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201020112012
11 captures
31 Aug 2010 - 26 Aug 2011
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Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: August, 2010
Saudi Arabia: Using Anti-Terror Law to Target Reformers
August 31st, 2010 by Evan
In the Wall Street Journal, Margaret Coker reports on Saudi Arabia’s use of anti-terror laws to persecute political reformers and human rights activists: “The government is using its security forces to silence a growing group of Saudi political activists seeking liberal reform inside the authoritarian kingdom. Saudis who simply hold political views different from those of their rulers have been arrested and detained as security suspects under the counter-terror efforts, according to human-rights advocates, family of the detained and U.S. officials.” One of the most prominent cases is that of the imprisonment of Suliman al-Reshoudi​, a prominent activist and critic of the regime. Saudi officials imprisoned Reshoudi on charges that he financed terrorism and was a member of an illegal group. The Saudi activist’s case caught the attention of the U.S. State Department which cited the incident in its annual human rights report.
Posted in Human Rights, Judiciary, Legislation, Saudi Arabia | Comment »
Iraq: Preview of President Obama’s Speech
August 31st, 2010 by Jason
President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a nationally televised address tonight marking the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. While the drawdown is significant, a large number of troops will remain: “…Americans need to understand that our troops are needed to assist the Iraqis on security matters…” notes the Wall Street Journal, adding “It would be a tragedy if after seven years of sacrifice, the U.S. now failed to assist Iraqis as they try to build a federal, democratic state in an often hostile neighborhood.” The recent political stalemate has caused concern in some quarters. While visiting Iraq, Vice President Joe Biden described the stalled formation of a government wryly: “…politics has broken out in Iraq.” Marc Lynch makes the case that the drawdown is “one of the largely unremarked bright spots in his (Obama’s) foreign policy record to date” and that the political situation would not change if troop levels stayed the same. “The only effect of delaying the drawdown would have been a hammer blow on U.S. credibility, informing all Iraqis that American commitments were always and only up for bargaining…”. The President himself stated that tonight’s speech will not be a “victory lap” but that, “There’s still a lot of work that we’ve got to do to make sure that Iraq is an effective partner with us.”
Posted in Iraq, Military, US foreign policy, US media | Comment »
Egypt: Change or Continuity?
August 31st, 2010 by Evan
David Ottaway recently published a new article on the prospects for political change in Egypt as part of the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Occasional Paper series. After spending months interviewing a wide range of Egyptian political figures, Ottaway notes the there is a complete lack of agreement about where Egypt is today and where it is going. The only thing all of the observers seem to agree on is that it is unlikely Egyptians will take to the streets in full-out protests like Iranians did last year.
From Ottaway’s perspective, economic, social and political tensions are clearly rising but there is no clear indication that this will lead to  a shift in political power. The security services and the military maintain a strong hold on society and “Egyptian temperament” has historically shown a preference for continuity over change. Two unknowns will likely play a significant role in the outcome: “The first is a possible outburst of social discontent perhaps triggered by a cut in bread and food subsidies, an action the government is contemplating. […] A second potential match lighting the fires of street protest could be an Egyptian Neda Agha-Soltan​, the young Iranian woman shot to death during a protest demonstration in Tehran last June.”
Posted in Civil Society, Egypt, Elections, Protests | Comment »
Egypt: Presidential Crossroads and U.S. Policy
August 31st, 2010 by Jason
Egypt’s upcoming presidential election and the U.S. role in supporting democracy are discussed in a PolicyWatch by J.Scott Carpenter. Written after consultation with a group of experts on the region, the article lays out the path ahead: “…the prevailing assumption in both Washington and Cairo has been that…​Gamal Mubarak wins the presidency in rigged elections following his father’s death.” However, the emergence of the “ElBaradei phenomenon” and the lingering uncertainty about the elder Mubarak’s intentions have left room for speculation. While it is still safe to assume that Gamal is the favorite to succeed his father, the article points to other alternative candidates including Secretary-General Safwat al-Sharif and Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. The deep bench of establishment candidates and the constitutional changes enacted in 2005 make an independent candidate’s odds long. ElBaradei, who is undoubtedly the best known candidate outside the current government, has “…refus(ed) so far to engage in retail politics and his recent decision to rely on the Muslim Brotherhood may preclude his candidacy, as the government is increasingly fearful about the latter connection.” According to Carpenter, the U.S. should, “…reiterate(s) early and often that it does not have a preferred candidate but expects the succession process to be open, transparent, and in accordance with international standards…” while also speaking out if  those conditions are not met.
