Is Chen Guangcheng the next Fang Lizhi?

…….asks China analyst Perry Link who was involved in mediating Fang’s eventual exile.

The US and China may agree that exile for the barefoot lawyer currently taking refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing is “the least awkward solution from their points of view,” he writes in The New York Review of Books, but Chen may not consent. (Above: Activist Hu Ji describes Chen Guangcheng’s escape.)

“Chinese dissidents have learned over the past two decades that exile leads to a sharp decline in a person’s ability to make a difference inside China.”

Imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo “made it clear after his arrest that he would not accept exile as an alternative to prison,” Link writes. “From what friends of Chen in Beijing have been saying in recent days, it seems that Chen is taking a similar position.”

According to Jerome A. Cohen, a Chinese law expert at New York University law school, the question for Chen is: “Is it better to be in China and be stifled, or to come to America and be frustrated because you’re not able to muster much understanding or support?”

Fang Lizhi provides a salutary lesson.

The scientist “made a poorly received, dogma-laden speech in broken English at the Council on Foreign Relations when he was allowed to leave the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for exile,” writes the Washington Post’s Steven Mufson.

Yet on securing refuge in the United States, Fang did articulate the case for Chinese democracy. In words that still resonate as the ruling elite struggles to modernize an over-centralized and inflexible economy, he told a 1991 National Endowment for Democracy conference that China’s efforts at modernization will always “end in failure” because of the constraints of its authoritarian political system.

The key difference between Fang and Chen is that the former was a prominent intellectual, celebrated within the elite but less well-known by the wider population. But if Fang is China’s Andrei Sakharov, Chen’s profile is closer to a Lech Walesa, a vocal and visible campaigner for the rights of ordinary Chinese citizens, including the disabled and women forced to undergo compulsory abortions.

“Chen has a broader following among average Chinese people than Fang had,” Link notes:

Fang was a hero to university students and some intellectuals. But most Chinese did not know him, and what they did hear of him were highly distorted accounts in the government-controlled press. Even before the 1989 crackdown, government television was broadcasting images of government-orchestrated “protests” in which farmers were burning Fang Lizhi in effigy. Many people, having no other sources on Fang, accepted such accounts. Today, though, with the Internet, far greater numbers of Chinese—millions of people including many outside of the big cities—know the true story of Chen than ever knew the story of Fang. And to judge from the many accounts circulating on microblogs and elsewhere, hardly anyone seems to view Chen with anything but sympathy.

By contrast, Link notes, “Chen is seen not as an elite intellectual but as an ‘ordinary person’ who taught himself law to help other ordinary people, and then was imprisoned and persecuted—and is blind to boot. For the Chinese authorities to accuse him of treason or to blame meddling foreigners for helping him will be a hard sell.” RTWT

But exile need not entail political impotence or marginalization, as the Post’s Mufson observes:

One person whose stature has grown in exile is Rebiya Kadeer, a successful businesswoman from the Uighur ethnic group in the western province of Xinjiang. In China, Kadeer was arrested while on her way to meet a U.S. congressional delegation in 1999. She was put in a small cell in Bajahu women’s prison with two women monitoring her. One day in 2005, she said, the guards left and people in dark suits appeared, telling her she was bound for the United States. She didn’t believe it until she was taken to Beijing and met a U.S. Embassy official.

“I couldn’t control myself,” she recalled. “I cried and hugged the embassy official.”

“She became the face of the Uighur struggle when she came to the United States,” according to lawyer Nury Turkel, a former president of the Uighur American Association. “One of the wealthiest people in China before being arrested, she was already high-profile in China. Because of her tireless efforts after her release, she has been able to elevate the status of the Uighur struggle to an international level.”

Not is exile without its costs.

“We cannot be directly involved in what’s happening inside the country,” Kadeer tells the Post. She added, “When we go into exile, our relatives are in absolute danger.” Chinese authorities have arrested two of her sons and put them in a prison next to the one that housed Kadeer.

The Uighur American Association is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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China’s leaders ‘feared Arab Spring’ revolts

“Shortly after a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in 2010, some senior Chinese leaders began asking if the rebellions that followed throughout the Arab world could ignite similar uprisings in China, according to U.S. diplomatic and intelligence reports” seen by Bloomberg’s Indira A.R. Lakshmanan :

Some members of China’s ruling Politburo, the reports reveal, began musing about whether bribery and other abuses of power were undermining the Communist Party’s authority at least 16 months before the corruption scandal surrounding deposed party leader Bo Xilai shined an international spotlight on the issue. The reports were described by five U.S. officials familiar with the contents who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the intelligence is classified.

As the Arab Spring revolts spread from Tunisia to Egypt and Libya after vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation on Dec. 17, 2010, the reports said, some Politburo members questioned whether protests might follow against Chinese provincial politicians demanding bribes; local party officials confiscating land; and products and government services rendered shoddy by influence peddling, the U.S. officials said.

