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Egypt: Thousands Protest in Egypt
January 25th, 2011 by Kyle
Protests in Egypt have escalated as thousands of Egyptians gathered in downtown Cairo’s main square, Midan Tahrir,  in “the largest anti-regime protest in recent memory.” Some protesters in downtown Cairo hurled rocks and climbed atop an armoured police truck; police have responded using tear gas and water cannons. Two protesters were killed in Suez, a city east of Cairo, along with one security officer who was killed in central Cairo. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged all sides to exercise restraint. International human rights groups ask security forces not to crack down on protesters and Human Rights First called on communication companies and Facebook to resist pressure from the government to interrupt their services. Marc Lynch argues that Egyptians are consciously emulating the Tunisian protests, but unlike Tunisia, important press coverage from Al-Jazeera is notably absent. Lynch states that Al Jazeera “played a vital, instrumental role in framing this popular narrative by its intense, innovative coverage of Tunisia and its explicit broadening of that experience to the region.”
 
Protesters in Tahrir Square Downtown Cairo
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Journalism, Protests | Comment »
Tunisia: Path to Democracy Including Islamists and Labor Groups
January 25th, 2011 by Kyle
Christopher Alexander writing in Foreign Policy warns against calls for the total dissolution of the RCD party as “unrealistic and potentially dangerous.”  He highlights the positive steps that have been taken to open up the political arena to include Islamist factions, but cautions, “a bipolar standoff between Ennahda (Islamist Group) and the RCD would not be a healthy development.” Instead, he supports the creation of opposition coalitions until a succesful and functional political landscape can be created. Michael Allen notes the growth of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) as a serious political force in Tunisia with, “currently unmatched organizing capacity and national reach.” For example, Allen attributes the recent cabinet resignations to pressure from the UGTT.
Posted in Civil Society, Democracy Promotion, Reform, Tunisia, Unions | Comment »
Tunisia Lessons Learned for Arab Democracy Promoters
January 25th, 2011 by Kyle
Steven Heydemann argues that Tunisia provides potential for democratic reform in the region, but that US foreign policy must adapt because Arab autocrats will as well: “Like their democracy-promoting adversaries, authoritarian regimes too have built capacity, honed their best practices, and assessed lessons learned.” Heydemann outlines previously failed US policies of supporting civil society to create reform.  Instead, he argues for a new “strategy aimed at containing the arbitrary power of authoritarian regimes” that will create political space for viable oppositions to develop and eventually step in to complete democratic transitions peacefully.
Posted in Reform, US foreign policy | Comment »
Social Networking’s Role in Revolution
January 25th, 2011 by Kyle
Jared Cohen addressed the role that social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook played in perpetuating the revolution in Tunisia. Cohen argued that the revolution was more than just a manifestation of these networks: “The reality is, there is no such thing as a Twitter revolution. The reality is this is just what revolutions look like now.” In the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal cited evidence to qualify this claim, but asserted that Facebook played a vital role in perpetuating the protests due to its capabilities of posting diverse types of information including uploaded videos. Many agree that these sites and promoting internet freedom are vital, a medium recognized by President Obama who eased internet restrictions to Iran in 2010 to promote democracy.
Posted in Iran, Protests, Reform, Tunisia, US foreign policy | Comment »
Berman Denounces Foreign Aid Cuts
January 25th, 2011 by Naureen
Ranking House Foreign Affairs Committee member, Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA) supported calls from the Obama administration to keep State and foreign aid funding “out of the hands of GOP budget slashers in Congress.” In remarks made on the House floor, Berman denounced H.Res.43, which would reduce “non-security” spending to 2008 levels, calling foreign aid a vital part of our national security strategy as laid out in the 9/11 Commission Implementation Act of 2004.  He also stated that, “We should also keep in mind that international affairs accounts for just one percent of the budget. Even if we eliminated such spending entirely, it wouldn’t balance the budget and it wouldn’t make a dent in our national debt. But it would devastate our economy and our national security.”
