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31 Oct 2010 - 26 Aug 2011
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Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: October, 2010
Bahrain: Terrorism Trial of Shiite Activists Begins
October 29th, 2010 by Evan
On Thursday, the trial of 25 Shiite activists accused of plotting against the Sunni Al-Khalifa regime began in Manama. The defendants all pleaded not guilty and complained that they were abused while in pre-trial detention, a charge prosecutors denied. According to Agence France-Presse, human rights activist Abduljalil al-Singace told the court “We were subjected to physical and mental torture (and) were placed in solitary confinement.” If convicted the accused face life imprisonment.
Posted in Bahrain, Human Rights, Judiciary | Comment »
Egypt: Brotherhood Pushes to Keep Slogan, Announces Social Justice Agenda
October 29th, 2010 by Anna
Al Masry Al Youm reports today that the Muslim Brotherhood is urging the High Elections Commission to uphold a court order allowing the campaign slogan “Islam is the Solution.” In The Brotherhood’s Opinion, a weekly post by the group, the Brotherhood criticizes the regime’s arrests of group members and calls on the government to treat all candidates fairly. Saad al-Katatni, a Brotherhood spokesman, also asserts that the High Elections Commission “must take a neutral stance as it is not an affiliate of the NDP.”
Muslim Brotherhood sources also say that the group will focus on social justice issues in its campaign platform during the upcoming parliamentary elections. The specific election program – which outlines strategies to tackle unemployment, the uneven distribution of wealth in Egypt, women’s issues, Coptic relations, and other social and political challenges – will be released in the coming weeks.
Posted in Egypt, Elections, Islam and Democracy, Muslim Brotherhood, Political Islam | Comment »
New Authoritarian Tactics Require a Broader Approach to Internet Freedom Efforts
October 29th, 2010 by Anna
In a piece for the Weekly Standard’s blog, Kelley Currie, a fellow with the Project 2049 Institute, responded to Jackson Diehl’column on the State Department’s failure to direct fund technology to circumvent firewalls. Currie writes that she “share[s] Diehl’s frustration with the poverty of the State Department’s efforts” but argues that “there are in fact good reasons these funds should be directed elsewhere.” She points out that the problem is not merely access, and that “circumvention technology is relatively cheap and widely available.” The broader problem is repressive governments give Internet users “just enough online freedom to keep them from feeling constrained” and do not rely just on blocking content to achieve control. 
Currie concludes that “[g]iven this broader context, it is clear that the Internet freedom initiatives under consideration by the U.S. and other democracies to date are well-intentioned but woefully inadequate and poorly matched to the actual scope and nature of the problem they are intended to address.” She calls efforts that focus on anti-blocking tools “fundamentally misplaced” and calls for greater attention to be paid to these new authoritarian tactics.
Posted in Freedom, Journalism, Terrorism, US foreign policy | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East”
October 28th, 2010 by Evan
On Wednesday Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, presented her new book “Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East” at an event sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East and Environmental Change and Security Programs. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program, moderated the event.
(To read the full notes, continue below or click here for the pdf.)
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in DC Event Notes, Women | Comment »
Palestine: Services Worsen in Some Areas, Improve in Others
October 28th, 2010 by Anna
The Christian Science Monitor​reports today on a “protracted disagreement” between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over who will pay Gaza’s electricity bills. The standoff means that “for Gaza residents, [the] deep Palestinian divide…not only prevents peace, but literally leaves them in the dark.” Although the European Union used to buy fuel for Gaza from an Israeli supplier, the Palestinians have been paying the bills since December 2009. Now, both sides contend that the other has mishandled tax revenue and international funding: while PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib claims that poor bill collection by Gaza officials has meant that the Hamas-led government pays very little, Gaza Electrical Distribution Company spokesman Usama Dabbour says that Gazans cannot afford to pay the bills. In the meantime, residents of Gaza continue to deal with blackouts and other failures in public service provision on a regular basis.
On a more positive note, USAID released a brief statement today announcing the conclusion of the five-year NETHAM (”Order”) Rule of Law program in the West Bank and Gaza. The program sought to strengthen rule of law in the Palestinian territories by upgrading Notary Public Departments in the West Bank, training judges and judicial staff, streamlining the process for issuing various routine certificates to Palestinians, and providing additional resources to the Al-Quds University School of Law.
Posted in Civil Society, Hamas, Palestine | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Human Rights in Iran”
October 28th, 2010 by Jason
The Brookings Institution held a panel discussion on Thursday titled “Human Rights in Iran.” The discussion was moderated by Kenneth Pollack, Senior Fellow and Director, Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. The panelists were Geneive Abdo, Director of the Iran Program at the Century Foundation, Philo Dibble, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Markus Löning, Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, and Mojtaba Vahedi, political advisor to former Iranian presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi.