The revelations come at a potentially fraught time in US-China relations, with the audacious escape of human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng (above), presenting a policy dilemma to both Washington and Beijing.

Both countries appear eager to avoid a standoff that threatens to mar relations and, most immediately, to eclipse annual talks scheduled to begin in Beijing on Thursday,” say New York Times analysts Steven Lee Myers and Andrew Jacobs. “But Mr. Chen’s professed desire to remain in China could result in a prolonged stalemate that undercuts cooperation on other global security issues.”

Chen’s case is highlighting the fallacies of rule of law in China and the authorities’ post-Arab Spring nervousness about the prospect of politicized social unrest.

“This puts China in a dilemma, as the government has spent the better part of the last month telling people China is a law-governed society and law-based government,” said Victor Shih, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University. “The Chinese government should then, according to law, protect Chen Guangcheng, who has not broken any laws.”

“The leadership is quite insecure now,” said Michael Green, an associate professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and a former senior director for Asia at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.

The ruling Communist party is especially agitated that the scandal involving ousted neo-Maoist Bo Xilai is exposing the degree of corruption within the ruling elite.

The leadership will curtail the investigation into Bo and his family and present him as an outrider, analysts say.

“They’re going to limit this as much as possible –identify the main tumor, excise it and move on,” said Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. “They’re not going to go into a mass purge if they can avoid it, because everyone at the top leadership has a complex web of connections.”

The Bo controversy has boosted public cynicism but it doesn’t necessarily increase the likelihood of social or political unrest, said Andrew Nathan, a China scholar at New York’s Columbia University.

“That doesn’t mean the public in China is going to rise up in rebellion, but it’s definitely a big hole to climb out of,” said Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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The New African Democracy – connectivity for accountability and transparency

How has information and communications technology advanced democratic participation, government accountability, and state-society relations in Africa?  How can policy better support connectivity and the use of ICT for democratic political participation and government accountability and transparency in the region?

These are just two of the questions being discussed at The New African Democracy: Information Technology and Political Participation, a 2-day conference at SAIS-Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. The webcast is available here. Also folllow on Twitter at #AfricaICT

Conference Overview and Agenda

Dates: May 1st and 2nd, 2012

Location: The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Kenney Auditorium, 1740 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC

Keynote: Ebrahim Rasool, South African Ambassador to United States

Information and communications technologies (ICTs) are helping to advance political participation and social movements in Africa. The use of ICTs for democratic participation and government accountability offer exciting new possibilities that are changing politics and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. The recent North African revolutions have shown that rising ICT connectivity can facilitate political and social movements, placing new pressures and demands on autocracies and democracies alike. A major conference organized by the African Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies will examine these trends and their implications. The meeting will bring together experts and policymakers to discuss challenges and opportunities for African politics in the digital age.

The conference will address two broad questions:

(i) How has ICT advanced democratic participation, government accountability, and state-society relations in Africa?

(ii) How can policy better support connectivity and the use of ICT for democratic political participation and government accountability and transparency in the region?

To understand the drivers of change, we must look at levels of freedom in a society, how active is civil society, and how densely different societies are connected by ICTs. These factors can be measured and traced. The type of regime, ICT penetration, and levels of social mobilization should be mapped and analyzed for a fuller picture of technology and politics. Although the IT boom has had a positive impact in Africa, the effects of technology is uneven. Whether it’s the printing press or the micro-blog, technology has been fundamental to human progress throughout the world. But there are many questions as to how technology will be used, as well as the direction and pace of technologically-driven change. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of fixed internet subscriptions in Tanzania sharply rose from 10,000 to 488,000, while Guinea-Bissau has yet to reach 700 subscriptions. In Kenya, women’s self-reported use of the internet was less than half of men’s internet use, and even low-tech information sources such as newspapers reported a similar gender-gap in usage. A more discerning look at ICTs and politics in Africa can yield important policy implications. Collaboration and support from local donors, international foundations, government agencies, and private investors have accelerated the proliferation of ICT’s across Africa. How can foreign supporters collaborate more effectively with local organizations to promote good governance through ICT?


Day 1 8:45am| Opening remarks

9:00am| Panel 1: Technology and Political inclusion This panel will analyze the different forms of access to information and communication technologies for political and social change in Africa. This focus on political and social inclusion shifts the discussion of the “digital divide” an issue of physical resources to social development challenges to be addressed through the effective integration of technology into communities, institutions, and societies. What helps and hinders people’s ability to make use of those technologies to engage in holding governments’ accountable and supporting transparency and rule of law in autocracies as well as electoral democracies in Africa?

