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Lebanon: Commentators Speculate on Composition of a New Government
January 13th, 2011 by Alec
With the collapse of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government yesterday, speculation over negotiations for a new government has already begun.   Juan Cole, posting at his blog Informed Comment, suggested that a new Lebanese government could be dominated by the March 8 movement and Hezbollah.  Hariri’s inflexibility on the tribunal issue, under US pressure, may be to blame for the collapse: “If so, Washington may have hoisted itself by its own petard, since the last thing it wanted was a March 8 government in Beirut.”  Michael Young noted that an “unidentified American official” called any Syrian-Saudi agreement that would undermine the tribunal “blackmail.”   Elias Muhanna posted that Lebanese President Michel Suleiman will begin consultations on Monday to select a new PM. Hezbollah has already stated it will push for a candidate with a strong “pro-resistance record.”  Both Young and Muhanna speculate on the role of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt in the new government, given his history of changing alliances within the government.
Posted in Uncategorized | Comment »
Will Riots in the Middle East Lead to Political Reform?
January 11th, 2011 by Naureen
Writing at Foreign Policy, Mark Lynch, discusses the lasting impact of recent riots across the Middle East. Despite government crackdowns on the media and the internet, Arab regimes have been unable to control the narrative, forcing even “status quo media outlets” to cover the events and “entertain unsettling questions.” Lynch argues that while these protests may not lead to regime change or bring about major policy changes, they have “seared themselves into Arab political discourse” as they point to “underlying political problems which have enabled the economic mismanagement and corruption and lack of opportunity.”
Some commentators hope that these riots, like economic protests in Jordan in the 1980s, will lead to democratic openings but the likelihood remains unclear. In a piece at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Simon Tisdall notes the lack of political will on the part of Arab regimes for reform and points to reports highlighting their failure to address political, economic, and social concerns.
Posted in Uncategorized | Comment »
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.
Posted in Kuwait, Legislation, Protests, Uncategorized | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Ahmadinejad’s Confrontation with the Iranian Parliament”
December 7th, 2010 by Evan
On Wednesday, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a presentation by Bahman Baktiari, Director of the Middle East Center at the University of Utah, on the conflict between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the parliament. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Wilson Center’s Middle East program moderated the event.
 (To read full notes, continue below or click here for a pdf.)
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in DC Event Notes, Iran, Uncategorized | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Foreign Policy and Development Structure, Process, Policy: The Drip-by-Drip Erosion of USAID”
November 19th, 2010 by Evan
On Thursday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a discussion titled “Foreign Policy and Development Structure, Process, Policy: The Drip-by-Drip Erosion of USAID.” Jerry Hyman, President of the Hills Program on Governance at CSIS, presented his recent paper on the challenges facing the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Jim Kolbe, Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund and the former Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, and Larry Garber, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa, delivered responses. Dan Runde, Director of the Project on Prosperity and Development at CSIS moderated the discussion.
(To read the full notes, continue below or click here for a pdf copy.)
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Uncategorized | Comment »
Reactions to Obama’s Indonesia Speech
November 10th, 2010 by Jason
Marc Lynch, in response to President Obama’s “well-crafted” speech, writes that in spite of the “litany of complaints” about President Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world, he actually deserves praise for much of it. “The administration has stuck with the President’s clear commitment to restoring positive relations with the Muslims of the world despite all the setbacks, when it would have been really easy to give up or change course.” Lynch lists several “quiet accomplishments” including building long-term commitments with a “rising generation of Muslims.” The work of the State Department, National Security Council, and other agencies to support programs that facilitate “jobs, economic opportunity and entrepreneurship, education, science, medicine, and the like,” is of particular importance. Lynch also warns of ” [o]ver-promising and under-delivering.”