 (To read full notes, continue below the fold or click here for pdf.)
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Civil Society, DC Event Notes, Diplomacy, Freedom, Human Rights, Iran, Reform, US foreign policy, sanctions | Comment »
Egypt: Eissa Offered Position with the Wafd Party Daily Paper
October 28th, 2010 by Anna
Wafd Party leader Al-Sayed Al-Badawy​, who took over Al Dostour newspaper earlier this month, has reportedly offered the paper’s former chief editor Ibrahim Eissa a position writing for the party’s newspaper, Al-Wafd. In addition, Al Masry Al Youm reports, Eissa will be allowed to host a talk show the Al-Hayat satellite television channel, focusing on political issues. Al-Badawy owns the channel. Meanwhile, a group of Al Dostour reporters continue to strike, demanding that the newspaper’s editorial policy be upheld and that their salaries be raised. Makram Mohamed Ahmed, the Journalists Syndicate president, warned that he will “personally join them if the paper’s new owner moves to dismiss any of them.”
For more information on this and other news on Egypt, sign up for POMED’s Egypt Daily Update.
Posted in Egypt, Journalism | Comment »
Egypt: Satellite TV Clampdown Fits with Broader Trends
October 28th, 2010 by Anna
An article in The Economist today highlights new restrictions on satellite television and other forms of media in Egypt. The government recently tightened controls over the state-owned Nilesat satellite channels, which broadcast various news programs, religious and lifestyle channels, and other programming. To some extent, the crackdown seems to be in response to an uptick in programming voicing support for conservative Salafist parties. However, the restrictions fit within a broader context of tightening media control in the region, according to the article. The Egyptian government, for example, “has taken subtle measures to regain controls over the media that had slipped in recent years, [which] range from new licensing requirements for the upload of video footage via its satellites, to quiet warnings to media owners to mute dissident voices.” Many observers suspect that these moves are meant to enhance government control over the media in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in November. Although, as the article notes, “Egypt’s press remains relatively free compared with that of its Arab neighbours” (the country moved up in this year’s “Reporters Without Borders” annual index of world press freedom), the satellite clampdown is cause for concern.
Posted in Egypt, Freedom, Journalism, Technology | Comment »
Turkey: Main Opposition Party in Need of Reform
October 28th, 2010 by Jason
Writing at openDemocracy, POMED’s Daphne McCurdy​argues that the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has failed to offer a real alternative to the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) policies, especially in regards to the recent referendum supported by the AKP. McCurdy compares the recent failures suffered by CHP to how the party was seen in the past, tracing the rise of the CHP under the leadership of Bulent Ecevit in the 1970s to the ignominious downfall of Deniz Baykal earlier this year. The major problem for CHP in the fight over the referendum was that it “focused on vilifying Erdogan and fear-mongering – tired tactics that missed the point.” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who took over after Baykal, has begun the process of reform and has “pledged to present a ‘positive opposition’ that will contribute to better governance through compromise and consensus-building.” These are positive signs, McCurdy says, but “for the CHP to regain legitimacy it must figure out an effective way to translate this new rhetoric into deliverables.”
Posted in Political Parties, Reform, Turkey | Comment »
Lebanon: Reform Needed in Elections and Political System
October 28th, 2010 by Anna
Lebanon’s Daily Star reports today that Osama Safa, secretary general of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), warned yesterday that the government has six months to implement a series of electoral law reforms. Among the reforms are giving soldiers the right to vote, lowering the voting age to 18, setting a quota for women candidates, and having independent oversight of electoral lists. Last November, the parliament stated that it would finish a draft law on election issues within 18 months. LADE and other organizations have called for changes to Lebanon’s “archaic” election laws, according to the Star, pointing to various types of irregularities in recent elections. Safa called on the government to prioritize electoral reform, saying: “The electoral law is considered the right gateway to any other reform.”
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern yesterday over rising political tensions in Lebanon. In a report on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559 (2004),which calls for free and fair presidential elections in the country, he said: “Lebanon is currently experiencing a domestic climate of uncertainty and fragility” and called on leaders to work on strengthening institutions and to “transcend sectarian and individual interests and to genuinely promote the future and the interests of the nation.”
Posted in Elections, Lebanon, Legislation, Political Parties, Reform, Sectarianism | Comment »
Are Elections in Bahrain, Jordan, and Egypt Meaningless?
