The central dilemma of Democratic reform in Arab countries can be summed up fairly simply. Presidents and kings remain too powerful, untrammeled by the limits imposed by effective parliaments and independent judiciaries. Countervailing institutions remain weak, if they exist at all, not only because constitutions and laws deliberately keep them that way, but also because they are not backed by organized citizens demanding political rights, participation, and government accountability. This does not mean that there is no desire for democracy on the part of Arab publics. The demand, or better the desire, for democracy is present in the Arab world today; what is lacking is a supply of broad-based political organizations pushing for democracy—political parties, social movements, labor unions, large civic organizations. Unless such constituencies develop, the future of democracy remains extremely uncertain.
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Also in the Middle East series:
Europe's Uncertain Pursuit of the Middle East, by Richard Youngs
Middle Eastern Democracy: Is Civil Society the Answer?, by Amy Hawthorne
Women's Rights and Democracy in the Arab World, by Marina Ottaway
Is Gradualism Possible? Choosing a Strategy for Promoting Democracy in the Middle East, by Thomas Carothers
Liberalization Versus Democracy: Understanding Arab Political Reform, by Daniel Brumberg
Promoting Democracy in the Middle East: The Problem of U.S. Credibility, by Marina Ottaway
About the Author
Marina Ottaway is senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment. She is the author of more then six books, including Democracy Challenged: The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism.