When the Arab League convenes this week, it will meet in a constitutional democracy, Iraq, and will include a former Tunisian human rights activist, Moncef Marzouki, among its assembled heads of state, notes Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. These are two of the least remarkable facts reflecting the rapid assimilation of democratic norms into the League and its member states over the past year.
In March 2004, the Arab Summit then scheduled in Tunis was cancelled at the last minute after acrimonious disagreements erupted between the governments over how to deal with the issue of democratic reform.
A declaration issued at the rescheduled meeting two months later committed the Arab leaders “To endeavor…to pursue reform and modernization in our countries, and to keep pace with the rapid world changes, by consolidating the democratic practice.” For the first time, the “D” word had appeared in an Arab League declaration, albeit as an adjective. But of course, this provision of the summit declaration proved as operative as the first provision, on the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. By next year’s summit, at least five of the League’s members will have prime ministers who emerged through democratic elections. How will the expansion of democratic practice among League members—and the League’s embrace of popular sovereignty as the basis for legitimacy—affect the organization’s future?
Khaled Elgindy gauges whether the League’s new diplomatic energy can generate serious responses to the region’s pronounced deficits, while Ken Pollack considers what it means for Iraq to host the summit, nine years after Saddam’s fall.