October 27th, 2010 by Jason
Writing at Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel, Shadi Hamid puts the recent election in Bahrain and the upcoming elections in Jordan and Egypt into context: “Saturday’s elections in Bahrain instead reflected a new and troubling trend in the Arab world: the free but unfair — and rather meaningless — election.” While opposition groups were able to adapt and take advantage of the “Arab spring” of 2005, the regions authoritarians were not far behind in creating a “democratic facade” to  present to the international community. Hamid says that “[s]ome might consider this a workable compromise: Arabs get to vote and let out some steam. Friendly Arab regimes get to maintain their grip on power.” This arrangement is not viable in the long term, Hamid contends, because young people are becoming restless with the political theater. “If free but meaningless elections become the new norm, the Arab opposition may be forced to adopt a more impatient and confrontational approach, one that emphasizes civil disobedience, mass protest, and other ‘de-legitimization’ techniques.”
Posted in Bahrain, Civil Society, Egypt, Elections, Freedom, Jordan, Reform, US foreign policy | Comment »
Jordan: An Interview With Jordan’s First Woman M.P.
October 27th, 2010 by Jason
Toujan Faisal, the first woman elected to Jordan’s Parliament, was recently interviewed by the Arab Reform Initiative. When asked about her understanding of reform, Faisal answered, “I think that the adoption of the constitution in Jordan in 1952 (i.e. without the amendments subsequently made to it) is the basis of such reform.” She added, “I now think that there is something better: the proportional representation list, and the establishment of an interim government without the power to take major financial decisions, until such time a government with real legitimacy can be formed in the presence of a real parliament.” Faisal was also asked about her views on quotas for female candidates. “I am opposed to all forms of quota, because quotas are in conflict with full equality between citizens […] Women are essentially citizens, and the sole criterion for progress is competence. When society as a whole progresses the situation of women automatically improves.”
Posted in Civil Society, Elections, Freedom, Human Rights, Jordan, Reform, Women | Comment »
Egypt: Court Increases Minimum Wage, Activists Still Skeptical
October 27th, 2010 by Evan
On Tuesday, Egypt’s Administrative Court upheld a lower court ruling forcing the government to up the minimum wage to keep pace with rising living expenses. The original suit filed by members of the Labor for Change movement Nagy Rashad and Khaled Ali called on the government to increase the minimum wage for public and private sector employees to 1,200 pounds ($207 USD). Despite the ruling, the activist remained skeptical that the government will implement the decision. Ali told Al-Masry Al-Youm, “If they wanted to implement this verdict, they would have done so following the March verdict. […] In fact, the government is now working on filing an appeal against the verdict before a higher court. It is clearly displeased with today’s verdict.”
For more on political developments in Egypt subscribe to POMED’s Egypt Daily Update here.
Posted in Egypt, Judiciary | Comment »
Iraq: “Hopes Rest on Reconciliation”
October 27th, 2010 by Jason
At a recent policy forum luncheon held by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, three members of the Institute gave their perspectives on the current political situation in Iraq. Ahmed Ali said that Prime Minister Maliki is “known to be close with Iraqi president and leading Kurdish figure Jalal Talabani,” but that Maliki also brought Minister of Planning Ali Baban along on his recent visit to Turkey, signaling to the Turks that he was not “yielding to Kurdish demands.” Michael Knights focused on the security situation saying that “[s]ecurity metrics are degrading in quality as the U.S. military draws down […] confirm[ing] that stabilization is slowing overall and even regressing in some places.” Michael Eisenstadt reflected on the challenges facing the US and Iraq in the future. “Going forward, hopes rest on reconciliation through politics, with the formation of a broad-based governing coalition that gives elements from every community a stake in political order.”
Posted in Civil Society, Freedom, Iraq, Kurds, Political Parties, Sectarianism​, US foreign policy | Comment »
Is the Internet Really “Pro-Democratic?”
October 26th, 2010 by Jason
In an article titled “Democracy in Cyberspace” published in Foreign Affairs, Ian Bremmer argues that while the internet provides a tool for reformers and democracy advocates, it is not a silver bullet: “Innovations in modern communications may help erode authoritarian power over time. But for the moment, their impact on international politics is not so easy to predict.” Bremmer makes the point that “tools are value neutral; there is nothing inherently pro-democratic about them. To use them is to exercise a form of freedom, but it is not necessarily a freedom that promotes the freedom of others.” The internet is a “dark place” Bremmer says, where the power of communication can be used to promote illiberal values as easily as democratic ideals.
