Brotherhood scores constitutional victory over Egypt’s ‘undemocratic liberals’?

An new coalition of pro-democracy groups has accused Egypt’s new Islamist president of reneging on campaign promises to form a national unity government, but a leading analyst claims it is the rise of “undemocratic liberals” that poses a threat to the country’s fragile transition.

“An alliance of pro-democracy advocates on Saturday criticized Egypt’s new Islamist president for unilaterally choosing a prime minister with no track record, while leading without transparency and alienating political groups with liberal leanings,” according to reports:

The National Front alliance — an umbrella group of democracy advocates, secularists and moderate Islamists behind the uprising that drove longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak from power last year — said Mohammed Morsi has reneged on campaign promises to form a national unity government.

“It was surprising that the person named … didn’t meet the criteria and this is the first indicator of the path we are taking,” said Heba Raouf, a moderate Islamist political science professor and a member of the Front, claiming that talks about the new government’s composition were held “behind closed doors.”

Many secular and liberal groups advance conspiracy theories that the US is effectively supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that is openly hostile to US interests and values, Brookings analyst Shadi Hamid writes in Foreign Policy.

Yet “it wasn’t the Muslim Brotherhood but, rather, liberal standard-bearer Amr Hamzawy who refused to meet in February with Sen. John McCain due to his ‘biased positions in favor of Israel and his support for invading Iraq and attacking Iran,’” Hamid notes:

The irony is that the Obama administration, while willing to engage the Brotherhood, has itself been wary of the Islamists’ rise to power. For much of the transition, the United States stood by the SCAF, the ruling military junta and the Brotherhood’s archrival. The generals, the thinking went, would ensure that vital American interests were protected. When SCAF waged an unprecedented crackdown on civil society and threatened several American NGO workers with jail time, the United States sought a face-saving compromise and kept the $1.3 billion in annual military aid flowing.

“The hostility of Egypt’s secular establishment presents the United States with something of a dilemma,” Hamid argues.

“If it ever does get serious about pressuring the military and promoting democracy in Egypt, the more liberals — perhaps its most natural allies — will cry foul. This no-win situation will likely persuade U.S. policymakers that it’s better to stay away and do less rather than more.”

Other liberals, including publisher and veteran rights activist Hisham Kassem (left), are more concerned that the Brotherhood is intent on a creeping Islamicization of Egyptian society.

[Kassem] said people had quickly lost trust in the Brotherhood, which reneged on a promise not to run a candidate for president this year. They concluded it was willing to say anything to secure power. “They basically feel any lying is done for the love of God, so it gives them license,” Mr. Kassem said.

“Being a secular liberal, I was very critical of my fellow liberals when they spoke of the tyranny of the majority and so on,” he added. “I said, ‘Let’s work with the Brotherhood.’ ” That view changed when liberals saw how unwilling the group was to share power, and when it challenged court decisions, supported by the military, to dissolve Parliament.

Like many liberal critics, Mr. Kassem [a leading member of the World Movement for Democracy] said the reason the Brotherhood had not taken any action on social issues was that it was biding its time until it was powerful enough to do so.

“It’s too early to take real action to move in an Islamic direction,” he said. “But the nuances are pretty scary.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week expressed concern over the rising tide of religious intolerance in Egypt, as she presented the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom report at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Highlighting a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism Clinton also observed that Egypt’s Christian groups were concerned over their prospects for representation in the new Islamist-led government.

The secretary underscored the U.S.’s impartiality in Egyptian politics, and promised that the U.S. will work with whoever is elected to ensure universal principles are upheld, notes the Project for Middle East Democracy.

Meanwhile, the “struggle over Egypt’s new constitution was temporarily suspended yesterday when a court deferred until late September the next step in a legal row that had threatened the dissolution of the body writing it,” reports suggest:

The adjournment of a battle that has overshadowed one of the main components of Egypt’s transition to democracy after the Arab Spring uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak could give the current constitutional assembly time to complete its work. That would give a boost to Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, who have a big say in the body, and also may stave off any move by the influential military to form a new assembly.

