Published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Translated by Dar Al-Watan for Journalism, Printing and Publishing.
To view this issue as a PDF, click here.
The Arabic edition of this issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin will be available by June 17 at http://www.alwatan.com.kw/arb.
Iraq: The Fate of CPA Orders After June 30 By Nathan Brown
Morocco's New Truth Commission: Turning the Page on Past Human Rights Abuses? By Eric Goldstein
Reform in Syria: Waiting for the Wrong Time By Bassam Haddad
The Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative: A Hollow Victory for the United States By Marina Ottaway
The Arab League and Political Reform: A Vague Commitment By Nicholas Blanford
News and Views
New Details on Iraq's Interim Government
The Arab League and Reform
Kuwaiti Women to Get the Vote?
Reforms in Qatar...
...and the Doha Conference on Democracy and Reform
Local Elections in Lebanon
The United States Reports on Middle East Democracy Promotion
Views from the Arab Press
New writings on the Broader Middle East Initiative; Iraqi reconstruction and Shiite ascendancy; reform in Jordan, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates; Egyptian authoritarianism; Arab satellite stations; adaptive democracy; and Arab liberals.
Insights and Analysis
By Nathan Brown
When the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) dissolves on June 30, it will leave behind a series of enactments designed to remake significant parts of the Iraqi legal order. While the juridical and political basis for the CPA's enactments is shaky, any succeeding Iraqi authority is likely to hesitate before repealing them wholesale.
On May 16, 2003, the CPA issued Regulation 1, assigning itself "all executive, legislative and judicial authority necessary to achieve its objectives." Under this regulation, the CPA has issued, as of early June 2004, seven subsequent regulations, 89 orders, and thirteen memoranda, all with full legal force. These rules address banking, the media, de-Baathification, nongovernmental organizations, and incitement, among other matters. More recently, CPA officials have rushed to cover additional areas, such as traffic, procurement, intellectual property, elections, and the judiciary, before June 30. Some display a liberal economic and political spirit; others are purely administrative.
The CPA has relied on an expansive (and sometimes implausibly ambitious) reading of its authority. The 1907 Hague convention on the Laws and Customs of War requires occupying powers to respect the laws in force in the country, and United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1483, cited as a basis for CPA Regulation 1, called for compliance with the Hague convention. UNSCR 1483 did charge the CPA with restoring security and creating "conditions in which the Iraqi people can freely determine their own political future," allowing the CPA its more generous reading of its powers. But the subsequent UNSCR 1511, often cited in CPA legal documents, stresses both the provisional and shared nature of CPA responsibility by "reaffirming" the "temporary nature" of the "specific responsibilities" given to the CPA. In addition, UNSCR 1511 recognized the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and its ministries as embodying "the sovereignty of the state of Iraq during the transitional period." Thus the scope and intended longevity of CPA legal enactments—as well as the CPA's apparent laxity in consulting the IGC—seem to violate the spirit and even the letter of the international legal basis for CPA authority.
The political basis of CPA actions appears no more certain than the legal foundation. Almost all CPA orders were issued in English; they have been translated into Arabic only after going into effect. In all but a few matters, they have been drafted in secret, with little public consultation. Ayatollah Sistani has already expressed the view that the new Iraqi government should not feel bound by decisions taken under occupation.
Yet the CPA has crafted its enactments as if it expects to see many live beyond June 30. The March 2004 Transitional Administrative Law, the interim constitution, provides that CPA "laws, regulations, orders, and directives issued?pursuant to its authority under international law shall remain in force" until rescinded or amended by subsequent legislation. More subtly, some of the CPA's recent orders create regulatory and administrative bodies whose CPA-appointed senior officials have been made very difficult to remove. If the United States successfully implants a network of advisors in key ministries while maintaining a strong military presence, the result will resemble Great Britain's informal empire of the 1930s in Egypt, Iraq, and Transjordan.
But even if the United States beats a hastier retreat, any succeeding Iraqi government, no matter how nationalistic, will probably not remove all the CPA's legal enactments at once. Because the CPA's life has been short and many of its orders are barely operational, its legal changes have yet to fully insinuate themselves in the Iraqi polity. Yet critical institutions such as the judiciary, the electoral commission, and the Central Bank have begun functioning based on CPA orders. Thus, rather than abolish all CPA enactments immediately and reverting to all pre-2003 laws, any succeeding government will likely draft its own legislation piece by piece. Even under the optimistic electoral timetable now in place, a parliamentary body will not be seated until next year, and it will likely be some time before it is prepared to take up the host of issues handled in CPA enactments.
