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

Palestine: What Happened to the Fatah Young Guard?
Ben Fishman and Mohammad Yaghi

Iraq: Herculean Tasks Ahead
Raad Alkadiri

Lebanon: Plus Ça Change
Amal Saad-Ghorayeb

United States: Progress of the “Freedom Strategy” in the Middle East
Tamara Cofman Wittes

EU: Barcelona Process and the New Neighborhood Policy
Haizam Amirah-Fernández

News and Views

Palestine: New Parliament to Convene
Egypt: Municipal Elections Postponed, Ruling Party Changes
Iraq: Election Results Final, Government Formation Begins
Kuwait: New Leader and Government
United Arab Emirates: New Cabinet
Yemen: Technocrat Cabinet
Bahrain: Opposition Group Will Participate in Elections
Syria: Cabinet Reshuffle
Jordan: Political Reform Developments
North Africa: Human Rights Developments
Upcoming Political Events
Views from the Arab Media


Read On

New publications on Iraq, implications of Hamas's electoral victory, Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, Arab media, and Islamist movements.

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Insights and Analysis

Palestine: What Happened to the Fatah Young Guard?

Ben Fishman and Mohammad Yaghi

As much as Hamas's landslide victory in the January 25 Palestinian legislative elections was a triumph for the Islamist movement, it was also a crushing defeat for the younger generation of Fatah leaders who had hoped the election would facilitate a leadership transition in the long-ruling Palestinian national liberation movement. So long as Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat dominated Fatah, leaders of the young guard who earned their bona fides during the first and second intifadas could only gain as much political influence as Arafat permitted. To circumvent Arafat's power structure, the young guard long advocated internal elections as a means of demonstrating its popularity on the street. Only after Arafat's death did the young guard get its wish in the form of primaries in advance of the legislative elections.

Rather than proving the young guard's popularity and ability to lead the party to victory in national balloting, however, the primaries exposed the chaos within Fatah. The movement's governing Central Committee and Revolutionary Council procrastinated in deciding on basic issues, such as who would be eligible to vote in the primaries and how the primaries would shape Fatah's electoral list. Months of haggling stalled technical preparations so that polling stations lacked accurate registration lists and the correct number of ballots when primaries actually occurred in late November and early December 2005. Although members of the young guard won most of the top slots, their victory was overshadowed by the unruly voting process, contested results, and allegations of fraud. The process demonstrated to voters that despite the efforts of the young guard, Fatah remained a corrupt organization more concerned with retaining power than imposing reform.

With only a couple of weeks between the primaries and the deadline for candidate registration, the old and young guards in Fatah then entered into a struggle over the formation of their electoral lists. The old guard initially tried to ignore the primary results and secure the top positions on Fatah's national slate for itself, but was forced to back down after the young guard formed a parallel list called Al Mustaqbal, “The Future.” While the two groups compromised to forge a unified façade, disgruntled members nonetheless ran as independents in many districts, splitting the Fatah vote. Even within the young guard, personal rivalries often prevailed over common interests, and natural allies competed against each other in voter mobilization and campaigning. The contrast with Hamas's disciplined, well-oiled electoral machine could not have been more striking.

If the elites within Fatah were divided before the election, they are even more so in its aftermath and have yet to devise a strategy for moving forward. Most of the revolutionary council has called for accelerating preparations for Fatah's sixth general conference, a meeting of delegates that sets the policies, direction, and leadership of the movement. Fatah last conducted such an exercise in 1989. Once again the young guard is divided: imprisoned leader Marwan Barghouti supports expediting the conference, for example, while Ahmed Hilles of Gaza opposes it as an attempted power grab by a limited group. Although the conference is in theory the appropriate venue to redefine Fatah and its leadership, the young guard appears incapable of uniting in order to advance its agenda—which focuses on the needs of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza—and resist the priorities of Palestinian leaders based in Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere.

Fatah's immediate challenge is deciding whether to join a Hamas-led government or to create an opposition, as most Fatah leaders publicly favor at least for now. An even greater challenge will be rebuilding the allegiance of its volatile constituency, which launched mass demonstrations immediately following the elections and called for the resignation of Fatah's central committee. For Fatah to compete effectively with Hamas and lead Palestinian politics once again, it would need to develop a mechanism for handling disputes internally and find honest, respected, and popular leaders. Whether Fatah's young guard can regroup and tackle these challenges depends entirely on its ability to solve the organizational and personal rivalries that became painfully evident during the electoral process. The very survival of secular Palestinian nationalism may hinge on whether such a transformation occurs.

Ben Fishman is a researcher and special assistant at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Mohammad Yaghi, a Ramallah-based Palestinian political analyst, is executive director of the Palestinian Center for Mass Communication, a columnist for Al Ayyam, and a project manager for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

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Iraq: Herculean Tasks Ahead

Raad Alkadiri

The next few weeks promise to be monumental ones in Iraq's modern history. With the December election successfully completed, Iraqi leaders must now focus on making decisions that will determine not just how the country is run over the next four years, but what Iraq will look like in the longer term and whether it can avoid disintegrating into a bloody civil war.

Whether Iraq's political leaders, led by Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim Jaafari, are up to the task is unclear. They have managed an 18-month transition according to schedule, but much of the credit for that must go to officials from Washington and London. Moreover, process has consistently trumped outcome as the key measure of success for U.S. and UK leaders desperate to show that their efforts were producing results in Iraq.

The costs of this political expediency will become clearer as Iraqis go about the business of choosing a new government and reviewing key areas of their recently ratified constitution. With the transition over and no prospect of a new round of elections in a few months, the stakes are now higher. Political parties are playing for keeps, knowing that what is before them is nothing less than an opportunity to shape the Iraqi polity and economy to their advantage.

