Since his release from prison late last year, the prominent Sudanese Islamist and former Speaker of Parliament Hassan Turabi has been busy preaching democracy as the best possible system for Muslim countries. Many might consider Turabi's ardent espousal of democracy highly suspect, given his repressive record during the decade when he was Sudan's de facto ruler (1989-1999).
Apart from some posters and banners scattered across the streets of Damascus announcing elections on April 22-23, there are few signs in Syria of the sort of election fever seen in some Arab countries recently.Electoral platforms addressing real issues are conspicuously absent.
When the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) dissolves on June 30, it will leave behind a series of enactments designed to remake significant parts of the Iraqi legal order. While the juridical and political basis for the CPA's enactments is shaky, any succeeding Iraqi authority is likely to hesitate before repealing them wholesale.
Those anticipating the imminent (re)blossoming of the Syrian "spring" ought not hold their breath. Nearly four years after the transition of power from Hafez Al Asad to his son Bashar, Syria's much-discussed economic reform process has yielded exactly two "private banks" with suspect ownership and operating under the watchful eye of the state.
The lingering effect of Baathist-era distortions and intensifying violence are hindering efforts to create a civic culture based on tolerance, cooperation, and individual initiative in Iraq.
Freed from state control, religious authorities—drawing on their moral authority and extensive mass communication networks, and benefiting from the weakness of secular forces—quickly filled the political void created by the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. A year later, these authorities remain the principal shapers of public opinion among most Iraqi Arabs.
Iraq's Shiite Islamists are in an undeniable position of strength as the June 30, 2004 hand-over of sovereignty approaches. Their leadership has gelled with the emergence of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, 75, as the major political force in the country.
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.
For a decade, European governments have been 'talking the talk' of democratic reform in the Middle East. In practice, the European Union's (E.U.) democracy promotion has consisted of a panoply of low-key initiatives that have failed to produce significant results. Even so, European engagement with rule of law and human rights issues in the Middle East surpassed that of the United States.
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.
On March 8, the Iraqi Governing Council signed Iraq's new interim constitution, known as the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL). The TAL is expected to go into effect on July 1, 2004 and may foreshadow elements of a permanent constitution. It will remain in force until a new government, scheduled to be elected by January 31, 2005, enacts a permanent constitution.
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.
Hizbollah is sometimes cited as a positive example of how inclusion in the political process can moderate Middle Eastern Islamist parties. But Hizbollah is less a model than an exception to the norm; indeed, it is a unique phenomenon in contemporary politics.
There is no easy solution to the predicament of Hezbollah's armed status. Thus far, the organization and the new Lebanese government have resisted calls by the United States and the international community to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which urges the state to disarm all militias.
More than one hundred political parties have been established in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Some call themselves "movements," "associations," or "fronts," and they are dedicated variously to democracy, human rights, Islamic values, constitutionalism, federalism, national unity, and ethnic or tribal identity.
The current state of Iraqi media reflects both the pluralism and the chaos of post-war Iraq. There is abundant freedom of expression, especially in northern Iraq, whose semi-autonomy since the early 1990s allowed the Kurds to establish non-Baathist media outlets several years ago.
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.
In an appearance on Cairo's "Dream TV" in the spring of 2004, the eminent Egyptian journalist Muhammad Hassanayn Haykal broached the deeply sensitive topic of Gamal Mubarak’s aspirations to succeed his father as president. For his efforts, Haykal was summarily banned from Egyptian broadcasts.
The 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein's government dangled the prospect of an Iraq with freedoms of the press unparalleled in the country's history and indeed in the Arab world. The fall of Saddam's regime spawned dozens of new publications and broadcast outlets staffed by Iraqi journalists.
With sanctions lifted, Saddam Hussein removed from power, and Kurdistan the most secure place in Iraq, Kurdish media have unprecedented potential to thrive.