Just a week after the Tunisian authorities announced a presidential amnesty for over 1200 political prisoners (including 70 members of the outlawed Islamist Nahda Party) on February 27, Libya released 130 political prisoners including all 85 Muslim Brotherhood prisoners. Do these developments signal a trend toward reconciliation with Islamists in North Africa?
In his first post-victory press conference Mauritanian President-elect Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdullahi called for a broadly inclusive national unity government. He will indeed need a great deal of support to face Mauritania's many political and economic challenges.
President Bush's goal of advancing Arab democracy faced skepticism from the moment he first enunciated it in November 2003, and with good reason. A few months after the invasion of Iraq and amidst continued Israeli-Palestinian violence, the notion that aspiring Arab democrats would look to the United States for support seemed farfetched.
When the European Union (EU) launched the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP, or Barcelona Process) in 1995 with the participation of 15 of its southern neighbors, the declared objective was to create a “zone of peace, stability, and security in the Mediterranean.” A wide range of economic, political, and cultural measures was foreseen, following in part the Helsinki model of 1975.
The “Al Azhar Militias” incident, in which some Muslim Brotherhood students staged a martial arts display in early December 2006, constitutes a turning point in the Brotherhood's relationship with the Egyptian regime. It triggered a regime crackdown—not the first during the presidency of Hosni Mubarak but the harshest and potentially the most important.
On January 22, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif officially launched Nile University. Located in the high-tech development zone Smart Village, 20 km northwest of Cairo, it is the first Egyptian private university focusing on post-graduate studies and research. Since 1996, more than ten private universities have been established.
On December 26, 2006 President Hosni Mubarak formally requested that the People's Assembly amend some 34 articles of the constitution, a move heralded by the government-controlled press as promising "a new era of democracy" and "the rise of the citizenry."
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.
The Muslim Brotherhood's draft party platform sends mixed signals about the movement's political views and positions. Although it has already been widely circulated, the document does not yet have final approval from the movement's guidance bureau.
Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) convened its fourth annual conference September 19-21, advertising it as “The Second Leap Forward”. Speeches by senior party members and carefully packaged briefing papers emphasized the party's achievements in economic and political reform and laid out a fairly ambitious agenda for the coming year.
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.
Unlike Arab countries such as Egypt or Jordan, which opened the political space in 2004-5 only to shut it again in 2006, Tunisia has continued unabated its campaign against avenues for the expression of peaceful dissent including human rights organizations, labor unions, and civil society organizations.
Morocco’s September 7 legislative elections mark—with their 37 percent participation—the lowest voter turn-out in the nation’s history. In such a situation, one might suppose that Morocco had mounted no significant voter awareness campaign, but this was not the case.
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.
Among the ironies of Egypt's stalled process of political reform is that it is inextricably linked to the future of 42-year old presidential scion Gamal Mubarak. The younger Mubarak fashions himself as a Western-oriented reformer and in fact has championed some notable economic and political liberalization measures.
The electoral system in Morocco is mixed. There are 295 seats in parliament elected via proportional representation in local districts and an additional 30 seats allocated to women and elected on a nationwide basis. The newly established threshold (the proportion of votes a party must win to get a seat in parliament) is 7 percent in any given district.
Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi initiated a major shift in economic policy at the turn of the millennium. When early efforts at economic liberalization produced limited results, he stepped up the pressure in June 2003, declaring the public sector a failure, calling for the privatization of the economy, and pledging to bring Libya into the World Trade Organization.