Arab governments are making a superficial effort to democratize that will prolong authoritarian rule and produce a ``disaster for all,'' according to excerpts of a draft report by the United Nations and more than 30 Arab scholars.
Political changes in countries such as Saudi Arabia so far ``are real and promising, but they do not add up to a serious effort to dispel the established environment of repression,'' the draft sections obtained by Bloomberg News said.
Release of the ``Arab Human Development Report'' has been delayed since November by debate over the authors' initial description of the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Israel's military presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as occupations, co- author Clovis Maksoud, a former Arab League envoy to the U.S. who teaches at American University in Washington, said in an interview late yesterday.
The report's draft conclusions buttress U.S. President George W. Bush's call for democratization throughout the Middle East, according to Ambassador Abdallah Baali of Algeria, the Arab representative on the UN Security Council. Bush has cited elections in Iraq on Jan. 30 and the Palestinian territories on Jan. 9, and Syria's pledge to withdraw troops from Lebanon, as evidence of democratic progress in the world's largest oil- producing region.
``It will give ammunition to those who are calling for reforms,'' Baali said of the UN report, which is due to be released in Amman, Jordan, on April 5. ``This was discussed at the Arab League summit in Algiers, so this report can help the debate. But everybody is saying changes have to come from inside.''
Yahya Mahmassani, a Lebanese who is the Arab League ambassador to the UN, said that while the report was ``harsh,'' there is ``probably some truth to it.''
The report's draft excerpts said while steps toward greater freedom of the press and assembly have been taken, ``this kind of reform is no longer effective or even possible.''
Positive developments such as Saudi Arabia's first elections on Feb. 10 and the new constitution that is to take effect in Qatar in June are cited in the report. They are described as ``merely cosmetic and superficial'' and a ``calculated orientation towards political openness.''
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire investor across the Arab world, called his country's municipal elections, announced in August, ``stepping stones for major elections,'' the Arab News reported in December. The Web site of Qatar's embassy in Washington quotes Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the country's emir, as saying in September that ``reforms are not mere plans or programs, but a vital culture and way of thinking that need to be deepened and planted.''
Egypt this week charged presidential candidate Ayman Nour of Al-Ghad, or the ``Tomorrow'' party, with forgery in connection with documents submitted to the government to register the organization. Egypt's ambassador to the U.S., Nabil Fahmy, denied that the legal action was politically motivated.
The Egyptian government objected to an initial draft of the Arab development report that criticized President Hosni Mubarak's consideration of handing power to his 41-year-old son, Gamal, Maksoud said.
It took several months for the UN and the Arab authors to make changes that overcame the objections from Egypt, Israel and the U.S., Maksoud said.
Other co-authors, according to Maksoud, include Qadi Ayad University professor Farida Bennani of Morocco, Ziad Fariz, a professor at Keele University in Britain, and Burhan Ghalioun, a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris.
To contact the reporter of this story: Bill Varner at the United Nations at email@example.com
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