Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: April, 2010
Entrepreneurship Summit Explores Mutually Beneficial Partnerships
April 30th, 2010 by Josh
Fulfilling a promise first made in last year’s landmark Cairo address, the Obama administration hosted a two-day Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship earlier this week to “identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations, and entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.”
President Obama delivered the keynote on Monday, stressing the critical importance of entrepreneurship as a means to:
- Create space “where we can learn from each other; where America can share our experience as a society that empowers the inventor and the innovator.”
- Lift people out of povery by creating opportunity.
- Promote mutually beneficial trade partnerships between the United States and Muslim countries.
- Leverage real, meaningful change “from the bottom up, from the grassroots, starting with the dreams and passions of single individuals serving their communities.”
Expounding upon how these principles will manifest in the form of policy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in her closing remarks that the U.S. is launching the Global Entrepreneur Program — an initiative that will help create successful entrepreneurial environments in Muslim-majority countries by enlisting the support of U.S. private sector partners and civil society groups. The initiative’s pilot program will take place in Egypt, coordinated by a “team of Entrepreneurs in Residence from USAID,” the secretary said. Over at the Washington Note, Ben Katcher
calls the summit an “excellent initiative,” one which has “the potential to broaden the United States’ relationships with Muslim-majority countries with which we have traditionally enjoyed narrowly-focused bilateral relations focused primarily on security and energy.”
Yet despite the focus on well-defined areas of particular importance, the “conspicuous absence of youth voices” somewhat marred
the event for Nathaniel Whittemore of Change.org. “If … the focus on entrepreneurship is about building the long term capacity of partner countries to thrive economically,” he says, “then it is a huge problem that the event is neglecting the voices of those who are by necessity building that long-term capacity.”
Iraq: Maliki Criticizes Allawi’s Call for Outside Intervention
April 30th, 2010 by Chanan
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki blasted his chief rival
, Ayad Allawi, for advocating for an internationally-monitored caretaker government earlier this week. ”This makes it clear that there is a regional and international project that wanted to stage a coup through the ballot box,” Maliki said today. “Why else would there be all this complaining and weeping in the world over the recount issue?” Maliki was referencing Allawi’s budding concerns about the future of his Iraqiya coalition following a manual recount of 2.5 million votes cast in Baghdad earlier this month as well a court-imposed disqualification of 52 candidates
for alleged ties to Saddaam Hussein
’s Ba’th party.
and Kimberly Kagan
argued in today’s Washington Post against these disqualifications, stating that a failure to confront this situation by the U.S. government would be a missed opportunity for success in Iraq. “Washington must act swiftly to defend the integrity of the electoral process and support Iraqi leaders’ tentative efforts to rein in the “de-Baathification” commission that threatens to undermine the entire democratic process,” they write.
In a Q&A
on the Council on Foreign Relations website, CFR’s Rachel Schneller says that these two issues - the de-Ba’athification action and the recount - are emblematic of how long the government-formation process will take. Regardless of what happens or how long it takes, Schneller thinks we must decouple the issue of elections from the beginning of the planned U.S. withdrawal in August. While she does not predict what will happen in the elections or what specifically will happen once the U.S. withdraws, she does admit that “this is going to be messy and is not going to look the way the United States wants it to look.”
Sen. Conrad Receives Ire of Foreign Policy Community
April 30th, 2010 by Chanan
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has not been in good stead with the foreign policy community since announcing last week his decision to slash some $4 billion from the Obama administration’s $58.5 billion budget request for State and USAID for fiscal 2011.
The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) recently expressed their “deep disappointment
” in Sen. Conrad’s proposal and also organized a letter signed by all eight living former Secretaries of State encouraging Congress to express their support for the full international affairs budget. The same argument
has been made over the last week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Sen. John Kerry
and even U2 front-man, Bono. ”Development gets even less if Senator Conrad gets his way,” Bono said in a speech at the Atlantic Council’s annual awards dinner on Wednesday night. “So you peaceniks in fatigues have a job to do over the next few weeks.”
