Egypt leaves democracy advocate in legal limbo

egypt ngo trial fhIn Egypt last month, three journalists were found guilty of doing their jobs and given seven- and 10-year jail terms. Apparently, little has changed, notes a prominent democracy assistance official.

A little more than a year earlier, I and 42 other employees of international human rights groups were similarly convicted at a Cairo trial that the U.S. and European governments have condemned as politically motivated,” says Sam LaHood, the director for the International Republican Institute in Egypt from 2010 to 2012 and currently a program officer with the organization.

“I was sentenced to five years in prison with hard labor after being found guilty in absentia of a trumped-up felony,” he writes for the Washington Post:  

In my case, appointees held over from the regime of Hosni Mubarak used repressive laws to target our groups for providing democracy assistance, manipulating the bureaucratic machinery for their own ends. Many more of these officials, who constitute Egypt’s entrenched security apparatus and bureaucracy, or “deep state,” have since returned to power after being out in the cold during the truncated presidential term of Mohamed Morsi. This deep state, led by individuals at the Ministry of Interior, state security and other large bureaucratic entities, is intent on exerting control over civil society, politics and the media through intimidation and repression.

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Technology is connective, but is it democratizing?

Many commentators mistakenly interpreted the Arab Spring in 2011 as a harbinger of democratic movements everywhere, and now the pendulum of punditry seems to have swung hard in the opposite direction, says Sheldon Himmelfarb of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Contrary to this doom-saying, however, opportunities for citizen participation in political processes have never been greater, thanks to the ingenuity of a new generation of activists and technologists, he writes for Foreign Policy:

Three recent studies of “peacetech” tools have documented their use and promise, as well as their limitations. The first, “Citizen Participation and Technology,” released in May by the nonpartisan National Democratic Institute (NDI), reviewed nine international programs with which NDI collaborated in countries such as Uganda, Mexico, and Egypt. The programs attempted to leverage technology to improve citizens’ participation in politics.It found, broadly, that technology is expanding this participation and is changing the relationship citizens have with organizations and public institutions, even in places where these effects might not be obvious.

“According to New York University professor Clay Shirky, social media is a tool that strengthens the public sphere — and a robust and active public sphere is necessary to increase political freedoms around the world and to create political change,” Himmelfarbd notes:

larryDiamondLarry Diamond, a founder of the liberation-technology program at Stanford University, echoes this sentiment and points toward a highly controlled society — China, where citizens have used microblogging site Weibo to identify corrupt officials — to best understand this phenomenon…For experts like Diamond and Shirky, the Internet’s decentralized architecture, the spread of cell phones, and the sheer popularity of social-network applications have combined to produce a revolution in social activism. Others, however, have taken issue with this. Writer Malcolm Gladwell, for example, has argued in the New Yorker that a crucial distinction exists between traditional activism and its online variant. Social media, he says, is effective at building loosely affiliated networks, which are the opposite in structure and character of effective social-change movements of the past.

“It is too early to tell the outcomes of today’s violent conflicts that are spawning the chorus of calls for more inclusive governments,” he argues. “But this is certain: The public sphere is growing. And in a world where 3 billion people are expected to enter the global middle class over the next two decades and have greater access to technology in their daily lives, the power of technology-enabled citizen networks to pressure governments and large institutions to act is only going to grow — putting new potential to prevent wars and solve humanity’s most pressing problems within reach, if not in our grasp.”

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Authoritarians shaping post-Ukraine world order – Ignatieff

authoritarians xi-jinping-vladimir-putinRussia’s annexation of Crimea has shaken our assumptions about the global order that took shape after 1989, says a leading authority. The re-ordering underway is truly global, writes Harvard UniversityProfessor Michael Ignatieff:

In the East Asia, rival naval fleets are circling each other, Chinese oil platforms are drilling in disputed waters and belligerent accusations fly between Asian capitals. China no longer speaks the language of ‘quiet rise’. Ji Xinping’s muscular foreign policy is alarming Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and the United States. 

We sense that these changes – in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia – are connected to each other. We sense that the tectonic plates are shifting. We question whether anyone in Washington, London, Moscow or Beijing truly grasps what is going on. So this is a good moment to consider what narratives are available to us to make sense of what is happening.

