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January 19, 2007

Glad to be here
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Hello-- I'm taking over from David as a guest blogger for a little while, and am grateful to the Democracy Arsenal crew (and to Suzanne's new baby) for giving me the opportunity to join in here for a bit. As some of you know, my usual venue for wisecracks and occasional policy commentary is over here.

I'll post a bit more later, but here's my thought for the day: David's quite right to say that we need a new conceptual framework for democracy promotion. But we also need to brace ourselves for the emerging backlash against democracy promotion-- and rule of law promotion, and human rights promotion, and humanitarian interventions. My fear? All of these are now so closely associated with the Bush Administration's rhetoric that they've been badly discredited, both internationally and here in the US. Never mind that many of us would say that the Administration's version of all these things was distorted and/or incomptent and/or arrogant and/or insincere-- the fact remains that for many people, they're all now linked to the Bush Administration's agenda. Can we rescue them? And if not, what happens? Isolationism, enthusiastically embraced by Democrats and Republican moderates alike?

More on this later.


Needed: A New Rubric for Democracy Promotion
Posted by David Shorr

One more post to conclude this guest stint to cover for Suzanne during her maternity leave. I'm passing the guest blogger baton to Rosa Brooks and look forward to reading her contributions.

After Iraq, the folly of viewing elections as a transformative panacea is plain to see. Democracy can't be achieved in one great leap to the ballot box. There need to be favorable political, social, and economic conditions. This leaves a very important question. The essence of democracy actually is the popular mandate. So if we have to approach it gradually, what is it that we're promoting along the way? What changes can and should societies undergo before they have free, fair, competitive elections?

Continue reading "Needed: A New Rubric for Democracy Promotion" »

Middle East

Muslim Brotherhood to Form New Political Party
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The (Egyptian) Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s most influential opposition movement, announced just a few days ago that it will be forming a political party. The MB has flirted with the idea since the early 1980s. They probably would have gone ahead and formed one long ago, if there was any reason to think the government would legalize it. The Egyptian government, however, refuses to legalize parties it doesn’t like, which can lead to years (decades?) of administrative limbo. Al-Wasat, a moderate religious party that included both Muslims and Copts, has been waiting for approval from the “political parties committee” for more than a decade. Who’s to say they won’t wait another?

This is a good example of how government policies create a political environment entirely unconducive to moderation. Forming a political party would have forced the Brotherhood to modernize their political program and make their internal organization more transparent. All that aside, this announcement is quite important because it, for the first time, makes explicit – and in a sense formalizes – the distinction between the political and religious. The Brotherhood will continue to operate as a religious organization, focusing on social work, service distribution, charity work, and preaching. The political party (which will almost certainly include a significant number of non-Brotherhood members, and perhaps even a number of Christians) will be focused solely on political affairs. This may mark the relative “secularization” of the Brotherhood. This is not to say that the new party will be “liberal” or that it will no longer be explicitly “religious.” Such an outcome (which would likely please American observers) is unlikely nor would it be particularly desirable since that would leave the Brotherhood’s right flank open for electoral poaching and eventually a more radical group might fill the gap.

I also want to quickly point to a recent statement from the Brotherhood’s general guide, Mahdi Akef, who is an interesting character and prone to weird outbursts when you ask him anything having to do with Israel (as I did when I met with him in August). People often complain that the very existence of religious parties presents a threat to democracy. It is worth noting that Akef, in the statement, emphasizes a point which I’ve read and heard from many Brotherhood leaders over the last three years:

If the so called religious method means monopolizing truth and ruling according to a divine right and infallibility of rulers and monopolizing power, and discriminating among citizens according to creed, doctrine or religion, these are things which are rejected by Islam and accordingly rejected by us.

January 18, 2007

Middle East

The Future is Green... and union made in the midwest
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

How cool is this?  A driving tour of Midwestern sites where unionized American workers -- earning middle-class American wages and benefits -- are building state-of-the-art environmentally responsible vehicles.

And -- can I brag -- they're driving my car.  No, literally.  My UAW-employed husband lent our UAW-built hybrid Saturn VUE to the UAW-organized Ecology Center to make the drive.

