Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

Libya’s Upcoming Elections: Part II

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, May 31, 2012
Youths walk past an electoral banner showing a woman holding a voting card in Tripoli on May 17, 2012 (Ismail Zitouny/Courtesy Reuters). Youths walk past an electoral banner showing a woman holding a voting card in Tripoli on May 17, 2012 (Ismail Zitouny/Courtesy Reuters).

At the beginning of May, I wrote about the challenges surrounding Libya’s June 18 National Assembly elections. At the time, there was significant confusion over a proposed election law that would have banned political parties based on religion, ethnicity, or tribe. Since then, the National Transitional Council (NTC) has scrapped the law, but the elections could still be postponed. Last week, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the NTC, announced that the transitional government may delay the elections while some would-be candidates appeal their disqualifications in court (in February, Libya finalized a fairly complex set of eligibility laws for the National Assembly). Read more »

Security and Development in Yemen

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Yemen's President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi waves as he watches a parade marking the 22nd anniversary of Yemen's reunification in Sanaa on May 22, 2012 (Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Courtesy Reuters). Yemen's President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi waves as he watches a parade marking the 22nd anniversary of Yemen's reunification in Sanaa on May 22, 2012 (Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Courtesy Reuters).

For years, Yemen-watchers have warned that the country is on the brink of disaster. Its wily longtime dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, held the country together despite civil war, a separatist rebellion in the north, complex tribal politics, and the spread of al-Qaeda. A year of unrelenting street protests and clashes between rival groups finally pushed Saleh from office in February, and his successor, President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, now has the unenviable task of trying to manage the unmanageable. Over the past year, an al-Qaeda affiliate called Ansar al-Shari’a has taken over territory in impoverished areas in the south of the country, forming several Taliban-style “Islamic emirates.” Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for last week’s horrific suicide bombing which killed nearly a hundred soldiers. Read more »

Egypt’s Presidential Elections Continue

by Isobel Coleman Friday, May 25, 2012
People argue about elections in Tahrir Square in Cairo on May 25, 2012 (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters). People argue about elections in Tahrir Square in Cairo on May 25, 2012 (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters).

After months of strenuous campaigning by a myriad of candidates in Egypt’s historic presidential election, it seems that it will all just boil down to a run-off between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. Early vote counts indicate that the two front-runners are the conservative Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, the Mubarak government’s last prime minister who has run on a platform of stability, unabashedly brandishing his Mubarak-era credentials and cozy relationship with the military. With the majority of the country’s 13,000 polling stations already declaring results, it appears that Morsi has won approximately 26 percent of the vote, followed by Shafiq with 24 percent. The fiery nationalist Hamdin Sabbahi seems to have placed third, but only the first two candidates will compete in a run-off election next month. Read more »

Media For Afghan Women’s Rights

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, May 24, 2012
An Afghan family sits on a hill overlooking part of Kabul on May 7, 2012 (Danish Siddiqui/Courtesy Reuters). An Afghan family sits on a hill overlooking part of Kabul on May 7, 2012 (Danish Siddiqui/Courtesy Reuters).

Earlier this week, as NATO leaders at the summit in Chicago pondered Afghanistan’s future, a group of worried Afghan and American women met on the sidelines to discuss strategies for protecting the fragile gains that Afghan women have achieved in the past decade. They are right to be concerned. As Western powers reduce their presence in Afghanistan over the next two years, the Taliban will undoubtedly attempt to reassert their harsh control in Kabul and the north and west of the country where women have made the most gains. Girls’ education will likely continue to be a troubling battlefield. Increased access to education for girls is one of the few bright spots since the overthrow of the Taliban. In 2001, less than 3 percent of girls attended school while today more than 40 percent do. However, Taliban attacks against girls’ schools and teachers occur with alarming frequency. Just in the past month, the Taliban poisoned hundreds of schoolgirls and several teachers in two attacks in a northern province. One attack used powder to contaminate the air in classrooms; another contaminated drinking water. Read more »

Egypt’s Election and Economic Development in North Africa

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Unemployed graduates protest in front of a government office in Tunis on January 30, 2012. The banner reads: "We will not give up our right to development and employment" (Zoubeir Souissi/Courtesy Reuters). Unemployed graduates protest in front of a government office in Tunis on January 30, 2012. The banner reads: "We will not give up our right to development and employment" (Zoubeir Souissi/Courtesy Reuters).

Tomorrow and Thursday, Egypt’s 50 million eligible voters will have the opportunity to make history by participating in the country’s first really contested presidential election. As I watch all the strenuous last-minute campaigning, I can’t help but wonder why any of the candidates want the job. Since the constitution has yet to be written, it’s not at all clear what powers the president will have. Moreover, the country’s economy continues to stagger, and whoever is at the helm will inevitably get the blame for deteriorating economic conditions. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Africa’s Food Security, Measuring the Middle Class, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, May 18, 2012
A woman walks past a grain shop at a market in the Kibera slum of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, January 20, 2012 (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters). A woman walks past a grain shop at a market in the Kibera slum of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, January 20, 2012 (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow highlights stories and reports on African agriculture, the global middle class, and the G20 economies in this week’s Missing Pieces. Enjoy the reading and the weekend.

