Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Algeria: Anti-Government Protests Broken up in Algiers
February 14th, 2011 by Naureen
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Algiers and Oran this weekend to participate in planned demonstrations against the government. Small groups of demonstrators angry at President Abdelaziz Bouteflika gathered in May 1 Square in the center of Algiers shouting “Bouteflika out!” and waving front pages of newspapers reporting Friday’s overthrow of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak. Thousands of police officers quickly dispersed the crowds and arrested many of the demonstrators. In response State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley stated: ”We note the ongoing protests in Algeria, and call for restraint on the part of the security services. In addition, we reaffirm our support for the universal rights of the Algerian people, including assembly and expression. These rights apply on the internet. Moreover, these rights must be respected.”
The turnout for protests has exceeded analysts’ expectations who believed that Algeria’s weak civil society and divided political landscape would prevent large scale protests like those seen in Tunisia and Egypt. Kal
writing at The Moor Next Door also notes that the “Algerian regime is more effective at manging popular protests and riots than either Tunisia or Egypt, having done so for the last twelve years.” Additionally, he states, “the Algerian regime has something neither Tunisia nor Egypt has: piles and piles of gas money ready to be dumped on the right opposition and social players as needed.” Opposition groups have said that they will follow up this weekend’s protests by calling for demonstrations to take place in Algiers, every Saturday “until the regime steps down.”
POMED Notes: “After the Uprisings: U.S. Policy in a Changing Middle East”
February 11th, 2011 by Naureen
On Thursday, the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) hosted a discussion on recent and ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt and their influence on U.S. relations with the region’s governments and people and what steps the U.S. government can take to support democratic transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. POMED Executive Director Stephen McInerney made opening remarks and introduced panelists: Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow at Hoover Institution at Stanford University and founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy; Tom Malinowski, Washington Director at Human Rights Watch; and Mona Yacoubian, Special Adviser at the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention, United States Institute of Peace.
To read full notes continue below, or click here
Posted in Algeria, Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Egypt, Event Notes, Events, Freedom, Human Rights, Islam and Democracy, Jordan, POMED, Protests, Reform, Tunisia, Yemen | Comment »
Algeria: Scheduled Protest on Saturday Set Despite Ban
February 7th, 2011 by Alec
, president of the Algerian Human Rights Defense League, has stated
that a scheduled protest for Saturday, February 12th in the capital will go ahead as scheduled. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
had previously announced that the government would be lifting its state of emergency law that bans protests, however a ban on protests in the capital, Algiers, would remain in place. Zohra Drif Bitat, president of the upper house in the Algerian parliament, also publicly rebuked Bouteflika’s government for failing to deliver on economic promises and reform but also praised the promised lifting of the emergency law. The weekend saw at least two self-immolation suicide attempts
inspired by events in Tunisia.
Algeria: State of Emergency Law to Be Lifted
February 3rd, 2011 by Alec
Tunisia style protests have also taken place in Algeria during the month of January but have quieted down since the last protest on January 22nd. Opposition groups are calling for renewed protest on February 12th. In anticipation of such protests, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
has decided to lift the 19 year old state of emergency law in the country. This would permit protest rallies to be held across the country except in the capital. Repeal of the emergency law was one of the main demands of the opposition.
A Strategic Shift on Arab Reform? Don’t Bet on It
January 20th, 2011 by Cole
While embarrassed about supporting former President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, the West’s democracies are unlikely to change their overall strategy towards the region, writes Kristina Kausch, a researcher at FRIDE, the Madrid-based think-tank, specializing on EU policies in the Southern Mediterranean, democracy, human rights and political Islam. But the revolt in Tunisia confirms the need to move from a static model of stability-through-containment to sustained inclusive participation and far-reaching reform – before the system implodes.
A Democratic Tsunami? No Chance
January 19th, 2011 by Cole
The Arab world is not about to experience a 1989-style democratic contagion. Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution is a one-off event, writes Arun Kapil, a political science professor at the Catholic University of Paris (Institut Catholique de Paris-FASSE). He is skeptical that the regime’s old guard could yet make a comeback, but believes prospects for successful democratization hinge on the behavior of the Islamists and the shape of the pact negotiated by the major political actors. Posted in Algeria, Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Elections, Foreign Aid, Iran, Islamist movements, Libya, Morocco, Protests, Reform, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Tunisia Symposium | Comment »
Will Tunisian-Style Revolution Spread?
