Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Syria: U.S. Ambassador Presents Credentials
January 27th, 2011 by Naureen
On Thursday, U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford presented
his credentials to Syrian President Bashar Assad, thereby resuming full diplomatic relations with Syria. Ford is the first U.S. ambassador to Syria in five years, when then President George Bush withdrew the envoy following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Assad wished Ford success in his mission and in a statement, the ambassador hoped for improved US-Syrian relations: ”Relations between the United States and Syria often have been challenging. President Al-Asad and I talked about some areas in which we hope to identify mutual interests and ways of addressing them that serve the interests of both of our countries.” Ford’s arrival comes as tensions in Lebanon grow as Hezbollah-supported Najib Mikati attempts to form a new government. Writing in Foreign Policy, Andrew Tabler states that Ford’s main task will be helping find a resolution to the crisis in Lebanon and working to improve relations between Syria and Israel: “Ford’s success will ultimately depend on Washington’s ability to devise a strategy that deals effectively with Syria’s bad behavior while leaving the door open for future peace talks with Israel.”
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 »
Lebanon: Renewed Attempts to Mitigate Tension Amidst Crisis
January 19th, 2011 by Kyle
Following the release of sealed indictments by the United Nations Tribunal and the collapse of the Lebanese Government, Saudi King Abdullah
has declared an end to the Saudi-Syrian initiative due to lack of progress. However, the Turkish and Qatari Foreign Ministers, Ahmet Davutoglu
and Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, respectively, are attempting to mitigate tension by meeting with Hezbollah and other high-ranking officials in the Lebanese Government. Fears of potential Hezbollah actions in response to the indictments and renewed sectarian violence remain rife. The group conducted a show of force that began early Tuesday in which Hezbollah members silenty patrolled the streets of Beirut in black uniforms, causing fear and panic among city residents. The US State Department responded
to recent events stating: “We do have ongoing concerns that various elements within Lebanon – both inside Lebanon and outside Lebanon – will continue to try to politicize this process.”
Posted in Civil Society, Diplomacy, Hezbollah, Islam and Democracy, Islamist movements, Lebanon, Political Islam, Political Parties, Protests, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Nations | Comment »
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 »
Lebanon: Hariri Meets with World Leaders on Special Tribunal, Internal Deadlock
January 10th, 2011 by Naureen
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for the UN tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri
after meeting with the current Prime Minister Saad Hariri
. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
also reiterated his support for the independent tribunal and his hope that it “would help end impunity in Lebanon.”
Hariri also met with King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz
of Saudi Arabia to discuss the Saudi-Syrian-brokered accord aimed at reducing political tension and maintaining stability in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia and Syria have been attempting to mediate the dispute between Hezbollah and Hariri’s government since July, with both sides accusing the other of stalling.
The Trouble with Recess Appointments
January 3rd, 2011 by Jason
writes in a recent blog post that the recess appointment of Francis J. Ricciardone Jr. as ambassador to Turkey “flies in the face of the Obama team’s belated effort to show devotion to democracy promotion and human rights.” Rubin accuses the former ambassador to Egypt of “excusing the backsliding of the Mubarak government on human rights,” and minimizing the discrimination suffered by Coptic Christians. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also criticized the the move, calling the appointment of Robert Ford as U.S. ambassador to Syria “a major concession to the Syrian regime.” Dr. Musa Keilani
provides a different perspective
in The Gulf Today, saying that the appointments are “Obama is trying to set things right,” and that they are in line with the opinion of former Secretary of State James Baker
and other former U.S. officials that “the US had to engage Syria if it hoped for solutions to its crises not only in Iraq but also the broader Middle East.”
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.
POMED Notes: “Crisis in Lebanon: Sectarian Politics, Regional Dynamics, and the U.N. Special Tribunal”
December 8th, 2010 by Jason
The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) held a panel discussion Wednesday titled “Crisis in Lebanon: Sectarian Politics, Regional Dynamics, and the U.N. Special Tribunal.” The speakers were Aram Nerguizian, a scholar with the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Randa Slim, an independent consultant and a board member of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue and the Project on Middle East Democracy, Andrew J. Tabler, a Next Generation Fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute, and Mona Yacoubian, head of the Lebanon Working Group at USIP and special adviser to USIP’s Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention.
