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29 Sep 2008 - 22 Aug 2011
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Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: September, 2008
The Perils of Democracy Promotion
September 30th, 2008 by Jason
Steven Cook has a great post up at MESH. It’s taken from remarks he made at a recent symposium on U.S. vital interests in the Middle East, and how to go about securing them. He notes that “democracy promotion is not and never was an interest of the United States.” Rather, “promoting democratic change in the Middle East was the means by which the Bush administration sought to secure America’s regional interests.”
Cook says the fatal flaw in the theory has always been in how the U.S. is to “protect its interests in the short and medium terms—when transitions are fraught politically and states are unstable—until the long term when, it is believed, more appropriate democratic partners would emerge.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, US foreign policy | Comment »
Al-Jazeera on Political Reform in Egypt
September 30th, 2008 by Jason
The Arabist links to a great al-Jazeera English special​(video) on political reform in Egypt. The report talks about the political apathy pervading much of Egyptian society, as the regime has successfully “resharpened its tools as a police state.” It also includes a panel discussion on the failure of reform in the judiciary and the security apparatus, the succession of Gamal, and also on America’s role, or lack thereof, in supporting democratization.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Human Rights, Judiciary, Reform, US foreign policy | Comment »
Olmert Gets Bold; the Occupation gets Bloody
September 30th, 2008 by Jason
Just as his political influence hits exactly zero, out-going Israeli PM Ehud Olmert comes out with bold and unprecedented opinions on the conflict he has ostensibly been trying to resolve these past few years. Olmert said Israel will have to give up “almost all” of the West Bank, and accept the division of Jerusalem, if it ever hopes to get a deal done.
Aluf Benn in Haaretz comments on Olmert’s “extraordinary epiphany“: “What an epiphany: In order to make peace with the Arabs, we must give them land. How come we never thought of that before? And where was Olmert when the Israeli left, and the whole international community, was repeatedly exhausting this claim?”
The Christian Science Monitor has a report on what Olmert called the “evil wind of extremism” sweeping through Israel.  In the wake of a prominent anti-settlement professor being injured by a bomb outside his home, the report makes the connection between an upsurge in violence perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians in the territories, and the reemergence of Israeli-on-Israeli acts of violence.
Posted in Israel, Mideast Peace Plan, Palestine | 2 Comments »
Petraeus on Iraq, Afghanistan
September 30th, 2008 by Jason
Der Spiegel has a great interview up with Gen. David Petraeus. On Iraq, he talks candidly, and dare I say optimistically, about the logic of the surge, the reasons behind Moqtada al-Sadr’s disappearing act, and the state of the insurgency.
He contrasts with Afghanistan, which he notes does not have nearly the amount of built-in natural advantages. “In Afghanistan you are not rebuilding, you are building. There is very limited infrastructure and extreme terrain…The country has a serious problem of illiteracy…and a political system that is still very much developing….”
Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, US foreign policy | Comment »
Election Law Changes in Lebanon
September 30th, 2008 by Jason
Busy week for Lebanese MPs. Over the weekend the Parliament passed modest updates to the country’s outdated election laws. Parliament adopted 57 of 118 proposed changes, and  the reforms were not nearly sweeping enough for many.  Those reforms rejected included lowering the voting age to 18; allowing the military and emigrants to vote; and instituting a 30% parliamentary quota for women.
A representative sentiment from the Interior Minister: “I’m a bit disappointed, but the glass is half-full, not half-empty. I don’t think this will be the last electoral law. Reform in Lebanon is a step-by-step process.”
Commentators in Lebanon said that through inaction, the MPs have assured the “​preservation of the country’s long-standing political elite” and failed to seek any meaningful and genuine reform.
Though on Monday, Parliament did pass important rules regulating the role of the media in the upcoming elections. These include providing equal time on television for candidates, and a broadcast media blackout the day of the election.
Posted in Elections, Lebanon, Legislation | 1 Comment »
How Egypt Fails its Citizens…
September 30th, 2008 by Jason
In a scathing op-ed in the independent Daily News Egypt, Ibrahim Al-Houdaiby counts the ways in which one’s life is endangered by the Mubarak regime every day. It may be the overzealous security apparatus or the corrupt police; the decrepit facilities and malpractice at state-run hospitals; the tainted water system and rotten food imports; or the slow desperation borne of a lifetime of illiteracy and poverty. His diagnosis:
“The regime is still pursuing an aggressive economic neoliberal capitalist approach but still upholds an absolute absence of the necessary political liberalization and democratization that provides for the necessary checks and balances, transparency and accountability.”
And his conclusion: “The state’s inability to fulfill its responsibilities due to the regime’s focus on securing its leaders’ survival might lead to anarchy, while leading official figures in the West still insist on supporting the regime against its own people.”