January 19th, 2011 by Alec
A piece in Foreign Policy outlines possibilities for a Tunisia-style revolt happening elsewhere in the Arab world. Five countries are singled out as particularly ripe for such events: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, and Jordan as they share many of the same problems at the root of Tunisia’s revolt – a government legitimacy deficit, economic stagnation, endemic corruption, high unemployment, and a demographic youth bulge. Laurie A. Brand
, also writing
for Foreign Policy, argues that a replication of Tunisia will not happen in Jordan. She states that current protests in Jordan are targeting the government led by Prime Minister Samir al-Rifai
. However, the PM and his cabinet have little real influence on policy matters, as they are decided by the King and his close advisors in practice. In Jordanian society, however, the King is usually viewed as “being above the fray” she argues. Amr el-Shobaki
, in a piece for AlMasry AlYoum
, also openly doubts that Egypt will follow the path of Tunisia. El-Shobaki cites Egypt’s highly sectarian and divided society, poverty, illiteracy, and underdevelopment as reasons why Egyptians cannot unite in the same way Tunisians did.
The Jasmine Revolution’s Democratic Prospect: Too Early to Say?
January 19th, 2011 by Cole
Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution has captured the imagination and raised the hopes of democracy advocates across the Arab world and beyond.
Within days of being warned by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that citizens had “grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order,” the Middle East’s authoritarian rulers watched one of the Arab world’s most repressive and supposedly stable regimes become the first to be ousted by a genuine people’s power movement.
Given the region’s profound malaise, the elation felt by Arab democrats, human rights activists and civil society groups is merited and understandable. References to a coming democratic tsunami
, of Tunis as the Arab world’s Gdansk
, of another Arab Spring
in prospect, all testify to an appetite for freedom that gives the lie to claims of Arab exceptionalism
But many democracy advocates remain cautious, recalling the painful lesson of the post-Soviet world’s color revolutions: that regime change does not readily or necessarily lead to democratization. Others will remember a broader lesson: that history rarely repeats itself, except as farce – or tragedy.
When asked to assess the impact of the 1789 French Revolution, Zhou Enlai is said to have replied, “It is too early to say.”
Posted in Algeria, Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Human Rights, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Reform, Syria, Tunisia, Tunisia Symposium, US foreign policy | 8 Comments »
Algeria: Protests a Reflection of Country’s Own History
January 10th, 2011 by Alec
In a piece for Foreign Policy’s
The Middle East Channel, Hugh Roberts asserts that although the current riots in Algeria have been linked to steep increases in food prices, the riots reflect a broader sense of Algerian society morally revolting against the regime. Roberts further argues that Algerians have long given up hope on the country’s official institutions, the parliament in particular. “So the Algerians in their majority have learned the hard way that direct action — making a nuisance of themselves to the authorities in one way or another — is the only tactic that works.” In comparing current unrest to the 1988 October riots, Roberts notes that although the current rioting is larger in size and scope, the government has dealt with them much less aggressively.
Algeria: Riots Continue in Algiers
January 7th, 2011 by Kyle
In response to rising food prices, housing shortages, and wider social and political grievances, Algerian youths rioted
for the second night in a row in Algiers. Although these riots seem to bear no direct connection to the recent protests in Tunisia, Burhan Ghalioun, Director of the Centre for Contemporary Oriental Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris stated, “These populations live in geographic proximity, but also inhabit similar political, psychological and economic spaces. They see what is happening, understand that something needs to be done and join in.” At the blog The Moor Next Door, the author noted these “riots seem to be spontaneous […] whether that crystallizes into any unified political movement or platform with durable group feeling remains to be seen.”
Could Protests Lead to an Obama “Arab Spring”?
January 6th, 2011 by Alec
In light of a recent wave of protests in Tunisia
, and now Algeria
, Steven Cook
, writing at the Council on Foreign Relation’s blog, challenges commonly held assumptions that authoritarian Arab regimes are fundamentally stable and the chance for political change remains low. Cook argues that the Islamic Revolution in Iran was largely unexpected: “It may not be the last days of Ben Ali or Mubarak or any other Middle Eastern strongman, but there is clearly something going on in the region. Is it possible that the gendarme states in the region may not be a strong as we believe?” Marc Lynch echoes
this sentiment: “If these protests continue to spread, both inside of countries and across to other Arab countries, then we really could talk about this being Obama’s ‘Arab Spring,’ only with the extra intensity associated with climate change.”
Human Development Report Finds Inequality Persists in Arab World
November 5th, 2010 by Anna
The United Nations released its 2010 Human Development Report yesterday, titled “The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development.” This year’s report, which includes new indices to adjust for inequality, women’s disadvantage, and multidimensional poverty, found that of the countries measured, Oman’s Human Development Index (HDI) score improved the most over the last 40 years. Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco also improved considerably. Overall, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain ranked
the highest in the region; Egypt
came in 101 out of 169, and Sudan ranked close to the bottom.
