Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Berman Denounces Foreign Aid Cuts
January 25th, 2011 by Naureen
Ranking House Foreign Affairs Committee member, Congressman Howard Berman
(D-CA) supported calls from the Obama administration to keep State and foreign aid funding “out of the hands of GOP budget slashers in Congress.” In remarks made on the House floor, Berman denounced H.Res.43, which would reduce “non-security” spending to 2008 levels, calling foreign aid a vital part of our national security strategy as laid out in the 9/11 Commission Implementation Act of 2004. He also stated that, “We should also keep in mind that international affairs accounts for just one percent of the budget. Even if we eliminated such spending entirely, it wouldn’t balance the budget and it wouldn’t make a dent in our national debt. But it would devastate our economy and our national security.”
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.”
Yemen: Parliament Proceeds with Term Limit Suspension
January 3rd, 2011 by Evan
The Yemeni parliament moved forward with a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate presidential term limits on Saturday. In doing so, the parliamentarians ignored a call from the U.S. State Department to delay the vote so negotiations between the ruling party and opposition groups could continue. The amendment will now be submitted to a popular referendum to be held simultaneously with Yemen’s April 27 parliamentary vote.
Yemen: GPC Backs Proposal to Suspend Term Limits
December 30th, 2010 by Evan
Yemen’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), announced yesterday that it will seek to eliminate constitutional term limits allowing President Ali Abdullah Saleh to run for a third seven-year term in 2013. The proposal will be brought up for a vote in the GPC-dominated parliament on Saturday and following likely approval will be subject to a national referendum in April. Opposition party members protested
the decision, which they said would effectively install Saleh as president for life.
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.
Senate Releases FY2011 Budget Text
December 14th, 2010 by Jason
The Senate Appropriations Committee has released the text of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 Omnibus Appropriations Act
late Tuesday. Under the $1.1 trillion spending bill, $53.5 billion would be spent on State, foreign operations, and related programs, $3.1 billion less than requested. Should the language of the bill remain unchanged, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) would receive $128.5 million, $23.5 million more than requested and $10.5 million more than FY 2010 levels, while bilateral economic assistance would be funded at $22.97 billion, $1.6 billion below the requested amount and $1.12 billion above the FY 2010 level . Egypt, Israel, the West Bank/Gaza, and Jordan would be funded at the level requested, while Lebanon would be funded at the level requested, “subject to conditions.” The House and the Senate have until Saturday to either agree on an omnibus bill or pass a continuing resolution.
Yemen: Change in Elections Law Provokes Sit-In
December 13th, 2010 by Jason
The Agence France Presse (AFP) is reporting that Yemen’s Parliament has passed an amendment to the elections law that would change the composition of the high electoral commission by “stipulat[ing] the high electoral commission be composed of judges rather than delegates from parties represented in Parliament as has been the case until now.” The opposition complained that the amendment was passed “unilaterally” by the
General People’s Congress (GPC), President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in April 2011. AFP also reported on Saturday that a leader of t
he supreme council of the Southern Movement was released
after being arrested for “‘planning to hold unauthorized protests in a number of southern prov
inces.’” His arrest sparked several days of protests in which five people were injured.
Iran: A “Naked Power Struggle”
November 26th, 2010 by Jason
An Iranian member of parliament claims
to have enough signatures to bring the motion to impeach President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
“into force,” according to a report by Golnaz Esfandiari
. The MP, Ali Motahari
, says that he has collected “more than 50″ signatures, close to the one-fourth (73) of parliament needed to “question the president.”
Jamsheed Choksy writes
at Foreign Policy that “[c]asual Iran observers tend to portray the country’s most prominent political division as that between fundamentalist hard-liners and secular moderates. In reality, however, the struggle for Iran’s future is a three-way fight waged by the different branches of conservatives that control the parliament, the presidency, and the theocracy.” He goes on to describe the situation as a “naked power struggle that has cloaked itself in ideology,” and that the “infighting is motivated by differences over pragmatic political strategy.”
Iraq: Walkout Threatens Tenuous Unity Government
November 12th, 2010 by Evan
Just hours into a parliamentary session on Thursday to approve Iraq’s new unity government, members of Ayad Allawi
’s Iraqiya coalition staged a walkout. Washington Post
reporter Leila Fadel writes that while the walkout did not immediately scuttle the agreement, it is indicative of the “deep divisions and distrust that dominate the country’s political system.” The New York Times
’ Steven Lee Myers adds that the incident is a foreshadowing of the serious difficulties Iraqi politicians will face in the coming months: “The government — if it holds together — will be fractured and unwieldy, rife with suspicion, hobbled by a shaky grasp of the rule of law and prone to collapse, or at least chaos.”
POMED Notes: “Roads Not Taken: AKP Trajectories Since 2007”
November 11th, 2010 by Evan
On Wednesday, Dr. Nora Fisher Onar, professor of Politics and International Relations at Bahcesehir Unverisity in Istanbul and visiting research fellow at Oxford University’s Centre for International Studies, spoke on differing schools of thought within Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
To read full notes, continue below or click here
for a pdf copy.
