Egypt faces ‘stark election choice’ as Islamists lose support

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood organized a 760-km (470-mile)-long human chain from Cairo to Aswan of supporters (left) holding posters and wearing T-shirts bearing the image of Mohamed Mursi, the group’s candidate in next week’s presidential election. The “show of strength” by the Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party ahead of the poll highlights the group’s prodigious organizational capacity.

But a win for Mursi or Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, would increase the risk of violent confrontation, analysts warned today.

The Islamist group’s electoral performance and grass-roots networks provide a stark contrast to the inchoate and disorganized ranks of liberal and secular democrats, demonstrating “the disarray of the protest movement that called for a democratic transformation in the Arab world’s most populous nation.”

A new poll suggests that potential new bases of support may be opening up for democratic forces as Egyptians exhibit growing disillusion with Islamist politics.

Support for the Brotherhood fell from 63% in February to 42% in April, while the group’s FJP also fell from 67% to 43% over the same period, according to a newly-released Gallup poll. The ultraconservative Salafists witnessed a similar – if less dramatic – decline from 37% to 25%, with the Salafist Nour Party falling from 40% to 30%.

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Libya’s transition ‘at a crossroads’

One of Libya’s most powerful militia leaders has registered his newly-founded political party for June’s election for a transitional national assembly. Former jihadist Abdel Hakim Belhadj (right) reportedly enjoys considerable resources and a strong organizational network.

“We have candidates in every Libyan city,” Belhadj said.

“He will announce his political party,” said Anis Al-Sharif, head of Belhadj’s office.

“He also feels that the revolutionaries have done their job to oust the Gaddafi regime and now it’s time to rebuild Libya, to move to a political state,” he said:

His party is unlikely to be able to register in time for Libya’s first ever election on June 19, for a transitional assembly which will draft a constitution. But with Islamists gaining in influence since Gaddafi’s overthrow, Belhadj’s party will be well placed to compete in fresh elections to be scheduled by the new assembly.

If his party, Al Watan (Homeland), is allowed to compete and performs as well as expected in the June 19 poll, it will bring a strong a strong Islamist presence to the 200-seat assembly which will draft the country’s constitution.

Libya is at a crossroads, writes David Tafuri a former State Department Rule of Law Coordinator, and legal counsel to Libya’s new government of Libya.

“The countries that spent billions on the air campaign to destroy Gaddafi’s military from above should do more to support democracy on the ground,” he writes on The Hill blog.

“Little in terms of resources or time is being spent by NATO countries. At a minimum they could send advisors to help create new democratic institutions, implement transparency mechanisms, provide greater support for electoral systems and train and equip security forces.”

Libyans are expressing frustration as democracy has not translated into a better life, says Tafuri, a partner at Patton Boggs:

Libya’s transitional government does not feel empowered to make significant change and is led by people new to governing. Gaddafi’s 42-year iron-fisted rule left behind few institutions democracies need to be successful [as a recent National Endowment for Democracy report observes]. Libya needs an independent judiciary, civil society organizations, anti-corruption watchdogs, a free press, new laws to protect individual rights and a transparent program for infrastructure development. These efforts can be supported by the U.S. and NATO, but mostly funded by the Libyan government, as it has significant revenues.

Libya is facing real issues which countries face during transition. How do you transform government so that it is responsive to the people? How do you use resources more transparently to improve daily life? What is the role of federalism? How do you empower local governments?

The U.S. spent more than $1 Billion on the air campaign to save the Libyan people from massacre by Gaddafi’s forces. Let’s spend a fraction of that to make sure the post-Gaddafi transition is successful. The cost of failing to do so is clear. After we helped the Afghans defeat Soviet rule in the 80′s, we ignored their transition. Look at the result there.


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Challenging Angola’s ‘Dictator’s Charter’

Angola’s authorities are cracking down on rights activists, journalists and transparency advocates in an apparent attempt to halt exposure of rampant corruption within the ruling elite.

“On 1 May 2012, unidentified individuals broke into the home of journalist Coque Mukuta (left)for the third time in recent months,” Front Line Defenders reports, “in the most recent act of harassment against the journalist, who has been the subject of several threats and intimidation.”

The Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy, a global network of democracy activists, practitioners, and scholars, has condemned the Angolan government’s reportedly violent response to a youth-led protest on Saturday, April 28, in Cacuaco, a suburb of the country’s capital, Luanda:

Wearing masks to hide their identities, members of a militia assaulted some 100 protestors with guns and pickaxes.  A video (above) provided by the Association for Justice, Peace, and Democracy (AJPD) shows police officers watching as protestors are attacked by what appear to be civilians in plain clothes. Acting on “orders from above,” hospitals turned away injured protestors, according to Africa Review.

Meanwhile, the trial of journalist Ramiro Aleixo began on 11 May, 2012, at the Luanda Provincial Court, in Angola, campaigning journalist Rafael Marques de Morais* (below, right) reports. Aleixo stands accused of the crimes of defamation, slander and injury against the military justice system, namely its Supreme Court and office of the military attorney.

In September 2007, the defendant wrote two articles in the now defunct weekly newspaper Kesongo, about the trial and conviction of the former director of the Angolan Intelligence Services, general Fernando Garcia Miala, exposing the judicial process as a farce. Initially, it was publicly revealed that there was an investigation of general Miala for an attempted coup.

To the journalist’s surprise, and to the surprise of the Angolan public at large, the general ended up in court accused of insubordination, for refusing to attend a public ceremony in which he was to be demoted from the rank of three-star general to lieutenant-general. He was convicted to four years in jail, while three of his closest aides were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail.

In his editorial ‘The Dangerous Track’, before expressing his opinion of the proceedings that lead to the incarceration of the general and his aides, Mr. Aleixo rejoiced over the role of the privately-owned media’s coverage of the case. According to Mr. Aleixo, the Miala case “showed the country, and the world, the importance of private media in the country’s democratization process.”

The trial of Mr. Aleixo is now an extraordinary opportunity to evaluate the Angolan judicial system. The defendant was notified through an edict published in the state-owned daily newspaper Jornal de Angola, on 11 April, 2012. The presiding municipal judge, Alfredo Lourenço Martins, justified the decision of publishing the edict on the grounds that the court clerks had not been able to locate the defendant over the previous three years. In fact, Mr. Aleixo has maintained the same residential address, in Benguela province, where the newspaper was published, and the same address was included in the edict. …..

It is chilling to note that, with one of the fastest economic growth rates in the world, the Angolan regime has no money to replace the broken lamps in a courtroom where the honor and dignity of its ranking officers are supposed to be upheld. Nor are there the meager resources to fix the air-conditioning and maintain the comfort of the magistrates who, in disregard of the laws, defend the power-holders at all costs.

Recent revelations in the Financial Times have underlined concerns that senior government officials “have attempted to make private profits from the impoverished country’s oil sector via undisclosed interests in front companies,” Global Witness reports:

The newspaper reported that three top officials are hidden owners of Nazaki Oil & Gaz, an obscure private company in partnership with the U.S. oil firm Cobalt International Energy in two oil exploration licences in Angola. Cobalt is being investigated in the United States under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in relation to its dealings with Nazaki, although it denies any allegation of wrong doing. The revelations raise serious concerns about the risk of corruption in the oil industry at a time when industry lobbyists are trying to gut transparency laws in the United States and European Union.

[In January 2012, a complaint was filed with Angola's Attorney General by rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais alleging corruption in the Nazaki case.]

The Financial Times reported that it had received letters from two senior officials confirming that they had held interests in Nazaki via another company. Manuel Vicente, a minister who until the end of last year was the head of the powerful state oil company Sonangol, and as such had a key role to play in the determination of which companies obtained concessions in the Angolan oil sector, and a presidential advisor, Manuel Helder Vieira Dias “Kopelipa”. The two men confirmed that a third senior official, a presidential advisor named Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, had also held an interest in Nazaki. It was not clear whether they still hold these interests….

