Arab Transitions – Egypt’s Growing Political Crisis & Civil Society Under Siege

Egypt’s Growing Political Crisis and Civil Society Under Siege are the principal themes for the launch of the Middle East Institute’s Arab Transitions program, an initiative to provide in-depth analysis of the historic changes taking place in the Arab world in the wake of the 2011 uprisings.

Through scholarship and outreach, with an emphasis on highlighting diverse voices from the region, the Arab Transitions program seeks to increase understanding of the Arab world’s political, social and economic transformations in order to inform wise policy decisions both in the U.S. and internationally.

The Middle East Institute will mark the launch with a half-day conference on Egypt featuring Arab Transitions’ senior scholar, Dr. Khalil al-Anani, a leading authority on the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist movements, as well as other Egypt experts.

Arab Transitions  

Program Launch: 

Program Schedule: 9:00 am

Introduction to Arab Transitions

Amb. Wendy Chamberlin, President, Middle East Institute (MEI)

9:15 am – 11:00 am:

Egypt’s Growing Political Crisis

Khalil al-Anani, MEI, Durham University

Nathan Brown, George Washington University

Michael Hanna, Century Foundation

Samer Shehata, Georgetown University

Moderator: Mohamed Elmenshawy, MEI

Click HERE to register   11:00 am-11:15 am:  Coffee Break 11:15 am – 12:45 pm:

Egyptian Civil Society Under Siege

Adel Iskandar, Georgetown University

Amira Maaty, National Endowment for Democracy

Heba Shams, Legal Researcher

Samuel Tadros, Hudson Institute

Moderator: Charles Dunne, Freedom House, MEI

April 18, 2013

9:00 am – 12:45 pm

The National Press Club

529 14th St, NW

Washington, DC 20045

Click HERE to register. For the complete Arab Transitions program launch program, click here.

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Mark Palmer – advocate of freedom, ‘entrepreneur of democracy’

Described by the New York Times as “the most active Western booster for economic and political liberalization,” Mark Palmer “was more than an impassioned democracy advocate,” a Washington meeting heard today

“He was an unsurpassed entrepreneur of democracy – innovative in coming up with creative new ideas to advance the cause, savvy in seizing the right moment to act, and sophisticated in developing practical strategies to get things done,” writes Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, citing Palmer’s innovative role in launching the Community of Democracies and the NED itself:

Margaret Thatcher’s death this week should help us recall President Reagan’s historic Westminster Address, Gershman writes, which is remembered not just for its famous prediction that “the march of freedom and democracy will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history,” but also for its call for “a global campaign for freedom” and for the establishment of a new organization “to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way, to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.” 

The National Endowment for Democracy was launched by this speech, as was the whole idea of promoting democracy which today has become such an important dimension of the international engagement by the U.S. and other established democracies. 

When NED celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Westminster Address last June, I had an email exchange with Mark, who was in chemotherapy at the time, about the origin of the idea to create a publicly-funded yet independent institution to advance democracy.

Mike Samuels had asked me to find out how it was possible that someone in his position – Mark was a relatively junior Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department, not a White House speechwriter – got to write such an important presidential address.  Mike said that it was a stroke of great “luck” that Mark had been able to take on the job of writing the speech since “none of this” would otherwise have happened.  I told Mark that I suspected that it was more than luck.

Mark replied by reminding me that he and Mike had been part of a breakfast group, along with Lane Kirkland, Bill Brock and Chuck Manatt – there might have been others  – that developed the idea of a new organization to promote democracy.  Reagan’s speech at Westminster offered the ideal platform to launch this idea, and Mark said that he simply took the initiative to write the entire first draft, which included what became the heart of the speech – the idea that democracy was the future of the world and that we needed to support democrats everywhere through a new institution.  Other people subsequently contributed to the speech, including a principal White House speechwriter, he said. But the basic idea was his, and not everyone liked it. 

Mark told me the speechwriter hated the idea of incorporating into what he envisaged as a purely ideological anti-communist address a programmatic agenda looking toward the creation of an institution modeled on the West German political foundations, and he fought hard to eliminate it.  But he lost that battle and was not part of the official team that accompanied Reagan to Westminster.  According to Mark, the speechwriter nonetheless paid his own way to London and confronted him outside Westminster, waving his finger in Mark’s face and berating him for “ruining my speech.”

