Kremlin sees Internet as ‘main threat’ as Alekseyeva gets Nobel nomination

The Kremlin views considers the Internet as the main “threat to its well-being and stability,” a leading Russian NGO reports, and Lyudmila Alekseyeva (left), the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, notes Paul Goble’s Window on Eurasia: 


Alekseyeva, 85, said she was “grateful” for this nomination but said she did not “particularly believe” that she would win the prize “because there are many candidates. Among them are many worthy people, and [she said she was] not sure that [she has] a serious chance.”  

Instead, she talked about the difficulties she and other human rights organizations face in the Russian Federation as a result of the 2012 law requiring that they declare themselves to be foreign “agents,” a word she pointed out that in Russia is equivalent to “spies,” if they accept assistance from abroad.

“Alekseyeva’s effort remain contemporary and needed in a Russia where some in positions of power seek to circumscribe the universality of human rights even as they work to undo the gains made since the collapse of communism,” said US Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, who heads the Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, in nominating the veteran dissident.


She “continues her life’s vocation of holding a candle to the darkness and inspiring a new generation of activists to defend the freedom and democracy that is their birthright,” he added.


Russia’s government considers the Internet to be the main “threat to its well-being and stability,” a leading Russian NGO reports.


The past year saw “an increasing number of cases” of state-imposed restrictions on Internet usage, according to the annual report of the Agora Inter-Regional Human Rights Organization.


Damir Gaynutdinov and Pavel Chikov, the report’s authors refer to “the growth by an order of magnitude of the number of proposals for regulating the Internet, not one of which contained a guarantee of freedom but rather were directed exclusively at increasing control … and new forms of censorship.”


The report notes with regret that “not a single organization represented in the Internet community in Russia is speaking out clearly and in a principled fashion in defense of the freedom of use and dissemination of information on the Net.”


“The ‘ostrich-like’ strategy of Internet business and Internet community,” Agora suggests, “is explained by their direct … or indirect … dependency on the Russian authorities.”


Hat tip: Paul Goble’s Window on Eurasia.


Agora and the Moscow Helsinki Group are grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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Yemen transition ‘on brink of collapse,’ says Nobel laureate Karman

Yemen’s transition process is on the brink of collapse due to the failure to reform security institutions and disempower former regime elements, a leading activist warned today.

Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh should be excluded from politics, and youth, women and civil society given a proper say in the dialogue to advance the transition, said Nobel peace laureate Tawakkul Karman (left).

“The main obstacle facing the political transition and threatening its viability is the fact that Ali Abdullah Saleh remains a president of the General People’s Congress,” the former ruling party, she warned in an interview with AFP:

Saleh was eased out of office after 33 years in powers thanks to a UN-backed and Gulf-brokered deal that ended a year of protests that rocked the impoverished southern Arabian Peninsula nation. The agreement reached in November 2011 with the opposition gave Saleh and his aides immunity from prosecution, but it did not stipulate a political ban on him.

The deal, signed in Riyadh after months of anti-government protests and deadly clashes between pro- and anti-Saleh troops, brought Hadi to power for an interim two-year period in a single-candidate vote. It also called for a national dialogue where all parties, including the opposition, youth and northern rebels are expected to come together and agree on a new constitution and on the next presidential and parliamentary elections.

“The ousted president is the one to choose the GPC’s representatives,” she said, adding that Saleh’s party “rejects the dialogue” and insisting that the former head of state “should exit politics completely”.

“The political transition process is not going according to the mechanism set in the Gulf initiative, which was imposed on us and we accepted it only on the condition that it will be fully implemented,” said Karman.

“The world should listen to us and assume responsibilities now that we say that the country is on the brink of collapse.”

Karman suggested that the interim President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi is unable to restructure the military, dismantle the elite Republican Guard or remove Saleh’s relatives from key positions of power.

“This dialogue will fail if this matter is not sorted out; restructuring the military and security forces comes first, then comes the national dialogue,” she said, warning of a possible return to street protests.

“If we find that the country will be heading to collapse, we might find that the solution would be in returning to our base in the street, and demonstrations.”

Karman founded Women Journalists Without Chains, a Sana’a-based NGO, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

Further updates on Yemeni affairs are available through the Center for International Private Enterprise’s invaluable Yemen Digest. CIPE is one of the NED’s core institutes.

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As Bahrain offers reconciliation talks, any ‘prospects for democracy in Gulf States’?