In almost all cases in the Arab world in which governments have been overthrown or colonial powers have departed, the new regime has affirmed the legal order it found when it assumed power. Indeed, the CPA itself, in Regulation 1, followed this pattern by affirming all pre-existing laws (unless they obstructed the work of the CPA).
Thus, succeeding Iraqi governments are likely to proceed carefully in discarding CPA enactments. Nonetheless, their nationalist sensibilities will be offended when they turn their attention to specific provisions. When Iraqi political and legal officials discover that multinational troops still are effectively granted extraterritorial status; that their vehicles must be given priority in traffic; that the official name of the country in some documents has been changed (from the "Iraqi Republic" to the "State of Iraq"); and that international agreements may—even absent an explicit provision—override requirements for open and competitive bidding in procurement, they will probably conclude that the CPA orders, while often liberal, are inconsistent with full sovereignty.
Nathan Brown is professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and author of Palestinian Politics after the Oslo Accord (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003).
By Eric Goldstein
Truth commissions and other mechanisms of transitional justice usually spring up in the aftermath of civil war or authoritarian rule. They do not thrive where the perpetrators still wield power or enjoy protection.
Little wonder then that the Middle East lags behind other areas of the world in reckoning with the past. The obvious exception is post-Saddam Iraq. A less-noticed exception is Morocco, where in January King Muhammad VI inaugurated the Equity and Reconciliation Commission to document abuses perpetrated under his late father, Hassan II, who ruled from 1961 to 1999. The commission is tasked with investigating and documenting "grave" abuses that occurred from independence in 1956 until 1999. By April 2005, it is to provide both a general historical record of the repression and specific information to the families of the several hundred "disappeared" Moroccans whose fate remains unknown. The commission is also to decide the level of compensation to pay victims and their survivors.
It is no accident that Morocco is at the forefront of Arab countries in examining its repressive legacy. The country's openness toward its past—along with an outspoken press, a vibrant civil society, and recent reforms to the family code—helps to burnish its image as one of the region's bright spots in terms of human rights. This is a valuable asset when, in terms of tackling poverty and unemployment, the government has achieved little. Addressing past violations is popular also with Morocco's political class, which includes many former political prisoners and torture victims.
The late king's ruthlessness toward his critics was not well-known in the West, where he was admired as a "moderate," pro-Western ruler. From the 1960s to the 1980s, his security apparatus "disappeared" or imprisoned thousands of perceived leftists, Islamists, advocates of self-determination for the disputed Western Sahara, as well as real and imagined coup-plotters.
In the late 1980s, Hassan II began to ease the repression. The reforms he introduced over the next decade included a first stab at recognizing past abuses: In 1998, a human rights council he had established issued a report acknowledging 112 cases of "disappearance."
King Muhammad VI has also recognized a duty to address the past. Soon after ascending the throne, he created a board that financially compensated some 4,000 victims of past abuses. But many victims and human rights activists criticized the compensation process, as well as the earlier acknowledgment of "disappearances," as top-down efforts to turn the page without offering even a modicum of truth or accountability.
The new Equity and Reconciliation Commission meets these critics part-way. Unlike the earlier bodies, the commission is mandated by its statute to establish a historical record that is to include "the responsibility of state or other apparatuses in the violations and the incidents under investigation." It is to compensate victims but also propose other remedies, including social assistance and rehabilitation, restitution of victims' bodies to their families, public memorials, and safeguards against a repeat of past practices.
The mandate of the commission and its composition—the palace recruited the respected ex-political prisoner Driss Benzekri as president and several independent human rights activists as members—have convinced most Moroccan rights activists that they should engage with it. Their reservations, however, remain substantial.
First, the commission's statute explicitly bars it from determining individual responsibilities for abuses. (Note the absence of "justice" and "truth" in its name.) While information developed by the commission conceivably could be turned over to courts for possible action, this seems unlikely since Morocco's judiciary is hardly independent.
Second, the commission has no power to compel testimony or the production of documents. Its statute says that public institutions "must" cooperate with it. But without the stick of sanctions for non-cooperation or the carrot of an amnesty for those who come clean, which was the quid pro quo in South Africa's truth commission, how many policemen will tell what they know?
Third, the commission's mandate is to focus on cases of "arbitrary detention" and "enforced disappearance," but it is unclear whether the commission can document and provide compensation for other widespread violations such as torture, sham trials, and the shooting of demonstrators.
