Why autocrats should fear protest-led revolts more than ever

carapicoNew research investigating the fall of dictators has uncovered some interesting data: in the past decade, autocratic leaders have become more vulnerable to popular revolt and less so to insider-led coups, the most common way dictators have exited power in recent history, says the International Republican Institute’s Brian Braun.

A number of academic studies have identified the downward trend in coups since their height in the 1960s and 70s, but academics have only recently begun to investigate the modes of exit that have replaced them, he writes for Muftah.org.

The research, authored by Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz, not only presents insightful data on the prospects for democracy in post-autocratic societies, but also offers democracy assistance implementers new ways of thinking about how to best support reform-minded activists living in authoritarian societies.

Adapted from a study conducted by Milan Svolik, the authors’ research examines whether revolts that overthrow dictators are short-term exceptions to conventional wisdom that autocrats are most susceptible to coups. The data reveals that, while regime insiders forced out the majority of autocrats from the 1950s to the present, uprisings against autocratic regimes now remove a greater proportion of dictators than coups. Astonishingly, the percentage of autocrats ousted by revolts has tripled from four to twelve percent since the end of the Cold War and accounts for a quarter of all overthrows between 2010 and 2012.

Kendall-Taylor and Frantz’s research not only found that protest-led exits are more likely to result in democratization than exits resulting from civil wars, coups, resignations, term limitations, or deaths in office, but also that popular uprisings are more likely to sweep away the institutional structures of autocratic regimes, which, if left intact, are likely to lead to new dictatorships. Other research (Debs and H.E. Goemans) offers similarly insightful data: the less violent the fall of a regime, the more likely democracy will follow. Where dictators believe they are likely to be killed or imprisoned, they are more likely to respond to popular protests with violence (think Ceaușescu in Romania, Qaddafi in Libya, and Assad in Syria), thereby decreasing the chances of democracy taking root.

Together this research offers democracy assistance practitioners sage advice at a time when the number of reform-minded activists standing up against corrupt and abusive governments seems too many to count. As autocrats find clever new ways to suppress dissent and prolong their regimes, the democracy assistance community can employ this knowledge as it helps local activists promote transparency and accountability in their own governments.

Investing in open-source and data collection platforms is one of the most promising avenues to equip activists living under authoritarian systems with the tools to engage their governments in open and public dialogue on matters of civic and private life. Twitter and Facebook, both social media sites, were key forums for public discourse and important tools that helped to mobilize the masses that brought down long-time autocrats Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, and helped coordinate the mass demonstrations against the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during Iran’s disputed June 2009 presidential elections.

Other online platforms are equally important. By developing and promoting free crowd and open-source software like Ushahidi, which promotes transparency and raises public accountability by performing functions like mapping polling places and documenting institutional corruption, democracy assistance implementers can provide activists with accessible, low-cost tools designed to hold governments accountable. The FixMyStreet website, which uses similar interactive mapping software to report potholes and broken street lights to make municipal governments responsible for repairs, is one of many innovative and popular ways for cell phone users across the globe to monitor the activities of city administrators.

Since violence is likely to hamper the transition to democracy, international implementers should also prioritize conflict mediation programs that help mitigate the likelihood acts of violence will thwart the path toward a peaceful and democratic transition. Search for Common Ground, one organization that focuses on conflict resolution programming, works with political and religious leaders, civil society organizations, militaries, media, and minorities on conflict sensitivity, reconciliation, and mediation issues to cooperatively resolve sometimes deadly disputes in conflict-prone countries. This approach has been successfully applied to volatile regions such as Sudan, Yemen, and Timor-Leste. In countries where different camps within a protest movement seek divergent outcomes (think Egypt), it can help ensure that competing parties work together instead of against one another after an autocrat is overthrown.

Finally, democracy assistance practitioners should be committed and prepared to work with democrats abroad long after autocratic regimes have been overthrown. Although Kendal-Taylor and Frantz suggest a brighter prospect for democratic movements in the future, implementers must also be aware that protest movements that succeed in replacing autocratic regimes with democratic systems are still highly susceptible to undemocratic relapses. Even after a revolt has led to democratization, the country is still vulnerable to autocratic backsliding. Democracy assistance implementers must, therefore, maintain a strong and supportive relationship with activists well past the transition to help realize the dream of establishing a stable and democratic society.

Brian Braun is a program assistant with the International Republican Institute’s Middle East and North Africa division.

Africa’s ‘laboratories of democratization’

Hassan Sheikh MohamudSomalia’s Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Benin’s President Boni Yayi are expected to address tomorrow’s Africa Civil Society summit on Capitol Hill.

According to a recent profile, among the 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Somalia’s Hassan Sheikh Mohamud:

  • Throughout his leadership, he has refused to become embroiled in clan politics, instead touting national reconciliation and unity
  • He was one of the few Somali intellectuals to remain in the country throughout the 21-year civil war
  • His administration was the first to be recognized internationally for more than two decades
  • Early in his career, he made a name for himself helping resolve clan disputes
  • He faces daily assassination attempts
  • In 2013, TIME Magazine included him on its annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people, citing his efforts at “advancing national reconciliation, anti-corruption measures, and socio-economic and security sector reforms” as the reasons for making the list.

