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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Showing posts for "Human Rights"

Missing Pieces: Congo’s Elections, Corruption Index, and More

by Isobel Coleman

A pile of presidential and legislative ballot papers sit unattended a polling station in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 29, 2011 (Finbarr O'Reilly/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow offers selections from the past two weeks in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy and have a good weekend.

  • Elections in the Congo: CFR’s John Campbell and Asch Harwood argue in a recent Markets and Democracy Brief that despite their divisive potential, African elections are worthwhile because Africans themselves support them. Indeed, turnout appeared strong in Monday’s vote in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But the turnout might be the only upside. A BBC report cites a litany of election day woes, including “voting material” set aflame, armed attacks, and delayed poll openings. This follows a campaign tarnished by violence and intimidation, as pieces from ForeignAffairs.com and the New York Times report. Results are expected next week. Should incumbent president Joseph Kabila claim victory, an Atlantic piece argues, he will likely be seen as illegitimate. There are also reports that the election commission, headed by a Kabila ally, might cancel votes from “opposition strongholds.” The ultimate election result could well be more misery in the world’s least-developed country. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Egypt’s Elections, the Korean and Chinese Economies, and More

by Isobel Coleman

Thousands of Egyptians gather during a demonstration at Tahrir Square in Cairo, November 18, 2011 (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow covers developments in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America in this week’s edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy the reading and let us know your thoughts.

  • Egypt’s Bumpy Road: With the first round of parliamentary elections set for November 28, concern is growing about Egypt’s transition and the military’s role. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned last week that “a roomful of unelected officials” should not remain Egypt’s “most powerful political force.” Some 50,000 Egyptians protested continued military control today in Tahrir Square. The convoluted election system, with six rounds of voting and a plethora of lists, districts, and quotas, “seems deliberately designed to befuddle all but the deepest insiders,” as a Foreign Policy piece this week puts it. The piece surveys the party landscape, concluding that the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of the Mubarak regime will likely dominate the voting. On his blog, CFR’s Ed Husain has written recently (here and here) about accusations that the Brotherhood is “bribing voters” with meat, vegetables, and candy. A GlobalPost piece highlights these and other accusations of malfeasance, along with uncertainty among voters over who is running. Read more »

The Egyptian Military Digs In

by Isobel Coleman

Protesters chant slogans against the government and military rulers at Tahrir Square after Friday prayers in Cairo in October 2011 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

During the tense early days of Egypt’s revolution, crowds massing in Tahrir Square cheered the Egyptian military as a force of moderation. Protesters held babies up to be photographed with tank operators. People shared their tea with soldiers. That honeymoon ended pretty quickly as Egyptians of all stripes became increasingly uneasy about when and whether the military would actually hand over power. Egypt is scheduled to begin parliamentary elections at the end of November, but the transition to a civilian government still seems distant. Read more »

Extremism and Democracy in Pakistan

by Isobel Coleman

Earlier this month, Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan, visited the Council on Foreign Relations in a bid to burnish his image in advance of his intended re-entry into politics next year. Last week, I hosted Dr. Asma Jahangir, a remarkably courageous lawyer and activist, the recent president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, a relentless critic of Musharraf, and a stalwart champion of democracy in her country. The back-to-back meetings made for quite a contrast. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Kyrgyzstan, China in Africa, and More

by Isobel Coleman

Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva casts her ballot during the presidential election at a polling station in the capital Bishkek, October 30, 2011 (Sultan Dosaliev/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow offers a selection of news and scholarly work in this week’s edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy and have a good weekend.

  • Kyrgyzstan’s Election: Former prime minister Almazbek Atabayev won Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election on Sunday. He will take over on December 31 from Roza Otunbayeva, who has served as caretaker president since an uprising toppled the previous regime last year. As Voice of America explains, this will be the first voluntary transfer of power in Central Asia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sunday’s polls were decidedly imperfect, according to the OSCE. But “observers overall assessed the voting positively”–a solid outcome in a country torn apart after last year’s uprising, as this report from the International Crisis Group shows. The Economist explains that Atabayev will need to repair lingering ethnic tensions, as well as combat organized crime and boost the economy. The new president is seen as friendly to Russia; he pledged on Tuesday to close the U.S. air base at Manas, a crucial supply post for the war in Afghanistan, when its lease expires in 2014. Read more »

Yemen: A Brewing Humanitarian Crisis

by Isobel Coleman

Yemenis stand next to empty gas cylinders awaiting gas supplies in Sana'a (Ammar Awad/Courtesy Reuters).

