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200920112012
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22 Aug 2009 - 28 Jul 2011
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Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: August, 2009
Ahmadinejad’s Cabinet in Question
August 31st, 2009 by Jason
 The 3-day Majlis debate over President Ahmadinejad’s future cabinet began on Sunday. Some experts predict the Parliament will reject up to eight of Ahmadinejad’s picks, including potentially the three women nominated to serve in the cabinet. Despite Ahmadinejad’s aura of invincibility as he strode into Parliament with armed guards, the Majlis may yet prove to be “an obstacle” for the President.
Meanwhile, the government prosecutor behind the crack-down of protestors, Saeed Mortazavi, has just received a promotion to the new post of Deputy Prosecutor-General. While Muhammad Sahimi of the Tehran Bureau​laments that the appointment “does not bode well for the future of the Iranian judicial system,” some Iranian trial lawyers interpret the move as a practical demotion in power.
As we reported last week, Supreme Leader Khamenei’s recent softening in tone may signal an attempt to transcend the politicking over cabinet positions and trial prosecutions. Yet Michael Ledeen of The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies likens the speech to the Shah’s disastrous admission of abuse that proved the “watershed” moment of the Islamic Revolution. Citing the potential for a massive labor strike, Ledeen warns against underestimating the possibility of a new Iranian revolution.
Posted in Elections, Iran, Judiciary, US foreign policy, Uncategorized | Comment »
Afghans-on-the-Street
August 31st, 2009 by Zack
Stephen Farrell at the New York Times has produced a series of interviews about the presidential election with local Afghans from the south, center, and southeast of the country.  Farrell is able to explore disparities in the regional voting process and subsequent differences in voter satisfaction.  He also talks about more universal concerns, such as election fraud and a growing anger with the government. The Times intends to continue conducting interviews around the country as the election tally continues.
Posted in Afghanistan, Countries, Elections | Comment »
Arguing for Afghan Reform from Within
August 31st, 2009 by Zack
Jamie Metzel and Christine Fair, both of whom served as international observers during the recent Afghan elections, in a Daily News Egypt op-ed call for Afghans to take the lead in reform. Despite Afghanistan’s rampant corruption and dependence on international largesse, the world community should refrain from developing its own standards from Afghan reform.  Instead, they argue that internal reform is the only reform that can succeed.  To support this necessary change, the authors believe that foreign actors should call on the next Afghan government to establish its own benchmarks for accountability and that international assistance should be provided as long as those benchmarks are met.
Posted in Afghanistan, Countries, Democracy Promotion, Elections | Comment »
Speculation Swirling in Jordan
August 31st, 2009 by Jason
According to Oula Farawati of Al-Ahram Weekly, Jordan’s King Abdullah has recently sought to squash rumors of a secret U.S. plan to abdicate the Palestinian right of return in exchange for compensation.  She cites political commentator Saad Hattar as attributing the rumor’s virility to a lack of democratic reform and transparency in the Kingdom, and she quotes another observer, Jamal Tahat, as urging the king to follow his recent rhetoric with political action: “The formation of a strong government, the election of a parliament that is truly representative of the people, the stopping of meaningless economic projects, and the management of state resources properly is the way forward.”
Posted in Jordan, Mideast Peace Plan, Palestine, Reform | Comment »
Still Wrestling Over a Lebanese Cabinet
August 31st, 2009 by Zack
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri announced on Sunday that his March 14 Forces will hold a large-scale meeting on Monday.  According to Hariri, the meeting “is aimed at showing the March 14 Forces remain a unified parliamentary majority, which is extending its hand to all other groups in the country.”  According to the Daily Star, apart from asserting March 14’s political control the meeting will also attempt to reach out to opposition groups, including the Progressive Socialist Party, whose leader Walid Jumblatt will be in attendence.
Hariri kept hopes of a “national-unity” cabinet alive when on Friday he announced his readiness to meet with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun.  The two men will likely meet Monday to discuss the cabinet deadlock.
These moves come after Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir had called for an all-March 14 cabinet and the senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah had responded with an insulting attack against the patriarch.   Hezbollah later expressed regret over Fadlallah’s comments and MP Ali Fayyad called for “​consensus, resistance and the need for reforms” as the country builds a national-unity cabinet.
Posted in Islam and Democracy, Lebanon, Political Islam, Political Parties, Reform, Sectarianism | Comment »
Legitimacy of Afghan Elections Continues to be Questioned
August 31st, 2009 by Zack
The number of election fraud claims deemed serious enough to affect the outcome of the Afghanistan election reached 567 on Sunday.
Citing a BBC report of an “explosive meeting” between President Hamid Karzai and Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke regarding the possibility of a run-off, Juan Cole questions whether Karzai is, in fact, stealing the election and if the United States is attempting to salvage the election’s legitimacy through a run-off.  The US denied any attempts to pressure Karzai into a coalition government, but Cole feels that such a government may be a good way to quell ethnic tensions. A New York Times report suggests that Karzai may be deliberately overstating the level of tension in the Holbrooke meeting as part of efforts aimed at “portraying himself at home as the only political candidate willing to stand up to the dictates of the United States.”
Leading opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah has alleged that the only way for Mr. Karzai to win was through “big fraud.”  Speaking to a crowd of supporters​, he declared that “if the democratic process does not survive, then Afghanistan doesn’t survive.”
Posted in Afghanistan, Countries, Elections | Comment »
Dealing with Damascus
August 28th, 2009 by Blake
With an insightful behind-the-scenes perspective on Foreign Policy’s website, Andrew Tabler surveys recent Syrian policies and the country’s strained relationship with the U.S., suggesting that American overtures under the Obama administration have led Damascus to think it can get away with anything.  Iraqi militants have effectively used Syria as a launchpad for violent operations in Iraq, which has caused a diplomatic row between Damascus and Baghdad, and a headache for Washington.  Engaging Syria over politicized issues such as Iraqi-Syrian border security may be the wrong approach, Tabler writes:
“Washington intended the Centcom-led mission as the first step on a long road to reconciliation with Damascus, with the potential for even higher-level engagement by U.S. officials. But last week’s battery of negotiations and bombings [in Iraq, but staged in Syria], as well as the charge of diplomatic distrust it generated, shows just how explosive and uncertain engaging Damascus over Iraqi border security really is.”
Perhaps the U.S. should pursue a strategy of rapprochement with Syria on issues less charged than Iraq, al-Qaeda and Syrian-Israeli relations, recommends Tabler.  Working on mutual policy regarding Lebanon might be a safer starting point, securing a foundation for U.S.-Syrian relations in the future.
Posted in Diplomacy, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Terrorism, US foreign policy, al-Qaeda | Comment »
Getting to Pluralism: Political Actors in the Arab World
August 28th, 2009 by Blake
Michele Dunne, Amr Hamzawy and Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, have released a new volume focusing on political pluralism in the Arab world.  Getting to Pluralism: Political Actors in the Arab World examines political forces in the Arab world and explores the political balance of power among them.  It also looks into Islamist parties as well as the ability of regimes to maintain power whilst purportedly pursuing reform.
Posted in Islam and Democracy, Islamist movements, Political Islam, Political Parties, Publications, Reform | Comment »
Backstopping a Palestinian State
August 28th, 2009 by Blake
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has outlined a plan to build infrastructure that is necessary for a Palestinian state, such as an airport, seaports and railways. This is the first time the Palestinian Authority has set forth any such plan, which importantly, is being pursued regardless of the status of relations with Israel.
Posted in Israel, Palestine | 1 Comment »
Ahmadinejad Calls for Arrest of Opposition Leadership
August 28th, 2009 by Blake
Today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for the arrest of opposition leaders, mentioning that those charged in the recent mass trials should not be the only ones punished. Although many hard-liners have made similar gestures, this the the first time Ahmadinejad has demanded arrests. The New York Times reports that the president’s approach is tougher than that of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is more hesitant to crack down too hard on the opposition movement. This week he said that there is no evidence that opposition leaders were backed by foreign elements.
Meanwhile, in a rare public attack against Khamenei, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri said that the supreme leader heads a “dictatorship” wherein “the biggest oppression…is despotic treatment of the people in the name of Islam.” His remarks carry weight in the establishment, as Montazeri was at one point considered for the position of supreme leader.
Posted in Elections, Iran, Reform | 1 Comment »
Uncertainty Following Death of Iraqi Shiite Leader
August 28th, 2009 by Max
The death in Tehran of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, an influential force for Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, was notable for his ability to simultaneously maintain a relationship with both Tehran and Washington.
Still, al-Hakim’s departure from Iraq’s political stage has worried many. The AP’s Qassim Abdul-Zahra points out that although al-Hakim was highly distrusted by minority Sunnis, many worried that his death will create a political vacuum, opening the door for a hard-line successor. Still, recent fractures in the Shi’ite political leadership indicate that al-Hakim’s successor will have a difficult time forming an effective political coalition.
Posted in Iraq, US foreign policy | Comment »
Democratic Backslide in Morocco?
August 27th, 2009 by Blake
Citing a recent analysis by POMED’s James Liddell and Brookings’ Maati Monjib, today Steven Erlanger and Souad​Mekhennet write in the New York Times that the threat of rising extremism and widening influence of Islamist elements has caused Morocco’s King Muhammad VI to slow the pace of reform in the country.  This approach, they maintain, is designed to avoid provoking extremist reactions, particularly in response to judicial reform and women’s issues.
The king has attempted to be more inclusive by reaching out to hotbeds of extremism; yet his concurrent clampdowns on Islamists has marred Morocco’s human rights record.  Overall, Erlanger and Mekhennet contend that “[p]ower remains concentrated in the monarchy; democracy seems more demonstrative than real. While insisting that the king is committed to deeper reforms, senior officials speak instead of keeping a proper balance between freedom and social cohesion.”
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Elections, Human Rights, Islamist movements, Morocco, Political Parties, Public Opinion, Reform, Terrorism | 1 Comment »
POMED Notes: “A Briefing on Kuwait and Gulf Affairs”
August 27th, 2009 by Blake
The Middle East Institute hosted a lively discussion with Ambassador Deborah Jones, the current American ambassador in Kuwait.  As a major strategic partner to the United States, as well as a thriving indigenous democracy, Kuwait “punches above its weight,” she claimed.  
Click here to read POMED’s notes on this event.
 
Posted in Event Notes, Kuwait, US foreign policy | Comment »
Middle East Journal Looks at Political Reform
August 27th, 2009 by Blake
The summer edition of the Middle East Journal includes a series of articles about political reform in the Middle East.  Lisa Blaydes and Safinaz El Tarouty consider the role of women as a pivotal demographic in Egypt’s 2005 election.  James N. Sater analyzes the relationship between authoritarian rule and parliamentary elections in Morocco, which is a timely piece, as the unofficially royal-backed Authenticity and Modernity Party swept Morocco’s parliamentary elections in June.  Similarly, the royal relationship the with political liberalization is surveyed by Mehran Kamrava in the case of Qatar.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Elections, Morocco, Qatar, Women | Comment »
POMED Notes: The Afghan Elections at Heritage
August 27th, 2009 by Max
The Heritage Foundation held an event analyzing last week’s Afghan presidential and provincial council elections and the challenges facing both Afghanistan and the United States moving forward. Speaking at the event were Lt. Gen. (Ret.) David Barno of the National Defense University, Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute, analyst David Isby, and Heritage’s own Lisa Curtis. Senior  Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs James Phillips moderated.
