Morsi rejects joint Salafist-secular call for unity government

A hardline Islamist group normally aligned with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood today joined the opposition in calling for a national unity government as part of a plan to end the violence that has left more than 60 dead the past dead and raised doubts about the country’s political trajectory.

The Salafi al-Nour Party supported the secular National Salvation Front’s demand for a national unity government and for amendments to the contentious Islamist-drafted constitution.

But President Mohammed Morsi (above) rejected any such initiative during a trip to Germany.

Germany would only provide assistance for Egypt’s transition if Morsi’s government upheld certain democratic ideals, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

She called on Morsi to adopt a more pluralist and tolerant approach, telling him that it is “important for us that the line for dialogue is always open to all political forces in Egypt, that the different political forces can make their contribution, that human rights are adhered to in Egypt and that, of course, religious freedom is enjoyed.”

But Morsi suggested that the current turmoil was an inevitable characteristic of political transitions.

“What is happening now in Egypt is natural in nations experiencing a shift to democracy,” Morsi told reporters during a brief visit to Germany on Wednesday. “Nations take time to stabilize and in some countries that took many years. It has only been two years in Egypt and, God willing, things will stabilize soon.”

The Salafist-secular rapprochement took observers by surprise.

“Clearly there are real divisions within the Islamist bloc and they are not on the same page,” said Osama el-Ghazali Harb, a member of the opposition and a political scientist. “Everyone feels that the situation is escalating and reaching a dangerous level. The country fracturing and there is violence everywhere.”

The recent unrest signals the emergence of a potentially powerful new force in Egyptian politics, says a prominent analyst – the country’s disenfranchised youth.

“Until now transition was a game between three political forces: the Islamists, led by the Brotherhood; the liberals and nationalists; and those who ran the old regime, from the security establishment to those in business and parliament,” writes Ezzedine Choukri Fishere:

For two years, the well-organized Brotherhood mobilized, manipulated and built alliances with the loose and disorganized liberal camp to bring down the leaders of the old regime. ….Now the game has changed. Once in power, the Brotherhood embraced a self-serving interpretation of democracy. Any previous promises of partnership and power-sharing subsided as the Brotherhood moved to take control of state institutions.

Such heavy-handedness confirmed the worst fears of the liberals that the Brotherhood’s support for democratic transition was only a means towards the end of Islamist authoritarianism. To many liberals, the stand-off with the Brotherhood has become a fight for their survival and of democracy itself.

“The reality is more complicated as, at a deeper level, another dynamic is taking place,” says Fishere, an Egyptian novelist and professor of politics at the American University in Cairo:

Three-quarters of Egyptians are under 50; more than half are under 30. Once excluded from politics, this majority is now central to it. The Tahrir Square protests are largely of their making.

The Brotherhood might be able to get away with ignoring the liberal parties but they are dangerously wrong to underestimate the demands for change by the younger majority.

The events of the past week give us a glimpse of how fast the situation can deteriorate, and how bad it can get. If the Brotherhood cannot be persuaded to change course, Egypt will travel – probably at an accelerating rate – along the road of prolonged instability.

But the secular opposition has been criticized for its opportunism and lack of strategy.

“The National Salvation Front completely failed to galvanize the people against the Brotherhood. You cannot legitimately call for the removal of the president when he was elected,” said Hafsa Halawa, a liberal lawyer and protester. “There should be a way to improvise, a way to allow the president and the opposition to find middle ground.”

When a German reporter asked Morsi about comments in which he described Jews as “bloodsuckers” and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” he his words had been taken out of context.

“I am not against Judaism as a religion,” he said. “I am not against Jews practicing their religion. I was talking about anybody practicing any religion who spills blood or attacks innocent people — civilians. I criticize such behavior.”

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The ‘age of Islamism and democracy has arrived’?

“The age of Islamism and democracy has just arrived,” says a leading analyst, even if “the interplay may be long, arduous and ugly.”

Islamist groups have been the principal beneficiaries of the pro-democracy revolts of the Arab Awakening, taking power in Tunisia and Egypt, while exercising growing leverage elsewhere in the region to the alarm of liberal and secular democrats.

“Yet if Western history is any guide, the growth of democracy slowly diminishes religious imperatives,” writes Reuel March Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies:

Representative government demystifies politics and ethics, as the here-and-now takes precedence over abstract aspirations. It makes the mundane transcendent. It promotes healthy division because it puts competing visions, even competing fundamentalist visions, to the vote. It localizes ambitions and focuses people’s passions on the national purse… Although they are running against Islamic history, Arab secular democrats have some hope. Religious authoritarianism secularizes societies pretty quickly.

