Yemen’s Political Transition and Public Attitudes toward the National Dialogue

Photo: Human Rights Watch

The agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for political transition in Yemen calls for a National Dialogue Conference to help the country’s leaders develop consensus for draft constitutional reforms and prepare for elections in 2014.

During the past year, the transition has faced considerable challenges from wrangling among competing political factions to violent activity by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, tribal disputes, and a southern secessionist movement. Later this month, the country’s leaders will finally join together for the start of the National Dialogue Conference in an effort to end gridlock on the country’s stalled political reform process and address worsening economic conditions.

As the country heads into this important dialogue, how does the Yemeni public view the future of the nation and the priorities they want their leaders to address? What are the key points of consensus and disagreement we can expect during the dialogue? How can the United States government support Yemen’s political transition as it seeks to advance other national security interests?

Please join the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Center for American Progress for a joint panel discussion featuring Barbara Bodine, Lecturer and Director of Scholars in the Nation’s Service at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs and former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen; Les Campbell, NDI Senior Associate and Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa who has recently returned from pre-Dialogue discussions in Yemen; and John Moreira, lead consultant for Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research who oversaw recent polling in Yemen.

Panelists:
Barbara Bodine, Lecturer and Director of Scholars in the Nation’s Service, Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs at Princeton University; former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen
Les Campbell, Senior Associate and Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, National Democratic Institute
John Moreira, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research

Moderator:
Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

In conjunction with this event, the National Democratic Institute will release a report on public perceptions in Yemen based on new survey results.

March 7, 2013, 12:00pm ET – 1:30pm ET

Space is extremely limited. RSVP required. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis and not guaranteed.A light lunch will be served at 11:30 a.m.

National Democratic Institute
455 Massachusetts Ave, NW
8th Floor
Washington, DC 20001

RSVP to attend this event

For more information, call 202-682-1611.

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$60 million ‘nothing burger’ in aid unlikely to boost Syrian moderates

The United States today pledged a further $60 million in aid to Syrian opposition forces, including food and medical supplies directly to armed rebels for the first time but rejected demands for weapons.

The additional assistance would help “the legitimate voice of the Syrian people” striving to topple President Bashar Assad, who had “long ago lost his legitimacy…and must be out of power,” said Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The stakes are really high, and we can’t risk letting this country, in the heart of the Middle East, being destroyed by vicious autocrats or hijacked by the extremists,” he said.

Assad is “out of time and must be out of power,” said Kerry.

The aid is unlikely to shift the balance of power within the opposition in favor of moderate elements which have been losing out to generously-supplied Islamist factions, say analysts.

Secular activists complain that Salafists are hijacking the revolt, a view endorsed by independent analysts.

“The role of Salafists in general, publicly, has skyrocketed,” says Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “They have a donor base, they are organized, and they’ve been able to carve out a niche in parts of Syria.”

According to the New York Times: There has been speculation that the Obama administration might expand its program of support to the Free Syrian Army to include nonlethal equipment if rebel fighters use the initial assistance effectively and do not allow any of it to fall into the hands of extremists. But Mr. Kerry provided no indication that such a phased expansion of nonlethal support was being planned ….Britain is planning to provide more substantial nonlethal aid, which could include vehicles, bulletproof vests and night vision equipment, according to an American official. British officials have been consulting with their European counterparts about what sort of nonlethal aid might be allowed under the terms of European Union decisions and plans to announce its steps soon.

Some members of the Syria opposition said they were disappointed by the results of the Rome session.

“It is obvious that the real support is absent,” said Dr. Walid al-Bunni, a member of the anti-Assad coalition. “What we want is to stop the Scuds launched on Aleppo, to stop the warplanes that are bombing our town and villages.”

The White House reportedly vetoed a joint proposal from the Pentagon, State Department and CIA to provide lethal assistance and training to moderate rebel groups.

Syrian Opposition Council leader Moaz al-Khatib criticized Washington for its refusal to provide lethal assistance.

The former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus said Western media was “obsessed” with the length of fighters’ beards.

“We are Muslim fighters,” he said. “The Islam, as we see it, wants the best for everybody.” Closing with a plea for cooperation, al-Khatib said, “we are all descended from Adam,” so people should “cooperate, not kill each other.”

But many Western states fear that weapons supplied to the opposition will fall into the hands of extremist Islamist factions.

“The Syrian conflict is going to be as big, if not bigger, than Afghanistan was in the 1980s in terms of mobilizing jihadi fighters,” said Aaron Zelin, an expert on jihadist groups at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

The U.S. and others in the Friends of Syria will now have a harder time bolstering moderates, analysts said.

“Because it has dithered in backing the opposition thus far, the administration now faces a steeper challenge in securing U.S. interests in Syria,” Mr. Zelin wrote this month.

Syrians, analysts and diplomats are divided about the lasting influence of groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra.

