The Kremlin’s assault on civil society and dissent is nowhere more vicious than in the Caucasus, where rights groups are expressing concern at fresh attempts to instigate criminal proceedings against Igor Kalyapin (above), chairman of the Committee against Torture and head of the Joint Mobile Group in Chechnya, an NGO that investigates especially sensitive cases of human rights abuses. Kalyapin called the CAT press service from Grozny last weekend to report that he had been interrogated by the Special Investigation Department, a local activist reports, and that criminal proceedings have been initiated by the Federal Security Service Directorate of the Nizhny Novgorod region.
The disastrous flash floods in southern Russia’s Krasnodar region are highlighting the venality of public officials and the growing vibrancy of civil society, despite the threat posed by punitive proposals to stifle non-governmental groups.
“The floodwaters that brought catastrophe to residents of southern Russia over the weekend — killing at least 171 and destroying up to 9,000 homes — began taking a political toll Monday when two local officials were fired, apparently to prevent the blame from reaching the governor or even the president,” the Washington Post’s Kathy Lally reports:
Bitter experience has left Russians inclined to doubt their leaders when calamity strikes. In 1986, it took Soviet officials two days to begin to admit that a nuclear accident had occurred at Chernobyl, in Ukraine. In 2000, when the nuclear-powered Kursk submarine sank, Russia at first described minor technical difficulties, then refused offers of help. All 118 on board died; evidence suggested that at least some had survived the initial explosion, despite assertions to the contrary.
Last September, a plane carrying Yaroslavl’s Lokomotiv hockey team crashed as it took off, killing all but one on board. Residents asserted that it went down because Moscow officials were holding an economic forum in the city and were hurrying to clear runways for visiting dignitaries.
But the public response to the disaster indicates that Russian citizens are shedding their traditional passivity and deference to authority, activists suggest.
Yevgenia Chirikova, an environmental activist who has visited Krasnodar to help residents protest the governor’s appropriation of a public forest for his dacha, is among the opposition leaders who have helped organize volunteers and supplies for the flood victims. She said the many offers of help from ordinary people, once accustomed to letting government do everything, speak to a changing society.
“The response was so great,” she said. “This is civil society in action. This is new. Under Putin, people learned to steal. Now they are learning new values.”
Nevertheless, Russia’s emerging civil society is threatened by a new bill proposed by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which is designed to stifle political dissent.
“All the cards are in their hands: arrest, shutting us down. … They have a hundred different ways to render us ineffective,” said Grigory Melkonyants (left), deputy director of Golos, an election monitoring group:
Golos, which depends on grants from European nations and the United States, has faced growing pressure since November, when Putin accused Western governments of trying to influence the December parliamentary election by funding Russian NGOs. A Kremlin-friendly national television station then aired a program that attacked Golos directly, showing shots of suitcases full of U.S. dollars and claiming that Golos was openly supporting opposition parties. Golos then became the focus of police raids, detentions and cyber-attacks.
“A key problem is that this law asks you to voluntarily declare yourself a political organization. If you don’t, you violate the law,” said Melkonyants. “But to say we’re a political organization goes against the very spirit of what we do.”
But civil society groups are challenging the proposed regulations, raising questions about the definition of “political” activities on the part of foreign-funded NGOs that the bill aims to curb. The measure would require all NGOs that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.”
“If we oppose an environment ministry initiative … or nuclear policy, is that a political activity?” said Alexander Nikitin, chairman of the Bellona environmental advocacy group. “Of course, we are not vying for power.”
Its definition of “foreign agents” as those NGOs that aims to “influence public opinion” applies to almost any organization, say the bill’s critics.
“The draft law, if enacted, would require all non-commercial organizations (NCOs) to register with a specially authorized governmental body prior to receipt of funding from any foreign sources if they intend to conduct political activities,” says the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. “Such NCOs are to be called ‘NCOs carrying functions of a foreign agent.’ It is expected that the draft law will undergo a first reading on July 6, and will be adopted soon after.”