Finally, the commission's credibility will hinge on how it confronts the present erosion of human rights. Last May 16, 12 suicide bombers killed themselves and 33 bystanders in coordinated attacks in Casablanca. In the past year, despite the near-complete absence of further acts of political violence, 2,112 Islamists have been charged, 903 convicted, and 17 sentenced to death, according to the justice minister. Human rights groups have documented that these suspects routinely were arrested without warrants, held in secret detention, sometimes tortured, and then convicted in unfair and hasty proceedings. The commission cannot simply ignore these abuses, which evoke the bad old days and reflect the continued power of a largely unaccountable security apparatus.
On January 7, King Muhammad VI hailed the new commission as "the last step in a process leading to the definitive closure of a thorny issue." Yet each top-down effort in Morocco to deal "definitively" with past injustices has been superseded by a new "definitive" démarche. The commission, with its wider but still limited mandate, is likely to be one more marker in this journey. Nonetheless, it is part of a healthy process for Morocco, not least because it has been launched at a time when recent gains for human rights are at risk.
Eric Goldstein, research director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, last visited Morocco in February.
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By Bassam Haddad
Those anticipating the imminent (re)blossoming of the Syrian "spring" ought not hold their breath. Nearly four years after the transition of power from Hafez Al Asad to his son Bashar, Syria's much-discussed economic reform process has yielded exactly two "private banks" with suspect ownership and operating under the watchful eye of the state. Numerous proclamations on regulatory and fiscal reforms languish on shelves, unimplemented. Imprisonment of outspoken dissenters, such as Professor Aref Dalila (serving a ten-year sentence) and independent parliamentarian and industrialist Riad Sayf (serving five years), reminds Syrians of the fate of those who call for real change.
Movement toward openness in entrenched authoritarian regimes requires external pressure from a credible source in exchange for aid or trade, a serious economic downturn that would compel fundamental reform, or the emergence of an organized opposition more appealing than the status quo. None of these factors currently exists in Syria. Thanks to the faltering U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, the near-unconditional U.S. support for Israel's plans for occupied West Bank and Gaza, and the growing global protest against the Bush administration's international adventurism, U.S. credibility in Syria is zero. Thus, Washington's new Syria Accountability Act, which authorizes sanctions against the Syrian government, has strengthened Syrian hard-liners and brought many moderates to their fold. Rising oil prices are handsomely supplementing state revenue and reducing fiscal pressures that could compel reform. Furthermore, because the ties between state officials and select businessmen guide the economic reform process, reforms proceed only when they are seen to reproduce the existing winners in the Syrian social and political order. Once the benefits begin to flow to individuals and groups outside the state's sphere of influence, crackdowns ensue.
Nor is there a viable alternative to Bashar's rule. Those who argue that Islamism will form the basis of opposition in Syria fail to take into account the unpopularity of an Islamist alternative among broad sectors of the population. The chaos in neighboring Iraq, rather than inspiring an opposition movement, has enhanced the regime's "negative legitimacy" by leading the Syrian public to overvalue order, even when it is enforced harshly. This mindset explains the lack of protest against the regime's crackdowns following March rioting by Kurds in northeastern Syria and a rare shoot-out in Damascus in April.
This is the dilemma of reform in non-democratic regimes with stable institutions: reform takes place only when it is absolutely necessary, but necessity invites quick fixes and reversible measures that are unlikely to have structural consequences in the short-to-medium term. Yet the changes witnessed in Syria over the past decade are not inconsequential. These include the closing of some inefficient state-owned enterprises, the reduction of bureaucratic burdens on some economic and social transactions; the slight expansion of press freedom and of the ability to organize in groups for ostensibly non-political purposes; and most important, the gradual resumption of political life, as shown in the informal organizing of long-suppressed groups. Such arguably positive changes are the cumulative effect of seemingly insignificant local measures and a slow-moving regional reform trend. While elites in closed political systems rarely intend reforms to lead to genuine change, selective, incremental, and reversible reform measures can produce structural changes in due time—but not in the sense that many experts on "reform" and "democratization," on both the left and the right, anticipate. Conservative analysts often pay excessive attention to process, procedure, and particular market indices without paying sufficient attention to the masses left behind (or underneath). Some on the left are prone to dismiss "change" as either instrumental or inconsequential if it does not lead to desirable collective outcomes in the short run.
Incremental change can and often does produce fundamental change under certain structural conditions. It is these conditions that we should address to gauge the collective importance of potential reform measures in Syria. It is time to ask some important questions: has Syria's new private "bourgeoisie" as a whole accumulated sufficient capital to compel it to clamor for applying the rule of law to protect its assets? Has the state elite gone far enough into private business to secure for itself a socio-economic and political status without direct state backing or control? Are the ties that bind the social carriers of private and public wealth solid enough to produce an alliance (or perhaps a party) under a different political system? Have regional and international events ceased to provide a justification for maintaining a militarized society living under emergency laws? Is there consistent and credible external pressure in the direction of "democratization" being applied on Syria? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is "not yet."