Bahrain will begin reconciliation talks this weekend with opposition groups, Reuters reports, in an attempt to end two years of conflict over demands for democratic reform.

Opposition groups contacted by Reuters suggested they would attend the talks but cited differences with the government over the goal of the dialogue that could undermine its effectiveness.

The news highlights the continuing pressure for reform on the conservative Gulf monarchies, which – Bahrain aside – have largely escaped the political turmoil of the Arab Awakening. But that evasion may be short-lived, analysts suggest.

Apart from their geography and shared culture, what these countries have in common is aging authoritarian leadership coupled with a young, Internet-savvy populace: an obvious recipe for tension,” notes Jillian C. York, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Director for International Freedom of Expression, who specializes in free speech issues in the Arab world.

She cites a recent article in The Economist which…..

…..describes a scenario in which—following the destruction of a mall’s kiddie dinosaur display by the country’s morality police—Saudi Arabia’s Twitter users quick make a hashtag go viral, building off one another’s jokes and mocking some of the country’s most archaic laws.  As the article notes, many of the jokes mocked the morality police themselves, such as one in which a Twitter user quipped: “They worried that people would find the dinosaurs more highly evolved than themselves.”

In Oman, eight individuals were sentenced for lèse majesté and “cybercrimes,” with sentences up to one and a half years in prison.  

Gulf activists have grown more vocal and are stepping up campaigns for reform, despite regime crackdowns:

Qatar, which supported Arab Spring revolts, drew calls of hypocrisy in November when it jailed a poet who had praised the revolt against overthrown Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

The poet, Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, was imprisoned for life on charges of inciting the overthrow of the Qatari government by writing, “We are all Tunisia, in the face of the repressive elite”, and insulting the country’s absolute monarch by referring to “sheikhs playing on their Playstations”.

“There have been indications of greater solidarity work by activists on cases in Gulf countries other than their own,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and Africa. “The repression against activists has largely not silenced them.”


The National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies and the Project on Middle East Democracy

cordially invite you to a half-day conference entitled

The Arab Spring after Two Years: Prospects for Democracy in the Gulf States 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

1025 F. Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004
Telephone: 202-378-9675

RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Monday, February 11.

Conference Agenda:

8:30 a.m.–9:00 a.m.  Introductory Remarks

Chair:          Carl Gershman, National Endowment for Democracy

Speakers:              Congressman James McGovern, U.S. House of Representatives

9:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m. The Future of Reform in the Gulf

Chair:          Tamara Cofman Wittes, Brookings Institution

Speakers:    Jean-Francois Seznec, Georgetown University

                   Jafar Alshayeb, Qatif Municipal Council, Saudi Arabia

                   Gulf Civil Society Association Forum-Kuwait (TBD)

10:30 a.m.–10:45 a.m. Coffee Break

10:45 a.m.–12:15 p.m.   Crisis in Bahrain: Is a Negotiated Solution Possible?

Chair:          Stephen McInerney, Project on Middle East Democracy

Speakers:    Tom Malinowski, Human Rights Watch

                   Khalil Al-Marzooq, Alwifaq Party (Bahrain)

Jalila Al-Salman, Teachers’ Union in Bahrain


Khalil Al-Marzooq is the assistant secretary general assistant for international and political affairs of the Al-Wefaq Political Society in Bahrain. He served as the first deputy speaker of the Bahraini parliament before he resigned with his colleagues in February 2011 to protest the government’s actions against peaceful protests. Mr. Al-Marzooq has spent his career defending human rights and promoting the rule of law.

Jalila Al-Salman is a Bahraini teacher and the vice president of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA). She was arrested in March and April 2011 in connection with the BTA’s calls for strikes amid the protests at that time demanding reforms in Bahrain’s educational system and protesting the killing and suppression of protesters, of which students made a high percentage. She was imprisoned for 149 days, allegedly tortured, and sentenced to 3 years in prison by a military court. She was released 5 months later after she was forced to sign false confessions.

Jafar Alshayeb is a writer, human rights advocate, and member of the Qatif Municipal Council in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. He is a regular commentator and analyst of local politics and reform issues in many press and media channels and is a columnist for Alsharq newspaper.

Carl Gershman is the president of the National Endowment for Democracy. In addition to presiding over the NED’s grants program in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Latin America, he has overseen the creation of the quarterly Journal of Democracy, International Forum for Democratic Studies, and the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program. He also took the lead in launching in New Delhi in 1999 the World Movement for Democracy, which is a global network of democracy practitioners and scholars.

