From politics to protest: taking it to the streets

IvanKrastevThe pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong are just the latest in a wave of political protests that has swept the world since late 2010. In “From Politics to Protest,” Ivan Krastev (left) examines why people have been taking to the streets, not only where they are denied the right to freely elect their leaders (as in Hong Kong), but also in countries where they fully enjoy the right to vote. Krastev suggests that elections are losing their capacity to make voters feel that their voices are being heard, and he explores what this may mean for the future of democracy.

India’s sixteenth general elections heralded a new era in the country’s politics: The Hindu-nationalist BJP won an unprecedented absolute majority in parliament, while the long-dominant Congress party suffered a stunning defeat. Four essays by leading experts explain the electoral outcome, look at the economic implications of the BJP’s victory, weigh the possibility of renewed communal violence, and give a big-picture assessment of India’s future.

jodoctIndonesia held successful parliamentary elections in April and presidential elections in July. Yet the news is not all good. The parliamentary contest was marred by pervasive “money politics,” as Edward Aspinall explains in “Politics and Patronage,” and the presidential race was nearly won by Prabowo Subianto, a populist who “promised to undertake the radical and dangerous experiment of restoring Indonesia’s pre-democratic order.” In “How Jokowi Won and Democracy Survived,” Marcus Mietzner cautions that “Indonesian democracy is still vulnerable, and will be for years to come.”

Elsewhere in the issue, Ghia Nodia writes on “The Revenge of Geopolitics,” part of a set of articles on “External Influence and Democratization” that also features pieces by Jakob Tolstrup and Steven Levitsky & Lucan Way; a pair of essays by João Carlos Espada and Liubomir Topaloff examine the rise of Euroskeptic parties in the EU and what it means; Richard Joseph explores the prospects for democracy in Africa through the lens of Nigeria; and Javier Corrales & Michael Penfold detail the growing trend in Latin America to relax or eliminate presidential term limits.

To see the complete Table of Contents, please visit


ISIS and Ebola – two sides of the same coin?

kleinfeldThe Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is ravaging the Levant and Ebola is terrifying West Africa — but other than the fear both engender, there seems to be little linkage between a raging insurgency and a contagious disease, notes Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior associate in the Carnegie Endowment’s Democracy and Rule of Law Program.But appearances are deceiving. In fact, both ISIS and Ebola have the same root cause: failed governance, she writes for the Hill.

Insurgencies do not emerge from nowhere. In Iraq, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government had failed to keep his bargain to integrate Sunnis, who fought valiantly against their fellows in the Awakening, into the regular Iraqi military. He gave army posts to Shiite cronies and allowed the military to corrupt itself from the inside. ….ISIS, in other words, was not inevitable. It emerged from the politicization of the military by a leader who did not aim to create a state that served all its citizens, but a regime that served only one group personally loyal to him.

Ebola presents a similar challenge. Right now, the world is tackling it as it needs to, as a medical emergency. The solution set required — more doctors, hospitals, protective gear and medicine — makes sense. But why is this Ebola outbreak so much more dire than all previous outbreaks? Because in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, people did not trust their governments…


Rachel Kleinfeld is the founder and president emeritus of the Truman National Security Project and an advisor to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Penn Kemble Forum.

Court releases Mbonimpa – ‘Burundi’s Mandela’

burundi mbonipa2Reports suggest that a court has granted bail to leading human rights defender Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa (left), known as “Burundi’s Mandela.”

The chairman of Burundi’s Association for the Protection of Human and Prisoners’ Rights [APRODH], the country’s leading organization for the defense of human rights, Mbonimpa has been detained since May on charges of “endangering state security” after he criticized paramilitary training provided in the eastern DRC for members of the ruling party’s youth wing.

“The prison was very hard. I lived like the other prisoners and the living conditions in prison are deplorable,” Mbonimpa said on his release. “There is space for 800 people, but there were roughly 3,000 prisoners. I can even tell you that there were those who did not sleep because they had no place to sleep.”

At the time of his detention, Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, had tweeted “#Burundihuman rights leader Pierre Mbonimpa has been jailed for 35 days—his govt continues to deny him a trial. Must be given justice ASAP.”

APRODH is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Nigeria’s 2015 Elections: weak state a greater problem than democracy?

Weak state capacity is a greater problem for Nigeria than democratic governance, says a leading expert.

fukuyama pol order decay“Lack of democracy is not the core of the country’s problems,” Stanford University’s Francis Fukuyama writes in his latest book. Nigeria needs “a strong, modern, and capable state … The Nigerian state is weak not only in technical capacity and its ability to enforce laws impersonally and transparently. It is also weak in a moral sense: it has a deficit of legitimacy.” 

Join a discussion on expanding public participation in Nigeria’s forthcoming national elections, scheduled for February, 2015. Panelists will discuss strategies to educate voters on the electoral process, increase participation among traditionally underrepresented groups—women, youth, rural voters—and ensure the overall safety and integrity of the vote. This session will begin with a recently completed micro-analysis by the National Democratic Institute examining voter participation patterns in the 2011 elections. The conference is part of an ongoing series, supported by the Ford Foundation, bringing Nigerian officials, civil society activists, and opinion leaders to Washington, D.C. to engage with U.S. policymakers and Africa experts on how best to ensure the success of Nigeria’s 2015 elections.