Posted in Foreign Aid, Legislation, US foreign policy | Comment »
Obama’s Egypt Dilemma
January 25th, 2011 by Naureen
Writing at The Atlantic, Shadi Hamid states that as the Arab world takes note of the events in Tunisia and forms their own protests, the United States “is finding itself torn between the reliable allies it needs and the democratic reformers it wants.” This is especially the case in Egypt, where the U.S. is the “primary benefactor” of the regime and a Tunisian-style revolt would likely lead to the country being lost to “some of the most anti-American opposition groups in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood.” Our own policies have left us in this dilemma: “Unable to resolve [the] ‘Islamist dilemma,’ attempts to promote Arab democracy - including the Bush ‘freedom agenda’ - were either diluted or postponed indefinitely.” Support for the autocratic regimes have, in turn, led to widespread anti-Americanism.
He calls on the U.S. to “re-assess its Middle East policy and, then, re-orient it to ride with, rather than against, the tide of Arab popular rule.” In the case of Egypt, he recommends that the government “begin distancing itself from Mubarak by stepping up public criticism of regime repression and deepening contacts with the full range of Egyptian opposition” or create a “reform endowment​” offering substantial financial incentives for Arab regimes to meet benchmarks on political reform.
Posted in Egypt, Protests, Reform, US foreign policy | Comment »
Egypt: Live Feeds of Intifada Day Protests
January 25th, 2011 by Naureen
The planned Intifada Day protests began in Egypt on Tuesday. Activists had called for a day of peaceful demonstrations to occur today, January 25th. Live video feeds of the protests in downtown Cairo and updates from bloggers nationwide have been posted online. Incoming reports of arrests nationwide can also be seen here.
Posted in Egypt, Protests | Comment »
Yemen: Protests Continue, Saleh Denies Plans for Succession
January 24th, 2011 by Naureen
Protests continued in Yemen this weekend after activist Tawakul Karman, a student protest leader, was arrested over the weekend for organizing unlicensed anti-government protests. Following her release on Monday, she vowed to continue her struggle against Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who many believe will hand over power to his son, Ahmed Saleh. On Sunday, President Saleh denied those claims: “We are against succession. We are in favor of change.” He accused the opposition of trying to take over power by rallying people to the streets. He also announced plans to raise the salaries of government employees and military personnel by nearly $50. Despite continued calls for Saleh’s resignation, Ali Seif Hassan, a Yemeni political analyst, said Saleh’s speech indicates he is not likely to step down: “Saleh will run again in 2013 and will run after the next time.”
Posted in Protests, Yemen | Comment »
Lebanon: Hezbollah Nominates Candidate for PM, Calls for Protests From Hariri Supporters
January 24th, 2011 by Alec
The militant group Hezbollah has won backing from a majority of Lebanese MPs after Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and six other members of his Progressive Socialist Party switched their allegiance from Saad Hariri and the March 14th movement.  The group nominated Najib Mikati, a former billionaire businessman and Prime Minister, with support from 65 of the 128 members of the Lebanese Parliament.  A Hezbollah-dominated government may signal a realignment of Lebanon away from the United States and would likely denounce forthcoming indictments from the STL.  Hariri supporters have accused Hezbollah of launching a coup and have called for “day of anger” protests on Tuesday.  State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley stated that a Hezbollah-controlled government would complicate ties between the two countries and it would be difficult for the U.S. to continue to assist Lebanon.
Posted in Hezbollah, Lebanon, Political Parties | Comment »
Islamist Parties Choose Preservation Over Political Contestation
January 24th, 2011 by Naureen
In the new issue of the Journal of Democracy​, Shadi Hamid argues that Islamist parties across the Arab world have a tendency to “lose elections on purpose.”  He examines the behavior of Islamist opposition parties in six Arab countries and concludes that the roots of Islamist parties in broader social movements compel them to prioritize self-preservation over political contestation.  However, “as Islamists have grown comfortable losing elections—and with much of the world comfortable watching them lose—Arab democracy has drifted further out of reach.”
Posted in Bahrain, Egypt, Elections, Islamist movements, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Reform, Yemen | Comment »
Analysts Question US Officials’ Calls for Reform in the Middle East
January 24th, 2011 by Naureen
Robert Kaplan chronicles Tunisia’s unique history that helped lead to revolution and also discusses the potential for reform in the region, but warns that the outcomes might not be desirable given these countries’ weak institutions, high levels of sectarianism, and likelihood to elect Islamist groups. James Traub also called for U.S. policymakers to not only make statements calling for reform, but also to prepare quickly for the outcomes of the looming governance crises around the region.
