‘Solidarity Now’ with EU’s democracy crisis

The European Union’s crisis is as much a crisis of democracy as economics, analysts suggest, while a major new initiative calls for civil solidarity with Greece.

“What is at stake is not just membership of a monetary union; it is the nature and future of democracy itself,” argues Columbia University professor Mark Mazower, author of ‘Governing the World: the History of an Idea’

The EU’s democratic deficit is the source of its legitimacy problem, says The Economist, which recently noted that key decision-makers are unelected or detached from the electorate they claim to represent:

The EU boasts of being a union of democracies. But its crisis of legitimacy is intensifying as it delves more deeply into national policies, especially in the euro zone. One problem is the evisceration of national politics: whatever citizens may vote for, southerners end up with more austerity and northerners must pay for more bail-outs. Another is that the void is not being filled by a credible European-level democracy.

But the “archeo-democracies” have life in them yet, argues Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former director of policy planning in the US State Department.

“Together, Europe and the US account for more than 50% of global GDP, have the largest military force in the world by many multiples, and control a growing proportion of global energy reserves,” she notes.

“They also have a formidable diplomatic and development-assistance capacity, representing a peaceful community of democracies that share a common commitment to the rights, dignity, and potential of all human beings,” writes Slaughter, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

“Imagine that community spreading down the east coast of Latin America and the west coast of Africa. It might be an Atlantic century after all.”

Europe must reclaim its vision of a community based on solidarity, says a new initiative from the Open Society Foundation (above):

Solidarity Now supports civil society groups working in Greece and is setting up Solidarity Centres—a place for everyone in Greece affected by the crisis to gather and find solutions to shared problems.

Solidarity Centres will offer space to new and existing civil society organisations in Greece, facilitating cooperative community solutions to pressing social and economic problems. Each locally run Centre will address the unique needs of its community. Essential services provided at Solidarity Centres may include health, heating, housing, legal aid, job-seeking assistance, and support for vulnerable groups including the elderly, the sick, migrants, and asylum seekers.

Established by the Open Society Foundations, Solidarity Now is a collaborative funding initiative, including small donations from people around Europe and larger contributions from philanthropies and individuals.


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Egypt: US tweets & deletes – Brotherhood’s ‘dream turns to nightmare’

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo has reportedly deleted a tweet about attacks on freedom of expression that prompted outrage from Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The embassy’s Twitter feed linked to a U.S. comedy show in which comedian Jon Stewart criticized the government’s crackdown on its critics.

“Without Bassem and all those journalists and bloggers and brave protesters who took to Tahrir Square to voice dissent, you, President Morsi, would not have been in a position to repress them,” Stewart said on Monday’s show [above].

“Egypt’s prosecution of comedian Bassem Youssef for allegedly insulting President Muhammad Morsi and denigrating Islam is the latest indication of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government’s undemocratic disposition,” says a leading analyst.

“The move will likely deepen the non-Islamist opposition’s mistrust of the country’s political and judicial institutions, encouraging groups to continue seeking change through increasingly violent demonstrations rather than official political channels,” writes Eric Trager, the Next Generation fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Brotherhood, notes Alison Pargeter in a new edition of her biography of the movement, “has shifted from semi-clandestine opponent to legitimate political power almost overnight.”

But it is using that power for illiberal purposes, say observers.

The Islamist government is also “on the verge of adopting laws that would cripple the country’s fragile new democratic order and drastically reduce the West’s ability to influence Egypt’s course,” says The Washington Post:

Foremost among these is legislation that would regulate nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) — the building blocks of democracy. As in many other countries, Egypt’s independent human rights groups, legal aid societies, women’s groups and other organizations helped lay the groundwork for the 2011 revolution; now they are essential to ensuring that a free society takes root. Many of Egypt’s NGOs and nascent political parties have received funding or training from U.S. and European foundations, such as the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House.

The long awaited dream of ruling Egypt is becoming a nightmare for the Brothers, writes analystZvi Mazel.

The Islamists are using powers supposedly reserved for urgent legislation to push through laws organizing the next elections, limiting the right to strike and to demonstrate; and stringent regulations for NGOs, including a provision legalizing the Brotherhood itself, he notes.

