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Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: January, 2008
Steps Toward Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia?
January 31st, 2008 by Stephen
The royal family in Saudi Arabia has long been decried as one of the world’s most repressive regimes. In Freedom House’s annual survey of the political rights and civil liberties, released earlier this month, the House of Saud maintained its ranking as one of the seventeen most repressive governments in the world. Perhaps most infamous is the particular lack of rights for the half of the Saudi citizens that are female. When King Abdullah ascended to the throne following the death of his half-brother King Fahd in 2005, many had high hopes that his rule would bring reform and greater freedom to Saudi Arabia, and to its women in particular. But the reforms of the first couple of years of King Abdullah’s rule were markedly underwhelming, and the area of women’s rights had been essentially ignored.
However, the past two weeks have quietly seen a flurry of small steps toward greater rights for women in the kingdom. Last Monday, January 21, it was reported that the Saudi government had ruled to permit women to stay in hotels without the presence of a male guardian, effective immediately. On the same day, government officials also confirmed that a decision had been reached to remove the ban on women drivers, with a decree to that effect to be issued before the end of 2008. Lifting the ban on driving would be a move of great symbolic value, as Saudi Arabia is the only country to prohibit women behind the steering wheel, and this fact is the most often cited example to demonstrate the oppression of Saudi women. Also, on Tuesday, January 29, it was revealed that the Saudi social affairs ministry has approved the establishment of the first women’s rights organization in the kingdom, to be known as Ansar al-Mar’ah (patrons/supporters of women). Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Human Rights, Saudi Arabia, Women | 1 Comment »
POMED Notes-Back to the Future: US-Turkish Relations after the Bush Presidency
January 31st, 2008 by Nicolas
Today the Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion on the state of US-Turkish relations and on where the partnership is headed.  Iraq emerged as the focal point of tension between the two allies, while Turkey’s increasingly assertive regional diplomacy is another area that represents both a challenge and an opportunity for reinvigorating the US-Turkish “strategic partnership.” 
Ambassador Mark Parris, the Director of Brookings’ Turkey 2007 Project, moderated the panel discussion that featured retired Ambassador Gunduz Aktan (a Member of the Turkish Parliament from the National Movement Party), Dr. Emre Gonensay (a former Foreign Minister of Turkey), and Dr. Suat Kiniklioglu (a Member of the Turkish Parliament from the ruling Justice and Development Party). For full POMED notes, click here.
Posted in Events, Turkey, US foreign policy | Comment »
Egypt’s Lack of Progress?
January 31st, 2008 by Nicolas
“Change” and “competence” are words “erased from Modern Egypt’s political lexicon,” according to Mona Elahawy at the Washington Post. She writes that President Hosni Mubarak has “ruled Egypt with little regard for competence or change,” his regime is “tired and lacking in new ideas” and this has diminished the role of the once “de facto leader of the Middle East.” Elahawy mentions the undemocratic methods of the regime during the 2005 elections which is emphasized in Foreign Policy’s “The List: How to Steal an Election Without Breaking a Sweat.” The article examines variuos methods of autocratic rulers to rig votes in theri favor.  It includes a look at Egypt’s 2005 deployment of riot police in “strategic polling locations” to keep opposition voters out, while shuttling state employees to the polls and the “arbitrary decisions” to not allow outside monitoring of the elections.
Posted in Egypt, Elections | Comment »
Status of the Iraqi Government
January 31st, 2008 by Nicolas
In the USIP briefing, entitled “Iraq: Politics Unfrozen, Direction Still Unclear,” Daniel Serwer and Rend al-Rahim measure the postive political progress of Iraq and make recommendations for imrovement. There is a  “broad acceptance of the new constitutional regime,” yet, “despite these positive developments, many obstacles remain, and there is little time in which to surmount them, given the American pressures for continuing withdrawal.”
