Foreign democracy assistance organizations working directly with political parties have come into the line of fire as some Arab governments have pushed back against democratization initiatives over the past two years. In Algeria, Bahrain, and Egypt in particular, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) have been among the first to feel pressure.
The Lebanon war of 2006 changed the political environment in the Arab Middle East at two levels. The first was temporary and receded after the thirty-three day war had ended. The second, however, was structural and rooted in the reality of Arab societies, where the practices of ruling elites and opposition movements reveal the fragility of opportunities for democratic change.
The Muslim Brotherhood's draft party platform sends mixed signals about the movement's political views and positions. Although it has already been widely circulated, the document does not yet have final approval from the movement's guidance bureau.
Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) convened its fourth annual conference September 19-21, advertising it as “The Second Leap Forward”. Speeches by senior party members and carefully packaged briefing papers emphasized the party's achievements in economic and political reform and laid out a fairly ambitious agenda for the coming year.
Increasing calls for media independence are part of the new political reality in the Arab world; such calls have been particularly strong regarding media coverage of elections.
Abdul Monem Abul Futouh, a member of the Guidance Bureau of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, offered his comments on “Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process in the Arab World: Exploring the Gray Zones,” by Nathan Brown, Amr Hamzawy, and Marina Ottaway (Carnegie Paper No. 67, March 2006).
Observers have criticized the United States strongly for its unwillingness to recognize the Hamas government in Palestine, as well as for appearing to back away from supporting reform in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood's strong showing in 2005 elections.
Unlike Arab countries such as Egypt or Jordan, which opened the political space in 2004-5 only to shut it again in 2006, Tunisia has continued unabated its campaign against avenues for the expression of peaceful dissent including human rights organizations, labor unions, and civil society organizations.
The bloodless military coup that overthrew Mauritania’s democratic government poses challenges for U.S. policy in the region. Washington can encourage the military to move toward elections by leveraging its military assistance and humanitarian and institutional capacity-building programs.