Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Doha Debates Choose Democratic Reform over Economic Liberalization
November 12th, 2010 by Anna
At a recent round
of the Doha Debates – a monthly, televised event in which panelists debate a controversial issue before an audience drawn primarily from Qatar’s student body – 63% of audience members said that democratic reform should take precedence over economic liberalization. Although it was not a scientific poll, the vote “offer[ed] a clear rejection of the philosophy of the region’s so-called moderate Arab states, where economic incentives are offered in place of meaningful political reform,” the Los Angeles Times
‘ Meris Lutz reported. One of the panelists debating the topic, Georgetown University academic Jean-Francois Seznec, argued that immediate democratization might lead to Islamist rule, which could mean more restrictions on freedom of speech. Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas responded that “you need to achieve participatory politics. […] If the government keeps shutting up leftists, Nasserites, liberals and democrats, the Islamists will win.”
New “World Press Freedom Index” Shows Decline in Middle East Media Freedom
October 20th, 2010 by Anna
Reporters Without Borders released its annual World Press Freedom Index today. In the Middle East and North Africa, press freedom saw mild improvements in some places, but deterioration overall. Morocco dropped 8 places in the global ranking, which the report’s authors attribute to “the arbitrary closing down of a newspaper, the financial ruin of another newspaper, orchestrated by the authorities, etc.” Tunisia’s score also worsened “because of its policy of systematic repression enforced by government leaders in Tunis against any person who expresses an idea contrary to that of the regime,” as well as a new amendment to the penal code that essentially criminalizes contact with foreign organizations that could damage national economic interests. In Syria and Yemen, press freedom continues to suffer as arbitrary arrests and torture are “still routine,” and crackdowns in Iran have kept that country at the near-bottom of the index. The rankings went down for Bahrain and Kuwait due to an uptick in charges against bloggers, including prominent Kuwaiti blogger Mohammed Abdel Qader Al-Jassem. The Palestinian Territories rose 11 places because “the violations committed in the year just ended are simply ‘less serious’ than in 2009,” and Algeria also saw mild improvements in media freedom. In Iraq, a higher score reflects the fact that journalists now work in safer conditions than in the past.
Posted in Bahrain, Freedom, Gulf, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Middle Eastern Media, Palestine, Syria, Technology, Tunisia | Comment »
Christians Face Oppression in the Gulf
October 8th, 2010 by Anna
A Reuters report today focuses on the difficulties Christians in the Arab Gulf states face in practicing their religion. The region is home to at least 3.5 million Christians, mostly Catholics from the Philippines and India. Gulf governments often restrict their ability to worship by limiting access to space and arresting Christians for allegedly proselytizing. In Saudi Arabia, control is especially tight – Christians often hold services in diplomats’ homes or hotel conference rooms. There has been some slow progress: Ibrahim al-Mugaiteb, head of the Saudi-based First Human Rights Society points out that “[t]en years ago a Saudi who said he was a Christian would have had his head cut off,” adding “[t]he problem is not the government, but the religious police.”
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.”
UAE: BlackBerry Ban
August 2nd, 2010 by Jennifer
The UAE announced yesterday that it would suspend BlackBerry email and text messaging services starting in October, with statements from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority arguing that “‘certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns for the U.A.E.’.” The decision has sparked concerns that other Gulf nations– including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain –may follow up with their own bans. Saudi Telecom officials gave conflicting reports regarding whether Saudi Arabia had already decided to follow the UAE’s example, while the government did not release any official statement on the issue, and one adviser offered anonymous statements to the effect that no official determination had been made. Regimes in the region have indicated their concern over BlackBerry services, which use highly encrypted data to transfer messages on a closed internal system rather than over the open Internet, rendering surveillance of communications difficult. According to Barry Meier
and Robert F. Worth writing in the New York Times, “The monitoring of information is a particularly thorny issue for autocratic regimes in the Persian Gulf worried that the Internet might be used for antigovernment purposes — a concern heightened by the passionate online response in Iran to the 2009 presidential election that helped energize the opposition and led to weeks of unrest.”
