Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Syria: Teenage Blogger Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison
February 14th, 2011 by Alec
Syrian blogger, Tal al-Mallouhi
, a 19 year old female high school student, has been sentenced to 5 years in prison by a state security court on charges of spying for the U.S. Embassy in Egypt. She was first detained in December 2009 and had been held since then without charge. The UK - based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released a statement (in Arabic) acknowledging al-Mallouhi’s sentencing. P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman, also released a statementcondemning the sentencing and “secret trial” of al-Mallouhi, called for her immediate release, and denied all charges that she is an American spy.
“Party Building in the Middle East”
December 22nd, 2010 by Jason
The National Democratic Institute (NDI) has released
a new article titled “Party Building in the Middle East.” Written by Les Campbell, NDI’s senior associate and regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, the article seeks to “enumerate some of the key achievements of democracy assistance in the Arab world over the past decade; describe the strategies democracy assistance practitioners employ in their work; and explain, through four case studies and the voices of recipients, how specific interventions have contributed to the advancement of democracy in the Middle East and north Africa.” The case studies include Yemen, Morocco, the West Bank and Gaza, and Egypt.
Posted in Civil Society, Democracy Promotion, Egypt, Elections, Foreign Aid, Morocco, NGOs, Palestine, US foreign policy, Women, Yemen | Comment »
Iran: Sit-in for Sotoudeh at the UN
December 21st, 2010 by Jason
Freedom House released a statement yesterday expressing
“solidarity and support for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi
and other women’s rights activists,” who began a sit-in Monday at the United Nations in Geneva in support of imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh
. Paula Schriefer, Director of Advocacy at Freedom House, said in the statement that the “human rights abuses inflicted on its people by the Iranian government, particularly on women, are in direct violation of international human rights treaties to which Iran is a state party.” Gissou Nia, a researcher and analyst at the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, writes at CNN that Sotoudeh was arrested for “a range of ’security’ offenses, including her legal representation of Ebadi,” and that the human rights lawyer has been denied “the ultimate legal right: a fair trial.” Nia goes on to describe the role lawyers have in protecting human rights in Iran and calls on the international community to “commit itself to protecting lawyers in Iran from arrest and imprisonment.”
POMED Notes: “Corruption Challenges in Yemen”
December 10th, 2010 by Jason
On Friday the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) joined with the Embassy of Yemen to present “Corruption Challenges in Yemen,” a presentation by Dr. Bilkis Abouosbaa, Vice-Chairperson of the Supreme National Authority for Combating Corruption (SNACC). A portion of the documentary film “Destructive Beast: Corruption in Yemen” was also shown.
(To read full notes, continue below the fold or click here
Saudi Arabia: Human Rights First Society Report
December 9th, 2010 by Jason
The Human Rights First Society-Saudi Arabia has released a report titled “Unholy Trespass: How the Saudi Legal Code Violates International Human Rights Law.” The report seeks to “serve as a roadmap for the Saudi officials, so that they will know where the Saudi laws are either in violation of international conventions or treaties,” according to the group’s president, Ibrahim Almugaiteeb. While the report acknowledges that “[g]overnment and societal tolerance for the public discussion of human rights and civil liberties in Saudi Arabia has increased substantially in the last decade,” Saudi Arabia’s human rights record remains troubling.
Egypt: Reports on Vote Counting Procedures
December 1st, 2010 by Jason
The Egyptian Association for Supporting Democratic Development (EASD) and Nazra Association for Feminist Studies have released reports evaluating the vote counting procedures following Egypt’s parliamentary elections. The report from Nazra focuses on the process involved in counting votes for the women quota seats, which are a new feature of this years parliament, while the report
from EASD quantifies the number of illegal incidents witnessed during and after the elections.
From the EASD report: “Out of 5,000 EASD observers, 903 (18.06%) were denied access to polling stations. Meanwhile, 348 observers (8.49% of those allowed to enter polling stations) were expelled from polling stations. […] Other violations included: 115 incidents of voter intimidation, 196 instances of vote buying and electoral bribes, 31 incidents of police blocking roads leading to polling stations, 181 incidents of ballot stuffing, 19 instances of stealing or destroying electoral material, 145 instances of closing polling stations during the day or before 7 p.m., 101 incidents of expelling observers, 233 incidents of electoral violence, 20 polling stations which never opened, and 225 instances of group voting.”
Egypt: Nazra Releases Report on Female Participation
November 29th, 2010 by Jason
The Nazra Association for Feminist Studies, a member of the Independent Coalition for Election Observation, has released a report titled “The Gender Perspective in the 2010 Parliamentary Elections.” The report’s findings include “Female candidates, particularly those of the NDP, are guilty of the same violations (violence, fraudulent ballot cards) as male candidates,” and “The majority of women supported male candidates. The majority of those who supported female candidates were Muslim Brotherhood members.”
