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4 Nov 2009 - 28 Jul 2011
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Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: November, 2009
Pakistan: Zardari Gives Up Nuclear Control
November 30th, 2009 by Jason
The Los Angeles Times reports that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has abdicated control of the country’s nuclear program, along with other powers, to the directly elected prime minister. The announcement came on the same day his amnesty from corruption charges expired, opening him up to criminal investigations. While Zardari claims the move is part of a greater plan to transfer greater powers to directly elected officials, the article suggests the unpopular Zardari is simply “fighting for his political life.” In agreement, Juan Cole interprets the move as “the maneuvering of a wounded, corrupt presidency.” Additionally, Cole cites fears that a further destabilization of Pakistani politics might lead to a greater military role once again.
Posted in Elections, Pakistan, Political Parties, Reform, Taliban | Comment »
Lebanon: Hezbollah Given Right to Resist
November 30th, 2009 by Jason
Al Arabiya reports that Lebanon’s new unity cabinet has agreed to acknowledge Hezbollah’s right to use its weapons against Israel, despite disagreement by some members of the majority. The clause in the cabinet’s policy statement reads, “Lebanon, its government, its people, its army and its resistance” all retain the right to liberate Lebanon’s territory. However, members of the Phalange Party and Lebanese Forces contend Hezbollah’s weapons undermines state sovereignty and violate U.N. resolutions.
During celebrations for Eid al-Adha, Sunni, Shia, Druze and Christian religious leaders called for increased dialogue and collaboration between the sects. Sectarianism has been at the forefront of political discussion since Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri proposed abolishing the confessionalist political system. However, Michael Bluhm wonders whether Berri actually believes what he preaches or whether he is simply politically posturing. Meanwhile, Michel Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement rejected the need for Christian political parties to reconcile after Christians split between the two major political coalitions last election.
Finally, President Sleiman will visit the U.S. for three days starting on December 12th to hold talks with President Obama, members of Congress and the Lebanese expatriate community.
Posted in Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Political Parties, Sectarianism​, US foreign policy | Comment »
Afghanistan: Obama Unveils Strategy Tomorrow
November 30th, 2009 by Jason
Marc Ambinder reports that President Obama will detail his Afghan strategy tomorrow in a speech at West Point. It is expected he will order approximately 30,000 more troops to the country with the primary goal of building up the Afghan National Army. While he will detail an exit strategy, he will not define any timetable based on political developments, nor will he “impose direct conditions” on President Karzai.
Writing for the National Interest, Nikolas Gvosdev discusses what President Obama should say during tomorrow’s speech. Among other points, Gvosdev urges Obama to clearly identify U.S. goals, as protecting American interests does not necessarily require a government that is “democratic or particularly liberal, nor, in some scenarios, does it even require a unified central government.” Additionally, Tony Karon, citing the shortcomings of the Afghan National Army and the difficulty of training competent soldiers, worries that President Obama’s strategy “will likely be grounded in the false hope of an early departure.”
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Afghanistan, Congress, Foreign Aid, Iraq, Military, Multilateralism​, Reform, Taliban, US foreign policy, US politics, al-Qaeda | Comment »
Foreign Aid: Growth and Governance Go Together
November 30th, 2009 by Jason
Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the Director of Policy Planning for the State Department, recently spoke at at a conference  hosted by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) called “Democracy that Delivers.” In her remarks  (PDF version available here), Slaughter emphasized the reinforcing relationship between economic growth and good governance.
Slaughter not only explained why the U.S. should provide assistance to countries that are committed to democratic reform, but why such countries are more likely to reap the benefits of such assistance. Specifically, she discussed how economic growth creates stakeholders in the rule of law, the necessity of democracy to cultivate market opportunities, how democracy builds trust necessary for economic growth, the need for self-reliant democracies, and the need for democracies to create economic safety nets.
According to the CIPE blog, “making democracy deliver is one of the most fundamental challenges of development that can only be achieved when democratic and market institutions go hand in hand.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Foreign Aid, US foreign policy | Comment »
Iran: Internal IRGC Coup?
November 30th, 2009 by Jason
In response to an IAEA resolution criticizing Iran’s failure to cooperate with its nuclear program (see here for full text),  Iran has declared it will no longer voluntarily cooperate with the IAEA and announced its intention to build 10 new nuclear enrichment sites. In addition, one conservative legislator threatened that Iran will pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty altogether, a threat that most analysts consider empty. In related news, Yukiya Amano of Japan has now replaced Mohamed ElBaradei as IAEA chief.
