Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Secretary Clinton’s Upcoming Visit to the Middle East
January 7th, 2011 by Kyle
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
will meet with King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz
of Saudi Arabia and Prime Minister Saad Harir
i of Lebanon in New York City on Friday. Clinton will then travel to the Middle East from January 8th to January 13th visiting the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar. Mark Toner, acting deputy department spokesman, said the focus of the trip is to, “consult with government officials on a full range of regional and bilateral issues and emphasize the importance of government - civil society engagement.” Clinton will, “engage with civil society and community leaders in each country working to help citizens realize shared aspirations for progress.” The topissues in her agenda will be Middle East peace, Iraq, and Iran and will be addressed at the seventh Forum for the Future in Doha, a meeting of government, civil society, and business leaders from around the region to promote reform in the Middle East.
Update: Senior US State Department Officials gave a background briefing on Clinton’s visit, and answered questions regarding recent political developments in the region. In regards to Tunisia, one official stated the US “expressed our concern about both what is happening with regard to the demonstrations and encouraged the Tunisian Government to ensure that civil liberties are protected, including the freedom to peacefully assemble.” In response to criticism that the Forum for the Future had not produced valuable outputs in past meetings, one official noted, “One of the biggest [outcomes] is the Foundation For The Future, which is based in Jordan and which is an independent NGO that supports civil society development throughout the BMENA region.”
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.
Transparency International Releases Corruption Rankings
October 26th, 2010 by Evan
Transparency International (TI) released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index today. In the Middle East, little changed over the past year. Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Iran and Libya continued to experience dangerous levels of corruption all scoring 2.2 or under on TI’s 10 point scale (10 being “very clean” and 3, “very corrupt”). Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Israel once again led the region in transparency, all scoring above 6.
UAE: Undercurrents of the Blackberry Ban
August 11th, 2010 by Jennifer
Writing in Foreign Policy, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi discusses the UAE’s potential Blackberry ban. Al Qassemi argues that the ban reflects an underlying debate across the Middle East and other regions over balancing “the relationship between embracing social progress and security concerns.” He also points out that the decision could indicate that the UAE is “asserting itself as a global player” and demanding that it “be treated equally” with countries such as the U.S., China, Russia, and India, which have all successfully negotiated concessions from Blackberry’s maker, RIM. While confirming that the device’s system of highly encrypted, closed messages does indeed represent a security threat– as the UAE’s government alleges –Al Qassemi suggests that a strong motivation for the ban is the Blackberry’s role as a tool for social networking and political criticism. He notes that “there exists in the country a degree of political and social frustration, disappointment with the performance of the country’s powerless parliament, as well as a lack of accountability of some officials and government bodies… Perhaps most importantly, many Emiratis feel that the country’s media has failed to act as a responsible Fourth Estate, thereby providing the vacuum to be filled by unregulated forms of communication.” Al Qassemi observes, however, than any Blackberry ban will not remove this political frustration, but will only force it to find expression through another outlet.
In another piece
in Foreign Policy,Christian Caryl argues that the January death of high-ranking Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai represents a key factor in the UAE’s drive for the ban. According to Caryl, the Emirati government suspects that the death was in fact a targeted assassination carried out by Israel within its borders, contributing to the UAE’s urgent concern over security issues related to Blackberry technology. Nevertheless, Caryl also says that “it should be noted that the UAE’s concerns about the BlackBerry predate the killing — and both legitimate worries about preventing terrorism and more dubious ones about eavesdropping on UAE citizens seem to have played a part.”
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.”
Secretary Clinton: Blackberry Ban and “Right of Free Use and Access”
August 6th, 2010 by Jennifer
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented
(view video of statements here) on the UAE’s recent announcement that it will ban Blackberry services in October due to security concerns over the phone’s encrypted network, indicating that the U.S. is engaging in talks with the UAE over the decision. Secretary Clinton did not express explicit condemnation of the decision, but offered
a qualified response, stating that the matter “involves a very complex set of issues that we’re working on with other countries as well,” and adding, “We are taking time to consult and analyze the full range of interests and issues at stake because we know that there is a legitimate security concern, but there’s also a legitimate right of free use and access.” Secretary Clinton did not touch on Saudi Arabia’s follow-up decision to implement a ban on Blackberry text messaging today, which sparked a wave
of selling as Blackberry owners attempted to cut their losses in advance of the ban.
Saudi Arabia: Blackberry Ban Goes Viral
August 5th, 2010 by Jennifer
Saudi Arabia has indicated its intention to ban Blackberry mobile technology instant messaging this Friday, which will make it the first foreign government to implement a Blackberry ban. The decision follows an announcement earlier this week by the the UAE that it intends to ban Blackberry services in October unless Research in Motion (RIM), the device’s Canada-based maker, gives the government access to the Blackberry’s highly encrypted, closed system. The UAE cited security concerns, arguing that “first and foremost, this matter relates to the sovereignty of the state on its information as all ‘BlackBerry’ users from administrators, businessmen, and owners of companies need to keep their data and information within the state to preserve the confidentiality of information.” In a U.S. State Department daily press briefing on Monday, spokesman Philip J. Crowley indicated that the American administration was “disappointed” by the UAE’s announcement, calling the decision “a dangerous precedent” and characterizing free use of new technologies as “an important element of democracy, human rights, and freedom of information and the flow of information in the 21st century.” Crowley affirmed that the U.S. would be following up with the UAE on the issue. Estimates suggest that RIM could lose nearly 2 million of its 46 million worldwide customers should other countries follow the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s lead. Nevertheless, analysts predicted that the company will likely prove unwilling to concede, given recent comments
by its founder, Mike Lazaridis, to the effect that RIM will refuse to “compromise” the trust of its customers by allowing foreign governments to monitor their communications.
