Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

Struggling With Free Speech in Egypt

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, January 31, 2013
Former Egyptian foreign minister Amr Moussa speaks at a news conference as Egyptian liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei talks to Saad al-Katatni (front, L-3rd L), head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, after their meeting in Cairo on January 31, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). Former Egyptian foreign minister Amr Moussa speaks at a news conference as Egyptian liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei talks to Saad al-Katatni (front, L-3rd L), head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, after their meeting in Cairo on January 31, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

The second anniversary of Egypt’s revolution brought with it significant violence, a state of emergency in three cities, and a welcomed moment of “back from the brink” political unity. Today, opposing groups from across the political spectrum (including Coptic Christians and members of the Muslim Brotherhood) gathered for talks facilitated by the grand imam of Al-Azhar and denounced violence in a signed declaration. Read more »

Bolstering Education and Science in the Arab World

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Secondary students sit for an exam in a government school in Riyadh on June 15, 2008 (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters). Secondary students sit for an exam in a government school in Riyadh on June 15, 2008 (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters).

A decade ago, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) shone a spotlight on the sorry state of education in the Arab world with its inaugural Arab Human Development Report in 2002, and its 2003 follow-on report, “Building a Knowledge Society.” The reports’ statistics still shock: in one year, Spain translates the same number of books (around 10,000) as the entire Arab world has translated since the ninth century; on a per capita basis, the Arab world produces only about 2 percent of the scientific papers that industrialized countries do; between 1980 and 2000, all Arab countries together registered only 370 patents in the U.S., versus 7,652 from Israel. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Chavez’s Legacy, Global Growth Redux, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, January 25, 2013
A man walks past a mural depicting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, January 9, 2013 (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Courtesy Reuters). A man walks past a mural depicting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, January 9, 2013 (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Courtesy Reuters).
In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow covers stories from Latin America and the Middle East, as well as an IMF report. I hope you enjoy the selection.
  • Chavez’s Legacy: As Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez lingers in uncertain health, a New Yorker piece explores the capital city he is leaving behind. “After decades of neglect, poverty, corruption, and social upheaval,” it says, “Caracas has deteriorated beyond all measure.” Crime is rampant, trash and pollution widespread, and housing scarce. The article focuses on the government’s nebulous attitude toward property rights. Groups of squatters have invaded hundreds of buildings, including a half-finished skyscraper called the Tower of David. Some 3,000 people now live there, led by a Chavez partisan who paints himself as a benevolent manager but whom others call a thug. As the article says, many Caracas residents see the tower as “a byword for everything that is wrong with their society: a community of invaders living in their midst, controlled by armed gangsters with the tacit acquiescence of the Chavez government.” Read more »

Women, Representation, and Politics in Egypt

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, January 24, 2013
A general view shows protesters against Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi gathering at Tahrir Square in Cairo on January 24, 2013 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). A general view shows protesters against Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi gathering at Tahrir Square in Cairo on January 24, 2013 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of Egypt’s revolution, an occasion likely to attract widespread reflection, and no doubt some protests. In the wake of the controversial constitution, many Egyptians—particularly women—are worried about whether the government will protect their rights and interests. The new draft law for parliamentary elections gives additional cause for concern about female representation. Read more »

Economic Crisis and Cooperation in the Arab World

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The opening bell is seen as traders work at the Egyptian stock exchange in Cairo on January 3, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). The opening bell is seen as traders work at the Egyptian stock exchange in Cairo on January 3, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

Earlier this week, leaders from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region gathered in Riyadh for the third annual Arab Economic and Social Development Summit. A main topic at the summit was the perennial issue of lack of economic integration among Arab countries. Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, facing his own economic Armageddon at home, was a vocal cheerleader for greater regional cooperation, declaring, “Let us not dwell on the weakness of Arab trade and commerce. What is necessary is common political will and a shared vision to set a timely agenda for the implementation of a common Arab market.” Nabil Elaraby, secretary general of the Arab League, confirmed the league’s commitment to a “free-trade area” and said that the leaders would work to “achieve the Arab customs union fully by 2015.” Read more »

