President George W Bush has said the US will focus on nurturing democracy in the Middle East. Despite reform, Mr Bush says power in many countries remains clustered within monarchies, powerful families or single parties.
BBC News Online looks at the political systems of some key countries in the region.
Since 1991 Algerian politics have been dominated by the struggle involving the military and Islamist militants. In that year a general election won by an Islamist party was annulled, marking the beginning of a bloody campaign which has seen the slaughter of tens of thousands of people.
In November 1996, with civil war raging throughout the country, Algerian voters opted for a new constitution that granted many new powers to the president.
They also gave the government the right to disband the existing parliamentary body and replace it with a new, less powerful legislative body.
The subsequent presidential election in April 1999 saw Abdelaziz Bouteflika come to power. He ran without opposition after six other candidates withdrew from the ballot to protest about what they said was electoral fraud.
The country voted in 2001 to turn the country into a constitutional monarchy, from an emirate, with an elected parliament and an independent judiciary.
In 2002, Bahrain held its first elections for 27 years in which women were allowed both to stand and to vote. The Bahraini government also allowed the establishment of "political associations" but not political parties.
In the wake of the elections, a new cabinet was established with six new ministers, including a former opposition figure.
Egypt's constitution provides for a strong presidency and a one-house legislature - the People's Assembly. About half the house must be farmers and workers. Members are elected for five-year terms by direct universal suffrage.
The president has extensive executive powers. He is nominated by at least one third of the members of the People's Assembly, approved by at least two thirds of them, and elected by a popular vote.
Human rights groups have said that the Egyptian electoral process is deeply flawed and undemocratic. The ruling National Democratic Party has dominated parliament and won elections by vast margins since the late 1970s.
President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, was confirmed in 1999 for another six-year term in a referendum which gave him 94% backing - down 4% on the last referendum.
Jordan is ruled by a hereditary monarch. The legislature, called the National Assembly, consists of a senate and a house of deputies.
The king appoints the members of the senate, and the members of the house are elected by the people. All those over the age of 18 may vote, provided they are not members of the royal family.
Political parties are legal, although they have to comply with certain regulations.
The latest Jordanian parliamentary elections took place on 17 June 2003. These elections came after the Jordanian monarch decided to restore the 1997 parliament which he dissolved in 2000.
Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy ruled by the al-Sabah family. The ruler, or emir, chooses the prime minister and the members of the Council of Ministers, which is the cabinet.
The majority of the parliament, or National Assembly, members are elected for four-year terms by Kuwait's voters: literate adult males who are citizens of Kuwait. The latest elections took place in 2003.
There have been attempts to change the male-dominated political structure, with a legal challenge against the government to allow women the vote and to stand in office.
In 1999 the country's ruler, Sheikh Jabir al-Ahmad al-Sabah, issued a decree giving women full political rights. However the move was narrowly blocked in the National Assembly.
Political parties are illegal in Kuwait.
The Supreme Leader is the highest political and religious authority in Iran. He is not elected by voters, but chosen by the 86-member Assembly of Experts. This body is dominated by conservative clerics.
He rules through the Islamic Consultative Assembly, which consists of 290 elected representatives who serve four-year terms. The people - who enjoy universal suffrage - also elect a president for a four-year term.
The victory of the liberals over the long-ruling conservative elite in parliamentary elections in April 2000 signalled a sea-change.
President Mohammad Khatami supports greater social and political freedoms. His liberal ideas have, however, put him at odds with the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and hard-liners reluctant to lose sight of established Islamic traditions.
Iraq is currently in a state of major political upheaval. President Saddam Hussein was ousted from power following the US-led invasion of the country, and Iraq is presently in the hands of what is known as the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
It is headed by American career diplomat Paul Bremer. There is no clear timetable for a handover to Iraqi rule. Mr Bremer has said the Iraqi constitution should be rewritten to allow democratic elections to take place, but it remains unclear when a new constitution will be produced.
An interim governing council held its first meeting in July 2003. Its 25 members were appointed by Mr Bremer. They broadly reflect Iraq's ethnic make-up. The council can appoint ministers and pass the budget, but ultimate control of Iraq rests with the US administrator.
Israel and autonomous Palestinian territories
Israel is governed as most Western democracies. Parliament, or the Knesset, has 120 members who are elected every four years through proportional representation.
It is difficult for a single party to win a majority of the seats, so government by coalition is common in Israel.
The party that wins the most seats fields the prime minister, who becomes the head of government and selects and leads the cabinet, the primary policy-making body. The Knesset elects the president, whose post is largely ceremonial. All local authorities are elected.
