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POMED Notes: “Turkey at a Crossroads: What do the Gezi Park Protests Mean for Democracy in the Region?”
On Wednesday, June 26, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing titled “Turkey at a Crossroads: What do the Gezi Park Protests Mean for Democracy in the Region?” Dr. Hillel Fradkin, director at the Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World at the Hudson Institute, Dr. Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Mr. Kadri Gursel, contributing writer to Al-Monitor, Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and the Philip Solondz Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Dr. Kadir Ustun, research director at the Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research (SETA), testified. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), presided.
For full event notes continue reading or click here for the PDF.  Read more…
By Ayhan June 27, 2013 Category: Civil Liberties, Congressional Hearing Notes (House), Islam and Democracy, Political Islam, Secularism, Turkey
Morsi Speech Sparks Anger, Criticism
Photo Credit: Amr Nabil/AP
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi made a speech late on Wednesday that has garnered immense criticism from the Egyptian opposition and sparked anger among portions of the Egyptian public. President Morsi admitted that he had made some mistakes in his first year in office but added that “enemies of Egypt” were seeking to undermine Egypt’s democratic transition. Although he admitted that “political polarization and conflict has reached a stage that threatens [Egypt's] nascent democratic experience and threatens to put the whole nation in a state of paralysis and chaos,” he offered no compromises to the opposition.
Amr Moussa, Egypt’s former foreign minister, said that the president did not offer a detailed road map for reconciliation. “What we heard was a routine call for dialogue and the creation of committees like those that were promised before but never materialized,” he said, adding that Morsi’s economic reforms to date had been inconsequential. Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, also criticized Morsi saying that ”People are not looking for ideological government. They are looking for one that preserves their dignity, their freedom, their independence, and their economy.”
Morsi’s speech also failed to satisfy the demands of the opposition. Khaled Dawoud, spokesman for a coalition of liberal parties, said “I am more determined than ever to go out on June 30 to demand the removal of an absolutely irresponsible president.” A poll by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research indicated that President Morsi’s approval rating is at 32% compared to 78% after his first hundred days in office.
State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that the U.S. wishes success for the Egyptian people and that as a democracy, “peaceful demonstrations should be allowed but that people should not resort to violence.”
Meanwhile, Shadi Hamid argues that “opting for a revolutionary course this late in the game… means starting from scratch with little guarantee that the second time will be much better.” Daniel Brumberg writes that “a successful transition hinges partly on the readiness of winners to be generous to losers,” and suggests some possible areas for compromise. Egyptian writer Alaa al-Aswany defends the Tamarrod movement and explains why early presidential elections are the only option.
By Hanan June 27, 2013 Category: Egypt, Featured, Muslim Brotherhood, Political transition, Protests, Reform
Bahraini Legislators Respond to Letter from US Congress
Photo Credit: Bahrain News Agency
A group of Bahraini legislators issued a response to a letter sent earlier this month by 20 Members of the United States Congress that expressed concern at the delayed visit of U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez. The response criticizes the United States for its past refusal to prosecute those who engaged in torture, and says that the “United States has over the past decade and a half followed a path of adamant refusal of U.N. inspections of prisons and other detention facilities.” The legislators lay out Bahrain’s efforts to hold security members accountable and to engage in reform, but contend that the decision to delay Mendez’s visit “was made as a matter of national interest.” “In this context of peril to our open, political life, the pursuit of accountability seems secondary to many of our citizens, who feel threatened by domestic insurrection, the spread of militant Hezbollah into our long prosperous and once so peaceful country, and international indifference to their plight,” the response reads. It also is critical of the sources upon which the original letter relied, including the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which is labeled as “a cloak for a stridently sectarian handful of individuals whose partisan falsification of daily events is treated with derision by anyone who understands our language and is familiar with reality on the ground.”
The original letter, led by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), urged the Bahraini government to reverse its decision to postpone Mendez’s visit “to demonstrate [its] commitment to help put an end to such abuses [of torture].”
