Jordan’s Islamists step up anti-election campaign

Jordan’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood is ramping up its campaign against next week’s parliamentary elections and against King Abdullah II’s proposed reforms.

“The Jan. 23 vote could set the stage for a possible showdown between Abdullah and the Islamic Action Front [the Brotherhood’s political wing]. The group leads a fractured opposition in Jordan that includes liberal youth activists, trade unionists, Arab nationalists and Communists,” AP’s Jamal Halaby reports:

Traditionally, the Brotherhood has been loyal to the Jordan’s Hashemite dynasty, which claims ancestry to the Prophet Muhammad. Brotherhood leaders have joined Cabinets in the past and held top government positions. And unlike other Mideast nations where the Brotherhood was until last year’s Arab Spring revolts banned or suppressed, it has been a licensed political party for decades in Jordan. But recently, the fundamentalist group has been eager to gain more power in the kingdom, seeing its peers now ruling in Egypt and Tunisia.

“We are against the elections because they are a theatrical gimmick meant to maintain the government’s strong grip on power,” said IAF leader Hamza Mansour. “We call on all Jordanians to boycott the polls.”

The regime is “fearful that the conflict [in Syria] is also creating a powerful cause for its own restless Islamists,” writes The Economist’s Nicholas Pelham: “though most of the munitions entering Syria come across other borders, a merchant with ties to the well-established Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood is running guns to groups in southern Syria, according to a Western diplomat.”

“All of this has posed a complicated challenge for Jordan’s King Abdullah,” Pelham writes from the ground:

Although the King has called for Assad to step down, he also hopes to maintain a more secular order in a new Syria and has long been wary of how the conflict is giving his own Muslim Brotherhood growing clout. For years the Brotherhood has been one of the most organized political forces in the kingdom. And while the movement has remained loyal to the monarchy and worked within the system, its leaders has shown an increasing readiness to challenge royal authority in recent months, as their counterparts in other countries have swept to power.

“If the Middle East is going to be run by the Brotherhood, we’re all screwed, and you can kiss moderate Islam goodbye,” a senior government official recently told me.

“Should Syria fall to the Islamists, Jordan’s geopolitical situation might look much like it did in the 1950s, when anti-colonial Arab Nationalism swept through the region, leaving Jordan’s British-backed monarchy sandwiched between a Nasserist union of Egypt and Syria,” Pelham writes in the NYRB:

Abdullah’s father, “pepperpot” King Hussein, survived long after Nasserism, ironically helped by support from the same Muslim Brotherhood his son now decries as a secret society bent on establishing a regional theocracy. Unlike his father or his fellow monarch, Mohammed VI of Morocco, King Abdullah has even shied from engaging his homegrown Islamists, leaving him even more isolated than his father was.

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Forget ‘Turkish Model’ – Ankara needs ‘German Model’ to advance Arab democracy

Turkey’s experience over the past decade under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government – blending democracy and Islamism, close ties with Washington and a neo-Ottoman foreign policy – has been cited as a potential model for transitional states emerging from the “Arab Spring.” But the “Turkish model” is not replicable across the region, says analyst Soner Cagaptay. Ankara should instead ensure that its new constitution embraces the principles of liberal democracy and establish its own assistance foundations - Turkish Stiftungen – to advance democratic institutions and ideas.

In the past decade, Turkey has experienced a dramatic transformation under the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AKP has moved the country away from the trend toward Westernization begun in the late eighteenth century under the Otto­man sultans and reinforced by several decades of secularism in the name of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Since coming to power in 2002, the Islamist AKP has reversed statutes mandating the strict separation of religion, government, and education.

Turkey’s Islamization, however, has been moderated by the country’s exist­ing orientation. Even the AKP and its Islamist partners cannot escape Western realities such as the role of women in society and Turkey’s NATO member­ship, not to mention forces in the global economy pulling Turkey westward.

And recent events have pulled Turkey back toward the West, despite the AKP’s ideological vision. Particularly since the Arab Spring began in early 2011, regional instability has made Turkey’s access to NATO a valuable com­modity.