Posted in Islam and Democracy, Islamist movements, Reform, Tunisia, US foreign policy | Comment »
Tunisian Protests Continue, Clinton and Kerry Support Reform
January 24th, 2011 by Naureen
A “Caravan of Liberation” filled with rural Tunisian protesters reached the capital during continued weekend protests calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Ghannouchi and other members involved in the transition government who have links to Ben Ali’s regime. PM Ghannouchi said he would quit politics “in the shortest time period” following elections, in a further attempt to quell unrest. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called PM Ghannouchi over the weekend to show support for Tunisia and democratic reforms. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) also called on Middle East leaders to make change in light of the Tunisian protests, “The time has come for governments in the region to improve governance and transparency, create real avenues for political dialogue, urgently focus on the creation of meaningful employment opportunities, and demonstrate to the generation now coming of age that they will have better opportunities tomorrow than they do today.”
Update: On Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated that his government “underestimated the aspirations of the Tunisian people for freedom” and promised that France would support a more democratic Tunisia. The U.S. State Department announced on Monday that Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman is on official travel to Tunisia from January 24-January 26, 2011. He will meet with government officials, political party leaders, and civil society advocates in order to convey U.S. support for the Tunisian people.
Posted in Reform, Tunisia | Comment »
House Foreign Affairs Committee Members Named, RSC Unveils Plans for Cuts
January 24th, 2011 by Naureen
Last week, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) released the names of committee members, including Ron Paul (R-TX), Mike Pence (R-IN), Joe Wilson (R-SC) and eight members of the new Congressional freshman class. With committee assignments made, Ros-Lehtinen prepared to keep to her previously stated mission of cutting state and foreign aid budgets. Also, the Republican Study Committee, with support of 165 members of the House, released their plan for government cuts which includes eliminating federal funding for USAID, economic aid to Egypt, the Woodrow Wilson Center, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency amid many other programs. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah condemned calls for cuts to foreign aid budgets, stating, “development is, in fact, a core part of both our economic security and our national security.” He also pointed out that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and ISAF Commander Gen. David Petraeus have all come out in strong support of increasing USAID’s capacity to implement foreign aid.
Posted in Congress, Egypt, Foreign Aid | Comment »
Rentier States and Arab Exceptionalism
January 24th, 2011 by Alec
Ömer Taşpinar, in a piece for Today’s Zamananalyzes the lack of democracy in the Arab world in the context of the recent uprising in Tunisia.  Using culture and religion to explain democratic deficit is erroneous, he argues, citing the examples of Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia as Muslim majority democratic nations. Rather, the rentier state theory is a better explanation for authoritarianism in countries like Saudi Arabia, a country that relies entirely on oil wealth and thus does need to tax its citizens.  He draws a direct link between taxation and representative democracy: “when a state has no need to tax its people, the most important part of the social contract that defines the democratic relationship between state and society is missing.”  He extends this argument to Egypt and Jordan, with foreign aid functioning in place of a natural resource.  Both countries have what is called “strategic rent,” proximity to oil-producing states and proximity to Israel: “In that sense, foreign aid is just like oil. It creates unearned easy income, unrelated to economic productivity.”
Posted in Egypt, Foreign Aid, Islam and Democracy, Jordan, Reform, Saudi Arabia | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Christian Minorities Under Attack - Iraq and Egypt”
January 23rd, 2011 by Alec
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs through the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hosted a hearing on discrimination and violence against Christians in Egypt and Iraq.  Co-Chairman of the Commission Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) led the hearing with comments and appearances from Executive Members of the Commission Rep. Chris Smith of (R-NJ), Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Trent Franks (AZ) as well as Rep. Rush D. Holt, Jr. (D-NJ).  Testifying before the Commission were Tamara Cofman-Wittes​, deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs at the US State Department, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA),  Michele Dunne, senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dina Guirguis, Keston Family Research Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Nina Shea, senior fellow and director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and Sister Rita (​pseudonym​), an Iraqi Catholic nun.
To read full notes continue below, or click here for pdf.  For full testimony, click here.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Egypt, Event Notes, Iraq, Sectarianism​, Terrorism | Comment »
POMED Notes: “The Organization of the Islamic Conference: Fatwas on Freedom and Democracy”
January 23rd, 2011 by Kyle
On Wednesday the Hudson Institute hosted an event focused on the issues of fatwas and the organizations involved with speaking for the Islamic community entitled, “The Organization of the Islamic Conference: Fatwas on Freedom and Democracy.” Nina Shea, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute moderated and introduced the speaker Dr. Mark Durie who is a theologian, human rights activist, and pastor of an Anglican church. He has published many articles and books on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations and religious freedom.
