Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

Three Trends to Watch in International Development for 2012

by Isobel Coleman Friday, December 30, 2011

A female laborer sorts through a batch of potatoes laid out for grading at the Gultekadi wholesale market in Pune, India in May 2011 (Vivek Prakash/Courtesy Reuters).

As the world adjusts to seven billion people, and begins its creep toward eight billion, doing more with less will become increasingly important.  Continuing economic stagnation and budgetary concerns in OECD countries will also put stress on existing commitments of foreign assistance and hamper new initiatives. Greater efficiency and effectiveness in development is paramount. Below are three trends to watch in the coming year that can help improve development outcomes. Read more »

Agriculture in Egypt

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A farmer shows cotton on a farm in Qaha, north of Cairo in September 2011 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Agricultural is the third largest productive sector of Egypt’s economy after manufacturing and mining, which includes oil and gas. It represents 14 percent of overall GDP, but directly employs at least a third of Egypt’s labor force, and indirectly employs many more through the processing and transportation of agricultural products. Nonetheless, Egyptian agriculture has long been neglected by politicians. Cotton production has dropped over 75 percent from 1972 to 2009, and the amount of arable land (2.4 percent of Egypt’s territory) has hardly budged in that time. Read more »

Missing Pieces: The Year in Indexes

by Isobel Coleman Friday, December 23, 2011

Flags fly in front of the United Nations Headquarters in New York, July 31, 2008 (Brendan McDermid/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow pulls highlights from the 2011 editions of democracy and development indexes in this year-end installment of Missing Pieces. Happy holidays!

  • Human Development: For all of Africa’s recent development gains, the bottom fifteen spots in the UN’s flagship Human Development Index, and twenty-eight of the bottom thirty, are filled by African states. Also notable is how far many emerging powers remain from the top ranks. For example, Russia is 66th, Brazil 84th, Turkey 92nd, China 101st, South Africa 123rd, Indonesia 124th, and India 134th. Read more »

Women Protest in Egypt

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, December 22, 2011

An Egyptian holds a copy of a newspaper featuring a picture of security forces beating a female demonstrator near Tahrir Square in Cairo on December 18, 2011 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

On Tuesday, thousands of women gathered in Cairo to protest the brutal treatment of women at the hands of Egypt’s military, but especially, the savage beating of a female protester whose abaya was stripped from her, revealing her torso and bright blue bra. The footage and the image  of her motionless body surrounded by soldiers, one poised to stomp on her chest, went viral on the internet and were splashed on newspapers all over the world. Tomorrow, women will march again. Sources on twitter say that the Muslim Brothers and Salafist groups are boycotting the march.

The incident highlights the military’s brutal crackdown on protesters, when many in the country have wondered if the ongoing sit-ins at Tahrir and the cabinet building were more obstructionist than revolutionary. Nonetheless, the military’s response has rightly drawn criticism from around the world. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday, “This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people.” Today, Fayza Aboul Naga, Egypt’s minister of planning and international cooperation and a hold-over from the Mubarak era, slammed Secretary Clinton’s remarks, saying that Egyptian women did not need foreigners to demand their rights and that they are capable of defending themselves. Read more »

Women in the Arab Uprisings

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Women chant anti-military council slogans as they protest against the military council violations against female demonstrators in Cairo on December 20, 2011 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

Over the past year, the tumultuous events of the Arab uprisings have been gripping. Women have played a notable role in protesting against and overthrowing their governments. But how have they fared in the ongoing process of political reconstruction? Back in February, I warned in the Washington Post that the Mideast revolutions might not be so favorable for women. Over the summer, I wrote a longer article for the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) examining the challenges that women face across the region. I revisit this topic in a piece for Foreign PolicyRead more »

Egypt’s Worsening Economy

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, December 15, 2011

Egyptians shop for sportswear at informal vendors in downtown Cairo on October 17, 2011 (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters).

As Egypt began the second of three rounds of elections yesterday and commentators in and outside the country debate the prospects for democracy after large Islamist victories so far, its economic problems loom ever larger. As I wrote at the end of November, Egypt’s economic challenges include: a battered tourism industry, expensive food and fuel subsidies that are driving budget deficits, high yields on government debt, and most urgently, rapidly declining foreign currency reserves. To drive the point home, on Sunday, interim prime minister Kamal el-Ganzouri tearfully stated in a press conference that Egypt’s economy is “worse than anyone imagines.” Current estimates about Egypt’s foreign currency reserves surely factor into his sobering assessment. Today, a report was leaked that the government intends to cut expenditures by $3.3 billion, but indicated that the cuts would not hit health care, education, and pensions. According to the World Bank, Egypt spent 5 percent of its GDP on healthcare in 2009, and 3.8 percent on education in 2008. It seems possible, then, that Egypt may begin to cut its politically sensitive and popular subsidies, which are significant: currently, subsidies are about three times the size of the education budget. Read more »

Islamism and Pluralism

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tunisia's new President Moncef Marzouki (left) shakes hands with interim President Fouad Mebazaa as he leaves the Carthage Palace in Tunis December 13, 2011 (Zoubeir Souissi/Courtesy Reuters).

