Monday, October 04, 2004

Good news from the Islamic world 

Some recent positive developments along the road to greater democracy, freedom, free market and tolerance.

Afghanistan: For the latest round-up of good news from Afghanistan, see my
earlier post.

Egypt: President Hosni Mubarak has been in power for the past 23 years with a prospect of few more, as he is expected to be given a fifth term following a single-candidate presidential referendum in September next year. The Egyptian leader, although a spritely 76 years old who appears to be "in good health" after some recent scares, must be however starting to think about succession and his son, the 41-year old Gamal Mubarak looks like a safe bet.

Gamal, while denying he is to replace his father, has certainly played a dominant role at last week's national convention of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). From this account, he doesn't sound like a bad replacement for Mubarak Sr:

"Gamal... consolidated his image as being at the vanguard of the NDP's new, liberal -- at least economically -- way of thinking. [He] polished his image as a modern manager, worlds apart from the NDP's old guard, with the president's son repeating once more his opposition to the inheritance of power... Younger NDP members refer to him as a republican heir-apparent, who will put himself forward at elections at the right moment, and then be embraced by the electorate."
Egypt badly needs economic reform - but a genuine, democratic election would also be a good move for Gamal, if and when he steps into his father's shoes.

Indonesia: The
Presidential election in the world's largest Muslim country, and one of the world's largest democracies-in-the-making, went well and fair. Indonesians had their first chance to vote for their leader directly (as opposed to the Parliament doing the job for them), and they have elected Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, American-educated former General, widely regarded as being tough on terrorism and an economic reformer.

Fundamentalist parties performed badly,
moderates had their day:

"Those calling for the establishment of an Islamic state couldn't gather enough popular support to qualify for the nation's first direct presidential election. Of the five who did, none called for diluting the secular nature of the state.

"The two Islamist candidates got trounced in the first round in July. And the third, Gen. Wiranto - like many Indonesians, he goes by one name - had a vice-presidential running mate from the country's largest Muslim organization, Nahdlat-ul Ulama, with 40 million members."
The second round saw the face-off between the two most moderate candidates in the field.

Iraq: For the latest round-up of good news from Iraq, see my
earlier post.

Changes at the top are likely to have a positive trickle-down effect:

"The emirate is preparing to name Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah as the new crown prince, replacing the ailing Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Salem al-Sabah, Gulf diplomats said here... [A] Kuwaiti analyst said: 'This change will concentrate more power in the hands of the liberal-leaning Sheikh Sabah who has been pushing hard for reforms, especially after his appointment as prime minister and following the overthrow of (former Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein'...

"Since Sheikh Sabah was appointed premier in July 2003, Kuwait has carried out a number of economic reforms including a Foreign Direct Investment law, allowing private airlines and privatising petrol stations.

"The government is expected to submit 10 key economic bills to parliament when it reconvenes in late October, covering privatisation and income tax -- seen as vital for economic transparency. It is also planning several political reform bills, including granting women full political rights and changing the country's electoral map to promote more democratic elections."
The report concludes: "Kuwaitis, who set up the Gulf region's first parliament more than four decades ago, have been pressing for more economic and political reform. Their calls have increased in volume since the April 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in neighbouring Iraq." The cynics, meanwhile, continue to snigger at Bush's argument that liberation of Iraq will help spread freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East.

Qatar: The Emir of Qatar recently had some
home truths to share with the international community:

"Political reform in the developing world, including the Middle East, is a 'necessity,' Qatar's ruler told world leaders at the United Nations, addressing an issue that has come to the fore with the U.S. push to turn Iraq into a democracy.

"The absence of democracy and 'prolonged slackening of political reform in quite a few countries in the south' are at the root of the region's trouble, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said at Tuesday's opening of the U.N. General Assembly's ministerial session.

"The emir, who heads the Group of 77, an organization of mainly developing nations and China, has repeatedly called for democratic reforms in the Middle East, arguing that Arab states should not use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a pretext for maintaining authoritarian rule.

"Qatar promulgated a new constitution on Tuesday, introducing a measure of parliamentary rule to the Gulf state. It provides for a 45-seat parliament, two-thirds elected and the remainder appointed by the emir. Parliamentary elections are expected to be held later this year. 'Political reform and the people's participation in decision making are no longer an option, but a necessity,' the emir said. He said history has shown that those states 'most committed to the exercise of democracy' have had the greatest economic achievements."
The Emir also sees the continuation of good relations with the United States in the future:

"Qatar plans to supply the US market with about 23 million tonnes of LNG in the next few years and make the State of Qatar a strategic ally of the United States, the Emir H H Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said... [i]n a speech at a dinner banquet hosted by a group of US oil companies in Houston, Texas...

"In an address, the Emir asserted that relations between Qatar and the US were very strong and attributed the ties to the joint commitment shared by both countries towards peace, welfare and stability in the Middle East and the world at large."
It is expected that a free trade agreement between Qatar and the United States will be signed within the next twelve months.

Meanwhile, Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, former dean of the Faculty of Shari'a at the University of Qatar, has in a recent article in the Qatari daily "Al-Raya"
criticised the prevalent conspiracy theories which see Mossad as responsible for the S11 attacks.

Turkey: Due to the European Union pressure on Ankara to harmonise their laws before they can be considered for the EU membership,
Turkish women have recently won some long-overdue legal victories:

"[Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan's government dropped plans to jail errant spouses and rushed through parliament a reform package that introduced ground-breaking rights for women... Among other amendments, the new penal code introduced life terms for perpetrators of 'honor killings,' criminalized spouse rape, defined systematic domestic violence as a kind of torture and toughened penalties for incest. It also weeded out from the books an infamous article that allowed rapists to go unpunished if they agreed to marry their victim."
"It is a triumph for us, a great leap forward," said Hulya Gulbahar, one of Turkey's leading women's activists. But a lot remains to be achieved and laws are only the first step, as another activists, Nebahat Akkoc, cautions: "The problem in our region is that people do not respect the official laws... We have to change mentalities and ensure that the laws are implemented."

An unidentified Arab country: Gets on the
wrong side of Hamas:

"Hamas charged Friday the intelligence service of an Arab country offered Israel classified information about the group and its leaders. Osama Hamdan, the militant group's representative in Lebanon, said in an interview with Beirut's daily al-Mustaqbal, the cooperation between Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, and the intelligence service of an Arab country helped Israel assassinate a Hamas activist in Damascus last week. 'We had taken extra security precautions before we were tipped about that cooperation ... We later found out that the security services of an Arab country that is a neighbor of Palestine provided Israel with all the information about Hamas,' Hamdan said."


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