Lebanon: Reform Needed in Elections and Political System
October 28th, 2010 by Anna
Lebanon’s Daily Star reports
today that Osama Safa, secretary general of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), warned yesterday that the government has six months to implement a series of electoral law reforms. Among the reforms are giving soldiers the right to vote, lowering the voting age to 18, setting a quota for women candidates, and having independent oversight of electoral lists. Last November, the parliament stated that it would finish a draft law on election issues within 18 months. LADE and other organizations have called for changes to Lebanon’s “archaic” election laws, according to the Star, pointing to various types of irregularities in recent elections. Safa called on the government to prioritize electoral reform, saying: “The electoral law is considered the right gateway to any other reform.”
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern yesterday over rising political tensions in Lebanon. In a report on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559 (2004),which calls for free and fair presidential elections in the country, he said: “Lebanon is currently experiencing a domestic climate of uncertainty and fragility” and called on leaders to work on strengthening institutions and to “transcend sectarian and individual interests and to genuinely promote the future and the interests of the nation.”
Egypt: Are International Monitors only for Failed States?
October 19th, 2010 by Jason
Issandr El Amrani writes
in Al-Masry Al-Youm today that “There’s an unusually virulent strand of political surrealism surging through Egypt at the moment […] And at the center of the debate is the question of whether raising Egypt’s practice of democracy–or lack thereof–is an infernal foreign plot.” He cites the recent comments of Mufid Shehab, the minister of parliamentary affairs, as an example: “This week he (Shehab) told the National Council of Human Rights that Egypt could not possibly envisage having foreign election monitors because that is something that is reserved for failed states.” As Amrani notes, the U.S. and Germany, among many other countries, allow international monitors to observe their elections. He goes on to mention the machinations surrounding S. Res. 586, and says that the U.S. State Department “has tried to make small changes in the bill to sweeten its language, perhaps in preparation for the unavoidable uproar at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in recent years has developed quite a knack in terrifying diplomats about ‘interfering in Egypt’s domestic affairs.’”
In related news, Al-Masry Al-Youm reports
that President Mubarak has ”ignored demands by the political opposition for free and fair elections by issuing a law on political rights that does not include a single reference to the need for judicial oversight of elections.” The new law does include an amendment that would create a 64-seat quota for women in the parliament, raising the overall number of seats from 454 to 518.
Turkey: AKP to Control Judiciary?
September 23rd, 2010 by Evan
Adding to recent criticism of the AKP-backed constitutional referendum, Soner Cagaptaywrites that the reforms will give the ruling party complete control over the Turkish judiciary: “One of the new amendments changes the court’s size, however, increasing the number of regular members to seventeen (three elected by parliament and fourteen appointed by the president). […] Seven members are already known to be pro-AKP, so the addition of Gul’s new appointees will make the court safe ground for the party for the first time since it gained power.” Cagaptay concludes that the referendum itself is not the real issue, the issue is how AKP will use the new amendments to consolidate its political position: “On paper, the new amendments promise to improve civil liberties in Turkey. In light of the AKP’s track record on these issues, however, Washington should monitor to what extent the party follows the spirit of the provisions in execution.”
Turkey: Missing the Point of the Referendum
September 23rd, 2010 by Evan
At The New York Review of Books’ blog Can Yeginsu argues that enthusiasm for Turkey’s recent constitutional referendum is misguided: “I cannot share the view, espoused by some in Turkey and a great many abroad, that this referendum process has been good for Turkey in general or for the development of her democracy in particular.” According to Yeginsu, many of those in the West who have praised the referendum have a “fundamental misunderstanding” of what the vote actually means. In his view, the purpose of the referendum was to implement Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan’s “court-packing plan,” while the rest of the social reforms were simply the ruse AKP used to garner both international and domestic support.
Egypt: Gabr Arrives in DC to Fight Resolution
September 23rd, 2010 by Jason
The president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, Shafik Gabr, arrived in Washington yesterday to lobby members of Congress to “refrain from issuing a resolution demanding that Egypt ‘hold fair elections, allow international monitoring of elections, and respect democracy and human rights.’” Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that Gabr was sent “expressly for this purpose by the Egyptian government.” S.Res.586, introduced in July by Senators Feingold (D-WI) and McCain (R-AZ), “Reaffirms that respect for human rights is a fundamental U.S. value and that providing unconditional support for governments that do not respect human rights undermines U.S. credibility and creates tensions, including in the Muslim world, that can be exploited.”
Saudi Arabia: Using Anti-Terror Law to Target Reformers
August 31st, 2010 by Evan
In the Wall Street Journal, Margaret Coker reports on Saudi Arabia’s use of anti-terror laws to persecute political reformers and human rights activists: “The government is using its security forces to silence a growing group of Saudi political activists seeking liberal reform inside the authoritarian kingdom. Saudis who simply hold political views different from those of their rulers have been arrested and detained as security suspects under the counter-terror efforts, according to human-rights advocates, family of the detained and U.S. officials.” One of the most prominent cases is that of the imprisonment of Suliman al-Reshoudi, a prominent activist and critic of the regime. Saudi officials imprisoned Reshoudi on charges that he financed terrorism and was a member of an illegal group. The Saudi activist’s case caught the attention of the U.S. State Department which cited the incident in its annual human rights report.
