Until recently Western assistance programs aimed at strengthening political parties were less present in the Arab world than in almost all other areas of the developing world. As part of the heightened U.S. and European interest in promoting Arab political reform, however, such programs are multiplying in the region.
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.
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.
In the Arab world, what UN literature calls national human rights institutions (NHRIs) have emerged in recent years. A few of them—for example in Morocco and Palestine—have attained a degree of autonomy in confronting governments.
While U.S. foreign policy continues to be formulated with an eye on short-term goals, European policies towards the Middle East, at both the national and EU levels, use the instruments of soft diplomacy and function in accordance with a multi-tiered approach that never loses sight of long-range strategies while allowing for alternatives that can be tried, tested and corrected along the way.
Since global change accelerated a decade or so ago, mentioning globalisation has tended to upset many people in the Arab world. Was 2007 the year that the region moved closer -- and more comfortably -- to the rest of the globe?
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.
The lack of democratic breakthroughs worthy of mention in Arab countries has spurred debate about barriers to change. The debate would be incomplete, however, without a discussion of the means by which authoritarian Arab regimes control their societies, particularly the critical roles performed by security services.