MEPI – empowering democratic actors, reflecting local needs

In deciding whether or how to promote democracy in the Middle East, and as it struggles with reconciling ideals and interests, the Obama administration should at least retain “perhaps the best available example of successfully integrating democracy promotion into U.S. foreign policy.”

The Middle East Partnership Initiative has “helped build a network of Arab democracy advocates and activists who welcome American democracy assistance, and created a positive ‘brand’ for U.S. democracy promotion,” according to Brookings’ analysts Tamara Wittes and Andrew Masloski. Supporting such actors is especially important, they contend, “because they are the main transmitters and translators of democratic ideas into their home societies.”

They argue against consolidating democracy assistance under USAID which, constrained by bilateral agreements with the region’s regimes and Washington-driven priorities, would militate against MEPI’s success in coordinating funding and diplomacy. USAID’s democracy and governance activities tend to be associated with large-scale, high-cost programs while the MEPI record demonstrates the virtues of investing in small-scale activities that reflect genuine, locally-driven needs and priorities:

The MEP programming that has arguably made the biggest difference to Arab democracy activists on the ground, and that has harmonized most strongly diplomacy and democracy assistance, has been the lowest-cost and the closest to the local level-the MEPI local grants.

Read the whole thing.

Obama’s speech in Egypt – spot the democracy indicators

President Barack Obama’s speech in Egypt next week will need to balance strategic and diplomatic considerations with a clear commitment to democratic reform in the region, writes J. Scott Carpenter. But Obama is likely, perhaps even compelled, to prioritize economic and security concerns over democracy promotion, writes William Galston, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

The U.S. needs to support relatively moderate states like Egypt and Jordan to counter rejectionist forces like Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, says Carpenter, director of the Washington Institute’s Project Fikra. But the speech must also must include “a challenge to Egypt and governments across the region to create more open, democratic, and therefore, resilient societies.”

“Insisting that Middle East governments do more to protect their citizens’ civil and political rights will put him squarely on the side of the people,” he suggests.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday insisted that “it is in Egypt’s interest to move more toward democracy and to exhibit more respect for human rights.”

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit met Clinton earlier this week and he welcomed the shift in rhetoric, describing the new administration as “very much different” from its predecessor on issues like democracy and human rights.

But, meeting with Egyptian democracy activists, Clinton emphasized the U.S. commitment to promoting democracy in the region. “We’ve spent, as you know, many billions of dollars over the last years promoting NGOs, promoting democracy, good governance, rule of law,” she said.

She placed particular stress on economic opportunity, out of which “comes confidence, comes a recognition that people can chart their own future.”

Galston believes economic and security considerations will come first in Obama’s address. “Given the gravity and urgency of the problems in these areas, the administration’s stance is understandable, perhaps even inevitable,” he contends.

He suggests looking for a few important hints at what kind of democracy strategy might emerge:

  • Consistent with the overall case he presents, will the president discuss democracy and human rights during his formal address to the Muslim world?
  • Will he also bring up these concerns during private meetings with President Mubarak, and if he does, will his entourage take steps to publicize this fact?
  • Will he meet with well-known dissidents, opposition leaders such as Ayman Nour, and representatives of beleaguered independent groups?
  • Will he insist on the right of the United States to fund whatever Egyptian groups it chooses, whether or not the Egyptian government has officially recognized and certified them?

If President Obama does these things, his administration can credibly claim to have put in place a democracy and human rights strategy that may well prove more effective than his predecessor’s blunt confrontation with the status quo.

The U.S. was criticized this week for supporting Egyptian liberal democrats at the expense of other opposition forces. “By favouring liberals, America is marginalising the majority within the Egyptian opposition,” claimed Sara Khorshid.

She cites Brookings fellow Khalil Al-Anani complaint about the absence of “any real liberal solidarity with the opposition movements … such as Kefaya, the April 6 Youth Movement or the workers’ unions.” Egyptian liberals, he said, “refuse to join the opposition ranks because they consider them to be politically immature populist movements.”

Democratizing Belarus

Do tensions between Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko give the West a chance to bring Belarus into the democratic camp?

Do tensions between Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko give the West a chance to bring Belarus into the democratic camp?

Democratizing Europe’s last dictatorship will curb the Kremlin’s aggression in its periphery and encourage democratic forces within Russia, writes Jeffrey Gedmin, president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

As economic crisis threatens to fray the social pact underpinning Alexander Lukashenko’s hard-line regime and economic relations with Russia strained, the democratic West should eschew short-term realpolitik and ramp up the pressure:

Belarus must be pressured to have more independent media, to investigate the cases of missing dissidents, and to end the practice of jailing oppositionists. For its part, the EU should insist that any economic assistance be closely tied to political reforms and respect for human rights.

North Korea shows limits of ‘realism’

Kim Jong-Il combines Stalinist dictatorships with a narcissistic personality
Kim Jong-Il combines Stalinist dictatorship with narcissistic personality

North Korea’s nuclear test and missile launchings have been widely condemned throughout the international community. Even by the regime’s friends in China.

But Greg Sheridan makes the case that Beijing was only going through the motions. He notes that no Chinese diplomat joined US, Japanese and South Korean counterparts at a recent international conference on North Korean human rights in Melbourne recently.

He also observes that classical realist approaches to foreign policy have little to offer when dealing with irrational actors:

Stalinist dictatorships are best considered as national equivalents of the narcissistic personality in psychology. They are completely self-obsessed. North Korea’s interlocutors keep trying to devise a system of incentives and disincentives. But the North Koreans make entirely different calculations. Their paradigm is utterly foreign. This is a classic weakness of realism as an analytical tool in foreign policy. Realism holds that states act on the basis of their interests rather than their ideologies. This is wrong throughout history but especially wrong of regimes such as Kim’s. Kim will act in his own interests, but his evaluation of his interests may bear no resemblance to our evaluation.

Beijing’s cultural vandalism under fire

The New York Times has a must-read article (and watch the slide show too) on the planned demolition of Kashgar’s Old City by China’s ruling communist authorities. It is the latest instance of Beijing’s cultural vandalism which is designed to undermine Uyghurs’ identity and aspirations for self-rule.

“Kashgar’s Old City is where I was born and raised,” says Nury A. Turkel, a Uyghur-American attorney in Washington:

It’s really sad to see a thousand years of Uyghur culture and history integrated through the physical space and architecture of the Old City will be destroyed as a result of China’s politically motivated policies.  It will be an immeasurable loss for the Uyghur people.  It also will be a loss for the citizens of the world as the atrophy of our global cultural heritage sites continues.

Uyghurs are the Tibetans you haven’t heard about, he writes. Turkel takes issue with recent comments by former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich:

Ethnic Turkic people from the Chinese Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Uyghurs have long faced discrimination and persecution as a minority — a fact recognized repeatedly by the U.S. Congress and State Department, which has noted China’s insidious strategy of using the U.S. war on terror as pretext to oppress independent religious leaders and peaceful political dissenters. Uyghurs’ struggle for self-rule is one against dictatorship and communism, not one to establish a sharia state through violence (as Gingrich claims, in a curious echo of Chinese government propaganda).