Iraq: Tensions Ease with Iran
December 21st, 2009 by Zack
Iranian troops have reportedly
begun to withdraw from a disputed oil well in Iraqi territory that Iran occupied last week (see our post
). However, according to Iraqi officials, the Iranians have only withdrawn 50 meters
and refuse to return to the other side of the border.
believes the standoff could have been an Iranian ploy to either influence the border demarcations, raise oil prices, threaten the U.S. and China, or be a way for Tehran to warn Iraq away from its campaign with Syria. The Christian Science Monitor
reports that many Iraqis and the U.S. fear that Iran
will fill the void as the U.S. begins to withdraw.
The NY Times
has a piece profiling
Sunni sheikh Abdul-Rahman Munshid al-Assi, a former American prisoner and insurgent who has established the Arab Political Council to represent Sunnis in Kirkuk. While opposing inclusion into the democratic system, the article argues that Abdul-Rahman is using political action “to tap into the simmering rage he says is still rampant.” The sheikh and his cousins have entered politics to exploit another “tool” in the insurgent campaign to retake Kirkuk and restore Sunni authority.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Elections, Freedom, Gulf, Human Rights, Iran, Iraq, Military, Political Islam, Political Parties, US foreign policy, al-Qaeda | Comment »
Kuwait: PM Survives Grilling
December 16th, 2009 by Zack
The Daily Star
has reported that the Kuwaiti Parliament failed to convene a special session in order to resolve the humanitarian issue of stateless Arabs. MP Hassan Jowhar, head of the parliamentary committee on stateless Arabs, known locally as the “bidoon,” accused the government of deliberately preventing the meeting by applying tight security measures and blocking roads leading to Parliament, measures put in place in response to calls by some MPs to assemble a large number of bidoon
outside the parliament building. The story notes that “Kuwait launched a crackdown on bidoon
in 2000, depriving them of their essential rights in a bid to force them to reveal what the authorities say is their true identity.” As a result, authorities claim 20,000 bidoon
revealed their original citizenship and were given residence permits.
As Gulf nations put into force a monetary compact that is a step closer to creating a single regional currency, Al-Arabiya reports that Kuwait PM Sheikh Nasser has won a landslide victory against a non-cooperation motion filed by opposition lawmakers after the parliament questioned the PM over funding irregularities. Had the motion passed, it could have prompted the ruler to reshuffle the cabinet or dissolve parliament for the second time this year.
Report: Human Rights on the Decline Part II
December 12th, 2009 by Jason
As we reported earlier
, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) has released a comprehensive and thorough report, called “Bastion of Impunity, Mirage of Reform,” on the state of human rights throughout the Arab world. The full report in Arabic spans 254 pages and chronicles in detail the backsliding on human rights in the region while also identifying a few points of optimism. In addition to the full report, CIHRS has released a translation of the report’s introduction written by their general director, Bahey eldin Hassan
, as well as a 21-page summary of the report in English.
According to Hassan’s introduction, while there have been important strides to “ease repressive measures” in the Middle East under the Forum of the Future regional initiative, in no country were there “real constitutional, legislative, or institutional gains that could upset the balance of power between authoritarian regimes and the forces of reform.” Hassan blames this failure on the narrow focus on electoral reform at the expense of human rights, the contradictory actions of the G-8 countries, attempts by the Arab League to co-opt reform with their own homegrown initiatives, and the European and American fear of Islamist electoral victories. Finally, Hassan contends “the last spark in the initiatives was quashed once and for all with the arrival of a new US administration” apparently unwilling to support democracy rhetorically.
Now, Hassan warns that the minor gains made over the past five years are under a “counterattack by Arab governments. Among other examples of backtracking, the Arab league disabled the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which only had 10 of 22 signatory countries to begin with. As with the CIHRS report last year, Hassan concludes that “lack of political will on the part of most regimes in the Arab region was the key to understanding and explaining chronic human rights problems in the region.”
Posted in Algeria, Arab League, Bahrain, Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, EU, Egypt, Elections, Foreign Aid, Freedom, Gulf, Hamas, Hezbollah, Human Rights, Iraq, Islam and Democracy, Islamist movements, Israel, Jordan, Journalism, Judiciary, Kurds, Lebanon, Legislation, Military, Morocco, Multilateralism, Muslim Brotherhood, NGOs, Palestine, Political Islam, Political Parties, Protests, Public Opinion, Publications, Reform, Saudi Arabia, Sectarianism, Syria, Tunisia, US foreign policy, United Nations, Western Sahara, Women, Yemen | 1 Comment »
Grim Future for Yemen?
