North Korea struggling to stem connectivity

Is North Korea the latest example of how digital connectivity is enhancing transparency, accountability and democracy?

“The global reach of digital technology has armed the public with tools hard to imagine even a decade ago,” says Empowering Independent Media: U.S. Efforts to Foster a Free Press and an Open Internet Around the World, a report from the Center for International Media Assistance, released this week.

ICT availability is even impacting one of the world’s most repressive and formerly closed regimes, reports suggest.

“When Pyongyang’s latest long-range rocket disintegrated shortly after blast-off in mid-April, North Korea surprised observers with an unusual admission of failure, transmitted across the country on state television. In the past it has simply lied, telling the country that failed launches were successful,” the Financial Times reports:

Brian Myers, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Dongseo university, said Pyongyang had realised it could no longer lie so easily. “The only way to explain the admission is North Koreans’ increased connectedness to outside sources,” he said.

Andrei Lankov, a professor of North Korean studies at Kookmin university in Seoul, said the state had to accept it could no longer monitor everyone, as it could in the days of only a few public phone boxes. “The authorities do their best to eavesdrop but they can hardly digest such a volume of traffic,” he said.Lankov said it would be an exaggeration to say phones were already undermining state security but added that “the potential was there”.

North Korea will forsake “total control” and would shift to a model where “the government makes an example of a select group to try and force the rest of the country to stay in line, like the Chinese do,” says Scott Bruce, a director of the Nautilus Institute, a think-tank that researches the Stalinist state.

Time is not on their side,” said Siegfried Hecker, a US expert on Pyongyang’s nuclear program. “Cell phones are going to get them in the end”.

RTWT

Print Friendly
EmailTwitterFacebookGoogle+LinkedInPinterest

Islamism and the Arab Spring: Getting it Right

Though many of the protest movements associated with the Arab Spring appeared to be largely secular in nature, Islamist parties have been winning elections across the region, causing unease and uncertainty both domestically and abroad.  

U.S. policymakers and analysts have been divided thus far in their responses to this turn of events. How should the U.S. deal with the new regimes that bear a distinctly Islamist character? What will be the state of U.S. alliances in the new Middle East and North Africa and how will they affect our core interests in the region? It is critical for Washington to understand the individual groups that are gaining power in the Middle East and North Africa and to define its interests and goals in dealing with these new power holders.  

These questions will be addressed in a Foreign Policy Research Institute Panel Discussion, which will bring together recognized policy and academic expertise to examine these challenges and their implications for U.S. foreign policy. 

Panelists: Michael Doran, The Brookings Institution; Samuel Helfont, Princeton University; Marina Ottaway, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Eric Trager, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Moderator: Tally Helfont, Foreign Policy Research Institute.

May 7, 2012 Registration 1:45; Program 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Reserve Officers Association, One Constitution Avenue, NE, Washington, D.C. RSVP: events@fpri.org or register for the webcast cast here 

The Arab Spring: Getting It Right is the theme of this year’s annual conference of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy.

Getting It Right I:  Elements of Successful Democratic Transitions

Chair: Daniel Brumberg, Georgetown University

·       Steven Heydemann, U.S. Institute of Peace ·       Jason Gluck, U.S. Institute of Peace ·       Alfred Stepan, Columbia University ·       Laith Kubba, National Endowment for Democracy

The Arab Spring: Regional and Global Impacts

Chair:  Richard Martin, Emory University

·  Religion and the Arab Spring:  Global Context and Implications – Brian Grim, Pew Research Center   ·  Changing Regional Politics – Marc Lynch, George Washington University   ·  A View from Syria – Radwan Ziadeh, Syrian National Council; Carr Center for Human Rights, Harvard University   ·  A View from the Gulf - Caryle Murphy, Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars ·  Arab Spring and Its Effects on Regional Alignments - Aylin Unver Noi, Gedik University, Turkey

12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.         Keynote Luncheon   Future Prospects for Islam & Democracy After The Arab Spring: The Example of Tunisia

Keynote Speakers:  Meherzia Laabidi, Vice-President of the National Constituent Assembly; Zied Daoulatli, Member of the National Constituent Assembly and member of the Executive Committee of al-Nahdha Party; Badreddine Abdelkafi, Member and Deputy President of the National Constituent Assembly, in charge of relations with civil society organizations.