The bill’s supporters liken it to the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act, but, “the comparison is misleading,” Dmitry Shabelnikov, director of the Global Network for Public Interest Law, or PILnet, tells the Moscow Times:
“The U.S. legislation regulates a very narrow group of entities acting at the order, request or under the direction of a foreign state or entity,” Shabelnikov said by phone.
Unlike the U.S. law, the Russian bill classifies NGOs as “foreign agents” for an indefinite period of time once they receive funding from any foreign source, regardless of what the foreign money is spent on.
“According to the Russian bill, it doesn’t matter how and for what purposes the money is received and spent,” Shabelnikov said.
Those “foreign agents” registered under the U.S. law are mostly tourism boards, law and PR firms, according to a list on the U.S. Justice Department’s website. Russia-funded agents working in the United States include the Endeavor Law Firm, whose principals — meaning parties who authorized the firm to act on their behalf — were metals billionaire Oleg Deripaska and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as well as Ketchum Inc., a PR firm whose principals were Gazprom Export and the Russian Federation.
The proposed NGO bill is another example of the “skillful new forms of authoritarianism that blur our definitions of democracy and dictatorship,” outlined in William Dobson’s new book, The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.
He describes how the Kremlin has successfully co-opted nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, with a system of GONGOs – government-operated nongovernmental organizations,” in the words of one reviewer.
“The linguistic absurdity does nothing to inhibit their power: Set up to look independent, they actually ‘soak up foreign funding from genuine NGOs and confuse the public about who is in the right, the government or its critics.’”
Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Center, the independent agency that conducted the poll, said in an interview Monday that Putin remains popular because in the 12 years since he came to power, Russians’ living standards have improved.
“There is a crisis of trust in local authorities, but that doesn’t mean it extends toward federal authorities,” he said. “This will depend on how efficient the federal government will be in overcoming the consequences of the tragedy.”
While the proposed NGO bill “targets democracy-oriented groups like Golos, many in the NGO community worry that such a broad definition of political activity could also threaten groups dedicated to strictly social causes,” Associated Press reports:
Most NGOs have said they will comply with the law if it is passed, although they worry that such intensive bookkeeping will slow them down. Others have taken a more confrontational stance. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the 84-year-old activist at the helm of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said her organization would never register as a foreign agent.
“The group was founded in 1976 and we didn’t receive our first grant until 1993,” Alexeyeva said on Thursday. “We’ll find new methods and we’ll survive.”
The proposed amendments will subject NGOs to excessive government oversight and onerous reporting requirements in violation of Russia’s constitutional and international law obligations, says CIVICUS, the international civil society network:
If the changes are passed, they will severely undermine the work of civil society and be a blow to international solidarity activities. CIVICUS appeals to civil society across the world to express their indignation at this negative precedent being set in Russia by signing and sending the attached letter to the Russian Duma at firstname.lastname@example.org
Egypt is facing a “political earthquake” after the constitutional court today insisted that its earlier ruling to dissolve parliament must stand, and the powerful Muslim Brotherhood began to mobilize for “a million-man march” to coincide with Tuesday’s re-opening of the disbanded Islamist-dominated assembly.
“We are not trying to force the country into an inferno of political battles,” said Mourad Ali, a Brotherhood spokesman, but recent events raise the risk of violent conflict, say analysts.
“We will probably see some of the military banning the MPs from entering the parliament, and Tahrir will fill again … and then it’s time to see who blinks first,” says Omar Ashour, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.
The court decision is “ratcheting up a confrontation” between newly-elected president Mohammed Morsi (right), who yesterday decreed that parliament should reconvene, and the military, which today – in an apparent swipe at the president – said that it was “confident all state institutions” will respect the law and constitution.
“In a clear sign of an impending confrontation,” the FT’s Heba Saleh reports, the military “fired a shot across the bows” of Morsi, “saying it had dissolved parliament only to respect the court’s ruling.”
“It’s surprising how soon this has happened, but a conflict between the military and Muslim Brotherhood has been expected for a while,” said Eric Trager, a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who is in Cairo. “Political confrontation will be a feature for the foreseeable future.”
