Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Islamist Parties Choose Preservation Over Political Contestation
January 24th, 2011 by Kyle
In the new issue of the Journal of Democracy
, Shadi Hamid
argues that Islamist parties across the Arab world have a tendency to “lose elections on purpose.” He examines the behavior of Islamist opposition parties in six Arab countries and concludes that the roots of Islamist parties in broader social movements compel them to prioritize self-preservation over political contestation. However, “as Islamists have grown comfortable losing elections—and with much of the world comfortable watching them lose—Arab democracy has drifted further out of reach.”
Kuwait: Prime Minister Survives No-Confidence Vote
January 6th, 2011 by Kyle
On Wednesday, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Ahmed al-Sabah, narrowly survived the no-confidence vote. Twenty-five MPs voted in support of al-Sabah while 22 voted against, with one abstention. Opposition politicians have vowed to continue efforts to unseat the premier, with Islamist MP Jamaan al-Harbash saying the “crisis will only end when this government reaches its end.” Elliott Abrams praised the vote as a strong signal for democracy in the region: “It’s a laudable effort, and sooner or later the parliament is going to get Sheik Nasser, the prime minister. And that will be a landmark day in the development of democracy and popular rule in Arab lands.”
Political Unrest in Arab Countries Demonstrates Need for Reform
January 5th, 2011 by Kyle
In response to recent political unrest in Jordan
, Marc Lynchargues that these events signal “the accelerating decay of the institutional foundations and fraying of the social fabric across many of the so-called ‘moderate’, pro-Western Arab regimes.” He asserts that these events represent the rising tensions that are building within these countries due to “authoritarian retrenchment, unfulfilled economic promises, rising sectarianism at the popular level, and deep frustration among an increasingly tech-savvy rising generation.” Lynch suggests these events should serve as an impetus for reform within Arab governments, but “the tactical demands of holding on to power will likely continue to stand in the way of [Arab leaders] engaging in the kinds of strategic reforms needed for long-term stability.”
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.
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.
Kuwait: MPs Protest Government Crackdown
December 22nd, 2010 by Evan
Kuwaiti opposition parliamentarians protested
the ongoing detention of legal scholar Obaid al-Wasmi outside the Kuwaiti parliament Tuesday. Independent MP Mubarak al-Waalan told AFP “We condemn the government measures against Wasmi and the brutal police beating,” while opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak
accused members of the ruling Al-Sabah family of directly ordering the attack. Al-Wasmi was beaten and arrested December 8 (video here
) following an opposition meeting in Kuwait City.
Kuwait: Government Arrests Constitutional Scholar
December 20th, 2010 by Evan
Prominent Kuwaiti legal scholar Obaid al-Wasmi
was detained last week after he gave a speech at an opposition gathering that was disrupted by security forces. The prosecutor’s office is reportedly holding al-Wasmi on charges that he had spread “false news abroad” and was actively working to undermine the emir. The detention is the latest development in a government crackdown on opposition groups
Kuwait: Government Shutters Al Jazeera for Coverage of Police Crackdown
December 13th, 2010 by Evan
Kuwaiti officials have closed
Al Jazeera’s bureau in Kuwait City in response to the channel’s coverage of opposition protests last week. The Information Ministry accused Al Jazeera of meddling in Kuwait’s internal affairs after it aired footage of police beating activists and interviewing members of the Kuwaiti opposition. Al Jazeera issued a statement saying that it “has adhered in its coverage of Kuwaiti affairs to hosting all parties, condemns considering its professional coverage an interference in Kuwaiti internal affairs. Al Jazeera vows to continue to cover Kuwaiti affairs with full professionalism and balance.”
Kuwait: State Department Registers Concern about Journalist’s Detention
December 6th, 2010 by Evan
In response to a question about the case of Kuwaiti journalist Mohammad Abdul-Kader al-Jassem, who was recently imprisoned for defaming Prime Minister Shaikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said that the U.S. is concerned about the case and continues to follow it closely. “Our view is the ability of citizens and journalists of any country to freely and vigorously discuss, debate, and critique the actions of government does not threaten national interest, and it strengthens civil society and makes governments better and more accountable,” Crowley said.