I wasn’t involved in any of this at the time – I was up in New York working for Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.  But Mark’s account rings entirely true to me because I’ve seen him do similar things in different contexts.  It was Mark, more than anyone, who developed the idea of the Community of Democracies, an international association of democratic countries that Madeleine Albright adopted and, with the help of Mort Halperin at State and the Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, launched in Warsaw in 2000.  And it was also Mark who then came up with key ideas to operationalize the Community.  One of them was the “Diplomat’s Handbook,” a manual for effective action by diplomats to advance democracy that was inspired by Mark’s own record as Ambassador to Hungary.  The Community now gives the Mark Palmer Prize to diplomats who actively advance the democratic principles contained in the Community’s founding Warsaw Declaration.  Mark also conceived a second handbook on the role of the military in supporting democracy and persuaded his friend Admiral Dennis Blair to write it.

Mark focused like a laser on the ultimate objective, which was to build a world in which all countries are democratic.  He understood, of course, how difficult it is to establish real democracy and how long it takes to do so.  But he also knew that removing the world’s remaining dictators was a necessary step in the process, and there are fewer dictators today than there were a decade ago when Mark wrote Breaking the Real Axis of Evil, a manifesto for ousting the world’s last dictators by 2025. 

Mark had many of the same attributes displayed by activists on the front lines of democratic struggle — a deep commitment to the principles of democratic governance and human freedom, an irrepressibly hopeful attitude toward life and politics, and most of all an amazing amount of sheer courage.  I saw this in the way he handled his illness – always positive, never discouraged, ever ready to try new treatments, and utterly fearless. 

Let us remember the ideals he cherished, the values he defended, and the way he lived.   And with the strength that we draw from remembering Mark, let us carry forward the work of helping all people achieve freedom and dignity.

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Cuba ‘at an inflection point’? Payá’s fight for democracy lives on, says daughter

The daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá will ask the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to investigate her father’s death in a suspicious car crash last year.

Rosa Maria Payá (above, with her father) told an audience at the National Endowment for Democracy that she decided to seek the inquiry after the vehicle’s driver revealed to the Washington Post that it was rammed from behind by a car bearing official license plates.

Her family’s car was forced into a similar accident two months prior to the incident following a series of “chilling” death threats.

“My mother and father were in the car, on a Saturday afternoon,” said Payá, 24. “There was light traffic, and a car intentionally hit them from behind. They ended up on the opposite side of the highway, the car overturned. By a miracle, they survived.”

The police arrived almost instantly, she said. .. Payá said she doubts that it is a coincidence that just two months before the accident in July, her father was in another serious car crash on a nearly empty, broad street in Cuba.

“It was strange how they just appeared out of nowhere and whisked my father and mother away from the scene,” she said. “They moved my parents so quickly that they did not even see who was in the other car or get a good look at it.”

“It would be nice,” Payá told the NED forum, if Cubans could travel and speak freely, and live free of the fear of arbitrary arrest or violence. But the island’s citizens enjoy none of these rights, and the regime’s “fraud change” reform program is only designed to “preserve its power and authority,” while “trying to sell to the international community false images of opening wide.”

Images of Paya and Cepero projected onto the facade of Cuba’s UN Mission in New York City. Credit: Babalu blog

In contrast, her father and colleagues like youth activist Harold Cepero (right), who also died in the crash, “were working on effective and peaceful alternatives — instruments that can be implemented during the transition process,” she said. A genuine transition will ensure “legal, specific and real” democracy, she said, rather than another form of adapted or hybrid authoritarianism.

“We don’t need another Russia or China,” she said. “Today, my father’s voice reminds us that all dictatorships have no political color — not right or left, they are only dictatorships.”

Indeed, Payá “built something larger than himself” in the Varela Project and Path of the People 2011, said Ken Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute, which co-sponsored the forum, recalling that it was almost eight years to the day since he visited Payá’s family with Genaro Arriagada, a leader of Chile’s successful “No” campaign against General Augusto Pinochet.

That initiative inspired the veteran dissident, who left “not just a legacy, but a road map for transition,” said Wollack.

The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt criticized the international community’s trepidation in backing calls for an investigation, noting that a similar silence would have been “inconceivable” had a celebrated dissident like Andrei Sakharov been killed in similar circumstances.   

He chided a German journalist for suggesting that Ángel Carromero, the car’s driver, had made the allegations to clear his name.

Anyone need only examine images of the vehicle after the crash (right) to gauge the truth of Carromero’s claim that it was struck from behind versus the regime’s insistence that it crashed front-first into a tree, he told the NED meeting.

The Cuban regime’s effective PR apparatus is a principal reason why international reaction has been muted, said Santiago Cantón, the director of the Robert F. Kennedy’s Partners for Human Rights Program and former executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Although the regime makes it “hard to get information” as it has “been able to hide or obscure” developments on the island, he said, the IACHR has nevertheless produced an annual record of its systematic human rights violations.