Bassam Haddad, assistant professor of political science at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, is author of "The Formation and Development of Economic Networks in Syria: Implications for Economic and Fiscal Reforms, 1986-2000," in Networks of Privilege: The Politics of Economic Reform in the Middle East, Steven Heydemann (ed.), (New York, NY: Palgrave-St. Martin's Press, forthcoming 2004). Haddad is part of a collective that produced the new documentary film "About Baghdad" (www.aboutbaghdad.com).
By Marina Ottaway
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. It is even less likely to curb the anti-Americanism that is now rampant in the Middle East or to smooth relations between the United States and major Arab countries.
The initiative adopted at Sea Island is a scaled-down version of the original American proposal for a Greater Middle East Initiative. The United States abandoned the initial plan when the leak of a working paper to the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat in February was met with rejection and even scorn by Arab governments, which saw the initiative as an unacceptable intrusion in their internal affairs, and with skepticism by European countries, which believed that the charged political mood in the Middle East made the launching of a high profile initiative unadvisable. European countries also pointed out that the new initiative duplicated their long-standing efforts to engage with Arab countries around the rim of the Mediterranean on issues of economic and political reform through the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (or Barcelona process).
The resolution adopted at Sea Island has two parts. The first is the launching of a "Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Region of the Broader Middle East and North Africa." (Some countries had objected to the use of "greater" on the grounds that the term had negative political connotations). The second is a plan for the G-8 to support reform in Arab countries. As adopted, the Partnership consists of a statement of principles about "human dignity, freedom, democracy, rule of law, economic opportunity, and social justice" and of the establishment of a Forum for the Future, a framework for regular ministerial level meetings on political and economic reform in the Broader Middle East and for parallel meetings of civil society and business leaders. Noteworthy in the statement is a call for continuing efforts to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an idea conspicuously absent from the original American proposal and inserted at the insistence of European and Arab countries.
The plan to support reform consists of a set of generic statements about the need to deepen democracy and broaden public participation, build a knowledge society, and promote economic development, and of a call for some concrete but discrete initiatives. These include a microfinance initiative to help small entrepreneurs; a project to enhance literacy; and support for training programs for business and entrepreneurship. It is unclear how these activities will be financed. The United States has not announced any new funding and projects will have to draw on the budget of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and other existing aid projects. European countries are unlikely to shift money from ongoing programs to an initiative for which they have shown little enthusiasm—French President Jacques Chirac even warned on June 9 that "provoking" change would "risk feeding extremism and falling into the fatal trap of the clash of civilizations."
Despite the watering down of the initial proposal, the Broader Middle East Initiative continues to receive a cold reception in the Arab world. Only five Arab countries (Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia, and Yemen) accepted the invitation to participate in a summit luncheon; Afghanistan and Turkey attended from the broader region. The most important Arab countries, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, had already made abundantly clear that they wanted nothing to do with the plan. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak declared that external attempts to impose reform were "delusional" and would lead to anarchy. The Saudi crown prince refused to attend the Tunis summit that discussed an Arab response to the proposal.
The vagueness of the statements adopted, the absence of financial support, the Europeans' lack of enthusiasm, and the cold reception of the initiative in Arab countries suggest that the launch of the Broader Middle East Initiative is a rather hollow victory for the United States. The Bush administration narrowly avoided a diplomatic disaster by scaling down its proposal to the point where, in the words of an observer, there was nothing left to which anybody could object. It is unlikely, however, that the initiative will prove to be the catalyst for reform envisaged by the United States.
Marina Ottaway is a senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
By Nicholas Blanford
With the ongoing violence in Iraq, the bloody impasse between Israel and the Palestinians, and the new American sanctions on Syria, it was perhaps not surprising that the Arab League's May 23-24 summit in Tunis focused on these regional crises, rather than on political reform inside Arab countries as the United States had hoped. The summit's centerpiece was the two-year-old Arab Peace Initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, dusted off and re-endorsed for the occasion. The initiative offers Israel full normalization with the Arab world in exchange for a complete withdrawal from occupied Arab territory. Yet, the summit's final communique, the Tunis Declaration, did refer briefly to political reform—the first such Arab League statement to do so. This suggests that Arab leaders do not want to appear unresponsive to the growing clamor for political change within their own countries, even if they have no intention of loosening their hold on power.