Check out the trip blog to see whether they're coming near you, find out about what real-life American workers are doing right now to decrease our dependence on oil... and what you could do to encourage auto manufacturers to give them more cutting-edge work, and us more driving choices.  (And if you go out, let me know how our car is doing!)


Corruption, Iraq and Motes in Our Eyes
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

An Army captain who sounds dedicated, sincere and thoughtful has been making the rounds with his argument, in a New York Times op-ed and on NPR, that the corruption of Iraqis is a major obstacle to success in Iraq.

This strikes me as one of those observations that is quite true yet wrong-headed, for a number of reasons:

1) as offensive as it is, costing Iraq $5-7 billion a year according to an Iraqi official quoted in the Iraqi Study Group report, corruption among Iraqis is a secondary, not a root, cause of the violence and disintegration plaguing the place.

2)  Less corruption would make the task of reconstruction and peace-building easier but not remove anyone's fundamental grievances; therefore it should come in priority after interventions that might resolve fundamental problems.

3)  Then there's the problem of howling about Iraqi corruption when the Coalition Provisional Authority has "insufficient accounting" for $8.8 billion of Iraq's oil money.  And, in case you've forgotten, corruption cases involving US contractors continnue to languish under-prosecuted.  Two allegations -- $50 million involving firm Custer Battles and Halliburton subsidiary KBR's $108 million overcharge for fuel -- are equivalent to a year and a half's worth of Iraqi oil smuggling.

So I'm sure Captain Montalvan is sincere himself; but isn't there a risk that this lets us shift blame to Iraqis for things they do instead of honing in on things we've done wrong -- and could undo or at least demand accountability for?  It's tempting to think that maybe Iraqis are "hopelessly corrupt" and t hat's why our efforts may fail.  But, as we used to say on the playground, if they are, what are we?



Discovering Chris Hedges in Granada
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Have you ever agreed with Michael Ledeen before? I bet you haven't. That's why I was just as surprised as anyone that I actually agreed with one of his Corner posts:

I see that Chris Hedges, the long-time NY Times journalist, has come out with a book entitled American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, in which he in essence says that the likes of Falwell and Robertson are Christian fascists...I wonder if all those people who hammered Bush and Santorum for talking about Islamic fascism will similarly excoriate Hedges for unfairly branding an entire religion (that would be Christianity in this case) with a scarlet "f".

I was someone who did "hammer" Bush and Santorum for their incredibly inane usage of the term "Islamic fascist," and so yes, I think Hedges is similarly wrong to use the term "Christian fascists." In fact, I think the we should declare a moratorium on using the word "fascist," which has become just another way of saying "I don't like you." In a perhaps amusing aside on the topic of Chris Hedges, I was in Granada two weeks ago (Granada, if you recall, was once the heart of Muslim Spain. Apparently, Bin Laden wants it back). I visited the city's only operating mosque and was sifting through their book collection right by the entrance. There were a bunch of books and pamphlets about the usual topics - the Prophet Muhammad, Zakat, heaven, God, how to become a better Muslim, etc. And then there was Chris Hedges' War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning Img_2152(click on photo). It was one of the most bizarre things I've seen, heard, or read, since, well, Michael Ledeen declared Rumseld "the best Defense Secretary the U.S. has ever had."

January 17, 2007


Checking in from West Point
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Just checking in....I have been travelling for weeks--it seems--two weeks in New Orleans, then New Mexico and now upstate New York.  I am at West Point--the US Military  Academy--until Friday and will have lots to  write about when I'm back in DC.

Between now and 08, I'll be working with others on a project that aims to help restore what I call the civil military "safety net".  After working on Capitol Hill after 9/11 and seeing the failure of Congress to put the brakes on the President in matters of war and peace--our aim is to educate ourselves and the American public so that can"t happen again.

I travel with a five month old---who is deprogramming as i type---and i'm borrowing the concierge's computer here at the Thayer hotel on until later....

Middle East, Potpourri

Designer Jihad
Posted by Zvika Krieger

In the Palestinian territories, civil wars are fought with guns. In Iraq, civil wars are fought with bombs. In Lebanon, civil wars are fought with...graphic design?

