2014’s people power battles for minds and streets

democ people powerThere is an increasingly important battle over narrative between democrats and autocrats , in which repressive regimes deploy propaganda to paper over their abuses and to lay the blame for all problems on outside forces supposedly conspiring against them, notes analyst Natalie Nougayrède.

Disinformation is very much part of their strategy, and they have become more privy to using the internet as a tool to identify dissent and lock people up – a growing trend that the US think-tank Freedom House has exposed in a detailed report, she writes for The Guardian:

But the fundamental values enshrined in the UN declaration of human rights of 1948 have preserved their strength despite all the talk about “cultural relativism,” whereby Chinese or North Koreans or Russians or Arabs are supposedly condemned to lower standards in the realm of individual rights. The “model” that China offers, one of mixing autocratic rule with elements of capitalism, is not what the protesting crowds have been calling out for. In Burkino Faso, when a revolt overthrew a dictator who had been long supported by the west, no one suggested the Chinese political and economic system could serve as a new road map for the country. What people want is a rules-based functioning democracy.


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Egypt bars U.S. scholar, democracy advocate

dunne_kaveh_20132A prominent U.S. scholar, ex-diplomat and democracy advocate has been barred from entering Egypt, in what appears to mark a new escalation of the government’s clampdown on dissent, The New York Times reports.

Egyptian authorities refused to allow Michele Dunne, senior associate in the Carnegie Middle East Program, to enter Egypt on December 12. She was held for six hours at Cairo’s airport before being put on a plane to Frankfurt. Dunne was traveling to Cairo to speak at a conference organized by the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

“Some Egyptians complain I don’t list enough to pro govt views,” Dunne tweeted in reaction Saturday. “When I accept invite to conf of pro govt group they deny me entry. Go figure.”

“I come into the country two to four times a year, for the past 10 years at least,” Dunne told Reuters:

Dunne, who served in the U.S. foreign service for 17 years, including a posting at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, was coming to Egypt for a conference of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, she said…. Dunne authored an article published Dec. 2 that highlighted challenges facing human rights organisations in Egypt and other Arab countries. Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who ousted elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi last summer, Egypt’s government has pushed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to register under a Hosni Mubarak-era law.

“I write about Egypt frequently … I don’t think there’s been anything really different on my part. It seems to me the change is more on the Egyptian side. It seems the tolerance for any kind of writing that is critical is much less than it was before,” said Dunne [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy].

Carnegie President Jessica T. Mathews said, “Michele Dunne is a scholar of unimpeachable integrity who has devoted her professional life to analyzing Egyptian politics and improving U.S.-Egyptian relations. She is enormously respected throughout the Middle East, as well as in the United States and Europe, for the rigor and fairness of her work.”

The Dunne affair highlight’s the increasingly repressive approach taken to independent voices and civil society groups.

On Monday, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said that after 20 years, it was relocating its regional and international programs to Tunis “in light of the ongoing threats to human rights organizations and the declaration of war on civil society” in Egypt.

Marwan Muasher, vice president for studies for Carnegie’s Middle East Program, added, “We are deeply disappointed by the Egyptian government’s action, which undermines the important need for open dialogue about the difficult challenges facing Egyptians today and further isolates Egypt from the international community.”

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25 years’ on, Sakharov legacy under threat

isakhar001p1Twenty five years after legendary dissident Andrei Sakharov died, the organization he founded is being harassed and the democratic legacy of the dissident movement is under threat, as President Vladimir Putin strives to prevent economic distress morphing into political dissent.

Polls show that the overall view of the state as corrupt and uninterested in the people remains as strong as ever. Mr Putin is aware of the dangers, The Economist notes:

To sustain his position, he needs the West to start lifting sanctions so as to induce more economic growth in Russia, but he also has to keep up the appearance of an enemy both within and outside……Less than a week after his speech, in which Mr Putin proclaimed “freedom” as a necessary condition for the country’s growth, Russian civil institutions came under renewed pressure. The Moscow School of Civic Education, one of Russia’s oldest NGOs, which campaigns for the rule of law, was added to the list of foreign agents. Memorial, a noted human-rights group, is under threat. And Andrei Sakharov’s centre is being harassed. Yet while this will further undermine civil society, it is unlikely to compensate most Russians for their declining incomes.