If Iraq is to be able to shake off instability, its new leaders will need to achieve two objectives. First, they must work out a formula for genuine national reconciliation that gives all of Iraq's different groups (ideological groups, as well as ethnic and sectarian ones) a stake in the country's future. Second, they must create a functioning state that can meet the expectations of the population.

Precedent does not bode well on either score. That Iraq lacks its own Nelson Mandela is an understatement. Political leaders have consistently adopted a zero-sum approach to political bargaining, viewing compromise as a last resort. While the United States called the shots it could insist on reaching consensus among the different groups, as it did in negotiating the Transitional Administrative Law. Left to their own devices, Iraqi leaders have been less harmonious. The Shiite-led United Iraq Alliance and Kurdish Alliance have reached workable arrangements, but only by agreeing to disagree. Kurdish leaders are content to go along with the Shiite insistence on majority rule and more Islam in government as long as it does not apply to their region. And both groups have been willing to let representatives of Iraqi Sunni community into government just so long as they acquiesce to a status quo that threatens to marginalize their interests in the long term.

This is a long way from the national compact laid out in the Bush administration's National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, which Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is working assiduously to achieve. In contrast to most of his predecessors, Khalilzad appears to recognize that simply having the right communal quotas will not produce stability. Creating a governing coalition that reflects a broad spectrum of political views—and gives them all equal weight—is key, even if this means bringing in some undesirables.

The alternative is an escalation of internecine violence into a full blown civil war and the eventual fragmentation of Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines. Such an outcome is not an historical inevitability as some have argued. Even now, beyond the Kurdish regions, a strong sense of Iraqi identity exists. Politics have certainly become based more on sect and ethnicity, as the recent elections demonstrated, but part of this was a natural response to the effective dismantling of the state after April 2003. Lacking national institutions to provide security and services, local populations have been vulnerable to armed sectarian and ethnic parties that have stepped in to fill the vacuum.

Indeed, whether Iraq's state institutions can be revived will be as important to long-term stability as any political accord. Beginning with the Coalition Provisional Authority, successive post-war governments—including Jaafari's most recent one—have failed to deliver the basic welfare demands of the Iraqi people. Nor has the creation of effective institutions and administrative capacity been a priority for political leaders, Iraqi or otherwise. Instead, ministries' offices in Baghdad and the provinces have become extended political party fiefdoms.

Left unresolved, this situation threatens to produce a different sense of disenfranchisement among Iraqis, not one based on communal identity but rather a more collective disenchantment with the political system as a whole. Decentralization will not solve this problem if local administrations are merely microcosms of their national counterparts. Iraqis have shown a tremendous amount of patience with their political leaders in the past, as well as persistent optimism in the face of adversity. But unless their leaders show some practical signs of making the lives of the population better, the patience of Iraqis will eventually wane, with disastrous results.

Raad Alkadiri is Director of Middle East and Africa in the Country Strategies Group at PFC Energy in Washington, DC.

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Lebanon: Plus Ça Change

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb

Despite the international commotion over last year's Cedar Revolution and withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, the much vaunted Beirut Spring appears to have been a mirage. Neither the anti-Syrian protests (capped by the mammoth March 14, 2005 demonstration) nor the Syrian withdrawal ushered in an era of political reform. Rather, they have sparked widespread fears of a civil war between the Shiites and the Sunni–Druze–Christian “March 14” grouping. While these fears are for the most part unfounded, there is no denying the existence of a cold civil war, which is being played out in the political arena, on the streets, and in the media.

Underlying this communal polarization is a process of national identity construction that has degenerated into a fierce debate over the meaning of sovereignty, independence, and nationalism. At the core of this national polemic lies the identification of Lebanon's friends and foes. The March 14 camp regards Syria as its arch foe and views Iranian and Syrian support for Hizbollah as an infringement on Lebanon's sovereignty, while simultaneously seeking Western (primarily U.S. and French) support. On the other side of the divide the Shiites, represented by the Hizbollah-Amal political alliance, vehemently reject Western (especially U.S.) political intervention, which they construe as a new form of foreign tutelage. Hizbollah has strategically positioned itself in the Syria-Iran axis and many Shiites identify with this alliance.

The recent cabinet crisis, which paralyzed the government for seven weeks, demonstrated and exacerbated communal tensions. The five Shiite ministers representing Amal and Hizbollah suspended their participation in cabinet meetings in response to the government's alleged contravention of a gentleman's agreement reached during the 2005 parliamentary elections between Saad Hariri's Future Movement and Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party on the one hand and the Shiite alliance on the other. According to this agreement, all major decisions would be first debated outside of government in order to reach a consensus as recommended by the Constitution. The Shiite alliance accused the ruling majority of flouting this accord on December 12, 2005 by deciding on two crucial issues—expanding the UN probe into Rafiq Hariri's murder to incorporate all political assassinations committed thereafter and establishing an international tribunal to try the perpetrators of these killings—by majority vote without first exhausting attempts to reach consensus. The crisis was resolved on February 2 when Prime Minister Fouad Siniora partially satisfied the Shiite ministers' demands that the government adhere to the consensus rule and declare that Hizbollah's “Resistance” is not considered a militia.

The recent crisis made clear that political integration of the Shiite alliance has not served to bridge the gulf between the rival camps. Instead it has fueled the Shiite sense of communal victimization and exposed the cold cohabitation that governs inter-communal relations. The whole experience has shown that political inclusion, in and of itself, cannot ensure stability in a climate of ongoing foreign intervention and escalating communal tensions, given a political system that affords more power to sects than to state institutions.

