Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

Missing Pieces: China, Genetics and Development, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, July 29, 2011

A high speed bullet train runs past a railway bridge past carriage wreckage (below) after two trains crashed and derailed in Wenzhou, China, July 25, 2011 (REUTERS/China Daily Information Corp – CDIC).

In this week’s Missing Pieces, Charles Landow, associate director of CFR’s Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative, highlights a wide range of stories and studies. Please let us know what you think of the selection, and feel free to suggest additional materials that you find interesting. We will put relevant items in a future post. Enjoy!

  • China’s Train Tragedy: A flood of commentary and analysis has followed last weekend’s crash of two high-speed trains in Zhejiang province. The disaster has intensified longstanding concerns about safety and corruption in the rush to build a high-speed rail network, which Beijing hopes will fuel China’s development and generate valuable technologies for export. Chinese authorities at first sought to bury the story–literally–before Premier Wen Jiabao visited the crash site and promised a transparent investigation. CFR’s Liz Economy writes in a sharp blog post about Chinese citizens’ skeptical reaction to the official handling of the crash. She advises the government to be forthcoming lest it sacrifice both export opportunities and its own legitimacy. A piece on Bloomberg chronicles the fallout across the spectrum of Chinese opinion. And a Financial Times article puts the crash in the context of China’s ambitions and struggles with high-speed rail. Read more »

Women and Democracy in the New Egypt

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, July 28, 2011

An Egyptian protester demanding political change attends a night prayer during clashes with loyalists of the ruling military council near the defence ministry in Cairo, July 23, 2011 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Just last week, Egypt’s transitional government announced that it would eliminate existing quotas for women in the parliamentary elections scheduled for this fall. Women’s groups in Egypt have pounced upon this development as another worrying sign that they risk losing ground in the new political order. Long gone are the inspirational images of gender solidarity in Tahrir Square in the early days of Egypt’s revolution. They have been replaced by ugly episodes of targeted harassment of women and bickering over whether women should be allowed to run for president.  In fact, one woman—Bothaina Kamel—has already declared her candidacy, much to the chagrin of conservatives who insist that it is against sharia for a woman to be a political leader. In fact, as religious parties move to center stage in Egypt and Tunisia, women’s groups in both countries will face new challenges. Read more »

Missing Pieces: New Weekly Feature

by Isobel Coleman Friday, July 22, 2011

Egyptians chant slogans against the government and military rulers after Friday prayers in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, July 15, 2011 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

This post marks the launch of a new feature on Democracy in Development, Missing Pieces. Each Friday Charles Landow, associate director of CFR’s Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative, will highlight several noteworthy or intriguing events and articles that you may have missed during the week. Each entry will include a principal link, context or commentary, and related materials. I hope you enjoy the selection, and I look forward to your comments and contributions on the topics Charley selects. Enjoy!

Revisiting the Pakistani Aid Conundrum

by Isobel Coleman Friday, July 15, 2011

A soldier takes up position on top of an Army base camp next to a Pakistan flag in Tora Warai, a town in Kurram Agency, during a military trip organised for media along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, July 11, 2011 (Courtesy Reuters).

Late last week reports emerged that the United States was canceling or suspending some $800 million in aid to the Pakistani military. Relations between the two countries have been extremely tense since the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May. But this is only the latest rough patch in a partnership long dogged by concerns that Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment is playing a double game—accepting American support and promising to fight terrorism while maintaining links with groups responsible for attacks. Clearly the Obama administration is trying to send Pakistan’s generals a message by withholding some of the money and equipment they want.

The case for reducing U.S. aid to the Pakistani security establishment is compelling, and it keeps becoming more so. Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the ISI, has been linked to the horrific killing in late May of Syed Saleem Shahzad, a journalist who reported on Islamic militancy. A Human Rights Watch statement chronicles threats Shahzad said he received from the ISI, and it reports that he “was in intelligence agency custody” after disappearing from Islamabad on May 29. His body was found shortly after with “17 lacerated wounds delivered by a blunt instrument, a ruptured liver, and two broken ribs,” according to a New York Times article. Last week Adm. Mike Mullen, the top American military officer, suggested that he believed Pakistan’s government signed off on Shahzad’s death. “I have not seen anything to disabuse the report that the government knew about this,” he said. Read more »

Saudi Arabia’s Social Media Battles

by Isobel Coleman Monday, July 11, 2011

A screenshot of Sheikh Youssef al-Ahmed's Twitter page on July 11, showing his current number of followers, displaying Tweets from others with updates on his post-arrest status, and featuring a link to an open letter to King Abdullah delivered by the Sheikh in a recent sermon and uploaded to Facebook.

The Financial Times recently published a fascinating article by Abeer Allam about how Saudi clerics are embracing social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. While some of the early adopters of social media, not surprisingly, were liberal clerics, it is now the conservatives who are coming on strong.

One well-known conservative, Sheikh Youssef al-Ahmed, has nearly 16,000 followers. Sheikh Ahmed uses his online presence to rail against anything in Saudi society that smacks of reform. He gets particularly agitated by attempts to break down the Kingdom’s strict system of gender segregation. (In an apparently unrelated development, reports came in over the weekend that Sheikh Ahmed was arrested for denouncing the Kingdom’s lengthy detentions without trial of terror suspects. A #freealahmad hashtag soon appeared on Twitter.)

A few years ago, Sheikh Ahmed gained notoriety for harshly denouncing King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) for allowing female students to study alongside men. Despite King Abdullah’s patronage of the university, Sheikh Ahmed deemed it a “source of unbelief” in Saudi Arabia, claimed its president and faculty were nonbelievers, and decried its lack of “religious surveillance.” For this outburst against KAUST, and by extension against King Abdullah, Sheikh Ahmed was fired from his official government position, which might help explain his uptake of social media. With many official outlets for his views now closed, he promotes his conservatism in the free-for-all world of Twitter and Facebook.  Last summer, when the government approved the appointment of women as cashiers in several Panda shopping centers, Sheikh Ahmed issued a fatwa against it saying it was “prohibited because it is part of the Western project that is imposing itself upon our society.” He called for a boycott of Panda stores, and the government backed down, removing the women. So much for trying to address the high levels of female unemployment in Saudi Arabia.

Read more »