just blows this chart apart. This is not something that has lost unordinary citizens in the region. They understand that their region has a very significant geostrategic significance to the United States and other external actors, including Europe, and they are often looking for external actors for solutions on how to improve the situation, the economic situation, the political situation, and things of that sort. So one of the things that came up on our task force today was when we talk about reform or when we talk about external actors influencing reform, who are we exactly talking about? I mean, is the burden always going to be on the United States? Is it going to be on the United Nations? Is it going to be on the World Bank? Is it going to be on the Europeans? Is it going to be on NATO, the EEU? I suppose it is fair to say that since the U.S. is one of the most entrenched regions, or countries in the region, a lot of the responsibility—or at least people are looking to the U.S. for some of these solutions, although they might be impossible.
So some of the successes of the Arab Spring are that public opinion does matter; citizens are now finally included in the equations. I don’t think we are still listening to the grievances emerging out of the Arab Spring. The fact that the sentiment about economic conditions is becoming worse year in and year out since the Arab Spring is not personally reassuring, and if we are not invested in stability, we don’t want worthy states to collapse. I think it is very important—it is imperative that we understand what is going on. Some of the failures and challenges are that the economic problems still persist. This idea of social dignity or has dignity returned to the average Arab citizen, we are still waiting for that to happen. We look back on the commitment to democratic procedures and democratic institutions. Again, when we have all these reversals—especially what happened in Egypt—for many was quite demoralizing in terms of trying to assess, also the world orders commitment to democratic procedures and democratic institutions. So on that note, I will open up to Q&A. Thank you so much.