Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Yemen: Protesters Call for Reform and Ouster of President Saleh
January 21st, 2011 by Naureen
on Sunday as hundreds of students marched from Sana’a University to the Tunisian Embassy in solidarity with Tunisian protesters. The protests have since shifted
focus to internal issues: ”The country is a failing state. We protesters are trying to rescue it. The current situation is so bleak, but Tunisia reassures people of their own power.” On Thursday, amid protests, the government announced amendments limiting presidential terms, an issue which the country has long been debating. Mohammed al-Sabry
, head of the opposition coalition and the Islamist party Islah, has said that the proposal doesn’t go far enough and vowed to liberate the country “from the hands of the corrupt.” Protests in the south, where people are calling for secession due to discrimination by the Sana’a government in the distribution of resources, have been larger, more widespread and have led to dozens of arrests. Nikolas Gvosdev
, writing in World Politics Review, argues that the United States can help Yemen move towards political liberalization by helping maintain stability during the transition period or organizing a gradual transition based on the “Chilean model,” where Pinochet was offered concrete incentives to move the process forward.
Egypt: Activists Call for Intifada Day while Obama Neglects to Talk Reform
January 20th, 2011 by Naureen
Egyptian activist groups such as the April 6th Youth Movement are calling for a peaceful demonstration on January 25th to coincide with a national holiday honoring Egypt’s police forces. “Egyptian Intifada Day” activists have asked participants to refrain from using slogans or banners and instead hold up Egyptian flags. Protesters are demanding ”the annulment of the emergency law, the resignation of Interior Minister Habib Al-Adly, dissolving the parliament and a minimum wage of LE1200 (Egyptian Pounds).” The Muslim Brotherhood said Thursday that it is reconsidering its original refusal to participate in the demonstrations after receiving an invitation from the National Association for Change. More than 65,000 Facebook users have confirmed their planned attendance through the event’s website
While calls for change and reform have emerged out of Egypt, President Barack Obama
did not address the reform issues during a call
with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
. Writing at The Washington Post
, Jackson Diehl stated
that “by failing to mention reform, Obama effectively placed a public U.S. bet on Mubarak’s ability to prevent any spread of Tunisia’s unrest.” Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Elliott Abrams argues: “The administration should be saying to Mubarak that it’s time to open the political space. Because if the pressure keeps building, you can never tell when it’s going to explode.”
Tunisia: Invest in Emerging Actors with a Democratic Mindset
January 20th, 2011 by Cole
After decades of oppression, Tunisia was ripe for revolution and the notion of “Arab exceptionalism” has been discredited, writes Nabila Hamza, a Tunisian gender-equality activist who is currently the President of the Amman-based Foundation for the Future. Although Arab public perception of the possibility for change has shifted dramatically, Arab regimes will likely placate the frustrations of the masses through controlled political openings and reinstating or raising economic subsidies. The U.S. and Arab civil society must seize this crucial moment to reinvigorate the public discourse to press for real political change in the region.
Exciting? Yes. Contagious? No. First Make it Happen in Tunisia
January 20th, 2011 by Cole
We should not let the dramatic and exhilarating events in Tunisia cloud a realistic analysis of the prospects for democratization, writes Kamran Bokhari, Middle East and South Asia director at STRATFOR. While experts conflate what is happening with what they want to happen, western NGOs are focusing on making it happen – translating an anti-autocratic insurgency into a democratic transition.
Political Reform the Antidote to the Arab Youth Bulge as a “Ticking Time Bomb”
January 19th, 2011 by Alec
, writing in the Arab Reform Bulletin, outlines how the Tunisian uprising has confirmed yet also debunked some conventional wisdom about the region. She argues that the notion of the “youth bulge” as a ticking time bomb has been proven true. However, the idea that there must be a cohesive political opposition in order to overthrow an authoritarian regime has been proven false. Although other Arab countries are experiencing a similar youth bulge, many lag far behind Tunisia in education, relative equality of the sexes, and secularist tendencies which were key to the success of the Jasmine Revolution.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed these sentiments: the best way to deal with the “pent up desires” of unemployed Arab youth is to, “create inclusive, participatory government that can deliver results for people.” Responding to claims that the opening of political space will empower extremists, she countered “Not if you are giving support to NGOs and others who are looking for democratic participation where voices are heard, not silenced the way the extremists eventually choose to do.”