The 22 Arab League members did not intend to put reform on the agenda of the summit, originally scheduled for March. But in February, a leaked draft of the Bush administration's Greater Middle East Initiative, a new transatlantic plan to promote regional reform, sparked wide discussion among Arabs. Critics complained that the Initiative failed to address the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in creating regional instability and that it represented Washington's attempt to meddle in internal Arab affairs. (These criticisms led the Bush administration to revise portions of the Initiative, now renamed the "Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Region of the Broader Middle East and North Africa," before unveiling it at the June 8-10 Group of Eight Industrialized Nations summit in Sea Island, Georgia). At the same time, Arab commentators stressed the need for Arabs to formulate their own reform agenda.
This forced League members to react to the Bush administration's plan. Disputes about how to deal with the issue of reform, however, contributed to Tunisian President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali's abrupt cancellation of the March summit on the eve of its opening session. In early May, Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo to draw up a joint reform plan based on proposals from several countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, and Yemen. The five-page Cairo document, titled "A Course for Development, Modernization and Reform in the Arab World," provided the language for the Tunis Declaration's two paragraphs dealing with political reform. The first paragraph pledges Arab countries to "reaffirm attachment" to human rights, and to "reinforce" freedom of expression, thought and worship, and the independence of the judiciary. The second paragraph calls on Arab states, in accordance with the Cairo document, to "consolidate democratic practice, broaden participation in political and public life, reinforce the role of all components of civil society?and widen women's participation in the political, economic, social, cultural and educational fields."
Although it uses the terms "democracy" and "human rights," the declaration represents at most a lukewarm rhetorical commitment to reform. Its language is vague enough to avoid constituting a pledge to carry out specific reforms. Its reference to the Cairo document (whose title, at Syria's insistence, was revised in Tunis to omit the word "Reform") provides a handy justification for continued procrastination on reform. That document states that reforms should be implemented "in accordance with [each country's] cultural, religious, and civilizational understandings and values, circumstances and capabilities." The Tunis document also omits any reference to mechanisms to monitor the implementation of reform.
The absence of a large number of leaders from the summit further undermined the already tepid language. Some stay-aways were still irritated at Ben Ali for canceling the March gathering. Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia refused to attend due to a deep personal grudge with the Tunisian leader. Kuwait, angered by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa's opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, has scorned the League as "dead and good for nothing but burial," according to a pro-government newspaper. Syrian President Bashar Al Asad reportedly attended only after receiving assurances that the League would denounce U.S. sanctions against his country. Furthermore, two leaders departed Tunis before the final declaration was released. Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi walked out, complaining that his proposals, including a plan for a democratic Israeli-Palestinian state, were ignored. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak left after being angered by the League's refusal to consider his proposal for an Arab mechanism to monitor reform (designed to pre-empt any international mechanism launched as part of the Broader Middle East Initiative).
Arab leaders' public debate over reform still tends to reflect their preoccupations with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Syria, in a state of war with Israel, has made only a halting and ill-defined commitment to reform. Egypt and Jordan, which have made peace with Israel, or those geographically removed from the conflict, such as most Gulf and North African states, generally are more willing to accept the notion of political reform (Saudi Arabia being an important exception). All the same, it may yet transpire that the real impetus to turn Tunis's promises into action is less the external urging of the West and more the growing domestic calls for democratic reforms emanating from within Arab societies.
Nicholas Blanford is a Beirut-based journalist.
On May 31, L. Paul Bremer III, the administrator of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, issued an order establishing the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. The commission, an autonomous body, will organize the upcoming votes described in the Transitional Administrative Law, Iraq's interim constitution. These include the elections for a transitional national assembly, to be held by January 31, 2005, a referendum on a permanent constitution drafted by the assembly, by October 15, 2005, and the elections for a permanent assembly, by December 15, 2005.
The commission has seven voting Iraqi members, a non-voting Iraqi chief electoral officer, and a non-voting international member. On June 4, the United Nations, which is assisting with electoral preparations, announced the names of seven Iraqi members it selected from nearly 1,900 applicants. The commission will conduct voter registration, oversee the registration of political parties, supervise electoral preparations and the voting, and adjudicate election disputes. Carina Perelli, head of the UN electoral mission, said in a June 4 press conference in Baghdad that the elections for a transitional national assembly will use a proportional representation system based on a single national district and closed candidate lists. "This system will allow voters to cast their vote wherever they are," Perelli said, adding that "the principles that guided the design were inclusivity and the possibility for diverse communities of interest to accumulate their votes." Electoral regulations and a political party law have not yet been promulgated.
The Iraqi commission is one of three independent electoral commissions in the Arab world (the others being in Yemen and the Palestinian Authority). Elsewhere, the ministry of interior administers elections.
