Is US ‘downgrading signature Mideast democracy program’?



MEPI/State Dept.

MEPI/State Dept.

The Barack Obama administration has downgraded what was once a marquee program to promote democracy in the Middle East — a sign, some critics say, that counterterrorism once again dominates the US agenda in the region, analyst Barbara Slavin writes for Al-Monitor. Established in 2002, the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) touts on its website its work in “18 countries and territories” and contributions of more than $600 million to “support civil society groups, political activists, and business leaders in their efforts for political and economic reform, government transparency, and accountability projects.” …

However, the program —traditionally headed by a political appointee — is now run by a career foreign service officer and has been subsumed into the larger foreign aid bureaucracy that also handles security assistance. One of two offices MEPI long operated in the region — in Tunisia — is being moved from the region’s only successful new democracy to Morocco, a monarchy.

“Unfortunately, MEPI seems to be in the process of being gutted and losing its identity,” Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, told Al-Monitor…… “The decline [in the emphasis on democracy promotion] accelerated over the past year — the time when Anne Patterson came back and became assistant secretary,” he said. “MEPI’s demise is indicative of a broader backing off from supporting civil society and falling back into the old pattern of not antagonizing old allies.”

The State Department vigorously contested this criticism. 

A senior State Department official said that Patterson had ordered the reorganization not to downplay democracy promotion but because it made more “managerial sense” to put all foreign aid programs to Middle Eastern countries under one office. The official added that the Tunis office was being moved to Morocco for “logistical and administrative reasons.”

Arab-Uprisings-Explained1-198x300The official conceded that there had been changes in the US approach to democracy promotion — using more indirect methods and bringing more individuals to the United States for programs — but said this was more a function of new limitations placed on civil society groups by Middle Eastern governments than any reorientation of US policy…..

In its first term, the Obama administration “decided to reinvent this agenda,” Tamara Wittes, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of MEPI, told Al-Monitor. “It was not the ‘freedom agenda’ [of George Bush] but a different way of addressing the same set of issues.”

Wittes, who left the State Department in 2012 and now directs the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, told Al-Monitor “what has happened is the re-emergence of counterterrorism as the lens through which US policy is seen and formulated.”

The United States “has made a decision that it is fully prepared to go back to the business of overlooking significant problems with domestic governance, human rights and economic stability in the name of smooth bilateral cooperation” with governments fighting Islamic militants, she said.

“Partnering and protecting civil society groups around the world is now a mission across the US government,” Obama said Sept. 23, touting a presidential memorandum instructing US government departments and agencies to “consult and partner more regularly with civil society groups” and “oppose efforts by foreign governments to restrict freedoms of peaceful assembly and association and expression.”

According to Wittes, the irony is that the “Obama administration will leave office having brought Middle East policy full circle to what it was trying to get away from when it came in. The idea of supporting long-term political change has been pushed down the priority list to working with highly imperfect governments on a short-term counterterrorism agenda.”


Dancing with Dictators


poland solidarnoscTwenty-five years ago, breakthrough elections were held in Poland that led, within three months, to the downfall of that country’s communist regime, notes Eric Chenoweth, the co-director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe and former editor in chief of the journal Uncaptive Minds.

The events helped to spark the Velvet Revolutions that spread, within the next six months, to Budapest, Prague, Bratislava, Berlin, Sofia, Timisoara, and many other major cities, as masses of people went to the streets to demand their rights, oppose Soviet occupation, and win back their freedom. Communist despotisms that had lasted more than four decades collapsed like a house of cards. The world celebrated the fall of communism and the victory of democracy.

It all seemed so clear back then. But not now, he writes for World Affairs.

The recent death of Poland’s last communist dictator, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, at the age of ninety, has cast a pall on the celebration of that election victory by Solidarity a quarter-century ago. Despite a public outcry, the country’s current and past democratically elected leaders granted Jaruzelski a state funeral and pride of place among Poland’s military and political heroes in Warsaw’s renowned Powazki Cemetery. Meanwhile, some of the country’s most significant politicians and intellectuals, led by Adam Michnik, once one of Solidarity’s key theorists, have exonerated and praised Jaruzelski, despite his imposition of martial law in December 1981 aimed at destroying Solidarity. Michnik describes Jaruzelski as a Polish patriot who chose the “lesser evil” of martial law to stave off Soviet invasion and who, when given the opportunity, later took the “wise decision” to “unshackle the chains” he had originally bound the country with.


Solidarity Center partner Kailash Satyarthi wins Nobel

Labor and human rights activist and long-time Solidarity Center ally Kailash Satyarthi won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel committee announced this morning, the Solidarity Center reports. He shares the prestigious award with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who survived a brutal 2012 Taliban attack for her stance on girls’ education.

As a grassroots activist, Satyarthi has led the rescue of more than 78,500 child laborers and survived numerous attacks on his life as a result. As a PBS profile describes Satyarthi’s work: “His original idea was daring and dangerous. He decided to mount raids on factories—factories frequently manned by armed guards—where children and often entire families were held captive as bonded workers.”

