Tunisia poll needs international monitoring

A case of misplaced emphasis on sovereignty could derail the transition to democracy in Tunisia, writes Radwan A. Masmoudi, President, Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy.

Two days ago, Dr. Iadh Ben Achour, head of the Tunisian High Council for Political Reforms and the Achievement of the Goals of the Revolution, announced that Tunisia does not need and will not have international monitors for the elections.

I believe this is a misplaced emphasis on sovereignty and a major retreat from what the interim government (including the President and former prime minister) announced immediately after the revolution. Tunisia has never organized free and fair elections in the past, and most Tunisians will not believe the results of the elections without international supervision or monitors.

The “sensitivity” about foreign intervention is totally misplaced in this case. It has been used (and abused) by oppressive governments and regimes to justify falsifying the elections. We have been down this road before, under Ben Ali, Mubarak, Saleh, and the other Arab dictators.

True sovereignty belongs to the people, and the best way to protect the sovereignty of the people is to make sure that the elections are free and fair. Right now, many in Tunisia do not believe that this interim government is capable of organizing truly free and fair elections, and are afraid that the elections will not reflect the will of the people, just like all past elections.

The best way to guard against this is for all Tunisians to swallow their pride and request “international supervision” of the elections with the help of the The United Nations, the US, the EU, France, Germany, the Arab League, as well as numerous international Non-governmental organizations that have huge experience and expertise in the field of monitoring and supervising elections. International monitors are the best way, and possibly the only way, to guarantee that the elections will be free and fair and that everyone will accept the outcome of the elections whether they win or lose.

There are basically three levels of international involvement in any elections:

Level 1 – Observing - This allows the international community to send people to “observe” the elections, while the government controls the whole process and can limit what the observers can see. This is the minimum level of involvement and basically is just ceremonial. It will do nothing to prevent the government from falsifying the elections.

Level 2 – Monitoring - This allows the international community to send people to “monitor” the elections, which includes being involved in the design and monitoring of all the phases of the elections process. The monitors typically have to right to “watch and advise” on every step of the process, but the final decision remains with the government. This is the medium level of involvement and can make it difficult, but not impossible, for the government to falsify the elections.

Level 3 – Supervision - This allows the international community to supervise the whole process, and to be involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring of all the phases of the elections process. This is the highest level of involvement and basically guarantees that the elections will be free and fair since the international community and the various NGO’s need to be completely neutral in the whole process.

Given that Tunisia has never organized free and fair elections in the past, and given that the people of Tunisia have minimum trust in the institutions of the state and the government (especially the Ministry of Interior) which are still heavily dominated by former RCD members and officials, and also given how critical these elections will be to the success of Tunisia’s transition to a real and genuine democracy, the best way to guarantee that the elections will be free and fair is to organize them under international supervision (level 3).

Some Tunisians will object to this idea for fear that international supervision will amount to “interference” in the political process or reduction in the sovereignty of Tunisia. To the contrary, the international community, especially the United Nations, and tens of international NGO’s have amassed decades of experience and expertise in designing, implementing, and monitoring free and fair elections in various countries around the world. They are much less likely to take sides or to favor one party against the other, since they are vested in credible and free elections.

The Tunisian people are rightly worried about the ultimate success of their peaceful and democratic revolution, and about attempts of the “old guard” to derail it or steal its fruits. They also have an understandably strong sense of pride and ownership of their revolution.

However, the experience of previous transitions demonstrates that monitoring and other forms of external assistance can not only be delivered in ways which respect the sovereignty of the host country, but that experience actually enhances sovereignty by transferring skills and insights, and boosting the capacity of civil society and other local actors and institutions.

The International Forum for Democratic Studies recently issued a Tunisia working group report, which found that on electoral framework and administration”, “given past sham elections, there is a serious lack of knowledge and capacity.” It is doubtful that such knowledge and capacity can be acquired in the next six months or year. That is why we need to bring thousands of international monitors to guarantee that the elections will be free and fair. Otherwise, I am afraid that the turmoil will continue, and many Tunisians will not believe the outcome of the elections.

It is crucial that the next elections (to elect the Constitutional Assembly on July 24) be totally free, fair and credible in the eyes of all Tunisians. There has to be absolutely no doubt about the elections or their outcome, in order for all Tunisians to continue to believe in their nascent democracy, remain engaged in the political process, and avoid further instability or turmoil. This is critical for the success of the democratic revolution and the transition to democracy in Tunisia.

In light of all this, the Tunisian government and all Tunisians should appeal for help from the international community in organizing, implementing, and monitoring the next elections. In a few years, once democracy is more established and the institutions of democracy are stronger and more credible, Tunisia can hopefully organize free and fair elections on its own.