November 19th, 2009 by Jason
Mark N. Katz
at the MESH blog elucidates on the multiple threats to Yemen’s stability. Besides the Houthi rebellion in the north, the independence movement in the south, and the lurking presence of Al Qaeda, a fourth threat that has not received as much attention is increasing tensions between the Saleh and Al Ahmar clans, who represent Yemen’s governing elites.
There is also an international dimension to Yemen’s problems. Saudi Arabia has assisted Saleh’s regime thus far in fighting the Houthi rebels. But if Saleh’s grip on power dwindles, Saudi Arabia may turn to support the southern secessionists as they have done in the past. Meanwhile, claims by Yemen and Saudi Arabia of Iranian support for Houthi rebels “have raised alarm in many quarters,” but it is unclear whether these accusations hold water. Katz argues that, while these conflicts derive from local causes, they portend international consequences.
He concludes: “Whatever its future, the period ahead for Yemen is likely to be, to paraphrase Hobbes, ‘nasty and brutish.’ This nasty and brutish period, though, is not likely to be short.”
World’s Most Influential Muslims
November 19th, 2009 by Jason
The Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University has released a detailed list of the “The 500 Most Influential Muslims.” While the report (PDF) admits defining influence is “tricky,” it seeks to identify “people whose influence is derived from their practice of Islam or from the fact that they are Muslim.” The report provides profiles for the top 50 individuals, as well as a detailed overview of Islam.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia edges out Grand Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran for the most influential Muslim in the world. They are followed by Morocco’s King Hassan, Jordan’s King Abdullah, and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.
In The Guardian, Riazat Butt
identifies several anomalies
in the list, such as comedian Dave Chapelle. She also expresses her discontent that so few women are identified, and those that do make the list are given a separate category. Furthermore, she observes that many of the top 50 Muslims are heads of state who inherited their position, citing the report’s distinct category of Muslims who are influential because of their lineage.
Posted in Egypt, Gulf, Iran, Islam and Democracy, Islamist movements, Kuwait, Morocco, Political Islam, Publications, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Women | Comment »
Middle East International Refounded
November 9th, 2009 by Jason
The Middle East International has restarted its printing press
after a six-year hiatus, releasing a free PDF issue online in commemoration. According to the Arabist, MEI offers “long articles and analysis from writers based in-country who [know] what they [are] talking about.”
There are several articles in the first issue related to democracy in the Middle East. David Gardner explores why “the Arab world is mired in despotism” and blames America’s “morbid fear of political Islam” for its failure to promote democracy in the region. While the Bush “freedom agenda” is no more, the realization that “tyranny, connived in by the West, breeds terrorism, instability, and societal stagnation” still holds true. Therefore, “President Obama needs to rescue that insight before it is swept away in a backlash of shallow realism.” Gardner continues, “support for autocracy and indulgence of corruption in this region, far from securing stability, breeds extremism and, in extremis, failed states.” Yet while the U.S. must do more to promote democracy, Gardner reminds us that ultimately Arab citizens must lead the effort to democratize their respective countries.
Posted in Arab League, Bahrain, Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Egypt, Elections, Freedom, Gulf, Human Rights, Iran, Iraq, Islamist movements, Israel, Lebanon, Legislation, Libya, Muslim Brotherhood, NGOs, Neocons, Oil, Political Islam, Political Parties, Publications, Reform, Sectarianism, Secularism, Turkey, US foreign policy, Uncategorized, United Nations, sanctions | Comment »
International Religious Freedom Report Released
October 27th, 2009 by Jason
The State Department has released its annual International Religious Freedom
report this week. The report evaluates the extent people can practice their religion freely throughout the world. In the introduction of the report, the new Assistant Secretary of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Michael Posner
, reiterates President Obama’s belief that “religious freedom is a fundamental right, a social good, a source of stability, and a key to international security.”
Assistant Secretary Posner also delivered remarks upon the report’s release, explaining the U.S. does not act as the “world’s arbiter on religious freedom, but rather as a member of a community of nations that have committed ourselves to upholding international human rights standards.” Posner explained there have been several improvements over the past year, such as the joint U.S.-Egyptian proposal to the Human Rights Council and a number of interfaith initiatives in Jordan, Qatar, Spain and elsewhere. However, the last year has also seen some negative developments, such as the proposal of overzealous blasphemy laws and increasing religious tension in Central Asia. Posner rejected the claim that Islam inherently contradicts human rights, asserting all religions are based on “assumptions of humanity and ethical behavior.”
