Libya poll to proceed despite political chaos

LIBYAFLAGLibya’s second national election since the 2011 ouster of strongman Muammar Gaddafi will go ahead next week despite growing political chaos, organizational troubles and the prospect of a low turnout, Reuters reports (HT: FPI):

Dismissing doubts among foreign diplomats that Tripoli could arrange the vote in only a month, election commission head Emad Al-Sayeh told Reuters that preparations for polling on June 25 were coming along well and staff were being trained. ….He said there were “positive indications” that the vote would go ahead even in Benghazi, the eastern city where fighting takes place almost daily between forces of renegade Geenral Khalifa Haftar and Islamist militants.

A Western diplomat said the government was adamant the vote should go ahead and noted that voting for a constitutional committee in February went ahead in most areas.

“There will be challenges to open polling stations in some places in the east and south,” he said. “The bigger question would be what will happen after the election, whether tensions will ease.”

The General National Congress (GNC) assembly decided in February to step down after its initial mandate had ended, bowing to pressure from voters who blame political infighting for Libya’s bumpy transition to democracy.

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U.S. ‘mixed success’ in assistance to Arab Spring transitions

POMEDREPORTThe United States “has largely failed to adapt U.S. assistance or policy toward the Middle East and North Africa in response to the dramatic political changes in the region over the past few years,” a new analysis suggests.  

“In general, it is remarkable how little the structure and objectives of U.S. assistance to the region have changed since before the 2011 uprisings,” according to The Federal Budget and Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2015: Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, a joint publication of the Project on Middle East Democracy and the Heinrich Böll Foundation of North America.

“The percentage of U.S.  assistance devoted to supporting military and security forces has actually increased since 2010 while the percentage devoted to programming dedicated to democracy and governance has decreased, despite frequent rhetoric from the administration and Congress in 2011 suggesting that the opposite would take place,’ the reports notes:  

Three years after the uprisings of 2011, the administration has had only mixed success in regularizing its assistance to countries in transition. In 2012 and into 2013, the administration mobilized large amounts of aid to respond to the democratic upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria through significant reprogramming and reallocation from multi-country accounts. Such a response was necessary at that time, when funds had not been budgeted ahead of time.  

By now, the administration should be working to move a greater percentage of assistance to those countries into bilateral accounts to establish a more permanent aid relationship. The administration has just this year made moves in that direction in both Yemen and Syria, but has failed to do so in Tunisia and especially in Libya. 

Support for democracy and governance programming in Syria in this year’s request is dramatically increased to $80 million; if granted, democracy assistance to Syria will be the highest bilateral level in the region. Democracy practitioners have complained for some time that the administration does not have a clear strategy for supporting democracy and governance activities in liberated areas of the country. The administration moved a substantial amount of Syria assistance into a bilateral account this year, including a large request for democracy assistance, which may signal a step in that direction. This new request, coupled with increasing coordination of Syria assistance by Mark Ward, could bring increased clarity to U.S. democracy programming strategy in the country.

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Is kneejerk opposition to coups misplaced?

egypt sisiIs kneejerk opposition to military coups misplaced?  We can all agree that coups overthrowing democratic governments are never good, but what about authoritarian ones? asks Slate analyst Joshua Keating:

The economist Paul Collier has made that argument, suggesting that “the very forces that sanctimony comfortably condemns can sometimes be the most effective ally of democracy.” After all, whether or not a dictator survives often depends more on the support of those around him than the support of citizens. 2014 also marks the 40th anniversary of Portugal’s “Carnation Revolution” – probably history’s most famous “good coup” ….

A recent paper by political scientists Clayton L. Thyne and Jonathan M. Powell in the journal Foreign Policy Analysis examines the relationship between coups and democracy in the context of the Arab Spring., where the behavior of the military was often the deciding factor. As they note, “loyal militaries have allowed the governments in Bahrain and Syria remain intact, regimes in Tunisia and Egypt fell after military defections, and military splits led to prolonged fighting in Libya and Yemen.” In general, coups have been much more likely to lead to a return to elected government since the Cold War. Thyne and Powell argue this is in line with the incentives juntas face after taking power. …

The authors don’t go as far as to suggest supporting coups against authoritarian governments, but they say the U.S. and other foreign powers should focus more on “precoup levels of democracy when deciding how to respond to coup attempts.”

