Published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Translated by Dar Al-Watan for Journalism, Printing and Publishing.

Michele Dunne, Editor
Julia Choucair, Assistant Editor

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Insights and Analysis

Interview with Saad Eddin Al Othmani, leader of Morocco's Party of Justice and Development 

Interview with Abul Ila Al Madi, Founding Member of Egypt's Wasat (Center) Party

Egypt: Stormy Elections Close a Turbulent Year
Hani Shukrallah

Iraq: Will Democracy Become a Habit?
Judith S. Yaphe

News and Views

Iraq: Parties and Platforms in Parliamentary Elections
Egypt: Parliamentary Election Results and Nour Trial
Palestine: Confusion in Fatah after Primaries, Final Round of Municipal Elections, Judicial Law Overturned
Jordan: Political Changes after Amman Attacks
United Arab Emirates: First Elections Announced
Yemen: Government Crackdown on Media
Saudi Arabia: Strategic Dialogue, First Women Elected
Morocco: Equity and Reconciliation Commission
Foundation and Fund for the Future Announced
Arab Public Opinion Poll on U.S. Foreign Policy
New Middle East Freedom Index
Upcoming Political Events
Views from the Arab Media


Read On

New publications in English and Arabic on Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Algeria, and the challenges of reform throughout the region.

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Insights and Analysis

Interview with Saad Eddin Al Othmani, leader of Morocco's Party of Justice and Development

The Party of Justice and Development (PJD) calls itself a civil party with an Islamic reference point. What does that mean?

We would compare it to Christian Democratic parties in Europe that base their platforms upon the principles of Christian faith although their platforms may be civil in nature. These parties make decisions according to civil political realities, but viewed through a Christian lens. It is the same with the PJD, which is a civil, Moroccan nationalist political party. It simply comes from an Islamic point of view, which is shared by the Moroccan people; we cannot envision a party that does otherwise.

Why does the Party's program not call for application of Islamic law (sharia)?

Sharia has evolved in both form and content over the centuries. Equality among human beings, justice, development, work, production of goods, and managing the affairs of society— these were all components of sharia. Unfortunately, many people have maligned the word sharia until it has come to signify only the punishments that appear in some texts, so we moved away from using it explicitly in our party's charter. But many of our efforts, such as combating bribery and corruption, are based in sharia.

How would the Party deal with a secular law that contradicted sharia?

We debate laws for a variety of reasons, not only because they might differ from sacred texts but because some of them are simply not successful or bring about the desired result. Often, such laws do not function in the interest of the nation; and the people, whatever their religious beliefs, have the choice of whether or not to implement them. One example might be Christians in the West who oppose gay marriage and oppose any related legislation; these are secular laws, not made on the basis of religion. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. This is the way of democracy.

What is the PJD's base of support?

All PJD members have been active for decades in cultural, intellectual, and volunteer organizations that focus on various social causes, such as eliminating illiteracy and providing social services. Our members belong primarily to the middle class. They also come from the cities, as opposed to rural areas where we have limited reach. The average age is between 35 and 40 years; this is young compared to other parties, and we have a youth movement that is continually uniting young people through organizations focusing on youth and student issues.

How has your participation in elections over the last decade affected the Party?

Without a doubt, the initial controversy in parliament and in society had considerable impact on the development of our thinking and on our policies concerning the party and its members. In the beginning we focused on articulating general principles. Over time we became more experienced and capable of evaluating government policy in a detailed way, as well as making political deals. This is progress, and we are looking to expand this expertise in the future.

How are you able to support the monarchy and democratic change at the same time?

The monarchy holds political power and also has the support of the Moroccan public. We feel that this does not contradict democracy; there are numerous monarchies in the democratic West. We must change the place of the monarchy within the political system and cultivate the relationship among the various powers, but the monarchy has always been one of many actors in the development of modern Morocco. I believe the next step in our political development should be enhanced cooperation between the monarch and other political actors. Naturally there will be disputes over some matters, such as the exact relationship of the king to government and government to parliament, the role of an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, and other political freedoms.

How did the May 2003 terrorist attacks in Morocco affect the PJD?

Following the events of May 2003, many in the political class showed its leftist inclinations by trying to exploit the opportunity to discredit the PJD, accusing it of having a hand in terrorism. We know this accusation arose because the Party is a new political actor that quickly became one of the five largest parties in Moroccan politics. Other parties wanted to maintain their monopoly and engaged in partisan games geared to exclude the PJD. We tried not to respond in kind, choosing instead to wait until the difficult time passed, for the benefit of the Moroccan people. We engaged other actors in internal talks, and it soon became clear to the government that the PJD could play an important role in marginalizing extremism in Moroccan society.

What is the Party's position on the Personal Status Code?

First, the Party did not oppose the law; rather it opposed a draft drawn up by a government official who was a former Communist. The problems of women are related to those of the family, and changes cannot be introduced into the institution of the family without addressing the needs of all its members. It is for this reason that we opposed the original draft. The PJD also participated in its own way in the social movement; we led a demonstration on March 19, 2000 that drew roughly 600,000 people. The King appointed a committee that solicited the views of political parties and organizations specializing in women's and family affairs, asking what they would like to change in the Personal Status Code, and the PJD contributed its views on the matter. There were intense debates about the law, and ultimately our wish was fulfilled when the law was renamed from the Personal Status Code to the Family Code.

What is the party's opinion of the new law on political parties?

It is a good law, as it stipulates that there be 200 prospective members to create a new party, instead of seven as it had been previously. It also includes provisions that all parties be internally democratic, include a certain percentage of young people and women in leadership structures, and practice transparency in management and finances. To this end, the National Accounting Council has been commissioned to oversee the revenue and expenses of the parties, as well as donations made to them, for party financing issues have plagued the system in the past.

