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200920112012
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8 May 2009 - 28 Jul 2011
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Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: May, 2009
Groups Lobby President Ahead of Speech
May 29th, 2009 by Jed
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) released an open letter to “President Obama and the Muslim World” today which offers a “Muslim perspective on what governments, leaders and individuals can do to improve the prospects for international peace and prosperity.” The letter, signed by Nihad Awad, the National Executive Director of CAIR, calls on the president to back up his rhetoric with concrete policy initiatives such as holding governments in the Muslim world accountable to high democratic standards including “full political participation in systems of government that abide by the separation of powers and are held in check by independent judiciaries”. The letter also calls on Muslims to foster all inclusive internal dialogues and to offer themselves as “personal examples of the Islamic values of compassion, tolerance and moderation”.
Ten Republican house members also sent a letter to President Obama in which they make a number of recommendations to the president concerning his upcoming speech. In their letter they assert that “The Middle East has historically been a place of religious pluralism and cultural diversity” and call on the President to “urge Middle Eastern governments to relentlessly lend their support to the marginalized, weak, and oppressed segments of their societies by recognizing the universal importance of basic human dignity.” They call on the President to support democracy in Lebanon while calling for Hizbullah to disarm, advocate on behalf of individual dissidents who sit in prison, and “advocate for the region’s struggling religious minorities”. They also call on Obama to highlight the contributions Americans have made to Muslim majority states, such as in response to the Indonesian tsunami, the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, and efforts to prevent Muslim massacres in the Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts.
Posted in Egypt, Islam and Democracy, Pakistan | Comment »
Foreshadowing the Egypt Speech
May 29th, 2009 by Jed
Scott Carpenter of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy published a new PolicyWatch which foreshadows President Obama’s upcoming speech in Egypt. The main focuses of Obama’s speech are well known, as Carpenter asserts: the administration’s approach to “the Muslim World”, his plan to address the Arab-Israeli conflict, and relations with Iran. Carpenter recounts Obama’s trajectory to the Egypt speech which has included a campaign promise, an interview on Al-Arabiya, and a speech to the Turkish parliament. In recent weeks, the administration has been engaged in behind the scenes diplomacy to create an environment conducive to their still to be announced policies.
Carpenter believes Obama will attempt to convince listeners that he is serious about solving the Arab-Israeli conflict in hopes of bolstering moderate states as well as moderate candidates in upcoming elections in Lebanon and Iran. According to Carpenter, Obama chose Egypt because of their record of support for Israel and cooperation with the west, however, of critical importance is the fact that most Egyptians still live on less than a dollar a day and suffer from a paucity of democratic institutions. Carpenter dismisses Egypt’s recent actions as only tokens to the administration writing that “the regime continues its ongoing crackdown on students, bloggers, journalists, and political activists of all stripes”. As such, Carpenter calls on Obama to challenge Middle East autocracies to support the political rights of their people. He also recommends that Obama drop the phrase “Muslim world” and speak instead to the Arab people as citizens of their respective nations, as this phrase only perpetuates the unhelpful paradigm advanced by some Islamist groups who embrace violence.
According to Carpenter, it will be difficult for the President to meet such high expectations at home and abroad. He should ultimately be cautious of allowing his speech to be interpreted as a return to a period of U.S. foreign policy that sacrificed democracy for security. “By seeking peace at the expense of democracy and long-term stability, the president risks achieving none of these regional objectives”, writes Carpenter.
Posted in Egypt, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Mideast Peace Plan, Palestine | Comment »
Supporting Lebanon’s Democracy
May 29th, 2009 by Jed
In The Financial Times, Roula Khalaf calls on the Obama administration to support the outcome of Lebanon’s elections - regardless of who wins. Khalaf echoes the sentiments of other analysts who say the race between the March 14 coalition and the opposition March 8 coalition, which includes Hizbullah, is too close to call. Khalaf claims that by rejecting the results of the election, the United States would give the current opposition an excuse to blame their problems on the west and would create an environment of little accountability. Rejecting the results of the election would also send a message contrary to the one President Obama is likely to deliver in Cairo only three days prior to the election.