“The problem is that the Brotherhood has since its inception refused to divulge the list of its members and the origin of its funds – two requirements for registering a movement,” Mazel writes.

The Brotherhood is also pushing to place its officials and supporters in key government positions, prompting anxiety among independent observers.

“The general concern,” explains Khaled Fahmy, head of history at the American University in Cairo, “is about the Ikhwanisation of the state.”

But dissatisfaction with the Islamists is prompting a backlash.

“Elections held in students’ union throughout the country saw Brotherhood candidates defeated by independent candidates,” notes Mazel, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden. “Worse, elections to the key Journalists’ Syndicate saw the victory of Diaa Rashwan, head of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic studies and bitter opponent of the Brotherhood.”

“The Egyptian Brotherhood was the mother of all Islamist movements,” says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center:

Analysts argue that, before 2011, the Brotherhood’s appeal lay in its ability to transcend the dirty game of secular politics – both through its connection to ordinary Egyptians, and through its offer of a redeeming and untried alternative: Islamism. But … Islamism has lost some of this innocence since coming to power – dislocated from its social work, and tarnished by the failures of government.

“There was a time when you could have been part of the Muslim Brotherhood but you didn’t really care about politics,” says Hamid. “It was about teaching, it was about education, it was about social services. But now the Brotherhood is so much about politics that it has consumed the organization.”

So could power be the Brotherhood’s undoing? For Pargeter the answer is no – or at least, not yet:

“The movement can still rely upon a core base who will vote for them because of what they stand for as much as for what they do or achieve politically.” It is, she says, “likely to still be able to connect with people in a way that [its] non-Islamist political rivals cannot.”

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Syria’s Islamists outflank moderates: ‘foreign funds serve foreign agendas’

“Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood [above] may be President Bashar al-Assad’s best-organized political adversaries, but they are also loathed by some dissidents who accuse them of trying to dominate the opposition, backed by funds from Qatar,” analyst Rana Moussaoui writes for Middle East Online:

In late March, some 70 dissidents sent a letter to the Arab League criticizing “the dictatorial control exercised by one of (the opposition’s)… currents over its decisions and actions, and the flagrant hegemony of diverse Arab and regional players.”

Immediately after Ghassan Hitto was elected in a meeting of the key National Coalition grouping in Istanbul, a dozen prominent opponents froze their membership in the organization. Among them was Kamal al-Labwani, an influential liberal and one of the Brotherhood’s most outspoken critics.

“The Brotherhood leads all the decision-making in the Coalition. They control the committees linked to arming (the rebels) and humanitarian assistance,” Labwani said.

“They appear to be just a few in the Coalition, but they buy the other members out thanks to the money they receive from Doha and Ankara. They are trading in influence.”

An analysis of the disorganized, Muslim-dominated opposition prompts several conclusions, writes The Washington Post’s David Ignatius:

First, the U.S. will have limited influence, even if it steps up covert involvement over the next few months. Second, the post-Assad situation may be as chaotic and dangerous as the civil war itself. The Muslim rebel groups will try to claim control of Assad’s powerful arsenal, including chemical weapons, posing new dangers. Islamists are marginalizing democratic and other moderate factions because the Gulf states have been more willing to provide military and non-lethal assistance than the democracies.

“Western governments may be too late to achieve their aim of boosting moderates among the increasingly Islamist-leaning rebels. Islamist fighters, including Jabhat al-Nusra, which America considers a terrorist group, are better armed and organized,” The Economist suggests:

According to Hugh Griffiths of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a Swedish think-tank, Qatari planes started to fly in weapons in January last year. ……. Some weapons, including M79 anti-tank missiles meant for more moderate groups, seem to have fallen into the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamists.

While Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood currently prompts less concern than the jihadi groups, observers suggest that the group will likely have a greater role in shaping the post-Assad transition in an illiberal direction.

“They believe that they are the natural leaders of Syria, they believe that… their time has finally come and that they represent the nation better than anybody else,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma.