Do you believe that the current reforms in Morocco and the Arab world are the product of U.S. pressure?

I believe that internal transformation is the basis for the changes made in Morocco, resulting from the interaction between different political powers. We cannot deny the role of external factors, but the reforms have not been simply imposed from outside. I think that current U.S. policy is incoherent and sometimes inconsistent in its push for reform; the United States calls for support of democracy and political reform but its behavior creates unfavorable situations that make such change much more difficult. Furthermore, the United States has a history of supporting dictatorial regimes, and still supports one today in Western Sahara. The U.S. administration cannot achieve its goals at our expense, and should seek to build trust and identify common interests through a cooperative dialogue.

Interview conducted by Amr Hamzawy , Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Translated from Arabic by Jeffrey Pool.

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Interview with Abul Ila Al Madi, Founding Member of Egypt's Wasat (Center) Party

[N.B. The Wasat Party is a group whose founders split from the Muslim Brotherhood in 1996 and has since then sought licensing as a political party. A final court ruling on the party is expected in February 2006.]

What is the Wasat Party's position on the Egyptian constitution's ban on political parties based on religion?

I support the ban. The problem lies in the definition of religious parties. The definition I have in mind is any party consisting of members of only one religion, or that subscribes to the idea of theocratic or clerical rule. The foundation of any party should be citizenship. We present ourselves as a civil party with an Islamic reference point. The party includes Egyptian Christians and favors equality between men and women. It welcomes women who wear the hijab and those who do not. Most importantly, we are firmly rooted in the idea of citizenship in practice.

The aim of the Wasat Party is to address a problem affecting the region for more than 50 years: what is the best means of integrating religion, especially sharia and Islamic principles, into public life? Here we are discussing a modern understanding of sharia, for in Islam there are general guidelines for such matters. In some cases, there are specific instructions about such as matters of marriage and divorce. But regarding general matters of governance—for example the Islamic principle of shura does not specify whether a system should have a unicameral or bicameral legislature or even whether the system should be presidential or parliamentary. Any of these comport fully with the principle of shura, which calls for the participation of the people in decision making. How best to implement the principle depends on human expertise and the experiences of Islamic culture. Islamic civilization is like any other, and shares the idea of peaceful settlement with other cultures, movements, and ideologies without foolish hostility and aggression.

Our friends in the Party for Justice and Development in Morocco and Turkey are linked to the concept behind the Wasat, which launched in January 1996. It began as an effort, which lasted from 1986 to 1996, by some experienced members of the Islamist movement to develop the movement from within. We faced many obstacles but decided to go out on our own because changing large organizations from within is difficult.

What are the differences between your program and that of the Muslim Brotherhood regarding political and economic matters?

The Brotherhood has two trends, one of which is reformist and open-minded (similar to us) and another that is more rigid and unfortunately represents the controlling majority. We distinguish between missionary (da'wa) and political activities, because mixing the two is extremely dangerous, threatening both the nation and religious groups themselves. We are calling for the separation of the two missions—which is what makes us a civil party—while the Muslim Brotherhood combines the two. The second difference is the Brotherhood's ambiguous vision of an Islamic state. There is also their fear of democracy. Even if they call for democracy they do not really believe in it, as is clear from their practices within the group.

And there is another problem related to the Brotherhood's long operation as an illegal organization, during which they never tried seriously to become legal. Although they say they want to be a party but the state will not permit it, the real question is whether the Brotherhood will be transformed into a party, or whether there will just be a party alongside the Brotherhood. Most in the Brotherhood leadership favor the latter. In addition there are members known to the public who have no decision making powers, and others not known to the public who do, another symptom of the mingling of political and religious missions.

Will Muslim Brothers stand as Wasat Party candidates in future elections if your party is licensed?

The biggest problem is that those who are involved in politics—not more than one million Egyptians total—tend to be split between the National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood. This means there are over 70 million who are politically unaffiliated or inactive. We need not struggle over those who are already affiliated; we are targeting those without a group, and anyone who shares our convictions will be welcomed. We object to the Brotherhood's recruitment system, which focuses on quantity rather than quality of recruits. The number fitting our criteria in the Brotherhood is not large, and if any of them would like to join the Wasat Party we will accept them.

In our first attempt to form the Wasat Party, most of the founders were from the Brotherhood. In the second attempt, there was a balance in our membership between those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and those who were not. By the third attempt, not more than seven percent of the founding members came from the Brotherhood—a new cross section of political life.

What is the Party's viewpoint on the current political and economic situation in Egypt ?

We see the crisis in Egypt being solved by taking three principal steps:

First, comprehensive democratic transformation is essential. We need a regime elected through a free and transparent process, meaning that the president must be elected from a level playing field of all candidates for the office.

Second, we need a qualified and capable president and government. We have long suffered a lack of competent authority, and this is a real problem. Ability to lead must come before ideology, and Egypt has many who are capable. The problem is that the people in charge are wholly unqualified.

Third, to confront the widespread corruption that plagues many of our country's institutions we must call on all public servants to commit to accountability and fiscal oversight. This should apply to all, from the president of the republic to the humblest bureaucrat, all of whom should be limited to two terms in office.

Will internal and external pressures drive further reforms in Egypt ? Also, is there an internal debate inside Egyptian movements and parties with respect to relations with the West?

Certainly external pressure is not the principal factor, but it is important. The key is internal pressure, and among the principal levers for this pressure is the Kifaya movement. There is a growing sector of the population that desires reform, although it has not yet had any tangible effect, despite the anger pervading the streets of Egypt. How can we translate that anger into a force for change? In this matter we need time.