In his own statement after the cancelation, Mendez said, “This is the second time that my visit has been postponed, at very short notice. It is effectively a cancellation as no alternative dates were proposed nor is there a future road map to discuss.” Mendez added, ““Let me be clear, this was a unilateral decision by the [Bahraini] authorities. Unfortunately, it is not the first time the Government has tried to avoid responsibility for the postponement of my visit, which was originally supposed to take place over a year ago.”
Rahat Husain writes, ”Angrily responding to the Congressional representatives and in defending Bahrain’s permissive attitude on torture, Bahraini officials paradoxically assert they have not gone far enough, ‘Large segments of our population are incensed at what they see as our Government’s leniency with the sectarian opposition.’”
By Todd June 27, 2013 Category: Bahrain, Featured, Human Rights, Political transition, US foreign policy
New Qatar Emir Makes First Address, Reveals Cabinet
Photo Credit: Qatar TV via AFP, Getty Images
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani gave his first public speech today since his father officially handed him power over the country yesterday. He began by promising to “continue with his father’s reform agenda and growth projects” and stressing that “the development of human capital was key to the success of Qatar and that he wanted to increase the productivity of the nation, not just its wealth.”
On foreign policy matters, he asserted Emir Tamim contended that “Qatar’s new-found position on the world stage should be met with humbleness,” and vowed that  ”as Arabs we reject the splitting of countries on a sectarian basis,” and mentioning that “we are not part of any regional trend against another…Qatar is committed to its promises and relations, but we have a vision and we don’t wait for orders from anyone.” While he did not discuss Qatar’s role in Syria, Libya or Egypt, he “said that Qatar was committed to the cause of Palestine, and would work to end Israeli occupation.”
The new Emir also unveiled his new cabinet in a later announcement, naming Sheikh Abdallah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, the third cousin of former Emir Hamad, as Prime Minister, replacing Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, who also served as Qatar’s foreign minister and is often credited alongside former Emir Hamad for  Qatar’s rise in the international community. Emir Tamim also named Sheikh Abdallah as Qatar’s interior minister, as well as named Dr. Khalid al-Atiyah as foreign minister and Ali Sherif al-Emadi as finance minister.
By William June 26, 2013 Category: Civil Liberties, Diplomacy, Economics, Egypt, Featured, Gulf, Hezbollah, Israel, Leadership Transitions, Libya, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestine, Qatar, Sectarianism, Syria, Youth
Saudi Human Rights Activist Sentenced to 8 Years
Photo Credit: BBC News
A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced Abdul-Karim al-Khader, a founding member of one of Saudi Arabia’s leading human rights organizations, to eight years in jail on grounds of inciting sedition. Al-Khader is the co-founder of the Saudi Political Civil Rights Association (ACPRA), which was dissolved in March and their assets seized by a criminal court. The court convicted al-Khader for sedition and damage to the country’s reputation, citing that his organization campaigned for a constitutional monarchy as well as elections in the Gulf Arab kingdom.
According to BBC News, the organization was established in 2009 by a group of lawyers and academics in order to reform the country’s legal system. The group, however, has witnessed a harsh crackdown by authorities and leading members have been restricted by a state-imposed travel ban in effect for 10 years after their release from prison. The group has repeatedly spoken out against the government, accusing it of human rights abuses including torture, jailing political activists, and detaining people without due process or after the expiration of their sentences. ACPRA has also represented the families of detainees whom are considered Islamic militants by the government.
Waleed Abu al-Khair, a human rights lawyer and activist in Jeddah, stated that the government “is continuing its campaign against all human rights activists,” claiming, ”They are demanding that you sign a pledge to stop demanding reforms and those who refuse are taken to court and sent to jail.”
NPR reports that in Saudi Arabia, protests and political gatherings of any kind are prohibited. They added, however, that since February 2011, protesters have held demonstrations on a regular basis in Saudi Arabia, primarily calling for the release of all political prisoners, freedom of expression and assembly, and an end to widespread discrimination.