Presentation of the Muslim Democrat of Year Award Rached Ghannouchi  (via video-conference from Tunis)

Getting It Right II:  Islam and Democratic Transitions Chair: Asma Afsaruddin, Indiana University

·   Islam and Democracy in the 21st Century:  Beyond Old Debates – John Voll, Georgetown University   ·   Islam and Democratization in the Context of the Arab Spring  – Jocelyne Cesari, National Defense University ·   Youth Civic Engagement in the Arab Region:  An Analysis of Drivers and Outcomes – Jon Kurtz, Mercy Corps ·   Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Islamic Centrism, and an Emerging Fiqh of Citizenship  – David Warren, University of Manchester .   Ten Promising Trends in the Middle East’s New Human Rights Landscape  – Shadi Mokhtari, American University

Challenges Faced by Specific Countries Chair: Abdulwahab Alkebsi, Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE)

·   Algeria, the Arab Spring, and the Waving of Islamism’s ‘Red Flag’:  Prospects for a Genuine Change in Algeria – Anwar Haddam, Movement for Liberty and Social Justice (Algeria)   ·   Serve or Rule:  Egyptian Security Sector and the Much-Needed Reform  – Marija Marovic, Balkan Center for the Middle East, Serbia   ·   Tunisia’s Economic Challenges – Seth Rau, Tufts University   ·   Post-War Transitions in Syria – Daniel Serwer, Johns Hopkins University 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.         Concluding Keynote

How Can the US and the International Community Support Arab Democracy?

Invited Keynote Speakers: Congressman Keith Ellison First Muslim Representative in Congress; Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy; Senator John Kerry, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Senate; Mohamed Salah Tekaya, Ambassador of Tunisia to the United States.

Thursday, May 3, 2012 Marriott Gateway Crystal City 1700 Jefferson Davis Highway Arlington, Virginia 22202 USA

FURTHER DETAILS HERE.

Print Friendly
EmailTwitterFacebookGoogle+LinkedInPinterest

Islamists have arrived, but must deliver

Hamas has held secret political talks with five European Union member states, a senior official with the militant Islamist group told The Associated Press today:

If confirmed, such talks would be a sign that the isolation of the Gaza-based Palestinian movement is easing in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings that have brought Islamists to power in parts of the Middle East.

It would also be the latest confirmation that Islamist parties are emerging as a dominant political force, poised to take power as Arab states transition from secular authoritarian rule. But their dominance may be short-lived, analysts suggest, if they are unable to move beyond the banal sloganeering that “Islam is the Solution” to deliver jobs and services to a demanding electorate.

“Islamists were in a way lucky for a while. Excluded from the system, they could only deliver Islamist critiques but never had to shoulder the burden of office, the responsibility to make things work,” says Graham E. Fuller, former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council:

That has all changed. Islamists are being elected into office and will be assuming the daunting policy problems of their neglected societies. The voting public is excited at the change and will give them a grace period to start improving things. But that period will be limited. Islamists can’t go on winning elections on the basis of pious religious slogans or even anti-Westernism.

“Islamists, too, will eventually be chucked out of office if they can’t deliver the goods,” says Fuller, author of The Future of Political Islam:

“As the spectrum of Islamist politics widens, there will be periods of chaos, learning, and uncertainty,” he contends:

Muslim political behavior in the end is just like that of other groups of people: similar hopes and aspirations, similar angers against oppression, similar hatred of invaders, similar resistance to hegemonic powers. There are no mysteries here. The daily tumultuous unfolding of events shows that Muslim politics are slowly crawling back on the road from the frozen tundra of the autocrats.

“We can easily find truly disturbing commentary and actions by members of the Egyptian Brotherhood, or by the Tunisian Rachid Ghannouchi, the intellectual guru behind the ruling Nahda Party,” writes Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“But we can just as easily find words and deeds that ought to make us consider the possibility that these men are neither Ernest Röhm and his fascist Brownshirts nor even religious versions of secular autocrats,” he argues. “Rather, they are cultural hybrids trying to figure out how to combine the best of the West (material progress and the absence of brutality in daily life) without betraying their faith and pride.”

“What is poorly understood in the West is how critical fundamentalists are to the moral and political rejuvenation of their countries,” says Gerecht, author of The Wave: Man, God, and the Ballot Box in the Middle East. “As counterintuitive as it seems, they are the key to more democratic, liberal politics in the region.”

In short, Islamist groups will be critical actors in determining the success or failure of the region’s political transitions.

Print Friendly
EmailTwitterFacebookGoogle+LinkedInPinterest

Needs before rights for Arab youth, but transitional states ‘out of cash’

A year on from the outbreak of the Arab Spring, the youths that led the region’s revolts are placing material needs ahead of political rights, a new survey suggests.