Plaintiffs opposed to what they see as the Islamists’ overwhelming influence in the 100-person constitutional assembly had brought the case demanding the body be dissolved on the grounds it had been formed illegally. Held earlier this month, the last session in the case led to both a courtroom brawl and a new lawsuit filed by the Islamists to demand the removal of the judge on the grounds he was biased. It is that case which a court adjourned until September 24, postponing further any discussion of the original case.

“It will be considered a sort of victory for the Muslim Brotherhood. It allows the assembly time to complete its task of returning a draft constitution,” said Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University.

Some observers believe the current constitutional arrangements maintain the disproportionate political power of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

“There is a route to writing a permanent constitution that will replace all the SCAF’s doings,” writes Nathan J. Brown, professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University:

But the body charged with drafting that document itself hangs by a slender legal reed. It could be disbanded by a court at any moment. Should that happen, the June 2012 document is clear: the SCAF appoints a new drafting body. The political obstacles to a document issued in such a manner obtaining legitimacy are formidable. But last week’s court ruling suggests that the legal obstacles have been removed.

RTWT

The Project on Middle East Democracy is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

Magnitsky key to Russian rule of law

“A decade ago, Bill Browder was flying high as one of the most successful foreign investors in Russia. With $4.5bn under management, Browder had committed his career and a lot of his investors’ money to proving his proposition that the shares of Russia’s newly privatised, resource-rich companies were absurdly cheap,” write John Thornhill and Geoff Dyer in a must-read account of the case of Sergei Magnitsky:

The cocksure, US-born fund manager aggressively argued to anyone prepared to listen – and to many who weren’t – that President Vladimir Putin had been unfairly maligned in the western press and was intent on bringing prosperity and order to the biggest country in the world, after the rapacious criminality of the 1990s. To the disgust of many, Browder declared himself delighted when Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest and most powerful oligarch, was arrested in 2003 and jailed. “Who’s next?” Browder asked cheerfully.

That was before Sergei Magnitsky revealed that Russian officials had orchestrated a tax refund fraud, forging Hermitage documents to transfer $230m of state funds to a criminal syndicate:

Rather than congratulating Magnitsky for his assistance, the authorities accused him of orchestrating the fraud himself and arrested him in November 2008. After almost a year’s detention, during which time he was repeatedly denied medical treatment, he was beaten to death in his jail cell.

……From that day, Browder has devoted the same near-manic energy he once spent on cheerleading investment opportunities in Russia to exposing the country’s darker side. … He and a team of five dedicated researchers have published reports forensically describing Magnitsky’s detention and death, financed several films highlighting the links between Russian officials and the criminal underworld, and, with the lawyer’s family and friends, helped set up a website, called Russian Untouchables, which airs the videos and documents corruption.

His campaign may soon result in the US Congress adopting a law naming the 60 Russians identified by Browder as being responsible for the false arrest, torture and death of the 37-year-old lawyer. The act, which has been ferociously resisted by the Kremlin and the US administration and some business interests, would freeze the foreign assets of, and deny visas to, those named individuals.

If adopted, as now seems likely, the law would be one of the most arresting human rights initiatives in years, an extraordinary example of what Browder calls “civilian diplomacy”. Unprosecuted miscreants from other countries could be added to the list. Parliaments in Europe could well be encouraged to follow the US lead.

“There could be no more fitting tribute to Sergei,” says Browder. “He believed in the power of the law.”

“Putin tasted the forbidden fruit,” Browder says. “From that moment on, the oligarchs became his business partners as opposed to his opponents, and all the corporate governance work I had been doing became a huge pain in their backside.”

Leon Aron, a Russia scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, says: “We were appalled when Bill Browder attacked Khodorkovsky when he was arrested and kicked a man when he was down. But I believe in epiphanies. Browder is now conducting a moral crusade.”

If passed, the Magnitsky bill will be “the most significant human rights legislation about Russia since the end of the cold war,” says David Kramer, president of the Freedom House think tank:

Browder had meetings with pretty much anyone in Washington who would agree to see him. Not only was the case of Magnitsky a compelling one – “he is almost a literary figure, a genuine Russian hero”, as one Senate aide puts it – but Hermitage had the technical skills to provide the precise details about money flows that backed up the story. And in Browder, it had a figure who could present the case with fluency and energy. In 2009, Ben Cardin, a Democratic senator from Maryland, chaired a hearing on human rights issues in Russia, with the Magnitsky case given top billing. Browder presented his case to great effect. “He is very good at telling his story,” says the aide. “That makes all the difference up here.”