Solidarity Center Asia Regional Director Tim Ryan said, “Kailash’s lifetime commitment to the cause of eradicating child labor is an inspiration to every human rights defender around the world to promote the rights of the most vulnerable, the most economically exploited young workers and the paramount importance of finding ways to secure basic education for all children around the world.” Satyarthi’s decades of work to end exploitive child labor have encompassed advocacy for decent work and working conditions for adults, including domestic workers, because impoverished families must often make the difficult choice of sending their children to work for the sake of family survival. ….

In 1998, Satyarthi created the Global March Against Child Labour, a coalition of unions and child rights organizations from around the world, to work toward elimination of child labor. ….

Winning the Nobel “will help in giving bigger visibility to the cause of children who are most neglected and most deprived,” Satyarthi said upon learning he won the prestigious prize. “Everyone must acknowledge and see that child slavery still exists in the world in its ugliest face and form. And this is crime against humanity, this is intolerable, this is unacceptable. And this must go.” (Listen to his interview with the Nobel Prize team.)….

Satyarthi’s award of the Nobel Prize is the latest high-profile recognition of worker rights activists in the last month. Earlier this week, Alejandra Ancheita, founder and executive director of the Mexico City-based ProDESC (Project for Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights), won the prestigious international Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. And in September, Ai-jen Poo, founder and director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, became a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant recipient.



Nobel Peace Laureates call for release of Liu Xiaobo

china liu xiaoboIn an open letter that Nobel Peace Prize Laureates together with major human rights organizations addressed to the United Nations and the European Union today called for the immediate release of Dr. Liu Xiaobo, 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, currently in prison in China and the lift of the severe restrictions against his spouse, Liu Xia, well known poet and artist.

Mairead Maguire, Arch. Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams and Shirin Ebadi expressed their strong indignation regarding the continuous imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo and their dismay for the situation of Liu Xia who is still under house arrest, in absence of any legal grounds. Joined by Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, Freedom Now, the Human Rights Foundation, the Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), Act for Human Rights (ADH), the French League for Human Rights and China Solidarity, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates stressed that ahead of this year’s announcement of the next Laureate for the Nobel Peace Prize, the United Nations, the European Union cannot remain silent and leave without defense the only Nobel Laureate currently in prison.

They invite the world leaders and the UN and EU authorities to speak out against the continuous illegal imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo and the house arrest of Liu Xia and call publicly for their immediate and unconditional release.

Liu Xiaobo was the recipient of the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2014 Democracy Award.


Promoting Free Media: Informing the 1989 Velvet Revolution

czecg rfe

Czechs and Slovaks regained their freedom in November 1989 through non-violent protests in Prague, Bratislava, and other towns of then Czechoslovakia. Their Velvet Revolution climaxed a decade of renewed civic challenges to a repressive Communist regime that began with Charter 77 dissidents including Vaclav Havel and accelerated after 1986. Deprived of objective information about developments in their own country, Czechs and Slovaks turned to the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and other Western broadcasters for information. Only through Western radio did they learn about accelerating challenges to Communist orthodoxy in Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union and about ferment in their own country.

Twenty five years after the Velvet Revolution, Europe today is whole and free, but democracy and prerequisite independent media are on the decline in much of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. RFE/RL, now operating from Prague, VOA, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Network, and Radio Marti, all publicly funded by the U.S. Congress, work to redress the information deficit.

The first panel will review the contribution of Western broadcasting to the successful Velvet Revolution and consider lessons from that experience. A second panel will examine the challenge faced today by the United States in providing objective information to authoritarian countries and in applying principles of successful Cold War broadcasting to communicating with unfree societies.

RFE/RL, the Embassy of the Czech Republic and the Woodrow Wilson Center invite you to a panel discussion on

Promoting Free Media: Informing the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the Challenge Today

Thursday, October 16, 2014 2:00pm – 6:00pm 5th Floor Conference Room Wilson Center Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center One Woodrow Wilson Plaza 1300 Pennsylvania, Ave. NW Washington, D.C. 20004


Panel One – Western Broadcasting to Czechoslovakia 2:00pm-3:30pm A. Ross Johnson Wilson Center Senior Scholar (moderator) Petr Gandalovic Ambassador of the Czech Republic Jiri Pehe Director, New York University Prague Center (via Internet) R. Eugene Parta Former Chair, Conference of International Broadcasters Audience Research and former Director, RFE/RL Audience and Opinion Research Pavel Pechacek Former director, VOA Czechoslovak Service; former director, RFE/RL Czechoslovak and Czech Services Alexandr Vondra Former Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defense Minister of the Czech Republic; former Czech Ambassador to the U.S. (via Internet)

Panel Two – Promoting Free Media Today 3:30pm-5:00pm Blair A. Ruble  Vice President for Programs; Director, Urban Sustainability Laboratory; and Senior Advisor, Kennan Institute  (moderator) David Kramer President, Freedom House Kevin Klose Professor, Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland; former President, RFE/RL, Inc.; former President, National Public Radio Nenad Pejic Editor in Chief, RFE/RL Tania Chomiak-Salvi Deputy Coordinator for International Information Programs, US Department of State

Reception to follow RSVP HERE