Archive for the ‘Democracy & Human Rights’ Category

5
Jul

By Shadi Hamid

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When Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected president last year, it was an especially sweet victory for the Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s oldest and most influential Islamist movement. After a long history of repression, the Brotherhood had finally tasted triumph. But their short-lived rule ended Wednesday when Egypt’s army deposed Mr. Morsi.

The Brotherhood’s fall will have profound implications for the future of political Islam, reverberating across the region in potentially dangerous ways. One of the most important political developments of recent years was the decision of Islamist parties to make peace with democracy and commit to playing by the rules of the political game. Leaders counseled patience to their followers. Their time would come, they were told.

Now supporters of the Brotherhood will ask, with good reason, whether democracy still has anything to offer them. Mr. Morsi’s removal will breathe new life into the ideological claims of radicals. Al Qaeda and its followers have long argued that change can’t come through the democracy of “unbelievers”; violence is the only path. As the Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri once said, “What is truly regrettable is the rallying of thousands of duped Muslim youth in voter queues before ballot boxes instead of lining them up to fight in the cause of Allah.”

Al Qaeda’s intellectual forebears emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, and were shaped by events that bear an eerie similarity to those of this week. In 1954, a popularly backed Egyptian Army moved against the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting thousands and dismantling the organization. Prison had a radicalizing effect on Sayyid Qutb, a leading Brotherhood ideologue, who experienced torture at the hands of his captors before being executed in 1966. Many of Mr. Qutb’s followers later left the Brotherhood’s embrace and went their own way, setting up militant organizations that would begin perpetrating acts of terrorism.

In 1954, no one could have guessed that the brutal crackdown against the Brotherhood would set in motion a chain of events that would have terrible consequences for the region and America.

Shadi Hamid is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow in Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution.

 As published in www.nytimes.com on July 4, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 5, 2013, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Demoting Democracy in Egypt).
4
Jul

Letter From Cairo

By Ashraf Khalil

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For the past several days, as Egypt has approached the political cliff, the country has been seized by an ironic sense of nostalgia. Protesters massing to end Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s term have openly invoked the 18-day uprising that ousted the country’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, from power in 2011.

In truth, there are similarities: Like 2011’s protest, the Tamarod (meaning “rebellion”) movement, the grass-roots signature campaign that is demanding early elections, sprang up independently of the formal opposition and has reached citizens that the opposition never touched. And the crowd, festive and optimistic, is socially diverse and organic. Like Mubarak, Morsi has even been given his own demeaning barnyard nickname. Mubarak spent much of his time in power widely known as la vache qui rit — “the laughing cow” (the brand of a popular French-made cheese) — because of his perceived lack of intelligence. In chants and signs this week, Morsi has been referred to as al kharouf (“the sheep”) — implying that he remains subservient to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Council.

Despite the similarities, though, this is not 2011. Whatever happens over the next few days, Egypt is in more dangerous territory than it was 29 months ago — and the downsides are much more frightening.

For starters, even without a political crisis, Egypt is teetering on the brink of economic failure, which is one of the factors contributing to the unrest. Making things more troubling: One of the country’s most generous patrons, Qatar, is heavily invested in the Brotherhood project. As the must-follow Egyptian journalist Sarah Carr wrote in a recent tweet: “So will Qatar be demanding a refund now, or what?” If Morsi is indeed ousted, that supply of vital Qatari largesse might just dry up, leaving the transitional government scrambling for emergency relief.

In terms of politics, the military faces a legal and procedural obstacle. Beyond forcing early elections and the downfall of an elected president, suspending the constitution — which, according to the Egyptian state news agency, is among the steps in the military’s transition plan — would also raise genuine questions of legitimacy and democratic propriety. After all, this is not the threadbare and discredited Mubarak constitution. This document, although deeply divisive and absolutely hated by secularists, was still narrowly approved in a nationwide referendum.

In addition, as much as the protesters might want it to, the Muslim Brotherhood will not simply leave, as Mubarak did. After all, it has been a mainstay in Egyptian politics for decades; even Mubarak, in his 30-year reign, could not get rid of it. The pro-Morsi protests and Egypt’s first round of presidential elections last summer indicated that the Muslim Brotherhood’s true national support is likely still around 25 percent of registered voters. Read more…

As published in www.foreignaffairs.com on July 2, 2013.

 

28
Jun

The protests around the world

The march of protest: A wave of anger is sweeping the cities of the world. Politicians beware.

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A familiar face appeared in many of the protests taking place in scores of cities on three continents this week: a Guy Fawkes mask with a roguish smile and a pencil-thin moustache. The mask belongs to “V”, a character in a graphic novel from the 1980s who became the symbol for a group of computer hackers called Anonymous. His contempt for government resonates with people all over the world.

