Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2010

The Arab State: Assisting or Obstructing Development?

Paul Salem

July 2010

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Good governance is key to improving peoples’ lives; but the Arab world falls short on many governance indicators. Most Arab states remain highly authoritarian, although there is a growing dynamism in civil society and among opposition parties, both secular and Islamist. Problems in governance have impeded development in the Arab world and limited the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. There are strong historical causes for the current state of governance in the Arab world. Nevertheless, progress has been made in limited but significant ways. This should be reinforced by strengthening civil society, reinforcing electoral progress, supporting parliaments and the judiciary, enhancing local government, improving governance performance, and empowering women. The international community should play an important role in this process. Although full democracy in the Arab world is a distant goal, broader participation in the political process, with a marked effect on human development, can be achieved.