Gary Sick provides some skepticism of the plan to build so many nuclear sites, calling it a “classic Ahmadinejad bluster response to the recent IAEA resolution.” Specifically, he cites the immense practical difficulties the plan would present as well as the oddity that the decision came from the presidential cabinet and not the Supreme National Security Council as would be typical. Sick’s skepticism was also echoed by U.S. officials, according to Laura Rozen.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Elections, Freedom, Human Rights, Iran, Israel, Judiciary, Legislation, Military, Oil, Reform, US foreign policy, United Nations, sanctions | Comment »
Iraq: Elections Can’t be Held in January
November 30th, 2009 by Zack
Babylon and Beyond reports that, as a result of the ongoing election law impasse, Iraqi election officials have announced it is already too late to hold parliamentary elections, constitutionally mandated to be held before January 31.  The NY Times reports that parliament is actively searching for a compromise, but despite mixed messages of reconciliation from VP Tariq al-Hashimi who said his concerns could be addressed by adjustments to the parliament’s seat allocation rather than by changing the law itself, a new law is unlikely to be passed before December.  VP Joe Biden pressed government officials over the weekend and the administration is hopeful that a tentative deal will allow a parliament to be elected and seated by March 15.
John Hughes writes that Arab women are seizing their freedom as fifty Iraqi women were sworn in as senior officers of the national police force.  Al-Arabiyya is carrying a profile of a judge in Mosul and the constant threats on his life that plague his work.  Lastly, IraqPundit contends that a NY Times dismal portrayal of Iraqi society overshadows the country’s vibrant culture and history and he questions the Time’s motives for painting such a bleak picture.
Posted in Diplomacy, Elections, Freedom, Iraq, Judiciary, Legislation, Political Parties, Reform, Women | Comment »
Dubai: Debt Troubles Shake the Dream
November 30th, 2009 by Zack
After years of breakneck growth, fueled by cheap access to foreign credit and labour, Reuters reports that on November 25 Dubai World, the conglomerate behind the country’s rapid expansion, and Nakheel, builder of its palm-shaped islands, announced that they would delay debt payments as a means of restructuring after the financial crisis dried up their access to credit.  The announcement had an immediate ripple effect on world stock markets, but it has also prompted commentators to examine Dubai’s political and economic system.
The BBC has published an introduction to Dubai, explaining how the city-state overextended itself and exploring its shifting relationship with Abu Dhabi, who had previously moved to bail out Dubai early this year.  The Financial Times explains that Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, has spent the last year attempting to rein in this unchecked growth as he consolidate economic and political power around himself. Simon Jenkins, echoed by Patrick Seale, believes Dubai will survive this crisis only by indebting itself to its oil-rich neighbors, which will ultimately make the country more vulnerable to regional political issues.
As the NY Times reports, while regional banks are attempting to limit the economic effects, the largest question at the moment is how this crisis will shape Dubai’s relationship with Abu Dhabi.  Jo Tatchell argues Abu Dhabi is holding back funds in order to cherry-pick the most successful enterprises and to force a regime change in order to  ”take control culturally and politically” and move Dubai back towards an Islamic character.
Lastly, Johann Hari provides the harshest critique of Dubai, claiming it is now as financially bankrupt as it has been morally.  He argues the countries exploitation of the ecology and foreign workers, which Human Rights Watch considers “slavery,” has left the country broken and in need of a moral bail out.
Posted in Diplomacy, Freedom, Reform, UAE | Comment »
Diehl: Deflated Arab Hopes
November 30th, 2009 by Zack
Jackson Diehl with the Washington Post has written a column describing Arab disillusionment over the lack-luster reality of President Obama’s Middle East reform proposals.  While noting that the peace process “bubble burst two months ago” he explains that Arab reformers across the region are disappointed by the lack of renewed reform efforts following Obama’s Cairo speech.
