After several missed deadlines, Iraq's constitutional process has yet to produce a draft acceptable to Shiites, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs, and prospects are bleak. Both process and content, currently, are highly problematic.
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.
When the Baath Party held its conference in Damascus on June 6-9, it had no intention to reform Syria. It wanted to repair Syria. This distinction is critical to interpreting what is going on.
Compared to the dramatic events that shook Lebanon in the past six months, the parliamentary elections that took place between May 29 and June 19 were anti-climactic. Local and foreign observers expressed disappointment that, apart from the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, remarkably little has changed.
Iraq's insurgencies began with the U.S. military invasion in March 2003 and gained momentum after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime when the United States moved to dissolve the Iraqi military and implement a sweeping de-Baathification policy.
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.
Will Hamas and Sharon sit at the same negotiating table in the near future? Yesterday's inconceivable fantasies may become tomorrow's realities, regarding developments in the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.
The eruption of popular violence against Palestinian Authority (PA) officials in the Gaza Strip in July reflected both popular discontent with the PA and a power struggle between "young guard" nationalists and their "old guard" rivals who dominate the Palestinian leadership.
After two postponements, the Iraqi National Conference finally took place in Baghdad from August 15-18. The conference, called for in the Transitional Administrative Law (Iraq's interim constitution) and originally scheduled for July, convened 1,300 delegates to select a 100-member interim national assembly.
With the conclusion of the Iraqi National Conference last month, the next milestone for Iraqi democracy will be the January 2005 elections for a 275-member Parliament. Already, the electoral system chosen for Iraq could dampen the prospects for a representative and democratic vote.
Against the backdrop of strife that plagues much of Iraq, key political institutions and a legal framework have been established for the country's first democratic national elections, anticipated for January. Voters will select a 275-member transitional national assembly, governorate assemblies, and a Kurdish regional assembly
Women's rights in the Middle East remain severely restricted both by law and by social customs. Although some countries have made notable progress in broadening the formal rights of women, the application of the laws remains problematic everywhere. In the worst case, that of Saudi Arabia, both the law and social customs circumscribe women's life choices.
The role of women in Jordan's Islamic Action Front (IAF) party challenges the stereotype of the Arab world's Islamist parties as inherently "anti-women," but also reveals the party's ambivalence toward women's political participation.
On November 20, Jordanians will head to the polls to elect representatives to the Chamber of Deputies. Comprised of 110 seats spread over forty-five electoral districts, the parliament includes six seats reserved for women, nine for Christians, and three for the Circassian and Chechen minorities.
Despite the international commotion over last year's Cedar Revolution and withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, the much vaunted Beirut Spring appears to have been a mirage. Neither the anti-Syrian protests (capped by the mammoth March 14, 2005 demonstration) nor the Syrian withdrawal ushered in an era of political reform.
Iraqi Kurdistan is the best functioning part of Iraq, an example of what stability and governance could theoretically bring to the rest of the country.
The second of June marked the second anniversary of the assassination of Lebanese writer Samir Qasir, with no indication of who ordered the car bombing that silenced one of the loudest Arab voices criticizing autocratic Arab regimes, particularly the Assad family in Syria.
The Syrian media sector is schizophrenic. On the one hand, Syrian musalsalat (television serials) are considered the best in the Arab world and compete head-to-head with their famed Egyptian counterparts. On the other hand, Syrian news and public affairs programming wallows in a protracted crisis exacerbated by an increasingly hostile geopolitical context and the Syrian-Lebanese media war.
In recent decades a number of democratic transitions began when an authoritarian government agreed to elections under rules it had designed to ensure its continued hold on power—and then lost. In the Philippines in 1985, Chile in 1988, Poland in 1989, and Yugoslavia in 2000, rulers ceded power, gracefully or not, after a surprising defeat at the polls.
Jordan's Islamic Action Front, the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, has had its share of electoral success and is now positioning itself to demand more of a role in governance.