Tunisians took to the streets in February protesting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's scheduled visit to their country in November 2005 to attend the World Information Summit. Inviting Sharon, seen as a war criminal by many Tunisians and other Arabs, was an undemocratic decision by the Tunisian regime exercised against the popular will of the Tunisian people.
Anyone who believes that U.S. President George Bush is succeeding in Iraq can believe that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is undertaking reform in Egypt; but neither is happening in reality. Constitutional amendments in Egypt, intended to burnish the state's democratic image, have instead made it a laughingstock.
Truth commissions and other mechanisms of transitional justice usually spring up in the aftermath of civil war or authoritarian rule. They do not thrive where the perpetrators still wield power or enjoy protection.
The adoption of the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative by the Group of Eight Industrialized Nations (G-8) at their June 8-10 summit in Sea Island, Georgia represents a diplomatic victory for the United States. The initiative, however, is extremely unlikely to have a noticeable impact on political reform in the Middle East.
With the ongoing violence in Iraq, the bloody impasse between Israel and the Palestinians, and the new American sanctions on Syria, it was perhaps not surprising that the Arab League's May 23-24 summit in Tunis focused on these regional crises, rather than on political reform inside Arab countries as the United States had hoped.
In reporting on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's April 12 visit to George Bush's Texas ranch, the press focused on Bush's endorsement of Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. Nearly all commentators overlooked the more notable aspect of Mubarak's visit: the fact that a U.S. president had for the first time raised the subject of democracy with his Egyptian counterpart.
The Algerian government has billed the country's April 8 presidential election, in which incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika defeated five challengers with a reported 83 percent of the vote, as a "turning point" for democratization. The smooth and mostly peaceful conduct of the vote and the 59 percent turnout mark a distinct improvement over the flawed 1999 polls.
Tunisian President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali's last-minute decision to postpone the Arab League summit scheduled to open in Tunis on March 29 caused a diplomatic earthquake. It called the Arab order into question and shattered the hopes of Arab people for joint Arab action on several critical issues.
There is broad consensus in Washington that a "war of ideas" is a central component of the larger war on terror. And in this war, a prime target is the "poisonous" Arab media environment, particularly the new satellite television channels , which are blamed for spreading anti-American sentiment.
In a series of bold decisions last December, the Libyan government openly acknowledged its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Within days of the announcement Mohamed Al Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), visited the country and soon afterward the government in Tripoli turned over its store of acquired literature and hardware to the United States.
Let us dispose of the never-ending argument about whether Islam is compatible with democracy. The relevant question is, what factors will facilitate the Islamic mainstream's acceptance of democracy? The experience of the Catholic Church provides a useful framework for understanding the uphill battle being waged over democracy within the world of Islam.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has once again demonstrated its capacity for popular mobilization and thus its position as the most important opposition group in Egypt—even though it remains illegal. The occasion was the sudden death of the Brotherhood's leader, Supreme Guide Mamoun Al Hodeiby, on January 9. The death occurred too late at night for the morning newspapers to report it.
Morocco's King Muhammad VI, who ascended the throne in 1999 following the death of his father, King Hassan II, is moving ahead with reforms in some areas such as women's rights. But he maintains an ambivalent, sometimes hostile attitude toward the country's new independent press.
While satellite television often attracts the lion's share of analysis about new media and their effect on prospects for democratization in the Middle East and North Africa, another technology may already have had at least as large an impact: the Internet.
Labor markets are rarely considered in discussions of political reform in the Middle East. Yet the unprecedented labor crisis confronting the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region underscores the urgent need for both a new social contract—the basic laws and understandings that define the relationship between the state and labor—and for political reform.
At a recent conference on the political effects of Arab satellite television, a prominent Arab talk show host called out from the back of the room, "I will tell you a secret about television. It is all about spectacle. It is about spectacle first, spectacle second, and spectacle third."
In the face of Arab governments' ongoing, heavy-handed efforts to control public debate, the Internet has emerged as a platform for voices—especially those of Islamists—denied a place in the mainstream, state-owned media.
Over the past two decades the politics of Egyptian cinema—the only commercial film industry in the Arabic-speaking world—have been shaped by broader issues such as economic globalization and concepts of national identity. Some films have addressed overtly political themes, including "the American dream," injustices inflicted on the Palestinians, and Islamist protest movements.