Al-Jazeera’s ‘ideological warfare’ reflects Arab Spring’s tensions?

Al-Jazeera’s political orientation has changed since the mid-2000s when its owner, the Emir of Qatar, and “allowed the network to carry anti-authoritarian voices.” During the Arab Spring, the station acquired a reputation for promoting change through its broadcasts of the street protests in Egypt and Tunisia, although critics noted notably weaker coverage of unrest in Bahrain and Yemen, its owners’ neighbors and allies.

But does the resignation of Wadah Khanfar, news director of the Qatar-based satellite news channel, reflect what one observer calls the “ideological warfare” within its upper echelons between pro-Islamist conservative and more reformist “liberals who are opposed to Arab nationalist demagogy”?

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council have emerged as the principal countervailing force against the democratic thrust of the Arab Spring. Gulf states’ concern at the Arab Spring’s democratic momentum and recent internal changes in management lead some commentators to predict that the Al Jazeera’s line will shift in a more conservative direction.

“The network is increasingly keen on pushing the Islamist line of the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates,” writes Abu Khalil, a columnist for the Beirut-based Al-Akhbar daily and a political science professor at California State University. “This may not necessarily kill the network, but it will substantially change its audience and reputation.”

The station has emerged as both a winner and a victim of the region’s democratic tumult, writes Philip Seib, director of the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy and author of The Al Jazeera Effect.

The Arab Spring has generated “a more sprawling and vibrant network of local and national news organizations,” he writes in Foreign Affairs. “In some cases these organizations will supplement Al Jazeera’s regional focus, but in others they will undoubtedly supplant it.”

The emergence of rival Arab-language satellite TV stations, growing internet penetration and the dramatic expansion of digital social media are also eroding the station’s audience base.

Total numbers vary substantially throughout the region: according to Internet World Stats, penetration in Iraq, Libya, and Yemen is less than ten percent, while in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates the figure has climbed above 65 percent. …Even the poorest nations exemplify the trend: Yemen has seen user growth rise by more than 15,000 percent over the last decade.

With the Internet have come social media. In the 12 months leading up to April, personal and community access for young Arabs in cafés, schools, and other public spots rose from 59 to 62 percent [and]the total number of Facebook users in the Arab world skyrocketed 30 percent from January to April of 2011, as the Arab Spring unfolded. But that rise came on the heels of what was already rapid growth — Arabic-language Facebook users doubled since April 2010.

“Across the Arab world, social media have become go-to sources of information about demonstrations around the corner, as well as places to find real-time reactions from around the world,” writes Selb, author of the forthcoming Real-Time Diplomacy: Politics and Power in the Social Media Era. “Politically active Arabs of a new generation have adopted social media as an indispensible tool, and they will not be surrendering it anytime soon.”

Digital media played a key role in shaping the Arab Spring’s political agenda, new research suggests, even if the tech-savvy activists who arguably led the revolts are unlikely to be the beneficiaries of resulting transitions.

For regular updates on digital media in the Arab world, subscribe to the Digital Media Mash Up produced by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy. CIMA works to strengthen the support, raise the visibility, and improve the effectiveness of media assistance programs throughout the world. To subscribe to the Mash-Up, e-mail Anthony Abate at anthonya@ned.org

Now for an African Spring?

A recent election may signal a significant generational shift in “a region arguably in as much need of genuine political reform and civic participation as the Arab world.”

It is not often enough that elections in sub-Saharan Africa witness a defeated incumbent peacefully cede authority to an opposition leader. And the poll acquires additional importance when it leads to the election of “probably the most effective all-round executive that Africa has ever seen holding the office of president” (according to Danielle Resnick in a new article in the Journal of Modern African Studies.)

The election of Michael Sata as Zambia’s new president may be a sign of power drifting away from the geriatric and largely autocratic generation raised in the colonial era, writes G. Pascal Zachary, a former foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, and author of Married to Africa.

