‘No Enemies, No Hatred’ – just moral authority

Credit: Wall St Journal

A new collection of Liu Xiaobo’s writings demonstrates that the Chinese dissident has much in common with Vaclav Havel, writes Ellen Bork, “chiefly a faith in individuals and the impact they can have on a totalitarian system”:

The title “No Enemies, No Hatred” is taken from the June 2, 1989, announcement by Mr. Liu and a few comrades of a hunger strike at Tiananmen Square. Several essays and poems, and his final statement to the court, reflect the profound influence on Mr. Liu of the Tiananmen protests and massacre—events the Party still distorts and denies. In 1989, Mr. Liu, then a visiting professor of literature in New York, came home to join the protesters, consciously rejecting what he saw as the passivity of most Chinese intellectuals. On the night of June 3-4, as troops advanced, killing indiscriminately, Mr. Liu saved lives by persuading students to leave Tiananmen and negotiating their safe passage. He survived but retained a burden of guilt about his comparatively mild prison experience (“deathly bored . . . but that’s about it”), his forced “confession” and the disproportionate attention “luminaries” received for their role in the protests

“Moral authority, in the popular view, lies increasingly with the people,” he writes. But Liu is no purist, notes Bork, director of democracy and human rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative:

He urges tolerance and respect, including for those working inside the system. Nevertheless, he distinguishes between tolerance and compromising on principle, warning that “when the ‘rise’ of a large dictatorial state that commands rapidly increasing economic strength meets with no effective deterrence from outside, but only an attitude of appeasement . . . the results will not only be another catastrophe for the Chinese people but likely also a disaster for the spread of liberal democracy in the world.”


Raids on NGOs a foretaste of wider offensive against Egypt’s democrats

Egyptian officials have given assurances that they will end raids on pro-democracy groups and return property seized in this week’s crackdown (above). But activists believe the security services’ storming of several organizations’ offices is a harbinger of a broader offensive against civil society and human rights advocates designed to undermine the country’s transition.

The raids were a “preventative action” to sabotage protests planned for the January 25 anniversary of the launch of the Jasmine revolution, says veteran analyst, Hani Shukrullah, and “part of an ongoing offensive by [an] emergent counter-revolution bloc,” led by the military.

The crackdown “startled” Obama administration officials who had been transparent about the groups’ funding and operations in discussions with the Egyptian authorities.

“It caught us all by surprise when they raided the offices because we didn’t think that was the way this was going,” said a US official.

In discussions today with senior members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the U.S. ambassador in Cairo, Anne Patterson, reportedly demanded that the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) be allowed to resume normal operations.

“The ambassador has sought and received Egyptian leadership assurances that the raids will cease and property will be returned immediately,” a US official said.

Patterson will conduct a dialogue with Egyptian officials “to resolve the underlying issues related to the operation of U.S.-supported NGOs in a transparent, open manner.”

“These NGOs should be allowed to operate freely as they do in countries around the world in support of democracy and free elections,” the official said.

But thirteen activists have been summoned for further investigation, according to Egyptian media reports, citing a senior judicial source saying that “the coming days will see a significant movement in the investigations” that will be “a surprise for those involved in these issues.”

“It was never a question of if, just a question of when,” said Hossam Bahgat, head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “Choosing the last work day in the calendar year is not a coincidence; it is because the world is not watching.”

The episode confirmed suspicions that the ruling military aims to stifle civil society and silence dissident voices, activists claim.

“No one really believed us,” said Ziad Abdel Tawab, deputy director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. “This action proved that this is a true campaign against all the actors” involved in the Tahrir Square protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak and who continue to protest against military rule.

“Now people finally believe us,” he said. “The international community and more political forces are showing sympathy towards what’s happening.”

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has reportedly laid the ground for an assault on pro-democracy groups with claims that the authorities have uncovered a conspiracy to burn down parliament, while state media reported a plot to foment violent unrest on January 25 to facilitate a foreign invasion.

Such reports are “indicators of a clear attack on voices of dissent,” says Rabab al-Mahdi, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo. “The raids on NGO offices have to be seen in the wider context, they cannot be taken in isolation,” she told AFP.

Security forces seized computers, cell phones, documents and staffs’ personal effects from the offices of Egyptian and foreign-based non-governmental groups, including the Arab Center for Independence of Justice and Legal Professions and the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory.

“They took all the documents and all the computers. It’s a new campaign against freedom from the Scaf, against civil society in Egypt,” said Helmy Rawy, director of the Observatory, which scrutinizes military expenditures. “They don’t want anyone to raise their voice for freedom,” he said.

The authorities also targeted foreign democracy assistance groups, including the US-based International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, as well as Germany’s Konrad Adenauer foundation.