Posted in Civil Society, Egypt, Elections | Comment »
Iran: Karroubi Surrounded, Harassed
August 31st, 2010 by Jason
According to reports out of Iran, former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi has been surrounded in his house by a group of “plainclothes forces.” The group is apparently trying to keep Karroubi from attending the Quds Day rally. Karroubi’s son, Hossein, describes the men as, “…militias whom the government fully supports.” In a recent meeting with reform activists, the former presidential candidate spoke of the Ahmadinejad government’s fear of the opposition: “They forbid funeral services and fasting ceremonies. All comings and goings and visitations are controlled… They [the ruling government] don’t even dare to allow for us to organize a gathering in a mosque as it will only further demonstrate the support and opinion of the people regarding the movement… Despite this fear, due to today’s technological advances and social media outlets, they are no longer able to censure the news and prevent the truth from being told.”
Posted in Freedom, Human Rights, Iran | Comment »
Pakistan: The Next Indonesia?
August 31st, 2010 by Evan
Writing in The New Yorker, Steve Coll suggests that for all of Pakistan’s problems, there is a way forward. According to Coll, Pakistan must first seek peace with India and then develop a stronger, export-based economy. Coll cites Indonesia’s experience as a potential model: “Indonesia, which, like Pakistan, has a large Muslim population and implausible borders left behind by imperialists, suffered badly a decade ago from separatist violence, Al Qaeda-linked Islamist terrorists, and poisonous civil-military relations. By riding Southeast Asia’s economic boom, Indonesia has become a comparably bland, democratic archipelago.”
Posted in Pakistan, Taliban, al-Qaeda | Comment »
Palestine: Fayyad’s “Mirage”
August 31st, 2010 by Evan
Responding to Kenneth Chasen’s​piece last week on the success of the Fayyad administration, Ali Abunimah writes that much of what Chasen saw during his visit to Ramallah was “a mirage”. Despite apparent development, the economy is still weak and institutions that Fayyad is credited with building are “hollow”. Abunimah specifically takes umbrage with Chasen’s assertion that Fayyad’s authoritarian style is necessary for progress: “Chasen acknowledges that Fayyad rules in an ‘authoritarian’ way, but this is putting it mildly. Last Wednesday, Palestinian Authority thugs raided a meeting of dozens of Palestinian political activists opposed to the authority taking part in new direct talks with Israel…”. The author also points to a recent Carnegie Foundation analysis that states that Fayyad’s regime “is not just postponing a democratic system; it is actively denying it.”
Posted in Palestine | Comment »
Iraq: Drawdown Reactions, What Does it Mean for Democracy?