Arab Reform Bulletin: Lebanese Municipal Elections On Time, But Reform Delayed
April 28th, 2010 by Chanan
As Lebanon prepares for municipal elections in the first of a multi-staged process this upcoming weekend, Karam Karam
, the program director at the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, offers a frustrating account of the missed opportunities to enact much-needed reform of the electoral process. “The issue of reform has been raised before and after each of the elections held since 1990 without ever being translated into concrete measures, and the same is true this time around,” he writes.
A bill put forward late last year by the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities that would have changed the current majoritarian system into a system of proportional representation replete with expanded municipal powers, greater opportunities for female legislators and a more fair balloting system was stunted by political parties concerned about its impact on “the patronage networks and favoritism that have dominated politics since the establishment of the Lebanese Republic.” Even though these parties are aware of the benefits to a revised electoral system, “the inertia of the present system is too great to overcome.”
Mounting Pressure to Fully Fund Administration’s Foreign Affairs Request
April 28th, 2010 by Josh
You can read more about the Middle East-related components of the Obama administration’s FY2011 budget request in POMED’s recently released report
Sudan’s Elections: “Imperfect but Important” or a Complete “Farce”?
April 28th, 2010 by Josh
Former President Jimmy Carter
penned an op-ed
in today’s Los Angeles Times relaying the findings of his Carter Center monitors who observed the Sudan election in each of the country’s 25 states. “Two major problems on the ground involved voters lists and the location of polling stations,” Carter writes. There were also some observer reports of “intimidation, especially in the south, and of serious irregularities and a lack of transparency in the vote tabulation process.” However, the former president argues that these electoral deficiencies should not detract from the overall positive power of Sudan’s first multiparty vote in 24 years — an event he believes will “permit this war-torn nation to move toward a permanent peace and strengthen its quest for true democracy.”
But for Louise Roland-Gosselin
, director of Waging Peace, framing the elections as a “staging post” on a much longer journey “sadly lacks any basis in reality.” She reports that for people like herself, who have worked extensively in Sudan, Bashir’s conduct was not only unsurprising, but entirely predictable. And by “permitting Bashir to openly commit electoral fraud without repercussions, the international community is damaging its own credibility, setting a very concerning precedent for democratic transitions across the world and legitimising the use of violence and intimidation.” The ultimate victims of this “farcical process” will be the Sudanese people, she says, who “are left to wonder once again what it might take for the international community to stand up to Bashir and to protect them.”
Tunisia: One Journalist Released, Another One Beaten
April 28th, 2010 by Josh
Coming on the heels of Rasha Moumneh
’s Foreign Policyarticle
decrying the human rights situation in Tunisia, Reuters
is reporting that the Tunisian government has released journalist Taoufik Ben Brik
after a six-month stint in prison on charges described by Reporters Without Borders as “made up from start to finish.”
Just prior to Brik’s release, however, human rights activist and online journalist Zouhaïer Makhlouf
received a “severe beating”
from police officers who arrested him at his home. Makhlouf had previously served 3 months in prison
after being convicted for publishing an online video about an industrial area without obtaining an official permit or the consent of the people he filmed.
West Bank: Fayyad Sets Date for Local Elections, Receives Call for Internal Reshuffle
April 28th, 2010 by Josh
In spite of strong push-back from Hamas and other Islamists in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s government recently signed off on local council elections in the West Bank, scheduled to take place on July 17. This will be the first attempt at elections on any level since the cancellation of presidential and parliamentary elections last January — and, if successful, will mark the first local council vote since 2005.
Meanwhile, leaders of Fatah, the dominant West Bank party, are calling upon Fayyad to “reshuffle”
his cabinet and in order to give Fatah members greater power over interior affairs, finance, and foreign affairs. One senior Fatah official claimed that Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, “also wants a reshuffle” and does not object to the ministerial demands of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council.