“In 1979, religious millenarianism was a mass movement in Iran,” he writes for the Wall Street Journal:

But the hollowing of revolutionary fervor set in motion a popular re-evaluation of the Islamic Republic’s hatred of the United States and Israel. In 2009, Iranian youths protesting for democracy pointedly mocked the Palestinian cause as not their own.

For the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic, state TV stopped broadcasting the 2009 annual anti-Israeli Quds demonstrations after the regime’s leaders were heckled. Despite the heavy presence of plainclothes and uniformed security forces, protesters consistently subverted the regime’s slogans and rejected solidarity with Iran’s foreign proxies, shouting “death to the dictator”.

Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, I give my life only for Iran,” was another frequent chant.

“A similar process is likely among the Arabs, where democracy will probably produce majoritarian governments ruled by authoritarian Islamists,” argues Gerecht, the author of “The Wave: Man, God, and the Ballot Box in the Middle East” (Hoover Institution Press, 2011):

Their attempts to enforce certain Islamic values through legislation will inevitably produce faction and fatigue. Secularists will grow stronger. And unlike their great liberal forbearers of the 19th and early-20th centuries, Muslim secularists who win at the ballot box will be much less inclined to kowtow to orthodox Islamic sentiments.

RTWT

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Kremlin scraps US rule of law accord

“In another apparent tit for tat provoked by the Magnitsky Act, Russia said Wednesday that it was withdrawing from an agreement that provided help from the United States in fighting narcotics and human trafficking and enhancing the rule of law,” The Washington Post’s Kathy Lally reports:

Mark Galeotti, professor of global affairs at New York University and an expert on Russian security issues, said that while Russia has the need for financial assistance it had 10 years ago, there was no reason to scrap the agreement.

“The fact that they have done this is more a symptom of Moscow trying to look for ways to signal its displeasure with Washington following Magnitsky,” Galeotti said in an e-mail, “and it also underlines the lack of practical and meaningful ways of doing so that the Russians have at their disposal.”

The news coincides with the first reading of a bill prohibiting the dissemination of “gay propaganda.”

“This is part of a concentrated effort by the Russian authorities to create a new political cleavage between the conservative, pro-Putin majority and the more liberal, pro-Western minority,” said Grigory Golosov, project director for the Center for Democracy and Human Rights Helix in St. Petersburg, referring to the anti-gay measures. “They have to invent issues around which such a cleavage can be manufactured.”

Other observers were more strident in their comments.

“Homophobia raised to the level of state politics is classic fascism,” said Georgy Satarov, a Boris Yeltsin-era liberal and head of the anti-corruption Indem Foundation. “Do you want your children to study under fascism?”

Some Russian NGOs fear prosecution under a new treason law, which recently followed legislation requiring externally-funded groups to register as “foreign agents.”

But Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov has told the Duma that he does not intend to implement the “foreign agent” law, according to the Gazeta.ru newspaper. Rather than compile a list of foreign agents, his ministry would wait for law enforcement agencies to propose candidates.

“We are unable to monitor organizations for foreign funding,” Konovalov said.

One analyst contends that the Duma’s “best efforts to run an intimidation campaign are being systematically mocked and ignored by those in power.”

“In recent months, Russia has adopted a slew of regulations — on freedom of assembly, free  speech, the Internet, non-governmental organizations, gays and foreign adoptions — that would place it among the most repressive and backward nations on Earth,” writes editor and novelist Leonid Bershidsky.

“For the most part, though, the parliament has succeeded in painting Russia as a country where civil liberties are ruthlessly repressed — without having much actual effect,” he argues.

“The experience of the last eight or nine months has taught us that the Duma is just working for its own sake,” said journalist Yuri Saprykin, a leading figure in last winter’s protest movement. To enforce the laws as written, “you would have to induct half the country into the police force and sick them on the other half.”

According to Bershidsky, the Duma “has used its year in power to turn Russia from a pretend democracy into an equally fake dictatorship.”

NDI and IRI are two of the National Endowment for Democracy’s core institutes. 

