What is political reform in Arabic-speaking countries and what is its future? Beyond the Façade provides well-balanced answers that challenge facile assumptions and break down the façade covering such reform in ten case studies on Egypt, Jordan, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Yemen. The main goal, as stated by Ottaway, director of the Carnegie's Middle East program, is "to distinguish partial steps that start altering the distribution of power and the character of the political system from those that are only window dressing."
The Moroccan and Kuwaiti governments are creating the most encouraging models of reform. Yemen is termed not resistant to change; Egypt presents "a stark reminder of the reversibility and uncertainties of reform processes," and Saudi Arabia's system is not completely stagnant but undergoing many small changes. The Jordanians and Syrians are "drifting politically" because of both domestic and regional factors. Algeria continues to witness political ferment due to "the struggle between military and civilian elites," a struggle that has not resulted in more political participation. The Lebanese are caught between political reform and confessional politics while reform is failing in the Palestinian territories.
Ottaway, in her introduction, goes to great lengths to explain that, beyond reform, what is needed is political transformation or a paradigm shift whereby those in or out of power abandon their old assumptions about "the fundamental organization of the polity, the relation between the government and the citizens, and thus the source, distribution, and exercise of political power."
Finally, in arguing for the need to engage Islamists, as Nathan J. Brown and Julia Choucair-Vizoso do in separate, excellent chapters, it is important to recognize that in order for democracy to succeed, all major factions, including opposition groups, have to agree to play by the same rules and uphold the same law. This means that all parties must commit not only to participating in, but also maintaining, the democratic structures and processes of the state. This expectation has neither been appreciated nor fulfilled in Arabic-speaking countries.