He argues “the Obama administration, in contrast [to the Bush administration], often speaks as if it does not recognize the existence of an Arab reform movement.” For example, he cites a speech from Secretary Clinton at the Forum for the Future in which she highlighted Obama’s commitment to reform but then stressed the administration’s practical focus on entrepreneurship, science and technology, and education, without ever mentioning democracy.  When pressed about the need to support democracy she explained, according to Saad Eddin Ibrahim, “they have a lot of other things on their plate.” Diehl concludes: “Regardless of what the president may have said in Cairo, Obama’s vision for the Middle East doesn’t include ‘a new beginning’ in the old political order.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Elections, Reform, US foreign policy | 1 Comment »
Morocco: Jail Sentence for HR Activist
November 25th, 2009 by Jason
A court upheld a three-year prison sentence for prominent Moroccan human rights activist Chakib Khayari. More information can be found on POMED’s Morocco Country Page here.
Posted in Human Rights, Judiciary, Morocco | Comment »
Democracy Promotion: A New Approach
November 25th, 2009 by Jason
Michael Allen at Democracy Digest cites Tara McKelvey, who argues the Obama administration is pursuing a more “culturally sensitive” method of democracy promotion, compared to the Bush administration’s “cowboy” style. Allen observes many democracy advocates are pleased with the new approach “given the apparent absence of likely candidates for democratization,” but he also warns that “a developmental approach should not become an excuse for political timidity or conflate incrementalism with the perpetual postponement of democratic reform.”
Meanwhile, the confirmation hearing for Rajiv Shah to be USAID Administrator has been scheduled for Tuesday, December 1st in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Posted in Articles, Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Foreign Aid, Freedom, Human Rights, Jordan, US foreign policy | Comment »
Palestine: Building a State and Religious Tolerance
November 25th, 2009 by Zack
Ha’aretz reports Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing to announce that the country will institute a 10-month freeze on settlement building.  At the same, time the paper reports that Marwan Barghouti intends to run in the next Palestinian election. He also stated that the abduction of Gilad Shalit has brought Hamas more political progress than any negotiations could ever achieve, commenting “maybe Israel will finally understand that Hamas’ demands cannot be ignored.”
In an editorial for The Washington TimesLouis Rene Beres argues that the Palestinian attempts to declare a state are “absurd” and any state would negatively impact U.S. strategic interests, particularly the development of a comprehensive nuclear strategy and a conventional war strategy, ultimately impacting unfavorably on world peace and security. 
Lastly, the Daily News Egypt has two pieces on reducing religious prejudices.  The first, by Fr. Jamal Khader, tells of Bethlehem University’s religious education program designed to allow students to express their faiths while educating them about other traditions in the hope of creating greater tolerance.  Muli Peleg argues that freedom of religion in “Israel and Palestine is not merely a democratic perk or a liberal indulgence but a prerequisite for the survival of both peoples in this troubled land.”  While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stemmed from politics, religion has come to dominate and fuel the situation.  Peleg argues the two groups must “defuse the ticking bomb by legitimizing greater choice of religious convictions” within their territories.
Posted in Diplomacy, Hamas, Israel, Mideast Peace Plan, Palestine, Reform, US foreign policy | Comment »
Afghanistan: Troop Increase of 34,000?
November 25th, 2009 by Jason
There is an increasing consensus that President Obama has decided to announce an increase of 34,000 troops next Tuesday. In a recent press conference, Obama insisted “it is my intention to finish the job.”
Matthew Cooper at Atlantic’s Politics blog offers suggestions for what the President should say next week. Among them, he urges the President to avoid promises of creating a “perfect democracy” in Afghanistan, but instead seek to create “relative” stability to ward off Al Qaeda. Juan Cole expresses his doubts that the U.S. will be able to achieve anything but minimal objectives in Afghanistan. He observes the Afghan National Army turn-over rate currently sits at 25% and twelve of President Karzai’s cabinet ministers are currently under corruption investigation. Meanwhile, Seumas Mine criticizes the Community Defense Initiative that pays tribes to buy their support against the Taliban, arguing the tactic will not be as effective in Afghanistan as it was in Iraq.
Last week, a pair of scholars from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Gilles Dorronsoro argued the fraud and low-turnout in the election has undermined Kabul’s legitimacy. Therefore, the U.S. should focus on shifting its focus to the more peaceful northern part of the country and avoid taking on too much responsibility while allowing Afghan institutions to strengthen. Ashley J. Tellis urged the U.S. to rebuild its relationship with Karzai, commit to staying for the long-term, and foster a stronger civil-military partnership.
Finally, Foreign Affairs has republished a collection of articles about Afghanistan dating back over 25 years, giving an interesting background to the current situation in the country.