New Details on Iraq's Interim Government
The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) of Iraq has posted on its website an annex to the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), the interim constitution that will be in effect from the June 30 hand-over of power to a sovereign Iraqi government until the promulgation of a permanent constitution in December 2005. (To read the annex in Arabic, click here). As required by Article 2 b 1 of the TAL, the annex defines the powers of the interim government that will govern Iraq from June 30 until a transitional government, to be elected by January 31, 2005, takes office. The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council issued the annex as its last act before dissolving on June 1. The annex gives the interim government the authority to issue decrees with the force of law, but states that it must ?refrain from taking any actions affecting Iraq?s destiny beyond the limited interim period? and prevents it from amending the TAL. (Some Shiite leaders have indicated recently that measures of the TAL pertaining to Kurdish rights should be revisited). The annex bars the interim government from concluding a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with foreign troops, requiring that the matter be taken up by the transitional government. Finally, the annex calls for a national dialogue conference that will choose a 100-member interim national council with some of the oversight functions of a parliament. To read a CPA commentary on the annex, click here.
The Arab League and Reform
Arab leaders made a vague commitment to political reform at their May 22-23, 2004 Arab League summit in Tunis. The summit's final communique, the "Tunis Declaration," includes two paragraphs pertaining to political reform. (To read the declaration in English, click here; to read it in Arabic, click here). The first paragraph pledges Arab countries to "reaffirm attachment" to human rights and to "reinforce" freedom of expression, thought and worship and the independence of the judiciary. The second paragraph calls on Arab states to "consolidate democratic practice, broaden participation in political and public life, reinforce the role of all components of civil society?and widen women's participation in the political, economic, social, cultural and educational fields." The declaration says that reform should be implemented in accordance with "A Course for Development and Modernization in the Arab World," a framework document prepared by Arab foreign ministers before the summit. The document says that the "circumstances and values" of each country should guide the implementation of reform—a provision that some observers believe Arab governments will cite to justify their lack of progress on reform. (Notably, the word 'reform' (Islah) was removed from the document's original title after some Arab leaders complained that it implied Arab countries were corrupt and thus in need of reform). The Tunis summit also adopted a revised version of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which will enter into force once it has been ratified by seven member states.
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Kuwaiti Women to Get the Vote?
On May 18, the Kuwaiti cabinet submitted a bill granting women political rights to the Interior and Defense Committee of the National Assembly. Currently, Article 1 of the 1962 electoral law stipulates that only male citizens age 21 and older whose families have resided in Kuwait since 1920 have the right to vote and run for office. The proposed legislation would extend suffrage to female citizens who meet the same criteria. In 1999, the Assembly rejected by 41 to 21 votes a decree issued by the Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, granting women political rights, and then rejected a similar bill by 32 to 30 votes. The current legislation's prospects are uncertain. On May 27, Badr Al Nashi, the new secretary general of the Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM)—Kuwait's main Sunni Islamist group and historically a leading opponent of women's suffrage—announced that he is not opposed to the bill, and said that the group is reviewing its position on the matter. The extent of support for Al Nashi's views within the ICM, or among Islamist members of parliament in general, remains unclear. As for cabinet members—Kuwait's 15 ministers have the right to cast votes alongside the 50 assembly members—only one has so far expressed his opposition. Several ministers opposed the 1999 legislation. Since the cabinet did not give the bill expedited status, the Assembly is unlikely to take action on it before October (the present session ends on June 27). Kuwait is the only country in the world that holds elections in which only men can vote. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates do not hold elections of any kind.
Reforms in Qatar...
The tiny Gulf state of Qatar has witnessed several developments on the political reform front recently. On June 8, Qatar's leader, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, announced that the country's new constitution, approved by Qataris in an April 2003 referendum, will come into effect on June 8, 2005. The constitution establishes a 45-member parliament, the Shura Council, with limited legislative powers. Qataris will vote for its 30 elected members by next June. Last month, the Emir promulgated new laws on professional associations and labor unions. The Associations Law streamlines the operating requirements for professional associations, although it forbids affiliation with groups outside Qatar and prohibits non-Qataris from founding such associations. The Labor Law allows workers to form trade unions and to strike, but limits union leadership positions to Qataris. Some 80 percent of Qatar's 690,000 residents are foreign workers.
