Criticism of the PA’s growing authoritarianism gave birth to a “paper Palestine,” in which citizens have rights of free speech and assembly; independent judiciary adjudicates disputes; leaders are selected in elections overseen by an independent electoral commission; and a representative assembly monitors the executive. Yet the institutions that would ensure democracy are missing or lagging.
The fall of the Berlin wall and the subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union presented an unparalleled opportunity for fundamental political and economic change in more than two dozen countries. As postcommunist countries sought to attain the economic development of their Western neighbors, it became clear that the existing framework of laws and institutions would not support the desired growth.
The path to Arab democracy continues to be problematic. A close look at the contemporary regional political scene reveals that the predominantly missing element—when compared with more successful experiences of political transformation elsewhere—is the emergence of democratic opposition movements with broad constituencies that can contest authoritarian power and force concessions.
The third Arab Human Development Report, released last week, is unlikely to have as profound an effect as the first two such reports. Although the region is still changing, Arab confusion over a future agenda has vanished. The central question is no longer whether freedom and democracy represent legitimate goals of human development but rather how to promote and consolidate them.
Mass demonstrations in Lebanon, joint protest rallies of Egyptian Islamists and liberals against the Mubarak regime in Egypt, and municipal elections in Saudi Arabia are just as much features of the current situation as are cease-fire declarations by Palestinian resistance movements and multiparty negotiations for forming a coalition government in Iraq.
The third Arab Human Development Report should be required reading for Bush administration officials and for anyone interested in promoting Middle East democracy. The report reveals a complete acceptance of democratic principles and a complete mistrust of the Bush administration's efforts to promote democracy.
The essential ingredient the Arab spring is not what occurred in the White House. It is, instead, what occurred on the streets of Ramallah, Cairo and Beirut.
In writing of the need to bring democracy to the Arab world, Natan Sharansky makes repeated parallels with America's propagation of its democratic message to the subject peoples of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe.