Egypt approves revamped election law, as Brotherhood’s appeal wanes

 

“Egypt’s parliament approved a revised election law setting rules for a parliamentary poll later this year, but opposition politicians denounced the new statute and repeated a threat to boycott the vote,” Reuters reports:

The Islamist-dominated upper house will now send the text to the Supreme Constitutional Court to check the legality of the voting procedures for a new lower house. The court has 45 days to review the bill. Members of the opposition alliance said the adoption of the new law gave them no reason to participate in the polls.

“There are many signs that the Mursi government and the Muslim Brotherhood have no intention of allowing fair elections,” said Mohamed Abolghar, head of the opposition Egyptian Social Democratic Party and a member of the NSF. Abolghar said the NSF would not participate in the polls unless Mursi met conditions announced by senior opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei on Monday, including the appointment of a panel to draft a new elections law.

“The law passed today gives us no new assurances of legal elections,” Heba Yassin, a spokeswoman for the leftist Popular Current party, told Reuters. “This law will only help the Morsi government and his Islamist allies in their effort to dominate all of Egypt’s institutions.”

The Brotherhood is trying to frame the election process for its own advantage, analysts suggest, amid indications of widespread disillusionment with the Islamist group, as demonstrated by its deteriorating performance in student and trade union elections.

“After overwhelming wins in student union elections last year, the Brotherhood looks likely to have a drastically reduced influence on campuses,” the Financial Times reports:

Results compiled by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, an Egyptian rights group, also show the Brotherhood and other Islamists likely to lose elections for the national students’ union. Elections for syndicates representing pharmacists and journalists have also been won either by independent candidates or by those openly hostile to the Islamist group, which controls the presidency and legislature.

Salafis, or puritan Muslims, who polled well in parliamentary elections that concluded in early 2012, are faring worse than the Brotherhood on many campuses.

The results reflect opinions polls showing support dropping for Morsi, the former Brotherhood leader, whose approval ratings dropped from nearly 80 per cent in September to less than 50 per cent this month, according to the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research.

Recent sectarian violence, perceived to be condoned or excused by the Brotherhood, is also prompting ordinary Egyptians to take a stand, says a prominent analyst.

”There is more frustration with extremism,” said Hisham Kassem. “The people are beginning to see how unnecessary it is, okay, that it does not improve their life in any way.”

“In fact, it takes it to the opposite direction,” he noted. “But, right now, there is only one solution in the short term, which is the firm application of the law. Many feel the government has failed to do just that.”

The shift in opinion may prompt the anti-Islamist opposition to reconsider its decision to boycott the forthcoming polls, the FT suggests:

Regardless of the reasons for the Brotherhood’s losses, they suggest a potentially novel political dynamic that could provide a fresh incentive for secular, liberal and leftist opposition groups to campaign fiercely in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Until now most of these groups have said they would boycott the poll because the Islamists have skewed the electoral rules in their favour.

Another recent analysis paints a picture of “an electorate that is increasingly polarized and far from unified in its support for Islamists,” providing further hope for the Brotherhood’s rivals.

Furthermore, the liberal-secular National Salvation Front would be making a strategic mistake by abstaining from the parliamentary elections since such boycotts “generally have disastrous consequences for the boycotting party,” judging by the results of a Brookings study of 171 election boycotts.

Nevertheless, the recent anti-Christian violence, which left six dead, has amplified calls for the military to reclaim power, notes a prominent analyst.

“Liberal and secular parties have criticized the removal of a ban on using religion slogans in campaigning, which some say opens the door for political abuses of faith among a deeply religious population,” Reuters adds:

Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, another member of the NSF, said the upper house of parliament is dominated by Islamists who refused to listen to secular politicians.”A candidate should campaign on how he will help solve the problems of society, not on his religious beliefs,” he said.

Tarek Radwan, Egypt analyst at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center in Washington, said permitting religious slogans could increase polarisation along sectarian lines, particularly in the wake of Muslim-Christian violence this month.

Religious and NGO leaders have also condemned the sectarian violence, notes the Project for Middle East Democracy,  a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy:

The fallout from last weekend’s sectarian clashes continues to make headlines this week, with religious leaders, officials from Egypt’s presidency and international organizations all weighing in.

A Wednesday report from Human Rights Watch urged the Egyptian authorities to bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice, and called on President Morsi to ““to acknowledge the deep and longstanding problem of sectarian violence in Egypt and take decisive steps to address it before it escalates further.”

