Authoritarian Egypt: between populism and austerity


Index on Censorship/Ben Jennings

Index on Censorship/Ben Jennings


The Egyptian government refuses to acknowledge the detention of as many as 400 people in Al-Azouly prison, according to the families of those detained and investigations by Amnesty International and two Egyptian human rights groups, Global Post reports:

Inside the facility, detainees describe heinous acts of torture. They report electric shocks, burns, beatings, and hanging by the wrists, according to those released from the prison. The detainees have not been charged or referred to prosecutors, and have no means of communicating with the outside world.

Egyptian authorities deny any knowledge of Al-Azouly. “We don’t know anything about this particular prison. I heard about this prison from the press,” said Brig. Hatem Fathy, director of the International Relations Department in Egypt’s Interior Ministry. “I’m not sure if there really is a prison with that name belonging to the armed forces or not.”

The forced disappearances and allegations of severe forms of torture recall the darkest moments in the history of Egypt’s authoritarian state….

“It’s a return to the old methods,” said Diana Eltahawy of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “Not to say that torture in Egypt stopped in last three years of the revolution, but in these particular cases, the documented torture is much more severe than what we’ve seen recently in police stations or in prisons.” (RTWT)

In light of the sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt – strongly condemned by media watchdogsMichelle Betz writes about her own experience of being on trial in Egypt, Shahira Amin looks at the blow to press freedom, while Casey Prottas attended the minute’s silence outside BBC Broadcasting House, held exactly 24 hours after the verdict was read.

Egypt’s economy is in crisis as the new military-backed regime seeks to reestablish its authority. Fiscal restructuring and austerity measures are necessary to spur economic recovery, but they may be politically difficult to pass at this time, analyst Amr Adly writes for the Carnegie Middle East Center. The new regime, therefore, will have to broaden its base and forge a more inclusive coalition of supporters in order to stabilize Egypt, retain power, and restore economic growth.

Years of political turmoil following the overthrow of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 have exacerbated many of the country’s economic problems. 

  • Annual rates of growth have declined and there has been massive capital flight, which has worsened budget, balance of payment, and foreign reserve deficits.
  • Despite the need for austerity measures, the leadership may not take those unpopular steps because they could undermine support for the new regime.
  • The government, funded by its Arab Gulf allies, has already enacted two stimulus plans to generate employment and tackle other challenges. Most of these projects target the lower middle class and urban poor by providing low-income housing or pouring money into the modernization of slums in large urban centers.

It is unlikely that the new regime will continue to pursue a populist approach that entails providing economic entitlements while political liberties and rights are revoked. 

Difficult Path Ahead 

The country’s fiscal problems are not necessarily unmanageable. If the Egyptian economy resumes growth following the ascendency of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the presidency, fiscal restructuring can proceed with bearable political cost.  

  • If domestic and foreign investment recover, generating higher rates of growth after three years of virtual recession is possible.
  • No investor, regardless of nationality, would put money into an ailing economy in a politically unstable country. Because of this, the Egyptian government and its Arab Gulf allies will have to continue massive stimulus projects to kickstart growth and attract investors.
  • Most of these projects will have a trickle-down effect, with money flowing from the military, the direct recipient of Gulf funds, to small- and medium-sized enterprises. They may be the first in a series of measures targeting these enterprises as part of a strategy to create a broader base of support.
  • But forging a more inclusive coalition requires more than trickle-down processes. The government will have to reconfigure—if not partially undo—the cronyistic networks inherited from the Mubarak era.

Egypt’s deep sociopolitical crisis may provide the incentive and context for Sisi to broaden his economic support base. Yet, the fact that Egypt desperately needs these reforms does not necessarily mean they can be implemented—assuming that the strong presence of the need implies that the need can be met is falling into a functionalist trap. In fact, successive Egyptian leaders have failed to accomplish this mission since the time of Sadat and Mubarak.


Uyghurs ‘trapped in a virtual cage’

Chinese authorities have exerted effective control over how Uyghurs seek, receive and impart information online by employing technical and legislative strategies, according to Trapped in a Virtual Cage: Chinese State Repression of Uyghurs Online. The new report from the Uyghur Human Rights Project also documents how the Communist authorities use the criminal justice system to create an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and self-censorship.