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Google exposes N Korea’s hidden gulag

North Korea may be the world’s most shrouded country, but on Tuesday Google Maps lifted the veil just a little, uploading a map of the police state complete with street names in the capital,” The New York Times reports:

The new map, built with the help of what Google called “a community of citizen cartographers,” provides people who normally visit the site for driving directions with a peek at places they previously may only have read about, probably in news articles about the North’s nuclear program or its devastating food shortages.

“The map is unlikely to have an immediate influence in the North, where Internet use is restricted to all but a handful of elites,” The Washington Post reports:

But it could prove beneficial for outsider analysts and scholars, providing an easy-to-access record about North Korea’s provinces, roads, landmarks, as well as hints about its many unseen horrors. In the country’s northeast, for instance, Google has labeled what it calls the “Hwasong Gulag.” One street, called Gulag 16 Road, cuts through it. And at the end of Gulag 16 Road is a train station. Beyond that, little else around the gulag is marked.

“In the largest gulag of all – Camp 22 at Hoeryong near the north-east border with China – Map Maker identifies a number of units, including an armoury, a food factory and a guards’ rest room,” AFP reports. “As many as 200,000 people are estimated to be detained in North Korea’s vast gulag system, many under a guilt-by-association system that punishes those related to ‘’enemies of the state’”.

Not so hidden anymore

Curtis Melvin, who has led a crowdsourcing effort to map North Korea using Google Earth, told the Wall Street Journal he was surprised to learn of the Google Maps initiative.

“It’s not even a fraction of what I’ve already published,” he said:

Mr. Melvin, who publishes a website called North Korean Economy Watch, recently collaborated with 38 North, a North Korea website operated by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, on a digital atlas of North Korea. He has relied on information provided by people who have visited the country or former citizens who defected from it.

Described as “small miracle” for raising hopes for human rights inNorth Korea, the defectors act as a “bridge population” between the two Koreas, says Carl Gershman, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Endowment for Democracy.

Information about developments within the Hermit state is also emerging from a new generation of defectors and publicized via such outlets as Daily NK, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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China at the Tipping Point?

Many analysts believe that the resilience of the PRC’s authoritarian regime is approaching its limits, as a result of deep changes that have been taking place in China. The state apparatus is still strong, but it must deal with an increasingly contentious, nimble, and resilient civil society.

But does this mean there will be a “tipping point” away from authoritarianism in the near future?

Citizens and activists now have better access to information through new media, but the police and censors are quite adept at quickly blocking any sensitive information that appears on the Internet. The leadership has also become much more adaptive than that of other authoritarian regimes, addressing the most pressing sources of popular dissatisfaction, such as increasing access to health and retirement insurance, tackling corruption, and cleaning up the environment.

There is a high level of tension in the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, but this may serve to strengthen rather than weaken the country’s authoritarian regime.

Andrew J. Nathan and Louisa Greve, who are among the contributors to a set of eight articles on China appearing in the January 2013 Journal of Democracyand Maochun Yu will examine whether the evidence points to a coming period of significant political change in the PRC.

 The International Forum for Democratic Studies

at the National Endowment for Democracy

 cordially invites you to a luncheon presentation entitled 

        China at the Tipping Point?    

featuring 

Andrew J. Nathan,  Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science, Columbia University

Louisa Greve, National Endowment for Democracy

Maochun Yu, U.S. Naval Academy

Thursday, February 7, 2013
12 noon–2:00 p.m.
(Lunch served 12:00–12:30 p.m.)

1025 F. Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004
Telephone: 202-378-9675

RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Tuesday, February 5.

Andrew J. Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, where his research interests include Chinese politics and foreign policy, the comparative study of political participation and political culture, and human rights. His latest book (co-authored with Andrew Scobell) is China’s Search for Security(Columbia University Press, 2012); he is currently working on a co-edited volume called Ambivalent Democrats that analyzes data from the Asian Barometer Surveys, and a single-author study of sources of political legitimacy in Asia.

Louisa Greve is vice president for Asia, Middle East & North Africa, and Global Programs at the National Endowment for Democracy, where she previously served as the director for East Asia, senior program officer, and program officer. She has studied, worked, and travelled in Asia since 1980 and has testified before Congressional committees on human rights in China and democracy promotion in Asia.

Maochun Miles Yu is a professor of history at the U.S. Naval Academy, where his research interests focus on China, East Asia, and military and diplomatic history. He is the founder and director of the U.S. Naval Academy Asia Forum. His publications include The Dragon’s War: Allied Operations and the Fate of China, 1937-1947 (The Naval Institute Press, 2006).

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