August 31st, 2010 by Jason
As combat troops are withdrawn from Iraq, questions remain about how this will affect its emerging democracy. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Hadley​argues​, “The six-month stalemate in forming a new government is worrying, but virtually all Iraqi leaders accept the need for a broadly inclusive government.” Mohammad Bazzi believes that Iran has been the true beneficiary of the war, which may have repercussions across the region: “…the Iraq war has unleashed a new wave of sectarian hatred and upset the Persian Gulf’s strategic balance… the brutal war between Iraq’s Shiite majority and Sunni minority unleashed sectarian hatreds that are difficult to contain. This blowback has been most keenly felt in Lebanon…”. Bazzi adds, “Far from becoming a model of freedom and religious coexistence, Iraq remains a powder keg that could ignite sectarian conflict across the Middle East.” According to former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker , “The difficulty and delays we have seen since the March elections illustrate the fundamental truth that everything in Iraq is hard…”. He goes on to list a few of the challenges facing the government once it is formed: “…it will have to wrestle with the tough issues… includ(ing) the structural and constitutional issues underlying much of the tension between Kurds and Arabs in the north — disputed internal boundaries, especially Kirkuk, and the authorities of the federal government in Baghdad vis-à-vis the Kurdish regional government in Irbil, including the control of armed forces.” Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki​struck a more hopeful note, “Iraq today is sovereign and independent…​our relations with the United States have entered a new stage between two equal, sovereign countries.”
Posted in Civil Society, Iran, Iraq, Kurds, Lebanon, Oil | Comment »
Afghanistan: The Difficult Road to Parliamentary Elections
August 31st, 2010 by Evan
CFR.org has a new interview with International Crisis Group analyst Candace Rondeaux previewing Afghanistan’s September 18th parliamentary election. According to Rondeaux, the outlook isn’t good. Candidates, campaigners, and elections officials are all targets for attack; significant fraud is expected despite the efforts of international monitors; and voter turn-out will likely be much lower than previous elections. These factors lead Rondeaux to argue that the elections should be postponed until the security situation stabilizes.
Posted in Afghanistan, Elections | Comment »
Bahrain: Media Barred From Covering Al-Singace Detention
August 30th, 2010 by Anna
In a continuing crackdown on opposition leaders, Bahrain has banned the media from reporting on prominent Shiite activist and spokesman for Al-Haq political movement Abduljalil al-Singace​, who has been in detention since August 13 along with other activists. Al-Singace is an outspoken critic of the government and has spoken in Britain about the human rights situation in Bahrain. The government has accused  him and fellow activists of “provid[ing] funds and financial support to the cells under various covers to carry out acts of terror and violence in various parts of Bahrain.” Ali al-Buainain​, the government’s public prosecutor, cited the need to maintain secrecy and “preserve public order” in his announcement Thursday that no media outlets may “publish or broadcast anything related to” al-Singace and his “terror network.” Violators of the gag, according to the prosecutor’s statement, could be fined or imprisoned. In the past, al-Singace’s arrests have prompted human rights groups to call for his release.
Posted in Bahrain, Journalism | 1 Comment »
Egypt: Support Democratic Processes, Despite Concerns about Islamists
August 30th, 2010 by Anna
Heather Ferguson, a Stanford University fellow, and Ty McCormick​, an intern at the American University in Cairo, argue in the Huffington Post today that the Obama administration has “respectfully declined” to press for political reform in Egypt. In their view, “this policy reflects a sincere belief on the part of the Obama administration that Islamists cannot be democrats.” Ferguson and McCormick criticize the view that Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood might eliminate democratic processes and institutions if elected to office. This type of thinking, they reason, stems from the notion that Islamists are a monolith and have one particular, rigid view of democracy and the role of religion in public life. The authors suggest that the Obama administration has, in effect, “declar[ed] the incompatibility of Islam and democracy,” thereby ignoring the possibilities for elasticity and synthesis in that relationship. Ferguson and McCormick assert that “the U.S. should seize the opportunity presented by ElBaradei [and] attempt to engage positively with his diverse group of followers,” so as to enhance the credibility of Washington’s rhetorical support of democracy in the region.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Islam and Democracy, Political Islam, Political Parties | Comment »
Iraq: The South Korea Model
August 30th, 2010 by Evan
In a new op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Noah Feldman argues that American troops should stay in Iraq beyond 2011 to ensure stability while the country builds viable institutions and forms an identity irrespective of religious or ethnic groups. For Feldman, the U.S.’s 35-year-presence in South Korea is an example of how long-term military engagement can help incipient democracies progress in difficult neighborhoods: “No one would have predicted at the time that South Korea—war-torn like Iraq, and in dire need of reconstruction—was a candidate for successful democratization. […] The presence of U.S. forces provided a background security guarantee throughout that process, one that Koreans have used to good effect.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Foreign Aid, Iraq, Military, Sectarianism | Comment »
Jordan: New Cyber Crime Law a Tool for Repression
August 30th, 2010 by Evan
Writing at Black Iris, Jordanian blogger Naseem Tarawnah​highlights issues with Jordan’s new cyber crimes law. According to Tarawnah, the law gives the Jordanian government new legal tools to repress free speech online including the ability to prosecute anyone sending information that “involves defamation or contempt or slander” and broad powers to search the homes and offices of those suspected of being involved in cyber crime. “Given the precedence of infringements on free speech in Jordan, one can safely assume that intent will be used more as a subjective legal tool to prosecute and convict, rather than protect the defendant,” writes Tarawnah. The cyber crime law is one of 34 temporary laws the Rifai government has attempted to pass since the Jordanian parliament was abolished in November 2009.
Posted in Jordan, Legislation, Reform, Technology | Comment »
Saudi Arabia: Rare Public Protest
August 30th, 2010 by Evan
Reuters reports that 200 unemployed Saudi teachers staged a protest Sunday in front of the education ministry to demand jobs. Despite the country’s wealth, it has struggled to create employment opportunities for its burgeoning population. The article argues that the root of the issue is Saudi Arabia’s education system, which ”focuses more on religion than on the job skills needed to diversify an oil-based economy weighed down by a bloated public sector.” In recent years, King Abdullah’s attempts to push through reforms have been stymied by the religious elite who control much of the country’s education bureaucracy.
Posted in Protests, Reform, Saudi Arabia | Comment »
Syria: Civil Society at a Price
August 30th, 2010 by Evan
New York Times reporter Kareem Fahim’s profile of Chavia Ali, a Syrian disability rights activist, describes a conundrum facing many civil society leaders in Syria. After years of government opposition, Ali’s organization is flourishing. She now receives funding from Syria’s first lady Asma al-Assad and is regularly featured in the government-backed press. Her success, however, comes with the implicit agreement that she will avoid controversial political issues. Fahim writes,  “In the narrow alleyways of civic life permitted by authoritarian governments in the region, opportunities exist as long as certain limits are observed. While foreign aid groups often cheer the explosive growth of organizations that help women, children or the environment, there are questions about whether the groups can change the political order.”
Posted in Civil Society, Democracy Promotion, Syria | Comment »
Iraq: Shortcomings in Social Service Provision
August 30th, 2010 by Anna
Recent reports have highlighted Iraq’s struggles to provide adequate social services to its citizens. For al-Jazeera yesterday, Victoria Fine profiled the troubled health care system in Iraqi Kurdistan. She describes the obstacles that patients face in getting access to doctors, surgeries, and other state-based medical services, which are officially free in Iraq. To cope, Fine writes, many citizens have turned to “a loose network of NGOs,” including international humanitarian organizations, to access care. In part, the obstacles in accessing medical services stem from a shortage of surgeons and urgent care physicians. Political realities also pose difficulties, according to Fine - a constituent of a particular political party, for example, might “run into problems” by appealing to another party for funding or services.
In a story on Iraq’s recent electricity shortages, Charles Recknagel writes for Radio Free Europe that “the amount [of electricity generated in Iraq] is still woefully inadequate to meet ordinary Iraqis’ needs,” despite improvements in recent years. Historically, electricity shortages have been blamed on the insurgency - the considerable weakening of the insurgency, however, “puts the spotlight for the electricity problems squarely on the government’s ability to deliver a better future.” Ali al-Saffar, an Iraq expert at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, estimates that Iraq is meeting only 46% of the demand for electricity, and blames “government bureaucracy, corruption, and unwillingness to get things done.” Recknagel concludes that eliminating some of the “bureaucratic entanglements” limiting power supply might “put Iraq more firmly on the free-market course it needs to become economically and politically strong enough to survive as a democracy.”