The protests have many different origins. In Brazil people rose up against bus fares, in Turkey against a building project. Indonesians have rejected higher fuel prices, Bulgarians the government’s cronyism. In the euro zone they march against austerity, and the Arab spring has become a perma-protest against pretty much everything. Each angry demonstration is angry in its own way.

Yet just as in 1848, 1968 and 1989, when people also found a collective voice, the demonstrators have much in common. Over the past few weeks, in one country after another, protesters have risen up with bewildering speed. They have been more active in democracies than dictatorships. They tend to be ordinary, middle-class people, not lobbies with lists of demands. Their mix of revelry and rage condemns the corruption, inefficiency and arrogance of the folk in charge.

Nobody can know how 2013 will change the world—if at all. In 1989 the Soviet empire teetered and fell. But Marx’s belief that 1848 was the first wave of a proletarian revolution was confounded by decades of flourishing capitalism and 1968, which felt so pleasurably radical at the time, did more to change sex than politics. Even now, though, the inchoate significance of 2013 is discernible. And for politicians who want to peddle the same old stuff, the news is not good. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on June 29, 2013.

21
Jun

By Nukhet A. Sandal

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As international media cover the demonstrations in Turkey, even the most seasoned in policy circles are shocked to witness the flagrant human rights violations, including demonstrators of all ages who are beaten and gassed by the police on a daily basis. The news agencies and political commentators write passionately about what is going on, usually representing the protests as the result of the tension between religious policies of the AK Party government and the secular Kemalist opposition who are frustrated with the Islamists. Other analyses have included the symbolic importance of the Taksim Square (where the demonstrations started), Erdoğan’s personality, and comparisons with the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the so-called “Arab Spring.”

What we do not see in the western press is a call for introspection and self-criticism. The Gezi Park Protests, as the countrywide demonstrations are called, are not about the tension between the Islamists and the secularists, but between crony capitalism and a segment of population who dare to question the personal profits that were made from their country’s heritage. In other words, the protests represent the tipping point of the frustrations of the informed public with a government that has treated forests and historical buildings as private property, constructing luxury residences and shopping centers through contracts given to family and friends. These authoritarian policies have long been deliberately ignored by business and political circles in the West, in favor of the seemingly positive economic indicators and the increasing attractiveness of the Turkish market. Such tunnel vision has kept the West from wondering how sustainable this growth will be, let alone forecasting that deficiencies in the country’s democracy would inevitably lead to instability. In terms of arrests and imprisonment of journalists, under the AK Party government Turkey long ago surpassed Iran and China (there are almost no reporters or journalists left to cover the protests in the mainstream media, and the Turkish people followed the demonstrations from international outlets). Still, Turkey remained the Muslim-majority political model of choice for many pundits. Read more…

Nukhet A. Sandal, PhD is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

As published in www.huffingtonpost.com on June 19, 2013.

19
Jun

By Hooman Majd

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Iranians went to the polls on Friday in what turned out to be — against all expectations — a peaceful, if not entirely fair, presidential election.

The international media, analysts and even Western government officials had dismissed the election in advance as a farce, with the outcome to be determined by only one man — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — or saw it as a tightly controlled contest among a half-dozen handpicked, indistinguishable candidates servile to the supreme leader’s wishes.

Many Iranians, too, initially saw their elections in much the same way.

But people have a funny way of defying expectations, sometimes even their own. The contest was not without meaning for a population suffering from runaway inflation, double-digit unemployment and a stifling political and social atmosphere, to say nothing of international isolation and the burdensome economic sanctions that have been imposed on them.

Despite the narrow field of candidates, voters ultimately knew that they did have a choice between the status quo and change, however modest that change might appear to foreign observers. In unexpectedly huge numbers, voters from across the social spectrum chose change in the person of Hassan Rowhani, a mild-mannered cleric and former chief negotiator for Iran’s nuclear program under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami.

Although Ayatollah Khamenei has final say on the issues that most concern the West, Rowhani’s victory is cause for optimism among Iranians, and should be seen as a source of hope for the world at large, as the Obama administration rightly, albeit mutedly, has noted. The White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, hinted at this on Sunday, saying that if Rowhani is interested in “mending relations with the rest of the world, as he has said in his campaign events, there is an opportunity to do that.” But he added that this would require Iran “to come clean on this illicit nuclear program.”

Rowhani’s triumph — he received more votes than all five rivals combined — inspired celebrations on the streets of Tehran of a kind not seen since 2009, before the Green Movement was crushed in the uprising that followed the disputed election. Moreover, the ready acceptance of the latest election results by the supreme leader himself is indication of potential flexibility in a hard-line regime. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on June 18, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on June 19, 2013, in The International Herald Tribune).

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