These revelations demonstrate the urgent need for strong implementation of Provision 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act in the United States, and for the European Union to pass similar laws, together commencing a new global standard for extractive industry transparency and accountability. It is vital that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States and the European Union (the EU Parliament and Council) resist the contemptible efforts of big oil to keep the oil industry in the dark. This must include reporting on a project by project basis[ii] and must not include exemptions for any country, which would in effect amount to a “Dictator’s Charter”.

The recent Cacuaco protest came after more than a year of anti-government demonstrations throughout the country, says the World Movement for Democracy:

On March 7, 2011, a small group of Angolans held a symbolic demonstration in Luanda’s Independence Square.  While all 17 protestors were arrested that day, youth activists have continued to organize protests against widespread unemployment, corruption, and poverty, for which they have suffered assaults, threats, arrests, and criminal convictions.  Although Angola is Africa’s second most oil-rich nation, only a small percentage of the oil revenue reaches the general population.  The Economist has described Angola as a country with one of the world’s highest levels of economic inequality.  

According to Human Rights Watch, Angola’s “2010 constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration, and Angolan laws explicitly allow public demonstrations without government authorization. However, since 2009 the government has banned or obstructed a number of anti-government demonstrations, and the police have prevented the majority of peaceful demonstrations from taking place.”

The members of the Steering Committee, along with thousands of other World Movement participants around the world, are deeply concerned about the Angolan government’s long history of using unnecessary force against peaceful anti-government protestors, and the government’s reported arrangements of counter-demonstrations at state expense to build and maintain support for President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has remained in power since 1979. 

  With this statement, therefore, we express our solidarity with the courageous World Movement participants and others in Angola who have joined together to express their demand for an end to repression of peaceful civil society association and assembly in that country.  We call on the Angolan government to respect the provisions in the country’s own Constitution intended to protect those rights, and to adhere to the principles articulated in the World Movement’s  Defending Civil Society report: The right to freedom of association; the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference; the right to free expression; the right to communication and cooperation; the right to seek and secure resources; and the state’s duty to protect civil society rights. 

*Rafael Marques de Morais is a former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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Civil society defending Iraq’s fragile democracy

Does Nouri al-Maliki’s power grab in Iraq represent “a commendable consolidation of power rather than the alarming signs of incipient authoritarianism”?

Analysts may differ in their assessments, but a new Human Rights Watch report provides cause for alarm over the government’s political direction:

Credit: Human Rights Watch

Iraq’s government has been carrying out mass arrests and unlawfully detaining people in the notorious Camp Honor prison facility in Baghdad’s Green Zone (right), based on numerous interviews with victims, witnesses, family members, and government officials. The government had claimed a year ago that it had closed the prison, where Human Rights Watch had documented rampant torture.

Since October 2011 Iraqi authorities have conducted several waves of detentions, one of which arresting officers and officials termed “precautionary.” Numerous witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces have typically surrounded neighborhoods in Baghdad and other provinces and gone door-to-door with long lists of names of people they wanted to detain. The government has held hundreds of detainees for months, refusing to disclose the number of those detained, their identities, any charges against them, and where they are being held. RTWT

On the frontline of defending political space and often bearing the brunt of regime crackdowns,  Iraq’s embryonic civil society has quickly become a key player in advancing democratization, notes Jamie Biglow of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center:

Human rights organizations have moved from simply educating people about their rights to monitoring rights violations. A few think tanks have emerged. Activists are moving from protesting in the street to advocating policy. Groups are fighting for a legal framework for independent media. They have seen a lot of coordination across the country and across sectarian divides. All these different sectors and institutions have come together with one goal: building a democratic country.

Biglow recently discussed developments in Iraq, the wider region and democracy in general with members of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Middle East and North Africa program team: Rahman Aljebouri, Senior Program Officer; Hanane Zelouani Idrissi, Assistant Program Officer; and Geoffrey King, Assistant Program Officer. The team works on programs supporting civil society organizations working on human rights, accountability, and democratic reform in Iraq, Yemen, and the Gulf. The following is an extract of their discussion:

What do you believe is at the heart of democracy?

A democratic society is a place where your opinions count and institutions of governance work; where there is accountability and clear rules of the game; where people are free to speak their mind, and there is a legal framework that helps them speak their mind. You need a healthy political system, a vibrant civil society, a strong labor movement, and a private sector; the combination of all will produce a place where people are respected, heard, and safe. A place where people can live their everyday lives without fear. -Rahman Aljebouri.