The Economist also examines the upcoming election, discussing the willingness of other states to take sides. The Americans want the current majority to maintain their strength while the Iranians and the Syrians would clearly prefer March 8 to prevail. Regardless of the outcome, Hizbullah is most likely to play a similar role, given their ambivalence towards parliamentary politics and the fact that the Aonists tend to see their coalition with the Shia group as one based on strategy not on ideals. No matter what the result of the June 7 elections, volatility will remain in Lebanese politics, as the Economist asserts.
Posted in Hezbollah, Iraq, Islam and Democracy, Lebanon, Syria | Comment »
Obama’s Balancing Act
May 29th, 2009 by Cecile
At The New Republic, William Galston argues that how artfully President Obama balances the competing interests of enlisting active Egyptian support in the peace process and reversing the harmful effects of supporting authoritarian regimes “will go a long way toward determining whether his trip succeeds in putting America’s relations with the Muslim world on a more productive and sustainable course.”
Galston tells us to look out for the following things during Obama’s visit to Egypt next week:
“If President Obama does these things,” Galston argues, “his administration can credibly claim to have put in place a democracy and human rights strategy that may well prove more effective than his predecessor’s blunt confrontation with the status quo. If he does not, it will be much harder for him to maintain that his new policy changes only means, and not our goals as well.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Egypt, Human Rights, US foreign policy | Comment »
Elections in Mauritania
May 29th, 2009 by Jed
While Mauritania will hold elections on June 6, no major opposition figures will participate and the election of General Muhammad Ould Abdel-Aziz​, who led the August 2008 coup, is nearly certain. In The Daily Star, Christopher Boucek outlines how Mauritanian politics are dominated by military personalities despite calls from opposition parties that military officers involved in coups not be permited to stand for office. Such calls may have led to Abdel-aziz’s resignation from the High State Council and the April announcement that he would run as a civilian candidate. Boucek asserts, however,  that western security concerns will continue to combine with this military political influence to put “governance issues ahead of transnational security concerns”.
Posted in Mauritania | Comment »
Winning the War, then Keeping the Peace
May 29th, 2009 by Cecile
The Economist tells Pakistan that in regards to the offensive with the Taliban “after the battle, prove you’re a state.” If it’s to be successful, the government must train and equip the provincial police and local administration, and also oversee vital economic development. “The government’s failure to plan for this in the past, far less achieve it, has been the main reason for the Taliban’s recent success…Unless it attends to these basics, Pakistan will neither turn back the Taliban nor retain popular support for its efforts.”
Posted in Pakistan, Taliban | Comment »
A Focus on Abbas
May 29th, 2009 by Jed
Jackson Diehl, in The Washington Post, discusses the current strategy of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which he believes is centered around waiting. According to Diehl, Abbas believes he can wait for the Obama administration to put enough pressure on Netanyahu so that his coalition weakens and he’s removed from office. Diehl points out that unlike previous administrations, the Obama administration has shifted the onus on the Israelis to act, not the Palestinians. “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he said. “Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life”, Diehl quotes Abbas as saying.
In The Nation, Ali Abunimah posits that Obama may be talking to the wrong person as recent polling shows Abbas with little legitimacy amongst Palestinians. Abunimah questions the seriousness of Obama’s approach stating that “If Obama were serious about making real progress, one of the first things he would do is ditch the Bush-era policy of backing Palestinian puppets and lift the American veto on reconciliation efforts aimed at creating a unified, representative and credible Palestinian leadership.” Abunimah also calls out President Obama for supporting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, asking what this will mean for the future of Palestinian Israelis.
Posted in Israel, Mideast Peace Plan, Palestine | Comment »
Reform Comes to Libya?