“The continued political power of men born and raised while their countries were still colonies sidelines a more dynamic and fluent generation of potential leaders: men and women in their 40s and 50s who were educated in a more open, equal and progressive era, he writes in The Atlantic. And yet:

The Zambian election, for all its signals of a potentially new era in African politics, is also a reminder of one of the most serious challenges to politics there. A true African (political) spring will be unlikely to occur until a younger generation of leaders emerge [sic] with real power, at least in civil society if not in electoral politics, closing black Africa’s generation gap and making men and women like Sata less of an exception and more of a norm.

Zambian civil society groups played a significant part in securing the integrity of the vote by using a random sampling system called Rapid Response Project and in ensuring a peaceful outcome by deploying over 9 000 monitors, according to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which sent a 15-strong delegation to observe the 20 September poll.

The network’s election observation effort was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy.

Now for an African Spring?

A recent election may signal a significant generational shift in “a region arguably in as much need of genuine political reform and civic participation as the Arab world.”

It is not often enough that elections in sub-Saharan Africa witness a defeated incumbent peacefully cede authority to an opposition leader. And the poll acquires additional importance when it leads to the election of “probably the most effective all-round executive that Africa has ever seen holding the office of president” (according to Danielle Resnick in a new article in the Journal of Modern African Studies.)

The election of Michael Sata as Zambia’s new president may be a sign of power drifting away from the geriatric and largely autocratic generation raised in the colonial era, writes G. Pascal Zachary, a former foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, and author of Married to Africa.

“The continued political power of men born and raised while their countries were still colonies sidelines a more dynamic and fluent generation of potential leaders: men and women in their 40s and 50s who were educated in a more open, equal and progressive era, he writes in The Atlantic. And yet:

The Zambian election, for all its signals of a potentially new era in African politics, is also a reminder of one of the most serious challenges to politics there. A true African (political) spring will be unlikely to occur until a younger generation of leaders emerge [sic] with real power, at least in civil society if not in electoral politics, closing black Africa’s generation gap and making men and women like Sata less of an exception and more of a norm.

Zambian civil society groups played a significant part in securing the integrity of the vote by using a random sampling system called Rapid Response Project and in ensuring a peaceful outcome by deploying over 9 000 monitors, according to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which sent a 15-strong delegation to observe the 20 September poll.

The network’s election observation effort was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy.

Declinism redux?

We’ve heard about the new authoritarianism, the rise of the rest, the reputed appeal of the China model, and other challenges to the liberal democratic idea. But is it really the case that the world’s leading democracy “is in an advanced state of cultural decadence” and “has more in common with a failed state than a democracy.”

Heard it all before, says Robert Lieber, a professor of government and international Affairs at Georgetown University. The celebrated political scientist Samuel Huntington identified five spells of contemporary declinism, he notes: in 1957–58 after the Soviets launched Sputnik; in 1969–71 when President Richard M. Nixon dropped the gold standard; in 1973–74, with the Yom Kippur War and subsequent oil shock; in the late 1970s after Vietnam, Watergate, and renewed Soviet aggression; and in 1987, with massive budget and trade deficits, the rise of Japan, and the October stock market crash.

Yet, the decade ended not with the demise of the US,” he observes, “but with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and an emerging consensus about American primacy and unipolarity.”

The difference this time around, analysts suggest, is the rise of China which represents a more serious economic threat than Japan did in the 1980s and a more compelling political alternative that the Soviet Union. But China also carries systemic vulnerabilities, says Lieber, including profound demographic, environmental and economic challenges.

“In addition, it remains far from certain that the political model of authoritarian rule employed by the Communist Party can be sustained, especially as China’s population becomes more educated and increases its access to independent sources of information,” writes Lieber, “Widespread official corruption is a source of growing resentment. An economic crisis could trigger serious political unrest, and the legitimacy of Communist Party rule could be shaken.”