“They are the best fighters, and probably the most organized. They scream the loudest,” a Western diplomat said. “But I think when the dust settles, they won’t have the majority of people on their side.”

An additional problem is that aid channeled through the opposition coalition’s Supreme Military Council will not reach the most effective armed rebels.

“The problem is the Supreme Military Council does not have tentacles on the ground,” said the Washington Institute’s Tabler. “If you provide a bunch of bandages and body armor to them, it may not matter much.”

Still, Mr. Tabler said the administration’s decision to take this step was a welcome sign that its policy of steering clear of any military involvement in the conflict was no longer tenable.

“They’re still reluctant, so they’re moving incrementally,” he said. “But the Obama administration has to look at one reality: what they have done isn’t working.”

The problem with U.S. policy is that Russia and Iran, Syria’s patrons, “are directly helping Assad to stay alive in a fight to the death,” writes Michael Doran, an analyst at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy:

The Russians did their level best to embarrass Kerry. They responded to his meeting in Rome by announcing their continued lethal support for Assad’s military. … The Russians are, of course, not the only ones providing such assistance. The Iranian regime sends regular weapons shipments to Assad, while also helping him to stand up a new Alawite-based militia. Hezbollah, in effect an arm of the Iranian Qods Force, is fighting on the ground in Syria…

Meanwhile, Washington produces happy talk about teaming up with the Russians to broker an agreement between this murderous regime and its opposition. This policy of seeking a peaceful transition is a fantasy, a snare, and a delusion. It is a fig leaf and a placeholder. It is, in short, a non-policy. The only way to get to a post-Assad Syria is to topple Assad. Until his regime is destroyed, the killing will continue.

Meanwhile, other Syrian democracy advocates are preparing for the post-Assad transition.

“Syria needs to establish a new culture of legitimacy and overcome the legacy of the past by engaging in a national reconciliation carried out through social reconstruction, the establishment of truth commissions, compensation for victims, and the reform of the State’s institutions, especially the security services and the police,” said the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

The strategies for transcending a 40-year legacy of authoritarian repression were the subject of a recent conference on ‘Transitional Justice in Syria: Accountability and Reconciliation,’ held by the Washington D.C.-based SCPSS.

The conference discussed justice centered on institutional reform, fact-finding and democracy-building, and concluded with the establishment of the National Preparatory Committee for Transitional Justice, writes Stephanie Dunning writes on Your Middle East:

‘Transitional justice for the past and institution-building for the future,’ was how Dr. Radwan Ziadeh, co-founder and Director of SCPSS, phrased his views on Syria’s transition. He went further by saying a main priority is to open an investigation into war crimes committed recently as well as over the 40-year period. This is indicative of a society in need of a truth-seeking transitional justice mechanism, such as a fact-finding commission or a historical committee, in order to ensure accountability is enforced and post-conflict citizens remain involved and supportive.  …..Ziadeh prefers an international justice approach, which will inevitably open the door to further debate in terms of sovereignty, especially when examining parallel examples, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

“Since Syria is a divided society it is much better to go on an international level because at least that will ease the preparation for reconciliation in the future,” says Ziadeh, executive director of the Syrian Center for Political & Strategic Studies, and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

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John P. ‘Jack’ Loiello, USIA official, helped start NDI

 

John P. “Jack” Loiello, 69, an international consultant to nonprofit groups who served as associate director for educational and cultural affairs at the U.S. Information Agency from 1994 to 2000, died Feb. 16 at MedStar Washington Hospital Center,” the Washington Post reports:

In 1983, he helped start the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, which works to strengthen democratic institutions abroad. The institute is an affiliate of the nonprofit National Endowment for Democracy.

 

 

 

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Team of Rivals hovers over ‘near death’ Chávez

Watching his back? Maduro (left) and Cabello

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez is fighting for his life, says vice president Nicolas Maduro, his designated successor, reviving rumors that the authoritarian populist is either dead or close to it.

“Among his opponents, everyone has a conspiracy theory about the reasons for concealing the President’s true state of health. There are rumors of every variety, including those that draw on fears of the sort of military coup that has haunted Venezuela’s history,” Boris Muñoz reports from Caracas.

Why does the government keep pretending that Chávez is in charge? he asks:

“The only explanation is that the small troika that is managing the situation got emotional about declaring Chávez unfit to be President, which ought to happen sooner rather than later in this electoral scenario,” a government insider told me. I asked what he meant by “emotional”. “The high spheres of government are like those families where the brothers and sisters don’t get along, but they love, respect, and fear their father. Though the opposition thinks they have no feelings, I think the high government leaders are really confused and upset over the imminent death of their political father. Their pain and uncertainty unite them. But they also stop them from seeing the future.”

The latest rumors coincide with speculation about a possible military coup, a prospect dismissed by regime leaders addressing a chávista rally.