There is also the problem of nations “rethink[ing] their definitions of ‘critical infrastructure.’” The increasing importance of the internet to the world economy and the security implications of “cyber warfare” are causing some governments to treat the internet as a space to be defended and controlled. “The result will be a world that has not one Internet but a set of interlinked intranets closely monitored by various governments […] American and European users will access the same Internet as before, but the Chinese government has already made clear its intention to declare sovereignty over an Internet of its own. Other authoritarian states have every incentive to follow its lead.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Freedom, Technology | Comment »
HRW Documents Human Rights Abuses in Morocco, Saudi Arabia
October 26th, 2010 by Evan
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released two reports this week documenting human rights abuses in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. According to HRW, the Moroccan authorities routinely detain and abuse suspects arrested under counter-terrorism statutes. Such treatment continues despite legislation adopted in Morocco to protect the rights of detainees. In Saudi Arabia, HRW called on King Abdullah and Interior Minister Prince Naif to halt the scheduled execution of Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan housekeeper who was convicted of killing a 4-month old baby when she was 17.
Posted in Human Rights, Morocco, Saudi Arabia | Comment »
Egypt: Wafd Threatens Boycott After State TV Interference
October 26th, 2010 by Jason
According to a report in Al-Masry Al-Youm, Wafd Party is threatening to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections after allegations that Egyptian state television refused to air the opposition party’s  advertising. The president of Wafd, Sayyed al-Badawi told Al-Masry Al-Youm that “the party may decide to boycott the poll if the state does not respond to the party’s demands and prove its impartiality.”
In other election news, 70 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested for putting up campaign posters in Alexandria. The campaigners were working on behalf of Boushra al-Samni, the group’s parliamentary candidate for the female quota seat in the district.
Posted in Egypt, Elections, Freedom, Middle Eastern Media, Political Parties | Comment »
Egypt: The Economics of Gamal
October 26th, 2010 by Jason
Patrick Martin writes in the Globe and Mail that “Egypt, it seems, is at a political crossroads: The Egypt of old, with its state control and privilege, is running head-on into the fast-moving new Egypt of economic openness and the rule of law.” He goes on to say that Gamal Mubarak has been at the forefront of the movement to liberalize the Egyptian economy and asks whether the president’s son represents the country’s “new moneyed class” that has benefited greatly from the liberal reforms. The author speaks to economist Ahmed Galal, who expresses concern over the growing disparity of wealth and opportunity in the “new Egypt” saying, “‘the government has paid much more attention to the growth side of the economy, and not enough to the equality side.’” Galal says of the upcoming elections,”‘What matters isn’t who the next president will be, but how he’s chosen.’”
Posted in Egypt, Elections, Freedom, Reform | Comment »
Turkey: Case Indicative of Challenges Facing Press
October 26th, 2010 by Evan
In a new piece for the Associated Press, Christopher Torchia and Erol Israfil report on the ongoing trial of Turkish journalist Busra Erdal who is charged with breaking confidentiality codes and attempting to influence an ongoing trial. The journalist’s case exemplifies the often complicated relationship between journalism and politics in Turkey, the authors say. Erdal, who writes for the popular, pro-government daily Zaman, has been extremely critical of Turkey’s judicial establishment in her reporting.
Posted in Journalism, Turkey | Comment »
Egypt: Aslan Interviews ElBaradei
October 26th, 2010 by Jason
In a new article at the Daily Beast, Reza Aslan speaks to Mohamed ElBaradei about the prospects for change in Egypt. When asked if he would run for president in next year’s election, ElBaradei responded “‘I might run if there is the prospect for a free and fair election, but I will definitely not run if it’s under the present circumstances.’” ElBaradei expressed concern that the situation in Egypt could deteriorate quickly. “‘If things continue the way they are, I don’t exclude that people will resort to violence,’” he said, adding that the violence would not be a result of his push for democracy, but rather a reaction to the harsh conditions many Egyptians live in. “‘When you have half of Caironese in slums, when you don’t have clean water, when you don’t have a sewer system, when you don’t have electricity, and on top of that you live under one of the most repressive regimes right now…Well, put all that together and it’s a ticking bomb.’”
ElBaradei also expressed frustration with the Obama Administration’s failure to use its influence in Egypt to push for reforms. When asked by Aslan if he would like to see more American pressure put on the Mubarak government, ElBaradei responded “‘Well, it is up to Barack Obama. It’s up to any government to decide how to react to the denial of basic human rights anywhere in the world including Egypt. All I can say is this—those who believe that stability comes with repression are really shortsighted and should not be surprise if the Middle East continues to move toward radicalization.’”
Posted in Civil Society, Egypt, Elections, Freedom, Human Rights, Reform, US foreign policy | Comment »
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