... and the Doha Conference on Democracy and Reform
Qatar also hosted the Middle East's latest gathering of democracy advocates. More than 100 civil society activists, professors, journalists, and political party members from across the region met June 3-4 in Doha for a conference sponsored by Qatar University's Gulf Studies Center. The final statement, "The Doha Declaration for Democracy and Reform," demands that all Arab countries adopt modern, democratic constitutions; hold free, fair and regular elections; place limits on executive power; guarantee freedom of association and expression; permit the full participation of women in political life; and end extra-judicial procedures, emergency laws, and torture. It also calls for the creation of a body to monitor Arab governments' progress on reform and to track the fate of other reform initiatives launched recently in Alexandria, Beirut and Sanaa. Finally, the declaration states that "hiding behind the necessity of resolving the Palestinian question before implementing reform is obstructive and unacceptable," a stance that the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, also expressed in his opening speech to the conference.
Local Elections in Lebanon
Lebanese municipal elections, only the second in 40 years, took place in May. As municipalities have limited powers, the significance of the elections lay in their role as a test of political factions' strength ahead of the November 2004 presidential election and the May 2005 parliamentary elections. The event produced two important results in this regard. First, candidates backed by Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri had mixed success. Hariri's slate won all 24 seats of Beirut's municipal council, defeating candidates backed by his rival, President Emile Lahoud. The very low turnout, however, cast doubt on the extent of Hariri's influence in the capital. Moreover, the slate backed by Hariri in Sidon, his hometown, lost badly. Some observers believe that these results may weaken Hariri's ability to block an extension of Lahoud's term. Syria, which maintains some 20,000 troops in Lebanon and effectively controls the country's affairs, reportedly wants the Lebanese parliament to revise the constitution to extend Lahoud's term by three years. Second, the Shiite party Hizbollah made gains against its Shiite rival, Amal. According to unofficial results (an official tally has not been released by the Ministry of Interior), Hizbollah won about 60 percent of municipalities in the South, while Amal won 30 percent. In the 1998 elections, Hizbollah won 55 percent of councils and Amal won 45 percent of southern municipalities.
The United States Reports on Middle East Democracy Promotion
On May 17, the U.S. Department of State published Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record, its second annual report on democracy promotion activities abroad. The 2003 Foreign Relations Authorization Act requires the State Department to inform Congress annually about U.S. efforts to encourage respect for human rights and democracy in the 101 countries and entities with the "worst" human rights records. The report describes U.S. diplomatic efforts and aid programs in the region, such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative, that "strengthen independent trade unions, increase respect for the rule of law, strengthen participation in the political process, improve the status of women, and promote a regional dialogue on democracy." The report also outlines the political situation in 14 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. It cites the "positive trends toward democratization" in Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, and Yemen, but states that the "overall trends in the region are cause for concern."
Commentator Ali Ibrahim praises the recent Arab League summit in Tunis in a May 24 op-ed in pan-Arab Ash-Sharq Al Awsat. Ibrahim writes that the summit constituted the League's first serious discussion of human rights, women's rights, political participation, and civil society. In contrast, Ayman Al Sayyad, editor of the Egyptian magazine Wijhat Nazar, contends in a May 22 article on Al Jazeera's website that the summit raised more questions than it answered and lacked any new thinking on reform.
Tunisian writer Salah Al Din Al Jurshi analyses the upsurge in Arab civil society meetings in a May 18 op-ed article in pan-Arab Al Hayat. Many civil society groups have adopted a new strategy of trying to influence the proceedings of Arab government conclaves, such as the Tunis summit, by holding concurrent, high-profile meetings of their own, Al Jurshi writes. This is a positive development, even if relations between the two sides are still marked by a lack of trust. Lebanese analyst Karim Mroue takes a dimmer view. He argues in a May 29 op-ed article in Al Hayat that civil society meetings have had no impact, and that questions must be asked about their purpose and sources of funding.
Kuwait's parliament is likely to approve the new bill granting women political rights, writes Kuwait analyst Iqbal Al Ahmed in a May 25 op-ed article in Ash-Sharq Al Awsat. Al Ahmed argues that the Kuwaiti government will need to push the bill to prove to the international community that it is serious about reform. Furthermore, some members of Kuwait's Sunni Islamist movement—which has long opposed women's rights—seem inclined to support the bill, Al Ahmed writes, in part because they believe that newly-enfranchised women will vote for their candidates.
The Egyptian government may be reassessing its long-standing opposition to organized Islamist participation in politics, contends Egyptian analyst Kamal Habib in a June 6 op-ed article posted on Al Jazeera's website. A fresh wave of arrests of Muslim Brotherhood activists in May has coincided with a new attempt by the Wasat party, a moderate Islamist party, to gain legal status. The government rejected a similar request in 1996 and 1998, but may grant it this time in order to marginalize the Brotherhood and to placate Western governments that are calling for reform.