  • Africa’s Food Security: UNDP this week published the first Africa Human Development Report. The focus: food security. Overall, Africa remains “on the bottom rung” of the Human Development Index (HDI), but this may change, since “nine of the ten countries with the largest gains in HDI” over the past decade are African. The report offers extensive analysis of both the proximate causes of food insecurity and malnutrition, such as low yields and micronutrient deficiencies, and broader factors such as climate change and gender relations. Governance and inequity are crucial, too. As the last chapter argues, “interventions to strengthen food security have greater impact when women, the poor, and the vulnerable have a key role in decision-making.” Read more »

Saudi Arabia, Women, and Judicial Reform

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, May 17, 2012
A Saudi woman watches a Youtube video in Jeddah, March 26, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters). A Saudi woman watches a Youtube video in Jeddah, March 26, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters).

While I was visiting Saudi Arabia last week, King Abdullah fired one of the most popular Islamic leaders in the Kingdom from his government position. Sheikh Abdel Mohsen Obeikan was an advisor to the royal court until last week when, in a single line, the king ordered that the sheikh resign from his post. The reaction was swift. In newspapers, on Facebook, and on Twitter, Obeikan’s supporters and detractors speculated, gloated over, and lamented the sheikh’s inglorious fall. While it is still not clear what happened, it is safe to say that this is yet another episode in Saudi Arabia’s internal struggle to define the role of women in society. Read more »

Effat University on the Forefront of Change in Saudi Arabia

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, May 15, 2012
A student at Effat University, Saudi Arabia in 2006 (Isobel Coleman) A student at Effat University, Saudi Arabia in 2006 (Isobel Coleman).

This past weekend, I had the honor of being the commencement speaker at Effat University, a private university for women in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was hardly the staid affair I expected. Colorful klieg lights lit the way of arriving parents and dignitaries; forget “Pomp and Circumstance”—the more than two hundred graduates and faculty paraded in to a pulsating techno beat, while stage fog swirled to dramatic effect. The array of high-heeled shoes under the graduates’ sky-blue abayas was breathtaking—everything from six inch high, hot-pink platform wedges, to cowboy boots, to the latest snakeskin and metallic Manolo Blahniks. Read more »

Missing Pieces: China’s Challenges, Africa’s Mixed Picture, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, May 14, 2012
An employee puts up a price tag after updating the price at a supermarket in Hefei, China, April 9, 2012 (Jianan Yu/Courtesy Reuters). An employee puts up a price tag after updating the price at a supermarket in Hefei, China, April 9, 2012 (Jianan Yu/Courtesy Reuters).
In this week’s installment of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow discusses stories on China and Africa, as well as a report on U.S. international engagement. Enjoy the reading.
  • China’s Challenges: Last week brought troubling economic news for China, with disappointing indicators on everything from import growth to retail sales to real estate investment. The Financial Times, the Guardian, MarketWatch, and Reuters have reported on the numbers. The data indicating a slowdown come in the wake of major political scandals. The Bo Xilai saga (analyzed in a recent ForeignAffairs.com piece) continues to simmer and the Chen Guangcheng case (recounted in a Washington Post article by CFR’s Jerome Cohen) has shone a harsh light on human rights. With all these headwinds, a New York Times piece says that “triumphalism” over China’s economic and political model seems “at best, premature, and perhaps seriously misguided.” In a post on Asia Unbound, CFR’s Elizabeth Economy reviews China’s exhaustive efforts to control public debate. The authorities, she concludes, “are like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke.” Read more »

Mobile Technology and Global Economic Growth

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, May 10, 2012
Left to right: Isobel Coleman with panelists Alex Counts of the Grameen Foundation, Ann Mei Chang of the State Department, and Scott C. Ratzan of Johnson & Johnson at a roundtable in the ExxonMobil Women and Development Series hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations on May 10, 2012 (Don Pollard/Council on Foreign Relations). Left to right: Isobel Coleman with panelists Alex Counts of the Grameen Foundation, Ann Mei Chang of the State Department, and Scott C. Ratzan of Johnson & Johnson at a roundtable in the ExxonMobil Women and Development Series hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations on May 10, 2012 (Don Pollard/Council on Foreign Relations).

This week on the blog, I’m covering developments in mobile technology. On Tuesday, I discussed an NGO’s efforts to use mobile technology to make direct cash transfers to poor families in Kenya; yesterday, I featured a guest post from Henriette Kolb, CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, who noted how mobile innovations can help women entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Today, I’m reflecting on an interesting meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations featuring three experts on implementing mobile technology for economic growth: Ann Mei Chang, senior adviser for women and technology, Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State; Alex Counts, CEO of the Grameen Foundation; and Scott C. Ratzan, vice president of global health at Johnson & Johnson. The meeting was part of our Women and Technology series sponsored by the ExxonMobil Foundation. Read more »