Inequality remained a significant issue, and Jeni Klugman, the report’s lead author, observed that “the most significant losses for Arab countries in the Inequality-adjusted HDI can be traced to the unequal distribution of income.” Yemen and Qatar ranked very low on gender equality, but the report also notes that women’s representation in Arab parliaments has risen in recent years. On civil and political liberties, the authors report that there is considerable room for improvement across the region.
Algeria: Questions on Human Rights, UN Rapporteurs to Visit
August 27th, 2010 by Anna
Farouk Ksentini, president of Algeria’s national human rights commission the National Consultative Council for the Promotion of Human Rights, announced
yesterday that the country’s Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia “has invited rapporteurs of the United Nations to investigate and make an audit in Algeria regarding human rights.” Calling the probe “considerable progress,” Ksentini specified that the UN body will investigate violence against women, education rights, and food and water rights. Although various government commissions have been invited investigate human rights conditions in Algeria, however, non-governmental human rights groups are not yet welcome to operate in the country.
On a related note, Algerian national Hicham Yezza
(of the “Nottingham Two
“) said in an interview with Nottingham Indymedia yesterday that when he was told he might be deported to Algeria after his 2008 arrest in Britain: “I questioned my safety in terms of whether I could safely travel back to my country,” citing Algeria’s history of “dealings with Islamism.” The human rights inquiry comes in the wake of predictions
a few weeks ago that Algeria might suspend BlackBerry service for reasons of “economy and…security,” according to Telecommunications Minister Moussa Benhamadi
Blackberry: Bans and Bargains
August 10th, 2010 by Jennifer
An official at the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission has confirmed that RIM, the Canadian-based maker of Blackberry technology, has struck an agreement with the Saudi Arabian government to allow a server inside the Gulf kingdom, effectively allowing the Saudi government to monitor messages sent over the Blackberry network. The two parties reached the agreement in order to avoid a potential Blackberry ban that was announced by Saudi Arabia late last week, citing fears that messages sent over the highly encrypted, closed network could pose a security threat. According to Abdullah al-Shihri writing for the Associated Press, the deal “could be setting a worldwide precedent for how technology companies and governments get along.” Meanwhile, a number of other Arab governments debated their position on use of the technology. Lebanese officials expressed their interest in potentially pursuing a deal, with chief of Lebanon’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority Imad Hoballah stating, “RIM has made concessions to the U.S., the UK, Russia and eventually they have to give in to some of the countries depending on the business propositions made. We would be happy with whatever information they have made available to the U.S.” An official source in Algeria predicted that “Ending the BlackBerry service in Algeria is very likely,” as Telecommunications Minister Moussa Benhamadi announced that his government is “looking at the issue. If we find out that it is a danger for our economy and our security, we will stop it.” On the other hand, Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheik Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa
, said that his country does not intend to issue a ban, stating, “We’re not saying there is no security concern,’’ but adding that “there are many other ways for the criminals or terrorists to communicate, so we decided we might as well live with it.’’ Additionally, an official source at the Egyptian National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority denied
that security forces have put forward any requests for a ban on Blackberry services in Egypt, adding that no evidence exists that Blackberry networks have been used for criminal activity in that country. Kuwait indicated a more cautious stance toward the issue, with its Communications Minister, Mohammad al-Busairi, commenting that “as of right now, we in Kuwait have no intention to stop the BlackBerry services… but at the same time we are following up on direct and indirect negotiations with the company and with fellow Gulf states.”
New Poll Shows “U-Turn” in U.S. Favorability
May 29th, 2010 by Josh
After nearly a year of slow but visible gains in U.S. approval throughout the Arab world, the latest iteration of Gallup polling shows significant declines
in four of the six states surveyed — perhaps reflecting what some
have recently identified as a rather acute disappointment with what they see as a gap between Obama administration rhetoric and action. Egypt experienced the steepest fall from a two-year high of 37 percent approval last fall to 19 percent today. Algeria was next, dipping 13 percent from 43 to 30. Declines were relatively more mild in Iraq and the Palestinian Territories (3 and 4 percent respectively), both within Gallop’s margin of error.
Aside from surface-level favorability ratings, the poll’s so-called “internals” are fascinating as well. When asked what would improve their view of the United States, 55 percent of Egyptians cited “supporting the right of Muslims to elect their own government” as a “very significant” issue. Other priority responses in this category include: “pulling out of Iraq” (64 percent); “removing military bases from Saudi Arabia” (60 percent); “more direct humanitarian aid” (57 percent); and “greater technology transfer and exchange of business expertise” (57 percent).