“Cracking down on organizations whose sole purpose is to support the democratic process during Egypt’s historic transition sends a disturbing signal,” said NDI president Kenneth Wollack.

According to Associated Press:

Justice Minister Adel Abdel-Hamid accused around 300 nonprofit groups of receiving unauthorized foreign funding and using the money to fund protests. An inspection team official alleged investigations had found the groups had received up to $100 million from abroad, then deposited the money in Egyptian banks under the names of illliterate Egyptians without their knowledge.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, did not elaborate.

Another official from the Interior Ministry said the military on Thursday found 70,000 Egyptian pounds ($11,600) in the office of one unidentified group, and seized half a million Egyptian pounds ($83,000) from the National Democratic Institute.

The groups are also accused of failing to register for licenses from Egyptian authorities, as required under law for non-governmental organizations.

Security officials refused to explain the purpose of the raids.

“We asked them if there was something specific we could help them find,” Julie Hughes, NDI’s Egypt country director, told CNN. “They refused to answer.”

“I don’t know that we fully understand what is behind this,” she said.

The crackdown is an attempt to whip up chauvinistic sentiment at the expense of liberal and secular democratic forces, observers suggest.

“They are demonizing anything foreign… in a bid to inject a sense of nationalism,” said Mahdi, and “trying to draw loyalty so that any attack on SCAF is an attack on the nation.”

The government is conducting an investigation into foreign funding of civil society and pro-democracy groups, targeting NGOs which reject Mubarak-era restrictions on operating without official licenses from the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

“We reject the NGO law because it is extremely repressive and we are not willing to accept it,” says Karim Medhat Ennarah, a security sector researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, one of the groups being investigated.

“We are operating legally but we refuse to join the repressive legal framework that would allow them to control our work,” Ennarah said.

Israa Abdel-Fattah applied several months ago for a license for her newly created Egyptian Democratic Institute and has yet to receive a reponse, AP reports:

Her group, which aims to promote political participation, was cited as among those receiving foreign funds. While it wasn’t raided Thursday, she fears she could be next.

“This is very dangerous message to all of us,” she said. “If you speak, you will be smashed.”

Activists believe the latest events demonstrate the threat to prospects for a genuine democratic transition as long as the process is controlled by longtime stalwarts of the former regime.

“The bottom line here is that the state unleashed its dogs in the media and in the government to tarnish our reputation so when we stand up against the military generals, we would be stripped of our credibility in front of public opinion,” said Negad el-Borai, a lawyer and rights advocate.

A Cairo court yesterday acquitted police officers accused of killing demonstrators during the democratic uprisingagainst Mubarak and his National Democratic Party.

The attack on democracy assistance is also viewed as a flagrantly hypocritical move by a military which is heavily dependent on US subsidies.

“It is a major escalation in the Egyptian government’s crackdown on civil society organizations, and it is unprecedented in its attack on international organizations like Freedom House, which is funded in large part by the United States government,” said Charles Dunne, the group’s Middle East and North Africa Programs director. “The military council is saying we are happy to take your $1.3 billion a year, but we are not happy when you do things like defending human rights and supporting democracy.”

The timing of the raids is significant, says Freedom House president David Kramer:

In a few days, Egypt is to conduct the third and final round of elections for the lower house of parliament. In the first two rounds, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the more extreme Salafists secured more than 60 percent of the vote. Military actions against demonstrators and NGOs will weaken liberal, democratic forces, leaving Egyptians with an unpalatable choice between continued military autocracy or a theocratic state.

The military rulers’ actions show that they do not intend to permit the establishment of genuine democracy and that they are, instead, attempting to scapegoat civil society for their failure to effectively manage Egypt’s transition. Put another way: Egypt’s military rulers are responsible for creating the very conditions that could drive the country toward fundamentalism and instability, and they are blocking the accountability and transparency that Egyptian society fought for and that was integral to ending Mubarak’s rule.

Several of the groups and activists cited in this post are supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Raids designed ‘to defame and stigmatize’ Egypt’s pro-democracy forces

Credit: Al Jazeera

Egyptian security forces today raided the offices of 17 NGOs (right), including three U.S.-based groups, signalling a renewed crackdown on foreign assistance and the country’s pro-democracy movements.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces council has blamed “foreign hands” for fomenting unrest and the government has initiated an inquiry into foreign-funded civil society groups.

“The public prosecutor has searched 17 civil society organisations, local and foreign, as part of the foreign funding case,” the official MENA news agency cited the prosecutor’s office as saying. “The search is based on evidence showing violation of Egyptian laws including not having permits.”

Police raided the offices of the Egyptian Arab Center for the Independence of Judiciary and the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, as well as the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Freedom House.