Yet even as Browder gathered support on the Hill, his campaign could easily have languished. The fact that the US Congress is now on the verge of passing a law based around the Magnitsky case revolves around three further factors – the behaviour of the Russian government, the response of the State department and a liberal dose of political luck.

The recent harassment of US envoy Michael McFaul “could be the prelude to a much rougher phase in relations with Russia if the Magnitsky law is passed,” Thornhill and Dyer suggest:

The Russian authorities have already promised they will retaliate in kind. …But Browder argues that there is a lot of support for the legislation among ordinary Russians. He says that 2.35 million people have viewed his films on the Russian Untouchables website, 95 per cent of them in Russia. The site encourages “citizen investigators” to submit evidence of corruption. Much of the evidence amassed by Browder’s team has been provided by whistle-blowing Russians fed up with the lawlessness of their own system.

RTWT

Tajikistan conflict risks sparking wider insurgency

“Tajik soldiers are gaining the upper hand over armed opposition groups along the Afghan border, with a growing number of rebels surrendering their weapons in hopes of gaining amnesty,” according to reports:

Word of the fading resistance in the Gorno-Badakhshan provincial capital, Khorog, eased fears of greater instability in the impoverished ex-Soviet nation, which still bears the scars of a five-year civil war in the 1990s that is estimated to have killed more than 60,000 people. Tajikistan’s location also makes it strategically important to the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

Violence erupted last Tuesday in Khorog as the authorities moved to arrest Tolib Ayombekov (right), a one-time warlord suspected of involvement in the July 21 killing of Abdullo Nazarov, a general in Tajikistan’s national intelligence service.

After Nazarov was stabbed and killed, the government pinned the blame on Ayombekov, a former opposition commander who held a senior post with the region’s Tajik border guards, RFE/RL reports:

Government forces subsequently launched a series of military strikes targeting Ayombekov that have left dozens dead. Although the Tajik government says it has halted military operations, the remote Gorno-Badakhshan region — an isolated, mountainous area that shares borders with Afghanistan, China, and Kyrgyzstan — remains a hotbed of unrest.

The government offensive is the worst outbreak of violence since the country’s civil war, which killed some 100,000 people, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Just before Tuesday’s offensive, the authoritarian government of President Emomali Rakhmon, a former Communist apparatchik, severed all road and communications links with Gorno-Badakhshan, imposing an information blackout that is still in effect. Western tourists who escaped from Khorog in recent days and were interviewed in the capital, Dushanbe, provided rare firsthand accounts of what happened in the remote mountainous region.

“These are the last shots of our civil war. Ayombekov defied the state, and no state that respects itself could tolerate that,” says Abdulghani Mamadazimov, director of the Association of Political Scientists of Tajikistan. “We must be clear: Those are not rebels. Those are drug barons, and the local population knows it.”

Ayombekov was one of many opposition fighters in the civil war who continue to wield substantial local influence and defy the central government. Authorities also accused Ayombekov of drug-trading and smuggling tobacco and precious stones.

Ayombekov has denied the accusations and said the government is using Nazarov’s death as a pretext for cementing its grip over Gorno-Badakhshan, a thinly populated province.

“Tajikistan’s two decades of independence have been characterized by violence, poverty, autocratic leadership, and geostrategic vulnerability,” says Freedom House. “The 1992–97 civil war between the communist-remnant government and the Islamist-led United Tajik Opposition (UTO) resulted in roughly 50,000 deaths, making it the deadliest conflict in the post-Soviet space, excluding Chechnya.”

Human rights and civil society groups have expressed concern about the situation in Gorno-Badakhshan, while Tajik opposition figures have called for an end to the government offensive, sharing analysts’ fears that the conflict may spark a wider insurgency.