Nazar Janabi from the Washington Institute for Near Easy Policy, writes that the Sunnis and Shiites are ”testing the waters of reconciliation in the Iraqi parliament” with “Article 140” that would increase the central government’s control over Kirkuk’s oil. This might come at the cost of escalating “anti-Kurdish sentiment among many Arab parliamentarians, costing the Kurds some of the hard-earned political ground they have gained thus far.” He warns that this agreement “could turn into a violent contest” between the Baghdad and Kirkuk.
Posted in Iraq, Kurds | Comment »
Hezbollah turning Shiites against Lebanon?
January 31st, 2008 by Nicolas
Hezbollah “perhaps unintentionally, is pushing Shiites into a confrontation with the rest of Lebanese society to protect itself,” writes Michael Young from The Daily Star. The Shiite population has been directed against the army, a presidential election, and “by extension, the Lebanese state itself.” Hezbollah’s “inability to achieve any of its political aims in the past 13 months has only increased its sense of frustration, and the prospect of violence.” This could be “suicidal for Shiites,” Young says.
Posted in Hezbollah, Lebanon | Comment »
Future of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)
January 31st, 2008 by Nicolas
In an article entitled “Shattered Hopes” in the Foundation for Defence of Democracies’s website, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Nick Grace discuss the conflicts Bilawal Zardari and Asif Ali Zardari will have to face as the PPP’s new leadership. “Bilawal’s only previous political experience was serving as the vice president of the student council at the Rashid School for Boys” and is considered “out of touch with life in Pakistan.” After Bhutto’s government ended, Asif faced corruption charges in Pakistan, Britain, Spain, and Switzerland for “plundering” $1.5 billion. “Needless to say, a man with this checkered history is unlikely to be an effective leader of a political party even under the best of circumstances.” The authors warn that “even if the PPP does not collapse under the weight of internal bickering, the odds are overwhelmingly against anyone in the party leadership accomplishing the goals that Benazir Bhutto had upon her return to Pakistan.”
Posted in Pakistan | Comment »
POMED Notes: Hearing on Pakistani Elections (Part II)
January 31st, 2008 by Sharlina
On Tuesday, the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing entitled, “Pakistani Elections: Will They Be Free and Fair or Fundamentally Flawed (Part II).” The hearing served as a follow-up to Chairman Tierney’s December 20, 2007 hearing on the Pakistani elections that featured, among others, former Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle.
Ambassador Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, U.S. Department of State, testified at the hearing. Subcommittee Chairman Rep. John F. Tierney presided over the hearing.
For full POMED notes on the hearing, click here.
Posted in Committee Meetings, Elections, Events, Pakistan | Comment »
POMED Notes: Recent Developments in Pakistan
January 30th, 2008 by Kent
This afternoon, Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding hosted a discussion on the current political environment in Pakistan.
Shireen Hunter, Ph.D. gave introductory remarks and moderated the discussion, while Mumtaz Ahmad, Ph.D. and Marvin Weinbaum, Ph.D. analyzed what went wrong over the past two years and what Pakistan and the United States can do to recover stability in the country. The two speakers spoke on the constitutionality of President Pervez Musharraf’s reign, Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, and the Pakistani perception of U.S. involvement in the country’s affairs.
For POMED’s full notes on the event, click here.
Posted in Elections, Events, Pakistan | Comment »
Democracy Slowly Developing in Muslim World
January 30th, 2008 by Nicolas
In a post entitled “Islam and Democracy​” at the Pickled Politics blog, Sid looks at the “long, messy and painful process” towards democratic government in three non-Arab countries from the Muslim world. He says Pakistan has “shown the world that an unpopular military government, even when backed by the mighty Bush, is failing to hold the country together.” One year ago, Bangladesh’s army intervened to stop elections, but now the generals who took power would be “glad for a way to hand back the power they grabbed.” In Turkey, the Islamist Justice and Development Party, victorious in last year’s elections, “knows full well that continuing political success and the underlying legitimacy of the party depends on listening to the desires of the voters, and this in turn means to moderate the sharia component of the party’s manifesto and abide by the rules of democracy.”