Several developments in the past year have challenged the viability of the consociational democratic model in Lebanon,which is based on the twin principles of elite power-sharing and consensus. The Syrian departure raises the question of whether the Taif Accord of 1990, which ended the civil war and revised the consociational formula, is tenable without the supervision of Damascus, which sponsored the accord and oversaw its implementation. In addition, the inclusion in the governing coalition of a political minority—the Shiites—with a sharply different international and regional agenda has effectively stripped the system of the relative consensus it once enjoyed and beset it with bitter infighting. Yet the Shiites are the country's largest religious minority and cannot be excluded from the government, lest it collapse. The result is an unhappy marriage of expedience between a political majority crippled by its junior partner's veto power and a marginalized minority that resents its perceived subjection to a tyranny of the majority.

The Shiite alliance views the March 14 group as tyrannical partly because the latter gained power through an electoral alliance with Shiites, but then reneged on promises to protect Hizbollah's Resistance from internal and external pressures for disarmament. Hizbollah has since struck up a partnership with the predominantly Christian Free Patriotic Movement led by Michel Aoun, a development that might weaken the March 14 alliance that had heretofore claimed a monopoly on cross-sectarian representation. Further enervating the majority alliance is a Christian-Sunni rift that has developed as a result of the recent anti-cartoon riots, in which Sunni protesters directed their wrath against Christians. But despite the appearance of change and new cross-confessional alliances, what remains the same in Lebanon is that sectarian interests are the principal motivators of political actions.

Amal Saad Ghorayeb is Assistant Professor at the Lebanese American University and author of Hizbullah: Politics and Religion (Pluto Press, 2002).

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United States: Progress of the “Freedom Strategy” in the Middle East

Tamara Cofman Wittes

President Bush's goal of advancing Arab democracy faced skepticism from the moment he first enunciated it in November 2003, and with good reason. A few months after the invasion of Iraq and amidst continued Israeli-Palestinian violence, the notion that aspiring Arab democrats would look to the United States for support seemed farfetched. More fundamentally, the United States' history of supporting autocratic rulers in the region was based on the need for military cooperation, energy stability, and Middle East peace—interests not easily trumped.

And yet, two years later, the Bush administration has made impressive progress in turning the vast ship that is U.S. foreign policy. In 2004, few substantive programs existed to back up the soaring rhetoric, and democracy and human rights were often pushed to the bottom of the agenda in bilateral meetings between U.S. and Arab officials. Today the president's commitment to spreading democracy is understood throughout the foreign policy bureaucracy as a priority. From the Secretary of State down to ambassadors at post, the diplomatic drumbeat for Arab democratization is sounded far more consistently than was true a few years ago. Still, questions linger about how much the United States will invest in its democracy drive, which must be answered before the Freedom Strategy can truly be viewed as a sea change in U.S. policy.

The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) is a good case study for the evolution, in fits and starts, of the president's initiative. At its launch in December 2002, many MEPI programs were little different from U.S. Agency for International Development “good governance” projects and many Arab non-governmental organizations refrained from applying. Today, MEPI has field offices in Abu Dhabi and Tunis and has seen a significant jump in grant proposals from Arab groups. MEPI has begun to inject political content into more of its grants, for example directing funds to help Egyptian and Lebanese civil society groups during 2005 elections. But an increased share of MEPI's budget is now being shifted to external projects, such as the new multilateral Foundation for the Future. So MEPI is now taking on more of a policy-coordination role, developing country-specific strategies for each of the Arab states that integrate bilateral assistance and programs run by other federal agencies.

The new U.S. rhetoric and the commitment to new programs like MEPI and the G-8's Broader Middle East Initiative, combined with growing internal pressures for reform, coaxed a noticeable change in attitude—if not in intentions—from Arab governments. In February 2004, when a U.S. proposal for a G-8-sponsored Middle East reform program was leaked to a newspaper, major Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Mubarak felt comfortable rejecting the concept out of hand as imperialist and irrelevant. Today, by contrast, virtually every Arab government has formally committed to participate in some aspect of the G-8's initiative.

In the past two years, then, the Bush administration's Freedom Strategy has overcome a major hurdle: Arab governments have come to believe that the president means what he says about Middle Eastern democracy, and that they must respond in some fashion if they wish good relations with Washington. This represents a first degree of progress in overcoming the credibility barrier the United States faces in promoting democracy in the Middle East.

The new challenge for the United States is to delineate how it will handle the inevitable tradeoffs between democracy promotion and shorter-term imperatives such as counterterrorism cooperation, assistance in stabilizing Iraq, and support for a Middle East peace process. How will bilateral aid packages, trade agreements, joint military endeavors, and other policy tools be adjusted to reward democratizing regimes and punish intransigent ones? In Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and elsewhere, the White House has yet to demonstrate a willingness to place its other interests at risk on behalf of democratic reform.

U.S. actions toward Egypt in particular will be watched carefully by democracy advocates and Arab governments alike as a signal of seriousness. The Mubarak regime allowed multicandidate presidential elections in 2005, but it also manipulated electoral laws, subverted judicial processes, beat up demonstrators, and blocked voters from the polls. So far, the Bush administration has condemned the imprisonment of opposition politician Ayman Nour and suspended progress in trade talks with Cairo. The lost prospect of a U.S.-Egyptian free trade agreement no doubt dismays reformers within the Egyptian ruling party and the liberal business elites, but it is not likely to cause many tears among regime stalwarts, whose well-being is rooted in the economic status quo. If these steps are the limit of the U.S. response, then the credibility of President Bush's democracy push will suffer throughout the region. But back in Washington, the matter will not rest. If the Bush administration punts, Congressional human rights advocates will make their voices heard when Egypt's aid package comes up for renewal this spring.

