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201020112012
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21 Dec 2010 - 27 Sep 2011
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Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: December, 2010
The Economist Reviews U.S. Middle East Policy
December 30th, 2010 by Evan
The Economist recently published a retrospective on U.S. policy in the Middle East. The Bush administration’s tactical and strategic failures and the Obama administration seeming inability to produce results, in addition to organic changes in the region, have diminished American political clout in the eyes of many, the author writes. Despite the apparent weakness in U.S. policy, the Obama administration has had some quiet successes. On Iran, “Obama’s mixture of diplomatic overtures and sticking to principles has left its rulers rattled and lonely,” while Iraq’s government is now “a legitimate, independent institution.” The Economist closes by saying that America’s limited achievements and declining interests in the Middle East may “one day lead Americans to ask why they invest so much in a troubled region with such poor returns.”
Posted in Diplomacy, Foreign Aid, US foreign policy | Comment »
Yemen: GPC Backs Proposal to Suspend Term Limits
December 30th, 2010 by Evan
Yemen’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), announced yesterday that it will seek to eliminate constitutional term limits allowing President Ali Abdullah Saleh to run for a third seven-year term in 2013. The proposal will be brought up for a vote in the GPC-dominated parliament on Saturday and following likely approval will be subject to a national referendum in April. Opposition party members protested the decision, which they said would effectively install Saleh as president for life.
Posted in Elections, Legislation, Yemen | Comment »
Tunisia: Ben Ali Shuffles Cabinet, Freedom House Urges Restraint
December 30th, 2010 by Jason
Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has appointed new ministers of youth and sports, trade and handicrafts, religious affairs, and communications following the recent protests. The Daily Star reports that the opposition Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) is calling for the removal of the interior minister as well. “PDP founder Nejib Chebbi told a news conference that the two ministers (of communications and interior) ’symbolize the policy of hardening, violence and media clampdown’ and said they failed to handle a legitimate protest movement and allowed it to degenerate into violence.” Freedom House released a statement today calling on the Tunisian government to “refrain from the unnecessary use of force against peaceful protesters and to respect the fundamental rights of its people, including the right to freely express dissenting opinions.” Meanwhile, Egyptian activists are planning to rally on Sunday in solidarity with the Tunisian protesters.
Posted in Civil Society, Corruption, Egypt, Freedom, Protests, Reform, Tunisia | Comment »
Obama Appoints Ambassadors to Turkey, Syria
December 30th, 2010 by Evan
President Barack Obama directly appointed Robert Ford as Ambassador to Syria and Frank Ricciardone as Ambassador to Turkey on Wednesday, bypassing the Senate confirmation process. Ford, a career foreign service officer, most recently served as a senior diplomat in Iraq and was the U.S. Ambassador to Algeria from 2006 to 2008. Ricciarone, also a career diplomat, was the Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan and served as the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt from 2005 to 2008. Senate Republicans had blocked the confirmation of both men—Ford to protest the Obama administration’s Syria policy and Ricciardone because of concerns about his tenure as Ambassador to Egypt. The recess appointments will last until the end of 2011.
Posted in Diplomacy, Syria, Turkey, US foreign policy | Comment »
Egypt: “Rigging With a Hint of Elections”
December 29th, 2010 by Jason
In a new article at Middle East Report Online, Mona El-Ghobashy details the numerous flaws in Egypt’s recent parliamentary elections saying that they “defied expectations, not because the ruling National Democratic Party again dominates Parliament but because of the lengths to which it proved willing to go to engineer its monopoly.” The elections came at a time of “aggressive economic transformation,” and “intense public anger about corruption scandals involving figures at the peak of the regime,” forcing the regime to rely on its “tool kit of electoral skullduggery.” El-Ghobashy acknowledges that the regime’s desire to “stage manage” the upcoming presidential election was a factor in the heavy handed way in which it went about ensuring overwhelming victory for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), but she adds that a desire on the part of the NDP to set up a “legal framework” that prepares “public assets for delivery into private hands,” was also a driving factor.