Al Masri Al Yowm ('The Egyptian Today'), a new liberal-oriented Egyptian newspaper, published its first issue on June 7. Backed by a group of leading Egyptian businessmen, Al Masri Al Yowm is the first independent political daily to be licensed in Egypt since 1954. Anwar Al Hawari, a journalist and political analyst, serves as editor. Hisham Kassem, publisher of the English-language Cairo Times and chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, is the publisher. The paper will be available on-line beginning in September.
A new report by the International Crisis Group, "The Broader Middle East Initiative: Imperiled at Birth" (ICG Middle East Briefing, June 7, 2004), traces the evolution of the initiative and examines Arab and European responses to it. The report concludes that the initiative can succeed in helping to address deep-rooted political, economic, and social problems in Arab countries only if the United States takes steps to produce a calmer regional environment in which indigenous reform efforts could take root?specifically, the United States should re-engage on Arab-Israeli peace.
The United States has failed to apply important lessons from past attempts at nation building to the reconstruction of Iraq, argues Karin Von Hippel in her May 2004 article, "Forgotten Lessons in Iraq," published on the website of the Madrid-based research center FRIDE (Foundation for International Relations and External Dialogue). Vali Nasr's new article, "Regional Implications of Shia Revival in Iraq" (The Washington Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 3, Summer 2004, 7-24) posits that a Shiite-led regime in Baghdad, and the broader Shiite cultural revival in Iraq, will tip the regional balance of power in favor of Shiites but will also strengthen radical Sunni movements.
The new issue of Middle East Policy features articles on reform in Jordan, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. Curtis R. Ryan and Jillian Schwedler contend in "Return to Democratization or New Hybrid Regime? The 2003 Elections in Jordan" (Middle East Policy, vol. 11, no. 2, Summer 2004, 138-51) that last year's parliamentary elections represented "a cosmetic exercise to placate the opposition and please international creditors." Jordan's government is not democratizing, they write, but is instead a "hybrid regime, where democratic practices are present but shallow, and where power remains in essentially the same hands as prior to liberalization." J.E. Peterson explores recent political developments in Oman, including the sensitive issue of who will succeed Sultan Qabus bin Said Al Said as ruler in "Oman: Three and a Half Decades of Change and Development" (Middle East Policy, vol. 11, no. 2, Summer 2004, 125-37). Fatma Al Sayegh's "Post-9/11 Changes in the Gulf: The Case of the United Arab Emirates"(Middle East Policy, vol. 11, no. 2, Summer 2004, 107-24) explains that the attacks of September 11, 2001 gave new urgency to discussions about constitutional and educational reform in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Al Sayegh argues that restructuring the UAE's political system will be "laden with difficulties," but is nonetheless feasible.
Maye Kassem's new book, Egyptian Politics: The Dynamics of Authoritarian Rule (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2004), analyzes why authoritarian rule has endured in Egypt since the 1950s. Kassem explores how the presidency emerged as the central structure of state patronage and control, and assesses the role of political parties, elections, civil society, and Islamist politics in maintaining Egypt's authoritarian system. The rise of Arab satellite channels and their impact on media freedom across the Middle East is the subject of Saeda Al Kilani's new study, Freedom Fries—Fried Freedoms: Arab Satellite Channels Struggle between State Control and Western Pressure (Amman, Jordan: Arab Archives Institute, 2004).
Finally, three new journal articles assess the U.S. policy of promoting democratic reform in the Middle East. Pushing quick steps toward democratization risks destabilizing the region and harming U.S. national interests, warn P. H. Liotta and James F. Miskel in "Dangerous Democracy? American Internationalism and the Greater Near East" (Orbis, vol. 48, no. 3, Summer 2004, 437-49). The authors propose that the United States should instead promote "adaptive democracy," which they define as the gradual expansion of political and individual rights without changing the actual structure of government.
Tamara Cofman Wittes, in "The Promise of Arab Liberalism" (Policy Review, no. 125, June and July 2004, 61-76), writes that America's democratization strategy lacks credibility, in part because it still relies too much on gradual liberalization by autocratic Arab governments. A successful U.S. policy will dovetail American interventions to the increasingly vocal demands of the Arab world's liberals. "A sustainable and successful policy is robust support of the emerging Arab liberals and the alternative future they represent," Wittes contends. Jon B. Alterman takes a diametrically opposed view in "The False Promise of Arab Liberals" (Policy Review, no. 125, June and July 2004, 77-86). Alterman argues that the United States should not place its democracy bets on liberal Arab elites. "They are not proving to be successful opinion leaders in their own communities, and closer ties to the West often serve to estrange them" and make them too dependent on outside support, he cautions. Instead, the United States should push for freedom of association "even for those whose views it finds despicable," and should work with "broader publics" including "nontraditional partners."
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