- Documents on Democracy
On March 12-14, Arab civil society activists convened, under the auspices of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, for a conference at Egypt's Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The conference, entitled "Arab Reform Issues: Vision and Implementation," issued the Alexandria Declaration, which is excerpted below:
Political reform refers to all direct and indirect measures for which governments, civil society and the private sector are responsible—measures that could help Arab societies and countries advance, without hesitation, towards building concrete and genuine democratic systems.
As representatives of Arab civil society, when we talk of democratic systems, we mean, without ambiguity, genuine democracy. This may differ in form and shape from one country to another due to cultural and historical variations; but the essence of democracy remains the same. Democracy refers to a system where freedom is a paramount value that ensures actual sovereignty of the people and government by the people through political pluralism, leading to transfer of power. Democracy is based on respect of all rights for all the people, including freedom of thought and expression, and the right to organize under the umbrella of effective political institutions, with an elected legislature, an independent judiciary, a government that is subject to both constitutional and public accountability, and political parties of different intellectual and ideological orientations.
This genuine democracy requires guaranteed freedom of expression in all its forms, topmost among which is freedom of the press, and audio-visual and electronic media. It calls for adopting free, regular, centralized and decentralized elections to guarantee transfer of power and the rule of the people. It also requires the highest possible level of decentralization that would allow greater self-expression by local communities, unleashing their creative potentials for cultural contributions to human development in all fields. This is closely linked to achieving the highest level of transparency in public life, to stamping out corruption within the framework of establishing good governance, and [to] support for human rights provided [End Page 179] according to international agreements. The rights of women, children, and minorities, the protection of the fundamental rights of those charged with criminal offences and the humane treatment of citizens are on top of the list. All this is in keeping with accepted practices in those societies that have preceded us on the road to democratic development. . . .
[T]he representatives of civil society, civil and nongovernmental organizations represented in this conference affirm the need for the abolition of extrajudicial and emergency laws and extraordinary courts in any form and under any name, currently in effect in many Arab countries, since these undermine the democratic nature of political systems. . . .
On March 22 in Beirut, the first Arab Civil Forum, meeting in advance of the Arab Summit, released its own initiative for political reform. It is excerpted below:
The Civil Forum expresses its grief that the reform proposals submitted to the Arab Summit do not provide any serious promise of reform and change. This is due to the lack of courage to admit the intensity of the crisis.
The apathy of the majority of the Arab states toward the [UN] Report on Human Development in the Arab world is a significant indicator of the lack of desire to reform or acknowledgment of the problem the Arab world is undergoing.
The justification of external initiatives to reform the Arab world might be ascribed to the systematic suppression of internal initiatives for reform for more than half a century. . . .
[Arab] governments should not belittle the Arab cultures and religions by invoking them as grounds to reject reform as if such cultures allow torture, collective and individual murder, forging of political will, corruption, extremism, terrorism and other cruelties; or as if such cultures reject democratic rule, integrity, transparency, and human rights.
Warning against the threats of chaos that might result from reforming the Arab world ignores the fact that anarchy has already mushroomed in some of the Arab states. The threat of total collapse would be the result of delaying the onset of reform. Extremism has the final say in the political arena in the Arab world, it is coterminous with marginalization or suppression of the other intellectual and political currents and their symbols. This is...