Thursday, December 16, 2004

Arab Reform on Hold

Here's the New York Times' Thomas Friedman reporting from Dubai. Since registration is required to read it on the NY Times website, I've taken the liberty of posting it here for your reading (dis)pleasure:

For years now it's been clear that the Middle East peace process has left the realm of diplomacy and started to become an industry, with its own G.N.P. of conferences and seminars. But there is a new industry rapidly overtaking it in the Middle East, and that is the "reform industry." Every month there seems to be a new conference on reform in the Arab world. Indeed, I have been attending one here in Dubai, an amazing city-state on the Persian Gulf that is becoming the Singapore of the Arab East.


What the reform process and the peace process have in common is that neither advances when we Americans tell the parties in English that they have to change. Progress happens only when the people here tell themselves in Arabic that they must change. So I took heart from the blunt manner in which Dubai's crown prince, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, opened his conference by saying, in a speech broadcast by Arab satellite TV, "I say to my fellow Arabs [in power]: If you do not change, you will be changed."


I didn't hear talk like that five years ago. Nor did I hear an Egyptian friend remarking to me that she had absolutely no problem with Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal, one day succeeding his father. Gamal is a good man. She just had one condition, that Gamal Mubarak succeed his father the same way George W. Bush succeeded his father: in a free election.

Meanwhile, last Sunday, about 1,000 Egyptians gathered in downtown Cairo, many wearing over their mouths yellow stickers with the Arabic word for "enough" written on them, to protest plans by President Mubarak to run for a fifth term.


Yes, there is definitely something stirring out here, but it has miles to go before meaningful changes occur. It is something America should be quietly encouraging, so it is inexplicable to me that the Bush administration is holding up publication of the next U.N. Arab Human Development Report. Let me fill you in:

In 2002, the U.N. Development Program sponsored a group of courageous Arab economists, social scientists and other scholars to do four reports on human development in the Arab world. The first one, in 2002, caused a real stir in this region - showing, among other things, that the Arabs were falling so far behind that Spain's G.D.P. was greater than that of the entire Arab League combined.

That first report, published in Arabic and English, was downloaded off the Internet one million times. It was a truly incisive diagnosis of the deficits of freedom, education and women's empowerment retarding the Arab world. In 2003, the same group produced a second Arab Human Development Report, about the Arab knowledge deficit - even tackling the supersensitive issue of how Islam and its current spiritual leaders may be holding back modern education. This was stuff no U.S. diplomat could ever raise, but the Arab authors of these reports could and did.


So I eagerly awaited the third Arab Human Development Report, due in October. It was going to be pure TNT, because it was going to tackle the issue of governance and misgovernance in the Arab world, and the legal, institutional and religious impediments to political reform. These are the guts of the issue out here. I waited. And I waited. But nothing.

Then I started to hear disturbing things - that the Bush team saw a draft of the Arab governance report and objected to the prologue, because it was brutally critical of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Israeli occupation. This prologue constitutes some 10 percent of the report. While heartfelt, it's there to give political cover to the Arab authors for their clear-eyed critique of Arab governance, which is the other 90 percent of the report.

But the Bush team is apparently insisting that language critical of America and Israel be changed - as if language 10 times worse can't be heard on Arab satellite TV every day. And until it's changed, the Bush folks are apparently ready to see the report delayed or killed altogether. And they have an ally. The government of Egypt, which is criticized in the report, also doesn't want it out - along with some other Arab regimes.

So there you have it: a group of serious Arab intellectuals - who are neither sellouts nor bomb throwers - has produced a powerful analysis, in Arabic, of the lagging state of governance in the Arab world. It is just the sort of independent report that could fuel the emerging debate on Arab reform.

But Bush officials, along with Arab autocrats, are holding it up until it is modified to their liking - even if that means it won't appear at all.

It makes you weep.


9 comments:

  1. Wow! What an amazing report, it sparked my curiosity on the two repots that was done by the Arab scholars and if there is anyway you can read about more online? Zaydoun have you looked it up by any chance? Let me know if you can find more info on the topic please. I?ll try to research it on my own too. Bas thanks for this post it really makes you think and hope for some sort of reform in the region. Inshallah things will change for the better

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  2. Reform never works, it takes a long time and wasted money since the defects are still there in the foundation. The only way things change is by bringing in something new.

    Example: Amiri hospital. A face lift outside and new decoration inside doesn't change that is a crappy hospital. Cheaper and easier to totally destroy it and build something better.

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  3. LETS NOT KID OURSELVES HERE...HOW COME THESE PPL TALK ABT REFORMS-SOCIAL, ECOMIMIC, POLITICAL AND WHATEVER ELSE U CAN THINK OF. WHAT GIVES THEM THE RT TO ? THE ARAB GOVERNANCE WHEN ITS PRETTY BLATANT WHATS GOIN ON AROUND US. "DEMOCRATIC REFORM" IN IRAQ SURELY DOESNT LOOK TOO GOOD RT NOW DOES IT. AND WHAT ABT THE LACK OF REPORTING ABT WHAT REALLY WENT DOWN IN FALLUJAH. HOW COME WE DINDT GET A 24-7 COVERAGE ON THAT FRONT. AND WHILE IM AT IT LEMME GO ON SOME MORE...WE'R GONNA HAVE ELECTIONS IN IRAQ IN JANUARY NOW. WHILE THE ENTIRE COUNTRY IS ENVELOPED IN CALCULATIVE GENOCIDE, HUMAN RTS VIOLATIONS ET ALL. MAYBE FRIEDMAN SHD GO AND PROPOGATE HIS "REFORM" IN FALLUJAH...MIDST ALL THE SHIT GOIN DOWN THERE.
    I T M A K E S Y O U W E E P !!!

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  4. You can get the complete 2002 and 2003 reports here:

    http://www.undp.org/rbas/ahdr/

    The 2004 report is still on hold as Friedman pointed out. The UNDP ran a contest to design its cover earlier this year and the results were supposed to be announced last August, but they weren't! I guess the outlook for its release anytime soon is not good.

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  5. first off - thanks zaydoun for the friedman quote. i haven't kept up with him for quite a while.

    two - would the guy with the all caps comment avoid doing that as it HURTS MY EYES.

    3- most importantly. i never knew there was a followup to the report i read about a year ago by UNHDP (was that the first or the second i wonder?). can we get in touch with the authors that work for the UN and leverage the power of the net to get it 'unofficially' released? what are the repercussions of such an actions. they lose their job? bid deal for a greater cause!

    what do you think zaydoun?

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  6. Zaydoun, thx for the excellent article.

    I had the pleasure of having lunch with Mr. Friedman just before the war in Iraq. He really has a great insight about the region and the mentalities we have here, although I dont totally agree with everything he says. I actually think he understands more about the region and how the future is shaping out to be than some of our politicians here!

    His book,The Lexus and the Olive Tree, is one of the best books you will ever read about the changes happening in the world and the effect of globalization on different parts of the world, very very highly recommended and is an excellent read!

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  7. Frigg.. what an excellent idea! Let this blog be Ground Zero for the campaign/petition to release the 3rd UNDP report. Bombard them with emails, put up a petition on Petitiononline.com... ANYTHING!

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  8. The next day the New York times printed a follow story in the news section where the UN said the report wasn't ready and that the US had made an inquiry as to when it would be ready but didn't try to influence to product. The US representitive said they didn't try to influence it. The last report was also rather critical of the US and was published.

    ReplyDelete
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