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.
The Syrian media have not shown any serious signs of change since the Baath Party assumed power in a 1963 coup. Indeed, Syria's media sector is one of the most tightly-controlled in the Arab world. The vast majority of publications are state-owned, and rarely express nonconformist opinion
Each of Iraq's three elections in 2005 has been a landmark event: the first free and transparent election on January 30, the first referendum to approve a constitution on October 15, and now the first election to choose a permanent government on December 15.
On October 22, Jordan's “reform czar” Marwan Muasher announced that the National Agenda, billed as a comprehensive road map to reform, would not be released until after Ramadan due to “printing and proofreading” problems.
In the few weeks that have passed since Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, the urgent challenges facing President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have become clear but whether Abbas will succeed has not. The stakes are high.
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.
The U.S. push for elections in Iraq by January 31, 2005 is motivated not just by a desire to meet a prominent deadline on the post-war transition calendar. Many senior U.S. officials also see elections as a crucial palliative to the country’s chronic instability.
Even murkier than the cause of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's death is the question of who will fill the gaping political hole left by his passing. True to his penchant for avoiding definitive decisions, Arafat did not name a successor.
Whether the Iraqi constitution is approved or not in the October 15 referendum, there will be new elections in December for the National Assembly and party alignments are beginning to emerge.