Ending the Islamic Democracy Deficit

Despite encouraging signs, it is impossible to ignore a "democracy deficit" in the Muslim world, especially the Arab part of it. Only one of every four countries with Muslim majorities has a democratically elected government. Worse yet, the gap between Muslim countries and the rest of the world is widening.

Democracy and freedom expanded over recent decades into Latin America, Africa, Europe, and Asia, but the Muslim world continues to struggle. By the reckoning of Freedom House, a think-tank devoted to monitoring democracy worldwide, the number of "free" countries around the world increased by nearly three dozen over the past 20 years. Not one has a Muslim majority.

This phenomenon has been noted within the Muslim world as well. In the summer of 2002, a team of Arab scholars produced the Arab Human Development Report , written on behalf of the UN Development Program and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development. It portrays an Arab world lagging behind other regions in key measures, including individual freedom and women's empowerment, as well as economic and social development.

Disturbing trends, such as a demographic youth "bulge" combined with high youth unemployment rates--reaching almost 40% in some places--highlight potentially explosive social conditions. The Arab world faces serious problems that can only be met by more flexible, democratic political systems.