Posted in Iraq, NGOs, Political Parties | Comment »
Syria: Can Private Media Flourish?
August 30th, 2010 by Jason
Salam Kawakibi, a senior researcher at the Arab Reform Initiative and the University of Amsterdam, has a new paper examining the re-emergence of the private media in Syria. Kawakibi gives a detailed history of the media in Syria beginning with the Baathist takeover in 1963. He explains that while the Baathist constitution protected free expression, a “state of emergency” was almost immediately declared and the government began “suppressing” the publication of newspapers with few exceptions. The censorship extended to radio and television as well, eventually becoming systemic due to the understanding that, “Since the party considers itself the embodiment of the national interest, this gives it the legitimacy to proscribe all forms of private publication that do not serve its interests, i.e. ‘the nation’s interest.’”
In 1970, Hafez al-Assad rose to power during a period known for “The Correction Movement”, which helped to end infighting in the Baath party. One of the new projects was the Press Institute, a government school that taught journalism, “…albeit with a degree course biased by propaganda.” While Assad would eventually ease restrictions in an attempt to broaden his coalition of allies, the state security structure maintained the status quo. Censorship was aided by the journalists and editors themselves in an attempt to curry favor with the Baath party.
Soon after Assad’s son Bashar came to power in 2000, a new law allowed privately owned media to reappear for the first time since 1963. Since then, numerous media organizations have emerged. Some claim to be free and unbiased but often, as in the case of the television station al-Dunya, a closer look reveals, ” (​al-Dunya​)… lost all credibility as soon as the owners’ names became public: businessmen closely linked to the country’s influential political authorities.”
Kawakibi concludes by noting that, “In 2009, over 50 newspaper and magazine issues were suspended by the Ministry of Information…Appeals to the authorities to increase openness and reconsider the necessity for deregulating the public sphere are growing in number all the time. The response has so far been exclusively negative, but there is hope.”
Posted in Civil Society, Journalism, Syria | Comment »
Palestine: Sign of Things to Come?
August 30th, 2010 by Jason
An article at the Middle East Monitor today claims that the Palestinian Authority runs the risk of “changing rapidly into a repressive, dictatorial regime in the same mold as other Arab governments”. This piece was prompted by the recent breakup by Palestinian Security Forces of a symposium put together by Palestinian groups opposed to direct negotiations with Israel. While President Mahmoud Abbas has said that the incident will be investigated, the reaction from the Monitor was less than hopeful: “…when have the Authority’s investigations ever brought about real results? Indeed, when have real results ever been possible, the findings implemented and the accused brought to justice?”
Posted in Civil Society, Palestine, Political Parties | Comment »
Morocco: Saudi Restrictions on Moroccan Woman an “Insult”
August 30th, 2010 by Anna
Nesrine Malik argues in The Guardian that Saudi Arabia “is failing in its Islamic duties” by banning (Arabic) some Moroccan women from undertaking the umra (the lesser pilgrimage to Mecca). According to Saudi authorities, women “of a certain age” might abuse their travel visas “for other purposes” while abroad. Malik claims that this is meant to reference the sex industry, which is stereotypically staffed by North African women. Suggesting that Moroccan women might use a religious ritual as a guise for engaging in illicit sexual activity is, in Malik’s view, a charge that “summarily insult[s] the [Moroccan] nation.” Rather than using national stereotypes that draw on the perception of Morocco as being morally lax to justify restrictions on some travelers, Malik asserts, the Saudi government should be facilitating pilgrimages to Mecca for all Muslims. Political parties in Morocco have reportedly called on the parliament to intervene.
Posted in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Women | Comment »
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