Politics and governance in the Arab World [Archives:2005/854/Opinion]

June 27 2005

By Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz al-Tarb
The talk about reform and its future implications is related to the political sphere and the nature of regimes existing in the Arab World. Most of the Arab capital cities are still suffering some sort of instability as though they are anticipating something new or waiting for a change looming in the near future. Democracy is still the variably the controlling issue across the Arab World. Undoubtedly, it is felt that the public has been stirred into realizing the importance of political participation and enlarging the circle of decision-making of all Arab states without exception. Here, I must admit that the Arab World in general is straggling far behind many regions of the World in terms of democracy and political change. Arab regimes are mostly aged traditional ones. Their old age has made them unable to lead a self-transformation and motion the stagnant waters to push their people into new stages. Let's discuss the factors that constrain the freedom of people and limit regimes to go in the direction of real reform:

First: The relation between real democracy and real development is controversial and needs no proof. On this occasion, to claim that democracy is something not essential to poor people is wrong. The Indian democratic experience best refutes such a claim. Democracy is a way of governance and a philosophy of life. It is not related to the wealth or poverty of a state but depends on the general atmosphere in which it can survive and thrive.

Second: We, in the Arab World, focused on the institutional aspect and not the philosophical one. We have pseudo-democratic political institutions but the general atmosphere is not promising. The most important thing is the spirit of the regimes. The majority of the Arab states boast that they have parliaments, political, and syndicates. However, the end product does not live up to the existing infrastructure. Democracy is ultimately the community's culture and the regime's spirit. It is not seasonal slogans or provisional institutions.

Third: Education, culture and media are the three elements that formulate the public opinion and shape the collective mind of the nation. Therefore, the three elements contribute to one channel that raises understanding of what is happening around. Education influences mind right from childhood and determines the personal characteristics. Culture is the crucible that contains the human heritage. The democratic sense is inextricably linked to the political education. Both of them affect each other. Democracy is a life way starting from the family, passing through the community, up to the state. Suppression at home, suppression of women, extremism, and fanaticism do not help create the needed atmosphere. They are associated with absent political participation and weak democratic culture.

Fourth: Religion has been playing an effective role in the Arab region as part of the Islamic world. Friday sermons, for example, account for a main constituent of millions of Arabs and Muslims.

Fifth: I have pointed many times the incestuous relationship between wealth and power in the Arab World which presents a substantial obstruction to political and constitutional reform in the Arab World. It affects the integrity of governance. Such relationship has increased political corruption and engendered starkly social contradictions.

The above factors are meant to expose the ailments of Arab World's governance. Now, we should talk about the future and its promising characteristics. Arab regimes are politically and economically similar. Speed of action may vary but the nature of regimes is similar sharing similar symptoms. Arab political forces are bound by similar factors including religious background and class differences. This invites us to examine the structure of Arab societies and their abilities to treat their illnesses and resolve problems. If we are approaching future with a desire to reform looking forward to democracy, the following remarks are pertinent:

First: Modernizing Arab regimes and rationalizing their policies should be top priorities. Political backwardness, miscalculations and making wrong decisions have been behind our setbacks and disasters. It is time to redefine the course. We should here realize that the Arabs' big mistakes are related to totalitarianism and lack of democracy.

Second: The weakness of the Arab partisan system is generally due to the one-party dominance in some of the states. This substantially damages democratic development and annihilate the ability to make sound decisions promptly.

Third: Real representation of the Arab people is something inevitable. It is neither reasonable nor acceptable that broadly based political forces which can not govern while those in power have no public base. It is time to disown the concept of excluding certain political forces because that would hamper the democratic progress and improvement.

Fourth: It would be a milestone on the path of democracy when NGOs thrive. That would open doors on the external world, bring down the barriers of isolation.

Fifth: Modernization and the optimum usage of modern technology necessarily rationalize the political decisions and raise governmental performance. It is not recommendable to use outdated instruments and ignore modern scientific and technical achievements.

I feel that such remarks are some sort of advice which intends to say that Arab governance crisis and wrong policies have cost us a lot. It is time to proceed objectively. The delirium will not be over unless we get rid of illusions. We should be an international productive power with considerable contribution. Arab political regimes will no longer be burdens on their peoples; their policy mistakes will no longer block the progress of modernization and rationalization. We are looking forward to modern systems and credible policies based on transparency and objectivity. That is the spirit of the age, movement of the history, and vision of the future. When will ever politicians and rulers realize such facts?