By Ayhan June 26, 2013 Category: Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Democracy Promotion, Featured, Human Rights, Saudi Arabia
Emir of Qatar Hands Power to Son
Photo Credit: AFP
One day after he discussed his plan with the royal family, HH Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar announced today that he would hand down power to his son, Former Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. “I declare that I will hand over the reins of power to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and I am fully certain that he is up to the responsibility, deserving the confidence, capable of shouldering the responsibility and fulfilling the mission,” the outgoing Emir added as he became the first Qatari ruler to abdicate the throne. While rumors humors have suggested that former Emir Hamad is retiring due to kidney problems, “officials insist that his decision for stepping down was not health related but rather a determination to bring a younger leadership to the fore.” The announcement comes as a surprise to many observers, who were briefed by Qatari officials earlier this month that now-Emir Tamim would first replace Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani as prime minister before ascending to the throne. As of Tuesday, the prime minister remains at his post.
Al Jazeera diplomatic editor James Bays argued that “the next 48 hours would be crucial for the new leader.” In Bays’ words, “he needs to see his subjects…He needs to speak to prominent players in society, and there will effectively be, for some hours today, and some hours on Wednesday, an open house here where he will be meeting all the prominent sheikhs, speaking to them, discussing the future.” While some observers have suggested that Sheikh Tamim “is more religious” “may emerge as a more conservative, risk-averse figure” than his father, few expect the policies of the new Emir to veer sharply from those of outgoing Emir Hamad, given Sheikh Tamim’s prior support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the opposition in Syria, and business interests in Europe. As Siemon Kerr reported on Gulf News “most observers in Doha say [Sheikh] Tamim is a pragmatist who will follow the policy forged by his father and the prime minister.”
The move comes three days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Qatar to “focus with Qatari officials on Syria, on the Middle East peace process, and on Afghanistan.” During a press conference alongside Secretary Kerry, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal congratulated the new Emir on his ascendance to the throne.
 
Update: New Emir HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani told lawyer of Mohammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami that his client, Qatar’s only political prisoner, “would be released within a few days of the new Emir’s accession to power.”
By William June 25, 2013 Category: Afghanistan, Diplomacy, Economics, Featured, Gulf, Gulf Cooperation Council, Leadership Transitions, Qatar, Reform, Syria, US foreign policy
U.S. Navy Officer Presents New Strategy for Bahrain
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mackenzie P. Adams
Commander Richard McDaniel, USN, Federal Executive Fellow at Brookings’ Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, published a report entitled “No ‘Plan B:’  U.S. Stretegic Access in the Middle East and the Question of Bahrain,” on how the U.S. should respond to the continued uprisings in Bahrain against the monarchy in order to maintain military access, “diversify the U.S. footprint,” and positively affect Bahrain’s progress towards better governance and human rights reform. McDaniel argues that maintaining the 5th fleet’s presence in Bahrain is in the U.S.’s and Bahrain’s strategic interest, and could grant the U.S. greater leverage in encouraging democratic reforms. The 5th Fleet has also helped the U.S. build strong political, economic, and cultural ties with Bahrain, and losing naval access to Bahrain would hinder the United States’ capacity to deter Iran, combat piracy in the Indian Ocean, and maintain freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.
McDaniel characterized the opposition in Bahrain as a Shi’a uprising, but points out that only a small minority of Shi’a Bahrainis adhere to the same religious doctrine as Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and even fewer are ethnic Persians or carry political allegiance to Iran’s leadership (pp. 7-11). However, McDaniel contends that “many fear that the Bahraini youth will grow weary of slow reform and begin to radicalize…the longer it takes Bahrain to implement reforms the likelier it becomes.”
McDaniel blames the U.S.’s “close relationship with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain [as] the reason the State Department has only applied moderate pressure for reforms” in Bahrain. He also argues that “the United States should view democratic reforms, wherever they occur, as in its best interest (p. 9),” and that “the biggest threat to U.S. access is not democratic reform that leads to a constitutional monarchy, but a lack of reform that [results] in continued instability, unrest, and the empowerment of radical leadership (p. 11). ” To this end, he argues that the U.S. should develop a “Plan B” to move the 5th fleet in the event that Bahrain becomes too unstable. The alternatives, however, are more expensive, strain the U.S.’s relationship with Bahrain, reduce the U.S’s ability to respond quickly to a regional crisis, and hurt the U.S.’s ability to push for democratic reforms (pp. 23-27).
