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27 Jul 2009 - 21 Aug 2011
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Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: July, 2009
Hamas Clamps Down In Gaza
July 31st, 2009 by Blake
Diaa Hadid in the Huffington Post surveys the two diverging trajectories that Gaza and the West bank are headed.  On the one hand, Hadid writes, Hamas has been emboldened to enforce a strict “virtue campaign” in the traditionally conservative Gaza. The Gaza Strip is economically isolated and suffering economically from a crippling embargo.  The more secular and tolerant West Bank, on the other hand, is enjoying economic growth, thanks in large part to robust foreign aid.
Gazan human rights activist Hamdi Shakour blames Israel’s blockade on Gaza for isolating Gazan society and leading to increased extremism in Hamas.  Abdullah Abu Jarbou, the Hamas deputy religious affairs minister said that the groups would “gradually” move to implement Islamic law.
Posted in Freedom, Hamas, Palestine | Comment »
Feltman Cleared for Senate Confirmation
July 31st, 2009 by Max
Jeffrey Feltman, the Obama administration’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, can now be confirmed by the Senate. Feltman’s nomination was held up after Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) placed a hold on his conformation in order to pressure the administration to allow an Italian-born constituent access to Libyan terrorist-action relief compensation. The constituent had been wounded in a 1985 attack on a Roman airport.
Feltman is expected to be confirmed by unanimous consent as early as this evening.
Posted in Congress, Libya, US foreign policy | Comment »
The Egyptians Are Watching
July 31st, 2009 by Blake
Amidst news that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will soon visit Washington, and with the Obama administration preoccupied with the peace process and the ongoing crisis in Iran, the Egyptian press reports on cuts in U.S. funding for democracy promotion in Egypt, citing POMED’s recently released FY2010 federal budget report.  Such cuts in funding for democracy and civil society initiatives, the articles claim, show that supporting Egyptian democracy is not a “priority” for the Obama administration.  Egyptian cooperation is integral to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue, on which Obama is intensely focused.  Yet decreases in democracy funding could signal to Egyptian leaders that human rights and democratic reform are not priorities for U.S. strategic dialogue with Egypt.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Foreign Aid, Israel, Palestine, Reform, US foreign policy | 1 Comment »
On Democracy: Assessing Obama at Six Months
July 31st, 2009 by Blake
At the six-month mark of Barack Obama’s presidency, Freedom House’s Damian Murphy examines the president’s support for democracy thus far. Concluding that the administration is making progress, Murphy writes that Secretary Clinton’s increased emphasis on democracy and human rights, as well as Obama’s speech in Moscow, closely followed by one in Ghana, signal the emergence of Obama’s firm stance on supporting democracy and rule of law as “universal values.” This verdict is bolstered by the President’s FY2010 budget request (see POMED’s recent analysis of the budget), which includes increases for democracy funding globally, notably for the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and Near East Regional Democracy (NERD) Fund .
Nevertheless, the administration should do more to support democracy, he contends. Recommending a practical step for demonstrating a commitment to democracy promotion, Murphy suggests that greater emphasis should be placed on diplomatic efforts through the Department of State and the National Security Council to enhance on-the-ground support for human rights and democracy activists in their own countries.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Foreign Aid, US foreign policy | Comment »
Afghan Presidential Campaigns Heat Up
July 31st, 2009 by Blake
Six weeks ago, Afghan President​Hamid Karzai was widely expected to sweep the August 20 elections, write Laura King and M. Karim Faiez in the Los Angeles Times. The race is heating up, however, forcing the previously reclusive Karzai to make necessary public appearances to garner support in the face of two opponents, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. Although he is still likely to get the most votes, it is uncertain whether Karzai will garner the 50 percent needed to preclude a run-off. Popular support for Abdullah and Ghani has swelled recently, yet concrete statistics are hard to come by in Afghanistan where there is limited or no polling data.
Abdullah Abdullah comes from the senior ranks of Northern Alliance leadership and although he is half Pashtun–the ethnic group that comprises Karzai’s base–he has been unable to garner Pashtun support. Ashraf Ghani is a polished former World Bank specialist, campaigning on a platform of economic development, women’s empowerment and poverty alleviation. His campaign considers his experiences living in both the West an in rural Afghanistan as an asset. August 20 will tell if Afghans agree.
The opposition candidates echo equal displeasure with Karzai’s tenure, calling for change. Yet no candidate, including Karzai has endorsed an end to military occupation in the near term. Perhaps it is this reason, contend King and Faiez, that Western military powers are focused on a legitimate and fair elections. Whether change is in the air is uncertain for lack of data, yet the U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry has reached out to the candidates, hosting discussions and likely cementing cooperative alliances.
Posted in Afghanistan, Elections | Comment »
Lynch to Obama: Read the UNDP Arab Human Development Report
July 31st, 2009 by Blake
The Arab Human Development Report, which was released by the United Nations Development Program last week, provides timely insight as to why authoritarian states consistently undermine human development in their countries, writes Marc Lynch in the National. Importantly, the report defines the relationship between human security and the state as mutually reinforcing. This provides an important paradigmatic shift, Lynch writes, enabling the report to steer away from using broad democracy language and focus recommending the fundamental needs for states to reestablish notions of citizenship and social contract as the first steps to reform.
At a time when such strategies are desperately needed, the report outlines templates for reform that could be useful to the Obama administration, says Lynch. Following the UNDP’s recommendations would help U.S. reform efforts away from the “rhetorical fog” of the Freedom Agenda to more refined reform efforts.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Publications, Reform, US foreign policy, United Nations | Comment »
Is Fatah Self Destructing?
July 30th, 2009 by Blake
Since Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004, writes Mohammed Herzallah in Newsweek online, power struggles in Fatah have consistently undermined Palestinian unity and encouraged resentment for President Mahmoud Abbas. “Things came to a head last week,” writes Herzallah, when senior PLO and Fatah member Farouk Qaddumi pointed to Abbas and his national security advisor Mohammed Dahlen as having conspired with Israel to assassinate Arafat.
Such accusations amid top Fatah leadership reveal serious rifts in Palestinian leadership.  Abbas has taken extreme measures to refute the charge, even banning al-Jazeera for covering the story.  Another rift, Herzallah cites, is among those who back Abbas’ unyielding position on Hamas, and those who want to see unity.  Among the Fatah ranks there is an increasingly popular mentality that the conflict with Hamas undercuts the credibility of the Palestinian cause.  Herzallah writes that Qaddumi attacking the President’s legitimacy could “empower Hamas and steer it toward a position of dominance in Palestinian politics,” which would kill any likelihood of Israel accepting Palestinian statehood.
UPDATE: Several Fatah and Hamas leaders in Gaza said today that they were threatened and barred by Abbas from attending the party’s 6th Conference, and called for and end to the infighting within the Palestinian Authority.
Posted in Hamas, Israel, Palestine, Political Parties | 1 Comment »
Shelving Sanctions for Cooperation
July 30th, 2009 by Blake
Signaling an evolving rapprochement in U.S. Syrian relations, White House Middle East envoy George Mitchell told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday that the Obama Administration plans to ease sanctions against Syria, which were levied against the country in 2004.  Currently, the Syria Accountability Act only waives sanctions for imports of food and medicine.  Widening such exemptions and waivers will begin with telecommunications and aviation equipment and will continue on a “case-by-case” level, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Congressional action is required to formally lift sanctions on Syria, yet the Administration’s move–which will provide space for American companies to enter the Syrian market–has nevertheless been well received by Syria, “We received assurances that the relations between the two countries should resume on the basis of mutual interests and most importantly on the basis of mutual respect. We really welcome such a new approach,” said Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Fayssal Mekdad.
The New York Times reports that this diplomatic overture to Syria was met with quick reactions in Congress by the sanctions’ supporters. Yet the conversation between Mitchell and Assad was not based solely on easing sanctions, but was accompanied by preliminary discussions on security and military cooperation focused on the key issue of stabilizing an independent Iraq–which is a mutual concern for both countries.
Posted in Congress, Syria, US foreign policy | 1 Comment »
Lebanon Establishes Cabinet Formula
July 30th, 2009 by Blake
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri announced yesterday that opposition and coalition blocs have agreed on the shape of a national unity cabinet. The decision comes after fiercely contested debate about the composition of the government since the March 14 coalition’s win in Lebanon’s June 12 election.  More disagreement among blocs has emerged as the discussions move to divide ministerial portfolios among the cabinet.
The 15-10-5 power sharing formula is set to award 15 seats to the majority and 10 to the opposition, which includes Hezbollah. Five cabinet members will be appointed by the president.  Such a balance deprives the opposition of a veto power–which Hezbollah had stubbornly demanded–unless it is supported by other cabinet members.  General Michel Aoun criticized the decision, calling for proportional cabinet representation, which would include five Christians.  
Posted in Elections, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Political Parties | Comment »
Palestinians Detained in Lebanon
July 30th, 2009 by Blake
The Daily Star reports that Palestinians “unjustly” detained in Lebanese prisons are mistreated and often denied the right to appeal, even in cases with international or UN pressure.  Many are detained for alleged links to the Fatah al-Islam militant group, which in 2007 fought the Lebanese army in a 106 day campaign in North Lebanon that left 400 dead.  Indefinite detentions are sanctioned by Article 108 of the Lebanese penal code in cases of crimes that threaten national security. 
Posted in Lebanon | Comment »
Mourning and Clashes in Tehran
July 30th, 2009 by Max
Today, the 40-day anniversary of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan​–who has become the poster child of the Iranian opposition movement–was marked by large-scale protests in Tehran. Opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi attempted to address the crowd but was quickly surrounded by police and sent on his way.
Thousands of mourners descended on the site of Agha-Soltan’s grave. Despite a buildup of security forces, they proved a poor match for a “crowd of thousands​.” Police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse mourners and other protesters but were, in many cases, overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, Agha-Soltan’s mother was interviewed by the BBC’s Hajar Rostami Motlagh, in which she says that although her daughter was not a political person, she was was nevertheless ”​passionate about freedom.“ In the interview Agha-Soltan’s mother also discussed her meeting with Mousavi’s fellow opposition candidate, Mehdi Karroubi.
Posted in Iran | Comment »
POMED Notes: UNDP Washington Roundtable
July 30th, 2009 by Blake
Yesterday, the United Nations Development Program hosted a half day event with panels and a round table discussion to present its Arab Human Development Report, which was released in Beirut last week. POMED’s notes cover two discussions at yesterday’s event: Marina Ottaway and Baghat Korany participated on the Arab State and Human Security Panel moderated by UNDP’s Washington  Senior Advisor David Yang.  A roundtable focusing on obstacles to Arab human development was moderated by Riz Khan and included Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin​, Thomas Friedman, Robin Wright, and again Baghat Korany.
Click here to read POMED’s notes on this event.
Posted in Event Notes, Reform, United Nations | Comment »
Has “Change” Come to Iraq’s Kurdish North?
July 30th, 2009 by Blake
Iraq’s election commission announced that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) coalition won a solid majority in last week’s parliamentary elections with 57.34 percent of the vote.  The opposition “Change List” fared well nonetheless, garnering 23.75 percent. In the presidential election, KDP incumbent Masoud Barzani swept a second term as expected, with 69.57 percent.  Election irregularities were reported; Jerry Weinberger inventories widespread vote fraud and armed intimidation by the PUK-KDP coalition forces (including the army) during and after the elections, particularly in Change List strongholds.
The relative success of the Change List indicates a “​milestone​” shift in the regional political landscape, writes the Economist.  Although Change performed well, the election itself demonstrates a relative decline in Kurdistan’s past democratic record, yet Kurdish democracy in the 1990s included limited opposition.  This backsliding, the Economist argues, is accompanied by rising tension with Baghdad and Arab Iraq.
Henri Barkey writes in the National that the Change movement’s success indicates that the consolidation of a more democratic system is forming in Iraq’s north.  Importantly, he notes that Change’s influence, paired with the return of PUK leader Barham Salih from Baghdad, could create space for widespread governmental reform.  Salih is known for his “clean” record.  Barkey warns, however, that a rift in the KDP-PUK coalition (which could weaken the Kurdish position vis-a-vis Baghdad) may yield a period of instability, particularly over the Kirkuk question.
Kurdish administration over Kirkuk’s oil would provide the economic viability to sustain Kurdish authonomy as a loose part of Iraq, or as a sovereign state.  Neither the PUK or KDP parties have relaxed claims that the oil rich city of Kirkuk lies in Kurdish jurisdiction. Baghdad, however, insists that Kirkuk’s oil revenues be administered through Iraqi national coffers. Barzani has pledged to move quickly to resolve disputes with Baghdad, to head off any spiral to conflict.
In Forbes, Melik Keylan posits that the battle for Kirkuk’s oil revenues could spark a conflict that could potentially draw in Turkey, Iran and Syria.  The results of Kirkuk’s upcoming census will likely lead to determining which party should have jurisdiction over the city, yet decades of population movement undermines Kurdish historical claims to the city.  Claims to Kirkuk’s oil, he writes, is only a guarantor of conflict among Kurds’ neighbors and ethnic rivals.
Posted in Elections, Iraq, Kurds, Oil, Political Parties | Comment »
Taliban Discourages Afghans From Voting
July 30th, 2009 by Blake
The Afghan Taliban released a statement this week that calls on a new code of military conduct, in an effort to present a united front and improve Afghan public opinion of the group.  The group’s new approach attempts to sway those in government to leave their posts without reprisal, yet in the long term some think it may eventually provide an opportunity for fostering a relationship with the Afghan government and NATO, reports Rob at the Arabic Media Shack.