Posted in Islam and Democracy, Pakistan, Turkey | Comment »
Opposition Leader Arrested in Syria
January 30th, 2008 by Nicolas
The arrest of Riad Seif, leader of Syria’s largest opposition coalition, is a “a clear sign that the Assads, once engaged and afforded any sense of legitimacy, tend to misbehave even more not less,” writes Ammar Abdulhamid. He believes the “worst is yet to come” because “thieves and murderers cannot be simply coaxed into changing their ways. Rulers in authoritarian states are often not statesmen and cannot be expected or prevailed upon to behave as such.”
Posted in Syria | Comment »
Religious Freedoms in Turkey
January 30th, 2008 by Nicolas
Dorian Jones writes for Voice of America that the “Islamic-oriented” Justice and Development party in Turkey has gained support of the opposition for a reform to end the ban on women wearing headscarves at universities. Jones says “the move is likely to enrage the country’s secularists and clear the way for a more openly religious society.” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while addressing his parliamentary deputies, said that the days of banning “tens of thousands of women” from studying while wearing the Islamic headscarf are “coming to an end.”
Posted in Islamist movements, Secularism, Turkey | Comment »
The Brotherhood and Democracy
January 30th, 2008 by Nicolas
Mark Lynch has released a new essay, entitled “The Brotherhood’s Dilema,” which evaluates the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s “attitudes towards democracy.” Lynch writes that the Brotherhood’s “leadership has remained remarkably consistent in its adherence to the democratic process” and “has also matched its words with deeds.” He concludes by suggesting a policy approach that would reduce “regime repression,” recognize and reward “positive developments,” and push “to open up the public sphere for discussion and debate that might increase the organization’s transparency.”
Posted in Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood | Comment »
Time to Deal with Hamas?
January 30th, 2008 by Nicolas
After successful parliamentary elections for Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006, the U.S. and Israel have kept supporting Fatah movement’s Mahmoud Abbas. Helena Cobban from the Christian Science Monitor asks; “Isn’t it now time for the United States to find a way to deal with Hamas, directly or indirectly?” Hamas has popular support among the Palestinians, has “established a broad political movement,” and is seeking a better relationship with the U.S.  Cobban quotes Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, “We are not against the American people, but against this administration. We are not against American interests. Every state has the right to have its own interests – but not at the expense of other peoples,”  said in an interview.
On the other hand, in a meeting today in Cairo, President Abbas expressed no interest in talks with Hamas unless they first relinquish control in Gaza.  And this report from MEMRI highlights criticism of Hamas in the Arab media.   
Posted in Hamas, Palestine, US foreign policy | Comment »
Syria’s Intimidation Tactics
January 29th, 2008 by Sharlina
Itamar Rabinovich at The Daily Star comments on the closing gap of opportunity of an Israeli-Syrian diplomatic relationship​, stating that “the main reason is Lebanon, where Syria continues to meddle, intimidate and even kill in order to preserve and restore its position, [which] is totally unacceptable to President George W. Bush, who sees the survival and success of the Siniora government as a high priority.”
In the realm of political reform, Syria has detained its eleventh political prisoner since December, this time it being prominent dissident and former MP Riad Seif. Seif is “reportedly detained for attending a meeting of supporters of democratic reform in Syria.”
Posted in Reform, Syria, US foreign policy | Comment »
Response to Bush’s Stance on Middle East in State of the Union
January 29th, 2008 by Sharlina
Many were quick to respond to President Bush’s assertions on foreign policy during his final State of the Union address yesterday. While Bush noted that “We’ve seen Afghans emerge from the tyranny of the Taliban and choose a new president and a new parliament,” Juan Cole at Informed Comment argues that it is not terrorists that hinder democracy in Afghanistan​, but practices like marrying women off at a young age and the conviction of journalists on “blasphemy” charges, practices that are “problems with the establishment.”