Kuwait: Amnesty Urges Release of Kuwaiti Journalist
November 29th, 2010 by Evan
Amnesty International issued
a statement calling on Kuwaiti authorities to release Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qader al-Jasem
, the Kuwaiti lawyer and journalist who was sentenced to one year in prison last week for a writing a blog post criticizing Prime Minister Shaikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah
. Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Philip Luther said “Amnesty International believes that Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qader al-Jasem has been convicted and sentenced solely for non-violently exercising his right to freedom of expression and is therefore a prisoner of conscience. […] The authorities should release him immediately and unconditionally and, more broadly, cease their apparent attempts to stop him from airing his views on the government and Kuwait’s ruling family.” Al-Jasem was formally the editor-in-chief of Al-Watan Daily, a Kuwaiti newspaper, and editor-in-chief of Newsweek
’s and Foreign Policy
’s Arabic editions.
Kuwait: HRW Calls for Release of Blogger
November 26th, 2010 by Jason
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called
for the release of Kuwaiti writer Mohammad al-Jasim
. The Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson, called al-Jasim’s conviction “‘one more assault on freedom of expression in Kuwait,’” adding that the decision “‘flies in the face of human rights law, which prohibits governments from sending people to jail for nonviolent opinions.’” Al-Jasim was convicted of “publication of [a] statement causing damage to another person’s honor,” when he published an article on his blog accusing a businessman close to the Kuwaiti prime minister of “supporting Iranian intelligence interests.”
Bloggers Under Fire in Kuwait, Iran, and Egypt
November 22nd, 2010 by Evan
Kuwaiti lawyer and blogger Mohammad Abdul Qadir Al Jasem
to one in year in prison after he was found guilty of defaming Kuwait’s Prime Minister Shaikh Nasser Al Mohammad Al Subah. Earlier this year, Al Jasem was detained for six weeks on charges that he had harmed Kuwait’s national interests by criticizing the Al-Sabah regime. Also, Reporters Without Borders recently released reports condemning the arrest and trial of 18-year-old blogger and women’s rights activist Navid Mohebbi
in Iran and the court martial
of blogger Ahmed Hassan Basiouny
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 »
Bahrain: Shiite Cleric’s Citizenship Revoked, Tensions Build
September 21st, 2010 by Jason
Michael Collin Dunn
passes along the news that two Shiite clerics have had their citizenship revoked
over the past several days. Yasser al-Habib, a Kuwaiti-born cleric who currently lives in London had his citizen revoked for insulting the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Aisha. In Bahrain, Ayatollah Sheikh Hussein al-Najati, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani
, had his passport canceled. Many interpreted this as a move by the Sunni monarchy of Bahrain to contain growing unrest amongst the Shiite majority. Brian Murphy
, writing for the Associated Press, says “The move is seen as stern warning…” before next month’s parliamentary elections, adding that the cleric’s exile is the latest in a series of government actions: “More than 250 Shiites have been detained since mid-August and Bahrain has accused 23 political activists and others of plotting to overthrow the government. Last week, Bahrain closed the semi-independent Human Rights Society and replaced the board with people chosen by the leadership.”
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has, in the past, been seen as a reformer, but as POMED’s Stephen McInerney puts it, “‘The reputation that King Hamad enjoyed of trying to make a more democratic country has slowly reversed in the last four or five years.’”
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.”
Kuwait: Losing Ground on Freedom of Speech?
