Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

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Missing Pieces: New Weekly Feature

by Isobel Coleman
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!

  • Democracy in Danger: Thanks to events in Egypt, Tunisia, and across the Arab world, the storyline in recent months has been one of global democratic advance. But CFR’s Josh Kurlantzick offers a deeply sobering view: democracy, he argues, is actually in decline. This week in The National, Josh focuses on disillusionment with democracy among middle-class citizens around the world, especially when initial elected leaders prove unsavory or incompetent. His take follows recent reports illustrating democracy’s slide, including Freedom in the World 2011 from Freedom House and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2010.
  • Egypt’s Halting Transition: Also from Freedom House this week comes a strongly worded brief criticizing Egypt’s military leaders for their “lack of transparency and evident high-handedness” in the transition to democracy. The brief, by Charles W. Dunne, faults non-existent prosecutions of those responsible for killing protesters during the revolution, uncertain preparations for this year’s parliamentary elections, a failure to include civilian leaders and civil society in the military council’s decisions, and harassment of regime critics. Dunne calls on the United States to speak out forcefully in order to prevent Egypt’s democratic transition from “running off the rails.” Meanwhile, the military yesterday announced that it would ban foreign observers from the parliamentary elections—another step that sows unfortunate doubts about Egypt’s future.
  • Mandela and His Country: On July 18, South Africa and the world wished Nelson Mandela a happy 93rd birthday. Mandela is among history’s most inspiring and accomplished leaders. But today, more than twenty-one years after his release from prison and twelve years after the end of his presidency, South Africa faces daunting obstacles on the path to shared prosperity and global leadership. CFR’s John Campbell, in a piece this week in The Atlantic, explores these challenges in the context of Mandela’s legacy. He concludes that South Africa’s democratic institutions, which Mandela did so much to shape, offer grounds for optimism about the country’s future. CFR’s Jendayi Frazer also has a birthday tribute on Africa.com.
  • India’s Fight against Corruption: It could be C-SPAN’s next big thing: instead of simply filming legislative chambers and committee rooms, why not put a camera in each official’s office? This is just what one official has done, but in Thiruvananthapuram, not Washington, DC. The New York Times has a report this week about Oommen Chandy, chief minister (analogous to governor) of Kerala, in south India. Chandy recently installed a camera in his office that streams live online so citizens can keep tabs on his work. (They can’t listen in, however; there is no sound.) Some call the move a token gesture, but it could be a powerful step nonetheless in a country where corruption remains entrenched. India has been wracked by numerous corruption scandals in recent months; it ranked 87th overall and 16th in the Asia-Pacific region in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
  • Brazil’s Economic Engine: Brazil, with its solid democracy and robust economy, is among today’s emerging market darlings. But Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley takes a cautious view in this week’s Time. Comparing Brazil’s economy to China’s, Sharma says Brazil is not investing enough of its surging capital inflows in infrastructure and education, instead funding an overly generous welfare state. And the strength of Brazil’s currency, driven by the foreign investment, makes the country’s industries less competitive. All this stands in contrast to China, which has massive investment, an insufficient social safety net, and a cheap currency. For a comprehensive look at Brazil’s emergence and how the United States should respond, see CFR’s new Independent Task Force Report, Global Brazil and U.S.-Brazil Relations. Also interesting is a recent counterintuitive blog post from CFR’s Shannon O’Neil in which she compares Brazil’s development strengths to Mexico’s.

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