(To read full notes, continue below the fold or click here
Posted in Civil Society, DC Event Notes, Hezbollah, Israel, Judiciary, Lebanon, Military, Political Parties, Saudi Arabia, Sectarianism, Syria, US foreign policy, United Nations | Comment »
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 »
Syria: Charges Brought Against Teen Blogger
October 4th, 2010 by Evan
The AP reports that Syrian officials have charged 19-year-old blogger Tal al-Mallohi with espionage. Al-Mallohi, whose blog contained poetry and social commentary, was originally detained by Syrian security services last December. She was held incommunicado until September when her family was permitted to visit her for the first time. Human Rights Watch recently issued a statement criticizing al-Mallohi’s detention and calling for her release. “Detaining a high school student for nine months without charge is typical of the cruel, arbitrary behavior of Syria’s security services. A government that thinks it can get away with trampling the rights of its citizens has lost all connection to its people,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
Syria: Concerns About Draft Law on Internet Rights
September 30th, 2010 by Jason
Questions are being raised about how a new draft law will affect internet access and freedom in Syria. Obaida Hamad
writes in Syria Today
that the draft law has been “finalised.” Details about the law are sparse, but Hamad postulates that, “it will entail a voluntary system of registration with the Ministry of Information, by which sites can choose to be officially recognised. Another proposed clause is that sites nominate someone who is ultimately responsible for content.” The efficacy of these controls is questionable. As Taleb Kadi Amin, a former deputy information minister, points out, “‘Sites are already blocked and people work out how to access them very quickly. Facebook is blocked, but it remains one of the most viewed sites in Syria.’”
In the New York Times
, Robert Worth writes that Syrians have “a tenuous measure of freedom” on the internet but that freedom “is threatened by an ever present fog of fear and intimidation, and some journalists fear that it could soon be snuffed out,” due to the new law. Worth notes that the regime maintains a Facebook page for President Bashar al-Assad
Syria: Human Rights Worsen Under Bashar al-Assad
September 27th, 2010 by Evan
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, in partnership with Human Rights Watch, recently released a report documenting continued human right abuses during Bashar al-Assad’s rule entitled “The President’s 10 Year Anniversary: Curbing Worsening Repression and Human Rights Abuses in Syria.” While many hoped that al-Assad would be a moderating and modernizing force, the opposite has been true: “In these ten years, he has further entrenched a system of policies and practices that ensure the continued monopolization of authority and control by the Ba’ath Party, which has held the reins of power for the past 47 years. In this decade, Bashar al-Assad has proven his ability to suppress every appeal for democratic reform coming from within Syria, and successfully deflecting the various international pressures for democratization that began to be felt seven years ago.” The authors call on the international community to “take action to encourage the Syrian authorities to respect its international obligations to strengthen and respect human rights and rapidly institute reform measures.”
Syria: Egyptian Activists to Protest Detention of Syrian Blogger
September 17th, 2010 by Anna
of Daily News Egyptreported yesterday that a group of Egyptian activists from the Arab Network for Human Rights Information and the April 6 Youth Movement plan to demonstrate outside Syria’s embassy in Egypt on Sunday. They are calling for the release of 19 year-old Syrian blogger Tal el-Melouhy, who has been in detention for nine months. El-Melouhy reportedly wrote and published pieces in support of the Palestinian cause on her blog “Medawwenty,” and was arrested last December. A few weeks ago, the blogger’s mother wrote an open letter to President Al-Assad
in which she stated that she received promises from security officials that her daughter would be released by the start of Ramadan. According to Egyptian activist Mohamed Maree, al-Melouhy’s young age is part of the reason that Egyptians are protesting, and said: “Tal will be a symbol of human rights abuses in Syria. During the protest we will call for her release in addition to the release of other prisoners of conscience.”
Syria: Despite Media Openings, “Red Lines” Remain
September 16th, 2010 by Evan
NPR’s Deborah Amos
has a new report on the cautious liberalization of the Syrian press. Through a series of interviews with Syrian radio personalities, magazine editors, and Western experts, Amos describes how privatization has opened more space for debate on previously taboo social issues. “‘Sex education and child abuse, and molestation, anorexia, bulimia and divorce and marital problems’” are all topics Syrian radio host Honey al-Sayed talks about on a regular basis. Politics, however, remains proscribed. According to the journalists Amos interviews, censorship is no longer overt but is nonetheless a powerful force: “‘It’s suicide to walk over the red lines. It’s professional suicide to walk way below it,’” an editor told Amos, adding “‘What’s smart is to walk on that red line and try to push the bar so you raise the red line of what can be said and what can not be said — perhaps slowly, but eventually they are changed.’”
Syria: Activists See Tentative Human Rights Improvements
September 10th, 2010 by Evan
A recent article in The National highlights progress on human rights in Syria: “Civil society activists say they are ‘cautiously optimistic’ that Damascus may be softening its hardline stance on human rights after Syria opened its doors for the first time to a UN investigator.” Syrian officials had previously ignored requests by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct similar investigations. According to National correspondent Phil Sands, Syria’s recent acquiescence is part of broader effort to prepare for a formal review of its rights record by the Human Rights Council in 2011.