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 »
Tunisia’s Uncertain Transition
January 19th, 2011 by Cole
History – and the grim realities of a bad neighborhood’s pervasive authoritarianism – do not justify optimism about the prospects for democracy in Tunisia, writes Larry Diamond, Director of Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. Yet the third wave of global democratization saw successful democratization in more unlikely circumstances, and it won’t take huge resources for democracy assistance groups to make a difference – if we move quickly.
Reform or Restoration? Tunisia’s Canary-in-the-Coalmine Indicators
January 19th, 2011 by Cole
Tunisia’s strongman President Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali has been deposed. But if his ruling party was kicked out the door, is it now coming back through the window? There is a serious risk that the old order will cling to power and frustrate hopes for a genuinely democratic transition, writes Steven Heydemann
, Vice President at the US Institute for Peace and Special Adviser to USIP’s Muslim World Initiative.
He identifies the canary-in-the-coalmine indicators that will demonstrate whether the Jasmine Revolution will turn out to be a true turning point for Tunisia and the Arab world.
Egypt: ElBaradei Calls for Urgent Reform Following Tunisian Revolution
January 19th, 2011 by Kyle
Tuesday: “The writing is on the wall. Hope regime gets it: change cannot wait.” ElBaradei
has continued to warn of a “Tunisian style-explosion” in Egypt amidst plans for anti-government protests and continued acts of self-immolation. He called for urgent political reforms in Egypt, stating, “What has transpired in Tunisia is no surprise and should be very instructive both for the political elite in Egypt and those in the West that back dictatorships.” At the behest of other opposition groups, ElBaradei
has refused to support street protests in the hopes of creating more orderly change, not through “the Tunisian model.” However, he warned if this was not possible he would not be surprised to see similar riots across the region.
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 »
US Needs to Actively Promote Democratic Transitions in Tunisia and Egypt; Impact of Bush Democracy Agenda Revisited
January 18th, 2011 by Kyle
Jennifer Rubin calls
for a strong US foreign policy initiative to address democratic assistance in the Middle East following the Tunisian revolution. Recognizing
the spread of Tunisian unrest to Egypt, she quotes POMED Executive Director Stephen McInerney from Egypt: “The Egyptian activists are all definitely energized. Two hundred of them spontaneously went to the Tunisian Embassy to celebrate within an hour after Ben Ali stepped down on Friday, and they shouted chants for Ben Ali to take Mubarak with him.” Rubin warns against an Islamist takeover in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt without a carefully crafted US policy to promote peaceful democratic transitions. In Tunisia, Rubin asserts that the US can strongly support democracy due to a lack of strategic interests there, in contrast to the limits placed on US policy by the strategic importance of the Suez Canal for the US in Egypt. Rubin also discussed former President George Bush’s democracy agenda: “One question that deserves further consideration: How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia?”
In response, Adam Serwer attacked Rubin’s claim to a connection between Bush’s policy in Iraq and the current Tunisian revolution. Serwer argues, “Rubin doesn’t even attempt to prove causation,” and calls her logic, “deeply paternalistic.” Serwer concludes that, “The point is not to make an actual argument, but to inject a political narrative that will retroactively vindicate the decision to go to war in Iraq.”
Tunisia: Unity Government Formed, Unrest Continues
January 18th, 2011 by Kyle
On Saturday, power shifted
as the speaker of Parliament Fouad Mbazza was named interim president and is expected to hold elections within 60 days, in an attempt to comply with succession rules in the Tunisian Constitution. Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced, on Monday, the creation of a unity government with the intentions of working “towards democracy.” In protest, three ministers resigned from the newly formed government and street protests continued. Many Tunisians continue to object to the involvement of members from Ben Ali’s RCD party in the new government. Middle East politics expert Frederico Volpi asserted that, “It remains to be seen to what degree they will facilitate genuine democratic transition and to what degree they will try to retain some of their prerogatives and use some of the old techniques of authoritarianism that they have used with Ben Ali over the years.”
