Egypt leaves democracy advocate in legal limbo

egypt ngo trial fhIn Egypt last month, three journalists were found guilty of doing their jobs and given seven- and 10-year jail terms. Apparently, little has changed, notes a prominent democracy assistance official.

A little more than a year earlier, I and 42 other employees of international human rights groups were similarly convicted at a Cairo trial that the U.S. and European governments have condemned as politically motivated,” says Sam LaHood, the director for the International Republican Institute in Egypt from 2010 to 2012 and currently a program officer with the organization.

“I was sentenced to five years in prison with hard labor after being found guilty in absentia of a trumped-up felony,” he writes for the Washington Post:  

In my case, appointees held over from the regime of Hosni Mubarak used repressive laws to target our groups for providing democracy assistance, manipulating the bureaucratic machinery for their own ends. Many more of these officials, who constitute Egypt’s entrenched security apparatus and bureaucracy, or “deep state,” have since returned to power after being out in the cold during the truncated presidential term of Mohamed Morsi. This deep state, led by individuals at the Ministry of Interior, state security and other large bureaucratic entities, is intent on exerting control over civil society, politics and the media through intimidation and repression.


Putin’s Ukrainian New Russia would be ‘ungovernable mess’


Credit: IRI

Credit: IRI

Ukraine’s 2014 presidential election is only one step toward restoring political legitimacy in the country—parliamentary elections are just as important to move on to the next stage in Ukrainian politics, says a prominent analyst.

“The presidential poll may well be the only opportunity to stop Ukraine from descending into further internal conflict, Russian intervention, and the de facto loss of regions in the country’s southeast,” Oxford University’s Gwendolyn Sasse writes for Carnegie Europe:

Presidential elections are also a typical platform for protest—and this vote could trigger a new round of protests in the capital, in current regional hot spots, and in other regions. Western governments and international organizations should concentrate their efforts on enabling clean elections, high voter turnout, and the acceptance of the outcome by the Ukrainian elites and society. It is here that the immediate future of Ukraine will be decided—rather than in sanctions against Russia. 

Putin’s Ukrainian ‘New Russia’ would be an ungovernable mess, according to one observer, because most people living in the would-be Novorossiya don’t want independence from Ukraine:

A mid-April poll of 3,200 residents in the south and east found that only 15.4 percent favored seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, and 64.2 percent wanted to remain part of a “unitary” Ukraine, as opposed to a federation of autonomous regions. The poll, conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology for the Kiev-based newspaper Mirror Weekly, didn’t ask specifically about establishing a new Novorossiya. In a U.S.-funded Gallup survey conducted in mid-March for the International Republican Institute, only 4 percent of people in eastern Ukraine and 2 percent of those in southern Ukraine wanted their country divided into separate nations.

While most people living in the south and east speak Russian, its population is far from homogeneous, says Svitlana Kobzar, a policy analyst at RAND Europe in Brussels. “There are different regions, different elites. There’s also divergence between the cities and the rural regions.”

The Kremlin surely understands, however, that Ukraine’s south and east are not Crimea, analyst Lilia Shevstova writes for The American Interest:

According to polls recently organized by the Ukrainian newspaper Zerkalo Nedeli and the Kiev’s International Institute of Sociology only 15.4 percent of residents in this region would like to join Russia, with 69.7 percent of respondents thinking that it “would be a bad idea.” Only 11.7 per cent of people in the region support the Russian troops’ incursion. In Donetsk region, where the separatists have installed their rule, the Russian incursion is supported by only 19.3 percent; the rest of population would prefer to live in an independent Ukrainian state. ….

There are also a lot of people who are ready to defend the Ukrainian state. Consider these numbers: in Kherson 36.9 per cent of people would take part in a resistance movement; in Nikolaev, 31 percent; in Dnipropetrovsk, 26 percent; in Odessa, 24.9 percent. In the Donetsk area, which is viewed as the pro-Russian separatists’ stronghold, 11.9 percent would fight Russian occupation troops; in Lugansk, 10.7 percent say they would. I agree: these numbers are not large. But the number of undecided (20.5 percent) is still high……About 45 percent support a unitary state with decentralized power, and only 24.8 percent are in favor of Federalization.

What do these polls tell us? When it comes to the efforts to fragment Ukraine and force the annexation or creation of quasi-independent republics (the Transnistria scenario), we should expect to see growing resistance within Ukraine—perhaps even civil war, she concludes. RTWT

One way to increase the chances of a prosperous future in Ukraine is to strengthen the nation’s currency, the hryvnia, says Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Even as the value of the Russian ruble has fallen almost 9% against the dollar in 2014, Mr. Putin takes comfort in knowing that the hryvnia is doing worse, he writes for The Wall Street Journal:

This is where America and our European allies can throw a wrench into Mr. Putin’s designs, rather than standing idly by as the hryvnia collapses under physical and psychological intimidation from Russia. We should encourage the establishment of a Ukrainian currency board, an institutional arrangement that anchors the value of national money to a more stable currency. Under a currency board, the hryvnia would be convertible into the dollar or the euro at a fixed rate, and backed by Ukraine’s own hard currency reserves. The International Monetary Fund would supplement the reserves with a special-purpose loan arrangement.

The Ukraine crisis has presented the Obama Administration with “a real policy dilemma,” according to Charles Crawford, a former British Ambassador in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Warsaw: how to help those former Soviet republics reform themselves when such reforms involve dismantling Soviet-era structures and colossal post-Soviet-era corruption that have links going right into the Kremlin?