But transitional states are stuck in a “slow and drawn-out economic recovery” that will impede governments’ ability to deliver on those demands, says the International Monetary Fund, and the region’s oil-importing countries will struggle to maintain macroeconomic stability during pronounced political turbulence.

Decent wages and home ownership have displaced “living in a democracy” as the highest priorities for Arab youth, according to the latest Asda’a Burson-Marsteller Survey published today. The popularity of the United States has declined, while China’s appeal as a model of growth and development has risen, the poll suggests.

Receiving a “fair wage” is both the highest collective priority of the 2,500 young people polled – with 82 per cent deeming it “very important” – and the highest individual priority in each of the 12 countries covered in the study, the “most representative and authoritative” survey of the Middle East’s largest demographic. Some two-thirds of the region’s population is under 30.

The percentage of respondents who consider living in a democracy as “very important” declined by 10 percentage points, from 68 per cent in 2011 to 58 per cent today.

While 41% of Arab youth believe the lack of democracy is the biggest obstacle facing the region, the same percentage identifies civil unrest as the main threat. Sixty-three per cent are very concerned about living costs, compared to 41 per cent who are anxious about human rights.

Young Arabs are more politically literate, engaged with digital media and more optimistic about the region’s prospects, despite a widespread conviction that corruption remains rampant.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents believe government is more trustworthy and transparent since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, while 72% say the region is better off today and 68% say they are also personally better off than a year ago.

“You can see the great promise of Arab youth throughout this survey: in the level of engagement in current affairs, in the sophisticated use of technology, and in the tempered expectations for the post-Arab Spring era,” said Jeremy Galbraith, CEO, Burson-Marsteller, Europe, Middle East and Africa.

But political corruption is a growing concern, with 42 per cent – a threefold increase on 2011 – identifying official graft as the region’s biggest challenge.

Youth are more engaged with current affairs, with 52% saying they update themselves on news and political events every day, up from only 18% in 2011.

Use of digital media is increasing, with 61% saying they read or write blogs – the most popular online activity for youth – up from only 29% in 2011. While television remains the primary source of news, with 62% of respondents relying on that source, the percentage has declined from 79% in 2011.

A majority of young people in every country surveyed agreed that traditional values are paramount, but the percentage viewing such values as out of date continues to rise.

The United Arab Emirates is the country where most would like to live and like their own nation to emulate. Some 27% of respondents see the UAE as a model of growth and development, followed by the US and China – each on 19 per cent.

“Lots of governments in the region are implementing reforms and taking steps to be more inclusive, but as social and political inclusion improve, the youth voice is being heard on economic issues like jobs, wages, housing and the cost of living,” said Nader Kabbani, research and policy director at Silatech, a Qatari-funded youth employment project.

“But don’t think that Arab governments can rest on their laurels; the bottom line is the youth still expect political reforms to happen – if governments go back to business as usual, you would see a re-emergence of the Arab spring.”

France is the most popular nation outside the region – 46 per cent of respondents are “very favorable” – followed by Germany (44 per cent), China (41 per cent), UK (34 per cent) and the US (31 per cent). But while China’s favorability rating increased by 14 percentage points, positive views of the US fell by 10 per cent.

“Since 2008, we have been conducting the most representative and authoritative study of the attitudes of young Arabs – polling opinion, analyzing this data and then sharing these important findings with the public, including governments, private-sector firms and civil society groups,” said Sunil John, CEO of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller.

The opinion poll findings are consistent with earlier survey evidence that socio-economic grievances were the primary catalyst for the Arab Spring uprisings.  

“When asked what influenced them to take part in the January 25 protests, 64 percent of Egyptians cited low living standards and unemployment,” whereas only 19 percent specified the lack of democracy and political reform, according to a survey by the International Republican Institute, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

The poll showed “some very practical real-world issues, like the economic situation,” at the top of citizens’ list of concerns, said Scott Mastic, IRI’s Middle East director.

The region’s impatient youth are due to face further frustration as the experience of prior transitions suggests that economic recovery takes two to three years following political volatility, the IMF’s regional director Masood Ahmed said today, while governments will have “less space to be able to offset the impact” of continuing economic stagnation.

“The reason people came out on to the streets is that they felt the economy was not providing enough jobs and opportunities to benefit from growth,” he said, at the launch of its twice yearly regional economic review.

“The modernization of the economy is the real agenda, and is still largely ahead of us, such as raising productivity and creating modern safety nets, rather than un-targeted subsidies, and improving the business environment and providing infrastructure,” he said:

Countries such as Egypt and Tunisia were running out of policy options to battle a “slow and drawn-out economic recovery” as the move from dictatorship to democracy takes longer than expected.