Morsi’s decree represents an attempt to establish his authority and legitimacy in a direct challenge to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, says Michele Dunne, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
“It is now clear that Morsi has no intention of accepting the admittedly humiliating conditions the SCAF attached to his presidency,” she says.
“If what Morsi has done is to counter a soft coup by the SCAF that took place just before his inauguration, the question now is whether the military will mount a counter coup of some kind against Morsi and if so, how,” she notes. “Another important question is whether the parliament will succeed in reconvening a quorum and, if so, whether it has an agenda of legal steps it plans to take in an attempt to outflank the SCAF and constitutional court. “
Morsi is flexing the muscles of the presidency, said Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamist politics at the UK’s Durham University.
“Regardless of the underlying reasons behind Morsi’s decree, it’s a bold and significant step from Morsi to show his powerful presidency. Until we know the reaction of SCAF, this decree reflects Morsi’s sense of self-assertiveness and confidence,” he said. “The question is to what extent Morsi can defy the military and challenge their power.”
The military is struggling to establish the constitutional red lines required to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from monopolizing political power, says Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation.
“Whether its heavy-handed marshaling of Egypt’s transition exemplifies a stroke of evil genius or bungling impulsiveness,” according to one assessment of the military’s outlook.
“In recent days, it has become clear that we have underestimated SCAF’s ideological viewpoints,” said Hanna. The military is “not going to turn over the government to the [Muslim Brotherhood]. They are just not going to do it… The big question will be, where are those red lines that Morsi can’t cross. The Ministries of Defense, Interior, and Justice are off limits.”
“It’s extremely uncertain where this will lead,” said veteran political analyst Hani Shukrallah, editor of the state-run Al Ahram newspaper. “On the face of it, it’s a very strong insult to the military and the Supreme Constitutional Court.’
“What we’re talking about here is not really the legalities of the situation, but power relations. How far is each side willing to push the other?” he said.
But the Islamists’ power play has been criticized by secular democrats, human rights groups and independent analysts.
Morsi’s recall of the assembly was a “violation of judicial power,” said the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, while liberal MP Amr Hamzawy criticized the decree as a violation of “the primacy of law.”
“The decree could create a political crisis,” Gamal Eid, a prominent human rights lawyer, told the New York Times. “He has been waiting to make a decision to prove he is president of a republic.”
Hafez Abu Saada (right), a lawyer and head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, tells VOA he believes the president could have handled this differently and has now created a politically fraught situation. He says he believes this could have been dealt with in different ways, but that it is a clash and it could mean the emergence of a kind of cold war between the presidency, the military council and civil forces.
The standoff has ominous implications for the democratic transition, says a leading expert on Egyptian constitutional law.
“I think this is a possible train wreck,” said Nathan Brown. “The judiciary will probably circle the wagons and refuse to enforce any parliamentary law. The SCAF will claim legislative authority but its laws will be under a cloud. How will you even write a new election law in such a context? Or pass a law on the referendum for the constitution?”
The decree “certainly amounts to a confrontation with the judiciary,” said Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University. “It probably amounts to a very bold confrontation with the SCAF as well, though we don’t know what understanding may have been reached there.”
According to a European diplomatic source, recalling parliament gave Morsi leverage over the military, but could also placate Islamists who dominate the assembly so that Morsi would have a freer hand to pick a broader cabinet with non-Islamist members.
“The test will come when we see how the soldiers guarding the parliament building behave when MPs try to convene,” the source said.
The timing of the president’s decree, days before a visit to Cairo by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is significant, said Fahmy Howeidi, a columnist with the independent daily ElShorouk.
“I think this decision could have been delayed, but why did he decide to declare or to decide about the parliament before his departure to Saudi Arabia? Is he sending a message saying he is the real ruler, not the military? You know that Washington criticized the military for their latest statement [dissolving parliament], so was he encouraged by this criticism, in order to embarrass the military?”
Egypt can rely on U.S. support for its democratic transition, says U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, hinting that financial assistance will be contingent on respect for human rights and democratic institutions.