What is your opinion of recent U.S. calls for reform in the Arab world?

 Despite my skepticism about the intentions behind such statements, we cannot deny they deserve a good deal of the credit for the progress made so far. Unfortunately, U.S. actions send a different message. The first promotes political opposition, while the other shows support for the ruling power. I have never understood this dichotomy, and I have said as much to U.S. officials. How is it that they can object to repression of the opposition, but support amendments to the constitution and laws that provide for distorted presidential and parliamentary elections? Clearly there is still U.S. encouragement of undemocratic practices, which is difficult to reconcile with U.S. statements.

Interview conducted by Amr Hamzawy , Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Translated from Arabic by Jeffrey Pool.

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Egypt: Stormy Elections Close a Turbulent Year

Hani Shukrallah

The headline of the state-owned newspaper Al Ahram described December 7 (the last day of voting in Egypt's month-long, three-stage parliamentary election) as “the most violent day” of the election. The independent daily Al Masry Al Yom went a bit further. Under photos of mayhem that could have been shot in Nablus or Ramallah, the newspaper declared that “Egypt can now breathe a sigh of relief. The elections officially ended yesterday.” Its tongue-in-cheek banner read in bold letters: “Ceasefire.”

The November 9-December 9 parliamentary elections were to have been the pinnacle of a year during which political reform and democratization overwhelmingly topped the nation's agenda and dominated public discourse. They have proven anti-climactic to say the least. In terms of violence, thuggery, chaotic and manipulated voter lists, police repression, intervention and coercion by state bodies, flagrant vote buying and vote rigging, this year's poll rivals the worst elections the nation has seen since the uniquely free parliamentary poll of 1976. And while ballot-stuffing has been rendered more difficult in general as a result of judicial supervision, there have been numerous well-documented instances of the most barefaced rigging of the results, on occasion with judicial complicity, and more often in flagrant disregard for the judiciary, including threats of violence and actual physical attacks on judges.

The most prominent form of electoral misconduct this time around, however, was to attack the electorate itself. Hired thugs, many of them absurdly wielding swords, provided the overriding image of the 2005 poll. The evidence overwhelmingly pointed to candidates of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), including renegade members running against the official party ticket, as the real culprits behind the rampaging thugs. Invariably, the police stood by while the NDP-supporting thugs attacked and intimidated voters. In the later stages of the poll, the police abandoned even the pretense of a neutral posture. They prevented voters from casting their ballots by laying siege to polling stations, as well as to whole villages and urban districts in which opposition (mostly Muslim Brotherhood) candidates enjoyed strong bases of support, leading to violent confrontations between anti-riot squads and angry opposition supporters. With at least ten dead and scores injured, one human rights organization compared NDP and police behavior in stage three of the election to operations “Desert Storm” and “Desert Shield” combined.

Moreover, results of the 2005 poll underline the conclusion that the Egyptian political system is in deep crisis. For the first time in Egyptian parliamentary history, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood seized 88 seats of the People's Assembly, accounting for 20 percent of a total of 432 races concluded so far (polling has been postponed by judicial order in six constituencies, accounting for the remaining 12 elected seats; President Mubarak has appointed another ten). And although the NDP has maintained its overwhelming majority in parliament, easily crossing the two-thirds mark needed to pass constitutional amendments by seizing 311 seats (73 percent of the total), a closer look at the numbers reveals a ruling party that seems to be coming apart at seams. In fact, the official ticket of the NDP—notwithstanding the rigging, violence and intimidation—met with resounding failure, with 287 NDP candidates having lost their races, giving the ruling party's official ticket a success ratio of 34 percent. The NDP only gained its majority by reinstating renegade members who ran as independents against official party candidates.

No less serious has been the equally resounding failure of the legal, secular (or semi-secular) opposition, with the Wafd Party winning a mere six seats, the leftist Tagammu two, the Nasserist Karama (not yet licensed) two, and one seat to a breakaway faction from the Ghad Party. All legal opposition party leaders failed to win back their seats, including the Arab Nasserist Party's Diaaeddin Dawoud, Tagammu's Khaled Mohieddin and Al Ghad's Ayman Nour.

Is Egypt's political future destined, then, to hang between the decaying and crumbling semi-secular authoritarianism of the NDP and the rising, and considerably more vigorous, Islamist authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood? It is too early to tell. For the time being, however, the proverbial Cairo spring has proved to be just as fleeting as that much sung season invariably is in our desert-besieged valley. As 2005 draws to a close, it is autumn—at the outset of which 77-year old President Hosni Mubarak embarked on his fifth six-year term at the nation's helm—that seems to provide a more fitting metaphor for the paroxysms and transformations that grip the Egyptian polity. It is in terms of decay, and not yet renewal—the twilight of an era, rather than the advent of a new one—that the sea change in the political life of Egypt over the past year can be made intelligible.

Hani Shukrallah is an Egyptian journalist and former editor of Al Ahram Weekly.

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Iraq: Will Democracy Become a Habit?

Judith S. Yaphe

Each of Iraq's three elections in 2005 has been a landmark event: the first free and transparent election on January 30, the first referendum to approve a constitution on October 15, and now the first election to choose a permanent government on December 15. Iraq has acquired the trappings of democracy, including a parliament, elected government, free press, and the outlines of democratic institutions. It also has deep-seated sectarian and ethnic rivalries, unstable political alliances, closed-door deals, institutionalized corruption, and cronyism, which also sometimes occur in democracies.

