Why Yemen is no model for Iraq

YEMEN FAREAThe suggestion that Yemen could be an example for how to bring stability to Iraq came as a shock to most Yemenis, says a key analyst.

“The contradiction between their country’s political reality and its reputation as an Arab Spring success story has always been glaring, but now it had become absurd,” Farea Al-muslimi (left) writes for Foreign Affairs.

The deal that led to the ousting of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled since 1978, “was a rotten one,” he contends:

It merely handed the presidency over to his deputy, Hadi, and ensured that Saleh would continue to play a role behind the scenes. He was also given immunity for all his wrongdoing during his 33 years in power. And that is not the same thing as democracy. Even worse, the deal made a real transition to democracy in Yemen all the harder and it sowed the seeds of new conflicts.

One of the deal’s key promises to the tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists who took to the streets to bring down Saleh was to hold the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). It was supposed to bring together all the political factions, from the southern separatist movement to young modernizers to negotiate an outline for Yemen’s future political structure; and put the outcome of these negotiations to a public referendum for approval. However, the NDC, held from March 2013 to January 2014, did very little beyond extending the terms of parliament (whose mandate expired in 2008) and the president (whose democratic legitimacy consists of a hastily rushed-through referendum on his serving one term in office). The NDC then ignored its own bylaws and refused to put these decisions to a public vote.

A few years ago in Yemen, people used to warn of an “Iraq scenario” if its problems weren’t addressed, meaning that Yemen would be the new Iraq. They don’t anymore, Al-muslimi concludes.


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.


The end of pluralism: violence trumps politics in Middle East?

TEMPTATIONS ISLAMISTIf the second phase of the “Arab Spring” is really about anything, it is about a collective loss of faith in politics, according to Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center.

We might not like to admit it, but violence can, and often does, “work” in today’s Middle East, he writes for The Atlantic:

This is not just a reference to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but also to less extreme militant groups that control territory throughout Syria, providing security and social services to local populations. From Libya to Palestine to parts of the Egyptian Sinai, armed—and increasingly hard-line—Islamist groups are making significant inroads. This is the Arab world’s Salafi-Jihadi moment. It may not last, but its impact is already impossible to dismiss, to say nothing of the long-term consequences. In Libya and Syria, even non-Salafi groups like the Brotherhood are adapting to the new world of anti-politics, allying themselves with local armed groups or working to form their own militias.

A movement meant to demonstrate that peaceful protest could work ultimately demonstrated the opposite, notes Hamid, the author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East:

This is one of the great tragedies of the past few years—that a movement meant to demonstrate that peaceful protest could work ultimately demonstrated the opposite. According to former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, the Arab Spring shattered the myth that “peaceful change in this region is not possible.” Indeed, it did. But then the violence raged on in Syria and Libya. Leaders in these countries saw their Egyptian and Tunisian counterparts as weak and feckless, as conceding too much to their opponents and emboldening them in the process. In .the case of the Egyptian coup in 2013, the most populous Arab country, long a bellwether for the region, willfully aborted its own democratic process. The worst mass killing in the country’s modern history soon followed.

That this violence is, in some way, tied to religion makes it more difficult for outsiders to parse. As the military historian Andrew Bacevich writes, “No single explanation exists for why the War for the Greater Middle East began and why it persists. But religion figures as a central element. Secularized American elites either cannot grasp or are unwilling to accept this.” Indeed, the divide between Islamists and what we might call “anti-Islamists” cannot be reduced to the single-minded pursuit of power. As I argue in my new book, it is just as much about real ideological divides over the role of religion in public life and the nature, meaning, and purpose of the nation-state.

Not too much intervention, too little

The Middle East, as a region, is more unstable, divided, and rife with extremism today than it has been at any other point in recent decades, Hamid observes:

It would make little sense to blame these developments on American military intervention. The past six years have been characterized not by the use of force, but by a very concerted desire on the part of the Obama administration to reduce our regional engagement, in general, and our military footprint in particular.

The presumption was that with the withdrawal from Iraq, a key Arab grievance would be addressed. The Obama administration could, then, re-establish a relationship with the Arab world based on “mutual respect,” leading to a “new beginning.” It wasn’t unreasonable to think this. After all, it was precisely our over-engagement, and the waging of two costly, tragic wars, that appeared to provoke such anger toward the United States. Yet disengagement and detachment haven’t helped matters. Anti-Americanism persists at strikingly high levels and, in a number of countries, attitudes toward the U.S. are more negative under Obama than they were during Bush’s final years.