A new constitution would allow Turkey to serve as a model for countries experiencing the Arab Spring, thereby burnishing its status as a regional power. Only by embracing the principles of liberal democracy—for instance, by drafting a constitution that guarantees freedom of speech broadly defined, equal political rights for Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as full gender equality—can Ankara promote itself as a source of inspiration for its Arab and Muslim-majority neighbors, at least in the eyes of the West. If, on the other hand, Ankara mobilizes against any sign of pluralism that could challenge its will, even if the government is democratically elected, it could well make itself attractive to Islamist circles ascending to power in the Arab world. Such a development would likely make Ankara’s Western partners reluctant to support Ankara as a model for countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen.

Whether Turkey can be a model for other Muslim-majority countries, par­ticularly those affected by the Arab Spring, is a question of great interest for policymakers. A first response, one almost always overlooked, involves Tur­key’s relatively deep, sixty-year experience with democracy. Today’s mix of Islamism with democracy takes place within that context.

This is not the case for Arab societies, which anyway are profoundly differ­ent from Turkey. Most Arab countries are either still authoritarian or newly and shakily democratic.

Difficulties aside, the Turkish democratic model as applied to Muslim-majority states has been embraced by many commentators, such as U.S.-based Vali Nasr, a leading scholar on Middle East politics. In his 2009 Forces of For­tune, Nasr delivers a sweeping tour of the rising bourgeois classes across the Muslim world. From the shopping malls of Dubai to the streets of Southeast Asia, Nasr shows how capitalism and Islam are coming together to constitute a new force in global politics. According to Nasr, the implications of these commercial transformations are profound, including a more tolerant, liberal politics spurred by the growth of the middle class.

According to Nasr, the Turks have “championed the most hopeful model in the region for both economic development and the liberalization of poli­tics.” Nasr gives a convincing account of how the Muslim middle classes have the potential to liberate societies from the death grip of autocracy (admittedly, his analysis predated the onset of the Arab Spring), without abandoning them to the tyranny of fundamentalism. But does this mean that Turkey’s model of Muslim democracy is a recipe for liberal success? Not so fast.

AKP leaders are unambiguous that Turkey deserves nothing less than democracy writ large. AKP election pledges tout “advanced democracy” as the finish line for Turkey, a goal that denotes the highest standards in human rights, democratization, and civil society conditions. Yet one would have rea­son to doubt the AKP’s rhetoric as well as its true commitment to this path.

By many measures, Turkey’s course over the past decade has not represented a straight shot toward liberal democracy—and, on some counts, the ball has been moved backward. To begin with, even as Turkey’s Muslim bourgeoisie have moved up the income ladder and Islam has entered the mainstream, the government’s treatment of the press has not improved. Based on an anal­ysis from Reporters Without Borders, Turkey’s economic boom has seen a corresponding drop in press freedom, with the country’s international rank­ing falling from 99 in 2002 to 148 in 2011. On the matter of overall political conditions, Freedom House has ranked Turkey as only “partly free” for the better part of the past decade.

On gender equality, Turkey’s economic success has not translated into the advances one might have imagined. Overall, Turkey is still far from a model to be emulated when it comes to women’s empowerment. Not counting agri­cultural workers, as of 2012, only 22 percent of Turkey’s women participate in the labor force, a rise of only four percentage points from 1988. In 2012, Tur­key was ranked sixty-fifth internationally on the Economist’s Women’s Oppor­tunity Economic Index, a composite measure of women’s access to education, workplace opportunity, finance, and legal rights.

In seeking a paradigm for Turkey’s role in the Arab world, we might look to Germany in Portugal following the Carnation Revolution of April 1974, which toppled Portugal’s forty-eight-year dictatorship. The rebellion was led by a group of army officers, joined by the underground communist movement and the masses, and the regime’s fall was surprisingly swift. Portugal—then riddled by poverty, illiteracy, and a legacy of authoritarianism—found itself at a crossroads: military rule or communist takeover. Neither happened. Thanks to the often-unmentioned efforts by Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) government and the Stiftungen (NGOs linked to Germany’s political parties) to build centrist forces in Lisbon, the unexpected occurred: Portugal became a flourishing liberal democracy, later joining the European Union.

In many ways, Portugal in the 1970s parallels today’s Arab societies. The coastal nation lacked deep democratic traditions or a sizable middle class. The communist movement, which can be likened to the Islamists in today’s Arab states, was powerful and seemed poised to commandeer the revolu­tion, while the military—which had taken charge following the revolution—seemed at a loss.

