April 14, 2003


Democracy in the Arab world (Associated Press, April 12, 2003)
ALGERIA Multi-party state with elected parliament and president. The National Liberation Front, dominant party since independence from France 40 years ago, won 2002 parliamentary elections that were marred by violence. In 1991, the army, fearing the Muslim fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front would be elected, they aborted the final round and sparked a bloody insurgency.

BAHRAIN Declared a constitutional monarchy in 2002 as part of reforms that paved the way for the first legislative elections in 30 years. Women voted and ran in elections, which secularists narrowly won. Most power resides with the king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

EGYPT President Hosni Mubarak took over from assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981 and his security apparatus and National Democratic Party have almost absolute control over the elected parliament. Mubarak periodically stands as only candidate in referendums in which Egyptians are asked to vote yes or no on whether his presidency should con- tinue.These always produce a yes vote of over 90 percent.

IRAQ U.S.-led coalition expected to run country for at least six months until new Iraqi-run government replaces Saddam Hussein’s 35-year dictatorship. Washington has promised the new Iraq will be democratic, but its history of repression and deep divisions in society will make that difficult.

JORDAN King Abdullah II, who succeeded his late father, King Hussein, has virtually absolute power. Elected parliament has not met since being dissolved in 2001, but Abdullah has promised new parliamentary elections later this year.

KUWAIT Politics are controlled by an emir, or prince Sheik Jaber Alhmed Al Sabah, and his family. Kuwait was pioneer in elections in 1963, but the emir regularly dismisses national assemblies and women are barred from voting and running for office.

LEBANON Elections regular and lively, but not open because of power-sharing agreement meant to prevent resurgence of the 1975-90 sectarian civil war. Legislative seats apportioned equally to Christians and Muslims, prime minister must be Sunni Muslim, president must be Christian. Syria, a dictatorship, wields great influence of Lebanese politics.

LIBYA Moammar Gadhafi has held absolute power since 1969 military coup.

MOROCCO King Mohammed VI appoints the prime minister and members of government following legislative elections and can fire any minister, dissolve parliament, call for new elections, or rule by decree. Incumbent socialist party won September, 2002 parliamentary elections praised as clean and fair. Conservative Islamic parties did well.

OMAN Sultan Qaboos became ruler after overthrowing his father in 1970. Family has ruled for about 250 years. Has no political parties nor elected legislature.

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat under growing pressure to share power after four decades of sole control. The post of Palestinian prime minister was recently created.

QATAR Expected to have parliamentary elections in two or three years after holding its first municipal elections in 1999, with women fully participating. Famous as home of the al-Jazeera satellite TV station; the most liberal in the Arab world.

SAUDI ARABIA Crown Prince Abdullah rules on behalf of ailing King Fahd; no elected legislature. In a sign royal family is feeling pressure to reform, government recently allowed international human rights monitors to visit for the first time and Abdullah has proposed all Arab states encourage greater political participation by the masses. He met recently with 40 Saudi reformers.

SYRIA President Bashar Assad possesses near-absolute power and has disappointed those who expected the young, Western-educated doctor to open up politics. He succeeded his father, longtime dictator Hafez Assad, who died in 2000.

SUDAN President Omar el-Bashir has led country since 1989 coup. El-Bashir recently moved to lessen influence of fundamentalist Islamic leaders, but democratic reform not on agenda.

TUNISIA Republic dominated by single party, the Constitutional Democratic Assembly, since independence from France in 1956. Opposition parties have been allowed since 1981.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Federation of states each controlled by an emir and his family.

YEMEN President Ali Abdullah Saleh presides over largely feudal society. Despite constitution, elected parliament and lively press, power rests with military and tribes.

It's a great irony that two of the most hopeful states in the Arab world--as far as pending political freedoms are concerned--are Iraq and Palestine. However, if King Mohammed VI and his successors can retain their prerogatives but develop counterbalancing institutions and allow the representative bodies to exercise greater day to day power, Morocco would seem to offer the best model for these Arab states to follow: a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral legislature (half elected/half appointed). The trick, of course, will be to gradually vest these various mechanisms with real authority, so that the monarchy becomes just a brake on abuse of power and genuinely dangerous governance. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 14, 2003 12:18 PM

We speak, with hope, of nations with no history of freedom (as we understand it) that might democratize, that might emulate the West.

But when we look around, it seems to me that there is a far greater danger of once free nations going in the other direction.l

We speak spitefully of the EU; and one can't but notice that in France, Chirac won the presidential election with about 80% of the vote in the last election. Those are numbers that Arafat Saddam, Assad, Mugabe, and Mubarak would be proud of.

Well, maybe not Saddam.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at April 14, 2003 12:38 PM

Seeing as the alternative was Le Pen, I'm a bit unhappy the Chirac total wasn't higher.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at April 14, 2003 12:59 PM

The problem isn't even France's awful government, but its attempt, so far successful, to bring the rest of Europe under a similar one.

Posted by: oj at April 14, 2003 2:35 PM

I, too, earlier, picked Morocco as the best hope

of an Arab country's obtaining modernity.

But it isn't only Arab.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 14, 2003 9:32 PM

99%, according to the CIA

Posted by: oj at April 14, 2003 11:19 PM