May 29th, 2009 by Cecile
At Foreign Policy, Sarah Leah Whitson discusses how Libya is experiencing its own Arab Spring of sorts, arguing that “for the first time in memory, change is in the air.” She explains how on a recent visit she experienced an unexpected candor, with Libyans openly criticizing the government and challenging the status quo - a practice nearly unheard of a few years ago. Furthermore, “the spirit of reform, however slowly, has spread to the bureaucracy as well.” From resticting the death penalty only to murder convictions and strengthening the separation between the Justice and Internal Security ministries - the state appears to be making tentative yet promising steps. While some are skeptical over the motives behind these moves, Whitson argues that “it is impossible to underestimate the importance of the efforts made so far.”
Posted in Freedom, Human Rights, Libya, Reform | Comment »
The Global Engagement Directive
May 29th, 2009 by Jed
Marc Lynch discusses the recent move by the Obama administration to create a desk at the National Security Council for “global engagement” which will take the lead in the inter-agency coordination of public diplomacy, international communications, foreign aid and other areas of general engagement. Lynch believes this is a positive move as it balances the inequity in resources between State and DoD through central coordination of U.S. policy and shows that the Obama team realizes that engagement goes beyond delivering high profile speeches.
Posted in Diplomacy, Foreign Aid, US foreign policy | Comment »
Silencing Dissent in Israel?
May 29th, 2009 by Cecile
According to the Economist, the bill outlawing Nakba demonstrations is unlikely to make it onto Israel’s statute book. But, “the bill’s endorsement on May 24th by the cabinet committee on legislation sent a shudder through liberal circles in the Jewish state - and appalled Palestinian’s everywhere. For it was a sign that the anti-Arab campaign of the new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman​, earlier this year was not just electoral hype.”
And over at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg writes, “I understand Israeli Jewish fears about the extremism found in certain sections of Arab Israeli society, but is outlawing expression of dissent the way to battle this extremism? In the countries that border Israel, many thoughts are held to be illegal. But is Syria now the model for Israeli democracy?”
Posted in Freedom, Human Rights, Israel, Legislation | Comment »
Taking Sides in Lebanon’s Election
May 28th, 2009 by Eoghan
When Vice President Joe Biden visited Lebanon last week in the run-up to its parliamentary election, he said ”I do not come here to back any particular party or any particular person.” But he also commented​, in light of a possible victory for Hezbollah’s coalition, that the Obama Administration would “evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the shape of the new government.” John P. Hannah, Dick Cheney’s former national security advisor, says the administration should be even more vocal in supporting the governing March 14 coalition and extend a White House invitation to the coalition leader, Saad Hariri. ”As in much of the world, President Obama is extremely popular in Lebanon. Were he to act boldly to demonstrate America’s unequivocal preference for March 14th, it could be decisive in moving key constituencies off the fence and against Hezbollah.”
Posted in Elections, Hezbollah, Lebanon, US foreign policy | Comment »
Clinton Promises Dialogue with Egypt on Democracy
May 28th, 2009 by Eoghan
Before her meeting with a group of Egyptian democracy activists, Secretary Clinton was asked by a reporter about Egypt’s progress on human rights and democracy. Although she avoided addressing that question directly, she did say that she does raise human rights and democracy issues with the Egyptian government:
“Well, we always raise democracy and human rights. It is a core pillar of American foreign policy. And I think that there is a great awareness on the part of the Egyptian Government that with young people like this and with enhanced communications, it is in Egypt’s interest to move more toward democracy and to exhibit more respect for human rights. And so we’re going to continue to engage in that dialogue. Under Secretary Bill Burns will be going to Egypt soon to put in place a framework for a comprehensive discussion between our two countries on the whole range of issues.”
The approach Clinton outlined parallels the “strategic dialogue” on political reform that Greg Aftandilian called for in POMED’s recent policy paper on U.S.-Egypt relations. But Clinton also made a troubling comparison between funding for democracy assistance and funding for economic development:
“And we are very committed to doing what we can to promote economic opportunity inside Egypt. We consider that a key part of our providing assistance to Egypt. We’ve spent, as you know, many billions of dollars over the last years promoting NGOs, promoting democracy, good governance, rule of law. And I want to stress economic opportunity because out of economic opportunity comes confidence, comes a recognition that people can chart their own future.”