As anti-government demonstrations continue unabated in Yemen, there are few signs of resolution to its current impasse. Growing violence, in Sana’a and in the north and southwest provinces, threatens to dissolve into full-fledged civil war. This would not only be (further) destabilizing to the region, but runs the risk of precipitating a full-blown humanitarian crisis. Yemen already struggles with acute problems of food security, water shortages, and unemployment. A collapse of the state would reverberate across the Gulf, and demand further international involvement. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Libya’s Transition, Afghanistan’s Police, and More

by Isobel Coleman

France's President Sarkozy; NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil; Mahmoud Jibril, head of NTC executive; and Britain's PM Cameron address a news conference in Tripoli, Libya, September 15, 2011 (Anis Mili/Courtesy Reuters).

In this week’s Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights developments from Guatemala to Nigeria, with several stops along the way. Please share your views on these or other stories from the past week. Enjoy!

Saudi Arabia’s Social Media Battles

by Isobel Coleman

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 »

Women Driving and Reform in Saudi Arabia

by Isobel Coleman

Umm Ibrahim sits behind the wheel of her vehicle as she drives in Riyadh, an act that is banned in Saudi Arabia, June 21, 2011 (Amena Bakr/Courtesy Reuters).

Following up on my earlier blog post on this issue, I wrote an article about the issue of women driving in Saudi Arabia, which appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post. The piece argues that although last week’s driving protest passed with a whimper compared to the uprisings shaking the rest of the Arab world, the ongoing debate over women’s rights is at the heart of tensions between reform and conservative religious tradition in Saudi Arabia. Read more »

Yemen’s Revolutionary Discontents

by Isobel Coleman

Yemeni rights activist Tawakkol Karman shouts slogans as a policeman watches during an anti-government demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen, February 15, 2011 (Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Courtesy Reuters).

Yemeni politician and activist Tawakkol Karman published an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times entitled “Yemen’s Unfinished Revolution.” A leader of Yemen’s democratic youth movement and founder of the NGO Women Journalists Without Chains, Karman is an outspoken advocate of reform in her country. For several years, she has led student protests at Sanaa University, demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s corrupt government step down. In January, as the turmoil of Arab discontent spread across the region, Karman’s protest movement became a focal point of opposition. Every day, she could be found in front of the main gates of the university, leading a growing group of protesters in chants of “No studies, no teaching until the president is out.” When I visited with Karman at her home in Sanaa in mid-January, she insisted that she would not be deterred, even if the regime arrested her—which indeed happened just two days later. True to her convictions, Karman continued her protests after her brief detainment. With President Saleh recuperating in Saudi Arabia from severe injuries sustained in a recent bombing of his palace, it appears that Karman’s first objective has been achieved: Saleh is out, and unlikely to return.

Yemen now suffers from a power vacuum. Karman voices the revolution’s demands that authority must pass to a “transitional presidential council approved by the people,” and that this council must manage the country until elections can be held. She reiterates that a democratic system supported by development and civil institutions is the way forward for Yemen.

Unfortunately, the longer instability persists in Yemen, the more divorced from reality this vision becomes. Yemen’s current situation is not so much a negotiation between the advocates of reform and the remnants of the old regime—as is the case today in Tunisia and Egypt—but instead looks more like a raw power struggle between rival armed factions. The sons and nephews of President Saleh have a monopoly on the country’s security forces, whereas the influential Ahmar clan, a rival family, has its own forces fighting Saleh and in recent months has been bankrolling the protests. A further wild card is General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar (not related to the Ahmar clan), who defected from the military and brought loyal troops with him. These troops have been protecting protesters and have also clashed with Saleh’s forces. This situation could easily devolve into civil war. Moreover, the political opposition is relatively weak and not in a position to argue effectively for lasting reforms amidst this chaos. Most opposition parties are grouped under the umbrella of the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), which includes Islamists, socialists, and tribal leaders. The JMP lost the support of many protesters after it signed a deal with the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC had attempted to broker Saleh’s exit, but the arrangement seemed to offer Saleh too much leniency.

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