Ukraine’s Orange breakthrough ‘gone bitter’

The mood in Ukraine is “like a volcano ready to explode,” says a local civil society activist. And that’s not due to anticipation of this month’s European football championship.

The optimism fostered by the democratic breakthrough of the Orange Revolution has given way to bitter disillusion, observers suggest.

“It’s been a real disappointment,” said Andrew Wilson, a Ukraine scholar. “There were genuine hopes after the revolution for a political breakthrough. A lot of political capital was squandered.”

Ukraine may not be a “dictatorship,” as German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently suggested, but it has veered away from the European mainstream under President Viktor Yanukovych.

“Two years into his presidency, Yanukovych’s professed foreign policy of balancing Ukraine’s relations with the West and Russia appears to lie in shambles,” writes the Brookings Institution’s Steven Pifer.

“Over the past two years, the president repeatedly stated that his priority foreign policy objective was to bring Ukraine closer to, and eventually into, the European Union. But democratic regression and selective prosecution of opposition leaders, such as Yuliya Tymoshenko, have stymied Kyiv’s efforts to improve its ties with Europe and pose an obstacle to Ukraine’s relations with the United States,” he notes.

“Yanukovych miscalculated. He assumed that he could pursue political repression at home and nonetheless enjoy good relations with the West.”

But the country’s political malaise predates Yanukovych’s rise, says a leading observer.

“Ukraine’s record over the past 20 years demonstrates that it is not enough to abolish socialism,” writes Leszek Balcerowicz, a former deputy prime minister and finance minister of Poland. “The real challenge is to build free-market, rule-based capitalism. And, to do that, an energetic civil society must demand an end to crony capitalism.”

It is the failure to consolidate rule of law and build effective political institutions that have left Ukraine’s economy “lagging far behind those of its neighbours,” the Financial Times reports.

“Its nominal gross domestic product per capita last year, at $3,621, was little over a quarter of EU member Poland’s $13,540, or Russia’s $12,993, according to the International Monetary Fund,” it notes.

Whereas recent research confirms that “inclusive” political institutions generate growth and wealth, “political analysts view Ukraine as a variant on Russia and former Soviet states where a presidential clan uses state power for its own benefit,” the FT reports:

In written responses to questions from the Financial Times, Mr Yanukovich said his family’s property had been publicly declared and all senior appointments were based on merit. “Recent staff rotations were simply intended to accelerate the modernisation of the state,” he said. “For me, for appointments to vacant positions the key requirements are hard work, full dedication and support of my course of modernisation. What people choose to call this management style is beyond me.”

Yanukovych’s political miscalculations may partly result “from an inflated sense of Ukraine’s geopolitical weight,” says Pifer:

Many in the Ukrainian elite appear to hold the view that Ukraine’s geopolitical importance to Europe and the United States is so crucial—that Ukraine matters so much in a geopolitical tug-of-war between the West and Russia—that the West would ignore democracy problems and embrace Ukraine, for fear that Kyiv otherwise would fall into Moscow’s orbit. …

The West bears some blame for fueling this sense of geopolitical importance. Most recently, the NATO summit declaration in Chicago, before criticizing domestic problems within Ukraine, stated that “an independent, sovereign and stable Ukraine, firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law, is key to Euro-Atlantic security.” So one can understand why there is the belief in Kyiv in Ukraine’s central geopolitical importance.

“Ukraine is sliding back in terms of democracy, media freedom, corruption, and rule of law,” said Nadia Diuk, a vice president of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

On the plus side, Ukrainian civil society remains vibrant and politically engaged, she told a recent Brookings seminar, citing activists’ success in securing a new law on non-governmental organizations.

Forthcoming elections “could now be pivotal” to arresting and possibly reversing Ukraine’s democratic regression, say the FT’s Neil Buckley and Roman Olearchyk:

Several of Ukraine’s fractious opposition parties have agreed to field joint candidates to confront Mr Yanukovich’s party. Civil society groups are preparing to combat vote-rigging. While Ukrainians have not poured into the streets to protest over the democratic retreat, opinion polls suggest more people are ready to do so.

Oleh Rybachuk, a civic activist and former chief of staff to Mr Yushchenko, says the mood is “like a volcano ready to explode”. October will show whether his words are prescient or wishful thinking.

In the past twenty years, the countries that used to comprise the former Soviet Union have taken on new political and cultural identities as they consolidated their independence. Apart from the Baltic states, none has yet achieved a stable democratic system despite revolutions, youth-led protest movements, and other forms of political upheaval. Will the “first free generation” of youth be at the forefront of positive political changes and reforms?