Iraqis have high hopes that the constitution and relatively open elections will usher in a new age of peace, end the insurgencies, and provide greater security and an exit strategy for the occupiers. Under the current provisional government of President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari, the federal government has been at near total loggerheads, with no ability to restrain the greed of its ministers and no attempt to prevent politicization of all government offices and actions. But each faction has already articulated a set of non-negotiable demands regarding the new government to be created:

  • The Shiite community, representing approximately 55 to 60 percent of the population, demands majority rule and a ban on Baathists in government; some also favor creating an autonomous state from the nine provinces where they form the majority. To reach consensus on the adoption of the constitution, they agreed on a compromise that Islam would be a source of the law. They have allied themselves with the Kurdish factions on several parliamentary issues, but the Shiites are not a monolithic bloc, and those favoring secular government have joined new political parties.

  • Kurds have been particularly strident in declaring virtual autonomy for the three northern provinces where they form the majority. They are determined to retain a strong provincial authority and a weak central government, preserve their militias, and keep non-Kurdish military or security forces out of their territory. Defeated in their bid to insert a map of an expanded Kurdistan (including Kirkuk and the oilfields) in the referendum, they are proceeding with their plan of pushing Arabs out of the Kirkuk region and signing contracts to develop the northern oilfields. They prefer a secular Iraq with no ex-Baathists, but in reality care little what happens outside the territory they claim in the north. The Kurds, who are approximately 20 percent of the population but hold 35 percent of the seats in the interim parliament, are pushing hard to achieve their demands now, realizing they will be fewer in the new assembly.

  • The significant number of Sunni Arabs who registered for the parliamentary election, plus the change to elections by district, suggest Sunnis (20 percent of the Iraqi population) might hold as many seats as Kurds in the new assembly. Sunni Arabs want Iraq identified as an Arab and Islamic nation, with a strong military and a national government in control of all natural resources. They oppose creating “states” out of provinces, and want to ban all militias and end de-Baathification except for those accused of specific crimes. Some of these demands were incorporated in the Cairo meeting of Iraqi factions and the Arab League in Cairo in November, which could open the way to a conference for national reconciliation next spring.

Another critical task for the new government to be formed will be building stable and transparent governance based on merit and not on cronyism. No one expects Iraq to be perfect; but it would be desirable if corruption could be contained to avoid breaking the government, looting the treasury, or diverting oil revenues to private profit. This would require a stronger central government than the current constitution permits; independent watchdogs to monitor government agents and agencies; and an independent judiciary.

While the balance of forces in the new parliament is not yet certain, what is clear is that democracy in Iraq is a work in progress. Iraq's politics will be diverse, with religious and non-religious parties arguing for or against secular rule, and parties based on ethnic, tribal, or class distinctions. They will form alliances based on issues, and not always on ethnic or religious identity. A successful democratic process will not change the security situation in Iraq in the short term, but it may lead to the creation of political institutions and partnerships that can bring the violence under control. Political haggling, temporary alliances, and trading support are what make democracy democracy; it is imperfect, it is messy, it is even unfair, but the alternatives are so much worse. Ask an Iraqi.

Judith Yaphe is a Senior Fellow at National Defense University's Institute for National Strategic Studies. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the University, the Department of Defense, or any other government agency.

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News and Views

Iraq: Parties and Platforms in Parliamentary Elections

More than 7,700 candidates ran as independents or as members of political parties in 19 coalitions in December 15 elections for the first full-term Iraqi parliament since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. The 275-member assembly will serve four years and form a new government. Results are expected in late December.

Major political alliances resemble dominant groupings in January 2004 elections, but new groups have also entered the scene. The elections will be contested by a major Sunni alliance known as the Iraqi Concord Front, composed of three Sunni parties that boycotted the January elections: the Iraqi People's Gathering, the Iraqi National Dialogue, and the Iraqi Islamic Party. The list calls for withdrawing U.S. troops, amending the constitution, and releasing all “detainees and prisoners of war.” The Iraqi Front for National Dialogue led by Saleh Al Mutlaq, a secular Sunni businessman with reported links to Sunni insurgents, will also participate. The participation of Sunni parties will probably guarantee greater representation of Sunni Arabs, who currently occupy only 6 percent of parliamentary seats.

The United Iraqi Alliance retains its position as the main Shiite list. It is not expected to win an outright majority on its own this time (it took nearly half of the 275 seats in the transitional parliament). Led by Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, it is composed of 18 Shiite Islamist groups including the three major Shiite movements: the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Dawa party, and the movement led by Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr. The list has promised to crack down on the insurgency and corruption after criticism of its failure to handle both issues during its ten months in office. Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, has not explicitly backed the alliance.

The Kurdistan Alliance is still the main Kurdish bloc, composed of eight groups but dominated by Iraqi President's Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party. Its priority is maximizing the autonomy of the Kurdish region and controlling the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, which has a mixed Kurdish, Arab, and Turkmen population. It is also expected to win fewer seats than the 75 it currently has and it will face competition from the Kurdistan Islamic Union, an Islamist group that has left the alliance.

Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi continues to lead the secular Iraqi National List, although he expanded it to include Sunni figures as well as communists and liberals. The list calls for national unity and an open Iraqi society that renounces sectarianism in political work. It also advocates revising the de-Baathification laws to return more former officers in the Iraqi army to the new security forces. Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi also leads a secular party, the National Congress for Iraq. It stresses the need for Iraq to regain full sovereignty and fight the insurgency by improving intelligence. The Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq includes complete lists of candidates.

