CDDRL launches new Program on Good Governance and Political Reform in the Arab World

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Students at Cairo University listen to President Obama's speech on June 4, 2009, seeking a new beginning between the United States and Muslim communities around the world, based on principles of "justice and progress; tolerance and dignity of all human beings."
Photo credit: 
Pete Souza

The Freeman Spogli Institute's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) has established a new Program on Good Governance and Political Reform in the Arab World, the result of a generous gift from the Foundation for Research and Development in the Middle East (FDRDME), based in Geneva, Switzerland.  The program, which runs for five years beginning in September 2009, conducts research, organizes conferences and seminars and sponsors visiting scholars at CDDRL.  The program's scholarly research examines the different social and political dynamics within Arab societies and the evolution of political systems, with an eye on the prospects, conditions, and possible pathways for political reform.

The new program brings together scholars and practitioners from Arab countries and their Western counterparts, as well as local actors of diverse backgrounds, to consider how democratization and more responsive and accountable governance might be achieved, as a general challenge and within specific Arab countries.  Among the program's first research projects is one on transitions from absolute monarchy in historical and comparative perspective. To this effect, are there any lessons that can be drawn from past experiences, and across different settings, and to what degrees can they apply to the Arab world?  A conference taking stock of democratic progress and conditions in the Arab world is planned for May 10-11, 2010.

Center Director Larry Diamond thanked the Foundation for its visionary contribution. "This gift puts Stanford on the map in contemporary Arab studies and will make CDDRL one of the most important academic sites for studying these issues.  In the modern history of the Arab world, there has never been a more compelling and opportune moment to examine current conditions of governance and factors that might facilitate or obstruct democratic change.

"In the modern history of the Arab world, there has never been a more compelling and opportune moment to examine current conditions of governance and factors that might facilitate or obstruct democratic change"

"The striking political continuity in the Arab world is not just of analytic interest, but is a challenge to sustained long-term economic development, stability, and peace." Diamond stated. "From the expressions and actions of vibrant and diverse civil societies in the region, and a growing wealth of public opinion-survey evidence, we know that peoples of the region desire political emancipation and self-determination no less than others around the world.  The challenge is to figure out how indigenous democratic change might be negotiated in ways that generate broad societal consensus and do not risk violence or instability."

"From the expressions and actions of vibrant and diverse civil societies in the region, and a growing wealth of public opinion survey evidence, we know that peoples of the region desire political emancipation and self-determination"

The program is supervised by Diamond and CDDRL Deputy Director Kathryn Stoner-Weiss, and managed by Lina Khatib, in interaction with Professor Olivier Roy, in his capacities as a leading Western scholar of political Islam and as director of FDRDME. Roy, a long-time scholar and research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) who has recently been named Professor of Mediterranean Studies at the European University Institute in Florence, will be a frequent participant in program events and a recurrent visitor to CDDRL.  Other program participants include Hicham Ben Abdallah and Hind Arroub from Morocco, Visiting Scholars at CDDRL, and Sean Yom, a political science PhD from Harvard University, who is a postdoctoral fellow at CDDRL in 2009-10.