Posted in Afghanistan, Congress, Elections, Iraq, Military, Taliban, US foreign policy, US politics, al-Qaeda | Comment »
Jordan: Election Law to Change
November 25th, 2009 by Zack
On Tuesday, Marc Lynch wrote about King Abdullah II’s decision to dissolve the Jordanian parliament, saying the move didn’t come as a surprise, but that the ineffective parliament was a product of the regime’s decision to interfere with the 2007 elections.  While Abdullah faces the option of either ruling with a parliament or conducting more rigged elections, Lynch feels the best move for the king is to call for a new, more honest, election law that created open political competition.   While it would be a risky move for the regime, which faces intense public dissatisfaction, Lynch argues that the Muslim Brotherhood will be unlikely to more than try to attain a respectable level of representation and there is no other meaningful opposition.
Today, The Jordan Times reports that the king has in fact called for a new election law that “should be a model of transparency, fairness and integrity, and a promising step in our process of reform and modernisation.”  The story reports that opposition leaders hailed the decision and called for new elections based on the revised elections law.  Analysts agreed that the law is likely to be amended in connection with a proposed decentralization law, which is expected to become a temporary law during parliament’s suspension.
Posted in Elections, Jordan, Reform | Comment »
Libya: Legalizing NGO’s
November 25th, 2009 by Zack
While Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi played host to Turkish Prime Minister​Erdogan, he announced that he will personally intercede to bridge the rift between Egypt and Algeria.  Middle East Online is reporting that legislation has been proposed that will allow citizens to create civil associations “on condition that they are apolitical.”  To further the prospect that such a law will be adopted, Abdelrahman Boutouta, the head of a legal committee tasked with amending Libya’s penal code, confirms that he intends to decriminalize the creation and membership of NGOs, which previously carried the death penalty.    However, the report notes that Boutouta gave no time-frame for these changes.
Posted in Freedom, Judiciary, Legislation, Libya, NGOs, Reform, Turkey | Comment »
Egypt: Women’s Rights and Violence
November 25th, 2009 by Zack
As part off the Stop Violence Against Women campaign, Bikya Masr has published a series of articles discussing the continuing struggle to protect women and secure their rights in Egypt.  Dalia Ziada writes that shocking incidents of sexual harassment are common on the streets of Cairo.  Before a particularly cruel incident in 2006, sexual harassment “was one of the biggest taboos in society” that was never discussed.  But despite an increase in discussion of the subject and even in light of Noha Roushdy’s recent case, which resulted in a prison sentence for her assailant, Ziada argues the culture of harassment continues because religious extremism has  corrupted the police and made women out to be causes, rather than the victims, of harassment.  Joseph Mayton writes about the litany of problems Egyptian women face in society, including sexual harassment, physical violence and harmful stereotyping against unmarried women.  Mayton then notes that negative incidents have sparked a debate among lawmakers about the need to legislate against these practises, but he questions the effectiveness of any law to change social norms. Lastly, Mayton has an op-ed arguing that women have always been the “catalyst toward the betterment of society” and as such activists and opposition leaders need to make women’s rights an integral part of their political and social campaigns.
In other news, Bikya Masr reports that Minister of State for Family and Population Moshita Khatab has made a statement at the conference “20 years on the Convention of the Rights of the Child and Islamic Shariah,” claiming that Egyptian social problems are cause not by a lack of public unity, but by the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti-government influence. 
In the Guardian, Mayton has a third piece that argues the violence following the Egypt-Algeria match (see our post) is not a symptom of deeper social ills, but “thuggery cynically fomented by President Mubarak” as a means to channel the frustrations of the dispossessed onto the “other,” in this case Algeria.
Posted in Egypt, Legislation, Muslim Brotherhood, Public Opinion, Reform, Women | Comment »
Iran: Wholesale Crackdown on Students
November 25th, 2009 by Jason
The Huffington Post reports that the P5+1 countries have prepared a resolution criticizing Iran’s nuclear program expressing their frustration with Iran’s inability or unwillingness to make a deal. Such unified measures have led Michael Crowley to ask whether Russia is “finally getting serious about Iran” and will cooperate with sanctions. Meanwhile, George Friedman analyzes the general concept of sanctions. He posits, “the ultimate virtue of sanctions is that they provide a platform between acquiescence and war.”