“The stronger side must show its strength by stopping the military campaign,” said Muhiddin Kabiri, head of Tajikistan’s Islamic Revival Party, the main political opposition to Rakhmon’s rule. “It’s best to start negotiations with these armed people now, before they have turned into Taliban. An escalation of the conflict may lead to the involvement of Afghan armed groups, expanding it quantitatively and qualitatively.”

The IRP has demanded an investigation into the death of Sabzali Mamadrizoyev, its Gorno-Badakhshan section leader:

The party says it believes Mamadrizoyev was detained by law enforcement officers after he delivered a speech at a rally held in Khorog on the day before fighting broke out. It claimed in a statement that he was severely beaten and later shot dead.

“He made critical remarks during the meeting, but they were within reason and lawful,” party leader Mukhiddin Kabiri said.

RFE/RL’s Robert Coalson and Tajik Service Director Sojida Djakhfarova offer an explainer and video analysis on the economic, political, and strategic importance of Gorno-Badakhshan. CNN interviews RFE/RL freelancer Mirzojalol Shojamol on the communications blackout in the region. Follow Radio Ozodi online for additional updates on Tajikistan, and for breaking news follow RFE/RL on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest.

China’s civic education: children’s brains ‘need washing’

Brainwashing's OK, say Chinese officials

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong parents are protesting a new civic education curriculum from Beijing that an official admits is tantamount to brain-washing.

Demonstrators shouted slogans such as: “We want independent education back! We want critical thinking!” as they protested over the weekend.

Protest placards borrowed lyrics from Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall: ”We don’t need no thought control … leave those kids alone.” Families waved a poster reading: ”Our previous generations came here to escape the Communist Party, don’t let the next generation return to the grip of the demon.”

”I’m Chinese but China is not the Communist Party,” said Cyrus Chan, 16, a student in a Catholic high school. He said he joined the protest because he thinks national education will be political indoctrination focused on the party’s achievements, and blind to catastrophes that claimed tens of millions of lives in the 1950s and 1960s. ”Germans are taught about Nazi crimes. They know what happened. In China, students only learn how to praise the party,” he said.

The new textbooks give a ”very crude patriotic, nationalistic propaganda,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong:

Eva Chan, one of the protest organisers, said teaching guides for national education contained a pro-Beijing bias that was “terrifying”.

“As parents, what we fear is that the course would discourage objective and independent thinking about China,” said Ms Chan, a mother of two young girls:

Course materials made available to schools include a teaching manual describing the Chinese authoritarian government as “progressive, selfless and united” while assessing the US system as one that allows politics to disrupt the lives of ordinary people, and a prescriptive guide on how to be a “good child of China” that directs children to shout out in class: “I am proud to be a Chinese”…..On Saturday, the chairman of the China Civic Education Promotion Association of Hong Kong further fuelled anger with his comments on national education.

“If there are problems with the brain, then it needs to be washed, just like dialysis for kidney patients,” said Jiang Yudui.

“All education is, to some extent, designed to brainwash,” said Wong Chi Man, who directs the National Education Services Centre. “I think the word ‘brainwash’ is too negative. It evokes something out of ‘Clockwork Orange.’”

Sunday’s protest underscored rising anti-Beijing sentiments, China Digital Times reports:

A poll released by the University of Hong Kong last month showed the number of people in the former British colony identifying themselves as citizens of China had plunged to a 13-year-low. More identified themselves as Hong Kongers.

China Digital Times is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

Hardline Islamists threaten Tunisia’s transition?

“In the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the transition from dictatorship to democracy has been mostly smoother than in neighboring countries, with no power-hungry military or armed militias to stifle the process,” AP reports. “But as a moderate Islamist party rules with the help of secular forces, an unexpected threat has emerged: the increasing boldness of ultraconservative Muslims known loosely as Salafis, who want to turn this North African country of 10 million into a strict Islamic state.”

Tunisia‘s militant Salafis are relatively small in number, but they have “succeeded in mobilizing disaffected and angry youth much more effectively than secular opposition parties.”

