April 26, 2003

BECOMING?

A Path to Arab Democracy (MARWAN MUASHER, April 26, 2003, NY Times)
It is becoming clear that the Arab world needs to take the initiative in making its political and economic systems more democratic. The frustrations Arabs feel today--prompted by the slow pace of democratic reform, stagnant economies and political instability: all threaten the region's future. The moment has come for the Arab world to engage in a homegrown, evolutionary and orderly process of democratization--one that will respect Arab culture while at the same time giving citizens the power to be part of the political process.

It's important to remember, though, that expecting the seeds of democracy to blossom overnight is a simplistic assumption at best, and a dangerous one at worst. Force-feeding democracy will lead not to reform but to radicalization. A wiser approach would be to respect the ability of Arab countries to take matters into their own hands.

The Arab world is ready to do this. The United Nations Arab Human Development Report, written by Arabs and released last year, is a frank assessment of some of the main challenges confronting us. It discusses the expansion of political freedoms, the role of women and the knowledge gap as key issues Arab nations need to face. This report must be taken seriously, not defensively, by the region. This is what we have done in Jordan, where both King Abdullah II and Queen Rania have endorsed it as a blueprint for development.

The Arab world also needs to assume a more active role in mediating the Arab-Israeli conflict. Arab leaders must finally take a public stand against suicide bombings. The truth needs to be clearly stated: suicide bombings have only hurt the Palestinian cause.

Such statements are welcome, however late in the process they come, but one wonders if this running in the Jordanian press (Mr. Muasher is the Jordanian Foreign Minister) today also, or if it's just for Western consumption. Jordan could make itself a model by devolving greater power to some kind of representative institutions and a an independent judiciary, with the King retaining certain prerogatives--including the right to dismiss a government and call election, to veto legislation, and to overturn Court decisions--thereby offering a system that would allow Arabs to govern themselves but with a final brake on the most radical and destructive possibilities of "democracy". Such reforms, coupled with a retention of Islamic moral teachings at the heart of society, might, in rather short order, see nations of the Middle East with healthier polities than those in Old Europe. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 26, 2003 6:15 AM
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