In response to Bush’s depiction of Iraq as “good progress,” lawmakers like Jack Reed of Rhode Island believe that “Bush’s rosy depiction of the situation in Iraq sends exactly the wrong message to Iraq’s leaders by relieving pressure on them to make progress on political reconciliation.”
Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Taliban, US foreign policy | Comment »
Continued Debate Over Supporting Democracy in Egypt
January 29th, 2008 by Sharlina
Matthew Yglesias at The Atlantic​continues the debate on democracy promotion in Egypt, this time in response to POMED’s Shadi Hamid’s urging that the “U.S. should make the billions it gives to Egypt conditional on political reform” and that it also should start a dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood. Yglesias maintain skepticism toward conditioning aid and arms deals on reform, but agrees that the U.S. “should be engaging with Egyptian opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and making it clear that we’re prepared to have a relationship with whatever kind of government might emerge, but that we’d envision a closer relationship with a democratic government.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Foreign Aid, Muslim Brotherhood, US foreign policy | Comment »
Dwindling Prospect of Resolution on Lebanese Political Crisis
January 29th, 2008 by Sharlina
Lebanon’s latest car bomb assassination of Captain Wissam Eid (and at least three other people), the head of a unit responsible for investigating the Rafiq al-Hariri assassination, is cited as a reason of concern in the Economist. The article suggests that the timing of the attack, two days before the Arab League was scheduled to discuss its “as yet unfruitful effort to enable the election of Lebanon’s army commander, General Michel Suleiman, as president,” also suggests “a broader political motive.”
Posted in Lebanon | Comment »
Erdogan and Turkey’s Progress
January 29th, 2008 by Sharlina
In response to the conviction of Atilla Yayla on Monday for expressing his “negative” opinions of the late Turkish founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Wall Street Journal writes that this counts as one of Turkey’s steps backward in its “long struggle to build a liberal society.” It further declares that Prime Minister Erdogan “has his work cut out for him…to achieve his stated goal of opening up Turkey.”
Meanwhile, two major Turkish parties plan to submit a joint plan to parliament today to ease a ban on the Islamic headscarf in universities​. Erdogan emphasizes the restricted nature of the reform, citing its application to only universities and not to women civil servants.
Posted in Reform, Turkey | Comment »
Upcoming Events
January 28th, 2008 by Kent
Tuesday, January 29
9:00 Wilson Center: The Israelis and their Politics. Former Israeli government officials will speak on the workings of the country’s political workings.
16:30 SAIS: Is Pakistan Ready for Elections? Three experts on Pakistani politics will analyze the possible positive and negative effects of the upcoming elections.
Wednesday, January 30
12:00 Georgetown: Discussion on Recent Developments in Pakistan.  
12:00 Georgetown: Lunch with a Policymaker: Carl Gershman. Gershman is President of the National Endowment for Democracy.
12:30 SAIS: “Iran vs. Pax Americana: Bluff or Threat?” Sanam Vakil, SAIS visiting scholar and SAIS graduate, will discuss this topic.
Thursday, January 31
TBA CSIS: Gulf Roundtable with Ahmed Saeed Former Treasury Department official will discuss the economic status of the Gulf States.
10:30 Brookings: U.S.-Turkish Relations after the Bush Presidency. Turkish politicians will discuss how the last seven years have changed the relationship between the two countries.
11:00 Cato: NATO’s New Troubles: Afghanistan, Kosovo and the Future of the Alliance. A panel discussion on the challenges that the organization faces.
Posted in Events, POMED | Comment »
POMED’s Weekly Wire - January 28th
January 28th, 2008 by Amanda
POMED’s Weekly Wire for January 28th is now available.
This week’s edition includes the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) annual”Budget and Economic Outlook”, and the Senate passed a revised version of the Defense Authorization Bill for FY 2008.  Also last week, several hundred thousand Palestinians flooded into Egypt from a breach in the wall bordering Gaza.
The full Weekly Wire can be viewed as a pdf here.
Posted in Uncategorized​, Weekly Wire | Comment »
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