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Arab world 'on way to democratic transition'

Dubai, March 29, 2010

The Arab world is at the threshold of democracy, however, a long road to implementation lies ahead, says a new report.

The annual report by Arab Reform Initiative titled The Arab Democracy Index, shows that the transition towards democracy is on the right track, but the think tank warns that if progress made does not extend to all aspects of life, advances could be lost.

The Arab Reform Initiative is a network of independent Arab research and policy institutes. The report, including the Arab Democracy Index at its centre, finds that the region has the institutional means for transition to democratic governments but has not yet universally applied them into practice.

The network, made up of regional players such as the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, Saudi Arabia; The Gulf Research Center, UAE; Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and The Arab Reform Forum at the Bibliotheca, Egypt, and others throughout the Middle East and North Africa, seeks to utilise the Index as an objective and sensible mechanism to measure change in the democratic process, its significance and its sustainability.

“There is an initial willingness in the Arab region to democratise, though this tendency remains at an embryonic stage.  A large gap exists between the measurement of the means and the practices of democratic transition, a phenomenon that was clearly documented by the Index,” said Dr Khalil Shikaki, lead editor of the report.

The index, in its second edition, covers 10 Arab countries with the mission to eventually cover all the countries in the Arab world.  The study measures 40 indicators to gauge four major values and principles relevant to the democratization process: strong and accountable public institutions, respect for rights and freedoms, the rule of law, and equality and social justice.

The selected indicators measure daily political, economic and social issues, and reflect the entire democratic decision-making process, a statement said.

“The experience of the past two decades shows that there is no single formula for democratic transition, regardless of whether it is on a positive or negative course. Our purpose, rather, is to gauge political organisation based on the criteria that people are the source of power, and that the system should reflect the popular will.  This should occur while ensuring justice and equality through participation in the decision-making process,” said Dr Bassma Kodmani, executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative.

The report found that genuine change requires transformation in three areas: (1) laws and an electoral process that integrate all sectors of society and eliminate discrimination; (2) the development of tax systems based on progressive taxation and a just distribution of wealth; (3) the development of an education system with firm moral and social foundations and based on the principles of pluralism and secularism.

The report notes that there is an urgent need in the Arab world to guarantee greater political and civil freedom, not only through more legislation but also by enhancing monitoring functions and the role of human rights organizations.

Additionally, ARI notes a pressing need to make the issues of social justice and social and economic rights the core of the reform process.  This would need to happen while also reforming education by allocating bigger budgets, combating illiteracy, reducing the school drop-out rate, and improving the conditions of education, especially for females.

On a scale of 0 to 1,000 points, Jordan topped the list of the countries covered in the Index, with a score of 620 points, followed by Morocco with 601 points and Egypt with 596 points. Lebanon was ranked fourth with 583 points, followed by Algeria with 570 points and Kuwait with 553 points. Palestine was placed seventh with 506 points, followed by Syria with 461 points, then Yemen with 457 points, and Saudi Arabia with 402 points. Compared to the previous report, Yemen and Palestine both witnessed a regression.

“Democracy is a mean, rather than an end in itself.  Democracy, at the core, is not just a way of thinking, a belief, a set of values, or a cultural trend.  To measure it objectively, it must be regarded as a mechanism for participation in the decision-making process, and one that ensures that the decisions taken reflect the will of the people,” Kodmani said. - TradeArabia News Service




Tags: democracy | reform | Arab World | transition |

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