In her latest book, Nadia Diuk illustrates how young leaders have risen up to challenge or become coopted by the old guard and assesses youth-led protest movements and their impact on political developments. 

The International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracyinvites you to a panel discussion to celebrate the publication of The Next Generation in Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan: Youth, Politics, Identity, and Culture, published in April 2012 by Rowman & Littlefield, featuring author Nadia Diuk, National Endowment for Democracy, with comments by Sharon Wolchik, George Washington University, and moderated by Marc F. Plattner, International Forum for Democratic Studies.

Monday, June 18, 2012

12:00–2:00 p.m.

(lunch will be served from 12–12:30 p.m.)

National Endowment for Democracy

1025 F Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20004

RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Thursday, June 14. 

Nadia Diuk is vice president for the National Endowment for Democracy’s programs in Europe and Eurasia, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean. For more than twenty years prior to her appointment as vice president, she supervised NED programs in Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet states. Prior to her appointment at NED, she taught Soviet Politics and Russian History at Oxford University; was a research associate at the Society for Central Asian Studies, United Kingdom; and editor-in-chief of the London-based publication Soviet Nationality Survey. Sharon Wolchik is professor of political science and international affairs at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Her most recent book, coauthored with Valerie Bunce, is Defeating Authoritarian Leaders in Postcommunist Countries.

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Managing change in Egypt?

Whether Egypt transitions into a state resembling Turkey or one similar to Pakistan will depend in part on continued support for the country’s civil society through a new U.S.–Egyptian strategic dialogue that balances regional security concerns with support for political and economic reform, according to a new report.  

The days when the United States could prioritize regional security over support for Egypt’s political and economic transitions are over, writes Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former Middle East program officer for the National Democratic Institute. A multilateral trust fund for supporting democratic reform and civil society organizations could help counter efforts to politicize assistance and help manage the sensitivities related to this type of support

Egypt is in the midst of a series of major political, security, and economic transitions that will unfold for years to come. The 2012 presidential elections set to conclude later this month in a final run-off election mark the end of one period in this transition. But Egypt faces a long road ahead, including drafting a new constitution, setting checks and balances in the new political system, and concluding trials for former leaders in previous governments.

The world’s most populous Arab nation could transition into something that resembles Turkey, with a greater voice for Islamist parties and curbs on the previously unchecked power of the security establishment. Or Egypt could transition toward a scenario similar to Pakistan, in which the military and internal security forces continue to hold significant political power and dominate key sectors of the economy. Most likely Egypt will carve out its own path with its transition shaped by multiple centers of power—some that have emerged since the popular uprising in 2011 and others that have existed for decades.

The path Egypt takes will have major implications for the rest of the region. The changes in the formal structures and internal balance of power in Egypt’s government, alongside the social and economic transformations Egyptians continue to experience, will be some of the most important strategic dynamics reshaping the Middle East. What happens in Egypt will be as important as the threats and challenges posed by Iran, the re-emergence of Turkey as a regional power, and the continued problems emanating from the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict.

Engaging with the new Egyptian government in all these arenas will require the United States to balance and integrate efforts to advance two core objectives—maintaining a close partnership with Egypt in advancing regional security and supporting Egypt’s political and economic transitions toward more effective governance and expanded economic opportunities for its citizens.

The days when the United States could prioritize regional security over support for Egypt’s political and economic transitions are over. Egypt’s political transition remains a volatile work in progress after multiple rounds of parliamentary and presidential elections, with the constitutional reform process representing the next key phase. This political uncertainty has weakened Egypt’s economy, leaving endemic problems of high unemployment, growing public debt, corruption, and increasing pressures on Egypt’s foreign cash reserves—without a coherent economic policy response from the interim government. This domestic economic and political instability could lead to more problems in the security realm. Egypt faces increased crime and civil disorder, as well as heightened security threats, particularly in the increasingly lawless Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel.

These overlapping upheavals require a fundamental reassessment of how the United States manages its bilateral ties with Egypt and implements its overall Middle East strategy. For three decades, the central foundation for U.S. policy on Egypt was military cooperation and the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. This now needs to expand.

The United States should propose a strategic and economic dialogue with the new Egyptian government akin to what the United States has done with countries such as India and China. This dialogue should aim to cover all key aspects of the bilateral relationship, including security, diplomatic, and economic cooperation. It should be as broad and inclusive as possible—connecting key agencies of our governments, including the U.S. Congress and new Egyptian parliament—and also have nongovernmental and private-sector tracks.