Experts warn that an economic downturn could turn these spasms of religious-tinged rage into the new language of the opposition. Tunisia’s economy shrank by 2 percent last year and unemployment stands at 18 percent — even higher among young people….As Salafis thrive in the new atmosphere of freedom of expression, they are aggressively attacking the free expression of those they see as insulting Islam. Their main target: artists who themselves have used democratic upheaval to raise sharp, often provocative, questions about the relationship between religion and society.

“There’s no question that unemployment aggravates the situation,” said William Lawrence, the North Africa representative for the International Crisis Group think tank. “They go to Salafism because they have nowhere better to go socially, politically and spiritually.”

For Tunisian authorities, grappling with the Salafis is made all the harder by the fact that they have not coalesced into an articulate, united movement but are rather comprised of different groups, some which may even be under manipulation of secular remnants of the old regime. That contrasts with Egypt, where Salafis have formed political parties and participate in politics…..Under Ben Ali, imams were appointed by the state and religious schools closed. Many of those alienated by the official secular culture of the French-speaking elite turned to the strict Salafi Islam of the Arabian peninsula.

“They were influenced by the Salafi discourse coming out of the Gulf countries and diffused by the Salafi satellite channels all through the 1990s,” explained Slaheddine Jourchi (above), a veteran pro-democracy activist. “They saw the Salafi discourse as the most pure in Islam.”

Sami Brahim, an expert on Islamist movements in Tunisia who runs a cultural center right near the art gallery in La Marsa, expects the whole Salafi movement to subside with time because it is a cultural import funded by the Gulf states. Since the movement was nurtured under the oppression of Ben Ali, he said, it should eventually wither in the face of greater freedom of expression and debate.

“Salafism doesn’t yet have the courage to take part in politics since from the beginning it hasn’t been an organized movement and it doesn’t have a very well elaborated discourse,” said Brahim. “It would just need a healthy atmosphere, real freedoms and a relatively successful economy for the Tunisian Salafi movement to be marginalized.”

Executive Director for CSID-Tunis

The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID-Tunis), an independent, non-profit, and non-governmental organization based in Tunisia that works to support and consolidate democracy around the world, seeks an Executive Director. This position is based in Tunis, Tunisia.

Position Summary:  The Executive Director will work with CSID-Tunis staff and volunteers to provide programmatic support to CSID-Tunis programs in Tunisia and North Africa, develop the CSID-Tunis strategy for the region, set programmatic priorities, monitor, implement, and evaluate projects, and track program budgets.

Responsibilities:

Writing and Submitting grant proposals and progress reports in specific countries;

Working with the CSID-Tunis board of directors to develop and implement policies and strategies for the organization;

Maintaining regular communications with potential and existing local and international organizations and donors;

Represent the organization at local, regional, and international meetings and conferences.

Building and maintaining relationships with like-minded organizations, including donors, partners and regional organizations.

Organizing and participating in events to highlight specific democracy-related issues, and facilitating transitions to democracy in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.

Also responsible for all aspects of program administration including application review, coordination with program host sites and facilitators, program evaluation and reporting.

Provides support for CSID-Tunis communication and fundraising efforts.

Manages and directs a local staff of between 4 and 6 full-time and part-time employees, interns, and volunteers.

Qualifications:

Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in International Affairs, Political Science, International Development or related discipline;

At least 5-10 years of extensive experience in democracy, human rights, and NGO related work;

In-depth understanding of political issues and trends in Tunisia and the North Africa  region;

Must have excellent written and oral communication skills in Arabic, English, and French;

MS Office skills;  Generally excellent computer skills;

High degree of organization and initiative;

Experience developing and facilitating civic engagement and discussion-based public programming.

Experience supporting communication and fundraising efforts for public programs.

Excellent leadership, organizational, planning, and communication skills.

Ability to multi-task and work independently.

This position is available on Oct. 1, 2012.

Starting Salary:  2,200 Tunisian Dinars, plus benefits.

To Apply: Applications must include a cover letter, resume, salary history and requirements, and contact information for three references. Please send to jobs@islam-democracy.org with your name and “Executive Director, Tunisia & North Africa” in the subject line, as we have multiple positions open).  Deadline for submitting applications is August 15, 2012.

Only those offered interviews will be contacted. No phone calls, please.

CSID is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.