“Qatar and Turkey support them because they are the only institutional party that has any chance of organizing Syria” should Assad fall, Landis said:

And though the group pays lip service to a civil state based on human rights, among anti-regime activists “there is a deep suspicion that they are using democracy to come to power, and then once they come to power, they will use the laws in order to suppress their critics as we see today in Egypt,” Landis added.

There are several major factions in the armed opposition, says Ignatius:

The biggest umbrella group is called the Jabhat al-Tahrir al-Souriya al-Islamiya. It has about 37,000 fighters, drawn from four main sub-groups based in different parts of the country. These Saudi-backed groups are not hard-core Islamists, but are more militant than the political coalition headed by Sheik Moaz al-Khatib, who last week claimed Syria’s seat in the Arab League.

The second-largest rebel coalition is more extreme and is dominated by hard-core Salafist Muslims. Its official name — Jabhat al-Islamiya al-Tahrir al-Souriya — is almost identical to that of the Saudi-backed group. …. Financing comes from wealthy Saudi, Kuwaiti and other Gulf Arab individuals. Rebel sources estimate about 13,000 Salafist fighters are gathered under this second umbrella.

A third rebel group, known as Ahfad al-Rasoul, is funded by Qatar. It has perhaps 15,000 fighters.

The most dangerous group in the mix is the Jabhat al-Nusra, which is an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq. By one rebel estimate, it has grown to include perhaps 6,000 fighters.

Observers believe that Syrian and Iraqi jihadi groups are cooperating.

“This battle has two directions, from Syria to Iraq and from Iraq to Syria,” said analyst Mustafa Alani of the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center.

A Jordanian counter-terrorism official said al-Qaeda in Iraq is providing “expertise and logistics” to the Nusra Front.

“It’s natural for al-Qaeda to help another group with a similar ideology,” he said. “The aim is to control the street in Syria as a step toward toppling Assad and setting up an Islamic jihadi state there.”

As many as 600 Europeans have joined the rebels, according to a British study.

Jihadists from 14 European countries including France, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands are among those to enter the conflict, according to research published Tuesday by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London.

“Between 140 and 600 Europeans have gone to Syria since early 2011,” said researcher Aaron Y. Zelin.

“Realistically, the best hope for U.S. policy is to press the Saudi-backed coalition and its 37,000 fighters, to work under the command of … the Free Syrian Army,” Ignatius argues:

That would bring a measure of order — and would open the way for Idriss to negotiate a military transition government that would include reconcilable elements of Assad’s army.

“Consolidating forces under Gen. Idriss would extend his recognition and credibility,” explained a Syrian rebel activist … But without a strong Saudi push, this coordination is a long shot.

Rebel sources here say the opposition has developed plans to train Syrian police, purify water supplies and teach forces how to dispose of chemical weapons — all pending approval. Such plans offer the best chance for mitigating the Syrian disaster.What is the U.S. waiting for?

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UN envoy and DRC sign accord to tackle sexual violence

The United Nations has signed an accord with the Democratic Republic of Congo aimed at combatting rape and sexual violence by armed militias in the strife-torn eastern region.

The accord, seen by AFP on Tuesday, was signed by DRC Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo and the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura (left).

The agreement “underlines the necessity of neutralizing armed groups and initiating an effective process of reform to the security sector” particularly in the eastern regions of North and South Kivu, and Oriental province.

“As an African woman from a post-conflict country – Sierra Leone – I recognize the many challenges the Congo is currently facing,” said Bangura, a former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

“Conflict-related sexual violence is among the most urgent of these, and one which requires the leadership, ownership, and responsibility of the Government of this country,” she said at a meeting in the capital, Kinshasa, with British Foreign Secretary William Hague and representatives of civil society to address the problem of impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence.

Bangura was one of four African democracy activists from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sierra Leone, Sudan and Zimbabwe to receive the NED’s 2006 Democracy Award.

“Africa has been witness to more protracted conflicts than any region of the world,” said NED’s then-chairman Vin Weber. “The individuals NED honors this year have demonstrated enormous personal courage and optimism, facing down brutal regimes and working in some of the most harrowing circumstances imaginable. If democracy continues to advance in Africa, it will be due to the dedication of activists like these.”

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