Elizabeth Weingarten​, writing at the Atlantic, says that the unresolved peace process, the Cordoba mosque controversy, and the threats from a Florida pastor to burn the Quran have “sullied” the clean slate Obama enjoyed after his Cairo speech. “Obama seems to be aware of his increasingly negative image in the Muslim world,” writes Weingarten, and Indonesia “was a fitting place for Obama to reignite support in the Muslim world: He could couch his message in the comfortable rhetoric of hope, and speak to the similarities of the two countries.”
Posted in Uncategorized | Comment »
Palestine: Differing Views on Fayyad
November 8th, 2010 by Jason
Writing at the Huffington Post, Daoud Kuttab lauds the Palestinian Authority (PA) for its focus on educational reform in the West Bank: “Salam Fayyad (the Prime Minister of the PA) […] has worked hard at making education one of his government’s top priorities […] A five-year, well thought out educational plan was designed and implemented. The plan looks at education with a more holistic approach, with serious thought given to the need to augment present programmes with preschool education, and the introduction of new methodologies that focus on critical thinking.” Kuttab explains that a push to raise educational standards will address many of the challenges facing Palestinians today, preparing them to run a state of their own in the future.
Ahmed Moor takes a more critical view of the PA at the Huffington Post, writing that the recent economic success is an “unsustainable bubble economy,” and that “if the Palestinian Authority cannot secure economic growth, and it cannot promote Palestinian institution-building […] and it cannot create a Palestinian state, why does it exist?” Moor goes on to describe how Fayyad and the PA are ineffectual, pointing out that that Fayyad was banned from a celebration in East Jerusalem in honor of a school he helped to secure funding for.
Posted in Uncategorized | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Egypt’s Upcoming Elections: Boycotts, Campaigns, and Monitors”
October 20th, 2010 by Evan
On Tuesday, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in partnership with Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) hosted a discussion on preparations by opposition parties and domestic electoral monitors for the upcoming Egyptian parliamentary elections. Mahmoud Ali Mohamed, the director of the Egyptian Center for Development and Democratic Studies and member of the Wafd Party Supreme Council, and Wael Nawara, the co-founder and secretary general of the al-Ghad Party, gave presentations, POMED executive director Andrew Albertson delivered a response and Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, moderated the event.
(For POMED’s full notes, continue below or click here for the pdf.)
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Egypt, Elections, Event Notes, Events, Uncategorized | Comment »
Yemen: U.S. Aiding “Downward Spiral” on Human Rights?
August 25th, 2010 by Jennifer
Amnesty International issued a statement today arguing that “the Yemeni authorities must stop sacrificing human rights in the name of security.” Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, commented that “an extremely worrying trend has developed where the Yemeni authorities, under pressure from the USA and others to fight al-Qa’ida, and Saudi Arabia to deal with the Huthis, have been citing national security as a pretext to deal with opposition and stifle all criticism.” The statement notes a pattern in Yemen of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, forced disappearances, and unfair trials of those accused of involvement in Al-Qaeda, Zaidi Shi’a rebels in the north, and Southern Movement activists. The Amnesty document also observes an uptick both in the use of the death penalty as punishment, as well as the use of the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) to try critical journalists and political activists. The statement concludes, “It is particularly worrying that states such as Saudi Arabia and the USA are directly or indirectly aiding the Yemeni government in a downward spiral away from previously improving human rights record.”
Posted in Human Rights, Judiciary, Middle Eastern Media, Terrorism, US foreign policy, Uncategorized​, Yemen | Comment »
The Link Between Low Taxes and Undemocratic Regimes
August 23rd, 2010 by Farid
Brian Whitaker writes at the Guardian’s Comment is Free that taxes in nations across the Middle East are not only low, but also ineffectively collected by authorities. Whitaker says that among the reasons for the low taxes is the fact that many of these states are “rentier economies where the government has sources of income other than taxes,” such as oil. More strikingly, Whitaker argues that low taxation is keeping undemocratic regimes in power. In simple terms, he points out that “the higher the taxes are the more likely it is that people will demand a say in how the money is spent.” In effect, “high taxes can act as a spur towards democracy and accountable government. Conversely, where taxes are low the pressure for democracy and accountability is usually less,” Whitaker says.