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Egypt: Parliamentary Election Results and Nour Trial

Official results of the November/December elections for the People's Assembly (the lower house of parliament) are as follows:

National Democratic Party 311 seats
Muslim Brotherhood independents 88 seats
Unaffiliated independents 22 seats
Wafd Party 6 seats
Tagammu Party 2 seats
Karama Party independents 2 seats
Ghad Party dissidents 1 seat
Postponed races 12 seats
Appointees 10 seats

Total 454 seats

According to the electoral commission, 26 percent of eligible voters participated in the elections, which were held on a winner-take-all system, with two candidates (one of whom had to be a worker or farmer) elected in each district.

Election monitors organized by civil society groups reported numerous violations, particularly in the second and third rounds. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights complained of NDP-organized violence to discourage opposition voters and criticized the Egyptian authorities for closing off many polling stations. Click here for detailed reports by the organization on electoral irregularities. The Independent Committee on Election Monitoring, a coalition of sixteen NGOs led by the Ibn Khaldun Center for Human Rights, condemned the arrest of opposition candidates and reported that election observers were denied access to polling stations. An earlier joint statement by the National Campaign for Monitoring Elections, the Shadow Committee for Monitoring Elections, and the Civil Society Election Monitoring Observatory reported incidents of voter-coercion and vote-buying. Media watchdog groups such as Reporters without Borders voiced alarm at attacks on journalists covering the elections by security forces.

President Hosni Mubarak appointed ten additional members to the People's Assembly, including five Christians and five women, and will address the new People's Assembly and the Shura Council on December 17. Mubarak is also expected to reshuffle the cabinet by the end of December.

Ayman Nour, leader of the Liberal Al Ghad Party, was jailed once again on December 6, along with several other defendants. His trial on charges of forging signatures on his party's application for licensing is due to conclude December 24. Nour, who recently lost his parliamentary seat to a former security officer backed by the ruling NDP, has begun a hunger strike to protest his treatment.

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Palestine: Confusion in Fatah after Primaries, Final Round of Municipal Elections, Judicial Law Overturned

There was confusion in the Palestinian Fatah party following the primaries due to a dispute over candidates for the January 25 Palestinian Legislative Council elections. Held in two rounds between November 25 and December 3, the primaries marked a major victory for Fatah's young guard leadership, led by jailed leader Marwan Barghouti. Barghouti, who received 95 percent of votes in Ramallah, demanded  the top slot on Fatah 's list. Angered by President Mahmoud Abbas's decision to include senior members in the final electoral list even though lost their races, Barghouti presented his own list to the Palestinian Central Election Committee shortly before the December 14 deadline for registering candidates. Barghouti's Al Mustaqbal (Future) list includes prominent Fatah members such as Mohammad Dahlan, Jibril Rajoub Kadoura Fares, and Samir Masharawi. There were reports, however, that Fatah also placed Barghouti at the top of its official list. It is unclear how the Central Elections Commission will respond to Barghouti's name appearing on both lists. Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie resigned on December 15 to run for a parliamentary seat on Fatah's list.

The Fatah primaries were marked by violence and violations of voting procedures, with voting in Hebron, Jerusalem, Tulkarem, Salfit, and Rafah aborted. Losers from the primaries challenged the validity of the results in nearly every district.

Hamas also announced its list of candidates on December 14.  Headed by Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's List for Change and Reform consists of 62 members, many of whom are academics, physicians, and university professors, and includes prominent Hamas leaders such as Mahmoud Zahar. Some independent lists have also been formed, such as that of Salam Fayyad, the recently resigned finance minister, activist Hanan Ashrawi, and Yasser Abd Rabbo. Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestine Initiative party who ran in the presidential elections, also formed his own list. The election campaign is scheduled to begin on January 3.

The final phase of municipal elections began on December 15 in several West Bank cities and Gaza amid tight competition between Hamas and Fatah. Competition is centered on the West Bank's  largest cities of Nablus, Ramallah, Beira and Jenin, and in three small towns in Gaza . Observers believe the poll will give clear indications about balance of power between Hamas and Fatah ahead of the legislative elections. Phased municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza have been going on for almost a year.

In the latest episode of the ongoing rivalry between the Palestinian judiciary and the executive, the Palestinian High Court overturned the 2005 Judiciary Law on November 27. Claiming jurisdiction as a constitutional court, the High Court declared the Judiciary Law unconstitutional because it contravenes the Palestinian Basic Law. The Judiciary Law changed the composition of the judicial council and the appointment procedure for the attorney general in order to transfer authority from the judicial council (which has been accused of abusing its power) to the Ministry of Justice. The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and several Palestinian nongovernmental organizations claim the High Court's decision is illegitimate because it is not entitled to look into constitutional appeals. They also accuse the court of acting on personal motives; the law diminishes the power of those who currently dominate the High Court. This is the first time a piece of PLC legislation has been declared unconstitutional. Click here for more information on the debate.

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Jordan: Political Changes after Amman Attacks

Significant political changes have taken place in Jordan following the terrorist attacks in Amman on November 9. After dismissing many of his security advisers and dissolving the 55-member senate, King Abdullah appointed a new cabinet on November 27. Prime Minister Ahmad Badran was replaced by General Marouf Al Bakhit, a change many observers believe signals the government's new focus on security. In response to fears that the new security-oriented government will ignore political reforms, King Abdullah's letter of designation calls for a rapid passage of new political laws governing elections and political parties. Prime Minister Bakhit's reply affirmed the government is “committed to placing reform as a top priority” and that it will “maintain a balance between safeguarding security and preserving public freedoms.” Bakhit also pledged to follow the National Agenda that was presented to the King on November 23 after a long delay. The new 23-member cabinet includes fourteen new ministers and nine ministers from the previous cabinet. Click here for a complete list of the new cabinet. There is also speculation about an impending dissolution of parliament.

