Archive for the ‘Democracy & Human Rights’ Category

4
Feb

Arab

On Friday 31 January, the IE School of International Relations and the Toledo International Centre for Peace (CITpax) had the honor of hosting a fascinating panel discussion entitled An Overview of the Political and Social Transformation in the Arab Region.

Three distinguished guest speakers from the region composed the “A Team”, as Ambassador Emilio Cassinello, Director General of CitPax quipped.  The panel included  Marwan Muasher,    Vice President for Studies at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan; Nassif Hitti, Senior Arab League Official, former Head of the Arab League Mission in Paris, and permanent observer at UNESCO; and Dr. Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, Visiting Professor at the Graduate Institute and Head of Program at the Geneva Center for Security Policy.

Mr. Muasher began the seminar by presenting his latest book The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism. The Second Awakening is a referral to the First Awakening in the Arab region that started as an intellectual movement in the mid-20th century. It later led to the independence of many Arab states, but not to democratic rule in these countries. If the Second Awakening that is taking place today in the Arab world is to be a successful continuation of the First one, it must necessarily lead to the creation of a pluralistic government. Three years after the Arab Spring, achieving pluralistic rule is no easy task. What we see today is the struggle between religious and secular elements that are exclusionist in their desire to control power. Yet Islam as a solution in the Arab world has lost its appeal. The “Arab street”, as Mr. Muasher calls it, does not want more religion (they are quite religious as it is). What they want is a better economy, an improved livelihood. In his words, performance trumps ideology. People will judge whomever is in power not by their religion or values but by how the economy is doing under their mandate. In the end, neither a theological government such as the one seen in Iran or a secular dictatorship such as the Mubarak regime is the solution. Both types oppress the people and strip them of their rights. A pluralistic government should be the end goal.

How long will a successful transition to democracy take in the Arab world? According to Muasher and his co-panelists, perhaps decades. Democracy took centuries to get established in Europe, so how can one expect it to be firmly consolidated in the Arab region in only just 3 years? This is an unrealistic expectation.  Pluralistic rule will be achieved over time through toil and sacrifice.  For this, education is fundamental and this entails teaching the youth critical thinking , not just absolute truths as it is being done today.

What are the threats to a transition to pluralism? All three panelists agree that a big problem in the Arab region is the lack of national unity or national identity. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya were created as states without taking into account the different nations or minorities that composed them. The result is a lot of sectarian violence within these countries and a struggle for citizenship. Another threat is the rise of extremism. Indeed the road to democracy means that everyone has a voice including extremists that use ideology and demagogy to control power. Linked to this is the threat of transnationalism as we are currently seeing in Syria, where jihadists from other countries come to fight the secular oppressor but only add to the turmoil.

To conclude: is there reason for optimism? Yes. In spite of many problems and obstacles, the road to democracy is being paved by the new generation. This generation will need leaders who are willing to sweat and toil in order to make pluralism a reality. Tunisia is an example of an Arab state that is slowly transitioning to a democracy without the interference of the armed forces or the West. Let us hope this model is followed in the rest of the region.

21
Jan

Jose-Antonio-Zorrilla (2)In his very interesting lecture on January 20, Ambassador Jose A. Zorrilla addressed the highly relevant theme of self-determination, one of the cardinal principles in modern international relations. It states that nations have the right to freely choose their soverignty  with no external interference. Retracing history, Ambassador explored the struggle for self-determination throughout the ages and focused more specifically on the dissolution of the Ottoman, Russian and Austrian/Habsburg empires. He also discussed the blocs of influence that were created during the Cold War and the USSR’s very special status and circumvention of the self-determination principle as defined in 1941 in the Atlantic Charter signed by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Paradoxically, the Atlantic Charter was a direct attack on the British Empire and foresaw the end of colonialism by the European Powers. While central in international relations, the right to self-determination contains an inherent contradiction that challenges the principle of sovereignty.  It implies that a people should be free to choose their own state and its territorial boundaries. However, there are far more self-identified nations than there are existing states and there is no legal process to redraw state boundaries according to the will of these peoples. Hence the ongoing struggle for self-determination in many parts of the world such as Africa, Kurdistan, Chechnya, Cyprus and even Spain.