For its part, Germany’s SPD of the 1970s was the first elected social demo­cratic government in Bonn, and therefore had particular credibility in offering social democracy as a legitimate alternative to communism in Lisbon. And it did so quite deliberately. The SPD helped found the Portuguese Socialist Party (PS), a social democratic movement that called for a democratic Portugal and the defeat of the communists’ efforts to take power.

The German Stiftungen, too, performed a valuable function. The SPD-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Stiftungen (FES) alone donated 10 to 15 million German marks to train PS campaign workers and fund travel for its leaders, using discreet Swiss bank accounts to facilitate money transfers. The range of Stiftungen, which had connections to liberal and conservative German parties alike, built counterparts in Portugal as well.

The AKP, echoing the SPD in Germany, is Ankara’s first Islamist-rooted and democratically elected party and is therefore well positioned to propose alternatives to radical Islamism in Arab states. Yet if Ankara wishes to play a role similar to Germany, it cannot be expected to do so alone. Just as Bonn received financial and political assistance from the United States and other democracies in building Portuguese democracy, Turkey would benefit from support from the West as well as other Muslim-majority democracies, such as Indonesia, especially in creating “Turkish Stiftungen,” the missing part of the Germany-Turkey parallel.

Given that Turkey ruled the Arab Middle East until World War I, it must now be mindful of the effect of its messages. Arabs might be drawn to fellow Mus­lims, but the Turks are also former imperial masters. And as the Arabs them­selves press for democracy, intervention by a nation appearing to behave like a new imperial power will backfire. Arab liberals and Islamists alike regularly suggest that Turkey is welcome in the Middle East but should not dominate it.

Then there are the various problems associated with transferring the Turkish model to Arab countries. In September 2011, when Erdogan landed at Cairo’s new airport terminal (built by Turkish companies), he was met by joyous millions, mobilized by the Muslim Brotherhood. However, he soon upset his pious hosts by preaching about the importance of a secular gov­ernment that provides freedom of religion, using the Turkish word laiklik—derived from the French word for secularism and translating, in Arabic, to “irreligious.” Erdogan’s message may have been partly lost in translation, but the incident illustrates the limits of Turkey’s influence in more socially con­servative countries.

What is more, Ankara faces domestic challenges that could hamper its influence in countries affected by the Arab Spring. If Turkey wants to become a true beacon of democracy in the Middle East, for example, the new consti­tution under discussion must provide broader individual rights for the coun­try’s citizens and lift curbs on freedoms, such as those on the media. Turkey will also need to fulfill Davutoglu’s vision of a “no problems” foreign policy—with the neighbors, in this instance, including Israel. This means moving past the 2010 flotilla episode to rebuild strong ties with the Jewish state and learn­ing to get along with the Greek Cypriots.

Turkey’s relative stability at a time when the region is in upheaval is attract­ing investment from less stable neighbors like Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Ultimately, political stability and regional clout are Turkey’s hard cash, and its economic growth will depend on both.

Turkey will rise as a regional power as well as play a role in the Arab uprising only if it sets a genuine example as a liberal democracy and uses a deft and strategic hand when sharing its knowledge and experience with Arab countries.

Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute.

This extract is taken from a longer report, The New Turkey and U.S. Policy. RTWT

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Why Europe needs an Endowment for Democracy

Why does the European Union need a European Endowment for Democracy?

“It may seem strange that the EU needs such an organization to promote human rights and civil society in its eastern and southern neighborhood,” writes Carnegie Europe’s Judy Dempsey:

Doesn’t it already provide financial support to non-governmental organizations and educational institutions? And isn’t the EU’s raison d’être to promote democracy? Furthermore, there are many other European advocacy groups working in Ukraine and Moldova, Georgia and Moroccoto name just a few of the countries that are part of the EU’s neighborhood and to whom the EED will reach out.

“So why the EED? What can it do that the EU or other advocacy groups cannot do?” she asks Jerzy Pomianowski, a Polish career diplomat, who was recently appointed as the EED’s first executive director:

Mr. Pomianowski, you will be EED’s first executive director. What is the purpose of this new institution?

There was a lot of reluctance to the idea at first from member states, institutions, and non-governmental organizations. The name is not accidental. We saw what the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED) did in Central Europe after the fall of communism. The example of the NED, the degree of flexibility and its record especially during the transformation in Eastern Europe was absolutely positive and is a success. Because the NED has a strong record, it was often asked if Europe needed a similar institution. It does.

What makes the EED special?