The government is drafting new anti-terrorism legislation that, according to Interior Ministry officials, will set harsh penalties for anyone who condones or supports acts of terror and will allow authorities to hold any terror suspect indefinitely. Interior Minister Awni Yervas said the new legislation is based on British laws and laws in some Arab states.

New media legislation is also pending. The king will be presented with an amendment of the 1998 Press Association Law that seeks to abolish the provision that prohibits anyone from practicing as a journalist unless they are a member of the Jordanian Press Association. The press association, which is dominated by journalists in media companies that are wholly or partially government-owned, has the authority to punish or expel journalists who express opinions deemed unacceptable under the association's rules.

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United Arab Emirates: First Elections Announced

For the first time in its history, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will hold elections for public office. On December 1 President Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan announced that half of the members of the Federal National Council (FNC), the closest body the country has to a parliament, will be indirectly elected. The ruler of each of the seven emirates will form local assemblies which will then elect half the FNC members from among themselves. It is unclear how the local assembly members will be chosen. The other half of the council's members will continue to be appointed by the leaders of the emirates. The 40-member FNC serves in an advisory capacity and lacks legislative powers. No date has been set for elections. The UAE is the only country among the six Gulf Cooperation Council members that has yet to hold any form of elections.

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Yemen: Government Crackdown on Media

 Yemeni authorities are clamping down on media activity, according to local and international media watchdog groups. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists cites several cases of defamation lawsuits and legal harassment of opposition and independent newspapers in the past month, including the closure of opposition weekly Al Tajammu for six months. Many journalists have also been physically attacked and threatened in recent months for investigating corruption.

The deterioration of press freedom comes as the Yemeni government is preparing to push its draft Press and Publications Law through the Shura Council. The revision to the 1990 law was set in motion in 2004 when President Saleh called for the abolition of prison sentences for journalists. The Yemen Journalists Syndicate opposes the draft law on the grounds that it is even more restrictive than the existing bill. While it eliminates imprisonment of journalists, it still allows journalists to be prosecuted under the penal code, which sanctions prison terms for libeling Yemen's president or foreign leaders. It also allows courts to sentence journalists to death. Click here for a detailed commentary on the draft law by the media advocacy group ARTICLE 19. Observers believe recent restrictions on the media aim at stopping critical reporting, including on the issue of whether President Saleh will honor his pledge to step down next year.

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Saudi Arabia: Strategic Dialogue, First Women Elected

The United States and Saudi Arabia inaugurated a strategic dialogue on November 13 to expand cooperation on six issues: counterterrorism, military affairs, energy, business, education and human development, and consular affairs. According to U.S. officials, the dialogue aspires to institutionalize meetings at the senior level in order to address problems that now rely heavily on personal relationships and ad hoc contacts. Political reform is not on the agenda for the dialogue.

In a separate development, two Saudi women, Lama Sulaiman and Nashwa Taher, won seats on the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce on November 30. These are the first elections in Saudi Arabia that allowed women to vote and run for office.

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Morocco: Equity and Reconciliation Commission

After two years of investigations, the Moroccan Equity and Reconciliation Commission, presented its findings on human rights abuses committed between 1956 and 1999 to King Mohummad VI. Established by the king in January 2004, the commission will determine the forms and amounts of reparation the state is to provide the 30,000 applicants. A November 28 report by Human Rights Watch offers the Moroccan authorities recommendations on handling the commission's findings.

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Foundation and Fund for the Future Announced

Two new foundations to promote political and economic reform in the Middle East were established at the second meeting of the Forum for the Future held in Bahrain on November 11-12. The Foundation for the Future will provide grants to local nongovernmental organizations and the Fund for the Future will provide loans to small businesses in the region. Both will be financed by the United States and by European and Arab governments, but managed by independent boards of directors from the region. The Foundation for the Future will be launched with $50 million in capital, $35 million coming from the U.S. government. The Fund for the Future, which has a target capitalization of $100 million, will focus initial efforts on small enterprises in Egypt and Morocco. Both countries have pledged $20 million to the fund's startup capital and the U.S. has pledged $50 million.

The meeting failed to release a final declaration, partly due to the Egyptian government's disagreement over the language. Egyptian officials pressed for stipulations that only organizations legally registered with their governments would be funded by the Foundation for the Future. Saudi Arabia and Oman initially supported Egypt, but then agreed to take out language that would have given them control over the grants. Founded by the Group of Eight Industrialized Nations (G-8) at their June 2004 summit, the forum has become the centerpiece of the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative. The first Forum for the Future meeting was held in Morocco in December 2004.

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Arab Public Opinion Poll on U.S. Foreign Policy

The majority of Arabs doubt that spreading democracy is the real U.S. objective in the region, according to a new public opinion poll, Arab Attitudes towards Political and Social Issues, Foreign Policy and the Media.” Conducted jointly by Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, and Zogby International in October 2005, the survey's findings include the following: 77 percent of those surveyed say Iraqis are worse off now than before the war began in 2003; 58 percent believe the U.S. intervention has produced less democracy in Iraq; 78 percent think there is more terrorism because of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The survey, which was released on December 2, also finds that Al Jazeera is the most popular television network for international news, favored by 45 percent of those polled.

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New Middle East Freedom Index

A new Economist Intelligence Unit lists Lebanon, Morocco, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories as the most democratic Arab countries. On the other hand, Libya received the lowest rating, below Syria and Saudi Arabia. The index ranks 20 countries in the Middle East based on 15 indicators of political and civil liberties. Click here for the complete ranking released November 18.

