Doha • Experts attending a three-day global forum on democracy, development and free trade, which ended here yesterday, identified some major impediments to reforms in the Arab world.
Governments not respecting the constitution of their respective countries, laws preventing the abuse of power being ignored, lack of individual and press freedom and citizens being denied basic political and economic rights are some of the key challenges the region faces, the conference was told.
Recommendations in the form of a communiqué are yet to come, but most speakers focused on the obstacles giving only vague hint about practicable ways to tackle them.
Among the most outspoken speakers yesterday was a former premier of Algeria, Mawloud Hamrouch, who citing an example of a total lack of individual freedom in the Arab world, said that even the members of a political party had no right to choose or change a leader.
An important remark during the last panel discussion on 'The Arabs, the West and Democracy' was made by the UK's Lord Howe (a former foreign secretary) who underlined the need to separate religion from politics as a first crucial step towards installing democracy in the Arab states.
Scott Bates, from the National Democratic Institute, the USA, noted in his paper that the US' call for democratizing the Arab world which was so pronounced in the past five years or so, seemed to have become less intense.
However, striking an optimistic note about the region's future, he said that since 70 per cent of the Arab population was under 30 years of age, he had not lost hope.
Finland's Kristi Westphalen (a counselor at the foreign ministry) called for closer interaction between the moderate Arab and the Islamic movements which are non-violent. The mainstream Islamic non-violent movements in the Arab world have more appeal, she said.
Talking of Egypt circa 1990 in this context, she said it should be remembered that the Islamic radicals had failed to change the political reality despite their insurgency.
Hungary's Zsolt Nemeth (from the foreign affairs parliamentary committee) noted that social reform and stability in this part of the world was the key to world energy security.
The issue could be discussed at length within the framework of a free trade treaty to be signed between the GCC and the European Union, he added.