Lebanon: Saad Hariri Retracts Accusation Against Syria
September 7th, 2010 by Jason
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri
has taken back the accusation that Syria assassinated his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. “At a certain stage we made mistakes and accused Syria of assassinating the martyred premier. This was a political accusation, and this political accusation has finished.” Hariri has been working to repair relations with Syria of late while a U.N. backed commission continues to investigate the 2005 assassination. Babylon & Beyond has an extensive wrap up
of reactions to Hariri’s statement including Jamil Mroue of the Daily Star who commented, “Hariri has shown his leadership” and a blogger called “Mustapha” who asked, “Could Mr. Hariri have sold-out justice for his father to political expediency (or Saudi pressure)?”
Syria: Leaders’ Fears of U.S. Attack a Factor in Domestic Repression
September 3rd, 2010 by Anna
In The National
yesterday, Phil Sands highlighted
excerpts from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
’s memoirs (entitled A Journey), in which Blair confirms Syrian fears that the U.S. considered attacking Damascus following the invasion of Iraq. Blair asserts in his book that Dick Cheney wanted to “work…through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it – Hizbollah, Hamas, etc.” In Blair’s view, Syrian leaders reacted to the possibility of a U.S. strike by, among other things, repressing domestic dissent and imprisoning pro-democracy activists. Sands adds, “That crackdown continues to this day.”
Syria: Civil Society at a Price
August 30th, 2010 by Evan
New York Times
reporter Kareem Fahim’s profile
of Chavia Ali, a Syrian disability rights activist, describes a conundrum facing many civil society leaders in Syria. After years of government opposition, Ali’s organization is flourishing. She now receives funding from Syria’s first lady Asma al-Assad and is regularly featured in the government-backed press. Her success, however, comes with the implicit agreement that she will avoid controversial political issues. Fahim writes, “In the narrow alleyways of civic life permitted by authoritarian governments in the region, opportunities exist as long as certain limits are observed. While foreign aid groups often cheer the explosive growth of organizations that help women, children or the environment, there are questions about whether the groups can change the political order.”
Syria: Can Private Media Flourish?
August 30th, 2010 by Jason
Salam Kawakibi, a senior researcher at the Arab Reform Initiative and the University of Amsterdam, has a new paper examining the re-emergence of the private media in Syria. Kawakibi gives a detailed history of the media in Syria beginning with the Baathist takeover in 1963. He explains that while the Baathist constitution protected free expression, a “state of emergency” was almost immediately declared and the government began “suppressing” the publication of newspapers with few exceptions. The censorship extended to radio and television as well, eventually becoming systemic due to the understanding that, “Since the party considers itself the embodiment of the national interest, this gives it the legitimacy to proscribe all forms of private publication that do not serve its interests, i.e. ‘the nation’s interest.’”
In 1970, Hafez al-Assad rose to power during a period known for “The Correction Movement”, which helped to end infighting in the Baath party. One of the new projects was the Press Institute, a government school that taught journalism, “…albeit with a degree course biased by propaganda.” While Assad would eventually ease restrictions in an attempt to broaden his coalition of allies, the state security structure maintained the status quo. Censorship was aided by the journalists and editors themselves in an attempt to curry favor with the Baath party.
Soon after Assad’s son Bashar came to power in 2000, a new law allowed privately owned media to reappear for the first time since 1963. Since then, numerous media organizations have emerged. Some claim to be free and unbiased but often, as in the case of the television station al-Dunya, a closer look reveals, ” (al-Dunya)… lost all credibility as soon as the owners’ names became public: businessmen closely linked to the country’s influential political authorities.”
Kawakibi concludes by noting that, “In 2009, over 50 newspaper and magazine issues were suspended by the Ministry of Information…Appeals to the authorities to increase openness and reconsider the necessity for deregulating the public sphere are growing in number all the time. The response has so far been exclusively negative, but there is hope.”
Lebanon: A Change in Course for Regional Stability?
July 30th, 2010 by Jennifer
writing at his blog Qifa Nabki suggests that the upcoming summit in Beirut on the issue of the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)—which will be attended by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
and Saudi King Abdullah—indicates a shift in the March 14 coalition and Saudi Arabia’s approach toward Hezbollah, as well as toward regional actors backing Hezbollah, such as Syria and Iran. In light of recent comments by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that the STL may issue an indictment against some elements of the organization, Muhanna argues that such a verdict “could thrust Lebanon into complete political paralysis and possible sectarian violence,” noting that Hezbollah may decide to withdraw its members from Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s cabinet if pressured and cripple the government, as it did in late 2006. Two or three years ago, Muhanna says, Hezbollah’s opponents “would have been very happy to use the indictments to try to push Hizbullah into a corner, furthering pressuring its regional sponsors in Damascus and Tehran”; the high-level meeting in Beirut reveals “a much more cautious policy of containment which recognizes the valuable political capital that may soon be delivered via an STL indictment against Hizbullah, but which also recognizes the folly of bearing down too hard on the Shiite party.”
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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