As the reform agenda for the Arab world continues to expand, it is time to integrate the issue of security sector reform into the discussion. Only in Iraq and Palestine is security reform a vibrant topic for local debate and for support or intervention by the international community.
The State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative represents a critical element in the Bush administration's policy of attempting to transform the Arab world into a zone of liberal democracies and free market economies.
Shiite Islamists are likely to ultimately become the dominant power in post-war Iraq. As the Baath Party is dismantled by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the organizational counterweight to Shiite Islamist power is being weakened, and the Shiite Islamist groups have demonstrated that they are better organized and funded than other non-Baathist groups.
The June 17, 2003 Jordanian elections for the House of Deputies (parliament's lower house) were so out of touch with regional events that they might well have been held on a different planet, according to Al Dustour columnist Urayb Al Rantawi.
As the elections end, the hard work of constructing the new Iraq begins. While Iraqi voters can congratulate themselves on a remarkable achievement in the face of extraordinary difficulties, the situation remains precarious.
By adopting free and democratic elections at the presidential, legislative, and local levels, Palestinians may be laying down the foundation of another working democracy in the Middle East. In the January 9 presidential election, none of the seven candidates, including Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), took victory for granted.
After the first large demonstrations organized by Shiite clerics in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked about the possibility that radical Islamists would rise to power. That, he answered, "ain't gonna happen, I just don't see how that's going to happen."
On April 29, 2003 Mahmud Abbas (widely known as Abu Mazen) won a vote of confidence from the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) to serve as the first prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Beyond its much-discussed implications for a revived Israeli-Palestinian peace process, this step could also mark a departure in Arab governance.
On March 1, the Quartet (the United States, United Nations, European Union, and Russia) and other donors will meet in London to discuss ways to support the new Palestinian leadership in carrying out political, economic, and security reform, as well as preparing for Israeli disengagement from Gaza.
Though Iraqi political life since the ouster of Saddam Hussein may appear formless, it is following certain patterns familiar from other post-authoritarian settings. All countries where an authoritarian regime suddenly collapses go through a period of decompression in which political oxygen flows very rapidly into a previously closed system, producing disorientation and confusion.
Events since PLO Chairman Arafat’s demise—the unexpectedly smooth transfer of business to a pragmatic leader committed to negotiations and reform, Palestinian security forces’ efforts to stop militant attacks, and the Israeli-Palestinian truce announced at the February 8 Sharm Al Sheikh summit—have brought a wave of optimism to analyses of Palestinian affairs.
Despite its reactive origins, the recent mobilization of the Shiite community in Lebanon does not seem to be an ephemeral episode, but rather a new chapter in an ongoing epic of communal consciousness and activism with far-reaching political implications.
Not since the Iranian revolution has the issue of Shiite political development been of such interest to observers of Middle Eastern politics.
As anti-American attacks escalate elsewhere in Iraq, the Kurdistan region remains steadfast in its support of the United States, if not all of the policies of the Coalition Provisional Authority. This does not, however,translate into unconditional support for Bush administration's political objectives in Iraq, which may become painfully obvious when Iraqis finally sit down to write a constitution.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's Sunni Arab community — estimated to be less than twenty percent of the population — has been demonized and victimized by many inside and outside Iraq. Having dominated Iraq's political, educational, and military institutions since 1920, Sunni Arabs are now frightened by their sudden, dramatic loss of political power, social status, and economic well being.
British officials publicly worried recently that the United States-led coalition occupying Iraq had only about a year before the Shiites of Iraq turned against it. Shiites, the majority in the country, so far have been more welcoming of the coalition military and civilian presence than have Sunni Arabs.
Underlying the political map of the Middle East —those weird straight lines of Sykes-Picot vintage running through the desert— is the real configuration of this enigmatic region: the ethno-religious layout. Kurds, Berbers, Arabs, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Turks, Armenians, Copts, and more, depending on where one decides the Middle East ends.
To date, the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority has exhibited a strong tendency to appoint Iraqis to political positions based primarily on sectarian and ethnic considerations.
The Agreement on Political Process signed on November 15 by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III for the Coalition Provisional Authority and by Jalal Talabani for the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) provides a much needed and long overdue roadmap for the restoration of sovereignty to an Iraqi government. Unfortunately, the agreement contains numerous clauses that will make implementation quite difficult.
In the months since the end of the war, the United States has set up scores of local councils in Iraq's cities and main towns, reaching an estimated 51 percent of the country's population. Put together under emergency conditions, the local councils are not elected, but selected by the civil affairs teams in consultation with Iraqis.