But Fayyad’s singular focus is still on building the institutional architecture for Palestinian statehood, write Karin Laub
and Mohammed Daraghmeh at the Huffington Post. “He is moving ahead with an ambitious plan,” they say, referring to Fayyad’s efforts to pave roads, reform the judiciary, and plan new cities. However, his active, hands-on approach that often circumvents the traditional “power structures of the Fatah movement” may be one of the reasons for Fatah’s demand for greater cabinet-level representation, which could begin to cause additional internal rifts. And according to Robert Blecher of the International Crisis Group — quoted by Laub and Daraghmeh — Fayyad’s biggest challenge will be walking a “tightrope between the coordination with Israel that his statebuilding plan requires and the defiance of Israel that Palestinians demand and toward which they are gravitating.”
Why Aren’t Democracy Dissidents as Famous as Their Predecessors?
April 28th, 2010 by Chanan
That is the question posed
by Boston Globe
columnist, Jeff Jacoby
, in an op-ed today following last week’s Conference on Cyber Dissidents at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas. With vastly superior modes of communications and digital technology, Jacoby wonders why today’s democracy dissidents in Syria or China are not as well-known as their Soviet counterparts in the 1970s and 80s.
, the director of CyberDissidents.org, whose self-declared “mission is to make the Middle East’s pro-democracy Internet activists famous and beloved in the West” highlighted this very paradox at the event: “The Internet enables them [the dissidents] to reach the world… They push the ‘send’ button and thousands of people can instantly read their words. Yet not a single American in a million knows their names.’’
Another participant at the conference - Jeffrey Gedmin, president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - provided an answer last week in a USA Today
piece entitled, “Democracy Isn’t Just a Tweet Away.” Gedmin argued that although the proliferation of social media has empowered political protests and dissent, it has also empowered authoritarian governments to respond and react in kind. “Tyrants, it turns out, like Twitter too,” he remarked. And even if these tools are helpful in coordinating demonstrations and other forms of activism, it ”won’t tell the opposition how to govern, how to develop democratic institutions or how to inculcate and defend the values, habits and behaviors that belong to democracy.”
Nonetheless, this did not prevent some attendees at the conference - many of whom are cyber dissidents - from expressing a sense of abandonment from the Obama administration and an apparent longing for Bush’s freedom agenda. One such dissident, Ahed Al-Hendi, was not hesitant from articulating his frustration: ”In Syria, when a single dissident was arrested during the administration of George W. Bush, at the very least the White House spokesman would condemn it. Under the Obama administration: nothing.” This is unfortunate, laments
the Wall Street Journal
’s Bari Weiss: “The peaceful promotion of human rights and democracy—in part by supporting the individuals risking their lives for liberty—are consonant with America’s most basic values. Standing up for them should not be a partisan issue.”
Tunisia: Thinly Veiled Dictatorship?
April 27th, 2010 by Josh
Over at Foreign Policy
, Rasha Moumneh — a Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch — attempts to peel back the superficial layers of Tunisian liberalism to reveal what she believes are fairly egregious human rights violations. “Under President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali,” Moumneh writes, “even the most minor dissent is treated as a serious threat.” Her research indicates that the government tracks, and periodically punishes, journalists, human rights advocates, and anyone else who voices concern over government activity. “Despite Ben Ali’s best efforts to conceal his government’s dishonest methods to silence and quash dissent, the carefully crafted façade of ‘modern, democratic, and moderate’ Tunisia is coming apart at the seams.” Check out the entire piece here
POMED Notes: “The Human Rights Situation in Bahrain”
April 27th, 2010 by Josh
Earlier today, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing to explore the human rights situation in Bahrain. Credible human rights NGOs and the State Department have documented violations of Bahraini constitutional protections, and have expressed concern for women’s rights, trafficking, freedom of speech and religion, domestic violence and discrimination against the Shi’a population and foreign workers’ rights. To discuss these issues, the commission – chaired by Congressman James McGovern (D-MA) with Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) in attendance – requested the testimony of five individuals: Joe Stork, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division; Stephen McInerney, Director of Advocacy for the Project of Middle East Democracy; Katie Zoglin, Senior Program Manager of Freedom House’s Middle East and North Africa division; Kenneth Katzman, Specialist in Middle East Affairs for the Congressional Research Service; and Mohammed Alansari of the Bahrain Society for Public Freedom.