Houdaiby will be featured at a POMED panel discussion this Monday, Oct. 6. See the event flyer here.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Human Rights, US foreign policy | Comment »
POMED’s Weekly Wire - September 29
September 29th, 2008 by Cecile
POMED’s Weekly Wire for September 29 is now available.
This week’s edition includes passage of a continuing resolution - extending appropriations at existing levels until March, an agreement on a provincial elections law in the Iraqi parliament, and the jailing of Ibrahim Eissa in Egypt for publishing rumors about Mubarak’s health.
The full Weekly Wire can be viewed here.
Posted in Weekly Wire | Comment »
2008: The Debate
September 29th, 2008 by Matt
In Friday night’s debate, democracy promotion did make what will probably be an unfortunately brief cameo in the series of presidential debates as domestic issues are slated to take center stage at the third debate (and mostly like at the VP debate and the second presidential debate as well, given the current situation). It came in the context of Pakistan policy, and if you blinked you may have missed it, so here is the full exchange:
OBAMA​:…”And the problem, John, with the strategy that’s been pursued was that, for 10 years, we coddled Musharraf, we alienated the Pakistani population, because we were anti-democratic. We had a 20th-century mindset that basically said, ‘Well, you know, he may be a dictator, but he’s our dictator.’ And as a consequence, we lost legitimacy in Pakistan. We spent $10 billion. And in the meantime, they weren’t going after al Qaeda, and they are more powerful now than at any time since we began the war in Afghanistan. That’s going to change when I’m president of the United States.”
MCCAIN: “I — I don’t think that Senator Obama understands that there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came to power. Everybody who was around then, and had been there, and knew about it knew that it was a failed state.”
It’s certainly a stretch to extrapolate a comprehensive picture of the candidates’ attitudes toward democracy promotion from this very brief point-counterpoint, but it’s illuminating at the very least with regard to Pakistan policy, and perhaps with regard to other countries that might bear some political resemblance.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Election 08, Pakistan, US foreign policy, US politics | Comment »
2008: Palin On Democracy Promotion
September 29th, 2008 by Matt
In her now infamous interview on foreign policy with Katie Couric, Sarah Palin did sort of attempt to address democracy-related issues for the second time in her life week at the United Nations.  Unfortunately, this instance wasn’t scripted beforehand. Couric inquired as to how Palin would specifically try to spread democracy throughout the world, which specifically yielded the following highly specific response also:
“Specifically, we will make every effort possible to help spread democracy for those who desire freedom, independence, tolerance, respect for equality. That is the whole goal here in fighting terrorism also. It’s not just to keep the people safe, but to be able to usher in democratic values and ideals around this, around the world.”
Couric then pressed Palin on the chance that this could result in unforeseen or unpalatable events, such as the Hamas victory in Gaza’s democratic elections, which Palin countered with:
“Yeah, well especially in that region, though, we have to protect those who do seek democracy and support those who seek protections for the people who live there. What we’re seeing in the last couple of days here in New York is a President of Iran, Ahmadinejad, who would come on our soil and express such disdain for one of our closest allies and friends, Israel … and we’re hearing the evil that he speaks and if hearing him doesn’t allow Americans to commit more solidly to protecting the friends and allies that we need, especially there in the Mideast, then nothing will.”
Which caused Jeffrey Goldberg to, um, rear his head and come into the airspace of his keyboard.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Election 08, Hamas, US foreign policy, US politics | Comment »
This Week’s Events
September 29th, 2008 by Jason
Tuesday, September 30, 2008:
     2:00pm IMES: Public Diplomacy and the War of Ideas: Agendas for the Next Administration
6:30pm WAC: Author Series Event with Dr. Robert Fisk - The Age of the Warrior
Wednesday, October 1, 2008:
     4:00pm Wilson: Dexter Filkins: Book Discussion, The Forever War
Thursday, October 2, 2008:
     12:00pm Cato: Global Terror’s Central Front: Pakistan and Afghanistan
Friday, October 3, 2008:
     4:00pm IMES: Disarming Libya: Background to an Agreement
Posted in Events | Comment »
Feckless U.S. Policy
September 29th, 2008 by Sarah
Daniel Levy at Prospects for Peace warns that the recent pipe-bomb targeting of an Israeli professor does not bode well for Israeli democracy and agrees with the intended victim Professor Ze’ev Sternhell when he stated that “if this act was not committed by a deranged person but by someone who represents a political view, then this is the beginning of the disintegration of democracy​.” Levy calls the U.S. policy “feckless” in the face of this trend of vigilantism among radical settlers.
Posted in Israel, Terrorism, US foreign policy | Comment »
Cole on Provincial Elections
September 29th, 2008 by Sarah
Juan Cole weighs in on the passage of Iraq’s provincial elections law at Informed Comment.  While supporting early provincial elections because it could lead to new Sunni political leaders with legitimacy and public support, Cole warns that if strong Sunni rivals emerge, “fundamentalist vigilantes [would] redouble their efforts to destabilize Iraq further.”
