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22 Jul 2010 - 28 Jul 2011
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Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: July, 2010
Egypt: Egyptians Are “Growing Angrier”
July 30th, 2010 by Farid
Writing in The National, Shadi Hamid explains that Egyptians are growing increasingly frustrated with the repressive regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Despite the accumulating tension, the country is still “attracting investment, privatising industry, reducing the deficit and otherwise embracing difficult reforms,” Hamid says. According to Hamid, even though Westerners are aware of and concerned about the political issues in Egypt, many have adopted the view of “sequentionalism”: “focus on the economy now, worry about political reform later.” Recognizing significant improvements in the country, many autocrat-technocrats say that “it could be a lot worse,” he notes. Nevertheless, Hamid explains that as the literacy rate, education, and life standards continue to rise in the country, Egyptians are becoming more aware of the world around them than ever before, fueling “a rise in expectations.” Hamid points out that while sequentialism has worked before in countries such as China, progress must occur at some point; “something must come after what came before.” Considering the high incidence of protests recently, Hamid finds it interesting that observers argue that Egyptians are passive. Finally, Hamid proposes that while the Egyptian government remains too focused on economic development in the country, its “own citizens are angry, growing angrier, and – more importantly – doing something about it.”
Posted in Egypt, Protests, Reform, US foreign policy | Comment »
Saudi Arabia: Will Change Come?
July 30th, 2010 by Farid
Writing at the Arab Reform Bulletin, Neil Patrick argues that those seeking reform in Saudi Arabia “seem to be in a race against the clock,” adding that many in the Kingdom view the next two years as decisive for reform prospects. Patrick explains that reform, referred to by Saudis as a “change in environment,” has indeed “emerged in the last few years,” but cautions that a change in the “mood music” is not the same as institutional reform. In Saudi Arabia, reform has basically meant putting reformers behind “key desks” in ministries and public institutions, yet actual change in practice has not occurred, Patrick argues. Codification of laws or “anything resembling written law is pretty much uncharted territory in the Kingdom,” he says, and endowing the Majlis al-Shura, the quasi-parliament, with “any actual powers, [is] unlikely for now.”
Posted in Reform, Saudi Arabia | Comment »
Tunisia: Tunisia Must Do More For Human Rights and Democracy
July 30th, 2010 by Farid
An article in The Economist argues that “the government of Tunisia must do more to uphold human rights and the rule of law and to allow political pluralism if the country is to win ‘advanced-partner status’” with the European Union (EU). The piece points out that the current president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has served five terms in office, while according to Amnesty International, the government infiltrates opposition groups and “stifles open politics.” In addition, Tunisia enjoys only very limited freedom of press, as the state filters internet content and jails independent journalists. Reacting to these trends, the U.S. State Department said that it was “deeply concerned about the decline of political freedoms.” However, Europe — with its close ties with Tunisia — has yet to say a work about these patterns, according to the article.
Posted in Civil Society, Elections, Freedom, Human Rights, Tunisia, US foreign policy | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Turkey’s New Foreign Policy Direction– Implications for U.S.-Turkish Relations”
July 30th, 2010 by Jennifer
The U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing to discuss changes in the direction of Turkish foreign policy and their effects on U.S.-Turkey. In particular, the hearing focused on shifts in policy toward Iran, Israel, and Palestine of concern to policymakers. To discuss these issues, the full committee– chaired by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), with ranking member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in attendance –requested the testimony of four individuals: Dr. Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; the Honorable Ross Wilson, Director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council and former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan; Dr. Ian Lesser, Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States; and Dr. Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Committee Meetings, Turkey, US foreign policy, United Nations | Comment »
Lebanon: A Change in Course for Regional Stability?