Now a generation is growing up who have never heard of Andrei Sakharov, and nor do they remember the rallies and marches attended by millions during perestroika or understand why they are necessary, notes one observer:

Rights organisations have no access to traditional print media, and the government propaganda machine that seeks to discredit NGOs is growing stronger year by year. Every opinion poll reveals that Russians don’t understand what voluntary sector organisations are (apart from those involved in charity work, which they more or less understand and accept), what they do and what their aims are; and thus they have no problem when the government takes action against them. RTWT

Fortunately, it is relatively easy to meaningfully support human rights and freedom in Russia – by providing, through a donation to The Andrei Sakharov Foundation (ASF), for the continuing operation of the Moscow’s Andrei Sakharov Civic Center and Sakharov’s Archives:

For more than 20 years the Center and the Archives were a vital part of the Russian civil society. Both have active programs of their own (educational, historical, human rights, etc.) but also provide invaluable infrastructure and support for other organizations. The Center is able to provide space and logistics for events that are increasingly impossible to hold anywhere else, be that a film festival about Chechnya, or an art exhibit about censorship, or a conference on human rights in Russia, or a workshop on local organizing, etc. Many organizations that make use of the Center’s capabilities would not be able to work effectively without it. The Center and Archive are open to any organization that pursues peaceful methods of bettering the Russian society. By supporting ASF you indirectly support the full spectrum of Russian civil Society.

The easiest way to donate to ASF is on-line: you can use your credit card or PayPal account by going to ASF page and clicking on “How to contribute” link or by going directly to the ASF contribution page. If you prefer mail, you can make a check or money order to The Andrei Sakharov Foundation and send it to:


7112 Wesley Rd.

Springfield, VA 22150


For those who live in the USA or have US tax obligations, contributions to ASF are tax deductible.

Please donate whatever amount you can afford. And thank you for helping to work for human rights in Russia.

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Russia’s new ideology: there is no truth

russia info warfareThe Kremlin’s goal is to control all narratives, so that politics becomes one great scripted reality show. The way it wields power illustrates and reinforces this psychology, notes Peter Pomerantsev, the author of “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia.”

Take Vladislav Y. Surkov, an adviser to President Vladimir V. Putin who is said to manage, among other things, the public image of the Russian-speaking separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine, he writes for the New York Times:

He helped invent a new strain of authoritarianism based not on crushing opposition from above, but on climbing into different interest groups and manipulating them from the inside. …With one hand Mr. Surkov supported human rights groups made up of former dissidents; with the other he organized pro-Kremlin youth groups like Nashi, which accused human rights leaders of being tools of the West. In a novel presumed to be written by Mr. Surkov, who is also an art-loving bohemian when not waging covert wars, celebrates the triumphant cynicism of a post-Soviet generation that has seen through the illusions of belief in any values or ideology.

At the core of this strategy is the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth. This notion allows the Kremlin to replace facts with disinformation, he contends:

Sadly, this mind-set resonates well in a post-Iraq and post-financial-crisis West increasingly skeptical about its own institutions, where reality-based discourse has already fractured into political partisanship. Conspiracy theories are prevalent on cable networks and radio shows in the United States and among supporters of far-right parties in Europe. President Obama, responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine, pointed out that Russia is not the Soviet Union. “This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into,” he said. “Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.” But perhaps he was missing the point.


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Nigeria: Who is behind terror upsurge in Kano?

nigeria boko cfrSince mid-November there has been a flurry of terrorist attacks in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city, the metropolis of the northern half of the country, and an ancient center of Islamic culture, notes John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations:

Suicide bombers have carried out attacks on a gas station and a military facility. Casualties in each episode appear to have been about half a dozen. On November 28, there was a major attack on the Central Mosque in Kano, immediately adjacent to the Emir of Kano’s palace. Casualties were much higher, perhaps approaching two hundred, according to the Transition Monitoring Group, a highly respected Nigerian democracy advocacy group* that accuses the government of minimizing the number of victims.

But if Boko Haram is not responsible, who is?

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