Posted in Elections, Iraq, Sectarianism | 1 Comment »
Winning Hearts and Minds
September 29th, 2008 by Sarah
In a BBC News poll, some 29% of people said that the War on Terror has had no effect on the Islamist militant network al-Qaeda, while another 30% of those surveyed stated that U.S. policies have strengthened al-Qaeda. According to Doug Miller of the polling agency Globescan, the findings are “yet another indicator that the US ‘war on terror’ is not winning hearts and minds.”
Posted in Terrorism, US foreign policy | Comment »
“The World’s Least Enviable Job”
September 29th, 2008 by Jason
An article in the LA Times spells out all of the insuperable challenges facing the new president of Pakistan. In addition to the small matter of leading the war against the most virulent terrorist threat in the world, “The economy has been languishing for months. Foreign investment is down. Food prices are up. Frequent power outages have soured people’s moods.” The article concludes that “It will take a leader of stature and savvy to unknot these difficulties and pull the country together. The jury is out as to whether Zardari is the man to do it.”
Roger Cohen in the NYT is considerably more sanguine in his assessment of Zardari’s ability to handle the job. After interviewing Zardari, Cohen concludes: “This guy’s very smart, street smart, a wheeler-dealer in an area full of them, secular, pro-American, committed to democracy, and brave…I care much less right now about his checkered past than about getting behind him for civilization’s sake.”
Posted in Pakistan, Terrorism, US foreign policy | Comment »
Deterring Hizbullah
September 29th, 2008 by Sarah
Abu Muqawama gives a shout-out to the recent piece written by Steven Biddle and Jeff Friedman on the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah war, and suggests that while “the conventional wisdom following the 2006 war was that Israel had ‘lost its deterrent capability,’” “in Fall 2008, however, it very much looks as if Israel’s deterrent capability with respect to Lebanon is doing quite well.” The blogger argues that “indiscriminate violence in practice increases Hizballah’s support. The threat of indiscriminate violence, meanwhile, might have the opposite effect.”
Posted in Hezbollah, Israel, Military, Palestine | Comment »
Last Gasps of Press Freedom in Egypt
September 29th, 2008 by Jason
Babylon and Beyond reports that Ibrahim Issa, the outspoken editor of the Egyptian independent newspaper Al Dustour, was sentenced to two months in prison for publishing rumors in 2007 that President Hosni Mubarak was ill and near death. “The verdict opens the door of hell,” said Issa. “It deals a blow to all illusions of a free press.”
Issa has been a constant critic of Mubarak’s regime, and that he is only now sentenced means “that the degree of freedom the independent press had enjoyed in recent years may be over.” The post mentions the increasing number of red-lines imposed by the regime on the press in recent months.  Mubarak’s health, the regime, corruption, or the suffering economy are all no-go areas.  Also, recently a gag order was put on the case of a Hisham Talaat Mustafa, the billionaire MP accused of ordering the slaying of a Lebanese pop star.
Posted in Egypt, Human Rights, Journalism, Judiciary | Comment »
Barrels and Barrels of Leverage with Iran
September 29th, 2008 by Jason
A companion piece to the post below, Meir Javedanfar in Pajamas Media writes of the leverage that may soon be falling into the laps of any potential interlocutor with Iran. Even though Iran’s oil and gas income rose 31% this year, the economy remains on the brink and inflation is highest it’s ever been post-revolution. With oil prices now falling, Javendanfar writes that the regime is facing a “nightmare scenario” just 10 months away from the presidential elections. He quotes the Iranian oil minister admitting that “$100 a barrel was the lowest appropriate price” that they could handle (oil is $103 as of this writing). Gas-rationing and reduced energy subsidies will become an increasingly painful way of life for the already-frustrated masses.
Javendanfar also points out the undeniable historical link between the price of oil and the willingness of the Iranian regime to play ball with the West.
Posted in Diplomacy, Elections, Iran, Oil, US foreign policy | 1 Comment »
The Iranian Minefield
September 29th, 2008 by Jason
In the WSJ, Michael Oren and Seth Robinson weigh the perils of negotiating with Iran. They write that to be credible, any talks must include the cessation of uranium enrichment and an end to support for terrorism. However, they concede that no combination of U.S. concessions and incentives is likely to induce Iran to change its policies. And the cost of engagement is high:
“Rather than improving U.S.-Iranian relations and enhancing Middle East stability, any American offer to dialogue with Iran is liable to be interpreted as a sign of American weakness, and not only in Tehran. Public opinion throughout the area will conclude that America has at last surrendered to the reality of Iranian rule. The damage to America’s regional, if not global, influence may prove irreversible.”
To avoid this, negotiations must be “accompanied by intensified sanctions and a credible military threat.”
Posted in Diplomacy, Iran, US foreign policy | 2 Comments »
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