The first priority of EED is to support small, new unregistered groups. One of the conditions for receiving funds from the EU is that the money should be allocated to registered groups, which in some countries means that they have to have been approved by the regime. Also, many European foundations are project based. They cannot provide core funding.

What do you mean?

Let me give you an example. You have to find a way to get people out of the internet into the public political space. These are people who dream about doing something. We have to draw them out. Of course, it is very sensitive. But at the same time, this is about promoting the values of Europe. The EED is about responding to anyone who believes in civil society; we want to make sure that he or she will not remain alone.

Why now?

[Polish foreign minister Radek] Sikorski proposed the idea just after the collapse of the democratic process in Belarus in December 2010. And then the Arab Spring happened. The timing was just so important. We could see the need, the urgency for something like the EED.

How will the EED be financed?

We have 6 million euro from the Commission for operating costs and 10 million euro from the member states for projects. That is a decent budget.

Really? And not all of the member states support the EED.

Germany is still missing, but it gave lots of support in the initial stages. We are still waiting for its financial support. I’m sure it will come. Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Britain, all have yet to give funding. But all say they will provide the support. Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Estonia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Lithuaniaactually all the new member states have agreed to contribute. And Switzerland.

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US-Russia ‘reset’ at risk as Kremlin loses ‘last remains of moral authority’?

“A poisonous unraveling of U.S. relations with Russia in recent months represents more than the failure of President Obama’s first-term attempt to ‘reset’ badly frayed bilateral relations,” writes The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan.

It threatens pillars of Obama’s second-term foreign policy agenda as well. From Syria and Iran to North Korea and Afghanistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds cards that he can use to help or hurt Obama administration objectives.

“The real question for Putin and Obama is, putting aside the issues on which they are just bound to disagree — like democracy and Syria — what are the issues that matter to them on which they can cooperate?” said Stephen Sestanovich, a Russia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The likelihood is that over the next term, for both of them, that is likely to be a shorter list than it was in the past four years.”

No U.S. president since Ronald Reagan has had a better relationship with Russia in his second term than in the first, said Sestanovich, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. But none has started the second with as deep and recent a setback as the harsh exchanges of December.

The US has pledged to resist what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month called “a move to re-Sovietize the region” in the guise of regional integration.

“Let’s make no mistake about it,” she said. “We know what the goal is, and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.”

Washington is “going to be very clear and very frank when we disagree, as we do with regard to human rights practices, quality of democracy in Russia and as we have in the past on Syria and other things,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“Thousands of Russians marched Sunday to condemn the Parliament’s move to ban the adoption of Russian children by American families, an event called a ‘March Against Scoundrels,’” The New York Times’s Ellen Barry and Andrew Roth report:

Anger over the ban may not be enough to reinvigorate a protest movement in Russia that has flagged recently, when it became clear the rewards would be meager and the punishments harsh. But the reaction is deepening a rift that began to open last year, after Mr. Putin decided to address himself to a conservative, loyal electorate in the hinterlands, turning away from the prosperous urbanites who were drawn to antigovernment rallies.

“The country is really dividing,” said Lev D. Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, a Moscow-based polling agency.

Sunday’s event was “aimed at lawmakers who fast-tracked the anti-adoption bill through parliament without a debate by a margin of 420-7,” the Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison and Andrey Ostroukh report:

The Kremlin met the protest with swarms of riot police, who hemmed the crowd in with metal fences and drowned out their chants with the thumping of a helicopter that hovered overhead. The crowd marched mostly in silence, chanting “shame” from time to time. Other political slogans were rare, and some marchers shared their holiday stories and discussed the weather, as well as how many people made it to the rally.

Russia street demonstrations have waned in the past few months amid a lack of direction and pressure from authorities, as opposition leaders have faced criminal charges and bad publicity in the state-controlled media. Sunday’s rally differed from others because it wasn’t formally planned by opposition leaders, said Ilya Ponomarev, one of the few deputies who voted against the bill.

“This march was an expression of anger more than anything,” Mr. Ponomarev said. “People are more mobilized by their hatred of the law, and what is going on in the country. The formal opposition was irrelevant this time. “

But the adoption ban may backfire on the Kremlin, some observers suggest:

Yevgeny S. Gontmakher, a social scientist, said Mr. Putin had made a gamble not unlike the one he made by arresting the oil tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky in 2004: Russian elites might disapprove, but they would get used to it, and a vast part of the electorate would not care much.  But he said the Kremlin would eventually suffer for the ban.

