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 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.
The adoption of the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative by the Group of Eight Industrialized Nations (G-8) at their June 8-10 summit in Sea Island, Georgia represents a diplomatic victory for the United States. The initiative, however, is extremely unlikely to have a noticeable impact on political reform in the Middle East.
Madrassas are a major source of radical influence on the thinking of the world's 1 billion Muslims. Rather than focus narrowly on madrassa reform, as the U.S. has done, the Muslim world needs to be encouraged to embrace modern education and undertake ijtihad (mental exertion to find solutions to problems) on its own.
Participants from across the Middle East joined U.S. and European scholars and policy-makers at a three-day conference in Kuwait, to discuss the role of Islamist groups in Arab political reform. While suspicious of the U.S., most participants professed support for democratic principles and expressed interest in continuing the dialogue.
Since 9/11, the Bush administration has moved the issue of democracy higher on its Middle East agenda than has any previous US government. This represents a historic shift in the underpinnings of American strategic thinking on the Middle East. Washington has now linked terrorism against the US, religious extremism, and anti-American sentiment to the prevalence of authoritarian rule in the region.
The most important question now facing the world is the use the Bush Administration will make of its military dominance, especially in the Middle East. The next question is when and in what form resistance to US domination over the Middle East will arise. That there will be resistance is certain.
Before the United States can determine whether its gradualist approach to democratic reform in the Middle East is the best remedy, we must first understand how Arab autocracies actually work. In particular, we must understand how the "liberalized autocracies" of the region endure despite frequent prediction of their imminent death.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions and continued talk of military action against Iraq has raised fears of a wider war in the region. For background on the possible use of weapons of mass destruction in future conflicts, we provide summaries on the missile capabilities of countries in the Middle East adapted from a forthcoming Carnegie study.