“Islamic Feminism and Beyond”
November 15th, 2010 by Jason
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Middle East Program released a new paper (pdf) today, titled “Islamic Feminism and Beyond: The New Frontier.” The introduction is written by Haleh Esfandiari
and Margot Badran, and the paper includes six sections covering a range of topics and countries. The articles include “Feminist Activism for Change in Family Laws and Practices: Lessons from the Egyptian Past for the Global Present” by Margot Badran, “Recent Amendments in the Turkish Civil and Criminal Codes and the Role of Feminist NGOs” by Binnaz Toprak
, “Women and the Politics of Reform in Morocco” by Souad Eddouada, “Beyond Islamic Feminism: Women and Representation in Iran’s Democracy Movement” by Nayereh Tohidi
, “The Personal Status Code and Women’s Celibacy in Tunisia” by Lilia Labidi
, and “Analyzing Reform Successes and Failures: The Personal Status Regime in the Arab World” by Amaney Jamal
Egypt: Quota for Women Increases Participation but Problems Remain
November 11th, 2010 by Evan
The Los Angeles Times
’ Babylon and Beyond reports that the recently announced 32-seat parliamentary quota for women has energized female candidates. “‘For years, male members of parliament have objected to the presence of female MPs and women were not allowed any space in parliament. That’s why the quota is a huge step forward,’” Rabha Fathi, head of the Association for Egyptian Female Lawyers (AEFL) told Babylon and Beyond. Not all Egyptian women’s organizations shared Fathi’s enthusiasm. The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) recently published a report detailing a list of complaints from potential female candidates, including accusations that women vying for National Democratic Party nominations were forced to pay bribes.
POMED Notes: “Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East”
October 28th, 2010 by Evan
On Wednesday Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, presented her new book “Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East” at an event sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East and Environmental Change and Security Programs. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program, moderated the event.
(To read the full notes, continue below or click here
for the pdf.)
Jordan: An Interview With Jordan’s First Woman M.P.
October 27th, 2010 by Jason
Toujan Faisal, the first woman elected to Jordan’s Parliament, was recently interviewed by the Arab Reform Initiative. When asked about her understanding of reform, Faisal answered, “I think that the adoption of the constitution in Jordan in 1952 (i.e. without the amendments subsequently made to it) is the basis of such reform.” She added, “I now think that there is something better: the proportional representation list, and the establishment of an interim government without the power to take major financial decisions, until such time a government with real legitimacy can be formed in the presence of a real parliament.” Faisal was also asked about her views on quotas for female candidates. “I am opposed to all forms of quota, because quotas are in conflict with full equality between citizens […] Women are essentially citizens, and the sole criterion for progress is competence. When society as a whole progresses the situation of women automatically improves.”
Bahrain: Few Women Candidates for Parliament
September 15th, 2010 by Anna
reported in Gulf News
yesterday on concerns about low turnout among women candidates for the quadrennial elections for Bahrain’s lower chamber, which are scheduled to take place on October 23. In spite of hopes by women’s rights activists that more women would seek office this year, only six have registered to run since the registration period opened two days ago. The 2002 and 2006 elections witnessed similarly low turnout from women candidates – in 2002, none of the women candidates in parliamentary and municipal elections won; in 2006, one woman won after running unopposed. Bahrain’s largest political organization, Wa’ad, has nominated Muneera Fakhro, who narrowly lost in a 2006 race. The other three main politico-religious societies – Al Wefaq, Al Asala and the Islamic Menbar – declined to endorse any women. Some party leaders expressed concern that they would face “a negative reaction from conservative constituents” if they ran female candidates. Latifa Al Gaood – the only sitting woman in parliament – has publicly encouraged women to get involved in politics.
POMED Notes: “Progress and Challenges to Women’s Empowerment: Lessons from Tunisia”
September 8th, 2010 by Anna
The Woodrow Wilson Center hosted an event today focusing on the state of women’s rights and empowerment in Tunisia and elsewhere. It featured Professor Nabiha Gueddana, President and Director-General of the National Agency for Family and Population, former Secretary of State in charge of Women and Family Affairs, and former chair of “Partners in Population and Development: South-South Initiative.” The event was moderated by Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.
Morocco: Saudi Restrictions on Moroccan Woman an “Insult”
August 30th, 2010 by Anna
Nesrine Malik argues
in The Guardian
that Saudi Arabia “is failing in its Islamic duties” by banning (Arabic) some Moroccan women from undertaking the umra (the lesser pilgrimage to Mecca). According to Saudi authorities, women “of a certain age” might abuse their travel visas “for other purposes” while abroad. Malik claims that this is meant to reference the sex industry, which is stereotypically staffed by North African women. Suggesting that Moroccan women might use a religious ritual as a guise for engaging in illicit sexual activity is, in Malik’s view, a charge that “summarily insult[s] the [Moroccan] nation.” Rather than using national stereotypes that draw on the perception of Morocco as being morally lax to justify restrictions on some travelers, Malik asserts, the Saudi government should be facilitating pilgrimages to Mecca for all Muslims. Political parties in Morocco have reportedly called on the parliament to intervene.