Regardless, McDaniel argues that “Bahrain is a major non-NATO ally, therefore the U.S. has an obligation to stand with it during challenging times while still encouraging democratic reform. Voluntarily removing the U.S. footprint from Bahrain would do little to improve the situation, potentially create a power vacuum, destabilize the region, and eliminate the moderating effect that U.S. influence has had on the Bahraini crisis…The U.S. should leverage elements of national power to promote positive change, understanding that it has a moral obligation to stand on principle and strongly encourage democratic reform (26).”
By William June 25, 2013 Category: Bahrain, Featured, Gulf Cooperation Council, Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Reform, Saudi Arabia, Sectarianism, US foreign policy, Youth
Obama Discusses Turkey’s Protests with Erdogan
Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
On Monday, President Barack Obama spoke on the phone with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan about a range of issues, including the Syrian crisis and protracted demonstrations in Turkey. According to a White House statement, “The two leaders discussed the importance of nonviolence and of the rights to free expression and assembly and a free press.”  Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc claimed the conversation was very cordial. In general, Washington has been very outspoken since the start of the protests – both the U.S. State Department and the White House have issued more than a dozen statements calling for restraint and respect for freedom of assembly.
According to the Huffington Post, the two governments had previously exchanged sharp words regarding the violence, “with Washington expressing concern over “excessive” police tactics and Ankara rejecting criticism of his handling of the violence.” Some analysts believe, they argue, that Washington was taken by surprise by the violence, which erupted only a few weeks after Erdogan’s friendly visit to the White House.
Meanwhile, the anti-government protests continued on Tuesday as police detained 20 people in raids in the capital city of Ankara. Those detained were alleged to have links to “terror” groups and were suspected of “attacking police and the environment.” So far, four people have been killed and at least 7,500 injured, according to estimates by the Turkish Medical Association. Erdogan has repeatedly called the protests a plot against Turkey and has defended the police’s heavy-handed response.
By Ayhan June 25, 2013 Category: Civil Liberties, Featured, Protests, Turkey, US foreign policy
Eight Arrested in Egypt over Shiite Killing
Photo Credit: Gianluigi Guercia / AFP
A mob attack in a village near Cairo resulted in the death of five Shia worshipers on Sunday. The mob accused the worshipers of spreading Shia beliefs. The mob numbered in the hundreds and some reports indicate that police did not intervene, despite being witness to the violent killings. According to authorities, eight were arrested in connection with the lynchings on Tuesday.
Although Egypt has a small minority of Shiites, anti-Shia rhetoric has increased in recent months, illustrating how the war in Syria is spilling over into other countries across the region. President Mohamed Morsi has condemned the killings, though many say that his move was insufficient and accused him of allowing Salafi groups to encourage anti-Shia sentiment. Nervana Mahmoud writes that at a rally which Morsi attended, Salafi groups made derogatory statements about Shiites while the Egyptian president sat silently and impassively. As a result, she argues, it is no surprise that people have understood Morsi’s passivity as a “license to lynch Shiites.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, leader of the Constitution Party, writes that Egypt’s leadership does not have the experience or the know-how to lead. He explains that murder, robbery and kidnapping have all skyrocketed in the past year. Lynchings, he explains, have become a common spectacle. “The Brothers are also losing badly because, despite all their great slogans, they haven’t been able to deliver,” he writes. Egypt is a failed state teetering on the brink of something worse, he warns, and more meaningful reforms are necessary to bring it back from the brink.
Meanwhile, as tensions rise ahead of the June 30 protests, Defense Minister Abdul Fatah Al Sissi issued his final warning to Islamists and the secular opposition, urging them to end their political deadlock. He also made it clear that the military would not stand by and allow the protests to jeopardize national security. A spokesman for President Morsi dismissed the threats of military intervention in the protests, however. The president’s supporters are preparing for a counter-rally following the June 30 protests.