But even before a U.S. internal policy review on Egypt and a strategic dialogue with the new government in Egypt is conducted, the broad contours of a new U.S. policy on Egypt are already apparent and should be acted upon. Given the substantial economic and political reform challenges Egypt faces, the United States should begin to rebalance its overall approach toward support for economic growth in Egypt. This means gradually shifting the current emphasis on military assistance—now at $1.3 billion a year—toward economic and political assistance— now around $250 million a year.

Egypt needs to make substantially greater investments in its human capital, and it needs to place a high priority on job creation and economic reforms to spark broad-based economic growth. The new Egyptian government needs U.S. support for this effort now.

As it continues to shift its emphasis towards economic growth and job creation, the United States should make democratic governance reform, anticorruption measures, and support to civil society organizations working for political reform a priority. These efforts are even more complicated now with the ongoing trials of both Egyptian and American nongovernmental organizations, but the United States needs to work with other countries to establish innovative multilateral efforts to support civil society and democracy reform. Support for economic growth should not come at the expense of the important yet complicated efforts of support for political reform.

Given the substantial economic and political reform challenges Egypt faces, the United States should begin to rebalance its overall approach toward support for economic growth in Egypt. This means gradually shifting the current emphasis on military assistance—now at $1.3 billion a year—toward economic and political assistance— now around $250 million a year. Egypt needs to make substantially greater investments in its human capital, and it needs to place a high priority on job creation and economic reforms to spark broad-based economic growth.

Over the past three decades, Egypt has become addicted to development assistance, and its previous authoritarian leaders created a system that fostered a cycle of dependency—its government programming and planning became dependent on external sources of economic assistance, and the country’s debt grew.

In the longer term, the United States and Egypt would benefit from Egypt making a transition that integrates its economy more closely with the rest of the region and the world. Private-sector business support is one key tool, and Egyptian Americans working in the private sector can serve as an important link in providing this support. In developing a new bilateral strategic dialogue, Egypt and the United States should seek to coordinate with a track of private sector organizations in both countries to expand the dialogue on economic cooperation.

Some efforts like these are already underway, such as the Partners for a New Beginning, a network of private-sector and civil society leaders aimed at building partnerships between the United States and a number of countries including Egypt in efforts to promote economic opportunity and enhance educational opportunity.

Direct bilateral assistance from the United States to Egyptian civil society organizations has become more complicated by the recent efforts to politicize this assistance inside of Egypt.

The nongovernmental organization crisis has not yet been resolved. Court trials for both U.S. and Egyptian groups continue, with these and other civil society groups facing severe restrictions to operating in Egypt. The United States should lead multilateral efforts to continue to offer support to Egyptian civil society groups.

Working with other partners both within the region and in Europe in efforts to help Egyptian civil society can help manage the sensitivities related to this type of support. One idea under discussion inside a number of policy circles, including the U.S. government, is a multilateral trust fund for supporting democratic reform and civil society organizations in Egypt.

The United States must also take into account the economic and political impact of support to Egypt’s military in a new, comprehensive U.S. approach to Egypt. The strong role that Egypt’s security establishment plays in the economy, including the inefficiencies this has created, makes it a critical area for both economic and political reform in Egypt. The security establishment’s efforts to shield itself from oversight from the civilian government will have a major impact on the trajectory of political reform. 

Throughout this process, the United States needs to maintain realistic expectations. The leverage and influence that the United States has on Egypt will become increasingly more limited by several factors, including more assertive and independent political leaders in Egypt, widespread anti-Americanism, and financial and political constraints inside the United States. It will not be able to dictate outcomes in Egypt, but by working with Egyptian partners and other regional and global powers, the United States can help influence trends. This paper offers an initial roadmap to help policymakers navigate these changes in the months and years ahead.

Brian Katulis is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he focuses on U.S. national security policy in the Middle East and South Asia. From 1995 to 1998, he lived and worked in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Egypt for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.

The above is an extract from Managing Change in Egypt. Read the rest.

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China’s Achilles Heel may prompt ‘new core of authoritarian power’

The architect of China’s authoritarian power structure realized that it had “one glaring weak point” that is now raising fundamental questions about the system’s stability and direction, says a leading analyst.

Deng Xiaoping knew that the problem of how to ‘institutionalize succession” was the Achilles Heel of Communist rule, writes Perry Link – “Who appoints the person at the very top — where by definition there is no superior to do the appointing?”

