Yemen's presidential and local elections are scheduled simultaneously for September 20, and many locals expect them to be the country's most contentious yet. Despite the practical certainty that President Ali Abdullah Saleh will keep his job, Yemen's precarious political and economic situation means that there is still plenty for the opposition to fight for.
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.
On October 27, Omanis will elect representatives to their 85-member lower house of parliament, the Shura Council, for four year terms beginning in 2008. Some analysts consider the Council, established in 1991, to be the most advanced in the Gulf region apart from Kuwait's, and see it as part of a gradual move toward democracy and wider popular participation.
Within the last few years, all of the countries on the Arabian Peninsula have held elections, whether local or national. While international trends and democracy promotion have played a part, internal political dynamics have motivated most elections.
The lack of democratic breakthroughs worthy of mention in Arab countries has spurred debate about barriers to change. Much of this debate has focused on economic, social, and cultural factors, or on the fragility of political forces demanding democracy. The debate would be incomplete, however, without a discussion of the means by which the authoritarian Arab regimes control their societies.
The current crisis over electoral redistricting—leading to the dissolution of the National Assembly and new elections set for June 29—is unusually sharp but by no means a first in Kuwait's 45-year history as an independent nation. If the issue is finally resolved, it could open the way toward a broader discussion of representation including the issue of possible legalization of political parties.
Unwilling to remain on the sidelines in the reform debate that the region has witnessed for the past two years, Arab governments have asserted themselves against civil society activists and reformists, creating a significant rise in the numbers of Arab prisoners of conscience.
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.
Do Arab governments deliberately announce misleading information about petroleum reserves, for political or economic reasons? One can only estimate, not truly measure, oil reserves in the ground, and reserve estimates can vary depending on the criteria adopted.
Shiite and Sunni Islamist candidates dominated Bahrain’s late November parliamentary elections—winning a combined total of 29 out of 40 seats—leading some observers to warn of a polarized parliament where civility and legislative action fall victim to sectarian mudslinging.
Kuwaitis describe the country’s current parliament with an apparent contradiction: “The opposition is the majority.” In any parliamentary system this would be impossible; a government cannot serve without majority support. Even in presidential or mixed systems, the parliamentary majority enjoys a share of power through cohabitation or divided government.
On December 16 the United Arab Emirates will take the first tentative step on the road to political reform. As promised a year ago by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the country will hold indirect elections for half of the 40 seats in the Federal National Council, the first experience of its kind for the UAE.
In a lavish ceremony in November in the remote port town of Thuwal, a three-hour drive from Mecca, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia laid the cornerstone for a new Western-style science and technology university.
Educational reforms in Gulf Cooperation Council states are often attributed to U.S. pressure, as many in Washington believe that curricula in these countries have encouraged extremism and terrorism. In fact, economic globalization and changes in domestic politics have motivated educational change even more than external pressures related to terrorism.
It often takes a crisis to rivet our collective attention on problems such as those facing Yemen, a society that seems to be perpetually on the verge of collapse.
As troubling as security issues are in Yemen, they are by no means the only threats to stability. Problems in the economy, institution building, and regional disputes might not grab headlines the way that terrorism and other security challenges do, but they are just as important.