Tamara Cofman Wittes is director of the Arab Democracy and Development Project at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

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EU: Barcelona Process and the New Neighborhood Policy

Haizam Amirah-Fernández

When the European Union (EU) launched the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP, or Barcelona Process) in 1995 with the participation of 15 of its southern neighbors, the declared objective was to create a “zone of peace, stability, and security in the Mediterranean.” A wide range of economic, political, and cultural measures was foreseen, following in part the Helsinki model of 1975. European security objectives were to be achieved by: (1) stimulating economic development in southern Mediterranean countries in order to mitigate socio-economic problems; (2) promoting democratic governance and respect for human rights in the region; and (3) improving mutual social and cultural awareness on both sides of the Mediterranean. The tenth anniversary summit, held in Barcelona in late November 2005, was intended to reaffirm the pertinence of the EMP's founding objective. It also highlighted the growing distance between the two shores of the Mediterranean and the shortcomings of the approach and means used so far. Despite the decade-long partnership, the gap in per capita income across the Mediterranean has grown larger, as has the array of challenges facing the region.

Evaluations of the Euro-Mediterranean summit, organized by Spain under the British presidency of the European Union, were mixed. While European officials viewed the summit as a success, the press and outside observers showed less enthusiasm. The summit did produce two documents: (1) a five year work program that contains a detailed list of benchmarks whose main objective is to “deliver results that will have a positive impact for all citizens in the region;” and (2) a Euro-Mediterranean Code of Conduct on Countering Terrorism, which provides a conceptual and normative framework for the whole region. But almost all leaders of southern partners—except Turkey and the Palestinian Authority—did not attend the summit despite the participation of most of their European counterparts. These absences reinforced the feeling that the EMP is still an essentially Euro-centric process.

Sentiment in the Arab world that EU initiatives are driven mainly by security concerns, including the fear of migration from southern countries, has impeded understanding on a number of fronts. Conflicting perceptions, combined with the effects of the Arab-Israeli conflict, made it impossible for partner countries to agree on a common definition of terrorism at the Euro-Mediterranean tenth anniversary summit. They also have impeded the adoption of the Euro-Mediterranean Charter for Peace and Stability, which was proposed in 1999 in order to prevent tensions and crises by means of security cooperation.

The extension of the European Neighborhood Policy—initially aimed at the EU's new eastern periphery—to southern Mediterranean countries has created some confusion about how this policy framework relates to the Barcelona process. Official EU doctrine states that they reinforce each other. The Neighborhood Policy is based on the principle of pursuing deeper cooperation with those countries that show more willingness to move forward with key reforms, thus creating a competitive dynamic between those who want to receive more European assistance and resources.

Aside from policy debates, recent years have witnessed several initiatives intended to increase people-to-people contacts within the EMP, including the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures (based in Alexandria) and the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly. The EU also disbursed 3.26 billion euros between 1995 and 2004 to finance a variety of projects in southern countries.

Starting in 2007, all funds will merge into one single financial framework, called the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument. The amount of resources allocated to this instrument is still unclear following the recent approval of the European budget for 2007-2013. If funds are insufficient to attract southern countries' interest, the effects of positive conditionality could be diluted and the Neighborhood Policy might not be able to achieve its objectives. In fact, other European incentives—such as facilitating the movement of persons across the region (for instance, through establishing a more flexible visa system) and extending the freedom of movement of goods to agricultural products—might prove more effective than assistance in persuading southern neighbors to carry out substantive reforms.

The Neighborhood Policy's action plans, which are agreed on a bilateral basis between the EU and each interested southern country, have a prominent focus on human rights and democracy. So far, the EU has signed action plans with Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and the Palestinian Authority, while others are in preparation (Egypt and Lebanon). Once plans are agreed upon, it will be a major challenge for the EU to prove that it has the political will to impose democracy-related conditionality, based on the mutually accepted principles and commitments.

Haizam Amirah-Fernández is senior analyst in the Mediterranean and Arab World Program at Elcano Royal Institute for International and Strategic Studies (Madrid).

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News and Views

Palestine: New Parliament to Convene

The new 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council will meet February 18 to debate government formation. Hamas, whose Change and Reform list won 74 seats in addition to four independent seats, is expected to lead. The 45-seat Fatah parliamentary bloc elected MP Azzam Al Ahmad as its leader on February 11. Click here for final results of the January 25 elections released by the Palestinian Central Elections Commission.

The Election Cases Court on February 5 dismissed claims by Fatah that electoral violations necessitated new elections in the districts of Salfit, Nablus, Gaza, Khan Younis, and Jerusalem. The court similarly dismissed claims by Hamas that it had won 30 instead of 29 seats at the national level. A preliminary statement released on January 26 by the National Democratic Institute and the Carter Center praised the orderly and peaceful conduct of the elections but also recorded instances of improper campaign activity and restricted freedom of movement and campaigning.

The outgoing Palestinian Legislative Council, in its final act, approved a new law on February 13 that gives President Mahmoud Abbas the authority to appoint a new constitutional court without seeking legislative approval. Hamas strenuously objected to the legislation. 

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Egypt: Municipal Elections Postponed, Ruling Party Changes

Egypt 's parliament approved by a 348-106 vote on February 14 a proposal by President Hosni Mubarak that municipal elections be delayed for two years. The mandate of Egypt's municipal officials was due to expire on April 16 and elections were to be organized within a two-month period before that date. According to NDP Secretary General and Shura speaker Safwat Al Sherif, the postponement is necessary to draft a new law intended to devolve authority to municipalities. The delay, however, is widely seen in Egypt as an attempt by the NDP to regroup after the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 of 454 seats in parliamentary elections in November. The Muslim Brotherhood cannot field a candidate for president under current rules because it is not a legal party, but if it elected enough supporters to the local councils and the Consultative Council it could eventually place an independent candidate onto the ballot. 