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Upcoming Political Events

  • Iraq: Parliamentary election results, new government, late December

  • Egypt: Verdict in trial of Ayman Nour, December 24; cabinet reshuffle expected late December

  • Palestine: Palestinian Legislative Council elections, January 25, 2006

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Views from the Arab Media

The results of the Egyptian parliamentary elections prompted lively debate in the Arab media. In a December 11 op-ed article in Al Sharq Al Awsat, Abd Al Rahman Al Rashed laments the Muslim Brothers' strong showing and blames the Egyptian government for not attempting to dissipate the Brothers' influence earlier. He argues that the government should have followed the example of other countries that included Islamists at a time when they were not powerful enough to attempt to change the rules of the political game. By contrast, a commentary by Amr Hamzawy in Al Sharq Al Awsat on December 10 takes a more positive outlook. Hamzawy argues that although the Muslim Brothers' discourse on political reform has several undefined areas, their practices in syndicates and student unions in the past two decades show that they respect democratic procedures.

In a December 12 article in Al Hayat, Syrian writer Marwan Qabalan argues that the strong showing of the Muslim Brothers in the elections is representative of a regional trend. Islamist movements are on the rise in many Arab countries, a reality that is now accepted by the U.S. government. The United States is beginning to regard moderate Islamist political parties as a legitimate force in the region because they provide an alternative to dictatorial regimes on one hand and extremists on the other. On their side, Islamists are meeting the United States halfway by emphasizing their commitment to democracy.

Writing in Egypt's Al Ahram on December 12, Mohammad Al Sayyid Said identifies three areas that will indicate Egypt's political direction after the parliamentary elections. First, Egypt needs new local government legislation that decentralizes power, increases popular participation, and encourages the development of a new political class. Second, the emergency law must be abolished and political prisoners reintegrated into society. Finally, there is an immediate need for constitutional reform to improve civil and public liberties, ensure a balanced relationship between the executive and legislative branches, and achieve the independence of the judiciary.

Al Jazeera's political debate show Ma Wara al Khabar (Behind the News) featured a December 4 discussion on the U.S. government's reaction to the Egyptian elections. Muhammad Mursi, former leader of the Muslim Brothers' bloc in the Egyptian parliament, stated that the Egyptian authorities' blatant attempt to undermine the Muslim Brothers in the elections is an internal issue that should be discussed without any external interference, particularly from the United States which lacks any credibility. Walid Phares, from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, asserted that opposition movements in Egypt, and the Muslim Brothers in particular, should acknowledge that U.S. pressure has allowed them a greater political space. Mursi responded that the fundamental issue is not the pressure itself but its underlying goals. Wahid Abdul Magid, from the Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, commented on the significant divisions within the United States on the issue of Islamists' increasing political power in the region.

The announcement of the first elections in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the subject of a December 1 episode of “Ma Wara al Khabar.” Responding to hostess Jumana Nammur's question of whether this development was due to internal or external pressures for reform, political science professor Mohammad Al Masfar referred to demands by intellectuals in the UAE for this change. Mohammad Al Roken, law professor at Emirates University, agreed that this development was not due to any external pressure and affirmed the need for clear electoral legislations and voter registries. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, head of the Dubai police force, expects that the new council's main functions will be to oversee the cabinet and judge ministers' performance.

Participants on Al Jazeera's “Akthar Min Rai” (More than One Opinion) debated the accomplishments of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership on November 25. Mohammad Khashani, head of the Moroccan Organization for Mediterranean Relations, argued that Arab states have not benefited from the partnership because the European Union has devoted most of its attention and resources to Eastern European countries awaiting accession. Libyan foreign ministry official Hassuna Al Shawish argued that the idea of a Euro-Mediterranean partnership has always been unclear and that the process has many contradictions. By contrast, Spanish parliamentarian Gustavo de Aristegui argued that the process has clear objectives, in particular that of European–Arab cooperation on security threats such as terrorism, illegal immigration, and drug trafficking.

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Read On

Several recent publications focus on Iraq:

  • Jonathan Morrow outlines the deficiencies of Iraq's constitutional process and argues that the only hope might be for the government, National Assembly, and international community to focus on encouraging popular commitment to democratic federalism in “Iraq's Constitutional Process II: An Opportunity Lost” (United States Institute of Peace, Special Report no. 155, November 2005).

  • Making it institutionally and politically possible for Sunni Arabs to have a viable region might be the only way to avoid Iraq's descent into greater violence and ethnic cleansing, argues Marina Ottaway in “Back from the Brink, A Strategy for Iraq” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Policy Brief no. 43, November 2005).

  • Ayatollah Ali Sistani's important political role in postwar Iraq is likely to subside after the December 15 legislative elections, argues Mehdi Khaliji in “Religious Authority in Iraq and the Election”(Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Watch no. 1063, December 14, 2005).

  • Jeffrey White and Brooke Neuman examine the implications of enhanced Sunni participation in Iraq's December 15 parliamentary elections (“Iraq's Sunnis Play the Election Card,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Watch no. 1062, December 13, 2005).

  • In “ Iraq's Comeback Kid,” Michael Rubin argues that Iraqi Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi's relevance to the United States has remained constant despite claims to the contrary (American Enterprise Institute, November 21, 2005).

  • In “ Communalism and Thwarted Aspirations of Iraq Citizenship,” Sami Zubaid examines the historical struggles of non-Arab ethnic and non-Muslim religious communities in Iraq (Middle East Report, no. 237, Winter 2005).

  •   Roel Meijer examines the political role and development of the Sunni “Association for the Muslim Scholars in Iraq,” in “The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq” (Middle East Report, no. 237, Winter 2005). The organization's influence in the coming period will depend on its ability to mobilize Sunni Arabs to vote in the December 15 legislative elections.