Now, the current leadership transition is raising “deeper questions about luxian, the ‘general direction’ in which China should be headed,” he argues in Foreign Policy:

The distinguished Chinese novelist and blogger Wang Lixiong, noting that Hu’s apparent successor Xi Jinping is allied with the Jiang camp, has written a shrewd analysis of Deng’s long-term plan: Two elite groups, one originating with Jiang and the other with Hu, will exchange 10-year periods of center stage while the other waits in the wings. Each group — knowing that the other will get a turn later — will have an incentive to be civil. With luck, long-term stability will result. 

The normally smooth succession process has been rocked by the elite’s removal of rising neo-Maoist Bo Xilai, a dispute that brings the ruling party to a fork in the road or at least “two main possibilities” for China’s political trajectory, writes Link, professor emeritus of East Asian studies at Princeton University, who teaches at the University of California, Riverside: 

One is the emergence of a new core of authoritarian power. Many who have this possibility in mind look to China’s military, but the question is deeper than that, and the pattern could emerge from a number of sources. There is a centuries-old tradition in Chinese political culture of the following combination as a formula for gaining and holding political power: a charismatic leader, a millenarian (and often egalitarian) ideology, and an authoritarian bureaucratic hierarchy that guards secrets. …..

The other “general direction” would be a move toward modern democratic rule, including elections of officials, civil rights for citizens, and rule of law. The greatest challenge for China’s democratization is how to bring together two levels: an elite of pro-democracy intellectuals, people like the writers and supporters of Charter 08 (a group that includes imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo), and hundreds of millions of ordinary people who have been angered by corruption, inequality, injustice, and environmental destruction. China’s rulers’ huge expenditure on “stability maintenance,” which includes hired thugs and Internet monitors in addition to conventional police and prisons, have brought them considerable success in keeping these two levels separate.


China Digital Times reports that the Wall Street Journal noted the bizarre coincidence of the Shanghai stock index falling precisely 64.89 points (above) on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre:

The Chinese are trying to transform their economy from one reliant on exports and massive internal investment into one supported by consumer spending. They’re trying to do this amid rampant signs the economy is slowing down, and at the same time as they complete a once-a-decade transfer of leadership within the Communist Party. The last thing they want is focus on something like Tiananmen.

It’s proving impossible. The Chinese are buzzing over todays’ 64.89 point drop in the Shanghai Composite Index. In China, 64 is like 9/11 in the U.S., because June 4, 1989, is the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre. It also happens to be today’s date.

The Chinese responded predictably, banning any online searches or references to the Shanghai, or to Tiananmen or the massacre. No matter. The people found ways around the ban, quoting a 9th Century poet, for example, or arranging candles in a 6 and 4. Or just writing “say nothing,” as one person did. “Everyone understands.”

The issues of human rights, freedom, and crashing economies aren’t new, but they aren’t usually all found within the world’s second-largest economy, and how China deals with them will have quite an effect on the rest of the world.

China Digital Times is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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Former skeptic notes NED’s ‘significant impact’ in 30 years since Reagan’s Westminster speech

Aryeh Neier was typical of many human rights activists in being deeply skeptical of Ronald Reagan’s commitment to promoting democracy and human rights, and critical of a bi-partisan proposal – co-sponsored by Democratic Congressman Dante Fascell – to establish what became the National Endowment for Democracy.

But the initiative has had “a significant impact,” the former executive director of Human Rights Watch  concedes, while the NED’s institutes have “played a significant role in efforts to promote electoral democracy worldwide during the past three decades,” he writes in his new book, The International Human Rights Movement: A History

The new approach to promoting democracy had its “most profound” impact in Reagan’s second term, with breakthroughs in Chile, Haiti and the Philippines, writes Neier (right), who retires this year as president of the Open Society Foundations.

In a marked departure from earlier covert efforts to support U.S. allies, he notes, NED “provides funds openly to organizations” promoting democracy and human rights, including support for efforts that “probably would not have qualified for the kind of aid” given by Cold War-driven covert agencies.

Activists and analysts gather in California tomorrow to mark the 30th anniversary of Reagan’s Westminster Address,* the speech that effectively launched the NED.

But, as Neier observes, efforts to advance democracy today confront a different and arguably more complicated set of challenges and problems than during the Cold War, including a more adaptive and assertive form of developmental authoritarianism.

“China is willing to throw its weight around in ways that do damage to human rights,” he notes.