“Egyptians know far better than we do that their aspirations are not yet fully realized, but they can count on America’s partnership on the complicated road ahead,” Burns said, stressing U.S. support for a democratically elected parliament, a constitution that protects “universal rights” and an inclusive government that “embraces all of Egypt’s faiths and respects the rights of women and secular members of society.”
Burns met Morsi at the presidential palace on Sunday, “signaling the new ties Washington is forging with resurgent Islamists in the region,” reports suggest:
Burns pledged that the United States, which grants the Egyptian armed forces $1.3 billion a year in military aid, would support Egypt’s economy, which has been hemorrhaging cash and is heading for a balance of payments and budget crisis.
Once a darling of emerging market fund managers, Egypt has watched foreign investors flee and its vital tourist trade has taken a big knock from the turmoil of the last year and a half.
Foreign reserves have plunged to about $15.5 billion, less than half their level before anti-Mubarak protests erupted, and the government has been forced to pay double-digit interest rates, seen as unsustainable, to fund its spending.
“Already domestic financing has reached a critical stage where you can’t rely totally on the market anymore,” said one Western diplomat. The government was running up payment arrears with energy suppliers and raising funds from the central bank, the diplomat noted – tactics sustainable only for a short time.
“Difficult days ahead for Egyptians and difficult decisions for Washington, which had been eager, along with much of the world, to believe that Morsi’s election was finally putting the Egyptian transition on a firmer footing,” she notes.
But the president’s forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia indicates that the Brotherhood is also pursuing alternatives to Western assistance that are likely to be less insistent on respect for democratic rights, says Hisham Kassem (left), a veteran analyst and rights activist.
“Given Morsi’s political persuasion and aversion to international monetary institutions, I think he will try and get basically Islamic-backed economic backing, as opposed to other monetary institutions, that they might consider dealings with them to be anti-Islamic or usury,” he said:
Unemployment is high in Egypt and chairman of the Jeddah-based Gulf Research Center Abdulaziz Sager says encouraging Saudi Arabia’s private sector to invest in Egypt is likely to top Morsi’s agenda.
“I am sure he wants to attract them again to continue their investments in Egypt and to assure them of the stability and the political stability in Egypt,” said Sager. “At [the] same time, also if he can increase the sort of export of manpower from Egypt to Saudi Arabia that will help, because the remittances from Egyptian laborers to Egypt in Saudi is quite significant also.”
Sager says Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to show serious economic support for Egypt, committing more than $4.5 billion to the country. Saudi Arabia is also a major shareholder in the Islamic Development Bank, which signed a $1 billion cooperation agreement last week with Egypt to support its food and energy sectors.
Kassem says Morsi, a long-time member of the Muslim Brotherhood, may also see in Saudi Arabia a potential lender with similar Islamic values.
“They [the Saudis] will be very interested in maintaining good relations with Egypt as they did with Mubarak. It is in everyone’s interest,” said Kassem, a leading member of the World Movement for Democracy.
The confrontation between the military and the Brotherhood demonstrates that Egypt’s illiberal actors are driving the political agenda, activists and analysts note, while democratic forces remain largely marginal.
The underlying dynamics of Egyptian politics have changed little, says Georgetown Professor Samer Shehata, who notes that the “tremendous weight of the Egyptian state” poses a threat to widespread reform.
“It’s going to be difficult and long going to make significant progress… considering the weight of the 6 million person Egyptian state [bureaucracy].”