For POMED’s notes in PDF, click here
. Otherwise, continue reading below.
Posted in Bahrain, Congressional Hearing Notes (House), Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Elections, Foreign Aid, Human Rights, Journalism, Judiciary, NGOs, Political Parties, Reform, Sectarianism, US foreign policy, Women | Comment »
Iraq: A Fresh Round of Disqualifications, 52 Candidates Barred
April 26th, 2010 by Josh
Following months of pre-election wrangling
over eligibility standards
and blacklists, a three-judge election court disqualified 52 candidates
earlier today on charges of affiliations with Saddam Hussein’s Ba’th party — and left open the possibility for additional measures to remove pro-Ba’thist politicians from the field. Among the barred parliamentary candidates is one winner, whose disqualification, if upheld, would erase Iraqiyya’s slim two-seat victory (91-89) over Prime Minister Maliki
’s ruling coalition.
A spokesman for Iyad Allawi, leader of Iraqiyya, told reporters that he and his compatriots “will not accept such an unjust decision, and we will not stand still to such illegal and illegitimate measures… [that endanger] the whole political process and democracy in Iraq.” Another winning candidate from the Iraqiyya list blasted the ruling as “tantamount to an assassination of the democratic process.” Despite this ruling — the latest example of what some interpret as a trend of destabilizing political gamesmanship — Gregg Carlstrom doesn’t think the court’s decision will impact the ongoing coalition bargaining. “Last month’s Supreme Court ruling on article 76 of the constitution means that the candidate with the largest parliamentary bloc doesn’t necessarily get the first opportunity to form a government,” he says. “So Iraqiyya and State of Law will remain basically even, regardless of whether or not a few seats change hands.”
Sudan: Omar al-Bashir in the North, Salva Kiir in the South
April 26th, 2010 by Josh
Sudan’s election results are in, and, unsurprisingly, Omar al-Bashir held on to the presidency with 68 percent of the vote, while his counterpart Salva Kiir retained his job as president of Sudan’s semi-autonomous south. During his victory speech, al-Bashir praised the character and quality of the Sudanese people, and also attempted to mollify those who fear for the survival of next year’s referendum on southern independence, which he announced would be held “on schedule.”
But these remarks did little to pacify Kiir and his Sudan People’s Liberation Movement supporters, who felt “total dismay” about the alleged electoral irregularities and fraud. Still, “No amount of intimidation or provocation will lead us back to war,” Kiir told reporters. “We will maintain security and prepare our people for the referendum in 2011.”
As Sudan moves forward in its post-election environment, “The focus now should be for Sudanese political forces to find a way of achieving political stability,” saysFouad Hikmat of the International Crisis Group. “If Bashir can push for an agenda of peace in Darfur… if he can bring an element of stability in the border regions of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile state, and if he can implement the full Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the south, then there is a chance for peace.” Meanwhile, in a piece over at the Guardian, Nesrine Malik
identifies what she believes is the primary culprit behind the eminently predictable al-Bashir victory: the last twenty years of Sudanese history have created a rather apathetic political culture, thereby leaving the elections devoid of any viable alternative to al-Bashir. “There is no pressing imperative for a change… In Khartoum, most people are just grateful to be able to eat out in the plethora of new restaurants and go about their business without fear of a curfew guillotine or security forces.”