Secretary Hillary Clinton spoke as well at the release, asserting that not only is “the right to profess, practice, and promote one’s religious belief […] a founding principle of our nation,” but it is also a universal value agreed upon by mankind. She also contended that “the protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions. These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.”
POMED Notes: “Major World Powers and the Middle East”
October 27th, 2009 by Jason
The Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) hosted a discussion panel Friday on major world powers and their strategic interests in the Middle East. The panel included Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and the Brookings Institutions, Ambassador Robert E. Hunter of the RAND Corporation, Mark N. Katz of George Mason University and Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. of Projects International Incorporated. Thomas R. Mattair, MEPC’s director of research, moderated the event.
To see POMED’s full notes of the event, please click here
Posted in Afghanistan, DC Event Notes, Diplomacy, EU, Gulf, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Iraq, Islamist movements, Israel, Mideast Peace Plan, Military, Multilateralism, Oil, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Taliban, Terrorism, UAE, US foreign policy, US politics, al-Qaeda | 1 Comment »
POMED Notes: “The Origins of the Rule of Law: Europe and the Middle East”
October 8th, 2009 by Zack
Yesterday, in the third installment of his speaking series “Getting to Denmark: Where the State, Rule of Law and Accountable Government Come From,” Francis Fukuyama, director of the International Development Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, presented a lecture at SAIS about the development of the Rule of Law in the Middle East and Europe.
Posted in DC Event Notes, EU, Gulf, Human Rights, Iran, Islam and Democracy, Islamist movements, Judiciary, Military, Multilateralism, Reform, Saudi Arabia | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Foreign Policy Initiative Forum: Advancing and Defending Democracy”
September 23rd, 2009 by Zack
The Foreign Policy Initiative hosted a two-day conference this week entitled “Advancing and Defending Democracy.” The event featured addresses from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Senator Jon Kyl, and Senator John McCain. The 2009 FPI Forum also included panels on democracy and human rights, Iran, Russia, Iraq, and the political and military dimensions of the war in Afghanistan. Speakers included U.S. and international policy experts, as well as Middle Eastern dissidents, including Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Ali Afshari.
Please click on the links below to read POMED’s notes on the following discussions:
Posted in Afghanistan, Congress, DC Event Notes, Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Elections, Foreign Aid, Freedom, Gulf, Human Rights, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Legislation, Military, Multilateralism, Pakistan, Taliban, Terrorism, US foreign policy, United Nations, al-Qaeda | 1 Comment »
New UN Women’s Agency
September 15th, 2009 by Jason
Al-Arabiya reports the United Nations General Assembly voted unanimously to create a new agency for women
— combining four existing offices — after three years of negotiations. Opposition stemmed disproportionately from the Middle East, with Egypt, Iran and Sudan voicing last-minute objections. Women’s rights in the the Gulf and Middle East countries more generally were of particular concern to Navi Pillay, the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights. Al-Arabiya
quotes Nada Maheri of the Arab Women Organization in Egypt: “I’m happy and encouraged [but] I would like to know the strategy of this new agency.”
Who is to Blame in Lebanon?
September 14th, 2009 by Jason
After a brief exchange of rocket-fire and artillery shells on the Israeli-Lebanon border, the Israeli government warned they will hold the Lebanese government responsible for any future attacks. “The only problem,” according to Real Clear World’s Ben Gilbert
, “is there isn’t much of a government
to speak of in Lebanon.” Given Saad Hariri’s resignation last week, the chance of forming a cabinet any time soon is dwindling.
Commenters have placed blame for Lebanon’s political stalemate on many parties. Gilbert faults the “underlying cause” of the Arab-Israeli conflict that subjects Lebanon to “suffer the ebbs and flows of regional relations and instability.” Time Magazine’
s Andrew Lee Butter
focuses on Michel Aoun’s insistence on naming his son-in-law as Telecommunications Minister as well as a broader “regional game of brinkmanship
” on all sides as causes for the impasse. Senator John McCain
primarily blames “thuggish and cruel” Hezbollah and predicts there will be no “durable peace” so long as Hezbollah remains an armed, independent militia. This view is supported
by Mohamad Bazi
in Foreign Affairs
who calls Hezbollah the “key to both domestic and external stability.”