Yemen: For Women, No Confidence in Political Parties
August 19th, 2010 by Jennifer
A study released recently by the Aswan Centre for Social and Legal Studies and Researches in Sana’a found that disenchantment with Yemen’s political parties may be turning women away from greater participation in the electoral system. According to the survey– which polled 500 Yemeni women from across the country –only 18.2% of respondents expressed confidence in Yemen’s political parties, while 17.7% said they believed that the parties view women’s issues merely as propaganda tools. At the same time, the study notes that only 18.7% of key positions among the 4 parties in parliament are held by women; that between 1990 and 2010, the number of seats in the legislature held by women has dropped from 11 to only 1; and that from 1993 to 2003, the number of women competing in parliamentary elections fell from 42 to 11. Respondents to the survey attributed these failures to a variety of factors, including a “lack of societal encouragement for [women] to engage in politics” (14.9%), and the “lack of financial support political parties give women running for office (10%). The study argues that “these findings mean that the relationship of political parties with women from their perspective is based on exploitation in which women issues and their votes are manipulated [by political parties] without a serious and sincere adoption of their concerns,” concluding that “it is necessary to build a bridge of confidence between the political parties and women.”
Egypt: Obstacles for Women Remain
July 13th, 2010 by Farid
The New York Times reports that while the presence of women in the Egyptian workforce has indeed increased, it “has not translated into any fundamental shift in prevailing attitudes toward women in public life.”According to the World Economic Forum’s 2009 Gender Gap Report
(read the full report as a pdf), Egypt ranks number 126 out of 134 countries. In the political sphere, Egyptian women currently only occupy 8 out of the 454 parliamentary seats, a decisive reason why a new quota system has been implemented to guarantee 64 seats for women in the upcoming elections. With a very high illiteracy rate amongst Egyptian women, Fayzah el-Tahnawy
, a member of the ruling party, “This is why we had to implement the quota system in order to make room for women in politics.”
Arab Reform Bulletin: Upcoming Bahraini Elections Offer Chance for Change
June 3rd, 2010 by Josh
In a piece at the Arab Reform Bulletin
, Abdellah al-Derazi
— Secretary General of the Bahrain Human Rights Society — takes a look at Bahrain’s forthcoming parliamentary elections this fall to explore the prospects for meaningful political reform. Although the ballot will include a “similar cast of characters,” al-Derazi notes that “a large number of independent candidates, including women and businesspeople, are expected to run,” which would mark a significant shift from the last poll in 2006.
Yet an increase in political participation might only prompt the government to use all the “tools at its disposal” to control the electoral outcome — tools made possible by an election law that, despite the best efforts of opposition groups, has yet to be amended. Given this landscape, al-Derazi believes that the current political establishment, many of whom are Islamists, will continue to dominate, “perhaps with a greater role played by businesspeople, many of whom are liberals.”
Obama’s Cairo Speech: Assessing the Relationship Between Rhetoric and Action
June 2nd, 2010 by Josh
Ahead of the one-year anniversary of President Obama
’s Cairo address, Scott Carpenter
and Dina Guirguis of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy unpack the last twelve months of Middle East engagement with respect to the seven core issues identified in the speech as paramount to U.S.-Muslim relations: the need to confront violent extremism; the Arab-Israeli conflict; Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons; democracy; religious freedom; women’s rights; and economic development.
Overall, Carpenter and Guirguis conclude that “tangible deliverables from the Cairo address were in short supply.” Perhaps recognizing this reality, the administration has spent the last few months “reframing the speech’s intent and legacy” away from “outreach to Muslims” and toward a notion of “global engagement” that articulated a “generational mission statement” rather than a series of initiatives. “In this context,” the authors write, “the issuance of a new National Security Strategy (NSS) just days before the Cairo anniversary is apparently no coincidence.” Yet even though the NSS strengthens what Carpenter and Guirguis view as the speech’s relative deficiencies, “Washington’s strategy remains open to the same critique as the original Cairo address.”
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Diplomacy, Freedom, Human Rights, Iran, Israel, Mideast Peace Plan, Reform, Terrorism, US foreign policy, Women | Comment »
Iran: Surge in Social Crackdowns
June 2nd, 2010 by Josh
According to a Persia House analysis [subscription required], Iranian police, Basij paramilitary forces, and women in black chadors are increasingly engaging in “morality patrols” to harass females who do not adhere to the government’s strict social codes. Persia House notes that this surge appears to signal a sharp u-turn in policy from the last two months, during which the Iranian regime had been “more willing than usual to ignore social infractions—like improper veiling and drinking alcohol—in order to focus their attention on clamping down on political dissent.” Yet regardless of the duration of this current social campaign, “the extent to which the government would attempt to restrain and constrain society will indicate the amount of pressure the hardline clergy is still able to exert on Iranian officials” – pressure which, if significant, “would suggest that Iran’s conservative clerics have yet to be completely sidelined by the coterie of ‘worldly’ IRGC members currently surrounding President Ahmadinejad.”
In related news, Iranian authorities have reportedly deployed two million Basij militia throughout Tehran in an effort to preempt the upcoming protests that many believe are sure to erupt on June 12 — the anniversary of last year’s disputed presidential election.
Obama Administration Releases its National Security Strategy
May 27th, 2010 by Chanan
The NY Times
‘ David 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.”
’s Will Inbodenthinks 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.”
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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