Breaking Down the Walls


After fifty years of a freeze in political life under authoritarian regimes, Arab societies are in the process of emerging from their apathy – a fact little known in the West.  The shock of September 11 brought home to the intellectual elites the urgent need to rebuild the foundations of the Arab world within the modern world.  The workers, peasants, and impoverished middle-classes began as well to ask themselves questions.  These changes have found themselves reflected in a new independent media.  This awakening is irreversible, but the conditions for the access of these groups to freedom and democracy remain to be defined.  What are the hopes and the progress envisaged by these movements?  What holds them back, what are the obstacles?  What are the Western values and concepts that can help the Arab world to advance, or which seem problematic, indeed dangerous, because they contain risks of regression, of exclusion, or of violence?  What is the place of Israel in the debate?  And of the Palestinian question?  Of Islam?  But what place, as well, for Arab minorities within the Western world?  The road of Arab countries towards democracy is marked with so many questions.  The prognostic for the future of women is worked out around a very personal question: where will it be good to live in the next twenty years, just as much given the changes in the Arab world as the change in thinking in Western societies, and by the place it affords foreigners?

The Franco-Syrian Bassma Kodmani, associate researcher at the CERI (Centre for Research and Innovation in Education, Department of Political Science), is the director of the Arabe de Reforme initiative, a consortium of research institutes of the Arab world working in partnership with European and American institutes on the democratic transition of the Arab world.  She formerly led the Governance and International Cooperation movement at the Ford Foundation, based in Egypt, and directed Middle-Eastern and Islamic studies at the IFRI (French Institute for International Relations).  She is the author of numerous publications on the Middle East.

The journalist Nadine Vasseur, author of numerous books including Israël autrement (Actes Sud, 1998), directed the work of this book.