Two years ago, the UN Development Program issued its Arab Development Report. The report is part of UNDP’s Human Development Report series, which looks at a number of social (as opposed to strictly economic) indicators to track progress across the globe.
What is so fascinating about this particular report is that it honed in on the ways in which Arab states actively stifle human progress. The report warns that these states have become more of a “threat to human security instead of its chief support” and “human insecurity is palpable and present in the alienation of the region’s rising cohort of unemployed youth and in the predicaments of its subordinated women, and dispossessed refugees.”
The section below is titled: The State: Solution or Problem? It offers what I would consider a guidepost for very specific steps that Hosni Mubarak or his successor may take to use the apparatus of the state to support human development, rather than stifle it. Leaders throughout the Arab world who seek to avoid the fate of Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali would be wise to take heed:
Considerable hopes are pinned on the civil state—one which is ruled by laws that respect civil and political rights—as the overarching champion and guarantor of human security. However, the Report has emphasized that the expectations of citizens in Arab countries for the protection of their rights and freedoms are seldom fulfilled on the ground, even if the distance between hopes and reality is not the same in all Arab states. Arab leaders recognized clearly the importance of rule of law and political rights in the Declaration on Modernization and Reform, launched at the Tunis Summit in 2004.
Since that time, however, only slight improvements have been achieved. Accordingly, the recommendations of the Arab Human Development Report 2004, Towards Freedom in the Arab World, are still relevant today.
All Arab countries need to widen and deepen democratic processes to enable citizens to participate in framing public policy on an equal footing. A political system controlled by elites, however decked out with democratic trappings, will not produce outcomes conducive to human security for all citizens, irrespective of class, creed, gender, and ethnic/tribal affiliation. It is therefore imperative to restructure the social contract and modes of political interaction on the basis of equal rights and opportunities in order to forge cohesive bonds of citizenship among individuals in society. These bonds must be regulated by the state as the institution that stands above societal groupings, transcending the tribe and its elders, the ethnic group and its leaders, and the sect and its preachers.
This is the state for all its citizens, the protector of their personal and human security, and the guarantor of their individual and human rights. Such a state would unambiguously affirm its commitment to the international understanding of human rights. It would not merely ratify international conventions, but also would reflect their provisions in national legislation, and remove regulatory and legal obstacles to their meaningful implementation. This state would also
embody a clear separation of powers: the concentration of all authority in the executive would give way to public oversight and checks and balances provided by an independent judiciary and a genuinely representative and empowered legislature.
The security sector would be reformed along principles of professionalism and public service. And this state would also prize its independence in fashioning its policies, mediating external and internal social pressures and winning the approval and support of its own people. It would, in short, be a legitimate state, distinct from the various interests in its political space, and distinguished by its citizens’ voluntary acceptance of the principles by which they are governed.