In the Palestinian territories, presidential elections were most recently held in January 1996. Yasser Arafat won the poll, receiving 88% of the votes cast. The legislative body, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), is composed of 88 elected members. The president serves as the 89th member. Members are elected for five-year terms by the winner-take-all electoral system, from 16 electoral constituencies.
In March 2003 the parliament approved the creation of the post of prime minister. The move had been demanded by the US as a condition to begin work on an internationally-backed peace plan for the region. Mahmoud Abbas was appointed to the post, but resigned in August 2003 amid a power struggle with Mr Arafat. Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council Ahmed Qurei was nominated as his successor.
There had been suggestion that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held in 2003, but the cabinet called these off, saying the Israeli military occupation of West Bank cities made a free ballot impossible.
Lebanon has a democratic system but sectarian militias and foreign countries exert great influence. Syria holds considerable sway over the country, where it keeps a strong military presence.
In 1991 the two countries signed a treaty of mutual co-operation and a security agreement which brought closer economic, security and political links.
There is universal adult suffrage. Women have held the right to vote and to run for office since 1953. Parliamentary seats are distributed equally among Christian and Muslim sects.
The Libyan Government is organised as a pyramid of committees and congresses, each layer of which is involved in the selection of the level above.
At the top is the General People's Congress. The structure is intended to allow for broad democratic participation at the pyramid's base. In practice, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi rules unopposed.
Voting for the leaders of the local congresses is mandatory for all Libyans over the age of 18.
The state owns and controls the media and the authorities do not permit the publication of opinions contrary to government policy.
A hereditary monarch, a prime minister and a Council of Ministers appointed by the king form the executive branch of the Kingdom of Morocco.
King Mohammed VI succeeded his father, King Hassan II in July 1999. Two thirds of the members are elected by direct universal suffrage and one third indirectly. Members serve six-year terms, though actual term lengths have varied because several elections have been postponed.
The head of the Sultanate of Oman is Sultan Qaboos, who has held the position since 1970 and is an absolute monarch.
Since he came to power, a number of political reforms have taken place. The role of elected representatives in the government has been gradually expanded. Earlier this year there were elections to the Shura council in which women participated.
The council is however a purely consultative body. The legislative process is still considered to be the domain of the Sultan. There is no formal constitution or legislature, and there are no political parties.
The sultan appoints a council to assist him. The country is divided into 50 governorates. Each has a governor who is appointed by the sultan.
Qatar is a constitutional monarchy whose head of state is called an emir. The emir also appoints the Advisory Council, a 35-member body that serves for four-year terms, to assist and advise the government.
The Council has no official legislative powers. Members of the Advisory Council are selected from among landowners, farmers, and businessmen.
There are no political parties in Qatar.
There have however been moves towards greater democratisation. In 1999 the country's first elections - for a 29-member municipal council - were held in which women were allowed to vote and stand for office.
A fully-elected parliament has been promised for the future.
Saudi Arabia is governed by a hereditary monarch. At present there are no elected officials in the country, and political parties are not legal, but there has been mounting pressure for reform.
In October it was announced that elections to local councils would be held next year. If these are indeed held, they would be the first elections since the country was created in 1932.
It is unclear who would be allowed to vote or stand. Women currently lead restricted lives: they are segregated in public places, cannot drive cars and must be covered from head to toe when in public. Women may also not be appointed to the Council of Ministers, an advisory body headed by the king and appointed by the king.
The Baath government has been characterised by authoritarian rule, although there has been a degree of liberalisation since the death of President Hafez al-Assad.
The Baath Party proposes the candidate for president and he is then nominated by the legislative branch, the People's Assembly. After the nomination process, the candidate is then confirmed by a popular referendum in which the candidate must capture a majority of the votes.
If the candidate fails to secure a majority, the People's Assembly nominates another candidate and the referendum process is repeated. Suffrage is granted to all Syrian nationals over the age of 18.
The presidential elections of 1999 were the first in which the president was elected by popular vote.
He won more than 96% of the vote, but the main opposition party, which was barred from fielding a candidate, described the poll as a sham.
At present a presidential candidate must receive the nomination of at least 10% of the legislature to participate in the general election.
The bicameral parliament is composed of the Consultative Council and the House of Representatives (Majlis Al-Nuwaab). The Consultative Council has no legislative powers, and the president appoints its 111 members.
The Council was most recently appointed in April 2001. The 301 members of the House of Representatives are elected by plurality vote from single-member constituencies. The latest elections were held in 2003.