Successful and credible elections can pave the way for real democracy.

CSID is suported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Egypt’s democrats develop social agenda, mobilize against ‘counter-revolution’

Is Egypt undergoing a counter-revolution by stealth or simply experiencing the messiness that characterizes every democratic transition?

Many of the country’s democracy advocates are convinced that the ruling military junta is planning a restoration of the old order by insisting on a rapid transition process that undermines emerging political groups, engineering constitutional amendments that inhibit new partiesand forging an unspoken alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood – and even with the more conservative Salafi Islamists – to suffocate liberal forces and trends.

“The military council and the Brotherhood are kidnapping the revolution, stealing it from under the noses of Egyptians,” says Ahmed Bahaa El-Din Shaaban, a leading activist.

Even former Mubarak associates are expressing concern over recent developments.

The military’s management of the transition process raises “question marks and exclamation points,” said Amr Moussa, the Arab League’s secretary general and likely presidential candidate.

Recent developments confirm that the democratic transition is being stalled, if not aborted, writes Yasmine Fathi in a must-read analysis for al-Ahram:

Mubarak has not been put on trial. The National Democratic Party (NDP) is still alive and kicking despite the revolutionaries insisting that it has to be dissolved. The local councils and governors appointed by the old regime have not been replaced; editors of all the national papers, associated and hired by the old regime, remain in their positions; members of the old regime still dominate most workers’ unions and public companies; the emergency law has not been lifted and most political detainees remain in captivity.

“There is a determined effort to stop the revolution in its tracks,” says Prof. Khaled Fahmy of the American University in Cairo.

But democratic forces are starting their own backlash against the counter-revolution, taking inspiration and guidance from Tunisian civil society which continued to mobilize following Ben Ali’s ouster to protect the integrity of the democratic revolution and counter efforts to maintain or restore the old order.

The Youth Revolution Coalition is adopting a three-pronged strategy empowering new parties to contest forth coming parliamentary elections; a returning to Tahrir Square to demand legitimate rights; and advocating changes in parliamentary legislation and regulations on political parties. The coalition comprises a diverse range of groups, including the 6 April Youth Movement, Youth for Freedom and Justice, and the youth sections of the El-Baradei Campaign, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Democratic Front and the National Association of Change.

Many of the groups behind the Tahrir Square demonstrations are mobilizing for a major Save the Revolution demonstration tomorrow and the April 6 movement is proposing alternative provisions to legalize political organizations.

As in Tunisia, a diverse range of civil society groups are organizing to defend fragile democratic gains and building broad-based alliances, reaching out to new constituencies through an agenda that integrates liberal demands for constitutional rights and civil liberties with an agenda that addresses the socio-economic grievances and material needs the country’s impoverished majority.

“People are now forming new political parties, independent syndicates, and preparing for the parliamentary and presidential elections,” says Amr El-Shoubaki, a senior analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “I believe that the next battle will be in the social and political arena rather than on the streets.”

Egypt’s emerging democratic movement is also starting to resemble its neighbor in the growing role and significance of newly assertive labor unions which have the potential to provide the robust organizational networks and social base that metropolitan liberal groups have traditionally lacked.

“No revolution continues in the same momentum; it usually ebbs and flows,” says Kamal Abbas, general coordinator for the Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services “It is important for workers and Egyptians in general to organize themselves, so that they can have the tools to fight the next war. And that doesn’t mean that the revolution is over but that it has morphed into something different, but with the same goals.”

The military’s proposed restrictions on freedom of association and collective action are also galvanizing democratic opposition groups and highlighting the social dimension of democratization.

“The revolution isn’t only about freedom; these protests are the continuation of the social part of the revolution,” says Kamal Khalil, a spokesman for the new Democratic Labor Party.

‘Preemptive’ authoritarians targeting rights defenders

Floribert Chebeya: a victim of the global crackdown on human rights defenders

The optimism prompted by the Arab awakening should not blind us to the resilience of authoritarian regimes and the intimidating, precarious circumstances in which democracy advocates and human rights defenders continue to work. Just as democrats worldwide are drawing inspiration from the Arab spring, autocratic regimes are also taking note.

Libya’s revolutionary road – to where?

The defection of Libya’s former foreign minister and intelligence chief Mussa Kussa is a major blow to the morale of the Qaddafi regime and may prompt further debilitating defections. Western democracies are encouraging other regime insiders to turn.

“The Qaddafi regime has lost all legitimacy,” said British foreign minister William Hague today.

“We encourage those around Qaddafi to abandon him and embrace a better future for Libya that allows political transition and real reform that meets the aspirations of the Libyan people,” he said. “Qaddafi must be asking himself who will be the next to abandon him.”