To read POMED’s account of the discussion, click here.
Posted in Afghanistan, Elections, Event Notes | Comment »
A Step Toward Iraqi Democracy
August 27th, 2009 by Blake
Max Boot interprets Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s abstention from joining a new Shia alliance and platform as a good sign for Iraqi democracy.  Al-Malaki is likely to run as a national, rather than sectarian, candidate in the next election, which means that the prevalence of ethnic and sectarian influence in Iraqi politics is on the decline.  Hurdles remain, including terrorism and the Arab-Kurd divide, but nevertheless it seems that Iraq is making “slow and halting progress” toward democratic maturity, writes Boot.
Posted in Elections, Iraq, Political Parties, Sectarianism | Comment »
Afghan Presidential Results Delayed
August 27th, 2009 by Blake
One week after Afghanistan’s provincial and presidential election, the Independent Electoral Commission announced today that the release of further results in the presidential poll will be delayed until Saturday.  Delays have resulted from a slowed counting process due to glitches in computer counting software, reports the New York Times.  Today, authorities will tally provincial results instead.  As tomorrow is a religious holiday, presidential poll counting will resume Saturday.  Incumbent President Hamid Karzai continues to lead with 44.8 percent of the vote over his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah who has 34 percent. Only 17 percent of 27,000 polling station results have thus far been released.
Rushing to implement elections could be destabilizing for Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy​, remarks Evelyn Farkas in the Washington Times.  Without empowering moderates and hampering ethnic polarization before the poll, these elections have the potential to further polarize Afghan society and damage government credibility.  She claims that whatever the result, the outcome of the election will be hotly debated because of “structural shortcomings” in the election process.  Irregularities resulting from voter registration and poor education of rural voters, she claims, could have been ameliorated by better help in planning and administering the process from the international community, and would give the election result more credibility.
Posted in Afghanistan, Elections | Comment »
Divided in Palestine
August 27th, 2009 by Blake
As a year of political mediation has failed to secure a unity government between Hamas and Fatah, fissures remain on display at the first meeting of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in 14 years.  The PNC is the legislative body of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and was convened to address how to deal with six empty seats in its Executive Committee.  President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday that if a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation does not come through, the last option is to hold elections.
Hamas has pledged not to hold an election in the Gaza Strip if a political solution does not proceed the poll.  Proceeding with an election, one Hamas official noted, would be unacceptable, since the decision to hold an election is not mutually based on a unity accord.  An election is widely perceived by Fatah as the first step to a peace agreement with Israel, yet Hamas rejects Abbas’s “western-backed” approach to Israel.
Posted in Elections, Hamas, Mideast Peace Plan, Palestine | Comment »
Khatami Denounces Show Trials
August 27th, 2009 by Max
Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami asserted yesterday that the confessions offered in the recent trials of Iranian opposition leaders and supporters were given under “extraordinary conditions” and are thus invalid.  One noteworthy example from the last few days was the confession of the severely disabled moderate Saeed Hajjarian, who confessed to making “major mistakes during the election by presenting incorrect analysis.”  Khatami, for whom Hajjarian is a close ally, denounced the confessions as “sheer lies and false.”
Perhaps in response to Khatami’s support for opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, recent confessions appear to target Khatami specifically.  Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American academic asserted in his confession that Khatami had met with George Soros in New York, a claim Khatami denies.  Soros is a frequent bogeyman of the Islamic Republic’s propagandists​.  There are increasing concerns, fed by calls for “the maximum punishment” by the trials’ prosecuting attorney, that protest leaders could face execution.
Still, the Iranian regime continues to send mixed messages. TehranBureau’s Golab P. has translated part of a recent speech by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in which Khamenei says that he does “not accuse the champions of the recent [post-election protests] to be subordinate to the foreigners, like the United States and Britain…but there is no doubt that…this event was a calculated move.”
Posted in Elections, Human Rights, Iran | Comment »
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