Posted in Civil Society, Corruption, Egypt, Elections, Freedom, Muslim Brotherhood, Political Parties | Comment »
U.S. “Hypocrisy” Damages Prospects for Democracy
December 29th, 2010 by Jason
Sarah Trister writes at The Christian Science Monitor that U.S. support for undemocratic regimes sends the message that “repressing civil society won’t interfere with a strategic relationship.” Trister cites Egypt as a prime example of a country which receives significant amounts of aid from the U.S. while effectively stifling the work of independent NGOs: “The Egyptian government has arbitrarily canceled NGO events and conferences, detained and deported NGO workers, and frozen funds of independent organizations.”
In a related article, Moataz A. Fattah, an associate professor of political science at Cairo University and Central Michigan University, looks at the effect that Western support of despotism in the Middle East has on democratic movements in the region. Fattah argues that “a number of studies found that the chances of success for home-grown spontaneous popular democratic movements are considerably lower than those for movements that enjoy regional or international support.” He then asks what conditions lead to Western support for democratic movements, saying that it is a “simple calculation of the balance of power,” where “Western condemnation […] of election forgery in the Arab world is never as strong […] because the oppressor is a friend and (the) aggrieved is a foe.”
Posted in Civil Society, Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Foreign Aid, Freedom, NGOs, Reform, US foreign policy | Comment »
Kuwait: Parliament Sets Date for PM No-Confidence Vote
December 29th, 2010 by Evan
Kuwait’s parliament filed a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad Al Sabah on Tuesday. Opposition parliamentarians announced the move after questioning Al Sabah for eight hours about the recent crackdowns on opposition politicians and activists. The vote will take place on January 5. Habib Toumi writes that the motion may force Emir Sabah IV Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah to reshuffle his cabinet or dissolve parliament.
Posted in Kuwait, Protests, Reform | Comment »
Egypt: What to Make of the “ElBaradei Phenomenon”
December 29th, 2010 by Jason
Noha El-Hennawy writes that Mohamed ElBaradei​’s rapid rise to prominence upon his return to Egypt in February 2010 “resembled the welcome a warrior receives upon returning from victory.” However, the initial excitement has since been tempered by disappointment as ElBaradei has failed to connect with Egyptians on issues such as the economy, instead spending most of his efforts on gaining signatures for his “seven reform demands,” an approach that Manar al-Shorbagy​, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo, calls “a narrow way of looking at change.” Al-Shorbagy warns that ElBaradei’s “momentum will be lost for good,” if he does not become more engaged. El-Hennawy also points out that “ElBaradei spent most of 2010 abroad, only coming to Egypt on short visits. This attitude has to be changed if ElBaradei wants to bring about real change.”
Posted in Egypt, Reform | Comment »
Iran: A Regime in Decline
December 29th, 2010 by Evan
Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Ray Takeyh has a new op-ed in the International Herald Tribune explaining the challenges currently facing the regime in Tehran. Takeyh argues that the Islamic Republic has failed both practically and philosophically. Elite defections have weakened the government and popular dissent, while less visible than in previous years, remains a strong force. According to Takeyh, the demise of the old political and religious structures is certain, but what will replace them remains unclear. Takeyh urges U.S. policy makers to balance security interests with support for Iranian opposition movements. “Our choices speak as much to our values as they do to our interests. In the long run, America has never gone astray by standing with those who hope for a more decent future,” Takeyh writes.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Freedom, Human Rights, Iran, Islam and Democracy | Comment »
Tunisia: Ben Ali Addresses Protests
December 29th, 2010 by Evan
Amidst ongoing protests, Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali spoke to the country on Tuesday. In his speech, Ben Ali blamed foreign television channels for exaggerating the severity of the riots and explained what the government plans to do to help the unemployed. Tunisian authorities have also tried to quell the violence by suspending the police officers who confronted Mohammad Bouazizi, the 26-year-old who set himself on fire after police took away the produce he was selling December 17.  Al Jazeera reports that unions and groups of lawyer continue to organize protests across the country.
