Dubai: Can the human race have a scientific indicator of how much a government, a nation or an institution embraces the core idea of accountability, rights and freedom of expression, rule of law and equality and social justice?
There is no simple answer to this question nor is it easy to formulate and implement such a scale, but according to Dr Bassma Kodmani, Executive Director of the Arab Reform Initiative (ARI), the index being created tries sincerely to quantitatively measure social, political and more importantly the constitutional characteristics in the covered countries. The aim is to form a general picture of what capabilities are available to the governments and policymakers in these countries and how much is being utilised to achieve their goals.
Kodmani told Gulf News that the index has tried to answer the failure of other benchmarks with a home-grown product in the Arab world to judge the progress of democracy.
"The problem with many of the international indicators of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and governance, which are meant to compare the performance of countries against each other, is that much of the contents of these indicators depends mainly on impressions rather than how things are measured. The ARI is different in this nature because what generates the ranking of the countries in this index is not based on opinion but the result of measurement," Kodmani said.
In its second report issued last week, the Arab Reform Initiative used 40 indicators to measure changes over a period of time and compare situations among different countries covered by the report. The report included 10 Arab countries this year, an increase of two countries over the 2008 report.
The good thing about the 104-page report, according to Kodmani, lies in the fact that Arab research centres and researchers from 15 Arab countries took part in its preparation. "For the first time, the researchers used and developed a scale, which has been created locally to produce a comprehensive vision about reforms and democracy in the Arab world."
Kodmani said the main finding of the report is that the region has the institutional means to make the transition to democratic governments but has not yet applied them in practice. "In spite of the shortcomings, as they appeared in the study, Arabs have the right to believe that the march towards democracy has actually started and it would be difficult to abort it in countries like Morocco or Egypt, which both have strong media and non-governmental organisations.
However, she warned that if progress was not made in all aspects of life; the achievement and advances might be lost.
The initiative was founded in 2005. It is a network of 14 think-tanks including nine based in the Arab world, four in Europe and one in the US.
The initiative is aimed at enhancing Arab capabilities to develop a programme for democratic reform in the Arab world with recommendations being formed exclusively by scholars from the region to ensure such recommendations are genuine and do not represent a foreign agenda.
ARI is an independent organisation with no ties to any particular country or to any political agenda related to the region, according to a communiqué.
In his introduction to the report, Dr Khalil Al Shikaki, Director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, the 40 indicators are divided into two kinds.
The first group deals with measuring the means of democratic transition like legislation, while the second aims at measuring the practices of democratic transition such as elections. "The indicators are divided among four values: The strength of public institutions that focuses on the separation of power and accountability of a government, respect for rights and freedoms including the freedom of forming political parties and the ability of organising demonstrations, the reach of the rule of law in the political regime and the independence of the judiciary and the prevalence of arbitrary detention and equality and social justice," Al Shikaki said.
The report covers 10 countries in its current issue: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen with a mission to cover the reforms in all Arab countries soon.
Other global reports
There are around 60 international reports to measure political changes in counties around the world issued annually by a number of respected organisations. These include:
- Human Development Report, UNDP: covers the state of education, health and per capital income.
- Transparency International: Perception of corruption based on public opinion polls in 180 countries.
- Worldwide Governance Indicators: World Bank report covers 200 countries and measures governance from six aspects.
- Freedom in the world: Freedom House publication which measures freedom based on two criteria — political rights and civil liberties.
- Bretelsmann Foundation Report, Germany: Measures democratic conditions in different countries including political participation the rule of law, stability and democratic institutions in addition to the conditions of the market and the administration.
- The Global Integrity Report: This classifies countries based on a number of indicators including civil society, the media, electoral process, government accountability regulatory mechanisms and the rule of low.
- Arab Democracy Index: This takes into consideration both impressions and patterns of behaviour. Measures their impact on citizens' daily lives and revolves around the centrality of citizenship instead of political authority.
Have your say
What should the criteria be for judging reform in the Arab world? Can it be measured or do you think such processes are subjective? Tell us.