Father Makary Habib, personal secretary to Coptic Pope Tawadros II, identified five demands for President Morsi to counter sectarian tensions: “We demand the president to apply the law to everyone, ensure safety and security in the entire country, activate fully the principle of citizenship, amend religious discourse, and teach Coptic history in schools.” Habib said that “we are tired of painkillers” and that “we need concrete steps” towards permanent solutions.

A non-government reconciliation session was held yesterday in Khosous, the town where sectarian violence first broke out last Friday, with representatives from Al-Azhar, the Coptic Church, the Salafi Call, and the Muslim Brotherhood taking part. Presidential spokesperson Ihab Fahmy defended a statement made earlier this week by presidential advisor Essam al-Hadaad, saying that al-Hadaad did not blame Christians for starting the violence and that he only stated what happened.

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Sources
Human Rights Watch urges Egypt to solve Muslim-Christian strife,” Aswat Masriya (English), 4/11/13.
Presidential Statement did not blame Christians says spokesperson,” Egypt Independent (English), 4/10/13.
Coptic Church submits demands to Morsi,” Egypt Independent (English), 4/10/13.
Haddad’s statement not reflective of presidency: Church official,” Daily News Egypt (English), 4/10/13.
Dignitaries attempt to resolve sectarian tensions,” Ahram Online (English), 4/11/13.
Killing of Christians helped bring down Mubarak: Brotherhood’s Al-Erian,” Ahram Online (English), 4/11/13.
Abbasiya Cathedral suspects arrested: Egyptian Security Official,” Ahram Online (English), 4/11/13.

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Pyongyang Spring? Four scenarios for North Korea’s ‘Failed Stalinist Utopia’

Leaving aside Pyongyang’s current rhetorical bluster, there are four likely scenarios that might trigger a dramatic crisis on the Korean peninsula, writes North Korea expert Andrei Lankov:

The first is an attempt at reforms more or less similar to those undertaken in China and Vietnam. New leaders — including, above all, Kim Jong Un himself — might be seduced by the prospect of opening up the economy, hoping to enrich themselves as Chinese party cadres have. They would thus ensure their own downfall, as increasingly dissatisfied citizens pushed to reunify with the much richer South.

Another possible trigger of unrest would be serious factional infighting within the top leadership — a purge of prominent officials, for instance, or an attempted coup. Alternatively, the loser in a factional clash might decide to go down fighting.

The third possible endgame involves a spontaneous outbreak of popular discontent — a local riot that quickly develops into a nationwide revolutionary movement, somewhat similar to what we saw in 2011 in the Arab world. Nowadays, North Koreans appear to be too terrified, isolated and distrustful of one another to emulate the Tunisians or Egyptians. Nonetheless, the regime’s control is steadily getting weaker, fear is diminishing, and the knowledge of available alternatives is spreading. So in the long run, a “Pyongyang Spring” isn’t impossible.

The fourth scenario would involve the spread of unrest from China — the only country where an outbreak of civilian disobedience or a riot might produce some impact on North Korea.

North Korea has been described as a totalitarian residue of the Cold War, but its own ‘1989’ is far from imminent, most analysts believe.

There is little prospect of regime change driven by domestic discontent, a recent forum at the National Endowment for Democracy heard.

“Pyongyang is often described as the world’s last Stalinist regime, but for all practical purposes, North Korea’s state-run economy of steel mills and coal mines is dead,” Lankov told the NED meeting. The ruling elites feel cornered and understand that unity is a major condition for their survival…[and therefore] “continue to support their leader with little regard for the plight of most North Koreans.”

The NED’s Carl Gershman echoed Lankov’s assertion that “open engagement with the world would expose North Koreans to the modern world and would therefore have the salutary effect of breaking down the isolation that is an integral dimension of the North Korean totalitarian system.”

In the absence of a fundamental regime change, “the emergence of a pro-Chinese satellite regime in North Korea would be better than indefinite continuation of the status quo,” says Lankov, a professor of history at Seoul’s Kookmin University, and the author of “North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea” and “From Stalin to Kim Il Sung: The Formation of North Korea, 1945-1960”.

“But a unification of the Koreas is still the most preferable outcome,” so officials in Washington and Seoul should consider how to persuade Beijing that “a unified Korea is less unacceptable than an intervention,” Lankov writes:

First of all, the Chinese government should be assured that a unified Korea will not become a strategic bridgehead for U.S. military influence in continental Northeast Asia.

Secondly, South Korea’s recurrent support of irredentism in northeastern China and semi-official claims about alleged Korean territorial rights to large chunks of China are counterproductive. They strengthen suspicions that a unified Korea would strive to seed discontent in borderland areas of the mainland itself. The South Korean government should explicitly state that a unified Korea will respect earlier agreements pertaining to Sino-Korean borders.

