"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
The ‘Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Region of the Broader Middle East and North Africa ' could serve as a suitable platform for establishing a process between the G-8 and the Arab world that would further the interest of both sides. Particularly encouraging about the document is its stated support for “…democratic, social, and economic reform emanating from within the region,” and as thus, its recognition of regional reform efforts as the basis for furthering cooperation. A clear commitment to engaging in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through working towards realizing a lasting settlement based on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, as well as to supporting a just and swift end to the Iraqi conflict by “…promoting a successful outcome of the political process and by encouraging a useful and realistic involvement of the United Nations,” are welcome statements, and would serve as an integral part of cooperation and partnership efforts between the G-8 and Arab countries.
We acknowledge and appreciate the fact that the proposed initial G-8 initiatives are encouraging in their recognition of a need for a multilateral approach to assist the reformist states in accelerating reform, consolidating achievements, and forging ahead towards building a more prosperous and stable world. The plan is reflective of the priorities of the region, and in particular as pertains to supporting economic, social, and political development. It should therefore allow for states to select and prioritize the areas of emphasis in the Plan that they decide to implement.
Indeed, there is a widespread realization within the Arab world today that it stands at a critical juncture in its history. This realization is shared by both Arab governments and civil society institutions alike and stems from the state of Arab human development and the deficits that continue to hinder the attainment of the potential of the Arab people. Over the last couple of years, much work has been done by Arab private sector and civil society institutions to identify the challenges that the Arab world is currently facing and recommend a path for addressing those challenges. Initiatives and research include the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Arab Human Development Reports, the work of the Arab Business Council of the World Economic Forum (WEF), as well as the Alexandria Library conference and the Sana'a meeting on Democracy and Human Rights.
The work already conducted has identified deficits – in education, freedoms, and women's empowerment – as well as other economic and governance-related constraints to achieving sustainable growth, development, and prosperity. The work conducted has also identified the path to realize the ultimate prize of all development policies: improving the welfare of the people through providing opportunity, enhancing productivity and competitiveness and reducing inequities, while guaranteeing their freedoms, dignity, and security.
As a corollary, leading members of the Arab private sector and civil society institutions are currently conducting consultations in order to launch a process that will define a vision for the Middle East in 2010. It will consolidate the aforementioned initiatives under one umbrella to produce a comprehensive framework including a time-bound practical action plan with set deliverables. This is conceived as a necessary endeavor to define the endgame of the reform process which will allay any fears as to the objectives of the reform process, and would provide a constant stream of mechanisms and approaches that could be adopted by Arab governments.
There is little disagreement in the Arab World today over key areas where reform is needed: public and civil freedoms, women's rights, youth development, educational reform, judicial reform, economic liberalization, and fighting terrorism. But if content is important, ownership of the process is even more so. Initiatives seen as imposed from the outside will only hurt the efforts of genuine reformers in our region. Opponents of political and social reform will conveniently label reform efforts as a mere implementation of a Western agenda against the interests of the Arab World—and will probably get away with it. Opposition to outside efforts should not be turned however, into opposition to the reform process itself. If such outside efforts are to be averted, then it is imperative for the region to come out with an initiative of its own—one that will credibly and seriously commit Arab countries to the principles outlined above and more. The recent declarations of the Arab Summit in Tunis in May 2004 confirm the solid commitment and the political will of Arab governments to accelerate reforms. The statements released also reiterate a common will and determination to continue “…work within the framework of international legitimacy and through a partnership between Arab countries and the global community to combat terrorism in all its forms, uprooting it, dismantling its networks, and addressing its causes, as well as combating money laundering, drug trafficking, and organized crime.”
Arab leaders at the summit in Tunis have, furthermore, made a solid commitment to “Deepening the principles of democracy and shura [(consultation)] and widening public participation in political and public lives and in the decision-making process, within the framework of the rule of the law and achieving justice and equality between citizens; respecting human rights and the freedom of expression in accordance with all international and Arab charters and declarations; and respecting the independence of the judiciary.” This is to be accompanied by supporting and strengthening civil society institutions and promoting increased participation of women. Arab leaders have also voiced their strong commitment to economic reform and liberalization, as well as to the strengthening of the role of the private sector in economic activities.
