The European Union approach towards the government led by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) formed in March 2006 has been one of isolation; the EU and its member states have refused dialogue, at least on an official level, and have withdrawn budget support.
The Lebanon war of 2006 changed the political environment in the Arab Middle East at two levels. The first was temporary and receded after the thirty-three day war had ended. The second, however, was structural and rooted in the reality of Arab societies, where the practices of ruling elites and opposition movements reveal the fragility of opportunities for democratic change.
Serious thinking about reforming Lebanon's fragile and inefficient system of governance has been among the casualties of the recent war. Political reform has never topped the agenda of Lebanon's leaders, including the one actor most people believe would benefit most: Hizbollah.
Since 2002, U.S. diplomacy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been constrained by Israel's doctrine that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. According to this concept—accepted by the United States—until Palestinians halt violence toward Israel and reform their internal politics, there can be no peace talks.
For the sixth time this year, Human Rights Watch is questioning Jordan's commitment to abolish provisions in its penal code used solely to silence opposition figures. In November, Adnan Abu Odeh, former head of the Royal Court was investigated for allegedly insulting the king and inciting sectarian strife during televised remarks.
Negotiations for a unity government between Fatah and Hamas are the fruit of international pressure, which has forced Hamas to consider sacrificing some of its formal authority within the Palestinian Authority (PA) despite the fact that the Islamic movement and its allies hold 77 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
Virtually autonomous since 1992, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq has followed an uneven path on the road to good governance. Six months have passed since the formation of the current united Kurdish cabinet. While Kurdistan has been increasingly stable and secure, its potential for accountability and clean government has yet to be fulfilled.
The summer 2006 war between Hizbollah and Israel wreaked terrible destruction on Lebanon. It set Lebanon back years economically, costing roughly $7 billion, or 30 percent of GDP. At the same time, the war and UN Security Council Resolution 1701 have created new possibilities for advancing political reform.
The situation in Iraq is bleak and policy is adrift. Constant changes in the nature of the conflict have undermined all measures put in place by the Bush administration. While showing great determination to stay in Iraq until the country is stable, President Bush does not have a policy to address the country's multiple conflicts.
The changing political balance in Palestine —from domination by the secular nationalist Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to effective challenge for leadership by the Islamist Resistance Movement (Hamas)—can be seen not only at the ballot box, but also in the daily lives of Palestinians.
Increasing calls for media independence are part of the new political reality in the Arab world; such calls have been particularly strong regarding media coverage of elections.
Abdul Monem Abul Futouh, a member of the Guidance Bureau of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, offered his comments on “Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process in the Arab World: Exploring the Gray Zones,” by Nathan Brown, Amr Hamzawy, and Marina Ottaway (Carnegie Paper No. 67, March 2006).
Observers have criticized the United States strongly for its unwillingness to recognize the Hamas government in Palestine, as well as for appearing to back away from supporting reform in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood's strong showing in 2005 elections.
Since King Abdullah II’s accession to the throne in 1999, expectations for political reform and related debates in Jordan have intensified. In this period, five prime ministers have formed governments. In his letter of designation to successive prime ministers the king has demanded political reform. Despite the king's demands, there has been little progress.
Although there have been ideological and political struggles among armed Sunni factions in Iraq since the beginning of the occupation, they were kept quiet until recently.
The Lebanese parliament is due to elect a new president for a six-year term during the sixty-day period beginning September 25. As is often the case with Lebanon, numerous domestic and foreign factors complicate what should be a straightforward political process.
The lack of democratic breakthroughs worthy of mention in Arab countries has spurred debate about barriers to change. Much of this debate has focused on economic, social, and cultural factors, or on the fragility of political forces demanding democracy. The debate would be incomplete, however, without a discussion of the means by which the authoritarian Arab regimes control their societies.
After months of negotiations, Nechirvan Barzani announced the formation of a unified Kurdistan Regional Government in Irbil on May 7, two weeks ahead of the announcement by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki that a government for Iraq had been formed. While the world's media remained focused on Baghdad, it largely overlooked the significance of the events in the capital of the Kurdistan region.
Political reform in Syria is not on. Last year's promises of a “great leap forward”—a rewritten emergency law, citizenship for stateless Kurds, and a new political party law before local elections in 2007—have been shelved.
Foreign democracy assistance organizations working directly with political parties have come into the line of fire as some Arab governments have pushed back against democratization initiatives over the past two years. In Algeria, Bahrain, and Egypt in particular, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) have been among the first to feel pressure.