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »
Egypt: Human Rights Activist Speaks Out
August 11th, 2010 by Farid
Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a prominent dissident and human rights activist who recently returned to Egypt after living in exile in the U.S., commented on internal political issues during his first public seminar since his return. Ibrahim said that the Egyptian regime uses the population’s “America complex” in order to stymie democratic progress. Assessing reformist Mohamed ElBaradei, he drew parallels between ElBaradei’s political campaign and President Barack Obama’s, and disagreed with the “charismatic leadership” model, arguing that leadership skills are learned, not innate.  Ibrahim indicated his belief that Egyptians have shown progress over the past 50-60 years in overcoming the fear and persecution associated with political participation. Finally, he stressed that the regime should commit to real reform and criticized the Muslim Brotherhood, calling the group self-serving and arguing that they represent a major challenge that must be dealt with.
Posted in Uncategorized | Comment »
Senate Resolution Supports Democracy in Egypt
July 23rd, 2010 by Jennifer
On Tuesday, S.RES.586, “Supporting democracy, human rights, and civil liberties in Egypt,” sponsored by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI), and co-sponsored by Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The resolution calls on Egypt to repeal the Emergency Law; ensure that upcoming elections are “free, fair, transparent, and credible”; “lift legislative restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association, and expression”; and end all arbitary detention, torture, and other forms of harassment.” The resolution also recognizes that “providing unconditional support for governments that do not respect those basic human rights undermines the credibility of the United States,” and calls on the administration to “make respect for basic human rights and democratic freedoms a priority” in bilateral relations with Egypt, while also engaging more extensively in “providing appropriate funding to international and domestic election observers, as well as to civil society organizations.” Furthermore, according to the resolution, organizations carrying out U.S. democracy promotion activities, as well as the nature of the assistance itself, “shall not be subject to the prior approval of the Government of Egypt.”
Posted in Uncategorized | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Afghanistan: Governance and the Civilian Strategy”
July 16th, 2010 by Jennifer
The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing yesterday on governance and the civilian strategy in Afghanistan. This was the eleventh installment in a series of hearings on Afghanistan over the past year and a half. The issues of government corruption and institution-building, as well as questions about U.S. goals, benchmarks, and measures of success in civilian programs, featured prominently in the discussion. The Committee—headed by Chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and ranking Committee member Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) —requested the testimony of Mr. Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Uncategorized | Comment »
POMED Notes: “Human Rights and Religious Freedom in Morocco”
June 18th, 2010 by Jennifer
 The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on human rights and religious freedom in Morocco, in light of a recent wave of deportations of American and foreign citizens under accusations of religious proselytizing. The Commission—headed by Co-Chairman Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) —requested the testimony of five individuals: Katie Zoglin, Senior Program Manager at Freedom House; Michael Cloud, President of Association Nichan; Herman Boonstra, leader of the Village of Hope orphanage; Mr. and Mrs. Eddie and Lynn Padilla, former foster parents at the Village of Hope; and Dr. Sandra Bunn-Livingstone, Esq., Executive Director of Jus Cogens LLC. Senator James M. Inhofe of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rachid (Last name redacted) of Al Hayat Television, also submitted written testimony but did not speak at the hearing.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »
Jordan: Parliamentary elections set for November 9
June 16th, 2010 by Jennifer
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan announced on Monday that parliamentary elections will be held on November 9 of this year, following King Abdullah II bin al-Hussein​’s decision last November to dissolve parliament in the middle of its four-year term. The elections will be held under a new election law that has received harsh criticism from reformers and activist groups, who claim that it fails to institute any major liberalizing reforms and instead reinforces tribal politics while undercutting national parties.
The law does increase the quota for women’s representation in parliament and also gives more votes to cities with large percentages of Palestinian refugees, a highly sensitive issue for Jordanians, many of whom fear a peace process scenario that could force Jordan to absorb its Palestinian population permanently.
