The Arab world has entered the third millennium with a promise of reform and democratization. Reform initiatives of different sources, objectives and references have multiplied. But reform steps are still hesitant and stumbling and the limited progress achieved in some Arab countries and communities is in danger of being reversed quickly. Some Arab countries are still under a state of declared emergency or martial law, others are under “undeclared emergency”. Public freedoms do not fully meet international standards. Only some manifestations of democracy, such as elections and referenda, were adopted, but do not make a fundamental difference in the nature of the political regimes and powers, their governance practices, nor in the identity and components of the political elites.
The willingness of Arab regimes and governments to push forward with reform has been eroding, not least because of the lack of international attention to issues of democracy and human rights. The ruling political class in many Arab countries resumed its old rituals and traditional practices of power leading to more violent confrontations between some Arab governments and opposition movements, especially Islamic ones with catastrophic consequences.
The challenges faced by reformers in the Arab world, regardless of their political and intellectual inclinations and references, are numerous and complex. On the one hand, they are living under oppressive political regimes that enjoy monopolizing power and close the doors for real participation. On the other hand, they are active in their societies which are increasingly governed by the forces of radicalism, violence and extremism, forces that do not believe in democracy and pluralism, and which are trying to break up these communities and intensify sectarian, religious and regional divisions. In addition, they are fighting “new colonial policies” which led, among others, to aggravating regional conflicts and spreading regional and sectarian fights into several Arab societies, threatening the unity and cohesion of the nation state, thus putting new obstacles in the way of democratic reform and change.
But these challenges, albeit immense, do not weaken Arab reformers who are waging a valiant struggle to defend their peoples’ rights and freedoms, protect the democratic future of this region and advocate peace and stability which will result in sustainable development in the various economic, social and humanitarian fields, taking into account the need to provide decent and dignified living conditions for all citizens.
We, the Network for Reform and Democratic Change in the Arab World, both individuals and organizations of different intellectual and cultural references, and based on the deep common faith in the legitimacy of our reform objectives and peaceful means to achieve them, declare the following:
Our commitment to protect the interests and basic rights of our people (as individuals and groups) to live in freedom, dignity, and respect human rights, including the right to resist occupation, according to the principles enshrined in international charters and conventions and divine religions.
Our commitment to work for spreading democracy in our countries and societies, in our culture, practices and civil education, and establish patterns of good governance based on accountability, transparency, integrity, as well as respect for pluralism, resorting to the ballot boxes, a peaceful rotation of power, independence of the judiciary, rule of law and separation of powers in order to build democratic civil states.
To this end, we are committed to work together to put an end to the phenomena of emergency and martial laws, and illegal practices, to release prisoners of opinion and conscience, oppose violations and infringements of the rights of citizens and their public and individual freedoms, particularly the freedom of opinion, expression, organization, and peaceful assembly.
We reaffirm our commitment to promote citizenship values, and fight discrimination against women and ensure that all their rights are preserved.
We commit to work together for democratic solutions to problems of national, religious, sectarian, doctrinal and ethnic diversity in our Arab societies, for solutions that respects diversity and sees it as an element of strength and richness, rejecting all forms of persecution, extermination, hegemony and discrimination against individuals and groups on the basis of religion, gender, national origin, color or race.
Proceeding from our deep faith in opening the door of participation to the various political, social and intellectual components of our societies, we declare our willingness to work together, liberals, nationalists, leftists, seculars and Islamists, based on the commitment to the civil-democratic common denominator and the concept of citizenship as the only source of rights and duties.
To this end, we declare our commitment to support and encourage the intellectual and political reviews by political and intellectual trends in the Arab world, in a way to help them adopt the values of democracy, reform standards and the principles of human rights.
We extend this vision and mission to all the reformers and democrats, to work together to serve our common goals.
The future of this region depends on the ability of its peoples and states to push for reform, independence and democratic change, and build its own democratic models based on identity, heritage and particularity, without letting this heritage restrict modernity and modernization projects, and without allowing uniqueness as a pretext to self-isolation at the bottom of human development lists.