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.
As Syrian president Bashar Al Assad approaches the end of his first term in office, there is much debate on whether or not he has succeeded as a reformer. He is credited with establishing private universities, banks, and media.
Political reform in Syria is not on. Last year's promises of a “great leap forward”—a rewritten emergency law, citizenship for stateless Kurds, and a new political party law before local elections in 2007—have been shelved.
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 January 28 detention of Riad Seif is the latest development in a campaign of arrests against members of the National Council of the Damascus Declaration launched by Syrian authorities only a week after U.S. President George Bush met with Ma’moun al-Hamsi, Jenkiskhan Hasou, and Ammar Abdul Hamid at the White House in December 2007.
On April 4, Syria issued its first Competition and Anti-Trust Law (Law No 7/2008), which some observers consider a significant marker on the road from a planned to a market economy. The anti-trust legislation follows on the heels of several new laws issued over the past months, including a new commercial law, an incorporation law, and an arbitration law, replacing old ones dating to 1949.