A strategic shift on U.S. Egypt policy – or is transition at ‘a dead end’?

The United States should make it clear that it is willing to progressively reengage Egypt if the country moves toward more effective governance, including democratic political pluralism, and develops an economic plan that could create inclusive growth and jobs, says a new report.

Yet given the political polarization inside Egypt, outlining a more positive set of incentives for change may not succeed, according to Michael Wahid Hanna and Brian Katulis, senior fellows at The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress, respectively.

If Egypt remains mired in internal conflict and unable to produce a plan for governing and growing the economy, the United States needs to be prepared to fundamentally rewrite its regional security strategy to account for a less reliable partner in Cairo. This might entail cutting the large assistance package entirely and exploring other partnerships in the region, they write in Preparing for a Strategic Shift on U.S. Policy Toward Egypt:

Plan 1: Offer a new bilateral partnership with positive incentives

The United States should make it clear that it is willing to progressively reengage Egypt if the country moves toward more effective governance, including democratic political pluralism, and develops an economic plan that could create inclusive growth and jobs.

Plan 2: Prepare for the worst contingencies

Given the political polarization inside Egypt, outlining a more positive set of incentives for change may not succeed. If Egypt remains mired in internal conflict and unable to produce a plan for governing and growing the economy, the United States needs to be prepared to fundamentally rewrite its regional security strategy to account for a less reliable partner in Egypt. This might entail cutting the large assistance package entirely and exploring other partnerships in the region and options for maintaining America’s regional security footprint without some of the current benefits of expedited overflight approvals and access to the Suez Canal.

Alternative contingency planning should also factor in the potential for partial progress toward transitional goals. This could entail the continued suspension of portions of the security assistance program while other items, such as counterterrorism and border security assistance, might continue along with targeted forms of economic assistance. Such alternative planning would also be an appropriate reflection of the fact that progress toward democratization will be incremental and time consuming. Egypt is not—and has not been—on the brink of consolidating a democratization process. While no near-term process can be realistically expected to be fully inclusive, incremental progress is certainly possible. As opposed to foreclosing any future possibility of democratization, the key for the near term is to take concrete steps that restore a democratizing and inclusive process.

As part of a contingency planning process, the United States should also undertake a thorough review of the core objectives of the security assistance program and its relationship to democratization.

Clearly, the first plan is preferable to the alternative of downgrading ties with Egypt. The United States could continue to avoid a strategic shift in its policy described above and seek instead to muddle through in reaction to events in the coming year in Egypt, but this approach has not served to advance U.S. interests and values. RTWT

“The United States can’t afford policy disarray” on Egypt, says The Washington Post’s David Ignatius. Egyptian civil society activists are equally critical of what they perceive as U.S. inconsistency.

“You can’t act as if this regime didn’t kill a thousand people in one day. You need accountability,” said Hossam Bahgat, one of Egypt’s leading human rights activists.

Egyptian politicians are also insistent on securing local ownership of the transition process, Ignatius reports. former foreign minister Amr Moussa tells him:

“If the crisis has to be managed, it should be managed by us. We don’t want a lose-lose situation here like Syria or Iraq,”

Moussa is heading a 50-person commission that is writing a new constitution for Egypt as part of its road map back to democracy. The plan calls for the constitution to be completed in December and for a public referendum in January. Parliamentary elections would follow in the spring and presidential elections in the summer. But this constitutional framework may have the regrettable effect of legitimizing military rule, should Sissi decide to seek the presidency

With the Muslim Brotherhood suppressed – at least for the moment – the country’s secular parties are failing to take advantage.

Egypt’s political problem is that the secular parties haven’t generated a popular leader as an alternative to Sissi, Ignatius writes.

 “Three years of revolution have not produced one person who can speak for the revolution,” said Hani Shukrallah, the former editor of Al-Ahram Online and a vocal critic of both Mubarak and Morsi.

“We haven’t found that macho, elegant young man who is a secularist,” says Nabil Fahmy, the foreign minister, noting the lack of a strong civilian candidate. He argues that the reformed political process must include the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party if it is to have legitimacy.

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The Third Wave: Inside the Numbers

The Journal of Democracy has relaunched its podcast series featuring discussions with contributing authors about selected articles.

In the newest podcast, JoD managing editor Brent Kallmer interviews Jorgen Møller and Svend-Eric Skaaning about the regime typology they developed to analyze global democratization trends in their article, “The Third Wave: Inside the Numbers,” published in the October 2013 issue.

Listen to the podcast now (15 minutes, 24 seconds).

