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
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
"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,
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
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
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.
NORMAL TIES BETWEEN SYRIA AND LEBANON URGED
Syria and Lebanon ought to establish normal
diplomatic ties, including embassies in each other's capitals, a UN
"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
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
"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)