Tom Malinowski is the Washington director for Human Rights Watch, where he is responsible for the organization’s overall advocacy efforts with the U.S. government. Before joining Human Rights Watch, Mr. Malinowski was special assistant to President Bill Clinton and senior director for foreign policy speechwriting at the National Security Council.

Congressman James McGovern is a Democrat who has represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1996. Congressman McGovern has been widely recognized as a tenacious advocate for his district, a tireless crusader for change, and an unrivaled supporter for social justice and fundamental human rights. Mr. McGovern serves as the second ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee and is co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

Stephen McInerney is the executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), where he previously served as its director of advocacy. His writing on Middle Eastern politics and U.S. foreign policy has been published by the Arab Reform Bulletin, The Daily Star, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, andThe Washington Post.  He has spoken on Middle East affairs with numerous media outlets including BBC, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, and CBS News.

Jean-Francois Seznec is visiting associate professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is also a scholar at the Middle East Institute. His academic focus is on the growth of the energy-based industries in the Gulf.

Tamara Cofman Wittes is a senior fellow and the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Ms. Wittes served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from November of 2009 to January 2012, coordinating U.S. policy on democracy and human rights in the Middle East for the State Department. She also oversaw the Middle East Partnership Initiative and served as deputy special coordinator for Middle East transitions. She was central to organizing the U.S. government’s response to the Arab awakening.

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As Ahmadinejad visits Cairo, Egypt’s Coptic pope criticizes ‘divisive’ constitution

As Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Egypt for the first visit by an Iranian leader in more than thirty years, the Coptic Christian pope “sharply criticized” the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in an interview with The Associated Press, saying the new constitution discriminates against minorities:

The comments by Pope Tawadros II reflected the unusually vocal political activist stance he has taken since being enthroned in November as the spiritual leader of the Copts, the main community of Egypt’s Christians. His papacy comes as Christians are increasingly worried over the power of Islamists in the country and the rule of President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Some clauses bore a religious slant, and that in itself is discrimination because constitutions are supposed to unite people not divide them,” Tawadros said.

His comments echoed the concerns of liberal, secular and ultra-conservative Salafist groups that Morsi and the Brotherhood have adopted an increasingly sectarian and divisive approach to governance.

The al-Nour Party leader Younis Makhyoun told reporters that Egypt should not be left in the hands of “a single faction.” “There must be a real partnership,” he added.

Ahmadinejad’s visit is also giving Salafists cause for concern, observers suggest.

“Morsi has to heed the reaction of the Salafists to any step on his part to expand cooperation with Iran or upgrade ties with it,” said Wahid Abdul Majuid, an Egyptian political analyst.

Egypt’s hardline Daawa Salafiya, the base of the al-Nour Party, called on Morsi to confront Ahmadinejad on Iran’s support for the Syrian regime and make clear that “Egypt is committed to the protection of all Sunni nations.”

On the other end of the political spectrum, liberal Egyptian politician Mohamed Anwar Esmat Sadat, nephew of the late President Anwar Sadat, said in a statement Tuesday that he is concerned about the Brotherhood’s ties with Iran. Sadat was assassinated after signing Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Iran then outraged Egyptian officials when it named a street in honor of his assassin, Khaled al-Islambouli.

“Resumption of full diplomatic ties between the two countries is unlikely, given the delicate balance Morsi has to maintain at home, the region and with the West,” said Majuid. “Any decision by Morsi to improve relations with Iran will send a wrong message to the US and Israel.”

“There is also strong opposition inside the Brotherhood to the idea of re-establishing full relations with Iran,” he told Gulf News. “Those opponents have their own ideological and political reasons for keeping Iran at bay.”

Syria poses a key obstacle to normalizing Cairo’s ties with Tehran. Iran, a major ally of Damascus, has advocated Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s clampdown on the opposition. Morsi has on several occasions lashed out at Al Assad and demanded that he step down. In his address to the NAM summit in Tehran, Morsi said supporting the Syrians against the “oppressive regime is a moral obligation”. Even if Iran abandoned Al Assad, Egypt is unlikely to rush into an alliance with Tehran in view of the domestic and international complexities facing Morsi.