“China will let a country like Angola or Sudan know that if they sell their oil to China, then China isn’t going to bother them with strictures about human rights or corruption or transparency,” Neier observes.

The Communist regime “makes its silence on those issues a competitive advantage when dealing with those governments.”

Beijing  is not only promoting its own soft power, but actively trying to stifle freedom of expression abroad.

“China is the first country that I am aware of that engages in active campaigns against those who try to promote human rights and tries to suggest that it will penalise governments or others who are critical of its human rights practices,” Neier says.

While Reagan and other subsequent presidents of both parties have actively promoted democracy, the democratic West appears to have lost the confidence, commitment or courage to do so . “One of the most serious problems in the human rights field today is that the cause does not have champions among governments or among intergovernmental bodies,” says Neier. “Europe is focused inwards, the US is not eager to provide leadership internationally on human rights, and intergovernmental bodies like the UN, the EU and the African Union are not willing to provide such leadership.”

While the “non-governmental human rights movement is continuing to grow in size and significance” and the Arab awakening confirms that “there is something contagious about demands for increased political freedom,” the prosecution of pro-democracy NGOs in Egypt demonstrates that “there has been a backlash,” Neier tells the Irish Times.

“[The OSF] has a presence in Egypt and we have had to operate with a great deal of care. We don’t go around claiming that we engineered what took place, because we didn’t,” he says. “We have supported over the years various groups that are concerned with human rights broadly, with women’s rights, legal process and assistance for the poor and so forth.”

“There were some organizations that always made clear to us that they didn’t want to obtain foreign funding because they thought this would undermine their legitimacy. It’s something we encounter in all parts of the world.”

*Democracy in the World After Thirty Years, marking the 30th Anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s Westminster Address, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (watch here).

June 5, 2012 – 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. (PST – 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. EST).



9:15-9:30: Welcome

John Heubusch, Executive Director, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation

Jerrold Green, President and CEO, Pacific Council on International Policy

9:30-10:30: Democracy Assistance since the Westminster Address

Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy, Moderator 

Hon. Madeleine Albright, Chair, National Democratic Institute

Hon. Alejandro Toledo, former President of Peru 

Hon. Audronius Azubalis, Foreign Minister, Republic of Lithuania

10:45-Noon: The Struggle Today: From a Whisper to a Roar
Larry Diamond, Director, Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (Stanford University), Moderator

Excerpt from documentary film, “From a Whisper to a Roar”

Radwan Masmoudi, Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, Tunisia

Birtukan Midekssa, former Federal Judge and Opposition Leader, Ethiopia

Myroslava Gongadze, Voice of America

Xiao Qiang, Editor-in-Chief, China Digital Times

12:15-2:00: Luncheon in the Air Force One Pavilion: Democracy After 30 Years

NED Chairman Hon. Richard Gephardt, Moderator

Introduction: Ambassador Robert H. Tuttle

Address: Hon. George P. Shultz

Concluding Remarks & Tribute to the Hon. Christopher Cox: NED President Carl Gershman

About the Speakers

John Heubusch has served as Executive Director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation since 2009. Prior to that, he held positions at Avalon Capital Group, Inc., Gateway, Inc., the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the American Red Cross. While at Avalon Capital, he also served as President of the Waitt Family Foundation, where he oversaw the organization’s charitable programs. Before entering the private sector, he served in both the Department of Labor and on Capitol Hill.

Jerrold Green is President and CEO of the Pacific Council on International Policy. He also serves as a research professor of communication and business, and clinical management and organization at the University of Southern California at Annenberg. Prior to these positions, he served in various leadership positions at the RAND Corporation. Before joining RAND, Green was director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and professor of political science and sociology at the University of Arizona.

Carl Gershman has served as President of the National Endowment for Democracy since 1984. In addition to presiding over the Endowment’s international grants program, he has overseen the creation of the quarterly Journal of Democracy, the International Forum for Democratic Studies, the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program, the World Movement for Democracy, and the Center for International Media Assistance. Before NED’s founding, he was Senior Counselor to the United States Representative to the United Nations, Resident Scholar at Freedom House, and Executive Director of Social Democrats, USA.

Hon. Madeleine K. Albright was named by President Clinton in 1997 as the 64th U.S. Secretary of State, and the first woman to hold that position, making her, at that time, the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. From 1993 to 1997, Dr. Albright served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and was a member of the President’s Cabinet. She currently is Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm, and Chair of Albright Capital Management LLC, an investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets. She is a Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Dr. Albright chairs both the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the Pew Global Attitudes Project. On May 29, 2012, she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, in recognition of her contributions to international peace and democracy.

