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.
Founded by Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr and inspired by his ideas of wilayat al-ummah (rule of the community), the Iraqi Da'wa party has evolved from an underground movement espousing Islamic revolution to a major player in an Iraqi democratic government.
Until recently Western assistance programs aimed at strengthening political parties were less present in the Arab world than in almost all other areas of the developing world. As part of the heightened U.S. and European interest in promoting Arab political reform, however, such programs are multiplying in the region.
If some of the Group of Eight (G-8) countries had not found some resolve at the final moments of the concluding session of the Forum for the Future in November 2005, the initiative might have been buried in Manama. There is still danger of the initiative being terminated by Moscow, which in July will host the 2006 G-8 summit, before the third Forum meeting in Jordan takes place later this year.
As much as Hamas's landslide victory in the January 25 Palestinian legislative elections was a triumph for the Islamist movement, it was also a crushing defeat for the younger generation of Fatah leaders who had hoped the election would facilitate a leadership transition in the long-ruling Palestinian national liberation movement.
The next few weeks promise to be monumental ones in Iraq's modern history. With the December election successfully completed, Iraqi leaders must now focus on making decisions that will determine not just how the country is run over the next four years, but what Iraq will look like in the longer term and whether it can avoid disintegrating into a bloody civil war.
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.
Palestinians have been hoping that Hamas and Fatah will live up to their announced agreement that the government of national unity under formation would not concern itself with negotiations with Israel, which were supposed to remain the purview of President Mahmoud Abbas in his capacity as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
As Syrian president Bashar Al Assad approaches the end of his first term in office, there is much debate on whether or not he has succeeded as a reformer. He is credited with establishing private universities, banks, and media.
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.