Agência Brasil - ABr - Empresa Brasil de Comunicação - EBCBenin has been described as ‘the laboratory of democratization in Africa’.

According to the latest Bertelsmann Index, Benin “became the trendsetter for radical democratization processes in the whole of Francophone Africa” and Yayi “continued to rule throughout the period under review with respect for democratic principles and with a commitment to strengthening the market economy.”

“Benin has a special place in that history [of African democratization in the 90s],” said National Endowment for Democracy board member Princeton Lyman, head of the Africa program at the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Foreign Relations.

“It’s one of eight countries that experienced a pro-democracy movement succeeding in ousting the incumbent one-party government that have maintained democratic institutions and multiparty elections since the transition,” the others being Cape Verde, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Madagascar, Malawi, and Zambia, according to a recent analysis.

Despite political turmoil, emerging consensus in Ukraine

ukrainesolidarnoscGlobal attention remains focused on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, especially in the wake of the tragic downing of the Malaysian commercial airliner MH17, David Klion writes for World Politics Review.

But in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, the ongoing war with Russia is only one of several competing priorities. Attempts to restructure and reform Ukraine’s troubled economy have led to a series of political earthquakes. Two weeks ago, the governing coalition, which had been assembled after the Maidan protests drove former President Viktor Yanukovych from power, was dissolved, and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk offered his resignation. Then last week, Yatsenyuk’s resignation was rejected by Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. At first glance, the infamously dysfunctional Rada appears to be as chaotic as ever, even as Ukraine struggles to maintain control of its eastern regions.

But the situation in Kiev may be more stable than it seems. The backdrop for the Rada’s shakeup is a promise made by Ukraine’s newly elected President Petro Poroshenko to hold new parliamentary elections. The public has been demanding a new government ever since Yanukovych fled Ukraine with single-digit approval ratings, but according to Ukraine’s constitution, Poroshenko cannot dissolve the Rada and call for elections unless the ruling coalition collapses. This means the major parties that make up the post-Maidan coalition—former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivschyna, boxing champion Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR and the far-right Oleh Tyahnybok’s Svoboda—have to part ways and compete against each other in elections, likely to take place in October, with the expectation that their cumulative support will grow vis-a-vis Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

Joanna Rohozinska, senior program officer for Eastern Europe at the National Endowment for Democracy, predicts that UDAR and Svoboda stand to gain the most from new elections.

“These two parties have captured the populist mood of the Maidan,” she says. By contrast, Batkivschina is losing support because Tymoshenko “hasn’t been playing a particularly constructive role. Many people see her as out of touch with political reality since leaving prison. She’s considered a member of the old order.”

RTWT

Putin’s new anti-Americanism

russiaputinterrorAmbassador Michael McFaul was there when the promise of democracy came to Russia—and when it began to fade, the New Yorker’s David Remnick writes.

An expert on democracy assistance, McFaul encountered resistance to his ideas within the Administration, Remnick reports:

During one argument among aides in the White House, McFaul took the position that nations need not wait for the development of a middle class before building democratic institutions. As McFaul recalled, “Somebody said, ‘That’s interesting, but that’s not what the President thinks.’ And I said, ‘That’s interesting, but if that is what he thinks he is wrong.’ It was a jarring moment, and I thought I might even get fired.” He recalled arguing with Tom Donilon, the national-security adviser, about the issue. “Donilon would tell me, Obama is not really interested in that stuff. He’s just a realist.” And yet McFaul, who is not shy about suggesting his own influence, pointed out that Obama gave speeches in Cairo, Moscow, and Accra, in 2009, “making my arguments about why democracy is a good thing. . . . Those speeches made me more optimistic, after all those colleagues telling me he is just a realist.”

“Obama has multiple interests he is thinking about,” McFaul went on. “He has idealist impulses that are real, and then impulses about concerns about unintended consequences of idealism. We were in the Roosevelt Room during the Egypt crisis, and I asked, ‘What do you think?’ He said, ‘What I want is for this to happen quickly and the Google guy to become President. What I think is that this will be a long-drawn-out process.’ ”

Reminick profiles several of Russia’s leading ideologues and details the disturbing prevalence of anti-Western illiberal conspiracy theories that inform the regime’s policies.

Dmitri Kiselyov, the head of Russia Today, Putin’s newly created information agency, and the host, on Sunday nights, of the TV magazine show “News of the Week,” is a masterly, and unapologetic, purveyor of the Kremlin line, he notes:  

“Putin now talks more about ideology and about the system of values and the spiritual origins of Russia. In this sense, he, too, is a person of tardy development. He became President unexpectedly. He had no preparation for this role. He had to respond to challenges in the course of things. At first, he had to reconsolidate the state. Now he has inspired a new energy that can be drawn from the national character and the system of values that are rooted in our culture.”

