The right to access information remains an ongoing struggle on the way to building open and democratic societies in the Middle East and North Africa, says the Arab Reform Initiative (ARI) in a new report published today, pointing to the crucial role civil society has still to play.
The report, entitled Access to Information in the Arab World: A Battle for Open Societies, builds on a previous study on Egypt carried out jointly by ARI and its member organisation, the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research (Baseera), and assesses the state of the debate on access to information in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Tunisia.
“The studies in this report demonstrate that while civil society actors have made a noticeable progress in demanding access to information, they continue to face resistance from unwilling governments who shun their responsibility and hide behind excuses such as ‘national security’ and ‘public morals’ to block attempts to access information,” said Bassma Kodmani, ARI’s Executive Director.
In Jordan, the already restrictive legislation dealing with access to information was emptied of its meaning when it limited the right to information to Jordanian citizens, denying it to more than one third of the country’s non-Jordanian population. In Palestine, a draft law has stalled because of rivalries between politicians and security institutions. Lebanon continues to lack a law on access to information despite advances made in the right to freedom of expression.
In Tunisia, where a big step was taken by enshrining access to information in law, more is still needed to ensure effective access and positive enjoyment of this right to all Tunisians.
Despite a general lack of political will, civil society actors have succeeded in bringing the issue of access to information to the public domain as a central element of democratic reform in the MENA region.
Examples in this report show that they have the potential to achieve more, especially when they are well informed of the global debate and norms and when they decide to work together and build strategic local and regional alliances to gain leverage within their national context.
“We hope this report will encourage more work in this direction across the region because access to information is not only a basic right of citizens, it has increasingly become a central tool to assess Arab governments’ willingness to be transparent and open to democratic scrutiny,” said Bassma Kodmani.