The State of Reform in the Arab World 2011

This report appears at an extraordinary moment in the history of the Arab region. Although the region as a whole is undergoing varying degrees of transformation, it relies on the inevitability of change and democratic transition based on local specificities and mechanisms. With the publication of its third report on the State of Reform in the Arab world, the Arab Reform Initiative maintains a tradition which it hopes will become part and parcel of academic and political practices in our region. The report allows the monitoring of changes, reforms and transformations based on objective standards and indicators, carefully drawn to suit the nature of societies under study. The report is considered essential material for the development of comparative studies, since the image it reflects is based on indicators with the highest possible degree of precision, and on scientific analyses of the conditions under which target societies lived before the outbreak of popular protests, and onset of revolutionary activism.

This third report, which has already been made public, contains essential data that helps develop a vision that gives substance to studies and analyses that look at the motives and causes behind these change movements. Thus, although the Arab revolutions, regardless of their nature, came as a surprise to internal and external observers, alike, the element of surprise was more about their timing rather than their contents or root causes. As the revolutionary path gained pace in several of the Arab countries under study, some suggested that we change the report’s title from “State of Reform” to “State of Change” in the Arab world. However, we believe that reform does not exclude change, and could also take several forms and means of expression. Even revolutions could be part of a genuine, effective, far-reaching and radical reform process. The Index’s indicators allow the measurement of change over time, and a comparison of conditions in different Arab countries.

These indicators undoubtedly have a number of negative aspects, as well, including seeing all countries under study through the same lens, at a time when history, the nature of political regimes, the particular characteristics of each society and the pace of change can differ from one country to another. Their importance lies in the fact that the Index is based on a set of universal criteria. For despite protests by certain countries regarding their particular characteristics, and their resistance to implementing these universal criteria in the political and legislative domains, they decided to introduce legal reforms in the economic domain, in line with the relevant international criteria. On that basis, evaluating political conditions in these countries based on universally accepted criteria becomes a legitimate exercise. The Index’s analytical papers were confined to first impressions regarding the early stages of change in Egypt and Tunisia. It is necessary to point out, however, that although several political, economic, social and security problems and issues that actively helped determine the nature of change did not find their way into the report’s analytical studies, they remain the focus of interest, research and follow-up by the Arab Reform Initiative, and its partner centres, as part of the wide array of projects that cover the entire Arab region.

This report is published exclusively in electronic form due to the rapidly changing conditions that outpace the timeline necessary for publication. However, this does not mitigate its importance as a reference point in the effort to understand and visualise the changes currently taking place. The Arab Reform Initiative will maintain the tradition of producing paper and electronic copies for the next report, which will be exceedingly important since it will examine the signs of change in several countries, and help in the evaluation and adjustment process. A large team of Arab researchers worked on this report based on a joint and well-studied methodology, under the supervision of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research. The Arab Reform Initiative hopes that the Arab Democracy Index will help launch a general scientific debate on the means and potential for democratic transitions in the Arab region.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.