By Hanan June 25, 2013 Category: Egypt, Featured, Islam and Democracy, Muslim Brotherhood, Protests, Sectarianism
POMED Now Accepting Fall Internship Applications
The Project on Middle East Democracy is now accepting applications for our Fall 2013 internship term, which runs from August-December 2013. We have openings for the following positions: Policy Intern, Civil Society Partnerships Intern, Research Intern, Egypt Programs Intern, and Iran Programs Intern. Applicants are encouraged to apply to multiple positions that fit their interests. Please see the description for each internship and direct any questions you have to Todd Ruffner at todd.ruffner@pomed.org, or call him at  (202) 828-9660 ext. 24 (do not send application directly to Mr. Ruffner). Read more…
By Todd June 25, 2013 Category: Democracy Promotion, Social Media
Kuwait’s Largest Tribe to Participate in Elections
Photo Credit: Arab Times Online
Kuwait’s Awazem tribe, the largest tribe in Kuwait, has decided to forego the national opposition’s boycott of the upcoming parliamentary elections on July 25. As Sheikh Falah bin Jamaa, chief of the Awazem tribe, commented, “we might have our differences and we are all aware of the situation in the country…there are two views, one supporting elections and one against it. I have checked with our people and most of the people said that they wanted to be part of the elections.”
Both those for and against the upcoming elections have patiently awaited the Awazem’s decision, with “both camps…heavily relying on it to further their campaigns.” Many opposition leaders have campaigned to boycott the elections after the Supreme Court upheld Kuwait’s controversial elections law, which limited the number candidates voters can select on their ballots from four to one. A similar boycott of last December’s elections by the opposition over the “one-person, one vote” law led to the election of a ”50-seat parliament…entirely composed of MPs loyal to the government.”
Kuwait’s court of appeals also announced its lifting the travel ban on former member of the National Assembly Musallam al-Barrak, who was sentenced to five years in prison in April after criticizing the Emir during a speech in October 2012. While the court of appeals overturned Al-Barrak’s sentence in May, it “kept the case open within the court, a decision that the former lawmaker challenged at the court of cassation, saying that it needed to be sent back to the lower court. As al-Barrak argued, “not taking back my case to the lower court means that I have been deprived bf my litigation rights.” The court of appeals dismissed al-Barrak’s request in the same decision that led to the lifting of the travel ban.
By William June 24, 2013 Category: Courts and Judiciary, Featured, Kuwait, Parliament, Uncategorized
Continuing Clashes in Lebanon Kill Sixteen Soldiers
Photo Credit: AP
Armed followers of Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, a hard-line Sunni cleric, clashed with the Lebanese army at a checkpoint near Sidon in southern Lebanon on Sunday. Fighting broke out after Assir’s supporters opened fire at the checkpoint but it is unclear how or why the clashes began. Some reports indicate that a man was arrested at the checkpoint for carrying unlicensed weapons in his car. The fighting escalated to include heavy machine guns and rocket propelled grenades causing panic in Lebanon’s third-largest city. By the early morning hours, Lebanese forces had surrounded Assir’s mosque and shots were reportedly fired into Monday morning. Army checkpoints also came under attack in the northern town of Tripoli and in Ein el-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon.
The Lebanese Army issued a strongly worded statement calling the event a “cold-blooded attack” intended to “plunge Lebanon into another cycle of violence,” and went on to vow that the army “will beat with an iron fist whomever sheds the blood of the army, and it will retaliate against everyone who provides a political or journalistic cover for those people.” Meanwhile, President Michel Suleiman, called for an emergency meeting.
Assir also utilized Twitter to appeal to his supporters to come to his aid and widen the scale of the clashes. He also said that the soldiers at the checkpoint had attacked his supporters and those who came to their assistance. The latest numbers indicate that at least 16 soldiers were killed and 50 injured. There are no details about the number of civilian casualties or whether there were any.