Jordan: New Cyber Crime Law a Tool for Repression
August 30th, 2010 by Evan
Writing at Black Iris, Jordanian blogger Naseem Tarawnahhighlights issues with Jordan’s new cyber crimes law. According to Tarawnah, the law gives the Jordanian government new legal tools to repress free speech online including the ability to prosecute anyone sending information that “involves defamation or contempt or slander” and broad powers to search the homes and offices of those suspected of being involved in cyber crime. “Given the precedence of infringements on free speech in Jordan, one can safely assume that intent will be used more as a subjective legal tool to prosecute and convict, rather than protect the defendant,” writes Tarawnah. The cyber crime law is one of 34 temporary laws the Rifai government has attempted to pass since the Jordanian parliament was abolished in November 2009.
Iran: Rep. Sherman on Sanctions and Hurting the Iranian People
August 17th, 2010 by Farid
Representative Brad Sherman
(D-CA) argues in a piece at The Hill’s Congress Blog that the new sanctions against Iran are necessary, saying, “Critics… argued that these measures will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.” In his assessment, he compares sanctioning Iran to U.S. sanctions against apartheid South Africa, concluding, “Ultimately, Nelson Mandela thanked us for the sanctions.”
In response to Rep. Sherman’s assertion that policymakers “need to tighten the screws further, and I will soon introduce legislation to do just that,” Jamal Abdi
, Policy Director at the National Iranian American Council, argues that Sherman’s remarks indicate Congress’ “sanctions addiction” and “may explain why the Iranian pro-democracy activists are distancing themselves from the US.” Abdi states, “Sherman is wrong,” arguing that Mandela did not thank the U.S. for sanctions, and adding that the opposition in South Africa actually supported sanctions, while the opposition movement in Iran has “unequivocally condemned sanctions as destructive to their movement and harmful to the most vulnerable Iranians.” According to Abdi, Sherman neglects the Iranian people’s struggle for democracy and human rights, adding that “the sanctions only impede that struggle.” Additionally, Abdi draws on recent remarks made by Mehdi Karroubi
, senior figure in the Green Movement, calling sanctions “a gift to the Iranian regime.” Karroubi added that “isolating Iran would not bring democracy. Look at Cuba and North Korea, have sanctions brought democracy to their people? They have just made them more isolated and given them the opportunity to crack down on their opposition without bothering themselves about the international attention.”
Lebanon: Time to Move Forward on Human Rights
August 3rd, 2010 by Jennifer
Lebanese MP Fouad Siniora, head of the Future Movement parliamentary bloc, chaired the first of a series of planned meetings yesterday in an effort to reach a unified stance among the parliamentary majority regarding the draft law to grant Palestinian refugees greater rights and improve their humanitarian situation. March 14 Secretariat Coordinator Fares Souaid, representatives from the Lebanese Forces, and several members of the Future Movement, as well as a number of experts on Palestinian issues, all attended the meeting
Meanwhile, the Beirut Bar Association (BBA) forwarded a report to the UN Human Rights Council arguing that Lebanon should work toward a number of reforms on broader human rights issues. The report covered six topics: equality, right to life, public safety, treatment of human beings, status of the judiciary, and private and public freedoms. On women’s rights, the report called for gender equality in taxation, penal codes, nationality and citizenship, social protection laws, judicial rights, and personal status code. It also highlighted the need for encouraging expanded participation of women in politics and decision-making processes. Regarding the judiciary, the report pointed to a need to strengthen the unity, independence, and organization of the judicial authority. On public and private rights and freedoms, the findings emphasized the need for reform of electoral laws to ensure fair representation; urged the abolishment of capital punishment and torture, and suggested that Lebanon should adopt a “health and social safety network” for its citizens. It also called for setting up a special fund to provide such services to Palestinian refugees. The report concluded with a call for the state to sign all relevant international agreements relating to human rights. The Lebanese government is scheduled to discuss the report in September.
Lebanon: Heading in the “Wrong Direction” on Freedom of Speech
July 12th, 2010 by Jennifer
Human Rights Watch issued statements
late last week calling
on Lebanese authorities to drop criminal charges against Naim Hanna
, Antoine Ramia
and Cherbel Kassab
for authoring comments on Facebook criticizing President Michel Sleiman. The three men were charged under statutes in Lebanon that treat vaguely-defined offenses such as “libel,” “defamation,” and “insult” of the president, public officials, and private individuals, as criminal offenses. Nadim Houry, Beirut director at Human Rights Watch, called the use of such laws to prosecute government critics an “embarrassing step in the wrong direction,” saying, “These charges undermine Lebanon’s reputation as the country with the greatest tolerance for free expression in the Arab world.” The accused have been released on bail, but could face up to two years in prison if convicted.
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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