Democracy means that people’s opinions and their aspirations are taken into consideration in a respectful and accountable way. It means governance, rule of law, and having institutions and a political process that assure these are upheld. -Hanane Zelouani Idrissi, Assistant Program Officer: Middle East & North Africa

For me, the core concept of democracy is that a people collectively decide their own political destiny. -Geoffrey King, Assistant Program Officer: Middle East & North Africa

How does this translate into practice in Iraq?

In Iraq, the Endowment focuses its small grants to local, non-governmental institutions working on human rights, government accountability, and legislative advocacy. The Endowment has a truly unique approach: rather than design its own programs, the Endowment responds to the self-declared needs, aspirations, and demands of local organizations. They place emphasis on the institutional development of these local actors to consolidate the long-term sustainability of Iraqi civil society. As a result, the Endowment’s MENA program has room for adaptation and can change its strategies as the issues evolve, while encouraging the democratic process. Their model promotes the ideal of a vibrant, locally driven Iraqi civil society.

In short: the Endowment’s dynamic and flexible character allows it to change its strategies with the changing needs of the Iraqi people.

One of the hallmarks of democracy is that there is room for debate and a range of opinions, and I certainly have mine. But in democracy promotion, impartiality and careful balancing are critical. The Endowment works with organizations from lots of different communities and political tendencies, and always avoids “picking a side” with either funding or advocacy.

As Hanane explained it: “The key to our neutrality is that they are coming to us.” That is to say, the Endowment doesn’t cherry pick their candidates based on a preconceived set of ideals. Applicants approach the Endowment as a source of funding, and the Endowment is able to grant or deny funding based solely on the applicants’ potential to promote democracy.

I look at the work we do as means driven rather than ends driven. We are trying to assist these groups in connecting the dots, to facilitate their work on the democratic process. As long as a strong civil society rooted in international norms can be a watchdog for the democratic process itself, they will be improving their societies to whatever end they see fit. To us, perfecting the means is the end game. To what political end? That’s up to them. -Geoffrey King

Democracy in Iraq is starting to take hold, but Rahman and others at the Endowment still do not consider Iraq a democracy. Iraqis still lack an independent media, security, and a culture of democratic institutions.

Civil society organization themselves are increasingly threatened by a lack of funding and political restrictions, and sometimes struggle to remain mission driven. In certain regions, political leaders distrust civil society. Visa problems and language barriers present significant roadblocks to finding funding from the international community. Furthermore, because there is such a high demand for support from the Endowment (300-400 applications a year!) coming from Iraq, sometimes it can be a challenge to strategically identify where to intervene and what to prioritize.

Despite the challenges, Iraqi civil society has made inspiring strides. In recognition of that progress, the Endowment has changed its tactics. In the immediate post-invasion years, Iraqi civil society focused on civic education and humanitarian assistance. Recently, the vanguard groups have shifted to government accountability and legislative advocacy. Rahman, Hanane, and Geoffrey highlighted examples of the strides made by Iraqi civil society over the past few years.

We have been seeing a lot of sectors working together – this is an important part of democracy… In the last 10 years, they have made 20 years of progress! -Rahman Aljebouri.

With modest funding, NED supports nearly 50 mission-driven local Iraqi organizations working to consolidate democracy. Founded in 1983 under the Reagan administration, the Endowment is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to the strengthening of democratic institutions across the world. The Endowment is steadfastly bipartisan: it was founded with bipartisan support and was closely followed by the creation of the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), all of which were joined by a labor institute already in existence, known as the Solidarity Center, which ensures political balance. The Endowment receives its funding annually through a congressional appropriation.

Behind the founding and the direction of the Endowment is the idea that freedom is an aspiration shared by all, and a democratic government is the best way to ensure that aspiration. As their Statement of Principles and Objectives (1984) states, “Democracy involves the right of the people to freely determine their own destiny.”


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Demography driving Arab Awakening’s democratic prospects?