UPDATE: The National Democratic Institute relays a press release by two Sudanese observation networks, the Sudanese Group for Democracy and Elections (SuGDE) and the Sudanese Network for Democratic Elections (SuNDE). Among their many points of criticism, the monitors observed serious administrative deficiencies in both south and north Sudan, recorded significant flaws in the election process at polling stations, and accused the National Elections Commission (NEC) of failing to adequately plan and prepare for the elections.
Iran Withdraws Bid for Human Rights Council
April 26th, 2010 by Josh
In a piece of welcome news to human rights advocates, last Friday Iran informed other Asian delegations to the UN that it withdrew its candidacy for a seat on the UN’s Human Rights Council. “Iran’s out,” a council official toldLaura Rozen
. According to Reuters
, one Western diplomat attributed the abrupt about-face to Tehran’s recognition that it lacked sufficient support within the council to win a spot during the elections next month.
Suzanne Nossel, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, told Rozen that “It’s a step in the right direction for countries to take into account candidates’ human rights records in deciding who to support for the Council.” Striking a similar tone, Peggy Hicks — Global Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch — indicated that “when there’s a choice, it makes a difference” in the council’s electoral process, which has been criticized by groups like HRW in the past.
Egypt: Mubarak Delivers First Post-Surgery Speech
April 26th, 2010 by Josh
Addressing all of Egypt in his first public remarks since undergoing surgery
in Germany, President Hosni Mubarak
promised free and fair elections
for both parliament this summer and president next year — but once again failed to indicate whether he would stand for re-election come 2011.
“I say with sincerity and frankness that I welcome the interplay and movement in society, as long as it follows the constitution,” he said, emphasizing his firm belief that Egyptians enjoy unprecedented freedom that “allows them to express their opinions and partake in an independent press.” Mubarak’s speech also came during the front-end of Mohamed ElBaradei
’s much-ballyhooed trip
to the United States, during which he will speak at Harvard and meet with U.S.-based members of his recently formed National Association for Change (NAC).
Meanwhile, NAC leaders back in Egypt just announced their intention to hold a march on May 3 from Tahrir Square in Cairo to the People’s Assembly. They aim to present the speaker of parliament with a “memorandum” of demands, which include ending the emergency law and the immediate ratification of a law guaranteeing political rights in Egypt.
Lebanon: Protesters March for Secularism
April 26th, 2010 by Josh
Yesterday, more than 3,000 young Lebanese marched in downtown Beirut to protest Lebanon’s ubiquitous sectarianism that so often derails meaningful political and social progress. “Civil marriage, not civil war,” read banners carried by the demonstrators, who were participating in Lebanon’s first organized rally in favor of a secular state. Many activists also wore shirts with the phrase, “What’s your sect?” on the front and “None of your business” on the back. The march — originally conceived by a group of friends who were frustrated over a decision by a Muslim cleric to shut down a rock concert — was fueled
by a Facebook group devoted toward secularism that attracted over 1,000 members in its first 24 hours.
“It is up to us to do something if we want it to change,” said Yelda Yones, one of the demonstration’s leaders. “To stop nagging about the system not functioning and start doing something about it and stay positive and united.” Another organizer insisted that “We cannot live in a country where they divide the chairs of the ministers according to their confessions, not their merits.”
Discussing the relative merits of the secularism movement, Elias Muhanna
contends that the imprecise and insufficiently nuanced language used by activists will not succeed in changing Lebanon’s confessional system any time soon. “The current initiative behind the Lebanese Laique Pride march on Sunday seems destined to suffer the same fate as its predecessors: a brief, hopeful moment of energy and goodwill, followed by a quiet death on the op-ed pages of a handful of Lebanese newspapers,” he says.
Sudan: Election Results Delayed
April 22nd, 2010 by Josh
Although last week’s poll results were originally schedule to be revealed today, Sudan’s National Election Commission announced
a delay until next week due to counting and logistical difficulties. Gregg Carlstrom addresses
the news over at the Majlis, and Sean Brooks relays some interesting commentary from local voices at Save Darfur.