Posted in Algeria, Egypt, Elections, Foreign Aid, Iraq, Lebanon, Mauritania, Military, Palestine, Public Opinion, Technology, US foreign policy | Comment »
Arab Reform Bulletin: A Look at Pluralism and Political Progress
March 18th, 2010 by Josh
In its two most recent offerings, the Arab Reform Bulletin
assesses the political landscape in both Algeria and Kuwait. Journalist Mahmoud Belhimer, troubled by the failure of recent government initiatives to alleviate Algeria’s ongoing economic turmoil and build a higher level of democratic pluralism, wonders how a forthcoming generational shift in political leadership might affect Algeria’s democratic trajectory. Yet regardless of who succeeds President Bouteflika, Belhimer contends that “the next president will not succeed in establishing true stability and prosperity if he maintains the approach of keeping power in the hands of a few and preventing popular political participation and government accountability.”
editor Michele Dunne
has a piece up as well, in which she relays the contents of an interview with Dr. Rola Dashti
, a Kuwaiti democratic activist and one of the first four women to ever be elected to Kuwait’s parliament in 2009. Check out the full exchange here
Democracy Promotion: Workshops Held Across the Middle East
January 26th, 2010 by Maria
The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy
(CSID) is organizing a “Training of Trainers” workshop for Jordan (end of January) and Bahrain (early February) for democracy education among local youth, women, lawyers, teachers and religious leaders. The organization is providing information and leading exercises on how Islam can be compatible with democratic principles and human rights in the Arab world.
CSID held similar workshops in Morocco and Tunisia last November, where Moroccan and Tunisian human rights activists presented a training manual: “Islam and Democracy - Toward Effective Citizenship.” The manual has been used to train more than 4,500 people from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Bahrain. CSID feels education on democracy “remains one of the best ways to build a culture of democracy, and human rights and to strengthen the pillars of future democratic states in the Arab world.”
Constitutional Reform: Process and Momentum in the Arab World
January 7th, 2010 by Josh
A revealing report by the The Arab Reform Initiative highlights the previous two decades of constitutional reform in the Arab world, and examines both the underlying catalyst for “democratic shifts” and the future direction of these reforms within five countries: Morocco, Bahrain, Egypt, Algeria, and Mauritania.
Though the report, written by Amina El Messaoudi, recognizes the unique internal circumstance of each country’s process toward reformation, it uncovers several thematic similarities across the Arab community. More specifically, it points to constitutional reforms in five general areas: 1) State support of human rights law, 2) Gender equality and women’s representation, 3) Reinforcement of constitutional law, 4) Multi-party systems, and 5) Financial regulation.
However, the impetus for democratic progress often came from different sources. Messaoudi writes that the ruling power initiated reforms in places like Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia, while opposition parties jump-started the process in Morocco. On a functional level, civil society and media helped to spur reformation in Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, and Mauritania, “whereas in [Algeria and Bahrain] national treaties served as the entry point for amendments.”
Parliamentary restructuring in favor of bicameral legislatures played a key role by slowly shifting power away from the executive, Messaoudi reports, however three roadblocks prevented widespread progress on that front: 1) The second legislative body is often significantly less democratic with many members appointed directly by the country’s executive, 2) most Arab constitutions impart similar powers and responsibilities to both parliamentary chambers, which “impedes a dynamic relationship from forming between them,” and 3) heads of state retain the sole authority to dissolve the parliament.
While acknowledging that these efforts “have not profoundly altered the political and constitutional arrangements in these countries,” the report attributes the “change in the relationship between the powers, and an increased role for political parties, as well as civil society” to the movement for constitutional reform throughout much of the region, and believes that civil society has been “empowered to undertake an effective role in future constitutional amendments.”
Posted in Algeria, Bahrain, Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Freedom, Human Rights, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Political Parties, Reform, Tunisia | 1 Comment »
Morocco: Reforming Through Decentralization?
January 5th, 2010 by Josh
On January 4, King Mohammed IV of Morocco announced his intention to establish an “Advisory Committee” which will be tasked with drafting legislation to “give regional authorities more power to determine their own paths to development based on local conditions.” Magharebia reports that the committee, led by Morocco’s Ambassador to Spain, Omar Azzamine, will “find ways to boost the power of regions so they can effectively contribute to Morocco’s socio-economic and cultural development.” Supplementing this announcement is an Al-Arabiya report on a partial reshuffling of the Moroccan cabinet. In a statement to the media, the royal council linked the new appointments — the most significant of which are in the Ministries of Justice and Interior — to the aforementioned Advisory Committee initiative, claiming that the cabinet shake-up would “give greater momentum to major development projects and structural institutional reforms.”
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