Francis Fukuyama was right to tell us that the history-defining contest between capitalism and communism was over in 1989, Ignatieff said, delivering this summer’s Ditchley Foundation annual lecture:

wenty five years on, however, from the Polish border to the Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to the Afghan border, a new political competitor to liberal democracy has taken shape that Fukuyama did not anticipate: authoritarian in political form, capitalist in economics and nationalist in ideology.

Lawrence Summers has called this new form ‘mercantilist authoritarianism’ which certainly captures the central role that the state and state enterprises play in the Russian and Chinese economies. [1] Mercantilism, however, misses the crude element of cronyism that is central to Putin’s economic model and to the Communist Party of China as well. 

There are of course significant differences between the Chinese and Russian variants of authoritarian capitalism. In the Chinese model, the party retains its monopoly role, and while there are managed elections at the village level, no pretense is offered that the system is democratic. Russia pretends to be democratic: there are formal constitutional guarantees and elections, but no one doubts that ultimate control rests with the Soviet nomenklatura and the secret police.

In the medium term, what unites them, of course, is a shared hostility to what John Ikenberry has called ‘the liberal leviathan’, the United States and its global web of encircling alliances. So far, the two authoritarians have few friends, but their model is attractive. For corrupt elites in Africa and Latin America, China and Russia offer a model that allows them to continue extractive development.

Unique combination

“This unique combination of private liberty and public despotism separates the new authoritarianism from its Soviet and Maoist past and probably guarantees the long-term stability of both regimes,” Ignatieff contends:

To be sure, this new form of rule has little outward ideological appeal. Europe and the United States continue to attract immigrants from all corners of the globe, drawn by a freedom that is both private and public. No one is migrating to Russia – or China for that matter. They are out-migration countries. But the fact that their authoritarian capitalism does not appeal to outsiders does not mean it lacks internal legitimacy or support.….

The authoritarian apologetics of both Russia and China may not be appealing, but they are not ideologically aggressive. They make a national claim to legitimacy, not a universal one. Chinese rulers may believe in China’s civilizational superiority, but they have not embarked upon a civilizing mission for the whole world. Mao may have encouraged Maoists from Peru to Paris, but the current regime has no such ambitions. It may want global power but it does not seek global hegemony. The same is true of Russia. Unlike Stalin, Putin will never claim that his country is the universal home of all those seeking emancipation from the capitalist yoke.

“In the absence of a universalizing ideology, therefore, the new authoritarian states may be aggressive and nationalist in rhetoric, but they are unlikely to be expansionist,” he suggests.

Two over-riding questions

There are two over-riding questions that arise with the emergence of authoritarian capitalism as the chief strategic and ideological competitor to liberal democracy. The first is: are they stable? The second is: are they aggressive? Igantieff adds:

Authoritarian societies have powerful advantages over democratic ones. They can make decisions more rapidly, marshal resources of labor and capital by executive decision while democratic societies must first overcome the veto points in their own systems. Since authoritarian societies suppress dissent and plural opinion, they can also channel nationalist emotions into powerful justification for overseas adventurism, especially intervening to protect co-nationals in neighboring countries. China’s Asian neighbors must be wondering when the regime starts using ‘the protection’ of the Chinese as a justification for meddling in their internal affairs.

Authoritarian oligarchies, however, are also brittle. Their rulers believe they must control everything or soon they will control nothing.  Their chief dilemma is how to manage the political aspirations unleashed by their own rapid growth. Under Stalin and Mao, rising aspirations for voice could be crushed by force. Under the new authoritarianism, some private freedom has to be allowed since it is the condition of capitalist progress itself.

“China’s new assertiveness in Asia is driven by many factors – including the need to find energy supplies in the seas off its shores – but also by a desire to rally its rising middle classes around an assertive vision of what Xi Jinping calls the ‘China Dream”, in which China becomes a global power, not just a regional hegemon,” Ignatieff argues:

In the Russian case, the strategic dilemmas are similar: legitimizing extractive rule to a brittle and discontented middle class at home while meeting the challenge of American alliance encirclement on its frontiers. Putin’s response to these challenges has been similar to China’s but has to take into account a weaker economic position.

We should, however, beware of exaggerating these weaknesses. The conventional view about Putin’s regime is that he is perched atop a society in demographic and economic decline, with decaying infrastructure and weak health care and social protection. This is wishful thinking, a false narrative that continues, in essence, the Cold War view that the Soviet Union was “Upper Volta with rockets.”  On the contrary, Russia’s natural resource wealth gives it a certain source of state revenue throughout the 21st century, while its limited regime of private freedom creates a safety valve that allows the regime to contain democratic discontent. For millions of Russians, the freedom to travel, to emigrate, to save and invest more than compensate for the occasional brutality the regime displays towards the brave minority who continue to demand an end to authoritarian rule.  