It is important to recognize however, that a statement of principles on reform and a plan of action to implement these reforms are not quite the same. While one can expect a common commitment to principles, a one-blueprint-for-all action plan is unrealistic. Arab states are at different stages of political, economic, social and cultural development that demand a different, if serious, pace for each (Jordan has already both approved and started implementation of such a plan, which is detailed in a separate paper).
We also believe that the reform process cannot be looked at in isolation of the central question looming heavy over our area—the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot credibly be used as an excuse for the lack of movement on several social reform issues—women's rights for example- it is equally true that movement on political reform without a parallel serious attention to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, might lead to the wrong results. We need to move on these two tracks together if we are not to allow frustration and anger resulting from the continuation of the occupation to result in a societal shift away from moderation and towards extremism. Further, if we are to have a sustained public buy-in for many of potentially controversial reform efforts, we need to also address the core issue that all Arabs have on their minds. The Arab public needs to be convinced that the international community is truly serious about helping resolve this problem even while it asks the region to help it address the terrorism issue.
Once we have committed to a path of reform, we will certainly need to engage in a dialogue with the international community to assist us in our efforts. We already have an ongoing and healthy dialogue with the European Union over these issues. This dialogue has indeed started with the Barcelona process almost ten years ago, and we hope it will result in a joint agreement on an action plan that would emphasize cooperation and outside assistance rather than outside imposition. If such a dialogue is to be successful however, any initiative by the outside world should not be perceived as a movement against Islam. If there is a concern about terrorism, then we share it, and we share the commitment to fight it.
A dialogue between the G-8 as a group will have to be conducted with the Arab world as a group, in addition to bilateral cooperation between each state and the G-8, in order to ensure maximum success. Considerable progress has been made in the last few months leading to developing a consensus among Arab countries in terms of defining the parameters of reform. This has been made possible through existing mechanisms and ties in the Arab world, as demonstrated by the recent adoption of a declaration of principles on reform at the Tunis Arab Summit .
Cooperation and partnership between the Arab world and the G-8, aimed at enhancing growth and improving the standard of living of people in the region, should be based on the fact that both sides share the same long-term interests. A liberalizing and prosperous Arab world would serve to address much of the root causes of the rising phenomena of terrorism and extremism and would ensure that people of the region have a stake in a peaceful future, which would, “…reinforce the pillars of security, peace, and stability, both regionally and globally.”
The support of the G-8 to the reform efforts of countries in the Arab world is instrumental in their timely implementation and in assuring their success. There is a need for a multilateral process that would engage the Arab world at different levels, which is aimed, first and foremost, at stimulating economic growth and facilitating openness and liberalization, similar in structure to the Barcelona Process, through (i) providing direct financial assistance to support the process of structural reform; (ii) encouraging capital flows to the region to increase investments and enhance production; (iii) increasing trade, both globally and intra-regionally, through supporting trade protocols, harmonization, and supporting export industries; (iv) facilitating intra-regional economic integration; and (v) providing technical assistance.
A multilateral cooperation program ought to be designed within a time-bound framework and defined by a specific set of deliverables with an effective monitoring mechanism that would ensure implementation in a transparent and effective manner.
With the realization that regional reforms that reflect the realities of the region and address the fears of the people and the deficiencies of the existing systems are undoubtedly necessary, the G – 8 countries have much to contribute, in both resources and expertise. We look forward to cooperate within the coming months to establish the frameworks necessary to allow for the start of the dialogue between the two groups and the implementation of the key initiatives included in the Plan. We fully appreciate that this is an initial platform of cooperation and look forward to cooperating with all the parties to further develop its scope and content , for the benefit of our region and indeed global stability and peace.