To read full notes continue below, or click here for pdf.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Freedom, Human Rights, Islam and Democracy, Political Islam, Saudi Arabia | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Sudan at the Crossroads”
January 23rd, 2011 by Naureen
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held its first Members’ briefing on Tuesday. The briefing focused on the future of Sudan following the completion of referendum elections on secession. To discuss the issues facing the country, the committee – chaired by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and with​Congressman Howard L. Berman (D-CA) in attendance – requested the testimony of three individuals: Princeton Lyman, Special Advisor for Sudan, U.S. Department of State; Richard S. Williamson​, Partner, Salisbury Strategies LLC and Former Special Envoy to Sudan and Ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights; and Omer Ismail, Advisor, The Enough Project.
To read full notes continue below, or click here for pdf.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Congressional Hearing Notes (House), Elections, Foreign Aid, Oil, Sudan, United Nations, sanctions | Comment »
Yemen: Protesters Call for Reform and Ouster of President Saleh
January 21st, 2011 by Naureen
Protests began on Sunday as hundreds of students marched from Sana’a University to the Tunisian Embassy in solidarity with Tunisian protesters. The protests have since shifted focus to internal issues: ”The country is a failing state. We protesters are trying to rescue it. The current situation is so bleak, but Tunisia reassures people of their own power.” On Thursday, amid protests, the government announced amendments limiting presidential terms, an issue which the country has long been debating. Mohammed al-Sabry, head of the opposition coalition and the Islamist party Islah, has said that the proposal doesn’t go far enough and vowed to liberate the country “from the hands of the corrupt.” Protests in the south, where people are calling for secession due to discrimination by the Sana’a government in the distribution of resources,  have been larger,  more widespread and have led to dozens of arrests. Nikolas Gvosdev, writing in World Politics Review, argues that the United States can help Yemen move towards political liberalization by helping maintain stability during the transition period or organizing a gradual transition based on the “Chilean model,” where Pinochet was offered concrete incentives to move the process forward.
Posted in Protests, Reform, Yemen | Comment »
Jordan: Anti-Government Protests Spread
January 21st, 2011 by Kyle
On Friday, thousands of Jordanians took to the streets in non-violent protests against worsening economic conditions in the country.  The protests are directed against Prime Minister Samir Rifai and parliament, who have been blamed for the recent economic turmoil. In response, Rifai announced plans to attempt to alleviate economic woes by raising government employee salaries and increasing pensions, while also subsidizing basic goods and fuel. Commentators see distinct undertones of the Tunisian revolution amongst protesters, including a common chant at protests, “A salute from Amman to proud Tunis.”
Posted in Jordan, Protests | Comment »
POMED’s 3rd Annual Leaders for Democracy Reception
January 21st, 2011 by Anna
POMED is hosting its 3rd annual Leaders for Democracy awards reception, which will take place the evening of February 2nd.  The recent events in Tunisia only highlight the inherent instability of the region’s authoritarian regimes and the importance of POMED’s work to support democratic reform across the Middle East and North Africa. You can get tickets to the event here.
At the reception, we will be honoring three individuals whose research, public service, and activism have inspired us: Gamal Eid, human rights attorney and Executive Director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information; Ibrahim Eissa, former Editor-in-Chief of Al-Dostor newspaper; and Michael H. Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
This year’s event will take place at 7 pm on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011, in the First Amendment Lounge at the National Press Club, located at 529 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20045. We will be providing drinks and a catered reception.
Click here for more information about the event, as well as to register to attend.
Posted in Uncategorized | Comment »
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Egypt: Thousands Protest in Egypt
Tunisia: Path to Democracy Including Islamists and Labor Groups
Tunisia Lessons Learned for Arab Democracy Promoters
Social Networking’s Role in Revolution
Berman Denounces Foreign Aid Cuts
Obama’s Egypt Dilemma
Egypt: Live Feeds of Intifada Day Protests
Yemen: Protests Continue, Saleh Denies Plans for Succession
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