July 30th, 2010 by Jennifer
Elias Muhanna writing at his blog Qifa Nabki suggests that the upcoming summit in Beirut on the issue of the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)—which will be attended by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Saudi King Abdullah​—indicates a shift in the March 14 coalition and Saudi Arabia’s approach toward Hezbollah, as well as toward regional actors backing Hezbollah, such as Syria and Iran. In light of recent comments by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that the STL may issue an indictment against some elements of the organization, Muhanna argues that such a verdict “could thrust Lebanon into complete political paralysis and possible sectarian violence,” noting that Hezbollah may decide to withdraw its members from Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s cabinet if pressured and cripple the government, as it did in late 2006. Two or three years ago, Muhanna says, Hezbollah’s opponents “would have been very happy to use the indictments to try to push Hizbullah into a corner, furthering pressuring its regional sponsors in Damascus and Tehran”; the high-level meeting in Beirut reveals “a much more cautious policy of containment which recognizes the valuable political capital that may soon be delivered via an STL indictment against Hizbullah, but which also recognizes the folly of bearing down too hard on the Shiite party.”
Posted in Hezbollah, Lebanon, Political Parties, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Nations | Comment »
The Internet and Arab Democracy: Up for Debate
July 30th, 2010 by Jennifer
At his blog The Arabist, Issandr El Amrani critiques a recent op-ed by Rami G. Khouri criticizing U.S. government initiatives to train Arab youth in Internet use for political activism. El Amrani disagrees with Khouri’s argument that young Arabs primarily use online technologies and sites merely for passive, personal entertainment, arguing that “when in so many countries the internet is being used to mobilize, spread information and organize, it can hardly be called a passive medium.” He also rejects Khouri’s comparison of the Internet to Al-Jazeera in the late 1900s, stating, “It’s a substantive improvement over what al-Jazeera does, especially because the internet is not controlled by a government.” Nevertheless, he affirms Khouri’s central argument: that the U.S. achieves nothing by supporting Arab dictatorships on the one hand, while implementing low-impact democracy promotion projects on the other. El Amrani argues, “Clinton’s Internet Initiative is essentially a substitute — and a poor one at that — for a real policy to deal with authoritarian regimes. As was Obama’s Cairo speech and its 16 micro-initiatives,” adding that the U.S. should instead “stop humoring [dictatorships] because of your imperial ambitions in the Middle East — these ambitions are ruinous to America both financially and morally.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, US foreign policy | Comment »
Egypt: Holder on Police Brutality and Democratic Elections
July 30th, 2010 by Jennifer
In a press conference in Cairo, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder– who has met with Egypt’s public prosecutor, interior and justice ministers, and human rights activists since his arrival in Cairo on Monday — said that he had discussed the Khalid Said case with Egyptian officials. Holder indicated that “our hope is that the investigation is done in a transparent way, that if there is liability to be found then those who were responsible for anything that is deemed to be inappropriate will be held accountable,” stating that “we in the United States punish those involved in cases of police brutality if they are found guilty.” Holder also touched on the upcoming national elections in Egypt, commenting, “One of the things we are concerned [about is] that elections will be held here in a free and open way … there is certainly a capacity here to do that,” adding, “We are hopeful that elections will be held in a free and open manner.” Regarding human rights, Holder commented that “there has been much progress in Egypt in the past few years; I think much more work remains to be done.” He refused to weigh in on the Mohamed ElBaradei​’s campaign to reform the constitution, only remarking, “This is an internal affair of Egypt.” Holder also reiterated the U.S.’s desire to maintain good relations with the Muslim world, emphasizing that “terrorism is not a religious issue.”
Posted in Egypt, Elections, Human Rights, Judiciary, Political Parties, Reform, US foreign policy | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Oversight Hearing on Corruption in Afghanistan”
July 30th, 2010 by Farid
The Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs held a public hearing addressing corruption in Afghanistan. The committee, headed by Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), requested the testimony of two witnesses: Richard C. Holbrooke, Ambassador and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; and Dr. Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Afghanistan, Committee Meetings, Congressional Hearing Notes (House) | Comment »
Iraq: A Direct U.S. Role in Government Formation?