“Muslims are one nation. This is a principle we should uphold,” said Mahdi Akef (above), the former supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. “However, it is impermissible to deal with Iran unless it stops its support for the mass murderer Bashar [Al Assad] who continues to kill his people,” he told Gulf News.

Akef rejected Iran’s claims that the anti-Mubarak revolt and broader Arab Awakening are an extension of its Islamist revolution.

“Egypt’s revolution is a purely Egyptian revolution, which had no link to any foreign country including Iran.”

But one leading member of the Brotherhood has called for Egypt to become “a true Islamic state” – like Iran.

“Egypt and the world of Islam as a whole needs leaders like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” said Kamal El Helbawy (below), who was attending the 24th International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran.

He described the Islamic Republic as “as a model of resistance against the West’s domination and… a model for the Muslim world and Ummah.” He congratulated the regime for its work in promoting “unity among Shia and Sunni, human rights and respect for humanity” and praised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for “speaking bravely against the corrupt regimes.”

The roots of Iranian-Egyptian tensions are evident in a historic video from 1979, of CBS News’ Mike Wallace interviewing Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, notes The Washington Post’s Max Fisher:

Wallace asked him about Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who had called Khomeini a “lunatic” and “a disgrace to Islam.” Khomeini countered that Sadat “compromises with the enemies of Islam,” likely a reference to the 1978, U.S.-brokered Egypt-Israel peace accords. He called on Egyptians to overthrow Sadat in a popular revolution like Iran’s. When Sadat was assassinated in 1981, Iran named a street after his killer.

Iran’s efforts to claim political ownership of the Arab Awakening demonstrates that “Tehran’s ayatollahs still nurture hopes of spreading their radical model of Islamic politics,” said Jamsheed K. Choksy, professor of Iranian, Islamic and Central Eurasian studies at Indiana University. “Because the dissatisfaction fueling Arab protest is homebred, they realize that Sunni rulers may not be able to hold the line against fundamentalism.”

As a result of recent elections in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, he notes, “three Arab nations will be governed by Islamists more sympathetic to Tehran’s causes and less to Washington’s – a major foreign policy shift.”

Iran stands to gain from its surreptitious courting and funding of potential Islamist allies, he suggests:

Indeed once Tunisians concluded voting, Iran’s Foreign Ministry revealed Islamic Renaissance Movement leaders were in regular contact with Tehran while planning election strategies. Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi organizers too visited Tehran frequently, since Mubarak’s fall, in preparation for Egypt’s elections and for Pan-Islamic Awakening conferences. 

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Kampelman – a role model for ‘the right and wrong ways to change your politics’

“If you’re not a socialist/liberal/radical at the age of 20, you haven’t got a heart. If you’re still one at 40, you haven’t got a head,” the cliché goes.

But there’s an exception to every rule.

“Evolving from pacifist to hawk is about as big a pendulum swing as can be imagined, but [Max] Kampelman did it in a way that made him beloved,” writes the National Journal’s Matthew Cooper:

Born to Jewish immigrant parents, he was a longtime aide to Hubert Humphrey during the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. An accomplished lawyer whose name was on the smoked glass at the great firm Fried, Frank, he was asked by Jimmy Carter to lead the talks to bring the Soviet Union and some of its satellites into compliance with the Helsinki human-rights accords. This seems almost quaint now, but the talks in Madrid, where he led the American delegation, were an important diplomatic forum for confronting the Soviets, one of the major avenues for cataloguing and confronting their abuse of liberty. Like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Kampelman was an eloquent and fearless voice for human rights.

A leading member of a generation of Cold War liberals, Kampelman was prepared to work on a bipartisan basis on issues of foreign policy and national security.

“President Reagan asked Kampelman to lead arms control talks with the Soviets that led to the START agreements cutting nuclear weapons,” writes Cooper:

He began as a conscientious objector, so much so that he had a deferment not during Vietnam or Korea but during World War II–the Good War, the one that helped save the Jewish people from extermination. As part of his “CO” status, he went to the University of Minnesota where he participated in tests where he was voluntarily subjected to near starvation. And it’s in Minnesota where he found a job with Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey that Kampelman’s pacifism faded and he came to see the merits of a strong defense–a position that echoed that of Humphrey himself and the Democrats of a bygone era like the late Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the senator from Washington and a leading voice for what was called guns and butter.

“For the rest, of us he’s a role model on how to manage our own political evolutions,” writes Cooper, recommending the bipartisan tribute when he was awarded the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2008 Democracy Service Medal.


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