Yet predictions for collaboration may prove to be premature, as today the Taliban called for a boycott of Afghanistan’s August 20 elections.  Al-Arabiya reports that the group issued a media statement in Pashto, discouraging Afghans from going to the polls.  Instead, it recommends that its supporters launch jihadist operations to undermine turnout.  Supporters must “prevent people from attending the elections and one day before the elections all roads and highways must be totally closed to government and civilian vehicles,”  the statement reads.
This statement comes in the wake of U.S. and NATO concern that low turnout in the elections would throw the legitimacy of the newly-elected government into question. Counter-election operations by the Taliban are likely to indicate whether the group will credibly adhere to its new codes of conduct, particularly in avoiding civilian targets.
Posted in Afghanistan, Elections | 2 Comments »
Who Will Succeed Khamenei?
July 30th, 2009 by Max
Rumors persist regarding the health of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, Babak Sarfaraz writes in The Nation.  Khamenei, who Sarfaraz reports may be suffering from terminal leukemia, tapped Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi to be chief of the Judiciary back in 1999 and now, Sarfaraz posits, Shahroudi is well positioned to take the helm.
Although the succession issue is not being openly discussed, particularly at such a critical period for the Islamic Republic, there are indications that an Iran under Shahroudi, while deeply traditionalist, might not be the same Iran envisioned by current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad​.  The Judiciary under Shahroudi has clashed several times with Ahmadinejad’s government, criticizing its use of state assets and cronyism.
Posted in Iran, Judiciary | Comment »
Upcoming Hearing: Assessing Economic Sanctions and Other Policy Options
July 30th, 2009 by Blake
The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs will hold a hearing today focusing on Iran. The hearing will assess the viability of economic sanctions and other U.S. policy options. Two panels of witnesses will be questioned. The witnesses include Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT); Ambassador Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard University; Dr. Matthew Levitt, Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Dr. Suzanne Maloney, Brookings; and Ms. Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute.
Click here to see the Committee’s website.
Posted in Congress, Iran | Comment »
POMED Notes: Appropriations and Democracy in the Middle East
July 29th, 2009 by Blake
Yesterday afternoon, POMED and the Heinrich Böll Foundation released a new publication​, The Federal Budget and Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2010: Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights in the Middle East, written by POMED’s Director of Advocacy Stephen McInerney.  McInerney presented the report’s findings, launching a discussion with Thomas Melia of Freedom House and Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  Andrew Albertson, Executive Director of POMED, moderated.
McInerney highlighted the report’s key conclusions, that the Obama administration’s first annual budget requests significant increases for overall foreign assistance to the Broader Middle East and North Africa, including large increases for democracy and governance assistance.  These increases are especially focused in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, but the remaining countries and programs in the region also receive increased democracy and goverance funding, with the notable exceptions of Egypt and Jordan.
Tom Melia warned against drawing conclusions too broadly based on budget numbers alone, and he asked whether this budget can truly be seen to represent the approach of the new administration, which has yet to fill many key positions, including the administrator of USAID.  Marina Ottaway questioned the effectiveness of spending large sums of money on democracy and goverance programs in the region if they are unaccompanied by diplomatic pressure and other policy support.
Click here for POMED’s notes on the event.
Posted in Event Notes, Events, Freedom, Human Rights, Reform, US foreign policy | Comment »
A Saudi Regression?
July 29th, 2009 by Max
In an informative piece for Foreign Policy, Ian Bremmer writes that political reform in Saudi Arabia has for a long time been moving “very, very slowly.”  Two recent developments, however, seem to indicate that this forward crawl may have even reversed: plans to reopen public cinemas, which have been banned for a number of years, have just been binned, while an editor of a leading newspaper was fired after a piece criticizing the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice–a militia that enforces Wahhabi codes of dress and behavior by means of physical violence–upset the country’s interior minister, Prince Nayef bin Abd Al-Aziz.
Furthermore, reports that all computers in the country may soon be installed with a microchip tracking internet use only heighten observers’ concerns. With Crown Prince Sultan 84 years old, there are serious concerns that interior minister Nayef may become Saudi Arabia’s king.
Posted in Human Rights, Saudi Arabia | Comment »
Michael Posner Confirmation Hearing
July 29th, 2009 by Max
Michael H. Posner, President of Human Rights First, testified Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to be confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. In his testimony, Posner asserted that the framework put forth by President Obama in his Cairo speech–in which it was asserted that freedom of speech, rule of law, equal administration of justice, transparent justice and freedom were not just American ideals, but human rights to be supported everywhere–”can and should guide U.S. policies everywhere in the world.”
Posner stated, “If confirmed, I will view my role as being a principle advocate for robust human rights and democracy policies within the Government. It will be my job to make the best case possible for why these interests are important and why adherence to these principles will advance the long term national interests of the United States.”
Posted in Committee Meetings, Congress, Human Rights, US foreign policy | Comment »
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