July 28th, 2010 by Jennifer
Kenneth M. Pollack writing at The National Interest online suggests that the U.S. may need to take a stronger role in addressing the political deadlock in Iraq. Pollack points out the dangers of allowing the current situation to continue indefinitely, including the risk of Iraq sliding back into civil war. Commending the administration’s cautious, hands-off approach thus far, Pollack argues that it is “crucial that any greater American involvement be seen as bolstering Iraq’s democratic processes and institutions, not subverting them,” and advises close coordination with the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) in that regard. He outlines three potential options for the U.S. and UNAMI: 1) calling for the party that won the most seats of the March 7 elections to be given the first chance to form a government; 2) declaring that the Iraqi government should reflect the outcome of the election and include both Allawi and Maliki’s parties; or 3) calling for amending the Iraqi constitution to clarify ambiguities relating to elections and government formation, and to correct the over-concentration of power in the office of the prime minister. According to Pollack, each option presents advantages and disadvantages. Noting the “fragility of Iraq’s nascent democracy, and the importance of this particular transition—which will set precedents for decades to come,” he argues that if the Iraqi parliament has not succeeded in forming a government by the end of Ramadan in September, “the United States and our UN partners would do well to seize that moment to give Iraq one last, best chance to develop into a stable democracy.”
Posted in Iraq, Political Parties, Sectarianism​, US foreign policy | Comment »
Lebanon: No Interference in the STL
July 28th, 2010 by Jennifer
Parties in the March 14 Alliance yesterday rejected Hezbollah’s call to form a committee to investigate alleged false witnesses in the probe into former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination, following controversial remarks by Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah condemning the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). Future Movement MPs argued that the Lebanese national government should not interfere with the work of the STL, an independent, UN-backed tribunal. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea criticized the allegations, asking, “Who said there are any false witnesses?”, and commenting that Hezbollah “did not back its claims with any judicial authorities or tribunal.” Meanwhile, Minister of State Adnan al-Sayyed Hussein said that political parties were in talks to form a ministerial committee to follow up on the STL, and also suggested that the tribunal could be discussed at the August 19 meeting of the National Dialogue committee. Stating that the STL issue “is important and directly related to a national defense strategy because it relates to national security, which is not restricted only to facing Israel but also security threats, terrorism and preserving national unity,” Hussein called for all political parties– including Hezbollah –to fulfill their responsibility of ensuring Lebanese stability and to engage in “rational rhetoric away from tensions and accusations of treason.”
Posted in Hezbollah, Judiciary, Lebanon, Political Parties, United Nations | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Perspectives on Reconciliation Options in Afghanistan”
July 28th, 2010 by Jennifer
The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing to discuss reconciliation and reintegration in Afghanistan. Touching on issues of governance and civil institution building, the hearing was twelve in a series the Committee has held on Afghanistan in the past 18 months. The Committee—chaired by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), with ranking Committee member Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) in attendance—requested the testimony of three individuals: the Honorable Ryan C. Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Pakistan; Zainab Salbi, founder and CEO of Women for Women International; and Dr. David Kilcullen of the Center for a New American Security.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Afghanistan, Elections, Foreign Aid, Taliban, Terrorism, US foreign policy | Comment »
Iran: Sweden Too Lenient On Iran?
July 27th, 2010 by Farid
Describing Iran as the “most dangerous threat to peace in the Middle East,” Mats Tunehagen​criticizes the Swedish government, specifically its Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, for giving Tehran “diplomatic cover.” Tunehagen says, “In this post-Christian Scandinavian country, the UN has replaced God as the new Supreme Being,” adding that it is uncommon for Sweden to disagree with international institutions’ decisions, as it did with the recent sanctions on Iran. Additionally, Tunhagen– who recognizes Sweden as traditionally a promoter of democracy around the world –argues that Bildt and President Barack Obama are alike in that neither of them “proactively” supports the democracy movement in Iran, nor do they take “human rights, including religious liberty, seriously in Iran.” Tunehagen accuses Bildt of failing to promote democracy and human rights in the regions, saying that when it comes to the Middle East, “Bildt has tendency to be rather lenient to its many dictatorships, while attacking its only true democracy—Israel.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Human Rights, Iran, sanctions | Comment »
Lebanon: The Future of Hezbollah
July 27th, 2010 by Farid
According to Paul Salem’s recent commentary at Project Syndicate, Hezbollah’s fate “has never looked more uncertain.” While Israel is growing less patient with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, both Israel and Hezbollah are preparing for a potential proxy war, Salem explains. Nevertheless, Hezbollah faces the task of justifying its military actions to the Lebanese public, as it has led the country into two “ruinous wars in the span of five years.” In addition, “Syria might be asked by the Arab countries and the international community to take greater responsibility in Lebanon,” Salem predicts. However, due to Hezbollah’s popularity among Shi’a Muslims in Lebanon, Salem argues that it has an opportunity to continue its role as an influential political party, but to do so it would have to separate itself from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Salem also mentions that Daniel Bellemare, prosecutor for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, “might conclude his investigation and issue indictments in the fall” against five members of Hezbollah for their role in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. However, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has rejected the indictments, calling the tribunal “part of an Israeli plot to undermine the Islamic resistance in Lebanon” and alleging that it “has no credibility.” Salem suggests that though Hezbollah’s future may appear bleak, the party “is not likely to relinquish its power without a fight.”
