Sunday, February 13, 2005


The following is an editorial from The Daily Star, Beirut. It is reproduced here with permission.

Middle Eastern governments would do well to follow China's example.

The Prophet Mohammed, in conveying the divine word to Muslims, commanded them to search for knowledge "even though it be in China," calling such a pursuit a "duty" for the faithful. Ironically today, we should be learning a lot from our friends in the Far East. There has been a recent push for the application of a certain knowledge in China that would be useful to the survival of regimes in the Islamic world. In the past few years, China has made great strides to define and develop a justice system that will protect and uphold the legal rights of its citizens. In 2001, the Chinese Justice Ministry invited International Bridges to Justice (IBJ), a non-governmental organization that works to ensure that citizens of all countries have access to basic legal rights, to help develop legal aid and defender services. Through the work of the ministry and NGOs on legal reform, China is now poised, as IBJ's President Karen I. Tse put it, for "a revolution in legal rights."

Here in the Arab world, we are still lagging behind in this global revolution. We are still living under military dictatorships, totalitarian regimes and unconstitutional monarchies. While China is enjoying the development of a society built upon the rule of law, our societies are stagnating under the strangling grip of security regimes.

Strengthening the rule of law is the key not only to promoting democracy, but also to protecting human rights, expanding economic growth and eliminating poverty. If local leaders are serious about bettering the lives of their citizenries, then they must work to adopt legal systems that will protect and promote the rule of law.

America, too, can play a role. If the U.S. wants to be true to its Greater Middle East initiative and stated goal of promoting democracy in the region, we must see a real push for legal reform, not just a push for stability. The U.S. must work to promote justice in tandem with its "war on terrorism." For far too many heavy-handed regimes in the region have been allowed to trample on or ignore legal rights in the name of "security." And the disenfranchized are turning in greater and greater numbers to the solutions offered up by Islamic fundamentalists. The United States cannot defeat terrorism in the region without promoting democracy and reform.

We must realize a new future for ourselves in a just and effective legal system. To climb this wall, we should take China's lead and enact reforms to secure a legal system based on the rule of law.