Abdul Rahman bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), said earlier this month: "The more we try to find home-grown solutions for (regional) crises, while avoiding the image of reforming under foreign pressure, the more successful we will be in achieving reforms and realistic policies."
Speaking at a conference organized by the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, Al-Attiyah said, "Domestically, there should be a way to effectively implement a policy of modernization and combat social problems such as poverty and illiteracy, while embarking on a path towards democratization and activating the role of civil society organizations."
While the reforms debate has invariably been linked to the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Iraq is now increasingly cited as an example of how "foreign" solutions are not suited for the region.
"Since the U.S. administration came up with its plan to promote democracy in the Middle East and to stir economic development in the region in order to encounter the 'culture' that breeds terrorism, the administration made deadly mistakes because it linked its project with protecting Israeli interests," said Bourhan Ghalioun, director of the Paris-based Center for Contemporary Oriental Studies at the Sorbonne University.
"The war to democratize Iraq was the most valuable gift the American administration has ever given the dictator regimes in the Arab world. It is a practical example of what democracy means as seen by the Americans," he said. "Arab nations see the war in Iraq as an exercise to secure oil supplies from the region and to destroy an Arab country for the best interests of Israel."
Amer Moustafa, an Arab working in an oil company, said, "Many countries in the region have new leaders and they are taking constructive steps in improving the political systems. But democracy cannot be achieved in a short period. It will be successful only if it is planned in stages and takes our culture into account. Simply following a Western model will be disastrous."
Some experts, however, insist a combination of Western ideals and internal reforms can work and urged countries in the region to keep an open mind while contemplating reforms.
While agreeing that pressure will not work, Dawood Al-Azdi, an academic, said that Arab nations should cooperate with the West rather than getting involved in conflict. "Our success in democratization lies in creating a forum for multilateral dialogue, which can create an atmosphere of mutual trust."
Al-Azdi suggested that Arabs could adapt India's democratic system. "They (the Indians) have their problems and they are addressing them and we too should address ours. We can start from the beginning by uprooting corruption and adopting transparency."
Ghalioun said he would go with "pressure," but with a difference. "It is crucial for reforms in the Arab world because civil society organizations are weak," he said. "It would perhaps be more acceptable if this pressure was exerted on Arab regimes by international bodies such as the United Nations rather than by the U.S."
The current debate also suggests that reforms work best if they are implemented by the governments themselves, reforms suggested by foreign parties should not be automatically rejected.
Experts, however, warn that the reform process could face several obstacles. Some stress that the Arab world developed an "unjustifiable paranoia" against all kinds of reforms, including education, because the project had been promoted by Western governments following the September 2001 attacks on the U.S.
Ebrahim Guider, director general of the Cairo-based Arab Labor Organization, said Arabs also need to achieve economic development to overcome the problem of rising unemployment. "It is a time bomb that might explode at any time. The problem lies with corrupt governments, which are hindering the integration of Arab countries," he said.
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April 5, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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