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.”
Dubai: Media Repression and a Bailout
December 15th, 2009 by Zack
writes an op-ed about Dubai’s floundering cultural identity, unable to establish a cohesive Islamic tradition amidst waves of expatriate diversity. As the country feels the growing the pains of economic readjustment, she comments “how Dubai negotiates this rite of passage will determine whether it will ever be taken seriously.” The fact the recent downturn is portrayed merely as negative publicity “is not a promising sign.”
explores how the emirate has responded to negative press about the regime with harsh censorship and authoritarian pressure. He argues that “in Dubai, deep down, they still don’t get it.” The country cannot expect to be a modern financial center and still cling to traditions that give deference to an unelected leader and repress the the media that critique him. Whitaker conclude, “If Sheikh Mohammed wants to be treated with the respect that he obviously feels he deserves, then he can confine himself to being a titular figurehead. But if he wants to combine being royal with life as a politician and as being the centrepiece of Dubai’s business affairs he becomes fair game – just like anyone else.”
reports that Abu Dhabi has provided Dubai $10 billion in order to meet an upcoming debt payment schedule. However, this amount does not come close to settling all Dubai World’s outstanding debt. As such, the UAE has appointed a three judge panel and created new “reorganisation law” that will allow creditors to file claims against the state corporation. The Financial Times
argues that despite these problems, Dubai has faired rather well and that this experience will push investors to back sound businesses instead of businesses backed by the state. Marios Maratheftis
, head of regional research at Standard Chartered Bank, explains investors have shown confidence in the move because it indicates ”there is a one-country approach in dealing with the crisis, which is positive.”
Iran: Zamani Freed, Sanctions Talk
December 2nd, 2009 by Zack
Following an online petition circulated in early November, GroundReport.com has published a statement from Majid Zamani’s family that announced the Iranian activist has been released from prison after the petition received thousands of signatures from academics and friends. Additionally, Iran has released
the five Britons detained after straying into Iranian waters.
Illustrating the growing internal political divide, The NY Times
reports that both President Ahmadinejad
and former-President Rafsanjani failed to attend
a meeting in Parliament aimed at creating political “unity.” A source close to Rafsanjani explained that “Mr. Rafsanjani refused to go because this was not a meeting for unity” because “the opposition leaders should have been invited if this was really going to be a meeting for unity.” On the opposition website www.mowjcamp.com
, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri
has decried the Basiji crackdown against protesters as being “against religion and “in the path of Satan.” In addition, the NY Times
reports on the growing societal tension over Ahmadinejad’s proposal to phase out subsidies in the face of the opposition intention to use Iranian economic failure as a new rallying cry. Ahmadinejad, has presented the measure as a matter of economic justice to helping poorer Iranians.
The Boston Globe
has an editorial arguing strongly against over-reacting to Iran’s posturing and against sanctions. They write “The worst elements in Iran want nothing better than to provoke a new confrontation with the Great Satan. To give them what they want…
would make it harder than ever to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran.” Read the rest of this entry »
Dubai: Debt Troubles Shake the Dream
November 30th, 2009 by Zack
After years of breakneck growth, fueled by cheap access to foreign credit and labour, Reuters reports that on November 25 Dubai World, the conglomerate behind the country’s rapid expansion, and Nakheel, builder of its palm-shaped islands, announced that they would delay debt payments as a means of restructuring after the financial crisis dried up their access to credit. The announcement had an immediate ripple effect on world stock markets, but it has also prompted commentators to examine Dubai’s political and economic system.
The BBC has published an introduction to Dubai, explaining how the city-state overextended itself and exploring its shifting relationship with Abu Dhabi, who had previously moved to bail out Dubai early this year. The Financial Times
explains that Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum,
the ruler of Dubai, has spent the last year attempting to rein in this unchecked growth as he consolidate economic and political power around himself. Simon Jenkins, echoed
by Patrick Seale,
believes Dubai will survive
this crisis only by indebting itself to its oil-rich neighbors, which will ultimately make the country more vulnerable to regional political issues.
As the NY Times
reports, while regional banks are attempting to limit
the economic effects, the largest question at the moment is how this crisis will shape Dubai’s relationship with Abu Dhabi. Jo Tatchell
argues Abu Dhabi is holding back funds in order to cherry-pick the most successful enterprises and to force a regime change in order to ”take control culturally and politically” and move Dubai back towards an Islamic character.
