Apr 11 - 17, 2005



Arab countries must step up the pace of democratic reform and eliminate the political "black holes" that characterize their regimes to avoid internal upheavals, says an UN-sponsored report.

The Arab Human Development Report 2004 is a scathing analysis of the obstacles, real and imposed, that prevent far-reaching legal and political reform from taking root across the 22 members of the Arab League.

"The concentration of power in the hands of the executive be it a monarchy, military dictatorship or a civilian president elected without competition has created a kind of political black hole," it said.

"The modern Arab state, in the political sense, runs close to this astronomical model, whereby the executive apparatus resembles a 'black hole' which converts its surrounding social environment into a setting in which nothing moves and from which nothing escapes," it added.

The 248-page report zeroes in on the need to establish more freedom, good governance and political reform as well as to free the judiciary from being a tool of authoritarian regimes. "In the absence of peaceful and effective mechanisms to address injustice and achieve political alternation, some might be tempted to embrace violent protest, with the risk of internal disorder," the report warned.

"This could lead to chaotic upheavals that might force a transfer of power in Arab countries, but such a transfer could well involve armed violence and human losses that, however, small, would be unacceptable," it said.

"By 21st century standards, Arab countries have not met the Arab people's aspirations for development, security and liberation despite variations between one country and another in that respect. "There is a near-complete consensus that there is a serious failing in the Arab world and that this is located specifically in the political sphere," not in cultural circles, it said.

Written by an independent group of Arab scholars and intellectuals, the report, the third in a series of four, was sponsored by the UN Development Program, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development and the Arab Gulf Program for UN Development Organizations.

It was prepared before the landmark Palestinian and Iraqi elections in January and well before municipal polls in Saudi Arabia or the recent announcement of presidential electoral reforms in Egypt. "There is a change in mindsets in the region," said Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, UN assistant secretary general and director of the regional bureau for Arab states at the UN Development Program, who has overseen the three reports.

"We are moving with greater confidence in a new direction now ... Those in our region who demand freedom, and who struggle for it, may be in the majority, however. those who stifle it are stronger and more powerful," she said. The authors of the report took to task Arab constitutions, describing them as "freedom on paper" and charging that in many cases these texts are "severely curtailed by restrictive regulatory legislation".

They recommend four immediate steps for reform: total respect for the key freedoms of opinion, expression and association; ending all types of marginalization and discrimination against social groups and minorities; guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary and ending reliance on military tribunals and other exceptional courts; abolishing the states of emergency that have become permanent features of governance in the region.




Syria and Lebanon ought to establish normal diplomatic ties, including embassies in each other's capitals, a UN envoy said.

"There is a special relationship between Lebanon and Syria and I'll say that this relationship will and should be continued on the basis of formal diplomatic relations," Terje Roed-Larsen told a news conference in Beirut. "It's indeed my hope that shortly there will be establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and that will lead to establishment of embassies."

Syrian and Lebanese foreign ministry officials declined to comment on Roed-Larsen's remarks.

Syria has not a diplomatic mission in Lebanon since the two countries won independence from France in the 1940s.

Many Lebanese say the establishment of normal diplomatic relations is necessary to show that Damascus has finally recognized Lebanon's full sovereignty and independence.

Lebanon was carved from Greater Syria in 1920 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

Under intense global and Lebanese popular pressure, Syria has pledged to remove its troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon by April 30, meeting a key requirement of a Security Council resolution sponsored by the US and France.

More than 100 Syrian military trucks left Lebanon last week, carrying troops, weapons, equipment and furniture, witnesses said. One truck was even carrying cows.

It was among the biggest movements of Syrian forces across the border in a single day since Damascus began withdrawing the 14,000 troops it had in Lebanon on March 8.

Roed-Larsen has been on a mission to the region to promote implementation of the resolution, which also demands the dismantling and disarming of militias in Lebanon referring mainly to the Hezbollah guerrilla group. The envoy said UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wanted Lebanon to hold parliamentary elections as scheduled.

"The secretary-general believes that these elections are a primary instrument for safeguarding the continued stability of the country," he said. Wrangling between Lebanon's pro-Syrian government and the opposition over the formation of a new government and the drafting of an electoral law threatens to delay the polls, due to take place before parliament's term expires on May 31.

The UN resolution was adopted in September, just before the mainly pro-Syrian assembly extended the term of President Emile Lahoud at the behest of Damascus, in the teeth of protests by foreign powers and Lebanese opposition leaders.

(Courtesy Gulf Times)