Hon. Alejandro Toledo served as President of Peru from 2001-2006. Rising from a childhood of extreme poverty, Toledo earned a PhD from Stanford University and became the first person of indigenous descent to be democratically elected to lead Peru. He first appeared on the international political scene in 1996 when he formed and led a broad democratic coalition in the streets of Peru to bring down the autocratic regime of Alberto Fujimori. Since leaving office, he has held posts at Stanford University, and is currently a non-resident scholar at the Brookings Institution. He is also the Founder and President of the Global Center for Development and Democracy (GCDD), which studies the interrelationship between poverty, inequality, and the future of democratic governance.

Larry Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he directs the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. Diamond also serves as the Peter E. Haas Faculty Co-Director of the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford. He is the founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy and also serves as Senior Consultant at the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy. Prior to joining Stanford University, Diamond served as a senior advisor on governance to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and as a consultant to the U.S. Agency for International development. He has edited or co-edited over 30 books on democracy.

Radwan Masmoudi is the Founder and President of the Center of the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID), a Washington-based nonprofit think tank dedicated to promoting freedom, democracy, and good governance in the Arab and Muslim worlds, as well as improving relations between the United States and the Muslim World. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Center’s quarterly publication, Muslim Democrat, and a member of the board of directors of a number of international groups, including the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy.

Birtukan Midekssa is a former federal judge and leader of the pro-democracy opposition movement in Ethiopia. She was sentenced to life in prison in 2005 after her party won an unprecedented number of seats in parliamentary elections. She was later released in 2007. Before entering politics, she was a defense attorney and federal judge. From October 2011 through May 2012, she was a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Myroslava Gongadze is a human rights activist, journalist and television anchor for the Voice of America’s Ukrainian service. She has won numerous awards for her accomplishments as a journalist, including her reporting on the eve of the 2004 Orange Revolution, and as a champion of democracy and independent media. The widow of slain investigative reporter Georhiy Gongadze, she fled Ukraine in 2001, and has labored tirelessly to bring her husband’s case to justice. She won a landmark negligence ruling against the Ukrainian government from the European Court of Human Rights in November 2005.

Xiao Qiang is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of China Digital Times, an interactive news website in China. Previously, he served as the Executive Director of Human Rights in China from 1991 to 2002. He launched China Digital Times in 2003 to explore ways to apply social media technologies to aggregate, interpret, and contextualize news regarding China. His current research focuses on measuring state censorship and control of the internet and mapping online political discourse.

Hon. Richard Gephardt serves as the President and CEO of Gephardt Government Affairs, a firm he founded after leaving the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004. Gephardt Government Affairs provides strategic advice to clients on issues before the House, Senate, and Executive Branch in the federal government. Congressman Gephardt represented Missouri’s 3rd Congressional District from 1976 to 2004, during which time he held several leadership positions, including House Democratic Leader, House Majority Leader, and Minority Leader. He has served as Chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy since 2009.

Amb. Robert H. Tuttle held the post of United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2005 through 2009. During the Reagan administration, he served as Assistant to the President and the Director of Presidential Personnel. Ambassador Tuttle has served on the boards of such prominent civic organizations as the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation, the USC Annenberg School for Communications, and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, where he was Chairman from 2001 to 2004. He currently serves as Co-Chair of the Pacific Council on International Policy and as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Hon. George P. Shultz is the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He served as the sixtieth U.S. Secretary of State from 1982 until 1989. He also served in government as Secretary of Labor, Secretary of the Treasury, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and as president of Ronald Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board. In the private sector, Shultz was president and director of the Bechtel Group. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1942-1945. The author of over a dozen books on international relations and economic policy, he has held academic posts at both Stanford and MIT. Secretary Shultz received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on January 19, 1989, the last day of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

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US-based democracy activist arrested as Egypt NGO prosecution continues

Egyptian authorities today arrested an Egyptian-American democracy activist upon his arrival at Cairo International Airport.

Credit: ICNL

The detention of Sherif Mansour (left), a former Freedom House program officer for the Middle East and North Africa, comes a day before the renewal of proceedings against 43 pro-democracy activists charged with receiving illegal foreign funding and coincides with a dispute over the politics of democracy assistance.