“We were expecting this procedure before the revolution. But when it happens after the revolution, that raises a lot of questions,” said Nasser Amin, the head of the Cairo-based legal center. “To storm with that severity into an organization that defends the independence of the judiciary, with special forces and at this time, is a very strange procedure.”

Four vehicles full of police and military commandos outside the BHRO offices and posted men with AK-47s outside, said BHRO’s executive director Helmy El-Rawy Rawy.

“A force of police and a prosecutor raided the center and the only employee who attended today was held inside before the whole center was shut down,” BHRO’s executive director Helmy El-Rawy told Daily News Egypt.

“The employee [researcher Ahmed Aly] was held inside for a couple of hours and his mobile phone was switched off,” El-Rawy said. The center has been summoned to appear before an investigating judge at the Ministry of Justice on January 1.

“This is a new attack on freedoms in Egypt, and it targets the mouths trying to reveal the military council’s violations,” Rawy said.

Human rights activist Tarek Awadi, who observed the raid on the Cairo-based Future House for Legal Studies, said a police official held up an Arabic-Hebrew dictionary, the LA Times reports, as evidence the group was engaged in sabotage and hidden agendas.

“I think authorities have carefully chosen a number of organizations, some of whom are Egyptian or American or European, to defame all NGOs in the eyes of Egyptians,” Awadi said.

Human rights groups say the military – which receives $1.3 billion in US aid each year, 20% of its total budget – is using the ruse of external intervention to divert attention from its failings.

“This is a campaign the military council has launched to defame and stigmatize activists, rights groups and the various forces that have participated in the making of the January 25 revolution,” said 27 civil society groups in a joint statement.

The SCAF’s actions were “unprecedented even in the era of Mubarak and aimed to cover the failures of the military council in its management of the transitional period.”

“This looks like a campaign against human rights defenders,” said leading rights activist Negad al-Borai. “For this to happen after what we call the ‘revolution’, I am astonished.”

“Today’s unjustified acts represent a long list of legal violations,” said Hafez Abu Seada, director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, noting that the authorities failed to detail the seized items, a familiar Mubarak-era tactics, allowing them to “fabricate any evidence and announce finding it among what they confiscated.”

The raids are the latest manifestation of the military’s campaign to stifle pro-democracy voices, activists suggest.

“This is a campaign that has been in the making for a while,” said human rights lawyer Gamal Eid. “The campaign will escalate to silence all the voices that have criticized violations by the military.”

Egyptian activists defended the US-based groups, noting that democracy assistance groups provide training and advice to emerging parties from across the political spectrum.

“The National Democratic Institute has been training new parties … in how to participate in elections,” a leading member of a liberal party told Al-Jazeera on condition of anonymity.

“This has been with the full knowledge of authorities and was not clandestine.”

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said it was “very concerned” and called on the authorities to end the “harassment” of NGO activists. “This is not appropriate in the current environment,” she said, adding that senior US officials express their concern over the raids to Egypt’s military leaders.

“We believe that these NGOs are there to support the democratic process. We have been very open and transparent with Egyptian authorities at all levels, particularly about the operating procedures and policies of NDI, IRI and other international … NGOs that we support,” she said, hinting that the raids could imperil further US aid to Egypt’s military.

“We do have a number of new reporting and transparency requirements on funding to Egypt that we have to make to Congress,” Nuland said. “The Egyptian government is well aware of that and it certainly needs to be aware of that in the context of how quickly this issue gets resolved.”

The raids appear to be part of a power-play on the part of the military, activists suggest.

“I see this as a high-stakes negotiation. The Egyptian government is looking for ways to get assistance, but on their terms,” said Les Campbell, NDI’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

NDI was “deeply troubled” by the raids on its offices in Cairo, Alexandria and Assiut, it said in a statement, noting that police seized “NDI’s equipment and documents, sealed the office, and provided no warrant or explanation for their actions.”

“Cracking down on organizations whose sole purpose is to support the democratic process during Egypt’s historic transition sends a disturbing signal,” said NDI President Kenneth Wollack.

About 14 members of the security forces entered NDI’s offices, said Julie Hughes, the group’s Cairo Director.

“They came in and asked all of us to gather together in a room, to leave the laptops on our desks, and open and accessible,” she told the BBC. “They went around the room from computer to computer looking through files and then gathering up those computers, and then about four and a half hours later they left.”

An NDI associate told CNN that the officers who raided the Cairo offices “took everything, every shred of paper, computers, personal laptops.”

He added that NDI had been summoned to the Ministry of Justice for questioning and the group was being transparent with the government about its operations. NDI opened an office in Egypt in 2005.