Since the North Korean population can no longer be kept completely insulated from outside information, the country’s leaders have changed their propaganda tactics.

“Until 2000, the people believed that South Korea was a very poor country,” a refugee reportedly told Lankov. “But then the people saw South Korean films. Now only elementary school students believe that South Korea is poor.”

But Lankov is skeptical as to whether new information will destabilize the regime  or even spark a revolution.

“The spread of knowledge about the outside world will make the North Koreans more distrustful of their government. But that doesn’t mean immediate action against the government.”

On the other hand, he adds: “In 5 to 10 years, the majority of the North Korean population will have learned that they live in a very poor and unusually repressive state.”

“Alas, the widespread hope that reformist groups in Pyongyang will finally emerge and bring about a nonnuclear, non- threatening, and peacefully developing North Korea seems to be wishful thinking,” Lankov writes in an excerpt from his new book, “The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia,” published May 8 by Oxford University Press.

“At the same time, the status quo isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later the current regime will go down. Now is the time for the world to start planning for that moment,” he concludes.

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Celebrating the life of a democratic visionary

Credit: Freedom House

Robie M.H. “Mark” Palmer—diplomat, speechwriter, entrepreneur, and uncompromising fighter for democracy—was remembered yesterday as “a visionary who could put his vision to action” at a memorial service celebrating his extraordinary life, writes David Lowe.

A sizeable audience of friends, family, and colleagues gathered at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, D.C. to hear reminiscences about Palmer’s rise from a Vermont childhood in a family that valued public service, to U.S. Ambassador to Hungary at a pivotal moment in world history, to a highly effective freelance advocate for the spread of democracy around the world.

Palmer, who passed away after a battle with cancer on January 28th of this year, was best known as the unconventional diplomat who used his position to further the cause of freedom in Hungary at a critical moment shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. A “pragmatic idealist,” in the words of former Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S. Andras Simonyi, “he gave hope to all of us struggling for a free Hungary.” Simonyi pointed out that Palmer was determined that the U.S. not repeat the mistakes of 1956 when the country was let down by the West.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recalled a visit she and other members of Congress made to Hungary 1988 in just her second year in the House. After the obligatory sleep-inducing meeting with the Prime Minister, Ambassador Palmer arranged a meeting with dissidents “that left us all transfixed” by giving the delegation a true picture of what was going on inside the country.

Many years later, Palmer worked closely with Mrs. Pelosi and other members of Congress to pass the Advancing Democracy Act, which sought to institutionalize many of the ideas for providing solidarity with dissidents he had developed as a diplomat. (As former senior State Department official Paula Dobriansky pointed out, following the passage of the Act her title changed from Undersecretary for Global Affairs to Undersecretary for Democracy and Global Affairs.)  Praising Palmer’s intellect, passion, and boundless energy, Pelosi noted his “unwavering faith in the power of the people.”

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said that Palmer, who knew from age eleven that he wanted to be a diplomat, “embodied the best of our profession and set a truly remarkable standard,” making the American Embassy in Hungary and elsewhere he served behind the Iron Curtain a safe haven for dissidents. One of his assignments was to Tito’s Yugoslavia as Counselor to U.S. Ambassador Laurence Silberman, who began his tribute by noting the natural inclination of people to give greater attention to local incidents claiming a few victims than to large-scale calamities in other parts of the world. But Palmer, he said, was unique in identifying closely with people facing political repression anywhere. This, he said, was “the animating force of his entire career.”

As a student at Yale in the early 1960s, Palmer had travelled to the South as a “freedom rider” to join the civil rights struggle against forced racial segregation. His college roommate John Huston highlighted Palmer’s belief that “once you determine what is right, you should act upon it.”

Several speakers made reference to Mark’s skills as a strategic thinker and the role he played, in the characterization of National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, as “an entrepreneur of democracy.” He described Palmer’s role in crafting key parts of President Reagan’s celebrated 1982 Westminster Address that helped to launch the Endowment, despite the fact that he was a relatively junior Deputy Secretary of State at the time.  Against the wishes of a White House speechwriter, Palmer managed to have included in the text a critical endorsement of the idea of establishing an organization that would “foster the infrastructure of democracy.”  Later, Gershman pointed out, Palmer would play an instrumental role in the creation of the intergovernmental Community of Democracies, and to persuade it to issue practical manuals in advancing democracy for use by diplomats and military officials.