Nigeria’s 2015 Elections: Engaging Voters

Panel 1: Lessons from 2011 and INEC’s Outreach Strategy

Chris Fomunyoh Senior Associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa National Democratic Institute (NDI) Richard Klein Senior Advisor for Election Processes, NDI Oluwole Osaze Uzzi Director of Voter Education, Publicity, Gender, and CSOs Independent National Election Commission (INEC) Panel 2: Building an Informed and Active ElectorateYemi Adamolekun Executive Director, Enough is Enough Idayat Hassan Director, Centre for Democracy and Development Tunji Lardner Executive Director, WANGONeT Ayisha Osori CEO, Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund

Thursday, September 25, 2014 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Center for Strategic and International Studies 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036 2nd Floor Conference Room Conference to be followed by a reception

Please RSVP to

Ideological thread runs through global conflicts, says Blair


blairThere has been a tendency to see the conflicts happening in different parts of the world as unconnected, as driven by a collection of separate, essentially localized disputes. So we respond to each in its own way, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. We have not yet a sense of a unifying core of strategic analysis leading to a set of actions that are governed by that core and that have coherence on a global scale.

“Governments are not NGOs. We have to represent and advance broad strategic interests in defence of our values,” Blair contends. “We should not make the mistake of dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood as if it were merely an Arab version of the Christian Democrats. It isn’t and there is little sign it ever will be.

What is happening in Syria, Iraq, and across the Middle East; and what is happening in Pakistan, Nigeria, Mali, or in parts of Russia or in the Xinjiang province of China or in multiple other parts of the globe, are linked. They form different parts of one struggle. They all have their individual aspects. They all have unique dimensions. It would be odd if it weren’t so. But they have one huge and central element in common: extremism based on an interpretation of Islam which represents a clear ideology that, even if loosely at times, is shared by all these different groups of extremists.

So in every case there are distinct factors. Some are to do with long standing grievances over territory, or ethnic and tribal differences. Some are protests against central Governments and policies of repression. Some involve a dispute over the ownership and management of resources. But to deny as a result of these distinct factors, the common factor of religious extremism and of a particular ideology associated with the extremism, is wrong as a piece of analysis and dangerous in its consequences for policy….. 

The ideologies of the 20th century which caused such distress and conflict also manifested themselves in existing grievances and disputes in a variety of different ways and situations. But there is no doubt that the common factor of shared ideology crucially impacted both the manner in which conflicts arose and the vehemence with which they were conducted. Revolutionary communism had many faces. So did fascism. But their essential ideological character played a defining part in how the history of the 20th C was written, the alliances that were formed, the spheres of influence created. We have to see this ideology born out of a perversion of religious faith, in the same way.

The Challenge is a Spectrum not Simply a Fringe

This argument goes to the heart of the scale of the challenge and why we find it so hard to comprehend it, let alone defeat it. The problem is not that we’re facing a fringe of crazy people, a sort of weird cult confined to a few fanatics. If it was, we could probably root it out, kill or imprison its leaders, deter its followers and close the doors to new recruits.

The problem is that we’re facing a spectrum of opinion based on a world view which stretches far further into parts of Muslim society. At the furthest end is the fringe. But at the other end are those who may completely oppose some of the things the fringe does and who would never themselves dream of committing acts of violence, but who unfortunately share certain elements of the fanatic’s world view. These elements comprise, inter alia: a belief in religious exclusivity not merely in spiritual but in temporal terms; a desire to re-shape society according to a set of social and political norms, based on religious belief about Islam, wholly at odds with the way the rest of the world has developed, for example in relation to attitudes to women; a view of the West, particularly the USA, that is innately hostile and regards it essentially as the enemy, not only in policy but in culture and way of living.

The problem is that we’re facing a spectrum of opinion based on a world view which stretches far further into parts of Muslim society.

This Islamism – a politicisation of religion to an intense and all-encompassing degree – is not confined to a fringe. It is an ideology (and a theology derived from Salafist thinking) taught and preached every day to millions, actually to tens of millions, in some mosques, certain madrassas, and in formal and informal education systems the world over.

It is the spectrum that helps create the fringe. A large part of Western policy – and something I remember so well fighting in Government – is based on the belief that we can compromise with the spectrum in the hope of marginalising the fringe. This is a fateful error. All we do is to legitimise the spectrum, which then gives ideological oxygen to the fringe.

Support Modern-minded Muslim Opinion

One of the tragic myths of the past years has been the idea in the West – almost like a new Orientalism – that Arabs in particular and even Muslims in general are irredeemably lost in the mire of religious and ethnic dispute, that their mind-set is incompatible with democracy, that the whole thing is really about Shia vs Sunni, that they’re condemned by some invincible force of history to be in conflict and mayhem.

You still hear people say ‘Arabs think this’ or ‘the feeling in the Muslim world is that’. This is no more accurate than saying ‘the British think this’ or ‘Christians think that’. The fact is that opinion on most issues in the West is divided. There is a plethora of views. It is no different today in the Arab or Muslim world.

The true significance of the so-called Arab Spring – in reality a series of revolutions across the region – has not been properly understood in the West. Having been initially naive about the ease with which societies creaking under oppressive regimes and out of date institutions could make the transition to modernity, we’re now in danger of making the opposite mistake, believing that the instability that has followed these revolutions shows the inherent incapability of those societies to adapt and change. 

What we’re actually witnessing is an agonising, immensely challenging but profound transition away from the past to the future. The regimes ultimately collapsed under the weight of their own contradictions, the biggest one being the contradiction between the need for a modern economy and well educated workforce in societies of burgeoning populations; and the reality of a system totally unsuited to such an economy and the absence of such education.

Islamism often became the way that people protested against the regime under which they were groaning. When the old order passed away or came under attack, there was then a struggle between those who wanted a modern economy and society to come into being and those who wanted to turn instead to a religiously based order.

This is still the essential battle.