Six weeks after Al Nahda swept elections for the national constituent assembly, a former human rights activist and leader of the liberal party, Congress for the Republic (CPR), Mancef Marzouki, was elected by the body as the interim president of Tunisia. The fourth president since Tunisia’s founding, Marzouki’s election is a remarkable step in the evolution of the uprising in Tunisia, though critics note that the power structure in the interim government will favor the prime minister, who will most certainly be a member of Al Nahda. Marzouki has 21 days to form a government, and then must turn to addressing the myriad challenges that Tunisia faces: rebuilding its tattered economy, finding jobs for its 800,000 unemployed citizens (over a quarter of whom have college degrees), and redefining the social contract by improving governance and curbing corruption. So far, Al Nahda, which will have a large hand in shaping Tunisia’s response to these challenges, has espoused pragmatism. Read more »

Missing Pieces: A New Silk Road, Cash Transfers, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, December 12, 2011

A driver walks past a road sign amid grid-locked trucks after traffic was halted at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Torkham, November 28, 2011 (Khuram Parvez/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow covers Africa and Asia in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy!

  • Afghanistan and Its Region: ForeignAffairs.com featured two pieces last week promoting a regional approach to Afghanistan’s economic development–a so-called “New Silk Road.” Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides offers a sanguine take, noting recent bilateral and multilateral commitments to boost trade and growth. He also urges Afghanistan to improve its business climate. Andrew Kuchins agrees with the New Silk Road vision, calling for a focus on transportation infrastructure and easing hassles at border crossings. He argues that this agenda should prove acceptable to Iran and Pakistan, especially if presented as an Afghan and not a U.S. plan. In a piece on the same website in October, though, George Gavrillis calls regional solutions a fantasy. The only feasible approach, he says, is working bilaterally with the neighbors most amenable to cooperation. The communiqué issued after last week’s Bonn Conference spoke glowingly of regional integration but offered nothing concrete. Read more »

USAID in the 21st Century

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, December 8, 2011

I recently hosted Ambassador Don Steinberg, Deputy Administrator of USAID, at an on-the-record CFR meeting to discuss the broad transformation underway at USAID. (You can view above a brief video interview that was filmed after the meeting.) This ambitious reform effort, called USAID Forward, is intended to reposition USAID as an “innovator” in global development, and also to establish a “relentless focus on results.” After years of decline (declining staff, declining expertise, declining reputation), USAID is adding personnel (850 new hires in the past 2 years), bringing experts in-house, gaining clarity around seven core priorities (food security, global health, climate change, sustainable economic growth, democracy promotion, humanitarian assistance, and conflict prevention), and introducing better measurement and evaluation (M&E) systems. Steinberg was optimistic about USAID’s ability to succeed in this transformation, although he spoke candidly about intensifying budget pressures, the imperative of convincing Americans that USAID can be “good stewards,” the rise of new actors in development (US official development assistance last year was roughly $30 billion, but private philanthropies donated some $36 billion to international development), and the ongoing cultural challenges involved in shifting the mission of this large bureaucracy (frankly, it’s hard to push innovation and risk-taking in a structurally risk-averse organization). Read more »

Renewed Sectarian Violence in Afghanistan

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, December 6, 2011

People react seconds after a suicide blast targeting a Shiite Muslim gathering in Kabul on December 6, 2011 (Courtesy Reuters).

The first time I visited Afghanistan was in 2002. Ashura, the holiest Shiite holiday, was in full swing. As we drove up into the predominantly Shiite central highlands of Bamiyan–Hazara country–my Afghan traveling companions were amazed at the open expressions of Ashura. Processions clogged the single dirt road passing through small villages and long black flags on poles flapped in the wind. During the Taliban years, expressions of Shiism were suppressed by the the Taliban, the hardline Sunni fundamentalists who ruled the country and decried Shiism as apostasy.

The past decade has seen a relatively peaceful coexistence between religious sects in Afghanistan, but that was shattered today by a series of brutal, coordinated bombings in three cities that killed at least 63 people and raised fears of renewed sectarian conflict. A Sunni religious group from Pakistan, Lakshar-e-Jangvi, claimed responsibility for the attacks, which targeted Shiite Muslims participating in ceremonies to observe Ashura. Read more »