“Mansour was arrested by the airport authorities in Cairo on Sunday. He was then transferred to the Cairo security directorate. It’s still unknown whether he will attend the trial session on Tuesday,” said Mahmoud Rady, a lawyer defending the non-governmental organizations.?“The judicial authorities have not yet decided if Mansour will be released or kept in detention.”

Freedom House is one of four U.S.-based NGOs and several indigenous Egyptian civil society groups to be prosecuted in what most independent observers consider to be a politically-motivated crackdown on liberal and secular democratic forces by former regime elements. Officials and employees of the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and the International Center for Journalists, were charged in February with illegal foreign funding and operating without a license.

The prosecution is continuing despite an admission by Egypt’s ambassador to Washington that the NGOs have had a “benevolent impact” in aiding civil society during the transition.

Charged in absentia, Mansour returned to face the charges in person and to contest the political rationale for the prosecution.

“I’m not under any illusion that this is going to be an easy ride,” he told The Daily Beast. “People are stuck out there, and no one is really helping them. They were left behind. Many of those people were recruited to and trained to work for us. They were doing legal, legitimate, and needed work, and my conscience cannot allow me to stay away while they are facing this on their own.”

If convicted, Mansour faces up to six years in jail, but he appears to be more concerned about the political ramifications of the case.

“I can say with confidence that this case will set a precedent—for better or worse—about the way the Egyptian government will treat civil society in the future.”

Most of his fellow US-based defendants left Egypt in March after paying approximately$5 million in bail. Their departure and the official media’s xenophobic portrayal of the case prompted many Egyptians to believe the NGO activists were guilty, says Mansour.

“That’s what sticks in people’s minds: That they’ve been doing something wrong, that’s why they escaped, and that’s why they are not challenging [the charges],” he tells the National Journal’s Sara Sorcher. “It makes sense. Why wouldn’t you stand by what you’re doing? We know it’s a fake trial. It’s a political case. But there have been so many political cases in Egypt after the revolution. But people fought it—and they won.”

The NGO trial resumes as former employees of IRI claim that the group was “playing a political agenda” and “taking sides” by refusing to work with the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest and most powerful political group.

IRI was using funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development which has a policy requiring “a good faith effort to assist all democratic parties, with equitable assistance.”

But the group’s officials reject the charges of political partisanship or bias

“The decision was made to focus our efforts on those smaller, weaker parties in the initial phase,” says Scott Mastic, IRI’s Middle East region director. “I guess what I would say is, if we worked with one party, then yes, I guess you could say that. But we didn’t. We worked with lots of parties,” he tells Associated Press:

Mastic supervised the work done by Sam LaHood, IRI’s director in Egypt who was among the group of democracy workers earlier this year accused of illegally operating and receiving foreign aid. The Egyptian government initially prohibited LaHood and other Americans charged from leaving the country, causing an international crisis that led to U.S. threats to withhold $1.5 billion in economic and military aid. But that controversy fizzled after Egypt allowed the Americans to return home and the U.S. handed over some of the aid money.

Mastic disputed claims by [former IRI] workers who resigned that the group practiced partisanship by excluding Brotherhood followers. IRI worked with some Islamist groups, he said.

The complaints against IRI provide further evidence of a widespread campaign to discredit democracy assistance in Egypt, said Mansour, the former Freedom House democracy worker.

“To make that representative for NGOs, or even representative for U.S. foreign policy, I think it’s just part of the smear campaign against civil society,” he said.

Other observers may wonder why democracy support groups are expected to fund the Brotherhood and other illiberal Islamist groups which supported the crackdown on NGOs and publicly condemned democracy assistance, while enjoying generous foreign-funding from Qatar and other Gulf states.

The “politically motivated” NGO prosecution was initiated with “the goal of smearing civil society, especially human rights organizations, and painting them as collaborators with foreign agendas and conspirators against the country’s stability,” according to 29 Egyptian NGOs.

Mansour isn’t the only U.S.-based democracy assistance official to face trial tomorrow. Robert Becker, a former NDI official, elected to stay in Cairo when most other foreign NGO officials left.

“I don’t fault my colleagues who left. There were some who wanted to stay and fight it. It was murky…. The U.S. had to fight for its people,” he tells the Los Angeles Times:

He was in a meeting with four members of Egypt’s new parliament when a Twitter message flashed that he had been charged with two felony counts and accused of fomenting instability….. In early March, Becker and 13 Egyptians stepped into a mesh cage in a courtroom on the outskirts of Cairo. It was dirty, the acoustics were bad. Lawyers hollered amid a crush of journalists and blurred faces. Becker’s Egyptian staff whispered translations of the proceedings. He said he wondered at the time if his presence would help or hurt the cases of the Egyptians; his staff, he said, told him that an American standing with them and facing a similar fate was a potent symbol for human rights.