The Master in International Relations students had many questions for Ambassador Zorrilla, including whether or not regional integration in Asia in a model similar to the European Union would ever be possible. The ambassador responded that it was quite unlikely that China, Japan and Vietnam (to name a few examples) would ever integrate. One of the reasons is that, unlike Western Europe, they had never been part of a single empire (the Roman empire). This lack of unifying polity made possible integration today unlikely. Another student asked about the situation in Afghanistan. On a pessimistic note, Ambassador concluded that he believed the problem in Afghanistan to be unsolvable precisely because of the number of very distinct peoples and tribes in an arbitrarily drawn country.

Ambassador Zorrilla is a career diplomat with postings in Milan (1989) , Toronto (1993), Shanghai (2001), Moscow (2004), Georgia and the Caucasus (2009). He has published a book on the rise of China “China la primavera que llega” and shot two documentary films  (“Los Justos” and “El desierto y las olas”) and one full length film “El Arreglo” that won the Opera Prima Prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival in 1983.  He has just published a novel “El espía en Saratov” (De Librum Tremens) and is a frequent contributor to El Confidencial. His articles focus mostly on current affairs.

 

26
Dec

Ten Elections to Watch in 2014

Written on December 26, 2013 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights

Voters line up in queue outside polling booth to cast vote during state assembly election in New Delhi

Two thousand and thirteen won’t go down in the history books as a banner year for globally significant elections. True, the election of Hassan Rouhani changed the tone in Tehran and possibly opened the door to a lasting diplomatic solution to the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program. But the outcome of most of the elections held in 2013—and there were a lot of them—mattered primarily to the people who cast the ballots. In contrast, 2014 is shaping up as a year in which the choices voters make could reverberate well beyond their country’s borders. So for those of you eager to peer ahead, here are ten elections to watch for in 2014.

 

1. Afghanistan’s presidential election on Saturday, April 5. There is no shortage of reasons to be concerned about Afghanistan’s presidential election. Despite attempts to reform the electoral system after the 2009 election, the 2014 elections are likely to be plagued by corruption, lack of security, and voter fraud. President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally prevented from running for a third term. Who is likely to succeed him is unclear. The Independent Election Commission has disqualified sixteen of twenty-seven nominated candidates, leaving eleven on the approved candidate list. Potential frontrunners include 2009 candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as well as Hamid Karzai’s older brother Qayum. However, the field remains wide open and includes several influential warlords. With international forces scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year and Taliban forces still powerful in many parts of the country, the new president faces a difficult future.

 

2. Iraq’s parliamentary election on Wednesday, April 30. Iraq’s democracy may not be exemplary, but it continues to plug along in the face deep political and sectarian divisions. Incumbent prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has his eyes set on a third term. That is a possibility now that the Iraqi Supreme Court has overturned a law that limited him to two. The bad news for Maliki is that the 2013 provincial elections didn’t go well for his coalition, State of Law. It now controls fewer than half of the provinces with Shiite majorities. Maliki has one thing going for him, however. Rival parties may decide that seeing him continue as prime minister is preferable to opting for a political transition that could increase instability. Sectarian violence is surging in Iraq to levels not seen since 2006-2007 before the U.S. “surge.” The future of Iraqi democracy will likely depend on whether Iraq’s leaders can check the actions of extremists on both sides of the country’s sectarian divide. Read more…

by James M. Lindsay

Published on December 10, 2013 in http://blogs.cfr.org

11
Dec

Gratz_RevolutiononthemBy Jonas Grätz

In the weeks leading up to the European Union’s Vilnius summit in late November, it seemed all but certain that Ukraine was pivoting West. At the meeting, the EU and Ukraine were expected to sign an Association Agreement, which would have abolished trade barriers between the two and required Ukraine to undergo some EU-mandated political and economic reforms.