Missing Pieces: China’s College Graduates, Global Growth, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, January 18, 2013
Students prepare for the university entrance exam in a classroom in Hefei, Anhui Province, China, June 2, 2012 (Jianan Yu/Courtesy Reuters). Students prepare for the university entrance exam in a classroom in Hefei, Anhui Province, China, June 2, 2012 (Jianan Yu/Courtesy Reuters).
Charles Landow highlights two articles and two reports in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy!
  • China’s College Graduates: Last week I noted a paper suggesting that in order to avoid the middle-income trap, China must produce highly skilled college graduates. A New York Times piece this week explores that very challenge. Through vast investments in both public and private universities, China should have some 195 million “community college and university graduates” by 2020—more than the United States (which will have 120 million), though still a far lower percentage of the population. The question is whether China can foster “the world-class creativity and innovation that modern economies require.” According to the article, some believe college enrollments have “outstripped the supply of qualified professors and instructors.” It is also unclear whether “hierarchical” Chinese firms can make the best use of the country’s talent, and whether China’s economy can produce enough satisfying jobs for its “glut of college graduates with high expectations.” Read more »

Morsi, Anti-Semitism, and Free Speech in Egypt

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, January 17, 2013
The Muslim Brotherhood's president-elect Mohammed Morsi is seen on screens at the Egyptian Television headquarters control room during his first televised address to the nation in Cairo on June 24, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters). The Muslim Brotherhood's president-elect Mohammed Morsi is seen on screens at the Egyptian Television headquarters control room during his first televised address to the nation in Cairo on June 24, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters).

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has been making headlines this week for his hateful and anti-Semitic remarks made in 2010 when he was a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood: “We must never forget, brothers, to nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews.” Through a spokesman, Morsi has since argued that these remarks were taken out of context, although I’m struggling to see how. Read more »

Women in Politics in Saudi Arabia

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, January 15, 2013
ndia's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (bottom L) greets members of the Shura during his visit to the Saudi Shura Assembly in Riyadh on March 1, 2010 (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters). India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (bottom L) greets members of the Shura during his visit to the Saudi Shura Assembly in Riyadh on March 1, 2010 (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters).

On Friday, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah made history when he named thirty women to the kingdom’s Shura Council, an appointed advisory body that cannot enact legislation but is still the closest institution to a parliament in that country. He also amended the Shura Council’s law to ensure that women would make up no less than 20 percent of the 150-person council going forward. Read more »

Missing Pieces: India’s Cash Transfers, Goals for 2030, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, January 11, 2013
Chief of India's ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi (R) presents the 210 millionth biometric card to Vali (L), a villager residing in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan, during the national launch of a scheme to make direct cash transfers to the poor, at Dudu town in Rajasthan, India, October 20, 2012 (Vinay Joshi/Courtesy Reuters). Chief of India's ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi (R) presents the 210 millionth biometric card to Vali (L), a villager residing in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan, during the national launch of a scheme to make direct cash transfers to the poor, at Dudu town in Rajasthan, India, October 20, 2012 (Vinay Joshi/Courtesy Reuters).
In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow looks at items on India, Africa, the post-2015 agenda, and economic growth. Enjoy the reading and the weekend.
  • India’s Cash Transfers: The new year brought a new development program in India with revolutionary potential. Under the scheme, Voice of America reports, “245,000 people across 20 districts… are getting pension and scholarship money transferred directly into their bank accounts, instead of having to wait to receive it from post offices or bank officials.” The aim is to eliminate skimming. And the current effort could be just a start. The real test would be using cash transfers to replace India’s massive distribution of subsidized food and fuel. Some analysts enthusiastically support doing so. Others, including Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, caution that food rations tend to benefit families—especially girls—while cash might not. Scaling up cash transfers also requires giving bank accounts and reliable identification to hundreds of millions of Indians, which is no easy task. Read more »

Science and the Debate on Genetically Modified Crops

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, January 10, 2013
A Greenpeace activist displays signs symbolising genetically modified maize crops during a protest in front of the European Union headquarters in Brussels on November 24, 2008 (Thierry Roge/Courtesy Reuters). A Greenpeace activist displays signs symbolising genetically modified maize crops during a protest in front of the European Union headquarters in Brussels on November 24, 2008 (Thierry Roge/Courtesy Reuters).

When it comes to bolstering food security, genetically modified (GM) crops are at once a highly promising and a highly vilified solution. Opponents label it as “Frankenfood,” imply that untold health risks are lurking in your breakfast cereal, and perpetuate a threatening image of GM crops (see the menacing ears of corn above). Meanwhile, a large body of scientific evidence disputing many of these claims is often overlooked in favor of a more alarmist narrative. Read more »