Ben Gilbert explains how Syria’s civil war has begun to spill into Lebanon, where Sunnis stand opposed to President Bashar al-Assad‘s Alawite regime and are resentful of Hezbollah for its support of the Syrian government. More and more Lebanese Sunnis are joining the opposition in their fight against the Assad regime, Gilbert reports. Assir, who is a staunch opponent of the Shia military force, has clashed with Hezbollah in Sidon in the past.
By Hanan June 24, 2013 Category: Conflict, Featured, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Sectarianism, Syria
Egypt’s Army Delivers Warning Amid Protests
Photo Credit: AFP
On Sunday, Egypt’s army chief warned that the military is prepared to intervene in order to stop the nation from descending into a “dark tunnel” of internal conflict. General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi gave the statement ahead of mass protests planned by opponents of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The army general fears that demonstrations calling for Morsi’s resignation will descend into violence, after some of the president’s hard-line supporters vowed to “smash” protesters and called them infidels who deserve to be killed. El-Sissi stated that, while it is not their job, the military will intervene if necessary because the situation has become much more dire. “The army’s bond with the people is eternal. Those who think they can infiltrate this bond or circumvent it are mistaken. The armed forces will not stand silent any longer against repeated insults to the institution and its symbols,” he added.
The opposition has reportedly claimed that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, despite having won a series of elections  since the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak, have “squandered their legitimacy with heavy handed misrule.” The opposition believes that the Islamists have encroached on the independence of the judiciary, attempted to monopolize power, and pushed through an Islamist-backed constitution instead seeking a consensus as promised. Morsi’s supporters, however, argue that the opposition has avoided his offers of dialogue and have instead turned to force to remove him because they cannot compete with his party in the election.
According to Ihab Yousef, a Cairo-based security risk management analyst, political experts do not view the army’s warning as being directed at a particular group, and claims it was addressed to parties and factions across the political spectrum to mitigate the chance of violence. “His message might initially seem directed at the Brotherhood, because of their latest protest that had indications of violence…but the message is directed at both the opposition and the Brotherhood,” Yousef added.
By Ayhan June 24, 2013 Category: Conflict, Egypt, Featured, Muslim Brotherhood
U.S. Increases Military Aid to Jordan
Photo Credit: AP
Citing security concerns in Jordan, which borders the Syrian civil war, President Barack Obama told Congress on Friday that 700 U.S. troops would remain in the country following training exercises until the situation improves. “The deployment of this detachment has been directed in furtherance of U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, including the important national interests in supporting the security of Jordan and promoting regional stability, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations,” Obama’s letter said.
For the past two weeks, U.S. troops have been working with the Jordanian military and other partners in the region and conducting exercises on land, air, and sea. According to Voice of America, the decision to leave the F-16′s and Patriot missile batteries after the exercise is a show of strength — and a message to the Syrian leadership to keep the violence away from the borders.
The recent announcement came around the same time that 11 foreign ministers, including Secretary John Kerry, of the “Friends of Syria” group began holding talks in Qatar to discuss how to organize the delivery of military and other kinds of assistance to Syrian rebels. The U.S. is particularly concerned about the possible spillover of violence into Jordan, who is a key ally and one of the only two Arab states to have signed a peace treaty with Israel.
By Ayhan June 23, 2013 Category: Conflict, Featured, Foreign Aid, Jordan, Syria
Human Rights Watch Denounces Moroccan Justice System
Photo Credit: Press TV
On Friday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Moroccan courts of convicting defendants based on confessions that were obtained through torture and coercion. According to HRW’s 100-page report, “Just Sign Here: Unfair Trials Based on Confessions to the Police in Morocco,” the organization was said to have examined five trials of 77 people, including pro-democracy demonstrators and activists in Western Sahara and terrorism suspects from 2009 up until present day. Of the 77 people who were examined, 76 were convicted and 38 still remain imprisoned. HRW found that in the cases examined, judges failed to investigate accusations by defendants that their confessions were obtained through illegal means and then used as the main basis for conviction. This failure by the courts effectively encourages the police to use torture, ill-treatment, and falsification to obtain statements, Human Rights Watch said. Defendants also told Human Rights Watch that despite the fact that the law allows them to see a lawyer upon arrest, in most cases they were denied this until the confession was already signed.