“Morsi’s power play will determine whether the generals’ constitutional declaration will stand,” analysts suggest:
If it stands, the military will have not just the powers of the legislature but also the authority to steer the drafting of the new constitution. In the bigger picture, this may be a test case that determines the role of the military in post-Mubarak Egypt — whether the country will follow the “Turkish model” of the 1980s and 1990s in which the army could block civilian governments from acting against its wishes — or whether the army will be subordinate to an elected president and legislature, Islamist or otherwise.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Morsi has the legitimacy from being the country’s first-ever freely elected president, and Brotherhood supporters in the past have threatened a “second revolution” if the army tries to hold on to power. The military, on the other hand, has the top court on its side — and, of course, the ability to put tanks on the streets. Over the past 17 months, neither side has shown a willingness to push a crisis over the breaking point, however, and there are a number of ways that this conflict could be defused. Morsi also announced that there would be new elections after a constitution is adopted, and parliament could meet once or twice and then go into recess. But Egypt’s post-Mubarak transition has been wildly unpredictable so far, and few analysts would venture with any confidence what will happen next.
The Project on Middle East Democracy, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, adds:
Morsi Issues Decree to Reinstate Parliament
On Sunday, President Morsi issued a decree that reinstated parliament and called for fresh elections within 60 days of the ratification of the country’s new constitution. Morsi’s decision was met with praise and outrage, with opponents saying the president’s decision violates the rule of law and is a step towards autocracy. Supporters say that Morsi has every right to call for the parliament to reconvene and that legislative authority is now back in the hands of elected officials rather than the military. Protesters on both sides gathered in response to the decision, with demonstrations in Tahrir Square in support of the president and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Nasr City against the decree. Mohamed ElBaradei responded to the decision by Egypt’s president saying “The executive decision to overrule the HCC decision is turning Egypt from a government of law into a government of men.” Writer Alaa El Aswani noted, “legislative prerogatives should be in the hands of the people – not the generals.” The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) held an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss the decision by Egypt’s new president. Anonymous sources from SCAF told Egyptian media that the decision was a complete surprise to everyone, including the military council. Some analysts have speculated that Morsi had the approval of SCAF to reinstate parliament as the move satisfies the Brotherhood’s desire to see the parliament it dominates back in force as well as SCAF’s preference for new elections in the near-term. After it held an emergency meeting today in response to Morsi’s decree, the SCC said that its decisions were final and binding on all state authorities. The SCC will hear appeals to the decision dissolving parliament Tuesday.
“Court to meet over Morsy decision to reinstate Parliament,” Egypt Independent (English) 7/9/2012.
“Morsy decision to reinstate Parliament stirs demonstrations,” Egypt Independent (English) 7/9/2012.
“Military source: SCAF surprised by Morsy’s decision,” Egypt Independent (English) 7/8/2012.
“President’s reinstatement of Egypt parliament met with praise, indignation,” Ahram Online (English) 7/8/2012.
“Egypt’s SCAF should stop MPs from entering parliament building: Legal expert,” Ahram Online (English) 7/8/2012.
“Parliament speaker: Egypt’s restored People’s Assembly to meet ‘within hours’,” Ahram Online (English) 7/8/2012.
“SCAF holds emergency meeting to discuss President’s decree to reinstate lower house,” Ahram Online (English) 7/8/2012.
“Egypt president recalls parliament, generals meet,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/8/2012.
“Morsi’s decision does not conflict with law, Judge Khoderi says,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/8/2012.
“Reinstating parliament renders rule of law useless – ElBaradei,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/8/2012.
“Reinstating parliament deprives Morsi of legitimacy – Leftist Party official,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/8/2012.
“Breaking: Morsi orders parliament to reconvene,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/8/2012.
“Administrative court of appeals to consider dissolution of parliament today,” Al Dostour (Arabic) 7/9/2012.
“Egypt court says rulings binding after president decree,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/9/2012.
“Revived parliament holds session tomorrow,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/9/2012.
Hillary Clinton’s defense of the democracy-prosperity nexus and her refutation of the Asian values hypothesis are borne out by recent research, which suggests that far from endorsing authoritarian governance, Confucian ideals and democratic principles may be blended “in a novel, particularly East Asian, brand of democracy.”
Analyses of the Asian Barometer and World Values surveys “reveal that popular attachment to Confucian legacies has mixed results on democratic demand,” according to Doh Chull Shin’s Confucianism and Democratization in East Asia:
Whereas Confucian political legacies encourage demand for a nonliberal democratic government that prioritizes the economic welfare of the community over the freedom of individual citizens, its social legacies promote interpersonal trust and tolerance, which are critical components of democratic civic life. Thus, the author argues that citizens of historically Confucian Asia have an opportunity to combine the best of Confucian ideals and democratic principles in a novel, particularly East Asian, brand of democracy.
