"The Arab World finds itself at a historical crossroads. Caught between oppression at home and violation from abroad, Arabs are increasingly excluded from determining their own future." So begins the cover blurb for UNDP's recent Arab Human Development Report 2004. Towards Freedom in the Arab World (New York: United Nations, 2005, 248 pp.).
Contrary to what some commentators might think, in particular given recent events in Lebanon, the Arab world is still far from embracing democratic principles as many wish that it would. For the moment, as Jean-Jacques Salomon argues in discussing the UNDP report, respect for basic freedoms is compromised in many Arab countries by dictatorship, authoritarian rule and their cultural heritage. Many lag behind in their respect for freedoms of various kinds and for human rights, but also with regard to female emancipation and improvements in education. Yet unless the Arab countries deal with these problems and institute "indigenous" democratic reforms, it is unlikely that a "renaissance of the Arab world" will ensue.