According to BBC News, Moroccan law criminalizes torture and prohibits courts from using evidence obtained under “violence or coercion.” In 2009, King Mohammed VI announced a major push to reform the judiciary and in 2011, a new constitution was drafted in order to prevent an uprising likened to that of the ‘Arab Spring.’ It included a number of articles that allowed the strengthening of judicial independence and defendants’ rights. HWR argued, however, that “The country’s judicial reform agenda needs to include stronger safeguards to ensure that courts discard as evidence any statement made to the police under torture or ill-treatment.”
Last September, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez, visited Morocco at the invitation of the king. He cited that cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees was “very frequent” and that the country was a long way from eliminating the practice of torture.
By Ayhan June 22, 2013 Category: Civil Liberties, Courts and Judiciary, Featured, Morocco
U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Meets Crown Media Adviser
Photo Credit: Bahrain News Agency
Bahraini Adviser to the King for Media Affairs Nabil bin Yaqoob Al Hamer received U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Thomas Krajeski yesterday at Gudaibiya Palace, where “they discussed strong historic relations” between Bahrain and the United States, “and their progress in various fields.” Ambassador Krajeski also praised “Bahrain’s numerous achievements brought about by the royal reform project of HM the King,” according to Bahrain News Agency.
Both the U.S. Ambassador and Bahraini Adviser “commended the positive outcome of the visit of His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa” to the United States two weeks ago, “stressing its role in further promoting the Bahraini-American relations and bolstering bilateral cooperation.”
U.S. President Barack Obama called for “meaningful reform, dialogue and respect for universal human rights” in Bahrain during a meeting the Bahraini Crown Prince held with Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken in Washington. Human Rights Watch also released a report yesterday entitled “Interfere, Restrict, Control,” on the current state of freedom of association in Bahrain, which claimed that “there is a track record over the last decade or more of the Bahraini authorities being unwilling to allow peaceful dissent and peaceful criticism,” as Human Rights Watch Director David Mepham argued. Voice of America attempted to contact Bahraini officials for comments following the release of the report, but was unsuccessful.
By William June 21, 2013 Category: Bahrain, Civil Liberties, Diplomacy, Featured, Human Rights, NGOs
Turkish Activists Try to Maintain Momentum, Despite Challenges
Photo Credit: Murad Sezer/Reuters
Turkish activists shifted gears this week, engaging in peaceful protests and organizing neighborhood counsels to discuss demands. On Tuesday, over a thousand protesters gathered in Taksim Square to stand and stare at a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, founder of the modern state of Turkey. This came after interior minister Muammer Guler stated that “police would not target protests that did not disturb public order.” Police detained several protesters but shortly released them.
After two weeks of protests and violent clashes, Turkish police violently forced protesters to clear Taksim Square and Gezi Park on Saturday, using tear gas and water cannons. Now, the various factions of the movement are attempting to organize around a common agenda and goals in order to act as a counterweight to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which in recent years has dominated the political scene, in part thanks to a lack of organized opposition.
In nightly neighborhood councils held in local parks, protesters are discussing future efforts, including “to try to connect with AKP voters, protect local neighborhoods, beat Mr. Erdogan’s candidate for Istanbul’s mayor in the coming municipal elections, campaign for the release of detained protesters and boycott pro-government businesses.”
However, concerns remain about the movement’s lack of leadership and unity. There are doubts that the fragmented social groups that comprised the Gezi Park protests will be able to rally around a common agenda. In an op-ed for Muftah, H. Kubrawrote: “This could have been a moment when the people of Turkey came together and stood against police brutality and for better local governance. Concrete, simple, and straightforward demands could have been made and any concessions provided by the government could have been instrumentalized and accepted early on. A better rhetoric and tone, one that was inclusive of all groups but also excluded hate speech, racism, sexism, and Islamophobia could have been underlined and presented…We really needed these things, but we did not get them from the Gezi Park protests.”