Daudi Were, Ushahidi Tunji Lardner, WANGONet Jared Ford, NDITech

10:30am| coffee break/light breakfast

11:00am| “Little brother is watching you”: Constraints and Successes of Citizen Monitoring and Reporting This panel will address how many new forms of technology are being used by African’s and international allies to solve collective action problems in African politics. How are new technology platforms being used to track government activities and financial flows, provide citizens with the ability to engage on issues they care about, and establish public checks and balances to hold government leaders in Africa more accountable. Matthias Mordi, Accender Africa Mendi Njonjo, African Technology and Transparency Initiative (ATTI) Pascal Kambale, OSF AfriMAP

12:30|Keynote address and refreshments “Harnessing ICT for Democracy, Human Rights and Development in Africa” Ebrahim Rasool, South African Ambassador to United States

Day 2 9:00am | TechChange Simulation Nick Martin, TechChange Christopher Neu, TechChange

10:00 | Coffee/ Light Breakfast

10:30am | Collaboration and Donor Priorities This panel will analyze the success stories and failures of government agencies, private donors, and other collaborators to support the role of civil society and incorporate democracy and governance as a key element in foreign assistance programming in Africa. How can donors and collaborators support the legal and regulatory frameworks that provide an enabling environment for civil society organizations, democratic labor organizations and independent media to engage freely with African governments? Dr. Kole Shettima, MacArthur Foundation Joshua Goldstein, The World Bank

12:00am| Analysis and looking forward This panel will analyze levels of transparency and democratic freedom in correlation with connectivity data across Africa. Which countries are engaging rural constituencies with ICTs and how has it affected the democratic process? Looking back to panel 1, what are the barriers to inclusion in high connectivity countries? Why are some countries with relatively low connectivity reported as being highly democratic? What are the political implications of new technologies? Folu Ogundimu, Michigan State University Dr. Iginio Gagliardone, Cambridge Center of Governance and Human Rights Dimieari Von Kemedi, Alpha Strategy 12:30pm | closing remarks Dr. Peter Lewis

For more information, contact Jessica Carsten (

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Pakistani women countering religious extremism

Women are emerging as a powerful force in countering radicalization in Pakistan.

“The alliance of educated Pakistani women against religious extremism is an extraordinary and heartening development in a country where women face stringent restrictions and enjoy minimal freedom of choice,” Malik Siraj Akbar writes for The Huffington Post:

Sameena Imtiaz, a soft-spoken, educated Pakistani social worker, operates in the midst of U.S. drone strikes and Taliban suicide bombings. She regularly travels to remote parts of her country in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, infamously known for the safe Al-Qadea and Taliban sanctuaries, to promote peace education among the radicalized young seminary students. ………….

Textbooks in Pakistan began to indoctrinate school kids with a radical version of Islam during the time of General Zia-ul-Haq, a military dictator with ultraconservative Islamic beliefs who ruled Pakistan from 1977 to 1988. “My goal was to engage the Pakistani youth in counter-extremism dialogue and also to reach out to the rest of the world telling them that everyone in Pakistan was not a terrorist,” she recalls.

“Women are a powerful agent of change. During war and conflict, they open the doors of dialogue and peace,” says Mossarat Qadeem, the national coordinator of anti-extremism coalition Amn-o-Nisa (Women and Peace).

Mossarat, a former instructor at the University of Peshawar, has helped hundreds of extremists, including some potential suicide bombers, reintegrate into the society. She founded and now runs Pakistan’s first center for conflict transformation and peace building which has remarkably helped thousands of women and children in her native KP province and the tribal areas. …………

In April, the Institute for Inclusive Security brought powerful Pakistani change-makers like Sameena and Mossarat to the United States to engage them with American policy-makers and the media to share their work and experiences.

Miki Jacevic, Vice Chair of the Institute for Inclusive Security, says people in the United States barely hear the tales of these Pakistani women who strive for a change in their country by battling extremism in their daily lives.

“In the U.S. mainstream media, Pakistan is normally portrayed as a troublemaker or in negative terms,” he admits, but he emphasizes the significance of the work done by moderate Pakistani women, “engaging 79 men in peace conversation may sound a small number but it simply means averting 79 more suicide bombings.”


Malik Siraj Akbar is editor in Chief, The Baloch Hal, and currently a Regan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

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Egypt’s Brotherhood and critics in ‘important test of power’

As ultraconservative Salafists today joined liberals and leftists in criticizing parliamentary maneuvers by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, is “a new power structure” emerging?

The latest realignments in Egyptian politics came as the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces “promised to reshuffle the country’s cabinet, hours after the Islamist-dominated Parliament suspended sessions to protest the council’s failure to heed repeated calls for the government’s dismissal,” AP reports:

The speaker of Parliament, Saad el-Katatni (right), said he had received a call from the ruling generals promising to announce a reshuffling within 48 hours. Although the concession fell short of Parliament’s demand for an entirely new cabinet, the speaker said the decision would restore Parliament’s “dignity.”