RTWT

Michael Ignatieff is a Canadian writer, teacher and former politician. He holds a doctorate in history from Harvard University and has held academic posts at King’s College, Cambridge and at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.  He served in the Parliament of Canada and was Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. His books include The Needs of Strangers (1984), Scar Tissue (1992), Blood and Belonging (1993), The Warrior’s Honour (1997) Isaiah Berlin (1998), The Rights Revolution (2000), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (2004) and Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics (2013). 

He is the Centennial Chair at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York and the Edward R. Murrow Professor of the Practice of Politics and the Press at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.


 

[1] Lawrence Summers   Financial Times, July 8, 2014

Crime without punishment: Putin isn’t panicking

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to be unfazed by international outrage over the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17, by Western sanctions or by diplomatic pressure, analysts suggest.

After all, “Putin answers to virtually no one,” a TIME magazine analysis suggests:

His command of the Russian airwaves will help him manage any blowback at home, spinning even the most damning evidence as part of an ancient American conspiracy. The more the world picks on him and Russia, the more it feeds a Russian will to push back, out of a sense of pride and victimhood. Isolation will still be the West’s only means of attack, and if Europe has lacked the will to impose it after Syria, after Crimea and even amid the global outrage over MH 17, it is unlikely to take action once the shock of the crash subsides. Putin has played this game before. He need only bide his time for the West’s own inaction to clear him.

russiaputinterror“The Europeans are in a panic over the U.S. line on sanctions,” says Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected consultant who traveled to Europe in mid-July to rally support among pundits and politicians there. “As soon as the E.U. gets the slightest chance to turn away from Washington on the issue of Ukraine, they will take it.”

Putin has broken all the rules of international diplomacy, according to Nicholas Burns, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government (above).

It’s not Ukraine that Putin has been waging war against: It’s the West, says analyst Masha Gessen.

“Over the course of two and a half years, since starting his third term as Russian president against the backdrop of mass protests, Putin has come to both embody and rely on a new, aggressively anti-Western ideology,” she writes for Salon.com:

The enemy against which the country has united is the West and its contemporary values, which are seen as threatening Russia and its traditional values. It is a war of civilizations, in which Ukraine simply happened to be the site of the first all-out battle. In this picture, Russia is fighting Western expansionism in Ukraine, protecting not just itself and local Russian speakers but the world from the spread of what they call “homosfascism,” by which they mean an insistence on the universality of human rights.

Putin’s officials have threatened to retaliate against Western economic sanctions, but  “the problem with this is that it would require a sharp re-direction of Russian economic strategy,” according to David Clark, the founder and editor of Shifting Grounds, who served as special adviser at the British Foreign Office from 1997 to 2001.

“Despite the rhetoric of ‘sovereign democracy’ – an ideology based on the rejection of foreign influence – Russia is deeply embedded in the global economy,he writes for the New Statesman:

It needs not only access to foreign trade, but also inflows of foreign capital and technology to modernize and thrive. The investment requirement for its dilapidated energy sector alone stands at $2.7 trillion over the next twenty years. Without this Russia faces the threat of a return to the kind of long-term stagnation that brought an end to the Soviet era.

A strategy based on economic autarky and a closed ‘Russian world’ isn’t really viable. Russia doesn’t have either the capital or the technology needed to build new infrastructure and open new energy production in the Arctic North.

The key to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is found in the divergent mythologies of the two peoples, reflected in Putin rehabilitation of illiberal ideology against the West’s critical philosophy of information (see his recent discourse to the rabbis at the Kremlin), argues Antoine Arjakovsky, former director of the French Institute of Ukraine at Kiev, and the author of Russie – Ukraine. De la guerre a la paix?

Putin is not invading Ukraine for geostrategic reasons, but for ideological reasons, he contends:

His actions are explained only by reasons stemming from mythology. Because contemporary political science disdains myth too readily, considering it irrational, it is becoming less and less capable of understanding the world. That is like trying to negotiate an iceberg considering by only its visible part. For Putin, it is about restoring pride to the Russians by giving them an identity found, he believes, in the famous ideology of Tsar Nicholas I: “Orthodoxy, autocracy, the people.”