In general though, it would probably be wise for the U.S. to maintain a general bias against supporting coups,” Keating suggests. “And even when coups lead back to democracy, countries tend not to have just one. As we saw in Turkey and Thailand throughout the 20th century and Egypt more recently, countries can become trapped in coup cycles.”

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Lack of accountability key obstacle to ‘Arab Spring’ transitions

yemenOne of the key obstacles to democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa is a failure to ensure accountability for the abuses that sparked the “Arab Spring” in the first place, argues David Tolbert, president of the International Center for Transitional Justice.

What, then, has gone awry with regard to accountability efforts in the Middle East and North Africa? Are there any lessons that can be learned just a few short years after these transformative uprisings unnerved long-standing regimes? Are there structural obstacles preventing transitional justice initiatives from taking root in this part of the world? he writes for The Huffington Post:

Transitional justice measures are also operationally complex and require extensive human and financial resources, usually at a time when those very resources are at their scarcest. When those resources are not secured and the goals and priorities are not clearly established during the conceptual phase of the process, the result is, more often than not, ad-hoc measures that inevitably lead to stakeholder fatigue and the inability to meet operational demands or popular expectations.

Stakeholders in the newly constituted governments and in civil society have undertaken a multitude of initiatives with the stated goal of instituting accountability and ending impunity. Yet few, if any, of these efforts have discernibly contributed to those objectives.

The passage of Tunisia’s transitional justice law presents a major breakthrough in a region where transitional justice victories have been scarce, he notes, but….

The historical, political, and social particularities of each country in question mean that a one-size-fits-all approach to transitional justice is unrealistic and undesirable. However, there are two factors in particular that can be discerned in the failed approach to transitional justice in Egypt, Yemen, and Libya: a lack of political will by powerful elements that have much to lose and little to gain from addressing past violations; and the arbitrary nature of the few reforms that have been proposed or implemented and the absence of an integrated vision for those reforms and what they are designed to achieve in the medium- and long-term.

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Libya’s transition towards collapse?

LIBYA NDI Benghazi-parties-382pxEscalating power struggles are driving Libya’s transitional process towards collapse, writes analyst Wolfram Lacher. Under the rallying cry of fighting terrorism, disparate political forces are seeking to suspend the transitional framework. They have no viable alternative to offer.

External actors have insufficient influence to successfully mediate among the conflicting parties – but sufficient influence to complicate matters further. Western governments’ ambiguous signals partly reflect a serious miscalculation: the expectation that the political forces supporting renegade general Khalifa Haftar can succeed in establishing a new transitional framework and stabilize the country.

With the campaign renegade general Khalifa Haftar has led since May 16, Libya’s political crisis has reached a new climax. Without orders from Tripoli, forces drawn from army units and militias associated with the federalist movement began attacking Islamist militias in Benghazi, whom they hold responsible for a wave of assassinations targeting the city’s security forces. Separately, a group of militias affiliated with the town of Zintan attacked the seat of the General National Congress (GNC, the transitional legislature) in Tripoli, preventing a vote on the formation of a new government under Ahmed Maiteg to replace that of Abdallah al-Thinni.

The outlook 

Current struggles mark the end of a broadly recognized transitional framework in Libya. One institution remains largely untainted by these struggles: the Constituent Committee, although it was elected only by a sixth of eligible voters and is boycotted by the Amazigh. But whether a draft constitution can be adopted by an interim legislature and a referendum will depend on whether a modicum of national unity can be preserved.

The markedly different dynamics in the country’s east and west mean that this is increasingly unlikely. The open shift of allegiance from the Chief of General Staff in Tripoli to Haftar’s “Supreme Military Council” has been particularly widespread in the east. The federalist movement will support any initiative that establishes a rival government in the east. With the con-tested election of the Maiteg government, the formation of a parallel government has become much more realistic. Given the rifts within the east, such a government would not be able to consolidate power in the region – but it may have enough support to spell the end of a broadly recognized government in Tripoli…..

Clear messages should be sent to those actors deliberately seeking to suspend the transitional framework. Beyond this, external involvement is likely to tarnish any initiative for political dialogue. Suspicion of external actors – including international institutions – has steadily increased over the past two years, driven by incessant rumours and conspiracy theories. Any actor wishing to damage the dialogue process will find an easy means of doing so by pointing to the role of international actors. Only a genuinely Libyan process has any chance of succeeding, however slim.

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