By Megan June 21, 2013 Category: Civil Society, Elections, Featured, Protests, Reform, Turkey
Event Notes: “The Role of Economics in Democratic Transitions – The Case of Tunisia”
The National Endowment for Democracy hosted a lecture titled “The Role of Economics in Democratic Transitions: The Case of Tunisia.” It featured Mondher Ben Ayed, President and CEO of TMI – a Tunis based technology firm – and former advisor to the Prime Minister of Tunisia. The lecture was moderated by Larry Diamond, Co-Chair of the Research Council of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy. Brief opening remarks were delivered by Jeffrey Gedmin, President and CEO of the Legatum Institute.
For full event notes continue reading or click here for the PDF.
Read more…
By Hanan June 21, 2013 Category: Democracy Promotion, Economics, Event Notes, Political transition, Reform, Tunisia
Disagreement Over U.S. Policy in Syria
Photo Credit: Evan Vucci-Pool/Getty Images
Syria’s rebel commander, Gen. Salim Idris, confirmed that they have received new weapons, though he refused to indicate the source. He also urged the U.S. “to hurry up in supplying us with weapons and ammunition.” However, a bipartisan group of senators has bound together in an attempt to block U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced a bill to prohibit defense and intelligence agencies from funding any activities in Syria. In a statement, Senator Paul said that “engaging in yet another conflict in the Middle East with no vote or Congressional oversight compounds the severity of this situation.” Senator Murphy expressed his concern that U.S. weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
Disagreement is not limited to Congress, however. Secretary of State John Kerry has a preference for airstrikes while the Pentagon has tended to worry about entry and exit strategies, writes Gordon Lubold. The CIA and USAID are delivering arms and humanitarian aid, respectively. The White House continues to ponder what kind of strategy is both feasible and effective. Rosa Brooks posits that although such action is unlikely, the U.S. cannot claim that the use of military force in Syria is legal on the basis of international law. The U.S. can make a case for legitimate action, however.
As disagreement and uncertainty continue throughout the federal government, Syria’s neighbors are becoming increasingly concerned about a spillover of conflict. Iraq has warned Syria that its civil war is dividing the region and the Lebanese president has urged Hezbollah to retreat. Both countries have seen increased violence since the onset of the war, with the latest wave of unrest hitting Beirut last night as about 100 protesters demonstrated peacefully near parliament. Police have since cordoned off the area with razor wire and threatened to respond vigorously to any violence. Protesters said they are angered by the postponement of parliamentary elections and were standing in solidarity with the Sunni town of Arsal, which they say has been closed off by security forces following the shooting of four Shi’ite men earlier this week.
By Hanan June 21, 2013 Category: Conflict, Featured, Foreign Aid, Political transition, Sectarianism, Syria, US foreign policy
Kuwait Cabinet Sets Parliamentary Poll Date
Photo Credit: AFP Photo/Yasser al-Zayyat
The Kuwaiti cabinet approved July 25 as its date for the country’s next parliamentary polls today, scheduling elections for Kuwait’s National Assembly for the third time in 16 months and for the sixth time since 2006.  The decision will be officially implemented in a decree from Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah to be issued soon.
This comes after the Constitutional Court dissolved the 50-member  parliament and found “fault leading up to the last elections in December.” The opposition boycotted the December elections in protest of the old electoral system, in which voters could only choose one candidate on their ballot, whereas they could choose up to four candidates in previous polls. The opposition argued that “under the old system, voters were allowed to cast ballots for up to four candidates, which the opposition said allowed alliances that partly made up for the absence of political parties,” which are illegal in Kuwait. Opposition figures also contended that the new system enables “the government to manipulate election results and subsequent legislation.” However, the Constitutional Court decided to uphold the “one-person, one-vote” system, even though the Constitutional Court dissolved the legislative body for its “lack of legitimacy.”
As Sylvia Westall wrote for Reuters, “almost constant factional infighting and disarray has stalled infrastructure development and held up economic reforms in Kuwait.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to visit Kuwait City on June 26 during his upcoming tour of the Middle East, India, and Brunei from June 21 to July 2.
By William June 20, 2013 Category: Elections, Featured, Kuwait, Parliament, Reform, US foreign policy
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