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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Women Leaders Under Attack

by Isobel Coleman
Shukria Barakzai campaigns for 2005 parliamentary elections in Kabul, August 22, 2005 (Courtesy Reuters/Zohra Bensemra). Shukria Barakzai campaigns for 2005 parliamentary elections in Kabul, August 22, 2005 (Courtesy Reuters/Zohra Bensemra).

In Afghanistan earlier this week, another female leader came under attack. Shukria Barakzai, an outspoken and high-profile member of Afghanistan’s parliament, narrowly escaped death when a suicide bomber rammed her armored car as she headed to work. At least three people were killed and many injured, but Barakzai escaped with only minor injuries. No stranger to death threats and assassination attempts, Barakzai has experienced several near misses during her many years as an activist and politician, and she readily accepts the personal risks she faces on a daily basis. Read more »

Democracy Can Still Deliver

by Isobel Coleman
A voter waits to cast his ballot in Bekkersdal, near Johannesburg, May 7, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters) A voter waits to cast his ballot in Bekkersdal, near Johannesburg, May 7, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)

Democracy is going through a rough patch. Freedom House reports that the number of democracies around the world has retreated in recent years. The frightening turbulence in countries struggling to transition to democracy such as Egypt and Thailand makes clear how difficult that process is. And with economic malaise persisting in many democracies while growth still surges in autocratic China, more than a few people wonder whether it’s even worth bothering with democracy and all its political dysfunctions. Can democracies effectively meet the aspirations of citizens in today’s complex world? Read more »

Beating Boko Haram

by Isobel Coleman
A woman takes part in a protest for the release of the abducted secondary school girls in Abuja, Nigeria, May 12, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde). A woman takes part in a protest for the release of the abducted secondary school girls in Abuja, Nigeria, May 12, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde).

Earlier today, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau offered to release more than 200 kidnapped school girls in exchange for prisoners. In the video, approximately one hundred girls are seen wearing hijabs and reciting verses from the Quran. Most of the girls are believed to be Christian, but Shekau explains they have been converted to Islam. Meanwhile, the international effort to rescue the girls is ramping up. The United States, the United Kingdom, China, France, and Israel are helping the Nigerian government strategize about how to find the girls and fight the radical Islamic group. Read more »

Algeria’s Presidential Election and the Challenges Ahead

by Isobel Coleman
A woman stands at a bus stop beside election campaign posters of Algerian president and presidential candidate Abdelaziz Bouteflika at Bab El Oued district in Algiers, April 14, 2014. (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters) A woman stands at a bus stop beside election campaign posters of Algerian president and presidential candidate Abdelaziz Bouteflika at Bab El Oued district in Algiers, April 14, 2014. (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters)

Algerians head to the polls today to vote in presidential elections. Although six candidates are running, the country’s long-serving president, seventy-seven year old Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is expected to coast to a fourth term. In a region rife with revolution, Algeria is caught in a political time warp. The ruling elite swim against the tide of political change that the Arab uprisings unleashed. They rally around the ailing Bouteflika–who suffered a stroke in 2013 and has rarely been seen in public during the campaign–as the candidate of stability and security. Read more »

Afghans Vote for a New President

by Isobel Coleman
A man loads ballot boxes and other election materials on a donkey to be transported to polling stations that are not accessible by road in Shutul, Panjshir province, Afghanistan, April 4, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters/Ahmad Masood). A man loads ballot boxes and other election materials on a donkey to be transported to polling stations that are not accessible by road in Shutul, Panjshir province, Afghanistan, April 4, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters/Ahmad Masood).

Despite significant security concerns, Afghans went to the polls in droves on Saturday to elect a new president. An estimated 7 million voters, one-third of them women, cast ballots – a marked improvement over the 2009 elections in which only 4 million voted. Fraud and violence also occurred less than expected: while at least twenty people were killed across the country and numerous fraud complaints have been filed, there were no major attacks or allegations of foul play on the level of the 2009 election. Read more »

Supporting Tunisia

by Isobel Coleman
U.S. President Barack Obama and Tunisia's Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa speak to each other in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 4, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters/Larry Downing). U.S. President Barack Obama and Tunisia's Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa speak to each other in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 4, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters/Larry Downing).

Following his meeting today with Tunisia’s Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, President Obama announced $500 million in new loan guarantees that will allow Tunisia to access additional financing in international markets at favorable rates. This is good news for Tunisia, which has made more progress than any other “Arab Spring” country in its transition to democracy. Indeed, it has become an oasis of optimism in an otherwise tumultuous region. Read more »

Women’s Rights under Attack in Iraq

by Isobel Coleman
An Iraqi woman walks back home to Basara, Iraq, as fires rage in the distance, April 2003 (Courtesy Reuters/Yannis Behrakis). An Iraqi woman walks back home to Basara, Iraq, as fires rage in the distance, April 2003 (Courtesy Reuters/Yannis Behrakis).

As the grim headlines from Iraq attest, the sectarian tensions that threatened to rip the country apart in the darkest days of 2006-2007 were never resolved. In the lead-up to the country’s parliamentary election on April 30th, suicide attacks and car bombings are again on the rise. Now, a proposed law threatens to worsen sectarian strife, and also make life harder for Iraqi women. Read more »

International Women’s Day 2014: MENA Women

by Isobel Coleman
Members of the Tunisian parliament celebrate after approving the country's new constitution in Tunis, Tunisia, January 26, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters/Zoubeir Souissi). Members of the Tunisian parliament celebrate after approving the country's new constitution in Tunis, Tunisia, January 26, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters/Zoubeir Souissi).

In honor of International Women’s Day, the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center asked a diverse group of experts from business, politics, media, and civil society to contribute to its third annual report on women’s status in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The publication, “MENA Women: Opportunities and Obstacles in 2014,” includes entries from forty-three women across twenty countries in the region and beyond, offering a broad and timely set of perspectives on the future of women in the Arab world. Although there are several areas of deep concern for women – particularly in Iraq and Syria – the views are generally cautiously optimistic and point to a positive trend line across the region. Read more »

Women’s Challenges, and Opportunities, in Yemen

by Isobel Coleman
A woman holds the national flag during a parade in Sanaa, Yemen, May 2011 (Courtesy Reuters/Ammar Awad). A woman holds the national flag during a parade in Sanaa, Yemen, May 2011 (Courtesy Reuters/Ammar Awad).

Earlier this month, I hosted Abdul Karim Ali Al-Eryani, former prime minister of Yemen, at a Council on Foreign Relations discussion. Al-Eryani recently concluded his role as a leader of Yemen’s ten-month-long National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a process that brought together rival political, tribal, religious, and social groups to craft a roadmap for the country’s political transition. Although Yemen is still struggling with escalating violence, secessionist threats, and a humanitarian crisis of poverty and malnourishment, the inclusive NDC was widely hailed for at least pulling the country back from the brink of civil war. Read more »

Tackling Unemployment in Egypt through Apprenticeship

by Isobel Coleman
Workers construct framework for advertising boards in downtown Cairo, Egypt, June 2013 (Courtesy Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh). Workers construct framework for advertising boards in downtown Cairo, Egypt, June 2013 (Courtesy Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh).

Several articles in Egypt’s new constitution make an effort to address what is arguably one of the most critical long-term challenges facing the country: high levels of unemployment -particularly youth unemployment.  Not only does the new constitution mandate increased spending on education and research and development, it also specifies that the government must expand technical and vocational training “in keeping with the needs of the labor market.” Read more »