After leaving the Foreign Service, Palmer became a successful venture capitalist in liberated Eastern Europe. Again, it was his boundless energy and strategic vision, described with a sense of awe by his business partner Hans Hoenig, which set him apart from other entrepreneurs. Palmer was particularly proud of his company’s introduction of independent television into post-Communist societies, and later into parts of the Arab world.

Dobriansky remarked that Palmer believed strongly in the power of media to challenge dictatorial regimes.  He put much of his energy and talent in his later years into developing strategies to breach the Great Firewall in China and to spread the internet into Iran and other dictatorships.

During the final years of his life, Palmer struggled with cancer with the same fearlessness and determination with which he took on the world’s dictators. That resolution enabled him to reach the 47th anniversary of his marriage to his adored wife, Shushma. His passion for spreading freedom and human dignity throughout the world, and the practical results he achieved in doing so, will long be remembered.

 

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Growing fears for safety of Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, Cameroonian rights defender

Leading human rights and democracy advocates are expressing concern for the safety of a prominent Cameroonian activist. Maximilienne Ngo Mbe (right), who heads the network of human rights defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC), has received numerous threats to her life and the lives of her family.

Unidentified individuals attempted to kidnap her son on 5 April while he was at school, following several weeks of violent threats issued by phone and SMS, according to the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights, a joint program of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT).

The intimidation is not new, OMCT reports:

In September 2012, Ms. Ngo Mbe’s niece was kidnapped and raped by men wearing Cameroonian security and military attire after the assailants reportedly confused her with Ms. Ngo Mbe’s daughter. A subsequent complaint to police and national security remains unanswered. The threats intensified after Ms. Ngo Mbe demanded that suspected security forces should leave the inaugural meeting of the Pan-African human rights defenders hosted by REDHAC, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, on 18-22 March.

A participant in the World Movement for Democracy, Ms. Ngo Mbe “received messages from the telephone number +237 76 10 05 79, both of which suggested that her life and the life of her children were in imminent danger,” Freedom House reports:

Ms. Ngo Mbe has reason to believe that these threats—as ones she has received before—are coming from the Cameroonian authorities. For more than twenty years, Ms. Ngo Mbe has worked tirelessly to protect human rights in Central Africa as executive director of the Central African Human Rights Defenders Network (Réseau des Défenseur des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale, REDHAC). During that time, she has been harassed, placed under near constant surveillance and subject to interference by Cameroonian authorities.

The Observatory requests that concerned parties write to the Cameroonian authorities asking them to:

i. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Ngo Mbe Maximilian and her family, as well as all defenders of human rights in Cameroon;

ii. Put an end to all forms of harassment against Maximilienne Ms. Ngo Mbe, and all defenders of human rights in Cameroon;

iii. Conduct a thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into the events described above, to identify and prosecute those responsible;

iv. Comply with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, and more particularly: Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”; and Article 12.2 which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure that the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure, pressure or any other arbitrary action as part of the legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

v. More generally, comply with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international and regional instruments relating to human rights ratified by Cameroon.

Addresses: · Mr. Paul Biya, President of the Republic, President of the Republic, the Unity Palace, 1000 Yaoundé, Cameroon, Fax +237 222 August 70 ·

Mr. Philemon Yang, Prime Minister and Head of Government, Prime Minister of Cameroon, Fax: +237 22 23 57 35, email: spm@spm.gov.cm ·

Mr. Laurent Esso Minister of Justice, Attorney, Department of Justice, 1000 Yaoundé, Cameroon, Fax: + 237 223 00 05 ·

Mr. Edgard Alain Mebe Ngo’o, Minister Delegate at the Presidency of the Republic in charge of Defence B.P1000 Yaoundé, Cameroon, Fax +237 223 59 71 ·

Mr. Emmanuel Rene SADI Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, Fax: + 237 222 37 35 ·

Chairman of the National Commission of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (NCHRF), Tel: +237 222 61 17, Fax: +237 222 60 82 E-mail: cndhl@iccnet.cm ·

Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cameroon to the United Nations Office at Geneva, 6 rue du Nant, 1207 Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 736 21 65, Email: mission.cameroun @ bluewin.ch ·

Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon in Brussels, 131 BC. Brugmann, 1190 Forest, Belgium, Tel: + 32 2 345 18 70, Fax: + 32 2 344 57 35, Email: ambassade.cameroun @ skynet.be

Please also write to the embassies of Cameroon in your respective countries.

Cameroon is rated Not Free by Freedom in the World 2013 and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2013.

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