Posted in Human Rights, Protests, Tunisia | Comment »
Iraq: New Government “Good Basis for Setting Out”
December 28th, 2010 by Jason
In a recent interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Joost Hiltermann calls the new Iraqi government “a good basis for setting out,” while also expressing concern about the power-sharing agreement. Hiltermann says the newly established National Council for Strategic Policy has yet to be fully defined, and that it remains to be seen whether “Allawi feels that it satisfies his earlier demands for having a real check against Maliki’s power as prime minister.” Hiltermann goes on to address how Iraq’s various factions, including the Kurds and the Sadrists, are affected by the power-sharing deal, and says that the withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2011 is “definitely on track.”
Posted in Elections, Iraq, Kurds, Oil, Political Parties, Sectarianism​, US foreign policy | Comment »
Tunisia: Wave of Protests Threaten Ben Ali Regime
December 28th, 2010 by Jason
The attempted suicide of a young man last week and deteriorating socioeconomic conditions have sparked unprecedented protests throughout Tunisia in recent days. Lachen Achy describes the economic situation, saying that the government has “failed to make policies guaranteeing enough job creation to absorb new entrants to the labor market” and that the country has “one of the highest levels of unemployment among Arab states: more than 14% overall and 30% among those between age 15 and 29.” Brian Whitaker​compares the current unrest in Tunisia to that of Romania in 1989 and the subsequent fall of Nicolae Ceausescu, asking “Is the Tunisian dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, about to meet a similar fate?” Whitaker points to the Ben Ali regime’s failure to “prevent people from organising, communicating and agitating,” the lack of fear shown by Tunisians during the recent protests, and the “breakdown” of the “devil’s compact,” whereby the people sacrifice freedom for economic security and stability, as reasons to believe that the current government’s days may be numbered.
Michael Collins Dunn at the MEI Editors blog provides links to several sources that are tracking the situation in Tunisia.
Posted in Freedom, Protests, Tunisia | Comment »
Iran: Corruption Charges Expose Internal Rifts
December 28th, 2010 by Evan
Last week, Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi announced corruption charges against one of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad​’s closest confidants, First Vice President Mohammad Reza. According to the AP’s Brian Murphy, Reza’s indictment by the Iranian judiciary​—​which is controlled by Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani’s brother Sadeq​—i​s a direct response to Ahmadinejad’s firing of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki earlier this month. “The developments revealed the increasingly complex political maneuvering within the Islamic Republic as it struggles with economic sanctions and growing international pressure to curb its production of nuclear fuel,” Murphy writes.
Posted in Iran | Comment »
Egypt: Opposition Fails to Represent Rural, Poor Voters
December 28th, 2010 by Evan
At The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Roberto Roccu describes the failure of Egypt’s established opposition to connect with workers and rural voters. The highly visible campaign led by Mohamed ElBaradei and the active Egyptian blogosphere have given many observers a distorted view of the potential for change in Egypt, according to Roccu. The “institutional opposition” focuses too much on the urban elites and fails to incorporate the “movements arising from the lower social strata,” ultimately limiting its ability to push for reform.
Posted in Egypt, Elections, Political Parties | Comment »
Egypt: ElBaradei Redoubles Criticism of Mubarak Regime
December 27th, 2010 by Evan
Writing in The Washington Post, Mohamed ElBaradei criticizes Egypt’s current political system and calls for greater international support for democratic reforms.  In theory, Egypt is a modern country with political plurality, an independent judiciary, and a president, legislature, and laws that “reflect the will of its people,”  ElBaradei writes.  In reality however, President Mubarak and the ruling party enjoy “imperial powers” over the county’s political and economic structures. Many Egyptians are fed up with this system and the international community would be wise to support pro-democracy activists instead of standing with the Mubarak regime, ElBaradei adds: “The present pseudo-stability based on repression is a ticking bomb that is dangerously close to exploding. Lasting stability in Egypt, as in any nation, will come only through genuine democracy that responds fairly to the needs and aspirations of all its people.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Freedom | Comment »
The Cost of International Affairs Budget Cuts
December 27th, 2010 by Evan
Washington Post opinion writer Conor Williams has a new piece arguing against the reductions to the international affairs budget proposed by incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Williams writes that the spending cuts would devastate American diplomatic efforts, while doing little to trim the deficit. Citing statements from U.S. military leaders, Williams explains that “well-funded diplomacy is crucial to national security,” and that reductions will only cost the U.S. more in the long run.
