Monday, October 03, 2005


Rami Khouri on democracy in the Arab world:
The mechanics of democratic practices are increasingly common throughout the Arab world, but the substance of power remains firmly in the hands of small ruling elites. Of the three keys to power that controls entire societies - guns, money, and knowledge - the state's ruling elites still dominate the security-military systems and the national budgets that in turn define economic interests and distribution of wealth. Only the control of information through the mass media has been largely pried out of the hands of the state, due to the impact of regional satellite television, FM radio services, region-wide newspapers, and the Internet.

The real test of democratic rule will be when legitimately representative civilian bodies oversee and hold accountable those in the government who decide on national budget expenditures and security-military policies. That has not happened in any Arab country, but serious agitation in that direction is now evident in several countries, including most notably in Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Bahrain, and Morocco.

A balance sheet of democracy in the Arab world would show that serious talk and some activism toward that end are now common throughout much of the region, but breakthroughs to success have yet to be achieved. When one Arab country does succeed in achieving democratic governance (probably with a strong Islamist tinge to it, like Turkey or Iraq), the impact throughout the region is likely to be electric, with other countries moving more quickly toward the same goal.

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