Dominating the headlines this week are parts of the National Intelligence Estimate released by the White House.  Discussions and reporting, however, are concentrating on some statements on terrorism at the expense of other, more key findings.

There is one particular paragraph that is not getting its fair share of coverage.  Yet, it is vital to understanding many of the trends that are occurring today in many of the Muslim nations. 

According to the report, one of the underlying reasons for increased terrorist activities is “the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations.” 

To restate the quote, what we have to deal with is the growing divide between economic and political laggards and those nations that are champions of reform.  Those champions are enjoying the benefits of their integration with the global economy.  However, resentment is building up in the laggard nations because in many instances policy outcomes don’t align with expectations.  That can’t be ignored. 

How do you make sure that policies actually address people’s needs and concerns?  What do you do to ensure that economies in the Middle East and North Africa region, for example, can create tens of millions of jobs to absorb all of the newcomers to the labor force in the coming years?  More importantly, who is going to take the lead in making it happen?

Political parties, certainly, have a role to play in ensuring that reforms pick up pace.

In order to do that, they have to focus on the economic and social aspects of governance, rather than being parties of personalities and slogans.  Political parties need to introduce mechanisms of accountability, feedback, and participation so that citizens participate in the governance processes, not remain on the sidelines.  Building parties based on shared beliefs and policies is not an easy task, but it is possible.

CIPE has been working with political parties in a number of countries to get them to focus on creating economic platforms.  Such programs bring decision-makers and business leaders together for an open dialogue, which in some places is quite rare.  They get politicians to understand the workings of the economy and focus on determining how jobs and wealth can be created outside of the public sector.  The programs also get politicians to communicate their policy proposals to the citizens whom such policies ultimately affect.

Such programs illustrate the concept of democratic governance, which posits that democracies are more than free and fair elections.  Elections can propel leaders to power, but it’s what they do and don’t do, as well as how well they do it once they are in office, that really matters.

The private sector must also do its part.  It is difficult to speak of reforms when relationships between governments and companies are based on power and access rather than transparency and economic efficiency.  At the same time, it’s not enough to criticize the actions of governments.  The private sector has to provide feedback and recommendations to help decision-makers develop information-based policies.

This can be done in a variety of ways.  Voluntary associations, as the voice of business, can be a useful vehicle for communicating needs and wants.  Economically savvy media also plays an important role.

What we are talking about is not the importation of a set of policies and recommendations from one country to another, but locally driven political and economic reforms with citizen participation at their core. 

Economic and political liberalization can be a powerful tool in transforming some of the troubling attitudes emerging in Muslim nations.  When the market is open and informal entrepreneurs are free to join the legal system, they and their families acquire a stake in the country’s future.  This worked in the Netherlands in the 1600s, in America in the 1800s, and in countries of Central and Eastern Europe just recently.  Who is next?