  • Noga Efrati places the protest against the recent attempts to repeal the 1959 Iraqi Personal Status Law in historical context, by examining women's participation in shaping the law, and discusses the shortcomings of that protest (“Negotiating Rights in Iraq: Women and the Personal Status Law,” Middle East Journal, vol. 59, no. 4, Autumn 2005, 577-95).

Several recent publications discuss reform-related developments in specific Arab countries:

  • The security measures taken by the regime in the aftermath of the November 9 attacks in Jordan must be supplemented by a comprehensive reform program that addresses the lack of political representation and shortage of economic opportunities, and promotes a tolerant version of Islam according to the International Crisis Group (“Jordan's 9/11: Dealing with Jihadi Islamism,” Middle East Report no. 47, November 23, 2005).

  • Samer Abu Libbeh and David Keyes point out that the November 9 terror attacks underscore the urgency of political, administrative, media reform in Jordan. The fundamental problem with recent reform initiatives such as the National Agenda is their top-down nature (“Terror Attacks Highlight Case for Reform in Jordan,” Policy Watch no. 1053, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, November 18, 2005).

  • Mohammad Yaghi and Ben Fishman argue that Fatah's November 25 primaries validated the popularity of the movement's younger generation in Palestine but also underscored its internal weaknesses and institutional problems (“Fatah Primary Results: Lessons from the First Round,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Peace Watch no. 528, November 29, 2005).

  • Implementing comprehensive economic and political reforms may be the only way to prevent an escalation of sectarian conflict in Lebanon, according to an International Crisis Crisis Group report. International institutional and economic support will be desperately needed to sustain the reform process. (“Lebanon: Managing the Gathering Storm,” Middle East Report no. 48, December 5, 2005).

  • Political developments in Iraq have both emboldened Saudi Arabia's Shiite community and intensified anti-Shiite sentiment in the Kingdom, argues Toby Jones in “The Iraq Effect in Saudi Arabia,” (Middle East Report, no. 237, Winter 2005).

  • A recent Gulf Center for Strategic Studies research paper analyzes the history of the controversy over granting Saudi women the right to drive as well as the social and religious perspectives on the issue (“Qiyadat Al Mara Al Saudiya Lil Sayara: Qadiya Siyasiya Am Mujtamaiya?” (Saudi Women and Driving: A Religious or Societal Issue?).

  • Egyptian parliamentary elections were marred with violence, irregularities, low voter turnout, and a regime strategy allowing the Muslim Brotherhood a larger margin of freedom than the secular opposition, argues Khairi Abaza in “Egyptian Legislative Elections: A Reading of the Results” (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Watch no. 1061, December 12, 2005). Serious political reform requires the regime to open up the political sphere, and cooperate with the pro-democracy opposition to implement meaningful constitutional and legal reform.

  • Amr Rabi analyzes the implications for political pluralism of the increased participation of independent candidates in Egyptian parliamentary (“Zahirat Al Mustaqilin Fi Al Intikhabat Al Masriya,” The Phenomenon of Independents in Egyptian Parliamentary Elections, Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, November 2005).

  • In “The Democratic Imperative vs. the Authoritarian Impulse: The Maghrib State Between Transition and Terrorism” (Middle East Journal, vol. 59, no. 4, Autumn 2005, 537-58) John Entelis argues that despite appearances, the states of North Africa continue to be governed autocratically, contributing to the rise of radical forces. Absent imaginative U.S. efforts to promote democracy in the region, this reality is likely to persist.

  • Questions of national unity and territorial integrity remain challenging nearly 50 years after independence in the North African states of Morocco and Algeria, argues Paul Silverstein in “States of Fragmentation in North Africa” (Middle East Report Online, no. 237, Winter 2005, 26-33).

  • A Human Rights Watch report urges the Moroccan government to act promptly on the recommendations of the state-appointed Equity and Reconciliation Commission, the first of its kind in the region to document and acknowledge human rights violations (Morocco: After Truth Commission, State Must Address Persistent Impunity, Human Rights Watch, vol. 17, no. 11(E), November 2005).

Several recent publications in English and Arabic address the challenges of political reform:

  • Rather than supporting democracy through focusing on new Islamic thinking and parties, the United States should promote institutional reform in the Arab world, argues Daniel Brumberg in “Islam is Not the Solution (Or the Problem)” (The Washington Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 1, Winter 2005-06, 97-116).

  • In “Civil Society and Democratization(Middle East Review of International Affairs, vol. 9, no. 4, December 2005, 14-33), Sean L.Yom argues that the lack of consensus on what constitutes civil society and the ability of Arab regimes to control swells of civic activism undermine the basic premise of the civil society thesis, namely that endorsing civil society is the answer to authoritarianism.

  • A recent book published by the Gulf Center for Strategic Studies addresses the institutional weaknesses of political parties and the need for comprehensive political party reform (Kitab Al Ahzab Al Siyasiya Fi Al Alam Al Arabi, The Book of Political Parties in the Arab World).

  • The November issue of the monthly Al Muraqib Al Arabi (Arab Observer) focuses on U.S. democracy promotion policies in the Middle East. Articles include “From Where and How Will American Democracy Dawn on Us,” “The American Recipe for Freedom, Democracy, and Reform,” and “Between Calls for Democratization and the Reality of Repression: The American Vision for Reform.”

  • The November issue of the monthly magazine Hiwar Al Arab (The Dialogue of the Arabs), published by the Arab Thought Foundation, offers analysis and commentary on the U.S. policy of “constructive chaos” in the Middle East.

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