Morten Valbjorn, writing in Foreign Policy today, argues that contrary to recent Western praise for Jordan’s progress in political reform, governance, and transparency, the kingdom is actually less free than it was 20 years ago. He argues that Jordan is an example of a “‘libe­ra­li­zing autocracy’: always ap­pearing as being in the midst of a promising reform process, but still always an auto­cracy.” Valbjorn cautions against U.S. and EU enthusiasm for the regime’s democratization program, advising that “such liberalizing autocracies should not be perceived as be­ing a transitory state on the road toward democracy, but rather as a distinct and quite resilient kind of authoritarian regime.”
Freedom House’s most recent annual country report on Jordan characterized the kingdom as “not free.”
Posted in Uncategorized | Comment »
Egypt: Negotiations begin between lawyers and judges
June 16th, 2010 by Jennifer
Negotiations began yesterday between Egyptian lawyers and judges, in an attempt to address the escalating crisis that has gripped the Egyptian legal system for over a week. The problems began when two attorneys were sentenced to 5 years in prison after exchanging slaps with a prosecutor in Tanta, and has since snowballed into a nationwide strike, with over 100,000 lawyers protesting what they view as unfair judiciary persecution of their colleagues.
Ahmed Fathi Sorour, Peoples Assembly Speaker, met with Hamdi Khalifa, President of the Lawyers Syndicate, and is scheduled to meet with Ahmed el-Zend, head of the Judges Club, in hopes of formulating a compromise. Rhetoric has intensified between the two groups, with the Judges Club issuing statements describing lawyers as a “renegade minority and terrorists,” while Khalifa has insisted that Egyptian attorneys “will not waive our request of having our immunity as judges have it [sic], so long as we’re partners in achieving justice.”
Meanwhile, Montasar el-Zayat, member of the committee for defending detained lawyers, warned that lawyers would begin intensifying protests across the country and emphasized the urgent need to reach a solution to the situation.
Posted in Uncategorized | Comment »
Obama Administration Releases its National Security Strategy
May 27th, 2010 by Chanan
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled this afternoon the Obama administration’s National Security Strategy (NSS), a 52 pg. report covering a wide range of issues facing the U.S. from the state of the economy to the challenges of domestic terrorism.
The NY TimesDavid Sanger and Peter Baker point out that this NSS stands in stark contrast to Bush’s 2002 NSS on a number of fronts, including on the right to preemptive strikes, the use of unilateral force and the acknowledgment of burgeoning rival powers. They explain: “Much of the National Security Strategy, which is required by Congress, reads as an argument for a restoration of an older order of reliance on international institutions, updated to confront modern threats.” Newsweek​’s Michael Hirsh, however, appears to offer a different interpretation in a blog post entitled, “Obama’s National Security Strategy: Not So Different From Bush’s.” He argues that “it is unmistakable that there are far more similarities than differences between the two National Security Strategies, though each of them marks the advent of an era that is supposedly as distinct from the other as any two periods in U.S. history.”
The report also devotes a section to the importance of promoting democracy and human rights abroad. It tackles numerous elements of this ideal, including the support of women’s rights, recognition of peaceful democratic movements and practicing “principled engagement” with non-democratic regimes. In an apparent dig at Iran, the Obama administration writes that “when our overtures are rebuffed, we must lead the international community in using public and private diplomacy, and drawing on incentives and
disincentives, in an effort to change repressive behavior.”