The Muslim Brotherhood-led Parliament, which was seated three months ago, has been demanding that it be allowed to form a cabinet to replace the military-appointed one, headed by Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, a holdover from the authoritarian government of President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in a popular uprising 14 months ago.

“This was an important test of power: Who is governing Egypt — the (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) or the parliament?” said Diaa Rashwan, director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies:

After being banned for years under Mubarak, the Brotherhood has become a force in the new and still-evolving era of Egyptian politics having claimed the lion’s share of seats in parliament.

Tensions between Islamist groups, including the Brotherhood, and the ruling Supreme Council have risen in the two weeks since 10 out of 23 presidential candidates were disqualified for various reasons. ….While Sunday’s announcement would appear to be a victory for the Brotherhood, Rashwan predicted military leaders “will not sacrifice Kamal Ganzouri” and that they’ll instead try to form a new Cabinet — proposing that it includes Freedom and Justice Party members — with Ganzouri staying on as prime minister.

“I don’t think this crisis is just over,” Rashwan said. 

Liberal MP Amr Hamzawy rejected El-Katatni’s decision to suspend parliamentary proceedings for a week, “because we refuse that parliament be turned into a battleground for partisan political interests, and because the move will severely damage parliament’s reputation.”

The Brotherhood’s performance of the parliament it dominates has also hurt the Brotherhood’s image, analysts say. Lawmakers are threatening a strike unless their allies get more influence in the cabinet, and the ruling military council has promised a reshuffle.

“The Muslim Brotherhood came to understand that they have been misled in a way,” said Hassan Nafaa, a political analyst and politician. “They thought their majority in parliament would give them the possibility to change the current political situation, to improve the living situation of the population. The public waited for some quick improvement of their daily life, which is not happening. Now, they [the brotherhood] want to share in the executive and be responsible for running the country.”

Economic hardship and the transition’s failure to address priority socio-economic grievances is causing popular support for Islamists to diminish alongside revolutionary fervor, says Hisham Kassem, a veteran publisher and a board member of the World Movement for Democracy “On the whole, the Islamists have lost points. People’s expectations are too high, and I don’t think that even if the liberals or any other current had [won last year's election], that they would have done better,” he tells VOA. “They would have lost a lot of points. People now are result-oriented. They don’t want to just keep hearing political jargon and not feel this is reflecting on their life.”

Today, some 80 MPs belonging to the Salafist Nour Party – the second largest parliamentary bloc – joined liberal and leftist deputies in condemning El-Katatni’s suspension of the assembly.

El-Katatni had imposed the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party line on parliament, Emad Gad, liberal MP and Al-Ahram political analyst, told Ahram Online:

“El-Katatni should have taken a vote on this critical decision, which took all non-FJP MPs by surprise,” said Gad. He went on to suggest that Sunday’s decision had been a premeditated move by FJP figures. “Many believe the decision was taken in advance by the FJP in coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood, while other deputies were kept in the dark,” argued Gad.

Many, however, believe the ongoing differences between the Brotherhood-dominated parliament and the ruling military council are part of a broader dispute over Egypt’s political destiny. Gad, for his part, believes the Muslim Brotherhood hopes to secure for itself a more influential role in the upcoming period, fearing the imminent election of a non-FJP president.

“They want to maximize their current parliamentary dominance, especially given rumors that parliament might be dissolved,” said Gad. “A new power structure is emerging in Egypt and the Islamists are trying to carve a foothold for themselves in this new structure.”

Further details from the Egyptian Democracy Academy and the Project for Middle East Democracy, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group:  

On Sunday, People’s Assembly speaker Saad al-Katatni suspended parliament for the next week because of the cabinet’s refusal to resign. He proposed the move because parliament had objected to the cabinet’s agenda and accused it of failing to address security problems. Several members of parliament (MPs) criticized the decision, and according to MP Yassir al-Qadi there were 158 signatures of MPs who did not approve of Al-Katatni’s decision to suspend parliament. Al-Katani reportedly received word from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that it will appoint a new cabinet within 48 hours. Al-Katatni has repeatedly pressed the SCAF to appoint a new cabinet. Only the SCAF in its caretaker role has the power to appoint a new cabinet.


158 members of parliament refuse suspension of sessions…” Sawt Baladi (Arabic), 04/30/12.

Secular MPs criticize Parliament speaker over suspension of sessions”, Egypt Independent (English), 04/30/12.

Monday’s papers: Moussa and Abouel Fotouh fiercely competing”, Egypt Independent (English), 04/30/12.

158 signatures object…” Youm7 (Arabic), 04/30/12.

Egypt Military Bends to Islamist Will”, Wall Street Journal (English), 04/29/12.

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