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) formed a new 29-member secretariat general on February 1 in a move observers believe signals a clear shift in the party in favor of younger members close to Gamal Mubarak. Gamal Mubarak became one of three assistant secretaries general replacing Kamal Al Shazli. A December 29, 2005 cabinet reshuffle also removed Al Shazli as minister of People's Assembly affairs and brought in several young technocrats.  Click here for a list of the new cabinet.

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Iraq: Election Results Final, Government Formation Begins

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq announced the final results of the legislative elections on February 10, almost two months after votes were cast. A new Iraqi government is expected to be in place by May. Under Iraq's constitution, President Jalal Talabani must convene the new 275-member parliament in the next 15 days. Parliament then has 30 days to elect a new president who in turn will have 15 days to name a new prime minister from the parliamentary bloc with the most seats—the coalition of Shiite religious parties. On February 12, the Shiite bloc selected Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari as its candidate for prime minister in the new cabinet. The leaders of the bloc hoped to resolve the contest between Jaafari and Adel Abdul Mahdi by consensus but ended up deciding the matter by a 64 to 63 vote. Jaafari's appointment must be confirmed by parliament and he will then have 30 days to present his cabinet to parliament for approval by majority vote. Formal negotiations between the different political groups about forming a coalition government have not started yet.

Voters in the December 15 poll overwhelmingly voted along religious and ethnic lines. The main Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, won 128 of the 275 seats (more than twice as many as any other group but ten seats short of a majority). The major Sunni parties, the Iraqi Concord Front and the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue won 44 and 11 seats respectively. The Kurdistan Alliance won 53 seats and a rival Islamist Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Islamic Union, won 5 seats. An independent Sunni candidate, Mithal Al Alusi, won one seat and the Progressive party (loyal to Moqtada Al Sadr) won two seats. Secular alliances did not perform well, winning fewer seats than in the previous election. The National Iraqi List led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi won 25 seats and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi's National Congress for Iraq did not win any seats. Click here for detailed results of the elections.

Unlike the previous legislative election, voter turnout was high among Sunni Arabs. In the mostly Sunni Salahuddin and Anbar provinces, turnout was 96 and 86 percent respectively.

In response to allegations of fraud, the electoral commission threw out 227 of the nearly 32,000 ballots, but this had little effect on final results. A January 19 report by the Jordan-based International Mission for Iraqi Elections praised the elections as well-run under difficult conditions, but noted that some vote-rigging had been documented and that “some additional fraud in all probability went undetected, although its exact extent is impossible to determine under current circumstances.”

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Kuwait: New Leader and Government

The January 15 death of Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah, Emir of Kuwait since 1977, sparked a succession struggle within the ruling Al Sabah family. The Kuwaiti parliament played a significant role in ending the political crisis by invoking a 1964 succession law and voting unanimously to remove Crown Prince Sheikh Saad Al Abdullah Al Sabah for health reasons. The parliament confirmed Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, the country's de facto ruler for the past five years, as the new emir on January 29. The new emir named his brother Sheik Nawaf Al Ahmed Al Sabah (former interior minister and deputy prime minister) crown prince and appointed Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah as prime minister. Reformists welcomed the new emir's decision to keep the posts of crown prince and prime minister separate, as they have been since 2003. The appointments ignore a Kuwaiti political tradition that the position of the emir and other top posts should rotate between the family's two wings. Sheikh Sabah, Sheikh Nawaf and Sheikh Nasser are all members of the Jaber clan of the Sabah dynasty.

The emir also swore in a new cabinet on February 11 amid criticisms by liberal MPs that reformist former ministers were excluded from the government line-up. The 16-member cabinet excludes two leading liberal ministers and includes three prominent Islamists: Shiite MP Youssef Al Zalzalah as commerce and industry minister, member of the Islamic Constitutional Movement Ismail Al Shatti as communications minister, and Abdullah Abdulrahman Al Matouq as minister of justice and minister of Awqaf and Islamic affairs. Members of the ruling Al Sabah family continue to hold the key portfolios of interior, defense, foreign affairs, and energy. Massouma Al Mubarak, the only female minister, retained her post as minister of planning. Click here for a cabinet list.

In another development, the Kuwaiti parliament is debating a new draft press law presented by parliament's Educational Committee on December 17. The draft law prohibits the closure of newspapers without a final court verdict, bans the arrest and detention of journalists until a final verdict is delivered by the Supreme Court, and allows citizens whose applications for licenses are rejected to sue the government in court. It also bans jailing journalists for all but religious offenses, criticisms of the emir, and calls to overthrow the government, stipulating up to one year in jail for such offenses and a fine of up to KD 20,000 (about US $68,000). This last stipulation was the source of heated debate in parliament as liberal MPs called for abolishing all jail terms while Islamist MPs insisted that jail penalties must be greater for religious offenses. Another parliamentary committee, the Legal and Legislative Committee, unanimously approved a draft law requiring top government officials and MPs to disclose their wealth before assuming office and after leaving their posts as part of a measure to combat corruption.