There’s a compelling reason why Tunisia is the Arab state most likely to become a democracy, why Egypt and Libya have “a fighting chance” of transition, why prospects for Yemen and Syria are far less promising and why “there’s no point in talking about transition” to stable democracy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Drawing on a study of revolutions between 1972 and 1989, demographer Richard Cincotta of the Washington-based Stimson Center found that autocracies with a median population age between 25 and 35 had the best chances of democratizing:

All of the countries that made the transition when their median age was greater than 30 are still democracies today. Nine out of 10 countries with a median age less than 25 slid back into oppressive regimes following revolution. Any older than 35 and revolutions did not occur in the first place. The only other indicator that came close to predicting transition success with the same level of accuracy was wealth per capita.

If the pattern holds, Tunisia – with a median age of 30 – is the Arab Spring country most likely to hold a democracy permanently. Egypt and Libya have median ages of 25 and 26, respectively, giving them a fighting chance of moving to democracy in the next few years, according to Cincotta. But Syria and Yemen – at 21 and 17, respectively – will be lucky to end up with even partial democracies, he says.

Older populations are associated with mature, complex societies, says Yaneer Bar-Yam of the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

As societies mature and acquire the institutions and infrastructures of developed nations – urbanisation, higher income, women’s rights and education to name a few – birth rates tend to drop, and the median age goes up (see diagram). All these factors reinforce each-other, says Bar-Yam. At the same time, a complex societal infrastructure is key for a country to make the transition from revolutionary chaos to a newly organised democracy, he says. Under the right conditions, a new leadership can be slotted in at the top of existing infrastructure without too much disruption.

Trust is another key factor, says Jack Goldstone of George Mason University, as mutual trust is less likely in a young population, which inclines towards suspicion of government:

States across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East that perform poorly in indexes of state fragility also tend to have the youngest populations. “This could be just an unhappy coincidence,” said Goldstone, “but I don’t think that’s what’s going on. I think what we’re seeing is a kind of virtuous and vicious circle.”

“Where government is weak, ineffective, doesn’t provide education, doesn’t provide security, it’s advantageous both for individuals and for groups to have larger families,” he said. “However, as population grows, it’s more difficult for the government to provide adequate education and security for the larger, more youthful population.”

“On the other hand, if you can get on the track for a stronger, more legitimate government – a government that’s able to provide education, provide security of property, [and] encourage investment…fertility tends to drop quickly.” “This in turn re-enforces the ability of governments to direct resources to education and economic growth.”

“Mobilization for political conflict draws heavily on youthful populations,” said Goldstone, citing research by Henrik Urdal demonstrating that a bulge in the youth demographic appears to increase the risk of conflict:

However, this relationship is strongly mediated by regime type. While strong democracies and autocracies are considered relatively stable, there is a “risk zone” in between, where instability is more likely.

“We live in a world where the countries with weak, fragile governments [are] about a third of the global population. But in another 30 years, if things remain as they are in terms of governance, you’re looking at closer to half the world’s population living in those more difficult circumstances,” he said.

“If the democracy is not well established, if rule of law is not well regulated, than people don’t necessary trust the outcome of peaceful electoral competition,” said Goldstone. “If people don’t like the outcome of an election, or they feel they’re being excluded, or things are one sided, they may mobilize.” This lack of political trust can result in instability and violence such as the recent protests by Thailand’s “red shirts.”

“There are two big challenges posed by global demography,” said Goldstone.

First, “given that 90 percent of today’s youth are in developing nations, providing them with opportunities to become productive adults through education, stable environment, [and] socialization is crucial,” he contends.

Second, in order to deliver those services, “strengthening governance in the countries where those youth live, in order for those education, security, and social services to be provided,” is essential for securing economic development and political stability.

Algeria and Morocco will change within the coming years, Cincotta says, followed by Saudi Arabia and Jordan in the 2020s:

Revolutions are likely in sub-Saharan Africa, where most regimes are oppressive and most countries’ median age is younger than 20. “But there’s no point in talking about transition to democracy because fertility there is so high,” says Jennifer Sciubba of Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. Unless birth rates decline, she says, Africa is doomed to continuous revolts for decades to come.


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