“Today the people and the armed forces are more united than ever, like a fist of the fatherland,” said Maduro, who warned the opposition not to “come with little stories that we are fighting.”

The vice president’s chief rival, National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello is a former army captain who is seen as close to the military as Maduro is to Cuba. But he also denied any rift.  ”We are brothers of the fatherland, we are sons of Chávez,” he told the rally.

The Obama administration will insist that in the event of Chávez’s death, “any new elections should be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and transparent and must respect the universal human rights of the Venezuelan people,” said incoming Secretary of State John Kerry.

But uncertainty about his condition is feeding the uncertainty, say observers.

“Until Chávez says ‘I quit,’ Maduro’s authority will be weak,” said Fausto Masó, a Venezuelan journalist and political analyst:

To shore up its position, the team of rivals has gone on attack, denouncing opposition representatives in the National Assembly as corrupt and talking about sending them to jail. Simultaneously, the government has threatened to increase state control over the corporations and small businesses that are the main source of the opposition’s funding.

“The transition has already begun in Venezuela, and the election campaign has also begun,” said Tulio Hernandez, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela. “The transition has also begun in people’s heads. Sometimes, there are mistakes among government spokespeople, who start to speak of Chávez in the past tense.”

The chávista leadership has targeted attacks against Henrique Capriles Radonski, “the opposition leader who lost to Chávez last October, but who got closer to the Presidency than any other opponent,” Muñoz writes for The New Yorker:

According to a recent poll, most of the population supports the government and would stand behind Maduro if he has to replace Chávez as President. The same polls also show Capriles as the only opposition leader who stands a chance—however small—against Maduro.

The main problem for Capriles is that he’s doesn’t have all the other opposition leaders behind him. The opposition’s dilemma is whether to confront chávismo in the streets, as it has previously, or peel off disappointed chávistas, which is the strategy Capriles prefers. Although Capriles never risks much, he has an excellent sense of political timing and opportunity.

“Venezuela’s security crisis has worsened its economic crisis,” notes Hudson Institute analyst Jaime Daremblum:

Under Chávez-style socialism, the government routinely seizes broadcasting stations, banks, food factories, and other private property. In the Heritage Foundation’s 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, no country scores worse for property rights than Venezuela—even Cuba (!) scores higher in that category. ….Caracas dramatically ramped up money creation and government spending ahead of Venezuela’s October 2012 presidential election, to help guarantee another term for the ailing Chávez.

The numbers really are quite astounding: “In 2012 alone, the money supply expanded 62 percent while public spending grew 52 percent,” notes former Venezuelan trade minister Moisés Naim, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Chávez’s legacy will be decidedly illiberal, says a former admirer.

There were no gulags, no mass arrests, no fear of the midnight knock on the door. Chávez did not rule through terror.

Chávez praised Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe, Vladimir Putin and Muammar Gaddafi as brothers but restrained the bloodshed, settling for selective intimidation and thuggery. Repression was usually a last resort – when oil revenues, charisma and political skill were not enough for him to get his way.

Instead, Chávez’s critics faced a range of less blatant threats, says Carroll, author of the forthcoming book, Comandante: Inside the Revolutionary Court of Hugo Chávez:

The first weapon was humiliation. Intelligence agents passed recordings of intercepted calls to a chávista television show, The Razorblade, which would gleefully spin and broadcast them, to an accompaniment of animal noises.

The second weapon was disqualification from running for office. Leopoldo López, a potential presidential rival descended from Simón Bolívar’s sister, was accused of corruption, tangled in legal knots and sidelined.

The third was emasculation. Antonio Ledezma was elected the metropolitan mayor of Caracas but became irrelevant. A red-shirted mob occupied the city hall, with police complicity, and Chávez transferred the mayor’s powers to a newly created city authority run by an apparatchik….

RTWT

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Call to free jailed journalists as Iran’s “Butcher of the Press” goes on trial

Iran’s “Butcher of the Press“ goes on trial as Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari calls for the release of journalists arrested on charges of ‘conspiring’ with foreign media, RFE/RL’s Journalists in Trouble reports:

According to the video, published by the Committee to Protect Journalists, 16 Iranian journalists were arrested between January 26 – 28.  The media crackdown comes in advance of presidential elections scheduled to take place in Iran in June. Iranian journalists who have taken their work outside of the country have also been labeled as “spies” and subject to threats and on-line harassment. 

Radio Farda journalists, based in Prague, have recorded more than 15 incidents in which they have been the subjects of counterfeit Facebook pages, internet viruses and misleading blog posts, and had their email accounts hacked.

Yesterday’s murder of Malak Mumtaz highlights the dangers of reporting in Pakistan’s tribal region, the JiT webpage adds.

And in the latest Power Vertical podcast, Brian Whitmore and Kirill Kobrin mark the 1st anniversary of Pussy Riot’s punk prayer performance and look at who’s on the political stage now.

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