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United Arab Emirates: New Cabinet

Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates since his father's death on November 2, 2005, approved a new cabinet on February 9. The top ministers—defense, interior, finance, economy, and energy—retained their posts and eight new ministers were introduced to the 21-member cabinet, including Minister of Social Affairs Miriam Mohammed Khalfan Al Roumi who is the second woman to join the cabinet. Several ministries were abolished including the Ministry of Information, which is to be replaced by a governmental Higher Information Council in charge of licensing new media. A Ministry of the Federal National Council Affairs was created to begin implementing the president's December 1 announcement that half of the members of the Federal National Council (FNC), the closest body the country has to a parliament, will be indirectly elected. No date has been set for elections. The 40-member FNC serves in an advisory capacity, but former members of the FNC have recently voiced demands for legislative powers. Click here for a cabinet list.

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Yemen: Technocrat Cabinet

President Ali Abdullah Saleh reshuffled the Yemeni cabinet on February 11, a move observers believe is an attempt to bolster his popularity before presidential elections in September 2006. The reshuffle (including key posts such as the ministries of defense, finance, planning and oil) replaced long-serving veterans with technocrats. All 32 cabinet members belong to the ruling General People's Congress. Click here for a cabinet list.

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Bahrain: Opposition Group Will Participate in Elections

Bahrain's largest political society, Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, announced it will participate in legislative elections in September. Al Wefaq, along with four other political societies, boycotted the 2002 elections to protest constitutional changes that granted the appointed upper chamber of parliament equal legislative powers to the elected 40-seat lower chamber. Bahrain's King Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa asserted on February 4 that he welcomes participation by opposition groups in parliamentary elections. Political groups operate in Bahrain as associations due to a continued ban on political parties.

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Syria: Cabinet Reshuffle

In the midst of international pressure over Syria's role in Lebanon, President Bashar Al Assad reshuffled the cabinet targeting major posts such as the foreign, interior, and information ministries and introducing 14 new ministers. Career diplomat Walid Al Muallem became foreign minister, replacing Farouq Al Sharaa who served as Syria's foreign minister for 22 years. Al Sharaa was appointed vice-president, a position that had been vacant since Abdel Halim Khaddam resigned in June 2005. Senior security officer Bassam Abdel Majid was appointed interior minister to succeed the late Ghazi Kanaan, whom authorities said committed suicide last year. Syria's ambassador to Spain Mohsen Bilal became the country's new information minister and Naji Al Otari retained his post as prime minister. The reshuffle broke with a tradition of including a member of each of the nine political parties that compose the National Progressive Front, an umbrella for legal political parties led by the Baath party; the Arab Socialist Unity Movement and the Socialist Unionist Party are no longer represented. Click here for a cabinet list.

The Syrian government released five prominent political prisoners on January 16 including Riad Seif, a former MP arrested in 2001 along with nine other activists in a governmental crackdown on political forums. Upon his release, Seif announced he will form a new political party, the National Liberal Party.

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Jordan: Political Reform Developments

A nine-member committee created last December by Minister of Interior Eid Fayez has begun drafting a political party law. Observers expect the new law to lead to the elimination of some of the present 30 parties by making a distinct platform and demonstrated popular support prerequisites for registration and by implementing tighter funding controls. Jordan's Islamic Action Front warned it would reject the draft law if it bans establishing parties based on religion. Political party law reform has been the subject of debate in Jordan for several years and forms part of the Jordanian National Agenda's vision for economic, social, and political reform over the next ten years. The National Agenda is now available online in Arabic.

While Jordan's government and parliament are discussing new legislation to expand media freedoms and political participation, King Abdullah's reform agenda has “stopped short of addressing the deep flaws in Jordan's criminal justice system” according to Human Rights Watch. A February 7 statement by the organization calls on the government to address urgently the access to lawyers, inadmissibility of confessions obtained by torture, and prosecution of rights violators. Under Jordanian law security forces can detain suspects in crimes under the jurisdiction of the State Security Court for seven days without charge or access to a lawyer. 

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North Africa: Human Rights Developments

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited several Tunisian prisons and met with detainees after it signed an agreement with the Tunisian government on April 26, 2005. The ICRC has similar agreements with Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Kuwait, but its reports are submitted exclusively to the authorities and are not made public. In another development, Tunisian authorities cracked down on the press by seizing all copies from newsstands on January 20 of the weeklies Al Maoukif (published by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party) and Akhbar al-Jumhuriyya for carrying an open letter to President Ben Ali referring to a corruption case. Click here for more details about this case.

The Moroccan government has also launched a series of criminal cases against the Moroccan press, including criminal prosecutions of newspaper editors and the imposition of excessive fines on independent publications. Three journalists face possible imprisonment as a direct result of news or opinions published in their weeklies. Click here for a report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and here for a report by Reporters without Frontiers.

In Algeria, Bachir Larabi of the independent daily Al Khabar was arrested on January 21 on libel charges resulting from a December 9, 2003 article defaming a mayor. Click here for a report by the CPJ. Algerian authorities also closed two newspapers and arrested their editors on February 12 for reprinting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad from a Danish newspaper.

The Libyan authorities have taken some important steps to improve human rights in the past year but continue to commit grave violations, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. “Libya: Word to Deeds; The Urgent Need for Human Rights Reform” argues that while the Libyan government has released political prisoners, improved prison conditions, and allowed human rights organizations to conduct fact-finding missions and advocacy in the country, it continues to ban political parties and groups, non-state run media and independent civic organizations. It also holds hold political prisoners, conducts unfair trials, and practices torture.