Political transitions weighed on economies in 2011, as gross domestic product growth halved to 2.2 per cent, well below the levels needed to tackle unemployment.

Per-capita incomes also stagnated or contracted across all oil-importing countries except for Morocco.

Surging commodities prices prompted governments to increase spending on wages and subsidies.

Instead of spending $200bn on subsidies that disproportionately benefit the top 20 per cent in society, the region’s governments need to introduce targeted social safety nets to help the poorest.

“Last year was generally a difficult year across the region for the oil-importing countries and at the end of it they face an equally challenging year but less space to be able to offset the impact,” he said.

With 16m unemployed, Arab economies need to create 3-4m jobs a year just to absorb new entrants to the labor market, according to Nasser Saidi, chief economist of the Dubai International Financial Center:

Unemployment remains a key issue for the region, most pressingly for the oil-importers. Tunisia, for example, saw unemployment soar from about 13 per cent in 2010 to 19 per cent in 2011.

If women were to join the labor market at the same level of other emerging economies, the number of jobs needed would rise to 5-6m a year.

Regional economic growth needs to reach 6-7 per cent just to keep unemployment steady by creating jobs for new entrants to the labor market.

“Over 20 years, we need to create 100m jobs, as many as have been created to date since the 1950s,” Saidi argues. ”We need to change the game into a growth-lifting strategy.”

Print Friendly
EmailTwitterFacebookGoogle+LinkedInPinterest

The Americas: how socially inclusive?

Social inclusion was in the “forefront” of the US agenda for the recent Summit of the Americas, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently, citing issues affecting people of African descent, indigenous peoples, women and youth at the forefront of our preparations.

Some of Latin America’s economic success stories have also witnessed marked improvements in social inclusiveness. In Peru, for instance, where the absolute poverty rate has been cut from 53 percent to 31 percent over the past 10 years, the government of President Ollanta Humala (right) has created a Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion “to supervise, coordinate and maintain the integrity” of anti-poverty measures, writes Enrique Krauze, the author of “Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America.”

From analysts to multilateral banks to Humala, social inclusion “has become the term du jour,” according to a new analysis in Americas Quarterly, which notes that the term “includes elements of political participation, social rights, civil liberties, and equal access—across race, ethnicity and gender—to social services and labor markets.”

Launching a new ‘social inclusion index’ to compare states across the region and monitor their progress over time, using data from 11 countries across 15 variables, this extract indicates how the policy journal aims to assess not only indicators of economic growth but trends in substantive political liberties and popular perceptions of change:

Social inclusion is the concept that a citizen has the ability to participate in the basic political, economic and social functioning of his or her society. It includes not just economic empowerment, but also access to basic social services, access to infrastructure (physical and institutional), access to the formal labor market, civil and political participation and voice, and the absence of legally sanctioned discrimination based on race, ethnicity or gender.

States have the capacity (and responsibility) to directly or indirectly affect these conditions. For this reason we have organized the index into: Inputs to Social Inclusion (the political environment, economic conditions, state policies, and access to services that promote social inclusion) and Outputs of Social Inclusion (the economic, political and policy outcomes that result from policies, rights and economic conditions that lead to social inclusion over the long term).

That Chile and Uruguay rank the highest in social inclusion is no surprise. The ranking, however, obscures the differences among the countries. Despite coming in third, Brazil’s aggregate score of 51.4 is far below Chile’s (71.9) and Uruguay’s (71.2). Ecuador, in fourth place, was boosted by above-average scores in GDP growth and secondary-school enrollment, though, as mentioned earlier, the latter numbers have been questioned. Mexico’s appearance in the middle of the pack is consistent with its performance across the variables, with one important exception— living on more than $4 per day, which is high even taking into account gender and race.

How the Countries Rank

In Bolivia, with a general score of 39.0, generally high levels of secondary school enrollment are undercut by differences by gender and race. Inequality of access for Indigenous and Afro-Bolivians occurs across education, percent earning more than $4 per day, access to adequate housing, and access to a formal job.

Recent years of economic growth have significantly reduced poverty, as the percent living on more than $4 per day and percent with access to formal jobs show. Brazil (51.4) is also a leader in percent GDP spent on social programs— and the results can be seen in access to education and adequate housing, though disparity by race and ethnicity remains.

Consistently high rankings across almost all indicators demonstrate that Chile (71.9) has harnessed its economic strength and democracy to ensure better quality of life for most citizens. While a small minority in Chile, the difference by race in access to adequate housing stands out—as does the low level of civil society participation.