The sad thing is that Putin is a poor historian. He does not know that the only way for a people to recover its dignity and international recognition is to ask pardon for its crimes, to work tirelessly to eliminate every resurgence of ideology (such as the National Communism dear to Stalin) and to cease instrumental sing spiritual powers (such as the Russian Orthodox Church) in the name of power politics.

“The international community that still believes in the role of virtue and law has an essential role to play,” Arjakovsky notes. “But, as the philosopher Chantel Delsol has written, the international community should also return to the question of the spiritual foundations of democracy and international law.”

What various observers have perceived as a moment of truth that changes the mathematics of the Ukrainian crisis is, from Putin’s point of view, a misstep in a conflict with the West that he will be engaged in for years—until he leaves office, which he plans to do feet-first many years from now, notes Gessen:

To buy time, Putin issued a middle-of-the-night video address from his residence outside of Moscow [and held] an emergency meeting of the Russian security council on Tuesday. … As far as foreign observers could tell, Putin said nothing of consequence. But here is what he said at the start of his talk: “Obviously, there is no direct threat facing our country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity today, of course. This is guaranteed primarily by the strategic power balance in the world.” Translated, this means, I gathered you here today to remind the world that Russia is a nuclear power. And here is what he said as he was wrapping up: “We will respond in an appropriate and commensurate manner if NATO’s military infrastructure gets any closer to our border, and we will not close our eyes to the development of global anti-missile defense and the growth of supplies of strategic high-precision weapons, both nuclear and non-nuclear.” Translated, this means, Know how I reminded you five minutes ago that Russia is a nuclear power? Now I’ve told you we are prepared to use our nuclear capability if you try to pull one over on us. (He went on to say that missile defense systems were actually offensive weapons.) And by the way, if you every thought we’d stop at something, you probably don’t anymore.

The following day, European countries deferred a possible decision on tougher anti-Russian sanctions. The United States released information saying there was nothing linking the Kremlin directly to the downing of the plane. The U.S. media continued to call the disaster a “plane crash.” The acute phase of the aftermath of Flight 17 appeared to be ending. Was all of this because Putin was good at scaring the West or at obfuscating? Whatever it was, his tactics had worked beautifully.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, when he was not busy threatening the West with nukes, Putin signed several new laws. One bans advertising on paid-cable and satellite channels, effectively banning any independent television channel now or in the future from making money. (All broadcast channels are controlled by the state.) Another gives the government the tools to shut off Russians’ access to Western social networks such as Facebook or Twitter and services such as Gmail or Skype. A third provides for a jail sentence of up to four years for denying that Crimea is a part of Russia. On the same day, courts in Moscow and St. Petersburg ruled a half-dozen human rights organizations were “foreign agents,” effectively ending their activities.

“Putin’s war against the West and its perceived agents in Russia, in other words, continued unabated,” Gessen contends. “As he sees it, the unfortunate screw-up with the plane will be forgotten soon enough. He may or may not have to cede a little on Ukraine, but that’s all right: It’s just one battle in the giant war against the West he has already unleashed.”

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Payá family launches new plebiscite initiative in Cuba

 

cubaPayá_&_Cepero_II_Aniversario_SMALL_02On the second anniversary of the death of Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá, his daughter, Rosa María Payá, has announced that the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) he founded is preparing a campaign to demand a plebiscite on the island’s future, the Miami Herald reports:

Rosa Maria Payá said that the plebiscite, based on her father’s Varela Project, would include “one single question: Do you want to participate in free and multi-party elections?”

The Varela Project gathered more than 10,000 signatures on a petition seeking a new electoral law and demanding the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of association, among other measures. The signatures were rejected by the legislative National Assembly in 2002 but later that year Payá won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience, the most prestigious prize awarded by the European Union.

His daughter told El Nuevo Herald on Tuesday that since the Varela Project remains alive, “it is not necessary to collect more signatures. More than double the number required already have been handed in, even though the National Assembly has not responded to the demand.

“But the Varela Project is a citizens’ effort. Our intention with this (new) campaign is to mobilize citizens to demand their rights,” she added. “There can be no transition in Cuba unless first there’s a recognition of civil rights, of freedom of expression, of freedom of association to carry out the change we want.”

HT: Babablu blog.