Economic reform measures in the region have had many flaws. Nowhere have they been part of a comprehensive economic plan that coordinated with social policies and different economic sectors. Nowhere have they been sustained. The reform process suffers from lack of consensus around the meaning and ramifications of reform among key national stakeholders.
Many American commentators tend to identify Middle East democracy promotion as unwise, arguing that the Bush administration should have patiently promoted the growth of institutions, civil society, and the rule of law, instead of insisting on elections in Arab countries. This new canon seems reasonable but has three crucial flaws.
In this September 28 discussion, Carnegie's Amr Hamzawy and Nathan Brown, professor at George Washington University, argue for shifting the debate about democracy promotion beyond U.S. policy in the region's failed states, while Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Suzanne Maloney warns about the liabilities of direct democracy promotion in Iran.
Nothing in Arab politics ought to encourage more hope than gradual democratisation in stable nation states. Sadly, last week's surprising results in Morocco's parliamentary elections, which thrust that country's democratic experience into the spotlight, demonstrates that political reform is under threat because of growing public disenchantment with the distribution of real power.
In the opening years of this century, the world was presented with a historic confrontation between the Western world and the Islamic and Arab world. In this context, Washington's policies--and its attempts to counter the backlash from these policies--have increasingly pushed Arabs away.
Morocco conducted elections to the lower chamber of the parliament, the House of Representatives, on September 7. Local and international monitoring groups confirmed that the elections were conducted in a fair and transparent manner. However, voter turnout plunged to a historical low of 37 percent, down from 51 percent in the 2002 elections and 58 percent in 1997.
A series of unusual scenes on the streets of the Middle East nurtured an inspiring story line of an emerging “Arab spring” that mimicked the earlier triumph of democracy from the Philippines to Prague: mass demonstrations in Lebanon; joint rallies of Egyptian Islamists and liberals against the Mubarak regime; and elections in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia.
At a time when Islamist movements across the Arab world have chosen to participate in official political processes, grave concerns have arisen over the nature and repercussions of this participation and over whether the Islamists are equipped to rule should they rise to power through democratic means.
Secular parties independent of governments are experiencing a deep crisis in most Arab countries. The decline affects liberal and socialist-oriented parties alike. While the crisis is real, continued decline is not inevitable: there still exist in the Arab world large potential constituencies that are disenchanted with incumbent regimes but not willing to commit to Islamist parties either.
The Carnegie Middle East Center hosted a seminar entitled “Algeria: Elections, Religious Extremism and Reform.” The seminar featured a presentation by Dr. Rachid Tlemcani, Visiting Scholar at Carnegie’s Middle East Center, and a commentary by Dr. Myriam Catusse of the French Institute for Middle Eastern Studies in Beirut. The panel was moderated by CMEC director, Paul Salem.