Posted in Hezbollah, Lebanon | Comment »
Egypt: Is the End of Mubarak the End of Egypt?
July 27th, 2010 by Farid
In a recent piece in Al-Masry Al-Youm, Issandr El Amrar argues that in spite of speculations regarding President Hosni Mubarak’s health, including reports that he may have a form of terminal cancer, not only does Mubarak have “access to excellent medical care that can prolong his life,” but even if he does have a serious deteriorating disease, no one will find out. Rejecting “vague” predictions of what will happen to Egypt after Mubarak, such as an “alliance of the Muslim Brothers and Mohamed ElBaradei bringing about a new Iran-like rogue state” or inner-regime strife, El Amrar argues that Egypt is “too big to fail” and will not be allowed to “spiral into chaos.” According to El Amrar, “The regime’s trump card when under pressure has been invoking its status as a turbulent region’s quiet spot, its center of inertia,” a strategy that has allowed Mubarak to receive bailouts from allies, including Washington. With greater investments in local as well as global markets, the world will not let Egypt crumble, El Amrar says. However, he argues that Egypt’s assumption that it will be rescued can also be regarded as a “curse,” as the country has become “too ready to choose the path of least resistance and just muddle along,” he says.
Posted in Egypt, Reform | Comment »
Lebanon: What Does the Future Movement Recommend?
July 27th, 2010 by Farid
During its recent two-day conference, the Future Movement issued political recommendations, including its “​commitment to achieving justice in the assassination of its founder, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri” and creating a positive relationship with Syria. In regard to liberating Lebanese occupied territories, the recommendations said that there are no alternatives to “diplomatic resistance” and “military action,” if needed. The movement stressed that it will not align itself with religious sectarian groups and specifically emphasized that “defending the Christian presence is an Arab and Muslim responsibility as much as it is a Christian one.” In addition, the conference stressed the importance of granting humanitarian rights to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
Posted in Lebanon, Political Parties, Reform | Comment »
Egypt: Mubarak Has Lost Control
July 27th, 2010 by Farid
Writing at The Huffington Post, Adel Iskander argues that on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of the Egyptian republic which occurred on July 23 of this year, “it appears the regime has little control of political dissent in the country.” While most articles describe Egypt as a nation with “reluctant dissent” and “political passivity,” and assert that “presidential hopeful Elbaradei seems to monopolize coverage of the opposition movement,” Iskander explains that it is the “online framework of dissent” that is leading the opposition. According to Iskander, the Facebook group “We are all Khaled Said,” created in protest against the brutal death of Khaled Said, “is a bustling metropolis of public expression and activism.” Praising the group’s ability to mobilize the opposition, Iskander states that the group’s strength is also derived from its reliance on democratic procedures, such as creating strategies based on opinion polls and online surveys.
Posted in Egypt, Human Rights, Protests, Reform | Comment »
Iraq: A Stolen Election Like Iran?
July 27th, 2010 by Farid
Assessing the current political impasse in Iraq, Sultan Al-Qassemi writes in The Daily Star that many in Iraq feel that their votes were stolen and believe that those who were responsible for the electoral fraud in Iran last year, also played a role in Iraqi elections. While the United States is avoiding addressing the problem, Al-Qassemi describes neighboring Gulf states as sitting on the “sidelines” since the 2003 war, a passivity that Al-Qassemi argues has opened up avenues for Iranian meddling. He compares Iraq to a “driver” and Iran to a driving “instructor” with its “foot on the brake pedal, poised to stop any forward movement at will.” Also, describing Nouri al-Maliki’​s​efforts to consolidate his power through non-democratic means and his display of “tendencies usually associated with Arab dictators,” Al-Qassemi argues that al-Maliki is widely unpopular with the Gulf states. While skeptical of al-Maliki’s leadership, Al-Qassemi argues that “the next government must take into consideration that two major parties won a similar number of seats and that both their representatives should be included.”
