The headline of the state-owned newspaper Al Ahram described December 7 (the last day of voting in Egypt's month-long, three-stage parliamentary election) as “the most violent day” of the election. The independent daily Al Masry Al Yom went a bit further. Under photos of mayhem that could have been shot in Nablus or Ramallah, the newspaper declared that “Egypt can now breathe a sigh of relief.
The role of the Congress in shaping U.S. policy on democracy promotion in the Middle East is multifaceted. Not only does the Congress provide funding for democracy promotion, but it also helps formulate a strategic vision, monitors the administration's work, and recommends structural revisions in the administration to help achieve the goals set.
For three decades, human rights violations in Libya were committed under the rubric of “revolutionary defense.” The government and its extensive security apparatus imprisoned or “disappeared” critics who challenged the ideology of the 1969 revolution that overthrew the monarchy or of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi's system of Jamahariya, the “state of the masses.”
To the surprise of no one, on October 24 Tunisians turned out in record numbers—91.5 percent of the country's 4.6 million eligible voters—to re-elect President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali to a fourth consecutive five-year term. Voters also gave his ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD-Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique), an overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections.
In 2002, Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) embarked on an effort to project a new, reformist image. Rising domestic demands for political accountability, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, and popular dissatisfaction with the performance of NDP-led governments have forced the party to reconsider its public profile.
In considering whether parliamentary elections to begin November 9 will mark a significant step toward democratization in Egypt, one can begin by asking how much has changed since the last such elections five years ago.
On September 29, Algerians overwhelmingly endorsed the draft Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, an amnesty law proposed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to grant exemption from prosecution to any member of an armed group for crimes committed in the conflict that began in 1992.
The choice of Tunisia to host the November 16-18 second World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) has provoked much controversy. The idea behind the Summit is to bridge the gap between rich and poor countries in a field that has proven to be one of the focal points of present and future progress.
The January 2005 peace agreement has improved Sudan's standing in the international community, as demonstrated by $6 billion in economic support raised at a donors' conference in Oslo in April 2005. Inside Sudan, however, the agreement has revealed new sources of instability.
With its July 2005 establishment of supposedly autonomous commissions to oversee this fall's presidential and parliamentary elections, Egypt joined several Arab countries that have created election management bodies. The ruling National Democratic Party has touted the commissions, headed by judicial figures, as enhancing constitutionally-mandated judicial supervision of the electoral process.
Arabs often question the United States' commitment to promoting democracy in the Middle East, arguing its policies are inconsistent and even hypocritical. In reality, the commitment to democracy by President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is unquestionable, based on a genuine conviction that a democratic Middle East serves the security interests of the United States.
The September 21-23 conference of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was notable in several respects. First, the proceedings were dominated by Gamal Mubarak, President Hosni Mubarak's 41-year-old son who heads the NDP's powerful policies secretariat, keeping alive rumors that he is being groomed to succeed his father.
In Egypt, the approaching 2005 presidential referendum and parliamentary elections as well as the likelihood that a leadership succession will take place within the next few years—President Hosni Mubarak is seventy-six and was hospitalized in Germany this summer—have energized politics and led to fresh efforts at cooperation among opposition groups.
Donors tend to focus on non-controversial technical issues when promoting the rule of law abroad. In sharp contrast, judicial reformers in the Arab world have plunged into the political aspects of judicial reform far more enthusiastically. Their zeal, however, has not yet translated into success.
At present there are at least three possible readings of Egyptian politics. There is the government version, in which President Mubarak's decision to amend Article 76 of the constitution to permit direct and pluralistic elections for the presidency is an historic reform step approved by a majority of Egyptians, first via the two chambers of parliament and then via the May 25 public referendum.
In recent months, with pressures on the Egyptian government to reform growing, elements of Egyptian civil society have seized the moment to advance longstanding agendas. Among the most surprising and significant groups to press their advantage were judges.
As part of its emergence from political and economic isolation, Libya is converting to an open-market economy after decades of socialist-style policies. Among the most unpopular steps taken by the government so far has been cutting subsidies, which has triggered widespread anger among Libyans.
In February 2004, the Kingdom of Morocco enacted reforms to the Mudawwana, or the law governing marriage, divorce, parentage, inheritance, child custody and guardianship, that have the potential to expand women's rights. Moroccan activists initially hailed the reforms as a major victory for women and for the democratic process more broadly.