For those seeking a more thorough assessment of Sudan’s ongoing electoral battle and the political issues at stake, check out Brooks’ just-released piece for the Progressive Policy Institute’s April 2010 Policy Memo
Egypt: ElBaradei Remains the Center of Attention
April 22nd, 2010 by Chanan
As Mohamed ElBaradei, the former IAEA director and current Egyptian presidential prospect, gears up for his much anticipated trip to the United States next week, Egyptians of all stripes are watching eagerly and waiting for the political implications of each movement. Will he travel to Washington DC? Will he meet with policy makers? Will he make public statements about political reform or will he concentrate on nuclear policy? Also, will he visit with the expatriate Egyptian community?
An article yesterday in Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that his itinerary is not entirely clear, but that he has definite plans to deliver a speech at Harvard University’s Kennedy School on April 27. Once in the U.S., he will not likely meet with representatives from the Obama administration because the “Americans don’t want to anger their ally, the Egyptian government, by openly endorsing ElBaradei’s cause” and because ElBaradei “wouldn’t want to jeopardize his Egyptian street credibility, or open himself up to charges of being an American puppet.” Some in the U.S., however, are skeptical of the formal Nobel laureate’s capacity to effect change. Sherine El-Abd, a board member of the Arab-American Institute and president of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women, was quoted as saying: “Obviously, people want democracy in Egypt and don’t believe that having the same president for 30 years represents democracy. But [ElBaradei] is someone who hasn’t lived in Egypt for many years, so I’m not sure how much support he will receive internally.”
Meanwhile, a number of American publications are jumping on the bandwagon with profiles and features of their own. Newsweek
’s Cristopher Dickey travelled to ElBaradei’s home to get a sense of the man behind the phenomenon. At this crossroad in Egypt’s future, he predicts, the country can move in one of multiple directions - stagnation, Islamization or democratization. ElBaradei would be the one to push the country on a path toward reform. “These are nervous times, certainly, for anyone afraid of change,” writes Dickey.
The Wall Street Journal
’s Ashraf Khalil
also penned a piece today giving readers an overview of ElBaradei’s political challenge to Hosni Mubarak
Senate Budget Committee Cuts FY11 Request for Foreign Affairs
April 21st, 2010 by Josh
Via the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition
, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad
has cut President Obama’s FY11 foreign affairs budget by $4 billion, the only reduction in any area of discretionary spending from the administration’s FY11 request. USGLC Executive Director Liz Schrayer expressed disappointment with Senator Conrad’s decision, saying that this 7 percent cut is “especially dramatic considering the President’s $58.5 billion request for FY 2011 is basically a flat-line request over last year.”
This move came despite a bipartisan letter from 31 senators urging Conrad and Ranking Republican Member Judd Gregg
to adopt the president’s foreign affairs budget request in full.
Egyptian Member of Parliament: “The Police Ought to Shoot” the Protesters
April 21st, 2010 by Josh
In reference to the government treatment
of the 6 April Youth Movement protests earlier this month, a representative from the National Democratic Party told parliament’s national security and human rights committees
that he doesn’t know why the Interior Ministry is “so lenient” with protesters. “Instead of using water hoses to disperse them, the police ought to shoot them,” he said. According to Al Masry Al Youm
, the meeting was convened to discuss human rights violations committed by police against protesters.
Freedom House responded by admonishing the government officials who advocated the use of “live ammunition against pro-democracy demonstrators.” Jennifer Windsor
, Freedom House’s Executive Director, added that the “threat to use force against peaceful demonstrators only further increases the likelihood of violence leading up to the presidential election.”
The level of free and fair competition for next year’s presidential contest (i.e. Mohamed ElBaradei
’s inclusion on the ballot) may largely hinge
on the outcome of a lawsuit filed by People’s Assembly member Mohamed el-Omda, which requests open entry to all candidates who fulfill “reasonable conditions.” The Administrative Court is scheduled to issue a ruling on June 29.
U.S. Government-Related Resources
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of POMED as an organization