Tunisia: Reactions After the Fall of Ben Ali
January 18th, 2011 by Kyle
Michele Penner Angristaddressed the future of democracy in Tunisia stating, “Ben Ali suffocated the political arena to such a degree that there is no force capable of governing Tunisia other than the ruling party and the military.” Angrist also discussed the implications of the lack of US involvement in Tunisia’s unrest and the future of other Arab regimes, “Were the regimes in Egypt or Jordan on the line, Western support for the status quo might well be more vigorous.” Stephen M. Walt
believes that we should be careful to quickly assume
that Tunisia will be the catalyst for political change across the region. Daniel Brumberg agrees with Walt, but remains hopeful for progressive reform in the region if a functioning, pluralistic democracy can be established in
Tunisia. Thomas Carothers asserted
that although the United States did very little to press Tunisia on democracy and human rights issues there is now potential for meaningful action, “Washington and other Western capitals should press now to get specific commitments from the new Tunisian leadership that not only will elections be held, but that they will be meaningful.”
Tunisia: Ben Ali Makes Political Concessions in Bid to End Riots
January 13th, 2011 by Naureen
On Thursday, Tunisian president Zine Ben Ali announced that he will not seek a new term in office in 2014. He also vowed to cut prices on food staples, give ”complete freedom to all media outlets…as long as they respect our values and the value of the profession,” and ensure the police do not use live ammunition except in self-defense. Ben Ali called for an end to violence saying, “I won’t accept that another drop of blood of a Tunisian be spilled.” In addition, CNN is reporting that Ben Ali has also agreed to release detained protesters and form committees to investigate reports of violence, bribery, and corruption. According to Abdel Latif Abid,
a Tunisian human rights lawyer and member of the opposition, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi
has met with opposition leaders, and the president has fired “a couple close aides, both of whom are perceived to be conservative hard-liners.” Ben Ali also replaced
his top military general, Rachid Ammar
and a appointed
new Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa
Update: According to a tally by the International Federation for Human Rights, Ben Ali has sacked top advisers, including conservative hard-liners Abdelwahab Abdallah
and Abdelaziz Ben Dhia. On Friday, Tunisia’s Ambassador to UNESCO, Mezri Haddad
in protest of Ben Ali’s crackdown on protesters. Haddad is a former political opponent of the President.
Clinton: Mideast Faces Disaster Without Reform
January 13th, 2011 by Naureen
On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Arab leaders to enact political and economic reform: “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. They are demanding reform to make their governments more effective, more responsive, and more open. And all this is taking place against a backdrop of depleting resources […] But in too many places, in too many ways, the region’s foundations are sinking into the sand. The new and dynamic Middle East that I have seen needs firmer ground if it is to take root and grow everywhere.”
She warned that “those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries’ problems for a little while, but not forever. If leaders don’t offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum.” Clinton pledged US support for countries which make strides towards reform and called for greater cooperation between businesses, government and civil society to address the region’s problems.
Democracy Advocates Silent on Tunisia
January 13th, 2011 by Naureen
Writing at his blog, Abu Aardvark, Mark Lynch asks, “Where are the democracy promoters on Tunisia?” Although advocates, analysts, and media outlets have been outspoken in their demands for reform and “a stronger role for the United States on Egyptian democracy regardless of the strategic implications,” they have been relatively quiet on the Tunisian riots. In the region, Tunisia is the major issue for Arab audiences, and they are taking note of the silence from both US government officials and US-based democracy advocates. Lynch states that while he understands the cautionary response, “the absence of major U.S. interests in Tunisia and the real prospect of change there make it a good place for the Obama administration to take a principled stand in favor of public freedoms and against repression.”
Writing at his blog, Ethan Zuckerman points
to the lack of media coverage of the events, “Google Trends shows
a spike of attention that’s lower than the attention Tunisia received for losing to Ukraine in the first round of the 2006 World Cup.”
Tunisia: Interior Minister Fired, Curfew Imposed to End Protests
January 12th, 2011 by Kyle
Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced that the country’s Interior Minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem
has been fired
as a result of ongoing protests. The PM also declared that all protesters that were detained during the unrest had been released. Protests continued despite the announcement and spread to the capital city, Tunis, on Wednesday. In response, the interior ministry imposed
a nightly curfew.
Radwan Masmoudi, Tunisian native and founder of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, assessed
that President Ben Ali
has finally come to realize that the demands will not cease and “he has to make some serious changes and not just of people but in policies.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concerns about, “the unrest and the instability, and what seems to be the underlying concerns of the people who are protesting — it seems to be a combination of economic and political demonstrations” and declared, ”we are not taking sides in it, we just hope there can be a peaceful resolution of it.”
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.”
Kuwait: Prime Minister Survives No-Confidence Vote
January 6th, 2011 by Naureen
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.”
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