Posted in Elections, Iraq, Political Parties | Comment »
Lebanon: Arab Summit Can Preemt Potential Crisis
July 27th, 2010 by Farid
Jamil K. Mroue writes in The Daily Star that the Arab summit scheduled to be held in Lebanon on Friday this week provides a historic opportunity for Arab states to “preempt potential crisis” in Lebanon. While Mroue recognizes that the Arab leaders may not be able to agree on everything, “they can make two things clear in a unanimous voice”: First, they can declare that Arab states “will not tolerate an unwarranted Israeli attack on Lebanon,” and second, they can clearly state that Lebanon will not be used as an “arena” for intra-Arab conflict. According to Mroue, Lebanon is an “infectious” place, whose instability can spread to the rest of the Arab world.
Posted in Diplomacy, Lebanon | Comment »
Iran: The IRGC & the Green Movement
July 26th, 2010 by Farid
Writing at RFE/RL, Golnaz Esfandiari reports that General Mohammad Ali Jafar, commander of the IRGC, has made public the fact that some members of the IRGC are in fact supporters of the opposition movement. However, Jafar said that it is better to convince these members of their wrongful stance rather than “physically deal with them and eliminate them.” Nevertheless, many questions remained to be answered regarding the implications of this phenomenon. Meanwhile, in his blog, Scott Lucas describes the assessment of the Green Movement offered by Ayatollah Mohajerani, former Minister of Culture under the Khatami administration, which claims that three groups exist within the movement:
A) Revolutionary: Those who are against the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Imam Khomeini, and Islam. They want to overthrow the Islamic Republic and have been of this opinion for 30 years.
B) Revolutionary-Reformist: Those who want to change the Constitution and remove velayat-e faghih (ultimate clerical supremacy).
C) Reformist: Those who want to implement parts of the Constitution that have not been implemented, bringing out its full potential and following up on the post-election protest of “Where is My Vote?”. Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, Mohammad Khatami, and most of the political prisoners fall into this category.
While applauding Mohajerani for his stance against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Lucas questions some elements of his analysis, including Mohajerani’s first category (Revolutionary), remarking that “it sounds as if Mohajerani is saying that anyone who is against the revolution and Khoemini is also against Islam.” He also emphasizes that the three groups are a testimony to “the opposition’s strength,” arguing that the movement “includes a range of people” encompassing both those who favor the Islamic Republic and those who oppose it.
Posted in Iran, Reform | Comment »
Pakistan: Shift in Military-Civilian Power?
July 26th, 2010 by Jennifer
Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has decided to extend the term of his military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, by three more years, in light of Pakistan’s ongoing campaign against the Taliban. The extension is the first of its kind with a civilian government in power, and has sparked concerns that the decision may undermine the authority of the parliament.  Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani Army general and a military analyst, dismisses such concerns, arguing that “the extension has been given not for political reasons but for professional reasons,” and adding that Kayani has “been a supporter of democracy.” However, according to Rasul Baksh Raaes, a political analyst at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, the decision shows that “the civilian leaders have failed to establish their constitutional supremacy over the military and the military remains a very powerful institution.” According to Omar Waraich​writing in Time, the decision represents an indication that “the civilian government is too unpopular and too weak to resist a powerful army chief’s whims” and has made Kayani “the most powerful man in the country.” Waraich explains that although Kayani has avoided overtly interfering in political affairs, he nevertheless holds enormous clout, quoting the analysis of editor-in-chief of the Friday Times Najam Sethi, who has argued that “‘when it comes to policy in regards to the U.S., Afghanistan and India, it is General Kayani who is calling the shots.’” Arguing that the U.S. will likely support the decision given the critical stage of the conflict in Afghanistan, and noting that a previous extension on military leadership in Pakistani history led to a series of dictatorships, Waraich says that “the episode repeats a familiar cycle, in which the geopolitical agendas of others inevitably put military men in power.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Military, Pakistan, US foreign policy | Comment »
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