2007ARI’s second Annual Conference - Amman, April 18-19, 2007- Setbacks in Democratic Reforms and How to Revive the Momentum
The two-day conference will be organized in two parts. The first day will be devoted to a discussion of the issues as they have unfolded in the region over the last year since spring 2006. The second day will focus on the themes of ARI’s specific projects in progress or about to be launched.
Arab Reform Initiative Second Annual Conference “Setbacks in Democratic Reforms and How to Revive the Momentum” April 18-19, 2007 Hosted by the Center for Strategic Studies/ University of Jordan Amman, Jordan
A two-day conference analyzed expressions and causes of setbacks in the reform processes and discussed ways of reviving the process. The first day discussed the issues as they have unfolded in the region over the last year since spring 2006. The second day focused on ARI’s specific projects in progress or to be launched. Attempts at introducing reforms through a gradual process of democratization have significantly slowed down in the Arab region over the past year. In some countries, the security agenda has overwhelmed the reform agenda. In other countries, the outcomes of the early democratic reforms have discouraged a continuation of the process.
I- Analyzing the causes:
Four major and interrelated causes for the setbacks in democratic reforms were identified and discussed as major obstacles to the reform processes:
* The increasing insecurity in the entire region where the primacy of security concerns undermines public readiness to engage in sustainable political transitions. While the contradictory issue of “stability versus reform” is not new, it is likely to have an increasingly adverse impact on Arab reform in the foreseeable future, as shown by the three major conflicts in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. * The Sunni-Shia cleavage issue. Whether from an Iraqi or a Lebanese perspective, the rise of sectarianism in the region is seen as one of the new factors that could be in the long run a serious impediment to proceed with genuine reform processes in each of those two countries. While the causes and implications of this cleavage have been debated at length, no consensus has emerged. In Lebanon, where sectarianism is embedded in politics since the inception of the Lebanese State in 1920, the religious dimension of the Shia-Sunni cleavage has been misinterpreted and overstated. It is a mere reflection of the rivalry between the Hariri and the Syrian camps. Iran and Syria have a major role in the militarization of the Lebanese Shia and the way this militarization played out in the sectarian politicization of the Lebanese Shia, whether in their support of Hizbollah or the Amal movement. Seen from an Iraqi perspective, the issue of sectarianism is a result of the inability of the Arab regimes to foster a real sense of citizenship among their citizens. The rise in sectarianism across the Arab Worlds is more a sign of the failure in reforming the Arab state than an obstacle to reform.
* Political tensions related to the rise of Islamist movements through democratic means mainly stem from the reluctance of the incumbent regimes in the Arab region to promote political reform on the pretext that this will lead to an Islamist political takeover which in turn will endanger the whole democratic process.
* The resilience of authoritarian Arab regimes whose vested interests, multiple strategies and entrenched privileges are blocking the political and constitutional reforms needed in order to promote good governance, transparency and the rule of law. While this obstacle has been a permanent feature of the political landscape for the last 50 years, its resilience is neither sustaining stability anymore nor promoting prosperity.
II- Preliminary findings of opinion surveys on reform
The surveys on reform carried out in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Egypt show: *A high degree of public awareness of the process of reform and its importance among the majority of the respondents. Democracy is viewed as the best method to resolve their countries’ problems and to promote stability. The Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian problem and foreign intervention are perceived as the main challenges to reform. There is also a public consensus that women should have equal rights as men. * A lack of public consensus over the definition of the concept of reform. While there is almost complete agreement among the respondents in the three countries that personal and political freedoms are essential for promoting democracy, there are differences over the order of priorities of the “freedoms” to be granted.
III- Defining strategies and formulating recommendations to revive the momentum on reforms:
* Public support for democracy in the Arab World is waning. A broader definition of political reform needs to be considered which would include key areas such as the freedom of the press in order to bolster public support for democracy. * Encourage independent media whose role is crucial in promoting the development of “political culture” where the State and regimes alike would be accountable. * Develop a climate more conducive to reform in which politicians are committed to the judiciary, and the security apparatus understands that its mandate is to serve the citizens rather than the regime. *Arab reformers must develop a clearer conception of reform through a clear-cut agenda setting priority areas for reform. *ARI’s contribution and role: Although the picture regarding reforms was gloomy, a number of speakers noted that the very existence of ARI was to be taken as an encouraging development. No such initiative could have been possible 15 years ago. There are a number of ways in which ARI can contribute to the reform process. Given the importance of foreign influence on Arab governments, ARI as an independent body should use its international partner institutes to inform the United States and Europe on developments in Arab reform. It can act as a solidarity network among Arab reformers; and can provide training and assist in capacity-building for emerging democratic movements.
IV- The second day discussed four main thematic studies to be launched in 2007
*Political coalitions in Arab countries: comparative analysis and critical dialogue between Islamist and non-Islamist forces *The role of the private sector in fostering political reforms *Women’s role in the reform process: visions and contributions *Defining approaches to reform the security sector in Arab countries.