“It is no surprise Chinese officials have placed unprecedented controls over the Uyghur Internet. They fear that an open online environment in East Turkestan will expose egregious human rights abuses committed against the Uyghur people under their administration,” said UHRP director, Alim Seytoff. “This report is the most comprehensive analysis available on the systemic repression of Uyghur online activity. The Chinese authorities can, at will, imprison Uyghurs who peacefully express dissent online and deny Uyghurs access to the Internet at the flick of a switch.”

“The Internet in East Turkestan is not the vehicle for empowerment, accountability and freedom that it is in the democracies of the world. What it represents, however, is another means for the Chinese state to disseminate propaganda and falsehoods about the Uyghur condition, as well as to flush out its perceived enemies,” added Mr. Seytoff.

Citizen Participation and Technology

 citizenparticipation and techThe recent, rapid rise in the use of digital technology is changing relationships between citizens, organizations and public institutions, and expanding political participation. But while technology has the potential to amplify citizens’ voices, it must be accompanied by clear political goals and other factors to increase their clout.

Those are among the conclusions of a new National Democratic Institute study, “Citizen Participation and Technology,” that examines the role digital technologies – such as social media, interactive websites and SMS systems – play in increasing citizen participation and fostering accountability in government. The study was driven by the recognition that better insights are needed into the relationship between new technologies, citizen participation programs and the outcomes they aim to achieve.

“While technology has the potential to amplify citizens’ voices, it must be accompanied by clear political goals and other factors to increase their clout,” the report concludes.

Examples include the use of social media for mobile organizing in Arab Spring countries, interactive websites and text messaging systems that enable direct communications between constituents and their elected leaders in Uganda, crowdsourcing election day experiences, and adapting computers and phones in order to increase opportunities for participation in the earthquake reconstruction process in Haiti.

NDI has been integrating technology into democracy programs for over 15 years and has established guidelines for the design and implementation of programs in which technology is a central component. Technology is increasingly used in the Institute’s work, including in approximately 56 different citizen participation programs implemented in every region of the world over the past four years.

Using case studies from countries such as Burma, Mexico and Uganda, the study explores whether the use of technology in citizen participation programs amplifies citizen voices and increases government responsiveness and accountability, and whether the use of digital technology increases the political clout of citizens.

The research shows that while more people are using technology—such as social media for mobile organizing, and interactive websites and text messaging systems that enable direct communication between constituents and elected officials or crowdsourcing election day experiences— the type and quality of their political participation, and therefore its impact on democratization, varies. It also suggests that, in order to leverage technology’s potential, there is a need to focus on non-technological areas such as political organizing, leadership skills and political analysis.

For example, the “2% and More Women in Politics” coalition led by Mexico’s National Institute for Women (INMUJERES) used a social media campaign and an online petition to call successfully for reforms that would allocate two percent of political party funding for women’s leadership training. Technology helped the activists reach a wider audience, but women from the different political parties who made up the coalition might not have come together without NDI’s role as a neutral convener.

The study, which was conducted with support from the National Endowment for Democracy, provides an overview of NDI’s approach to citizen participation, and examines how the integration of technologies affects its programs in order to inform the work of NDI, other democracy assistance practitioners, donors, and civic groups. RTWT 

“Citizen Participation and Technology: An NDI Study”

Thursday, June 12

4—5 p.m.

The National Democratic Institute 455 Massachusetts Ave. NW, 8th Floor Washington, D.C.

Featuring panelists:

Robin Carnahan

Former secretary of state of Missouri

Joshua Kaufman

Director of the Office of Evaluation and Impact Assessment, USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab

Ian Schuler

CEO, Development Seed

Noel Dickover

Leader of the PeaceTech Camps project at the U.S. Institute of Peace

Moderated by:

Nathaniel Heller

Executive Director, Global Integrity

Description:Digital technologies are increasingly interwoven into political and civic life. NDI’s study was driven by the need for better insights into the relationship between new technologies, citizen participation programs in which they are deployed, and broader political outcomes they aim to achieve. “Citizen Participation and Technology: An NDI Study” aims to help donors, academics and democracy support organizations understand the challenges and opportunities of using technology to provide effective assistance in citizen participation programs.

The event will feature a brief presentation of key findings from NDI’s study, followed by a panel discussion on how technology is affecting citizen participation in emerging democracies.