The United States does not spend “many billions of dollars” on democracy assistance in Egypt. In 2008, the State Department spent roughly $55 million on democracy assistance in Egypt, and under Clinton, funding has been reduced to around $20 million annually. The Secretary’s remarks suggest a shift in emphasis away from assistance for civil society groups working to promote democratic reform toward economic development aid.
Human Rights First released a report today which, like Aftandilian’s paper, called for the U.S. to set up a multilateral framework for engaging the Egyptian government in a partnership to promote political reform. The organization said the U.S. should publicly call on Egypt to hold a free presidential election in 2011 and urge Egypt to repeal the multi-decade state of emergency. In addition, “President Obama should meet publicly with representatives of independent civil society organizations while he is in Egypt and voice his support for human rights defenders who face harassment, restrictions, baseless prosecutions and defamation in the officially controlled media.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Egypt, Foreign Aid, Human Rights, US foreign policy | Comment »
Supporting the Opposition, in All its Forms
May 28th, 2009 by Cecile
At the Guardian, Sara Khorshid argues that “by favoring liberals, America is marginalizing the majority within the Egyptian opposition​;” and this ultimately leads to strengthening anti-U.S. sentiment. She cautions against favoring one element of the opposition over the other, stressing that “sincere U.S. pro-democracy policies…and letting people choose for themselves, will consolidate Obama’s success in improving the U.S. image in the Muslim world.”
Khorshid further notes, “if modern Islamists and other forces in Egypt are given the opportunity of a healthy, democratic environment, they might develop more open and tolerant approaches, which will enable them to integrate in the international community.” This echoes Greg Aftandilian​’s argument in POMED’s recent publication that enagement with parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood “may work to modify their positions, dispel some misconceptions about U.S. policy, and increase the credibility of U.S. calls for reform in Egypt and elsewhere.”
As President Obama’s speech in Cairo is fast approaching, many are wondering what approach he will take in his effort to build relations based on mutual interests and mutual respect. Will this include a more balanced stance toward democracy promotion? Will it include democracy promotion at all? Stay tuned…
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood, Political Islam, US foreign policy | Comment »
The Facebook Revolution
May 28th, 2009 by Eoghan
The Iranian government recently unblocked Facebook after briefly banning the site, which opposition supporters have used to promote their candidates. The Financial Times, noting that Egyptian activists (such as the April 6 organizers) have also been using Facebook for grassroots political organizing, says that “Web 2.0″ technologies that allow users to create and share content online are potentially potent tools for undermining authoritarianism.
Posted in Egypt, Iran | Comment »
The Role of Foreign Policy and Women in Iran’s Elections
May 28th, 2009 by Cecile
At CFR, Bernard Gwertzman interviews Iran expert, Farideh Farhi on the upcoming presidential elections. Farhi argues that foreign policy has crept its way into the presidential debate in an election season thought to be focused more on economic issues. “Foreign policy unexpectedly has become a very important issue in Iran and obviously centers on the argument that Mr. Ahmadinejad has been unduly provocative.” These elections are significant for U.S.-Iran relations as the candidates have “very clear policy differences in terms of how Iran’s foreign policy will be conducted.” While its hard to predict who will emerge the victor, Farhi argues that if Ahmadinejad does not garner 50 percent or more of the vote in the first round of elections his chance of winning in a second round run-off are greatly diminished.
Meanwhile, many are focusing on the important role of women in the June elections. The latest issue of the Iran Election Bulletin discusses ways in which candidates are working to attract the female vote. Masih Alinejad explains how security forces have relaxed the enforcement of Iran’s strict dress code and presidential candidates are all promising to appoint women to government positions. But some women activists believe this goodwill to be short lived, ending as soon as the election season is over.