Meanwhile, the Lebanese paper The Daily Star
implores all sides to come to the table and form a cabinet as soon as possible: “Lebanon’s leaders must decide whether their respective demands are worth the current political deadlock gripping the country, and whether the controversy over one ministry is worth paralyzing the country. Above all, they must decide whether compromise is so terrible a price for unity, at a time when good governance is needed more than ever” in the face of the economic crisis, swine flu and the threats they pose to the education system.
Journalists Operating in Closed Societies
September 11th, 2009 by Jason
As part of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Edward Murrow 60th anniversary fellowship celebration, several American journalists discussed their career experiences reporting from foreign countries with closed societies
. The panelists included Dan Southerland
of Radio Free Asia, David Remnick
of The New Yorker, Caryle Murphy is an independent journalist currently working in Saudi Arabia and finally Elizabeth Rubin
of The New York Times Magazine. Margaret Warner of NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
While the discussion touched on many countries, Murphy focused on the current journalism environment in Saudi Arabia. According to Murphy, Saudi Arabia is “still very much a closed society. But it’s not as closed as it used to be.” She attributes this opening to the Internet and a conscious decision by the Saudi government to allow foreign journalists to operate more freely with the hope they will publish “better, fairer stories.”
Other discussion focused on when should journalists risk the safety of their sources, fixers and even themselves for the sake of a story. One difficulty journalists face is to determine which red lines should not be crossed, a problem especially difficult during tumultuous situations such as in Iran today.
Is Dubai the New Model for Arab Peace?
September 2nd, 2009 by Zack
Former AP Persian Gulf correspondent Jim Krane
has published a new book about the rise of Dubai. In a guest blog post at the Washington Note, he asserts that Dubai, not the U.S. administration, represents the Middle East’s best hope at peace. For Krane, Dubai brings a unique resilience to the region and a pragmatic ability to succeed in spite of the region’s politics.
Krane holds Dubai’s model up as a “mixture of social freedom, unbridled immigration, and raw capitalism” led by pragmatism rather than ideology. Relying on a social honor system, Dubai permits vices, such as alcohol, and trusts its citizens to a greater level than any of its neighbors. He recognizes that the country is ruled by an autocratic regime and argues that this arrangement allows the country to avoid elections and the “Arab obsession with politics, especially the syndrome of feeling slighted by the West.”
Krane acknowledges that the economic crisis has weakened Dubai in the short-term, but argues that its fundamental pillars of growth remain sound and its model of self-help, already being adapted in some Arab states, may be the best hope of dragging the region into the economic mainstream.
August 21st, 2009 by Blake
After President Ahmadinejad
submitted his full cabinet nominations
to parliament yesterday, today, the head of the powerful Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati
, has called for the arrest of those who led the post-election unrest, in reference to Mir-Hossein Mousavi
and Mehdi Karroubi. Crackdown on the opposition, calls for arrests and mass trials, writes Haleh Esfandiari
in the Washington Post
, are all a product of serious paranoia on part of the Iranian regime, which could lead to its dissolution. In fact, today Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani acknowledged splits among Iranian conservatives
since the election fallout.
Meanwhile, today Iran opened its Arak site to UN inspectors. Will Ward
at the National
presents the case for not sanctioning Iran for its nuclear program. Iran’s Achilles heel is its underdeveloped refining capacity, which forces it to import oil, writes Ward. This weakness is precisely the target of the proposed Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (H.R.2194). Yet, Ward writes,current opposition to the bill–mainly focused on the negative effects of sanctions on ordinary Iranians and Iran’s ability to circumvent sanctions by reaching out to China and Russia–overlooks the fact that sanctions on Iran could be devastating for trade in the entire region, and hurt America’s Gulf allies:
“Sanctions, particularly on consumer products with mass demand like petrol, tend to produce distortions in regional trade dynamics that can have political repercussions. Powerful incentives are generated to meet demand for the sanctioned products, inside and outside of the targeted state, creating economic imbalances in the region and political tensions with the state that has imposed the sanctions. And in the case of petrol sanctions on Iran these consequences are likely to be acute, given the long and storied history of trade relations across the Gulf.”
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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of POMED as an organization