“The two most destructive conflicts in the Middle East today are in Syria and Iraq, two countries that have imploded not because of too much intervention, but because of too little,” he suggests.


Tunisia’s dilemma in anti-jihadist campaign

Tunisia has hit back at a deadly jihadist attack on troops by closing mosques and media outlets seen as sympathetic to extremists, raising fears of a return to the censorship of the old regime, Agence France Presse reports:

In the wake of a July 16 attack which left 15 soldiers dead in Mount Chaambi near the Algerian border, the authorities have laid down a “red line” against criticism of the army and police. The government announced the immediate closure of mosques which had fallen out of the control of the religious affairs ministry. It has also decided to shut down unlicensed media outlets which had “turned into platforms for takfiris and jihad,” referring to apostasy charges against fellow Muslims.

With a growing challenge from jihadists, long repressed under Ben Ali, the government is facing a double challenge. The authorities are working to restore the “prestige” and “authority” of a state weakened by the 2011 revolution. They also aim to curb the Islamist rhetoric which has found an outlet in a media landscape that has exploded over the past three years, with many broadcasters operating unlicenced.

Rights groups are warning against curbs on liberties that were hard-won after years of Ben Ali’s dictatorship, urging a balance between anti-terror measures and freedom of information.

“The country is going through a very difficult time and politicians are under pressure,” said Rachida Ennaifer of Tunisia’s audiovisual regulatory body HAICA.

“But the fight against terrorism should not be arbitrary or populist. If we want a state of law, we must respect the law,” she told AFP, pointing to the dilemma faced by authorities. RTWT

Tunisia’s political prospects

Although Tunisia’s democratic transition has been rocky, it presents the most promising scenario among the Arab Awakening countries. Looking ahead, parliamentary elections scheduled for later this year are important in their own right, but are also viewed as a litmus test for the future of inclusive politics. Please join a conversation with Hariri Center Nonresident Fellow Duncan Pickard, who will speak on the recently-passed elections law, voting procedures, and potential political alliances, and Fatima Hadji of the National Endowment for Democracy who will take a bird’s-eye view of the process and reflect on how external actors might help the transition.  

A discussion with Duncan Pickard, Nonresident Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council and Fatima Hadji, Program Officer for the Maghreb, National Endowment for Democracy.

Moderated by Karim Mezran, Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council.

DATE: Wednesday, July 30, 2014. TIME: 10:30 a.m. -12:00 p.m. LOCATION: Atlantic Council 1030 15th St NW, 12th floor, Washington, DC 20005.

Continuing abuses threaten Burma’s transition, says ICTJ report


burmaMyanmar-Report-2014-En-CoverContinuing political repression, cronyism, and ongoing conflicts are disrupting attempts to put Myanmar on a linear path to democracy, peace, and development, says a new report from the International Center for Transitional Justice.

The spread of anti-Muslim violence to Mandalay and the recent harsh sentencing of some journalists show that Myanmar’s transformation into a prosperous, functioning democracy is still far from guaranteed. According to the 28-page report, “Navigating Paths to Justice in Myanmar’s Transition,” dealing with current and historical abuses is essential to achieving genuine progress on peacebuilding and economic development in the country.

“Myanmar’s transition has not yet taken root,” says Patrick Pierce, co-author of the report. “The military still wields significant political power and influence. The continuing dominant role of former generals and business cronies comes with a reluctance to address both ongoing and past violations.”

Conflict and high levels of political repression have racked Myanmar for more than 60 years, during which time state-sponsored human rights violations were routine. Attempting to defeat ethnic armed groups and any form of political opposition, Burmese security forces killed, tortured, imprisoned, and displaced thousands in the country.

Both President Thein Sein and opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have repeatedly highlighted rule of law and good governance as priorities for Myanmar alongside the development of a modern market economy and democracy.

After three years of reforms, initial steps are being taken to hold government and elites more accountable. Parliamentary investigations are being held into land confiscations, the government created a national human rights commission, and the president’s office has started efforts to investigate allegations of government corruption.

Yet high levels of mistrust and skepticism regarding the genuineness of reforms persist in some areas, particularly Kachin State, where renewed conflict has displaced over 100,000 people.

The ICTJ report provides concrete recommendations to development and reform actors on how to incorporate transitional justice into their programmatic tools. For example, it calls for reparations programs that would reduce the vulnerability and social stigmatization of certain groups, including former child soldiers and victims of gender-based violence.

“Donors and policy makers have made important commitments to support development and democratic reforms in Myanmar,” says Anna Myriam Roccatello, Deputy Program Director for ICTJ. “It’s time to link these more firmly with commitments from the government to uphold the rights of victims.