Lastly, Johann Hari provides the harshest critique of Dubai, claiming it is now as financially bankrupt as it has been morally. He argues the countries exploitation of the ecology and foreign workers, which Human Rights Watch considers “slavery,” has left the country broken and in need of a moral bail out.
Women’s Rights in the Middle East
November 12th, 2009 by Zack
In the wake of four suicides by Ethiopian domestic workers, Dalila Mahdawi
has put out a call
in the Guardian that Lebanon and the region as a whole must begin to protect the rights of migrant workers. She notes that domestic workers are often overworked and abused by their employers while the states pay little attention.
In Lebanon, The Daily Star
is reporting that a women’s rights campaign, “My Nationality: a Right for Me and My Family,” has demanded that the pending ministerial statement from the newly-formed cabinet should include clear objectives of draft laws concerning equality. They are seeking the right for Lebanese women to be able to pass on their nationality to their children, to implement a quota for municipal elections, and to execute an existing domestic violence law.
The Daily News Egypt
has run a story by Fatima Sadiqi singing the praises of reform in North Africa. She argues that women have made tremendous progress in promoting their rights, including access to justice, economic inclusion, and combating domestic violence. She also highlights the increase of women’s participation in government and the increasing role of NGOs. She attributes the Maghreb’s unique advances among the Muslim world because the region “strive[s] to reinterpret Islam in modern social contexts through their revised family codes, which secure women’s rights without compromising Islamic values.”
At the same time, Meris Lutz
at Babylon and Beyond writes about
the newly released 2009 Global Gender Gap Report. Issued by the World Economic Forum to rank women economic participation, education, health and political empowerment, the report notes that more women than men enroll in higher education in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar. In addition, Syria has continued to slip in the rankings, and while Saudi Arabia and Egypt hover at the bottom of the list, they have steadily improved since 2006. Lutz notes that women still face an uphill battle and that many countries have shown improvement despite slipping in the rankings.
Women Muftis in UAE
November 3rd, 2009 by Zack
Middle East Online is reporting that Dubai
plans to appoint female muftis by the end of 2010. After issuing a fatwa in February allowing women muftis, the emirate’s Grand Mufti Ahmed al-Haddad announced that six women are being selected to begin the training program. According to al-Haddad, “a woman who is learned and trained in issuing fatwas is not limited to her role of issuing fatwas that relate to women only, but rather she is qualified to issue on matters of worship, jurisprudence, morality and behaviour.”
MEO also reports
that Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan
has been re-elected by the Supreme Federal Council as president of the UAE for a second five-year term.
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 »
Dubai’s New Metro Undermines Hierarchy
October 20th, 2009 by Daniel
Dubai’s shiny new metro
has presented a shock to the nation’s strict hierarchy, writes Tom Hundley. The emirate’s wealthy elite now ride the same trains as the immigrant workers they employ, who have previously been kept separate from the Emirati. The metro does feature a “Gold Class” premium car, but it is not as luxurious as many of the elite are used to. The separate car for women and children has also created cultural clashes, as younger women sometimes opt not to ride in the designated car, while more tradition-minded men attempt to force them into it.
Bribery in the UAE
September 28th, 2009 by Zack
The Khaleej Times
is reporting that the UAE has seen 36 cases of public bribery
this year, most involving traffic police. Last year saw only 37 cases and the rise has prompted Dubai police to step up efforts to arrest both the seeker and the giver of bribes. Rashid bin Dhaboi Al Falasi, director of the Criminal Records Section in Dubai Police’s General Department of Criminal Investigation, attributes Dubai’s relatively low levels of corruption to “transparency, fair salaries and the absence of red-tapism in government departments in the UAE and in Dubai,” which ”paved the way for a near-bribe free atmosphere.”
Bouncing Checks in Dubai
September 14th, 2009 by Jason
The New York Times reports on the increasing frequency of debtors serving jail time in the boom-gone-bust city of Dubai. In one admittedly unusual case, a diplomat forced a real estate agent to sign checks he obviously could not afford after an investment deal fell through. The diplomat then drove him directly to the police station. Later, the man was sentenced to three years imprisonment for the bounced check. The article emphasizes Dubai’s failure to modernize its legal structures at the same rate of its economic development.
POMED Notes: “Last Chance: The Middle East in the Balance” at SAIS
September 11th, 2009 by Zack
The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) hosted a discussion Wednesday with David Gardner, Chief Leader Writer and former Middle East correspondent for the Financial Times. Mr. Gardner has recently published the book Last Chance: The Middle East in the Balance, which attempts to address underlying currents of Middle Eastern dysfunction. The discussion began with a brief introduction from Mr. Gardner and was followed by a question and answer session.
Posted in DC Event Notes, Dubai, EU, Egypt, Elections, Foreign Aid, Iraq, Islam and Democracy, Jordan, Lebanon, Political Islam, Saudi Arabia, UAE, US foreign policy | Comment »
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.
Sheikh in Torture Video Detained, Investigated
May 12th, 2009 by Eoghan
The BBC reports that the United Arab Emirates has detained a member of the ruling family, Sheikh Issa al-Nahyan, who was filmed brutally torturing a man in 2004. Public prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation of al-Nahyan, after the UAE previously said the matter had been “resolved privately.”
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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