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Upcoming Political Events

  • Bahrain: Municipal elections in May; legislative elections in September

  • Jordan: Municipal elections expected by mid-2006

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Views from the Arab Media

The results of the Palestinian parliamentary elections prompted lively debate in the Arab media:

  • In a February 2 article in Ash Sharq Al Awsat, columnist Saleh Al Qilab argues that the current political dynamics might lead to a civil war because the Palestinian authority lacks institutions that would facilitate peaceful powersharing between Fatah and Hamas.
  • By contrast, prominent member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Isam Al Aryan, in an article in Egypt's online daily Al Mesryoon on January 29, contends that Hamas's victory has revived the Palestinian dream of a one-state solution and reopened forgotten issues in internal Palestinian politics such as the need for an anti-corruption program, institutional reform, and national unity.
  • In a January 28 commentary on Ikhwanonline, the Muslim Brotherhood's official website, scholar Rafiq Habib asserts that the Hamas victory is a turning point in Arab history because it proves that Islamist groups are not destined to remain opposition movements and have a realistic vision of governance.
  • In a February 2 op-ed article in Ash Sharq Al Awsat, former Palestinian information minister Nabil Amr calls on members of Fatah to stop mourning their defeat and instead use this time to devise new political strategies and reform their institutions.

Likely U.S. reactions to the Hamas victory also were the subject of debate:

  • On Al Jazeera's political debate show “Min Washinton” (From Washington) on January 30, State Department Public Diplomacy official Alberto Fernandez emphasized that there is a unified European and U.S. approach to dealing with Hamas. Robert Malley, former advisor to President Clinton, said that the United States should develop a more pragmatic approach that sends a clear message to Hamas without alienating the entire Palestinian Authority. Former special Middle East coordinator Dennis Ross described the Hamas victory as a disaster because Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel undermines any possibilities for peace. Palestinian Legislative Council member Ziad Abu Amr affirmed that Palestinians are grateful to foreign governments for their political and financial aid but they will not surrender their political rights in exchange for money.
  • The U.S. reaction was also the topic of another Al Jazeera live show “Ma Wara Al Khabar” (Behind the News) on January 29. Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzouq asserted that the West should not stop aid to Palestinians for voting for Hamas because the public voted for reform and against corruption. Alastair Crooke, Director of the Conflicts Forum, argued that Hamas should be allowed some space and time to develop their policies.
  • Sobhi Ghandour argues in a February 1 op-ed article in the UAE's Al Bayan that the U.S. government was not shocked by the Hamas victory, but in fact desired it. Despite signs that Fatah would perform poorly, the Bush administration insisted that elections take place on schedule because it had come to the conclusion that Fatah could no longer control the various armed groups.
  • In an opinion article in Ash Sharq Al Awsat on January 23, Amr Hamzawy argues that U.S. policymakers should not focus their efforts solely on supporting liberal Arab political forces that lack a popular base of support, but also learn to accommodate Islamist currents. The United States should reassess its attitude towards Islamist forces, adopting a more open-minded approach that would encourage them towards greater moderation and pragmatism. (Click here to read an English version of the article).

Al Jazeera's “Al Ittijah Al Muakis” (The Other Side) debated the issue of national reconciliation in Morocco on January 17. Yehya Abu Zakaria, an expert on Morocco, criticized recent efforts to compensate victims of human rights abuses in Morocco for falling short of a comprehensive process of national reconciliation. He argues that it is futile to look into abuses committed under the reign of King Hassan II without recognizing that there are still many instances of abuse under King Muhammad VI. Ahma Shawqi Banyoub, member of Morocco's Justice and Reconciliation Commission, disagreed, asserting the significance of the initiative to Moroccan society as well its potential to serve as a model for other Arab countries.

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Read On

Several recent publications focus on Iraq:

  • A new International Crisis Group report urges the United States to focus its efforts on reducing the insurgents' perceived legitimacy rather than destroying them militarily (“Their Own Words: Reading the Iraqi Insurgency,” Middle East Report no. 50, February 15, 2006).

  • Paul Pillar points to the Bush administration's disregard of the intelligence community's expertise and misuse of raw intelligence to make its case (“Intelligence, Policy, and the War in Iraq,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006).

  • As Iraq's new constitution makes religion the main source of legislation, the United States can and should work with progressive Muslim scholars to advance women's rights through religious channels, argues Isobel Coleman in “Women, Islam, and the New Iraq” (Foreign Affairs, January/February 2006).

  • A special issue of Current History (January 2006) is devoted to the Middle East, with several articles on Iraq:

    • Given the progress in Iraq, the stakes are too high for the United States to withdraw prematurely, argues John McCain in “Stay to Win.”

    • As the invasion of Iraq continues to prove a strategic disaster, William Odom argues that the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq is the most sensible option (“Withdraw Now”).

    • If Iraq's newly elected leaders—especially Sunni Arabs—do not compromise on key issues such as the exact nature of federalism and de-Baathification, Phebe Marr predicts that ethnic hostility will escalate into full civil war (“Democracy in the Rough”).

    • In “Iraq and Democracy: The Lessons Learned,” Larry Diamond outlines lessons for democracy promotion policy and argues that the United States now has a real opportunity to help Iraq move toward stabilization.

    • In “A Shiite Crescent: The Regional Impact of the Iraq War,” Juan Cole examines the implications of a Shiite-dominated region in Iraq on the political stability of the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

    • A.G. Hopkins discusses counter-insurgency alternatives in “The ‘Victory' Strategy: Grand Bargain or Grand Illusion.”

  • Henri Barkey and Ellen Laipson analyze the current state of Iraqi Kurds and their role in Iraq's political process since the fall of the Saddam regime in 2003 in “Iraqi Kurds and Iraq's Future” (Middle East Policy, vol. 12, no. 4, Winter 2005, 66-76).

  • Analogies between Iraq and Vietman are unfounded and misleading for counterinsurgency strategies, argues Frederick W. Kagan in “Iraq is Not Vietnam ” (Policy Review, Dec 2005/Jan 2006, 3-14).