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Russia: ‘foreign agents’ law hits hundreds of NGOs, says rights group update

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On the night before the “foreign agents” law came into force, unknown individuals sprayed graffiti reading, “Foreign Agent! ? USA” on the buildings hosting the offices of three prominent NGOs in Moscow, including Memorial. © 2012 Yulia Klimova/Memorial

Since the March 2013 launch of the Kremlin’s unprecedented campaign of inspections to force thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to register as “foreign agents,” various prosecutors’ offices and the Ministry of Justice have filed nine cases against NGOs and an further five cases against NGO leaders for failure to register, Human Rights Watch reports.

Prosecutors lost nine of these fourteen cases in courts, it writes in its latest update.

These were cases filed against the Perm Regional Human Rights Center, the GRANI Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research, the Perm Civic Chamber, the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival and its director, Coming Out (an LGBT group) and its director, and the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center and its director. The prosecutors won administrative cases against the Kostroma Center for Support of Public Initiatives.

The Ministry of Justice filed administrative cases against the Golos election monitoring group, and its director and against Regional Golos, and won all three cases in courts. Additionally, the prosecutors brought civil law suits against three NGOs: Women of Don in Novocherkassk, the Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies in Saratov, and the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center. Notably, the suit against the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center was nearly identical to the administrative case against the group that the prosecutors had lost.

The Ministry of Justice ordered the two NGOs against which it had filed administrative cases (both Golos groups) to suspend their activities for several months. Also, at least three groups (the Golos Association, the Kostroma Center for Support of Public Initiatives, and the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival) initiated proceedings on their own to wind up operations in order to avoid further repressive legal action.

At least 11 NGOs filed lawsuits against prosecutors’ notices ordering the groups to register under the “foreign agents” law, which they had received in the wake of the inspection campaign. By late November, at least three groups won their cases (Yekaterinburg’s Information and Human Rights Center, Perm’s GRANI Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research, and the Perm Civil Chamber).

Read the rest.

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Eastern Europe ‘stuck in transition’? EBRD warns of wealth gap, democratic backsliding

ceetransitionEast European and former Soviet states risk never closing the income gap with advanced democracies unless they relaunch structural reforms, a report warned today.

The region is backsliding from a process of integration and transformation to disintegration and divergence from Western norms, said a leading commentator.

“The stark warning comes from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which helped finance eastern Europe’s transition to market democracy and is now also assisting Middle East countries affected by the Arab Spring,” writes FT analyst Neil Buckley:

The bank’s annual “transition report” says many ex-communist countries risk a “vicious circle” of economic slowdown and reform stagnation. But it says renewed market and institutional reforms could still allow transition countries to break out of that cycle and boost growth sufficiently to catch up with living standards in advanced market democracies.

Erik Berglof, EBRD chief economist, said the bank had particular concerns over stalled reforms in Ukraine, which is wrestling over whether to sign a groundbreaking association pact with the European Union. He also said recent political and economic development developments in Hungary were “very disconcerting.”

“What started off as a process of integration and transformation?.?.?.?has actually now reversed,” Hungarian-born financier George Soros told a conference to launch the report. “It is a process now of disintegration, and instead of convergence of living standards it is divergence.”

RTWT

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As Arab Spring shows, transitional justice must address corruption

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Corruption perception index 2012

Large-scale corruption and economic crimes often go hand in hand with human rights abuses in authoritarian countries. The two are mutually reinforcing, according to Lisa Davis, Senior Advisor for International Legal Affairs, at Freedom House:

 Dictators gain and maintain power—and perpetuate impunity—through a combination of violent repression and the distribution of patronage and graft opportunities. The plunder of public wealth serves as both an incentive for retaining power by force, and a means of rewarding those who carry out or cover up regime crimes. Despite this connection, the mechanisms of transitional justice have not adequately dealt with the legacy of authoritarian corruption nor remedied its far-reaching socioeconomic effects.
Perhaps the most compelling reason for transitional justice mechanisms to take on corruption is that it is an increasingly common demand of citizens, she writes for the Freedom At Issue Blog.

The popular grievances at the heart of the Arab Spring uprisings, for example, involved personal dignity and social and economic inequities. Earlier “color revolutions” in places like Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan focused on the corruption of incumbent leaders and their efforts to rig elections.

Political transitions represent a critical opportunity to expose large-scale economic crimes and their link to repression, trace and recover assets, remove perpetrators from their positions of economic power, and establish a more just social contract. ….There are several ways in which transitional justice processes could address the link between corruption and past human rights violations:

  • Truth-seeking commissions can gather evidence and publicize authoritarian or atrocity-related graft. For example, the recent Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya collected victim testimony on illicit land grabs and other property seizures.
  • Domestic and international prosecutions can include economic crimes. …
  • Any recovered assets could be used to fund collective or individual reparations for rights abuses….

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