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, led by human rights activist Hadi Ghaemi, has condemned the “wholesale crackdown on Iranian students.” The government has arrested over 60 students in the past month in an attempt to preempt planned opposition protests on Student Day next month. Edith Novy at insideIran contends that the growing influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) “shows that Iran’s leadership is seriously threatened by the opposition and plans an unlimited crackdown for the foreseeable future.” Nonetheless, the opposition is not intimidated, as Mir Hossein Moussavi has declared, “This movement will continue and we are ready to pay any price.”
Many opposition members are paying a price in Iran’s multiple prisons. Muhammad Sahimi at Tehran Bureau explores the “long undistinguished history of prisons” in Iran and especially the emergency of a particularly harsh prison called Kahrizak. A doctor working at Kahrizak, Dr. Ramin Pourandarjani, recently died under suspicious circumstances after he came out publicly against the wretched conditions in the prison.
Meanwhile, the government has lifted the ban on the popular newspaper​that published a picture of a templing belonging to the illegal Baha’i religion. The government has arrested seven alleged members of Jundallah, the militant group that bombed a high-level meeting of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Sistan-Baluchestan province in October.
Posted in Freedom, Hezbollah, Human Rights, Iran, Journalism, Judiciary, Multilateralism​, NGOs, Terrorism, US foreign policy, sanctions | Comment »
Kuwait: Saudi Campaign on Democracy
November 24th, 2009 by Zack
An opinion piece in the Palestinian Al-Quds al-Arabi by Nasser al-Abdali (translated by Mideast Wire) argues that Saudi Arabia has launched an undercover campaign to frighten Gulf citizens over the political and social action taking place in Kuwait. While the Saudis are attempting to suppress democracy, Al-Abdali argues that the Kuwaiti royal family represents the middle ground for the country’s social conflict and that the choice of Sheikh Abdullah Salem Rahme was historical turn in terms of democracy.
The editorial continues that, “democracy in Kuwait defined public funds and private funds, and [gave] the state money under strict supervision […] while in the other Gulf countries, the citizens do not know the difference between the two.”  As a result of Kuwaiti freedom, he argues that citizens in some Gulf states are insulted by the public displays of some royal families, while many progressives are exiled or imprisoned.
Posted in Elections, Kuwait, Public Opinion, Reform, Saudi Arabia | Comment »
Egypt: Soccer Distracts from Politics
November 24th, 2009 by Jason
The ongoing soccer feud between Egypt and Algeria continues to simmer, as many start probing the conflict for its political implications. The Arabist quotes Al Shurouq editor Hany Shukrallah who argues (in Arabic) that social and political life in the Arab wold has weakened to such an extent that people “search for easy contests, areas in which to let loose our stored up anger and frustration and feelings of humiliation, as long as this costs us no effort, and exposes us to no punishment.”
Meanwhile, Dalia Ziada at Bikya Masr is happy that Egypt lost the match against Algeria, otherwise the Egyptians would be distracted by soccer at a pivotal point in its political history. Next year, the parliamentary elections will determine who will write the laws that will govern the all-important presidential election in 2011. It is this struggle over constitutional amendments that is “the real battle which Egyptians should pay enough attention to,” not some over-hyped sporting event that acts as a “drug of patriotism.” The question remains, however, how “to mobilize the people again to the new cause” of political reform.
Finally, Baher Ibrahim explores the recent increase in sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.
Posted in Egypt, Elections, Middle Eastern Media, Reform, Sectarianism | 1 Comment »
Turkey: Democracy and the Kurds
November 24th, 2009 by Zack
The Washington Post has written an editorial criticizing Turkish PM Recep Erdogan  for backsliding on his commitment to democratic principles.  Despite the fact that Erdogan is pushing through Kurdish reforms, the dimming prospects of Turkey joining the E.U. has led Turkey to adopt an unwanted stance on Israel and a coziness with Iran, Syria and Sudan, as well as cracking down on Turkish media.  The editorial concludes that Erdogan must stop “coddling Muslim dictators — and stop following their practice of silencing domestic opposition.”
The New York Times on the other hand has published an editorial focusing on the courage of Erdogan’s Turkish reforms.  While the editorial notes the same worrying trends, it argues Turkey is responding to U.S. efforts to push democracy and that Europe “must finally make clear that if Turkey bolsters its democracy and respects the rights of its minorities, it will be welcome in the European Union.”
Posted in Diplomacy, EU, Elections, Foreign Aid, Kurds, PKK, Reform, Turkey, US foreign policy | Comment »
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