Foreign Policy’s Will Inboden​thinks the report - especially this section - is lacking in substance and grit. “While the NSS rightfully devotes more rhetorical attention to the promotion of human rights and democracy, it unfortunately puts too much emphasis on the U.S. example alone…,” he argues. “What they [international reformers] want is active American advocacy and support — even when that support might cause friction in diplomatic engagement with their own governments.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Human Rights, Multilateralism​, Reform, US foreign policy, Uncategorized​, Women | 2 Comments »
Iran: Turkey and Brazil’s Challenge to the U.S. Nuclear Game Plan
May 26th, 2010 by Chanan
Ahmet Davutoglu and Celso Amorim, the respective foreign ministers for Turkey and Brazil, took to the op-ed pages of the New York Times today to spell out the rationale for, and importance of, the May 17th nuclear fuel swap deal. In a piece called “Giving Diplomacy a Chance,” the two argue that they are in full support for a nuclear-free world and that any attempt to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state will only be successful through “result-oriented negotiations.” They explain: “There is only one viable solution to disagreements with Iran over its nuclear program, and that is a negotiated diplomatic solution.”
The day prior, however, Thomas Friedman, expressed his utter disgust for this deal perpetuated by two nascent democracies. “Is there anything uglier,” he asks, “than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, too, can play at the big power table?” Friedman continues that while halting Iran’s budding nuclear program should remain a priority for the international community, it mustn’t get in the way of support for the Green Movement, which he believes is “the most important, self-generated, democracy movement to appear in the Middle East in decades.” He concluded that a democratic Iran with a bomb is a far better scenario than an authoritarian Iran with a bomb.
The Arabist’s Issandr El Amrani finds Friedman to be nothing short of hypocritical​. He argues that “the US backs plenty of undemocratic countries for much worse reasons that Brazil’s desire to play a role on the world stage and Turkey doing the same as well as trying to avoid a war on its borders.” He also asserts that he “would rather see a democratic Iran with the bomb rather than an autocratic Iran without it.”
Nonetheless, Foreign Policy’s James Traub thinks the U.S. “overrates the salience of democracy to foreign policy” and that the evolution of independent-minded maturing middle power democracies, such as Turkey and Brazil, is proof that a synonymous type of government won’t necessarily produce synonymous foreign policy interests. This inherent shift away from uni-polarity, writes Graham E. Fuller, should be applauded. “Shouldn’t the world welcome the actions of two significant, responsible, democratic, and rational states to intervene and help check the foolishnesses of decades of US policy?”
Posted in Concert of Democracies​, Diplomacy, Iran, Turkey, US foreign policy, Uncategorized | Comment »
Are Women Losing Power in Turkey?
May 25th, 2010 by Chanan
The answer is yes, according to Soner Cagaptay and Rueya Perincek of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In a one-page graphical analysis replete with bar charts and explanatory captions, Cagaptay and Perincek depict a reality where women have experienced a diminished role in political affairs since the AKP government came to power in 2002. Although women’s share in the Turkish parliament has doubled during this time period, they have also witnessed a drop in holding executive and bureaucratic positions in government. For example, not one woman holds a high-level position in the Justice Ministry. According to the authors, all of these elements account for the fact that women are being pushed out of the workforce. “Under the AKP,” they write, “women are losing power in Turkey.”
Posted in Judiciary, Political Parties, Turkey, Uncategorized​, Women | Comment »
Sen. Russ Feingold Criticizes Administration’s “Uncritical Support” for Egypt
May 25th, 2010 by Chanan
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) penned a letter to President Obama criticizing his administration’s “insufficient” response to Egypt’s decision to extend the highly controversial Emergency Laws and encouraging it to support “fair, free and peaceful” parliamentary and presidential elections in the coming months. To pursue a strong, strategic and sustainable working relationship with the Egyptian government, Feingold stressed that “we must engage more broadly with the Egyptian people and support efforts in the country to push for human rights and democratic reform.” By ignoring these much needed reforms, the U.S. administration risks “undermin[ing] our credibility as champions of political and civil rights and creates tensions, particularly in the Muslim world.” This, he continued, threatens U.S. national security. He concluded with the following advice: “we must be strong and consistent in advancing human rights, good governance and the rule of law while also addressing security and economic concerns.  And we should make sure that message is being reinforced by all U.S. government officials and programs in Egypt.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Egypt, Elections, Freedom, Human Rights, US foreign policy, Uncategorized | Comment »
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