NATO membership is especially important. It is not widely understood that one of the worst ‘deep’ features of the Soviet Union was the fact that the Soviet Army ran its own aggressive intelligence services in parallel with the KGB, he writes for The Commentator:

Rooting out these people and networks has proved to be one of the hardest challenges of post-communist reform in all the former Warsaw Pact countries; without NATO membership and the accompanying tough political and procedural reforms of the relationship between military structures and civilian accountability, it is highly unlikely that (say) Poland would be where it is now.

This is why it is existentially important for Ukraine and other former Soviet republics to move closer to the NATO way of doing things if they want to have substantive democracy. And, in turn, why Moscow under current management is so determined that that should not happen: the networks of almost impenetrable patronage, coercion and corruption that come from unreformed military structures across the former Soviet space are key tools for maintaining direct Russian influence.

Further sanctions are needed to deter Russia from new aggressive moves in Ukraine, say analysts. “It takes a large-scale economic war to discourage Russia from its aggressive behaviour,” said Cristian Ghinea, director of Romania’s Centre for European Policies.

Can U.S. political strategy translate in Iraq?

Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

Few know the challenges of Wednesday’s parliamentary election in Iraq better than the narrow industry of U.S. political consultants who, like Sam noble ideals into cash, Richard Leiby writes for The Washington Post.

Politics is not just local but also uniquely cultural, different the world over. That applies also when Washington tries to export democratic values and traditions to a place like Iraq.

“People like me are not agents of change,” Patten reflects. “We’re helpers, perhaps enablers, of a historical process that is going to happen eventually, one way or the other.”

An adviser to Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Saleh Mutlaq, he knows the current terrain well, having worked in Iraq in 2004-2005 for the International Republican Institute (IRI), a U.S.-established organization that champions the electoral process [and a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy]. He has also assisted candidates in Ukraine, Romania, Albania, Georgia and Thailand, with proverbial mixed results.

It’s time to get “noisy” in the campaign’s final days, Patten has been urging Mutlaq, a subdued agri-businessman whose central issue is not readily conveyed in sound bites. Mutlaq wants to change the nation’s constitution, which he sees as a deeply flawed product of U.S. occupation, tilted against Sunni Muslims like himself and responsible for a noxious stew of sectarianism still boiling 11 years after the U.S. invasion. …..….


Burmese support democracy, country’s trajectory but US optimism ebbs over reforms

burmabuddhistterrorTwo years after the United States announced the normalization of diplomatic relations with Myanmar [aka Burma], optimism in Washington over the nation’s embrace of democracy is waning and concern over the plight of minority Muslims is growing, Associated Press reports:

What has been viewed as a foreign policy success story for the Obama administration, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, faces a rocky road ahead as the pace of political reform slows and U.S. congressional criticism intensifies.

While the United States says it remains hopeful the constitution can be amended so Suu Kyi can run, congressional aides say the administration is pessimistic about that happening before the national elections at the end of 2015, a key staging post in Myanmar’s transition from five decades of repressive army rule. Constitutional reforms would also be required to dilute the political power of the military and meet ethnic minority demands for autonomy. The aides weren’t authorized to discuss that matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

burma IRIWhether Burma will become a democracy after parliamentary elections late next year rests not only on the integrity of that vote, Stanford University’s Larry Diamond writes for The Atlantic. “It also depends on what parliament does—or fails to do—to amend blatantly undemocratic provisions in the country’s current constitution,’ he adds.

”But the most pressing concern for the U.S., and the one on which the Obama administration and lawmakers have been most outspoken, is communal violence between majority Buddhists and Muslims, and the rising tide of Buddhist nationalism that many expect to intensify in the run-up to the election,” AP’s Matthew Pennington reports:

The House Foreign Affairs Committee called last week for an end to persecution of stateless Rohingya Muslims in one of the strongest congressional criticisms yet of Myanmar’s reformist government. The committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Ed Royce of California, questioned whether the U.S. should embrace diplomatic reconciliation with Myanmar while human rights deteriorate.

A U.S.-funded poll released Thursday by the International Republican Institute [one of the four core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy] found that 88 percent of respondents sampled across Myanmar thought things in the country were heading in the right direction, and 57 percent thought their economic situation was going to improve in the coming year. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Study will help coordinate democracy support in Somaliland

Somaliland_0A new analysis is expected to help international donors to coordinate future democracy-support programs to Somaliland, reports suggest.

The Somaliland International Democratization Support Strategy, produced by the International Republican Institute and commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, identifies opportunities for international support to Somaliland, and highlights areas where priorities of the international community and Somaliland stakeholders converge, including:

  • More support to address structural issues, including voter registration and legal framework, related to the conduct of elections;
  • Programs that provide technical assistance to political parties in creating clear and distinct national party identities and issue-based platforms;
  • Programs that will increase the presence of political parties between elections, including promoting collaboration between political and development institutions…………..

IRI’s former Vice Chairman and former US Special Envoy to Sudan, the late Ambassador Rich Williamson said, “Somaliland is a shining light of the evolution of democracy in Eastern Africa, and something its neighbors can benefit from watching and learning from and…deserves international support.”

The Somaliland International Democratization Support Strategy was a joint initiative of IRI’s Africa division and office of monitoring and evaluation.  IRI has worked in Somaliland since 2002, with funding from the United States Agency for International DevelopmentNational Endowment for Democracy and DFID, to support the development of a robust civil society, well-organized and representative political parties and a modernized legislature that engages in issue-based policy making.