“Cracking down on organizations whose sole purpose is to support the democratic process during Egypt’s historic transition sends a disturbing signal,” NDI’s Wollack said in a statement.

NDI has provided training to members of 49 of Egypt’s 60-odd political parties, for which it receives funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and the National Endowment for Democracy.

The regime’s actions are a further indication of the regime’s illiberal drift, say Egyptian activists.

“[Former President Hosni] Mubarak’s regime did not dare to undertake such practices prior to the uprising,” said a statement from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. The authorities are “aiming to intimidate activists and rights advocates, gag their mouths and freeze their activities in support of human rights and against repression and torture”.

Nobel peace laureate and Egyptian reformist Mohamed ElBaradei predicted that efforts to stifle new-found political freedoms would backfire.

“Human rights organisations are the guardians of nascent freedom. Efforts to suffocate them will be a major setback,” he tweeted.

“I believe SCAF is trying to find some scapegoat [for their record)," said a human rights activist. "Targeting civil society was a technique used by Mubarak, so it really is reminiscent of the worst tactics of the Mubarak era."

The Washington-based IRI said it was "dismayed and disappointed by these actions," describing the raid as "confusing" because the government had officially invited it to observe the recent elections.

"IRI has been working with Egyptians since 2005; it is ironic that even during the Mubarak era IRI was not subjected to such aggressive action," the group said.

The raids were part of “an intensive campaign by the Egyptian government to dismantle civil society through a politically motivated legal campaign aimed at preventing ‘illegal foreign funding’ of civil society operations in Egypt," said Freedom House President David J. Kramer.

"It is the clearest indication yet that the [ruling] Supreme Council of the Armed Forces … has no intention of permitting the establishment of genuine democracy and is attempting to scapegoat civil society for its own abysmal failure to manage Egypt’s transition effectively,” he said.

Iraq may be litmus for fate of Arab democracy

Iran's influence is growing, says the NED's Kubba

Is a year of hope brought on by the Arab Awakening about to end on a sour note?

“We have a remarkable new model in the Arab world,” says Salman Shaikh of the Brookings Institute in Doha. “People from different ends of the political spectrums of civil society, including secularist liberals, are forming coalitions with Islamists. That is something that continues to gain some strength, especially as we see Islamists come to the fore.”

But Iraq’s sectarian upsurge and authoritarian shift is feeding anxiety that the country could face a new civil war and become a battleground for conflicting regional powers.

“Iraq is deeply worrying,” Shaikh says. “It’s the politics of the country that could break it apart. In fact, some of us do have real concerns that we could end up with another civil war with regional players again playing a role in that.”

Some observers suggest that US troops’ departure from Iraq has allowed Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to revert to innate sectarian and authoritarian impulses, and to move closer to his fellow Shia counterparts in Iran.

“With the Americans removed from the equation, of course Maliki feels stronger,” says Laith Kubba (above), Middle East program director at the National Endowment for Democracy. With Iranian power growing as US influence declines, the Iraqiya bloc’s Ayad Allawi and other Sunni interests “feel totally exposed,” he says.

But Maliki’s political instincts are less important than the state of Iraq’s political institutions.

“The real problem is not an authoritarian president or prime minister, but the weak state and weak institutions,” says Kubba.

The Iraqi military is the one institution that may be able to stand between al-Qaeda and the Shia militias, says Toby Dodge, an international relations scholar at the London School of Economics.

“The Iraqi military have the capacity to hold things together in a rough and ready way if they get the political backing from Maliki downwards,” he argues. “But we have the recognizable dynamic of paranoid politicians who may be tempted to use state institutions to strike back in a sectarian way – and that is a short road to civil war.”

Iraq’s current tensions may carry broader lessons for the region, demonstrating the fragility of democratic institutions and the dangers inherent in cultivating democracy on terrain contested by sectarian forces.

“The US hoped to leave at least a stable political process in which internal conflicts could be resolved via the ballot box,” says Kubba. “It is questionable whether this was done,” with the possible exception of Kurdistan.

“There are two Iraqs today, not one. In Kurdistan, everything is different: security, management, economics,” he suggests.

Iraq is demonstrating the resilience of entrenched illiberal forces and ideologies that are fuelling the backlash against the democratic and liberal energies unleashed over the past year.

“Some of the older narratives are and will reassert themselves in the region whether in Bahrain or Iraq now. We will see, particularly around the Gulf, Lebanon, the Sunni-Shi’ite schism arise again,” Brookings analyst Shaikh believes.

Iraq, like Syria, is becoming a site of struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the NED’s Kubba contends.

“The regional balance of power will change with the fall of Assad,” which will also impact Lebanon and Iraq, he says. “But nobody knows how Iran will respond.”