“So what is it about Asia that makes it so hard for democracy to take root?” Columbia University’s Andrew J. Nathan asks in Foreign Affairs:
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the so-called third wave of democratization swept through Asia, bringing vibrant multiparty politics to former autocracies such as South Korea and Taiwan. Yet today, by Doh Chull Shin’s count, the 16 countries of East and Southeast Asia now include only six functioning democracies — a ratio worse than the worldwide average of six democracies for every ten countries. The region hosts some of the world’s most resilient authoritarian regimes; meanwhile, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Thailand have toggled between elected and unelected governments, and China’s economic success and political stability have made the country a model studied enviously by strongmen around the world.
A researcher based at the University of California, Irvine’s Center for the Study of Democracy, Shin highlights five values that shape the culture of Asian societies, Nathan notes: hierarchical collectivism (loyalty to group leaders), paternalistic meritocracy (benevolent rule by a moral elite), interpersonal reciprocity and accommodation (avoiding conflict with others), communal interest and harmony (sacrificing personal interest for the community), and Confucian familism (placing family above self).
But Shin’s findings contradict the Asian values hypothesis as “the values of people in Confucian Asia are no more Confucian than those of people elsewhere; indeed, they are often less so,” writes Nathan:
Smaller proportions of citizens in the region are devoted to paternalistic meritocracy than in non-Confucian Asia, which Shin defines as Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, and Thailand. Compared with six other regions studied in the World Values Survey, Confucian Asia is only the fourth-most hierarchical, after the Muslim world, Africa, and Latin America. A plausible interpretation of such findings is that so-called Confucian values are not distinctively Asian at all; instead, they belong to a more universal category of traditional values.
The research findings also tend to confirm that authoritarian regimes are engaged in a war of ideas to adulterate the idea of democracy and dilute its appeal.
“The Asian values hypothesis fails to account for the ability of regimes to shape culture, which is best seen as a resource exploited by regimes and their opponents on both sides of the democracy-authoritarianism divide,” writes Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group:
Authoritarian governments can use their educational and propaganda systems to persuade citizens that their existing practices are democratic enough. Shin finds that most Asians say they prefer to live in a democracy, but that support level drops when they are queried about the basic principles on which genuine democracy depends. What is striking is that the gap between support for democracy as a brand name and support for democracy as a set of procedures is more pronounced in authoritarian than in nonauthoritarian systems. For example, in China, 65 percent of respondents endorsed democracy in principle, but only 28 percent considered the opportunity to change governments through elections to be essential to democracy, and fewer than four percent said that the freedom to criticize people in power is essential. By cultivating nonliberal values among their citizens, some Asian regimes that outsiders classify as authoritarian, such as those in China and Vietnam, are able to portray themselves to their citizens as democratic. That they are more successful in doing so than most authoritarian regimes elsewhere probably has less to do with their citizens’ values than with their vibrant economic performance and sophisticated propaganda systems.
The findings suggest “that authoritarian systems are more vulnerable to crises of legitimacy than democratic systems
Asian democracies have proved resilient to the impact of poor performance owing to the fact that their citizens continue to see their form of government as legitimate even when it struggles. Their authoritarian neighbors, meanwhile, can avoid legitimacy crises only by hiding corruption and keeping their economies growing. When their economies or social welfare systems falter, their citizens tend to demand governments more like their neighbors’.
“Culture interacts with socioeconomic forces, political institutions, regime performance, and leadership to determine the fate of regimes, with no single factor serving as the master cause,” Nathan concludes:
The Asian values hypothesis is wrong in its claim that democracy cannot work in Asia. So, too, however, is the counterargument that modernization will automatically doom the region’s authoritarian regimes. They may survive for a long time to come. But the cultural odds are stacked against them.