“It’s almost as if they were testing the U.S.,” Becker says, with all of the “theatrics of an armed raid and a trial.”

Egypt’s parliament is discussing a new NGO law, reportedly based on the relatively liberal provisions of Tunisia’s regulations, but civil society and human rights groups continue to be harassed.

“It’s been a huge setback for democracy and there has been a ripple effect across society,” Becker said. Some 25,000 Egyptians monitored the parliamentary elections fewer than 10,000 observed the recent presidential poll. “That’s fear and lack of funding. Democracy doesn’t survive if citizens are afraid to organize and speak out.”

The latest spat over democracy assistance funding highlights the political sensitivities of direct funding of democracy assistance by government agencies without the filter of genuinely autonomous civil society groups, observers suggest – and some government officials concede.

“The problem was that when the revolution in Egypt took off, all kinds of sensitivities came roaring to the surface,” said Frank Wisner, a former U.S. ambassador to Cairo. “And in the roiled waters, anyone who was around playing in Egyptian politics ran risks. I think our friends and the U.S. government did not appreciate the extent of those risks and weren’t prepared to deal with them.”

The U.S. government ignored clear “warning signs,” AP reports:

Former U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone wrote in a secret State Department memo in March 2008 that Egypt’s minister for international cooperation, Fayza Aboulnaga, continued to complain about U.S. money for unlicensed democracy groups that trained political activists. Ricciardone was worried that the groups, which he called partners, could be targeted by the minister, who opposed the U.S. financing of the groups unless the money went through her office.

“Our partners need to be aware that there may be legal or political consequences of accepting (U.S.) funds. We do not believe that Aboulnaga will escalate by pushing security authorities to arrest our partners or close their organizations without additional warning, but we cannot foreclose that possibility,” Ricciardone wrote in the memo released among a cache of State Department documents obtained by the website Wikileaks.

While democracy assistance groups consistently strive to support the democratic process instead of specific parties, to bolster institutions rather than individuals, government agencies clearly often adopt a less nuanced approach.

“We were picking sides,” said a senior U.S. official.

It is an approach that some analysts may consider appropriate, even necessary to level the playing field, especially when Islamist groups enjoy lavish, largely covert foreign funding from the Gulf, while Egypt’s liberal and secular groups were demonstrably more democratic but lacked resources.

“I think a lot of people thought that this was a community that demonstrated its political commitment to a democratic future that we could support. And we should support them more, yes,” a senior State Department official said.

The official said those in the Obama administration supporting that decision argued it was the right thing to do because groups backed by the military didn’t need U.S. help; the Muslim Brotherhood, already surging in political popularity with a strong national network, didn’t need U.S. support; and the remnants of the Mubarak regime didn’t need training to organize politically or manage a political campaign.

“The liberal groups, the women’s groups, we wanted them to form a coalition government, but that was never going to happen,” said another U.S. official.

“Nobody was anticipating the resurrection of the security state,” the official said. “Nobody was fully debating the tenacity of this ministry, that she would be as effective as she was. It never occurred to anybody that this ministry was going to become the most powerful political agent in Egypt over the subsequent year.”

The U.S. intervention lacked the necessary strategic planning, suggests Wisner, the former ambassador.

“Our intrusions into the political scene were just going to catch hell,” he said. “It was the wrong time to be barging into the kitchen. It was full of Egyptian cooks and they didn’t want anyone from the outside.”

The NGO case raises serious issues for U.S.-Egyptian relations and the trajectory of the Arab Spring, says Tamara Cofman Wittes, who recently left the State Department, where she was responsible for democracy assistance to the Arab world.

“One is whether U.S. assistance to Egypt all has to go through a centralized point in the Egyptian government or whether the U.S. can use its assistance to build independent relationships with others in Egyptian society,” she says.

“The second big issue is about civil society and associational freedom and what approach is post-revolutionary Egypt going to take to its own NGOs,” Wittes says, referring to nongovernmental organizations.

“The idea that community-based grass-roots organizations inside Egypt should be able to reach out to and partner with counterparts in other countries, this should not be controversial. This is a core component of freedom of association, well rooted in international law,” she says.

IRI and NDI are two of the core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy. Freedom House and several of the Egyptian grantees facing trial are NED grantees.

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