Please RSVP here.


Understanding Data: Can news media rise to the challenge?

cima2Worldwide, data in digital form is being produced at a dizzying pace, not only by governments, academic institutions, and private enterprises gathering it for their own uses but also as a by-product of millions of routine interactions on computers, cellphones, GPS devices, and other digital tools. Data is rapidly exploding in quantities far vaster than the capacity of civil society, commercial entities, and individual citizens to make sense of it.

This presents an opportunity for news media to play an important role in helping to analyze and digest all this information through the practice of data journalism, also referred to as “computer-assisted reporting,” “data-driven journalism,” or “precision journalism.” It also presents an opportunity for the media development sector to have a notable impact on human development by equipping journalists and media institutions with the ability to make sense of data for citizens. The report examines the implications of the rise of data journalism for the media development field.

The Center for International Media Assistance  is pleased to release “Understanding Data: Can News media Rise to the Challenge?” by Tara Susman-Peña, senior research officer for the Internews Center for Innovation and Learning.

See also:

Mapping media freedom violations in Europe Ushahidi – May 27, 2014

Index on Censorship, (London, United Kingdom) and Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, (Rovereto, Italy) have launched, a website that will enable the reporting and mapping of media freedom violations across the 28 EU countries plus candidate countries. The platform will collect and map out crowd-sourced information from media professionals and citizen journalists across Europe over the course of a year.

Reporting from Sudan’s hidden frontline CJR – May 28, 2014

There is a war being fought in Sudan, and it’s happening almost out of sight. In 2011, South Sudan became the world’s newest country as part of a peace deal to end decades of civil war. But just north of the border, in the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, the Nuba felt left behind. A group of black African ethnic groups, they had fought on the southern side of the civil war and had little in common with their Arab neighbors. Ahmed Haroun-who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes-was elected governor of South Kordofan amid claims of vote rigging. Fighting broke out in the Nuba Mountains soon after.

Independent Media Fostering Justice and Peace in Colombia: La Silla Vacia CIMA May 30, 2014

Since its launch in March 2009, La Silla Vacía (The Empty Chair) has gone from a pilot initiative to one of the most respected media outlets in the country.

A Ukrainian factchecking site is trying to spot fake photos in social media-and building audience Nieman Lab June 2, 2014

Barely 90 days after launch, StopFake is reaching 1.5 million unique visitors a month and bringing social media verification to a conflict being fought both on land and online.

Google to spend more than $1bn on satellite internet, reports indicate The Guardian

Google plans to spend more than $1bn on a fleet of 180 satellites to beam internet access to unconnected parts of the globe. 

The Handbook of Development Communication and Social Change Wiley-Blackwell April 2014

This valuable resource offers a wealth of practical and conceptual guidance to all those engaged in struggles for social justice around the world. It explains in accessible language and painstaking detail how to deploy and to understand the tools of media and communication in advancing the goals of social, cultural, and political change.

Sudanese journalists protest press curbs Radio Dabanga June 2, 2014

A group of Sudanese journalists on Sunday organised a sit-in in front of the National Press and Publications’ Council in Khartoum in protest against the government’s media policies.

Cuban blogger Yoani launching independent newspaper

yoaniCuba’s best-known blogger will start publishing a general-interest newspaper online Wednesday in a move that will test both the government’s openness to free expression and the dissident’s ability to build a following inside her country, writes AP’s Michael Weissenstein:

Yoani Sanchez and her husband Reinaldo Escobar say they have been working for months with a staff of nine and contributors from around the island to produce a regularly updated website and a weekly PDF of a newspaper dedicated to providing Cubans with essential information — rather than attacking the government. ….The paper will be called “14ymedio,” a play on the year of the paper’s founding and the Spanish word for media. Sanchez described it on her blog she hopes the publication “will help and accompany the necessary change that will take place in our country … a space to tell Cuba’s story from inside Cuba.”

News stories will avoid charged terms like “regime” or “dictatorship,” referring to the government as simply “the government,” and President Raul Castro as “head of state” or “President Gen. Raul Castro,” Escobar said.

“We want to produce a newspaper that doesn’t aim to be anti-Castro, a newspaper that’s committed to the truth, to Cubans’ everyday reality,” he said.