Posted in Congress, Diplomacy, Foreign Aid | Comment »
Egypt: NDP Convention Focuses on Economics
December 27th, 2010 by Evan
Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) held its seventh annual conference in Cairo last weekend. Party luminaries including President Hosni Mubarak, his son and NDP Policy Committee Chairman Gamal Mubarak, and NDP Secretary for Organizational Affairs Ahmed Ezz delivered remarks to the assembled party members. In his speech, President Mubarak hailed Egypt’s economic growth, while acknowledging that many working-class Egyptians have yet to see their quality of life improve. The success of a political party depends on how well it responds to constituents’ demands, Mubarak reminded the delegates.  The President also praised “junior party members” for their attempts to reform NDP’s internal party structures.
Gamal Mubarak explained, “the political activities and actions of the NDP are working at the local level, to the benefit of the villages, the families and the hard-working people of Egypt. Their needs are for more jobs, better schools, improved healthcare and greater access to basic infrastructure — and that is what our party is working to provide.” Gamal also called for a “second wave” of economic reforms to be implemented quickly. And Ezz defended the government’s economic reforms: “I cannot claim that we have achieved all our aspirations. I cannot say that we could not have done better. But this does not rule out the fact that we made remarkable achievements over the last years.”
Posted in Egypt, Political Parties | Comment »
Egypt: New ElBaradei Interview
December 23rd, 2010 by Evan
In a recent interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, Mohamed ElBaradei derided the Mubarak regime and countered criticism of his reluctance to personally lead the Egyptian opposition. Egyptians have increasingly turned to “radical” Islam as the state has failed them, ElBaradei said: “They’ve lost their identity as citizens because they have been treated as slaves. […] They feel a sense of marginalization. They feel a sense of hopelessness. They feel that there is no future. So you have a growing sense of frustration, and that leads to radicalism.” In response to critiques of his leadership, ElBaradei said “If I hit my head against the wall, my head will break. If all the Egyptians hit their heads against the wall, then the wall will break. […] So if I see 100,000 people in the streets, yes I will be with you. But I’m not going to go into a demonstration of 50 people. It’s a question of strategy, and it’s a question of tactics.”
Posted in Egypt, Freedom, Human Rights, Islam and Democracy | Comment »
Tunisia: Suicides Spark Unemployment Riots
December 23rd, 2010 by Evan
At Babylon and Beyond, Amro Hassan writes that the recent high-profile suicides of two unemployed men have sparked a series of violent demonstrations in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid. Most recently Hussein Nagi Felhi, an unemployed 24-year-old, committed suicide after shouting “no for misery, no for unemployment” during a rally earlier this week. According to Hassan, “The death triggered protests met with tear gas after scores of jobless youths hurled stones at police and set fire to an administrative building in a nearby town.” The Tunisia-based blog Groupe Nawaat has video of and details about the protests in Arabic here.
Posted in Protests, Tunisia | Comment »
Kuwait: Parliament Challenges the Prime Minister
December 23rd, 2010 by Evan
Bloomberg’s Fiona MacDonald and Dahlia Kholaif report on growing tension between Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammed al-Sabah and the Parliament. MPs recently summoned the Prime Minister to answer questions about the recent police crackdown on activists and opposition politicians. Al-Sabah, the nephew of Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, has clashed with the Parliament before. In December 2009, he survived a no confidence vote and he has dissolved the Parliament twice. According to MacDonald and Kholaif, the recent clash indicates a greater willingness on the part of the opposition to challenge the regime. “The opposition is widening and gaining more support,” Kuwaiti economist Hajjaj Bu Khudour told the reporters.
Posted in Kuwait, Legislation, Protests, Uncategorized | Comment »
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