The December issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin is out (well probably a week or so now), and it's worth taking a look at. Steven Cook (who wrote this book on the military in Middle Eastern politics) writes about the US presidential candidates and democracy promotion in the Arab world, a notion all the first-tier candidates pay lip service to. Steve notes however that:
One may argue over whether democracy promotion should be the business of US presidential candidates (Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul don't think so), but it's good to see Edwards have a proposal with a bill attached and a focus on rule of law rather than elections. That being said, Obama and McCain have also made much noise about this, with Obama making clear that he would implement aid/trade conditionality as a tool of pressure:
More than any of the other candidates, Senator John Edwards situates democracy promotion within a policy to fight extremism. As part of a long-term effort to support political change, Senator Edwards has called for $3 billion in funding for global primary education, increasing microfinance programs, supporting health care in developing countries, and â€œdramatic increasesâ€� in the â€œpromotion of constitutional democracies and the rule of law across the developing world.â€�
Of all the candidates, Obama provides the strongest hint of how he would go about promoting political change in the Arab world. The centerpiece of his approach can be described as conditionality in which economic and military aid, trade deals, and debt relief would be coupled with an â€œinsistent call for reform.â€�
I'd like to see how far he gets in applying conditionality in practice, since in most cases aid deals are tied to domestic economic interests.
This issue of ARB also has a piece on Lebanese civil society and the Khalass movement by Omayma Abdel Latif (we miss her in Egypt), finding it has had very limited impact in going beyond sectarian lines:
Five months into the Khalass campaign, it is not clear whether the organizersâ€™ efforts to go beyond politics and sectarian polarization are bearing fruit. â€œIt has not created momentum or attracted enough popular attention,â€� wrote Ghassan Saoud in al-Akhbar newspaper recently. Other observers have suggested that a photo-op between two political enemies such as Saad al-Hariri, head of majority March 14 bloc, and Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement and an ally of Hizbollah, would change the popular mood ten times faster than Khalass and other anti-war civil society activities.
There are also articles there on economic obstacles to further democratization in Mauritania, freedom of expression in Libya, and educational reform in Saudi Arabia.