Warnings of the demise of democracy are a hardy perennial for Western commentators, but there does appear to be a looming battle of ideas between democracy and authoritarianism. With the waning of the Third Wave of democracy, a backlash against free trade, globalization and democracy promotion itself “is entirely possible – maybe even likely,” according to Gideon Rachman’s recently-published Zero-Sum World: Politics, Power and Prosperity after the Crash.

Yet, as the Journal of Democracy’s Marc Plattner has noted – the sustainability of authoritarian capitalism is yet to be established, while liberal democracies have demonstrated the political resilience and institutional flexibility to withstand economic and other crises. What’s more, the Community of Democracies is finally getting its act together, we heard this week, with a newfound assertiveness that contests the notion that democracy is losing its global appeal and credibility.

Similarly, Lieber notes, the United States “retains far more power resources than any of its potential challengers [and] possesses an enormous advantage in its flexibility and adaptability, and while its sometimes dysfunctional democratic political system is much criticized, throughout its history it has ultimately shown itself able to act in response to crises.”

He concludes: America’s core problems, especially those of deficit and debt, are manageable provided there is the political will to tackle them. Matters of policy, public choice, and leadership are critical, but there is nothing inherent in its domestic society or in the international arena that precludes the US from continuing to play a leading world role.

RTWT

Declinism redux?

We’ve heard about the new authoritarianism, the rise of the rest, the reputed appeal of the China model, and other challenges to the liberal democratic idea. But is it really the case that the world’s leading democracy “is in an advanced state of cultural decadence” and “has more in common with a failed state than a democracy.”

Heard it all before, says Robert Lieber, a professor of government and international Affairs at Georgetown University. The celebrated political scientist Samuel Huntington identified five spells of contemporary declinism, he notes: in 1957–58 after the Soviets launched Sputnik; in 1969–71 when President Richard M. Nixon dropped the gold standard; in 1973–74, with the Yom Kippur War and subsequent oil shock; in the late 1970s after Vietnam, Watergate, and renewed Soviet aggression; and in 1987, with massive budget and trade deficits, the rise of Japan, and the October stock market crash.

Yet, the decade ended not with the demise of the US,” he observes, “but with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and an emerging consensus about American primacy and unipolarity.”

The difference this time around, analysts suggest, is the rise of China which represents a more serious economic threat than Japan did in the 1980s and a more compelling political alternative that the Soviet Union. But China also carries systemic vulnerabilities, says Lieber, including profound demographic, environmental and economic challenges.

“In addition, it remains far from certain that the political model of authoritarian rule employed by the Communist Party can be sustained, especially as China’s population becomes more educated and increases its access to independent sources of information,” writes Lieber, “Widespread official corruption is a source of growing resentment. An economic crisis could trigger serious political unrest, and the legitimacy of Communist Party rule could be shaken.”

Warnings of the demise of democracy are a hardy perennial for Western commentators, but there does appear to be a looming battle of ideas between democracy and authoritarianism. With the waning of the Third Wave of democracy, a backlash against free trade, globalization and democracy promotion itself “is entirely possible – maybe even likely,” according to Gideon Rachman’s recently-published Zero-Sum World: Politics, Power and Prosperity after the Crash.

Yet, as the Journal of Democracy’s Marc Plattner has noted – the sustainability of authoritarian capitalism is yet to be established, while liberal democracies have demonstrated the political resilience and institutional flexibility to withstand economic and other crises. What’s more, the Community of Democracies is finally getting its act together, we heard this week, with a newfound assertiveness that contests the notion that democracy is losing its global appeal and credibility.

Similarly, Lieber notes, the United States “retains far more power resources than any of its potential challengers [and] possesses an enormous advantage in its flexibility and adaptability, and while its sometimes dysfunctional democratic political system is much criticized, throughout its history it has ultimately shown itself able to act in response to crises.”

He concludes: America’s core problems, especially those of deficit and debt, are manageable provided there is the political will to tackle them. Matters of policy, public choice, and leadership are critical, but there is nothing inherent in its domestic society or in the international arena that precludes the US from continuing to play a leading world role.

RTWT