July 26th, 2010 by Jennifer
Priyanka Motaparthy writing
in Foreign Policy points to “a steady encroachment over the past year on Kuwaitis’ freedom of expression, the right to assemble peacefully, and the right to criticize public officials’ performance,” reversing the previous trend in Kuwait, which has consistently been ranked by groups such as Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House as having the freest media in the Arab world. Motaparthy points to prominent cases such as the recent trial of Mohammad al-Jasim
– a journalist and outspoken political critic whose blog posts incited the government to accuse him of “instigating to overthrow the regime” and attempting to “dismantle the foundations of Kuwaiti society” –the October 2009 charging of two critical MPs with slander; and the recent prosecution of Khalid al-Fadhala, the head of Kuwait’s National Democratic Alliance, for slandering the Kuwaiti prime minister. While Kuwait has registered progress on some issues such as reforming labor laws and women’s rights, according to Motaparthy, “the government remains skittish and highly sensitive to criticism,” and is increasingly using charges of slander, defamation, and threats to “national unity” to crackdown on peaceful political expression. Although the Kuwaiti judiciary has begun “pushing back” against some of these policies, Motaparthy warns that the potential for democratic reform appears jeopardized in such an environment, stating that “while members of parliament and civil society groups are pushing for further change, Kuwait’s emir and key members of his family still hold the power to block any reforms.”
Kuwait: Secularism in Education?
July 23rd, 2010 by Farid
Kuwaiti Minister of Education Moudhi Humoud
recently decided to “tone down the incendiary religious content of the nation’s school curriculum,” an action with serious political and religious repercussions in Kuwait. The secular minister, who has been criticized for not wearing the headscarf, discussed two questions in a “controversial draft of a ninth- grade final exam”: the issue of the companions of the prophet Muhammad and “appropriate behavior at a cemetery.” As both of these issues are of great contention for both Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, it is conceivable that Humoud was attempting to ease the sectarian tension in Kuwait. However, her aspirations sparked severe criticism from the political and religious establishment, with MP Mohammed Hayef arguing that “Our Islamic religion curriculum is not open to political compromises.” MPs have called for her “grilling” in parliament, which according to many will lead to either her impeachment or her resignation.
Kuwait: Backsliding on Freedom of Speech?
July 7th, 2010 by Jennifer
The National reports
that Khaled al Fadala, the secretary general of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Kuwait, has been sentenced to three months in prison and handed at fine of KD150 (approximately US$500) for engaging in “insult” and “libel” of Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al Ahmed al Sabah
. Al Fadala was charged following a public speech he made in November of last year, criticizing the prime minister and corruption in Kuwait. The ruling was greeted with dismay by human rights organizations and Kuwaiti activists, who had just gained a short-lived victory when Mohammed al Jassem, a prominent writer jailed for his own criticism of public officials, was released on bail after weeks of public protests against his imprisonment.
Many concerned citizens are viewing actions taken against government critics such as al Fadala and al Jassem as signs of an alarming new trend against freedom of expression in Kuwait, which previously had been known for its “lively media and outspoken MPs.” In that light, a cross-section of activists, journalists, and parliamentarians from both the conservative and liberal camps vehemently protested al Fadala’s arrest on Monday in a gathering at the National Democratic Alliance headquarters in Rawda. Conservative MP Faisal Al-Meslim
went so far as to state, “We currently live during the darkest eras of Kuwait’s political life. By gathering here, we protest the government’s negligence and demand transparency.”
Kuwait: Detained Blogger Hospitalized After Hunger Strike
May 18th, 2010 by Josh
Arrested on May 11, blogger and journalist Mohammad Abdul-Kader al-Jassem
went on a hunger strike to protest his detainment on what his lawyer insists are false charges of insulting the emir, inciting the overthrow of government, and spreading false news. His effort ended last Friday after his condition deteriorated to the point of requiring hospitalization, but he remains in custody and is due to appear in court on June 5.
Reporters Without Borders has demanded al-Jassem’s immediate released, pointing to a troubled history of the Kuwaiti government unfairly targeting al-Jassem for voicing political dissent, the most recent example of which occurred in April when he was sentenced to six months for slandering the prime minister — a sentence that was suspended pending appeal.
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
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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