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Report Card on Democratic Reforms in Arab World Issued

  • Lisa Bryant

Jordan ranked first and Saudi Arabia last in a new report card on the state of democratic reforms in the Arab world. The Arab Democracy Index was released Monday in Paris.

Published by the The Arab Reform Initiative, or ARI, a network of 14 Arab and international think-tanks, this is only the second report card on the levels of reforms and democracy in the Arab world. None of the 10 Arab countries ranked in the new Arab Democracy Index get high marks. But Khalil Shikaki, who co-authored the study, says the overall trend is slightly encouraging.

"To a large extent, we determined that with the figures we got this year that all the Arab countries are exhibiting some signs of democratization," said Khalil Shikaki. "Some signs mean what? It means that in term of practices, they're really far off the target."

Still a number of the countries have enshrined democratic principles in their laws - even if they do not always adhere by them.

The index is composed of 40 indicators of democracy - such as whether countries have legal guarantees against torture, hold periodic and fair elections, or promote gender equality.

Jordan is ranked first, with a score of 620 out of a possible 1,000 points. Curiously, Shikaki says, Jordan does a much better job enshrining democracy through practice than in laws. Saudi Arabia ranks last and, Shikaki says, it is doing a poor job in both law and practice.

Some countries have slipped in ranking since the first report card, which was released last year. That's the case of the Palestinian territories and Yemen, which dropped respectively to seventh and ninth place out of 10. Shikaki can speak about the Palestinian territories first hand, as he is also director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

"In the case of Yemen and Palestine, these are the two most glaring failures in this report, because they have slipped back compared to where they were just a year before," he said. "We attribute that - and we have the evidence to show it - to the level of insecurity and destabilization that has been widespread in the last couple of years in the last two countries. "

By contrast, Lebanon has moved up in ranking, from sixth to fourth place. Again, Shikaki attributes the improvement to greater political stability.

"The more stable the countries are, the more likely they have a chance to democratize," said Shikaki. "It doesn't guarantee. But there is a better chance to democratize when you have internal stability."

Members of ARI hope to include more Arab countries in their democracy index in the years to come. They also hope the index will become a internationally recognized reference of progress toward democracy in the Arab world.