“People in the West twenty-five years ago were surprised by how calmly Russians seemed to absorb the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Boris Mezhuev, the conservative columnist, said. “It seemed to them as if we had voted on it! But in no time at all people were told that everything they had worked for was nonsense. They were told that the state they lived in was based on an unfair idea, that ideology was a myth, the West was only a friend—a complete reversal of ideas. The West underestimated the shock. Only now are we facing the consequences.”

There is an air of defiance, even a heedlessness, to Putin’s behavior, Remnick suggests:

 As the conservative commentator Stanislav Belkovsky put it to me, “It was clear that the actions in Crimea would lead to sanctions, capital flight, and a deterioration of Russia’s reputation, but nobody supporting the aggression thought twice. The imperial horn has been sounded. But we are a Third World kleptocracy hiding behind imperial symbols. There are no resources for a true imperial revival.”

Aleksandr Prokhanov, a far-right newspaper editor and novelist, is another influential voice, Remnick notes:

Together with members of other institutions associated with the Kremlin—the armed forces, the intelligence services, and the Russian Orthodox Church—he started an intellectual group called the Izborsky Club. In the nineties, Yeltsin had called on a group of intellectuals to help formulate a new “Russian idea,” one that relied largely on a liberal, Westernized conception of the nation. It went nowhere. Now, with such notions as “democracy” and “liberalism” in eclipse, groups like the Izborsky Club, Prokhanov says, are a “defense factory where we create ideological weapons to resist the West.” He said the group recently organized a branch in eastern Ukraine, led by the pro-Russian separatists. “The liberals used to be in charge in all spheres,” Prokhanov said. “Now we are crowding them out.”

DUGIN-150x150Prokhanov is hardly an outlier on today’s ideological scene in Russia. Nor is the geopolitical theorist, mystic, and high-minded crackpot Aleksandr Dugin (right), who has published in Prokhanov’s newspapers. He was once as marginal as a Lyndon LaRouche follower with a card table and a stack of leaflets. He used to appear mainly on SPAS (Salvation), an organ of the Russian Orthodox Church. Now the state affords him frequent guest spots on official television.

“For all of Dugin’s extremism, he has, in the past decade, found supporters in the Russian élite,” Remnick notes:

According to the Israeli scholar Yigal Liverant and other sources, Dugin’s work is read in the Russian military academy. He has served as an adviser to Gennady Seleznyov, the former chairman of the Russian parliament. His Eurasia Movement, which was founded in 2001, included members of the government and the official media. He declared his “absolute” support for Putin, and when he pressed his political positions in public it was usually to take the most hard-line positions possible, particularly on Georgia and Ukraine. In 2008, he was appointed head of the Center for Conservative Studies at Moscow State University. Dugin used to brag that “Putin is becoming more and more like Dugin.” And indeed Putin speaks more and more in terms of Russian vastness, Russian exceptionalism, of Russia as a moral paradigm.

Despite these disturbing trends, McFaul – a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy – remains “very optimistic about Russia and Russians,” he tells Remnick:

“In my two years as Ambassador, I just met too many young, smart, talented people who want to be connected to the world, not isolated from it. They also want a say in the government. They are scared now, and therefore not demonstrating, but they have not changed their preferences about the future they want. Instead, they are just hiding these preferences, but there will be a day when they will express them again. Putin’s regime cannot hold these people down forever. I do worry about the new nationalism that Putin has unleashed, and understand that many young Russians also embrace these extremist ideas. I see it on Twitter every day. But, in the long run, I see the Westernizers winning out. I just don’t know how long is the long run.”  

RTWT

Activists’ arrest prompts call for sanctions against Azeri officials

 

AZERBAIJAN LEYLA YUNISA leading human rights group has strongly condemned the arrest of human rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband on charges of of high treason and other crimes.

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety denounced the “trumped-up legal assault” as “the most recent in a host of troubling moves by the Azerbaijani government that demonstrate how far Azerbaijan has strayed from international standards of human rights and rule of law.”

“Leyla Yunus is the latest victim of the Azerbaijani authorities’ merciless campaign of repression in the wake of 2013 Presidential Election”, said IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov:

The move comes on the heels of the Presidential office-orchestrated campaign against civil society that has included a state-controlled media smear campaign; the raids on NGOs; confiscation of equipment; arrest of NGO bank accounts which led to de facto shutdown of several NGOs; the intimidation and legal pursuit of NGO workers inside and outside the country, including IRFS partners–International Media Support, IREX and National Endowment for Democracy.

The raids – in which officials from the prosecutor’s office, tax inspectorate and ministry of justice comb through registration and financial documents -are being conducted under controversial amendments to the law, requiring NGOs to register their grants within Ministry of Justice.

While Azerbaijani tax and Ministry of Justice do have powers to supervise that non-profit entities comply with legislation in force, the context in which the current NGO inspections are being carried out coupled with their scope and nature can only create the impression that they are aimed at intimidating and putting pressure on NGOs, in particular those that benefit from foreign grants for public advocacy work on human rights and related issues.

Since President Aliyev assumed his third term in October 2013, we have witnessed a wave of repressive measures in the country that have sought to silence civil society, the group notes.

RTWT