Another reason Havana may escape an investigation into the crash is evident from the decision by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to grant the group’s presidency to Cuba. While the Declaration of Caracas, CELAC’s founding document, explicitly cites the protection and promotion of human rights and democracy as its core values, most of the region’s states believe they can best influence any transition on the island by engaging rather than isolating the Communist authorities, he said.

But it is precisely because Cuba “is at an inflection point,” that Payá was targeted, his daughter told The Washington Post:

The message is that genuine democratic change of the kind Mr. Payá sought has not yet come to Cuba. Cosmetic “reforms” have been launched, intended to impress the outside world while preserving the Castro regime’s grip on power. Ms. Payá cautioned that these “false images” must not be confused with political and economic freedom, which Cubans do not yet enjoy.

Her father worked hard to prepare the groundwork for a transition to democracy. Now, with Fidel and Raul Castro in their sunset years, such a transition is no longer a distant dream.

The regime targeted Payá because he “crossed a red line in challenging the government’s relations with the church, a pillar of the government’s strategy of survival…,” wrote the National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman shortly after the incident:

Visiting Bayamo with foreigners…crossed another red line. The city is the center of the cholera outbreak in the eastern part of Cuba, and for the regime, the ….leakage of information about the outbreak threatens travel to Cuba and tourism, major sources of hard currency, which the regime desperately needs.

The spread of the disease also challenges Cuba’s self-image as a medical superpower and could arouse anger in citizens who believe that sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela and other countries detracts from the care they receive at home. The fact that Bayamo has experienced labor unrest the past two years and was a rebel stronghold during Cuba’s war of independence against Spain and the uprising against Batista further arouses the regime’s anxiety.

Rosa Maria Payá told the NED meeting that over the past few days her family received threatening calls, a member of Payá ‘s Christian Liberation Movement was assaulted in the city of Holguin, and other members of the group have been subjected to harassment.

Watch the NED event on livestream here.

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China’s new leaders won’t bring reform, says ‘barefoot lawyer’ Chen Guangcheng

Blind activist Chen Guangcheng (chehn gwahng-chung) says Beijing is violating commitments not to persecute his family, AP reports:

Speaking before a congressional panel, Chen said his nephew has been threatened by Yinan County officials with life imprisonment if he appeals his three-year sentence for assault.

Chen Kegui was sentenced in November in a summary trial, seen as retaliation by local officials angered by his uncle’s daring escape from house arrest last April. That set off a diplomatic tussle between Beijing and Washington before the elder Chen, a self-taught rights lawyer, was allowed to leave for America.

China Digital Times links to The Daily Telegraph’s interview with Chen, a recipient in absentia of the National Endowment for Democracy‘s 2008 Democracy Award, who escaped from illegal house arrest almost a year ago, about his outlook on reform prospects under Xi Jinping.

“Political reforms didn’t stop under Hu [Jintao] and Wen [Jiabao] – they went backwards. So just like when people started talking about the Hu-Wen ‘new deal’ in 2003, now we start to talk about the Xi-Li ‘new deal’, it’s just wishful thinking.”

[…] Asked what he would say to Mr Obama, if he ever got the chance, Mr Chen said that ignoring China’s record on human rights was undermining America’s standing in the world.

“I would tell Mr Obama there is no small matter in international diplomacy. If an agreement between the US and China, can’t be fulfilled, then US credibility as the standard bearer of universal values, freedom and democracy will be jeopardised.”

In op-ed at The Washington Post, Chen and Geng He, wife of vanished rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, urge the White House to push for an end to the Communist regime’s persecution of activists and their families:

Our stories are flip sides of the same coin. Geng He sought asylum in the United States after Chinese authorities detained and brutally tortured her husband, the rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Chen Guangcheng, a legal activist, was a prisoner of conscience for many years before escaping house arrest last spring. Now in America, he is studying at New York University and advocating on behalf of his relatives, who continue to endure persecution in China because of his activism.

While our stories are different, the theme is the same: The Chinese government targets rights advocates and their families.

[…] Our stories are just two examples of Chinese authorities acting with impunity and complete disregard for the rule of law. But the attacks on our families are especially worrisome because they show that the government targets not only activists and their families but also the lawyers who have an ethical obligation to defend their clients’ rights against government abuses. Gao once said that you cannot be a rights lawyer in China without becoming a rights case yourself. And when these essential advocates and their families are targeted by the government, the international community must speak out on their behalf.


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