“In the long-term perspective, it is of course a loss, because there is 25 or 30 percent of society that has formed the opinion, because of these orphans, that politics has become immoral,” Mr. Gontmakher said. “It’s clear that a certain break has taken place inside these people. They may not say so during a public opinion poll, because there are elements of fear. But for these people the government has lost the last remains of its moral authority.”

The adoption ban also reflects the regime’s increasingly strident nationalist and xenophobic positions, say analysts.

One group of legislators is working on a bill that would prevent anyone with foreign citizenship, including Russians, from criticizing the government on television,” The NYT’s Barry reports:

One proposal would ban the use of foreign driver’s licenses, another would require officials to drive Russian-made cars. One deputy has recommended strictly limiting marriages between Russian officials and foreigners, at least those from states that were not formerly Soviet.

Many of these ideas sound eccentric, in a capital city whose elite are well-traveled and integrated into the West, and are very unlikely to advance and become law. But they certainly will not hurt anyone’s career in the current political environment.

Yevgeny N. Minchenko, director of the International Institute for Political Expertise, said the major pieces of legislation that passed through the Duma last year were produced by staff members in Mr. Putin’s administration. Last year, he said, demonstrated that the Parliament serves as an “instrument” of the Kremlin.

“Unfortunately, in my view, there is a dangerous trend that practically the only way to consolidate all the parliamentary factions is with various kinds of anti-Western initiatives,” Mr. Minchenko said.

The credibility of United Russia’s patriotic rhetoric is undermined by the elite’s cosmopolitan lifestyle, says Sergei A. Markov, a former Kremlin insider and leading political technologist:

This mission is complicated by the fact that Moscow’s ruling class is, in fact, already deeply integrated into Western Europe. One leader of the legislative campaign, a United Russia deputy, Sergei Zheleznyak, was pilloried by a blogger, Aleksei Navalny, because his daughters study at exclusive institutions in Switzerland and Britain. Nevertheless, the Kremlin has determined that officials’ foreign holdings must be brought under control, because they are alienating the public, said Markov, a political analyst who served as a legislator with United Russia until last year.

“The population considers the elite to be half-foreign,” he said. “Their property is abroad, their houses are abroad, their wives are abroad, their children are abroad. Even Russian industrialists work through offshore companies. Why do these people run Russia, they say.”

*The Levada Center receives support from the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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Disappearance in Laos signals authoritarian backlash

“The disappearance nearly one month ago of Sombath Somphone, a United States-trained agriculture specialist who led one of the most successful nonprofit organizations in Laos, has baffled his family and friends and raised alarms that a nascent liberalization of the Communist-ruled country could be sliding backward,” The New York Times reports:

Mr. Sombath, 60, who won many awards for his public service, was known to be nonconfrontational and adept at forging compromises with the authoritarian government of Laos. ……The disappearance has set off an enormous campaign by Mr. Sombath’s large network of friends and aid workers across Southeast Asia who know him from his development work.

The campaign has put Laos, an obscure country run by an opaque Communist party, under increasing pressure to provide answers. The country has taken halting steps to modernize its one-party system in recent years but has also cracked down on dissent, and its security services have been linked to a series of politically motivated assassinations in neighboring Thailand.

Laos is one of a growing number of states to “have enacted or proposed new laws and regulations which diminish the legal space in which civil society can operate,” according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law.

The regime has made tentative steps towards replicating the Market-Leninist model of neighboring Vietnam – liberalizing the economy while maintaining a Communist party dictatorship. The authorities’ determination to maintain close surveillance of potentially dissenting citizens may have backfired, says Times reporter Thomas Fuller:

Paradoxically for the Lao government, it is a network of cameras that the municipal police installed over the past three years to monitor “anti-social behavior” that have pointed to signs of the government’s involvement in Mr. Sombath’s disappearance.

Helpful workers at a local police station initially showed the family images of Mr. Sombath’s jeep stopped at a police checkpoint on the evening of Dec. 15. Mr. Sombath then appeared to be driven off in a white vehicle.

Family members had the presence of mind to record the footage with their own digital devices — crucial because the government now refuses to let them view the video again despite pleas by diplomats who would like to analyze it for clues like license plates. (The video is now circulating on YouTube (above) and is also available at sombath.org, a site put up by Mr. Sombath’s friends and dedicated to tracing his whereabouts).

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