And if Mir Hossein Mousavi wins, Iran may very well see its first “first lady.” His wife, Zahra Rahnavard is the first spouse to take on a major campaign role. At the Associated Press, Ali Akbar Dareini points out, “while the political power couple is a common fixture in the West, Rahnavard is rewriting the role of political spouse in conservative Iran…With her sharp wit and fluid oratory, [she] has fast become a political draw on her own, as well as an important asset to her husband’s campaign as the main pro-reform challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
Posted in Elections, Iran, Women | Comment »
Sharing Power with Hizbollah
May 28th, 2009 by Eoghan
The Financial Times of London says a unity government that includes Hizbollah is a possible outcome of Lebanon’s upcoming elections and could be an improvement over the country’s current political paralysis. “Giving Hizbollah shared responsibility instead of a spoiler’s role – talking to the IMF about debt or dealing with the electricity crisis – is more likely to force them into making the choice they have managed to evade ever since Israeli forces withdrew from Lebanon under attrition in 2000: whether to become part of the solution in Lebanon or continue to be part of the problem in the region.”
Posted in Elections, Hezbollah, Lebanon | Comment »
Partnering with Pakistan
May 28th, 2009 by Cecile
The Center for American Progress has just released a report of its findings from a recent trip to Pakistan. Working off of the notion that the U.S. should develop a long-term partnership with Pakistan, Lawrence J. Korb, Brian Katulis, and Colin Cookman offer ten policy recommendations for formulating this approach. The recommendations include:
The full report can be viewed here.
Posted in Diplomacy, Foreign Aid, Pakistan, Publications, US foreign policy | Comment »
P.L.O. Markets Arab Peace Initiative in U.S.
May 28th, 2009 by Eoghan
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) has taken out a full-page ad in today’s Washington Post to publicize the Arab Peace Initiative, the 2002 proposal by the League of Arab States to normalize relations with Israel in exchange for Palestinian independence. The ad notes that the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), which encompasses Muslim nations around the world, has also endorsed the initiative on numerous occasions, including at a foreign ministers meeting in Tehran in 2003. The OIC has also called for “the deployment of international forces to secure stability and calm in the region to supervise and monitor the implementation of the Road Map.”
Posted in Arab League, Diplomacy, Israel, Mideast Peace Plan, Palestine | Comment »
The West Must Hold Libya Accountable on Human Rights
May 28th, 2009 by Eoghan
Natan Sharansky writes about Libyan dissident Fathi Eljahmi, who died last week after seven years of brutal imprisonment. The West has looked the other way on Libya’s human rights abuses, Sharansky argues, in order to gain the regime’s cooperation on terrorism and proliferation. But it takes concerted international pressure to force regimes to release political prisoners. And when countries intervene in these cases, they bolster the cause of human rights more broadly. “When such dissidents enjoy overwhelming public support from the free world, when international pressure results in their release from custody or when their deaths spark international outrage and sanctions, a powerful signal is sent to others suffering under the regime that they are not alone, that the world outside stands strong in the cause of their freedom.”
Posted in Human Rights, Libya | Comment »
Connecting With Muslims Requires Embracing Democracy
May 28th, 2009 by Eoghan
The Washington Post editorial staff urges President Obama to address human rights and democracy in his speech next week in Egypt, arguing that “real partnership between the United States and the Muslim world will require the common embrace of values such as freedom of speech and religion, free elections, and the renunciation of torture.” The administration has backed away from democracy promotion after the failure of President Bush’s “Freedom Agenda,” but avoiding the issue of democracy will not endear America to Muslim societies. “If it chooses to uncritically embrace autocrats such as Mr. Mubarak — as it has so far — the administration … will accomplish the opposite of what Mr. Obama intends, by alienating a young generation of Arabs and Muslims that despises the old order and demands the freedoms that have spread everywhere else in the world.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Human Rights, US foreign policy | Comment »
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