  • The January 2006 issue of Al Muraqib Al Arabi (The Arab Observer) offers analyses of Iraq's parliamentary elections and the implications of Iraq's electoral experience for other Arab countries.

Several recent publications address the Hamas victory in Palestine's January 2006 legislative elections:

  • Hamas participation in mainstream Palestinian politics will not spur the group to moderate its radical goals because the conditions necessary for the co-optation of militant groups are absent in the Palestinian case, argues Michael Herzog in “Can Hamas Be Tamed?” (Foreign Affairs,March/April 2006).

  • In the “Aftermath of the Hamas Tsunami,” Nathan Brown analyzes the reasons why Palestinians voted for Hamas on January 25, the group's priorities and legislative agenda, and options for Western donors (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Web Commentary, February 2006).

  • An uncompromising U.S. position on Hamas could dangerously alter the balance of power between the movement's militant and reformist factions, warns Marina Ottaway in “Promoting Democracy after Hamas' Victory” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Web Commentary, February 2006).

  • Hamas's victory highlights the deep crisis of secular Arabs, which has important implications for U.S. democracy promotion policy, notes Amr Hamzawy in “America's Arab Democratic Dilemma” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Web Commentary, February 2006).

  • Political integration, however challenging, is the best way to steer Hamas away from the military path, argues a new International Crisis Group report (“Enter Hamas: The Challenges for Political Integration,” Middle East Report no. 49, January 18, 2006).

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

  • Khairi Abaza analyzes the long-term implications of the recent presidential and parliamentary elections for further constitutional reform in Egypt in “Political Islam and Regime Survival in Egypt,” (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Focus no. 51, February 2006).

  • Recent political reforms in Egypt have not fundamentally altered the way political power is obtained and exerted but have opened up the possibility of more significant changes, which the United States and Europe should promote, argues Michele Dunne in “Evaluating Egyptian Reform” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Paper no. 66, January 2006).

  • In “Lebanon: Finding a Path from Deadlock to Democracy,” Julia Choucair argues that although Syria's withdrawal has restored Lebanon's sovereignty, it has also left a power vacuum that threatens the stability of the country. Choucair discusses the problems facing the Lebanese political system, outlines policies to realistically achieve security, electoral, and economic reform, and discusses the role of international actors in Lebanon's political future (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Paper no. 64, January 2006).

  • Camilia Sandbakken examines the relationship between oil wealth and democratic consolidation through a comparative analysis of three African rentier-states: Algeria, Nigeria, and Libya (“The Limits to Democracy Posed by Oil Rentier States: The Cases of Algeria, Nigeria and Libya,” Democratization, vol. 13. no. 1, February 2006, 135-52).

  • The December 2005 issue of Al Muraqeb Al Arabi (The Arab Observer) focuses on the status of democracy in Algeria. Articles include “Algeria: A Military Regime with a Civilian Façade,” “Algerian Islamist Movements and the Democracy Game,” and “Reforms are Tied Today to a Regime Change.”

  • Gregory Johnsen examines the implications of Yemen's President Ali Abdallah Salih's decision to stand for reelection in the presidential contest scheduled for September 2006 in (“Salih's Road to Reelection,” Middle East Report Online, January 13, 2006).

  • The Gulf Center for Strategic Studies recently published its annual book on Bahrain. Mamlakat Al Bahrain 2005-2006: `Ard li Ahdath `Am Mada wa Ru'ya Mustaqbaliya (The Kingdom of Bahrain 2005-2006: A Presentation of the Events of Past Year and a Futuristic View) documents the Kingdom's economic, political, and human development as well as foreign policy developments.

Several recent publications address regional trends related to reform:

  • Champions of the ambitious U.S. democracy promotion policy fail to recognize some of the main obstacles to stability after transitions to democracy, warns Gerald Alexander in “Making Democracy Stick ” (Policy Review, Dec 2005/ Jan 2006, 45-57).

  • Freedom House's “Freedom in the World 2006” survey documents a modest but potentially significant increase in civil and political liberties in several key Arab countries as well as the Palestinian authority (December 2005).

  • Crescent of Crisis: U.S.-European Strategy for the Greater Middle East includes contributions on democracy promotion in Lebanon and Syria and the process of political reconstruction in Iraq (Ivo H. Daalder, Nicole Gnesotto, and Philip H. Gordon, eds., Brookings Institution Press, 2005).

  • A recent paper published by the Institute for Policy Research assesses the challenges to political reform in the Middle East, offers a critique of U.S and European reform policies, and propose a progressive agenda for supporting political reform in the region (David Mepham, “Changing States: A Progressive Agenda for Political Reform in the Middle East,” January 20, 2006).

  • Corruption remains deeply embedded in Middle Eastern countries and cleaning it up is a complex and risky undertaking, argues Kate Gillespie in “The Middle East's Corruption Conundrum ”(Current History, January 2006).

  • Marc Lynch's Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today explores the revolution in the Arab public sphere as a result of the proliferation of satellite channels and argues that the United States should move beyond antagonistic or instrumentalist conceptions of Arab media (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006).

  • The information revolution in the Middle East will have a long term effect on the transformation of Arab political systems, argues Jon Alterman in “IT Comes of Age in the Middle East ” (Foreign Policy Journal, December 2005, 36-42).

  • Dalil Al Harakat Al Islamiya fi Al Alam (Guide to Islamist Movements in the World) by Egyptian scholar Dia Rashwan outlines the history, goals, and agendas of violent and non-violent Islamist movements in several countries including Egypt, Turkey, Palestine, and Indonesia (Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, 2005).

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