The opposition this week outlined its vision of a democratic Libya, but any transition appears a distant prospect, especially given the rebel groups’ military weakness, organizational frailty and political diversity.

Libyan activists dismiss suggestions by Western analysts that the country’s tribal divisions preclude post-Qaddafi democratization.

“By labelling us as “tribal” you effectively dismiss the notion that our uprising has anything to do with freedom, democracy or human dignity,” writes economist Alaa al-Ameri.

Yet indigenous cultural factors inevitably affect every democratic transition, whether as a facilitator or a constraint.

In a must-read article for this coming Sunday’s New York Times magazine, Robert Worth takes a ride down Libya’s Revolutionary Road, providing first-hand insight into the regime’s brutality and vulnerability, and into the limitations of the opposition.

“On the evening of Feb. 8, Khalid Saih found himself in the back of a speeding car on the outskirts of Tripoli,” he writes. “It was not by choice. Saih, a lanky 36-year-old lawyer, was part of a small group of Libyan activists who were openly calling for a new constitution and more civil rights. After months of harassment by the police, he and three fellow lawyers were ordered to report to the Interior Ministry in Tripoli. From there, with no warning, they were bundled into a car and told they would be meeting the Leader. ……………..The men were terrified”

But, paradoxically, their encounter with Qaddafi only galvanized their resolve, shattering the image of an omnipotent leader, as they realized that the bumbling, incoherent and ageing man before them was a fragile, vulnerable human being.

Worth concludes on a cautionary note, describing his encounter with a purportedly former Qaddafi loyalist:

The last time I saw Fallah, he seemed more confident. He spoke disparagingly of the rebels, saying they had no plan for the country. The “technocrats and professors” of Benghazi, he said, had no influence. Even the tribes were divided. There was no charismatic leader to rally around; even the leader of the rebels’ provisional government, Mustafa Abduljalil, had no vision for the future. Libya, he said, was still governed by Bedouin values: tribe, family, religion, the importance of a strong leader. Qaddafi understood that. …

“Come back in six months,” he told me as he disappeared into the night. “You will see that I was right.”

The New Yorker’s John Lee Anderson is more optimistic – albeit tentatively.

“Significant questions remain about the leaders of the rebellion: who they are, what their political ideas are, and what they would do if Qaddafi fell,” he writes.

At the courthouse on Benghazi’s battered seafront promenade, the de-facto seat of the Libyan revolution, a group of lawyers, doctors, and other professionals have appointed one another to a hodgepodge of “leadership councils.”…The members are intellectuals, former dissidents, and businesspeople, many of them from old families that were prominent before Qaddafi came to power. What they are not is organized.

He quotes a businessman and rebel spokesman, warning outsiders not to give credence to Qaddafi’s claims that the opposition comprises jihadists or other radical Islamists.

“The people here are looking to the West, not to some kind of socialist or other extreme system—that’s what we had here before,” he said. “But, if they become disappointed with the West, they may become easy prey for extremists.”

The rebel groups are disorganized, fractious and amorphous, Anderson writes, lacking military capacity and political strategy. And yet….

Some things are clear, though. In Benghazi, an influential businessman named Sami Bubtaina expressed a common sentiment: “We want democracy. We want good schools, we want a free media, an end to corruption, a private sector that can help build this nation, and a parliament to get rid of whoever, whenever, we want.” These are honorable aims. But to expect that they will be achieved easily is to deny the cost of decades of insanity, terror, and the deliberate eradication of civil society.


Caution to Arab democrats: ‘transitions to nowhere’ may empower bad actors

After a decade of democratic regression and backlash, there is a refreshing optimism afoot that the Arab world – for so long a stubborn redoubt of authoritarian rule – may at last see the flowering of freedom and the genuine, long-postponed empowerment of its peoples.

The political turbulence across the Arab world has “dramatically recast” expectations of democratic development, a leading practitioner notes. The experience of previous democratizations can be instructive, but not all transitions lead to positive outcomes and may even empower anti-democratic actors.

Haiti provides an example of “transitions to nowhere” despite at least seven transitions and various interventions by the international community over the last 25 years, writes the National Endowment for Democracy’s Georges Fauriol.

“Haiti has been a particularly frustrating experience with several failed or aborted transitions creating the conditions of instability that enable anti-democratic forces to take the upper hand,” he contends.

Activists in Egypt and Tunisia are starting to appreciate the obstacles to converting the energy and idealism of a protest movement into tangible political organizations and durable democratic institutions.

Haiti has been there before.

“The real challenge is not an absence of ideas but an ability to turn ideas into reality,” writes Fauriol.