Morocco ahead of Algeria and Egypt in democratic transitions in the Arab World

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The Arab Reform Initiative (ARI) Monday presented its report, on the development of the democratic transition in ten Arab countries for the year 2008, in Paris. Applying strict international and Arab criteria as well as a “no strings attached” principle vis-a-vis donations, it is the result of works undertaken by local institutions.

The report measures established institutional levers to promote democracy, and compares them to existing practices, by giving a score to each case. Out of the ten Arab states evaluated in the report, three of them are African, with Morocco taking the lead ahead of Algeria and Egypt, while ranking second overall, behind Jordan. Yemen came last.

Democracy is making a headway in very few Arab countries.

Morocco is the first among Arab countries on the African continent to have made a considerable headway in terms of transition to democratic institutions. This is the conclusion reached by the Arab Reform Initiative (ARI), an institution which measures the efforts of democratic development in the Arab world. The report seeks to “Influence the process of democratic transition by providing a mechanism that allows advocates of democracy in the Arab world, as well as the ordinary citizen who wishes to hold leaders to account and participate in decision making, to monitor the evolution of this process up close”, notes the report, which was unveiled Monday in Paris.

Among the ten Arab countries understudied between January and December 2008, three of which are north African, that is; Morocco, Egypt and Algeria, Morocco placed second behind Jordan. Egypt came third, Algeria was fifth.

More to be done

The score obtained by the three African countries shows that they have adopted a positive set of legislations that have confronted government practices in a way that brings about development or regression. Egypt, for instance, has adopted a progressive approach: The northern African country was ranked third in the index, compared to fourth in 2007, when participation was only limited to eight countries. This “is the second largest increase in the score of any country, after Lebanon,” reads the report. The same goes for Algeria, which has gone up from seventh place (among the eight previous countries) to fifth place (out of the present ten).

Despite Morocco’s second place ranking, the kingdom has seen a slight dip from the previous survey, as some of its main indicators received a score of zero: “the ill treatment of detainees, the licensing of political parties, organizing meetings and protests, personal safety, and school drop-outs”. Morocco, however, remains on track.

“A few weeks ago, the European Union and Morocco held their first summit. Morocco is growing steadily. We gave it an advanced status which translates into preferential rights within the European Union “, Christian Jouret, Head of the Mediterranean and Middle East Task Force, commented during the presentation of the report at the Council of the European Union.

However, much remains to be done by the three African countries if they wish to be regarded as true democracies. The ARI report observes significant disparities between the commitment to reform shown by these countries and their handling of human rights, which is considered as a genuine guarantee of democratic progress. This is the reason behind the various ARI recommendations to them. The report also suggests that Morocco, among others, should devote more financial support to its educational system, to help put a stop to school drop-outs and also to allow a freer expression of the opposition media. The king has more to gain by delegating more powers to parliament and the government.

In what concerns Egypt, six major recommendations have been made. The main recommendations concern “the obvious weakness in practices… observed especially in the rule of law and respect for rights and freedoms”. The same recommendations have also been made to Algeria, where the authorities have been advised to “pay more attention to issues of education, health care, labor and by diversifying the country’s economy, rather than relying on the single resource of oil.”

An Arabs initiative for Arabs

Founded in 2005, the Arab Reform Initiative (ARI) is a network of fourteen think tanks. It consists of nine research centers located throughout the Arab world (from Morocco to the Persian Gulf), four in Europe and one in the United States. Through a wide range of activities and publications conducted jointly, ARI works to mobilize Arab research capacities to generate knowledge by those who are the prime targets of reform, nurture and promote home grown agendas for democratic reform encourage public debate in the Arab world, and produce recommendations for policy leaders.

ARI’s core methodology is based on the Arab democracy Index (ADI), which monitors various indicators that evaluate issues relevant to the nature and performance of political systems. The ADI is an extension of an experiment that was conducted in Palestine by two local institutes, The Center for Palestine Research and Studies and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

To assess the development of democracy in a country, the index uses a numerical reading of forty different indicators, including separation of powers, economic independence, women’s rights, education, corruption, freedom to demonstrate, human rights, prisoner rights, safeguards against torture, among others. These gauge four major values and principles relevant to the democratization process: Strong and accountable public institutions, respect for rights and freedoms, the rule of law, and equality and social justice.

The information used by the ARI are collected through official reforms undertaken by each country, the collection of data to assess its implementation, and opinion polls.

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