Colombia’s GDP growth since 2000 marks it as one of the strongest performers (41.8). Some, though, have questioned the validity of the WB household data. The low rates of enrollment in secondary school, those living on more than $4 per day and percent with access to a formal job are unexpectedly low.

Some have also questioned the validity of the household data for Ecuador (43.8).

What’s striking is that despite the country’s level of polarization, the country’s rate of economic growth remains high, as does the sense of personal empowerment.

In Guatemala (7.5) evere inequalities by race and ethnicity remain stark in the outputs and the inputs. Percent of GDP spent on social programs remains among the region’s lowest. Indigenous and Afro-Guatemalans lag far behind in enrollment in secondary school, income per capita, access to housing and to formal jobs.

The recession in the U.S. has contributed to a low rate of GDP growth in Mexico (39). Still, poverty levels remain relatively low—though ethnic/race-based differences remain. Greatest challenge: moving more people to formal employment. Good news: high levels of GDP spent on social programs and access to education.

In Nicaragua (10.3), levels of poverty remain some of the highest in the region, and the country’s input scores indicate why. GDP growth remains low, as do the country’s levels of school enrollment and political and civil rights.

High general rates of enrollment in secondary school are undermined by the disparity by ethnicity. This disparity holds across poverty levels, access to adequate housing and access to a formal job. Can Paraguay (21.2) convert its level of economic growth, civil society participation and sense of empowerment into more expansive, effective social programs?

The contrast between the country’s rate of economic growth and investment in social programs could not be starker. Despite this, Peru (43.8) remains strong in all the inputs—educational access, political and civil rights and civil society participation, as well as in income per capita—increasing the chance that the other indicators will improve over time.

GDP growth in a developed economy such as the United States (43.3) will not reach the rates of its developing neighbors, though the economic recession certainly hurt levels of social inclusion overall. And while political and civil rights remain high, the extremely low popular sense of government responsiveness is noteworthy.

In Uruguay (71.2), a deep commitment to social justice is reflected in its social spending, but the sustainability of its efforts lies in its rates of economic growth, poverty levels and high levels of political and civil rights. The one outlier? As in Chile, civil society participation—a sign of contentment or disengagement?

We scored each of the 11 countries relatively for all 15 indicators (Inputs and Outputs), giving each country a score of 1.11 and then converting the totals into a 0.100 scale. All variables were weighted equally. Below is how each country ranks relative to the others in those totals. To the right below we show how the countries ranked in each of the 15 variables (or, in the case of the U.S., in the 7 variables for which we had data). It is within the individual variables that some real surprises occur: Chile lands at 10 in civil society participation, and Bolivia scores well in the areas in which Chile scored poorly – civil society participation and government responsiveness. The latter should give hope for the future, the former perhaps some concern about the need for political renovation in Chile. (For how we calculated the variables and the rankings visit www.americasquarterly.org/social-inclusion-index.)

If we can define social inclusion, presumably we can also measure it, or at least some components of it. There are a number of evolving and sophisticated efforts currently under way to measure elements of social inclusion. One of these is the World Bank’s excellent Human Opportunity Index that measures circumstances affecting access to goods and services (education and housing). Yet social inclusion also contains an element of political voice and freedom that is often lacking in more economic measures.

Here we present the results of measuring multiple dimensions of social inclusion from a series of private and public meetings held with economists, sociologists, representatives of multilateral banks, and political scientists.

Does it include everything? Does it strive for consensus?

No and no. For this, the first cut, the point is to begin a debate on the concrete dimensions of social inclusion, how to measure it and where countries rank. Every two years, we will revisit this index to track changes in social inclusion. We will also refine it over time, adjusting, combining and perhaps adding new variables and countries as relevant data become available.

For each of the 15 variables below, we scored all 11 countries on a relative scale that we then combined and converted to 0–100 (with 100 representing the highest a country could score if it were to outperform its hemispheric neighbors in all 15 variables). We also developed a scale that included the U.S., based on 7 of the variables for which we have data. With the exception of the U.S., the 15-variable relative score is noted for each country card in the lower right corner.

(The U.S. score is based only on its performance regionally in the 7 indicators.) The lower a country’s overall score, the lower its ranking. On page 122 we rank the 11 countries for which we have data in our Social Inclusion Index, overall and by variable. For more on the methodology we used to calculate the scores and rank the countries, and the data sources we consulted, please visit www.americasquarterly.org/social-inclusion-index

Print Friendly
EmailTwitterFacebookGoogle+LinkedInPinterest