But then, days before the summit, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced that any agreement with the EU would have to be put off due to reasons of national security. Ukraine, its occasionally authoritarian president had concluded, would not be able to withstand the intense economic pressure that Russia would apply if he signed the deal. Russia’s aim? To goad Ukraine into joining its own Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, which would preclude association with the EU.

Yanukovych’s unexpected decision has made his job more difficult. Enraged citizens, carrying Ukrainian and EU flags, took to the streets of Kiev to demand that Yanukovych and his government resign. Protestors, mostly from the capital and the country’s Western reaches, have occupied Kiev’s central Independence Square and some administrative buildings for more than a week. For them, the EU is their country’s last hope for better domestic governance and protection of civil rights. They fear that Yanukovych’s latest move toward Russia will further entrench Ukraine’s dysfunctional and ineffective political elite and diminish the country’s independent national identity.

The revolution on Euromaidan, as the protest has been called, in reference to Kiev’s main boulevard, has a hard road ahead of it. It lacks real leadership, and the opposition parties that could fill that role are untrusted by the public and at loggerheads with each other. Still, the anger of a sizable part of Ukrainian society cannot be ignored or discredited. And Yanukovych has nowhere to hide. Even his support base in Ukraine’s east is disappointed. His unreliability — he was for the deal before he was against it — alienated his supporters long ago. Should elections be called, as the protesters insist, he would have little to no chance of winning. Read more…

JONAS GRÄTZ is researcher with the Global Security Team at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zurich.

As published in Foreign Affairs on December 9th, 2013 http://www.foreignaffairs.com

6
Nov

By Peter Tan Keo

shutterstock_112976056-400x267

Foreign aid has a long track record. The biggest upside appears to be the injection of large sums of money into developing countries otherwise gripped by poverty, war and conflict. For better or worse, that money should, in theory, improve lives and raise people out of poverty, leading to sustainable growth and development. The unfortunate truth, however, is that foreign aid has often presented more challenges than opportunities to aid recipients. In the sixty-plus years aid has been mandated by government – versus relying solely on private donations – we’ve seen small improvements across the globe, from reducing poverty to slowing population growth to curing and preventing diseases. Progress that otherwise would have been absent without an outpouring of foreign support.

However, the impact from aid has not been proportionate to the amount of money donated. Foreign aid’s biggest downside is that no clear, effective system has been put in place to hold aid recipients and their governments accountable for resources illegally taken from public sector coffers – a long-standing, and still very present, trend from Asia to Africa to Latin America/Caribbean to Europe. Unfortunately, the absence of that system reinforces social inequities and perpetuates cycles of political abuse that has led to a sophisticated new form of authoritarianism – one that empowers the elite few, while keeping a majority of people in abject poverty.

Discussions about foreign aid remind me of James Bovard’s nominal 1986 article, “The Continuing Failure of Foreign Aid.” Analyzing world events over a period of more than 40 years, Bovard argues convincingly that the success of foreign aid is often measured by intentions, not results. Using the U.S. as one example, Bovard writes, “[F]oreign aid has routinely failed to benefit the foreign poor…the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID] has dotted the countryside with “white elephants”…the biggest…of them all – a growing phalanx of corrupt, meddling, and overpaid bureaucrats.”

This trend is apparent in countries like Cambodia.

Sophal Ear, an assistant professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, is among a handful of scholars to write persuasively about the dark underbelly of foreign aid in Cambodia. His argument, clearly presented in Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy, is this: “[E]ven though aid is meant to encourage development, aid dependence results in bad governance, stunting development.” Two pages later, he goes on to note, “I am convinced that, on balance, the long-term effects of aid dependence have made it difficult, if not impossible, for Cambodia to take ownership of its own development.” Read more…

As published by The Diplomat on November 5, 2013.

1 6 7 8 9 10 54

We use both our own and third-party cookies to enhance our services and to offer you the content that most suits your preferences by analysing your browsing habits. Your continued use of the site means that you accept these cookies. You may change your settings and obtain more information here. Accept