THE ARAB NETWORK FOR THE STUDY OF DEMOCRACY
Arab academics and civil society activists from 7 Arab countries formed in July 07 the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy. These 7 Arab countries are: Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco. They were selected because they represent the 4 cultural and geographical subsystems that define the Arab region: the Gulf, the Mashreq or Levant, North Africa and Egypt.
This network’s activities will focus on three tracks:
--- Research about democracy and its applications in the Arab region
--- Practice of democracy including the establishment of an Arab Public Issues Forums Project
--- Measurement of democracy through the launching of an Arab Barometer initiative
Following is a brief description of each of these three activity tracks.
Research about democracy
The purpose of this track is to have a group of established and respected Arab academics write on a periodic basis about the democratic processes in the Arab region. The network members identified the following topics for the first group of research papers:
a- A conceptual analysis of Arab democracy: what it means now, how has it been defined historically, how it is understood by different groups in the Arab civil society, and what are its indices.
b- A mapping of studies done to-date about the status of democracy and reform projects in the Arab region namely studies done by UNDP, and by other Arab research centers
Both of these papers will establish a common conceptual base on which the group activities will be based in the area of democracy promotion and strengthening.
c- A series of case studies focusing on the most promising arenas for democratic politics in the Arab region. The purpose of each of these studies is to study the type of politics that is emerging in the most influential arenas of contemporary civil society activism
* Arab social change movements which have grown from grass-roots activism and not a result of traditional elites’ activities. For example: Al Ouroush movement in Algeria, the March 14 movement in Lebanon and the Kifaya movement in Egypt
*Islamist movements with an emphasis on their underlying dynamics, the type of politics they practice internally, and how their respective political platforms have evolved over the recent past with a focus on the movements in Morocco, Egypt and Bahrain
* Human rights organizations in the Arab region and an analysis of their impact to-date on the public debate about citizen rights in the Arab region
* Four major women’s organizations in the Arab region: their internal politics, how they relate to each other, relationships between elites and grass-roots, how they fashion their message and how the latter has transformed itself in response to grass-roots action , and their relationship with power centers
Practice of Democracy
Following the July 2006 DDW, the Arab Network members reflected on their experience at the workshop and agreed that one of the network activity tracks should focus on developing a similar pan-Arab program in the 7 countries represented in the Network. The project will be called the ARAB PUBLIC ISSUES FORUMS PROJECT. This initiative will develop among others, a forums program in each of the 7 countries while tackling regional issues that can work, with minor modifications, in each country.
Measurement of Democracy
Attempts to measuring democratic practice and evolution take on a special importance in the Arab world, due to the lack of such research endeavors and the danger attending the topic itself under the conditions experienced by Arab societies in this historical phase. While avoiding the trap of “culturalistic approaches” that consider the Arab world as a different space from others, one that has a special make-up regarding its relationship to democracy, we must refer to political, cultural, social and military conditions that distinguish the situation in a number of countries in this region (despite the differences between them) and render them different from conditions in other countries of the world that are moving slowly toward democracy.
The objective of this activity track is to develop an annual Arab Barometer project that measures and follows the evolution of democratic practice in 5 arenas of public life: political, legal-judicial, socioeconomic, cultural-educational, and environmental. This project will use a triangulated methodology that relies on analysis of legislation and constitutional documents, surveys and public opinion polls, and in-depth interviews and focus groups with officials, civil society leaders and public opinion shapers. It will be administered simultaneously in 7 Arab countries.