Soon after Hizballah began its recent altercation with the governing March 14 coalition in Lebanon, bright red billboards appeared across the country with the words "I Love Life" (in English, Arabic, and French). On streets. At the airport. In malls. At protests. On bumpers. The slick red signs were everywhere. The "I Love Life" campaign, which is sponsored by March 14 supporters, is attempting to capture the frustration of average Lebanese people that are sick of their country being racked by war -- both externally, as in the war with Israel, and internally, as in  the sectarian fighting that has lasted for decades. They just want to live normal lives -- such as not have their favorite shopping arcade in downtown Beirut shut down by endless Hizballah sit-ins. And perhaps more pointedly, the implication of the campaign is that opponents to March 14 (cough, cough, Hizballah) do not love life (which, to be fair, may be true for groups that glorify martyrdom and drag innocent civilians into unnecessary wars with Israel). 

But remember, this is war, so the opposition can't just let March 14 rub their love of life in Hizballah's face. So this week has brought the appearance of a counter ad campaign, parodying the "I Love Life" billboards by adding the words "In Multicolor," "In Dignity," or "For Everyone" scribbled on the bottom. The implication is that the ruling March 14 coalition, while having led the campaign to kick Syria out in 2005 and restore Lebanese independence, is also a sectarian movement that excludes the Shi'a. I have to say that it's a pretty creative way to counter the simplistic message of the "I Love Life" campaign with a message that really makes you think. Yes, Hizballah has created a state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon. Yes, it is the only militia in Lebanon that remains armed. Yes, it is a proxy for Iranian and Syrian interests in Lebanon. But it also has some pretty legitimate complaints. Beneath all the bombastic labels of "terrorists" and "Islamo-fascists," it's important to remember that Hizballah represents a disenfranchised Shi'a majority in Lebanon that has been historically dominated by a Christian presidency and then a Sunni premiership.  The only durable solution to the current political deadlock in Lebanon will have to address this underlying power imbalance between Lebanon's sects.

So kudos to "the opposition" for such a creative comeback and kudos to both sides for reminding us that not every civil war in the Middle East has to be fought with guns and bombs.

(Photos after the jump)

Continue reading "Designer Jihad" »

January 16, 2007


John Burns, Say it Isn't So
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Look, I'm sure that "veteran Middle East correspondent for the New York Times" John Burns is a great guy. He did, after all, win a 1993 Pulitzer for "his courageous and thorough coverage of the destruction of Sarajevo and the barbarous killings in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina." Burns has been based in Baghdad for the last couple years. So this juicy tidbit about Burns not knowing the most basic thing about Islam is unbelievable and dispiriting for all those who would like to think that we will ever understand the Muslim world. From the Angry Arab:

An American correspondent in the Middle East sent me this: "Today the Iraqi government held a one time screening of the most recent execution video of barzan ibrahim and awad hamed al bandar, with no cameras allowed. Bandar was very scared and crying. He was saying the shahada. Journalists asked if Bandar said the shahada. New york times bureau chief and veteran middle east correspondent John Burns asked Basem Ridha, Nouri al Maliki's spokesman what the shahada was. Basem said that it was the Islamic creed. 'whats that?' asked John Burns. Journalists explained that it was 'There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger.'"

If this is true, then it really is pathetic. John Burns, say it isn't so?

Middle East

For All The Realists: Your Tax Dollars in Action...
Posted by Shadi Hamid

As Zvika points out in his latest post, there's been some renewed talk about (maybe) putting pressure on the Egyptian government. Unfortunately, such talk is not coming from the "end-tyranny-now" Bush administration, which continues to show that it isn't - and never was - serious about democracy in the Middle East. For those such as Flynt Leverett, who think that "realism has become the truly progressive position on foreign policy," this may be a welcome development. No more messianism, mission, and - for millions of Arabs - not so much to hope for.

I hope someone can tell me how "progressive" this video is. Be forewarned that this is a clip of Egyptian authorities sodomizing a man with some kind of rod. It's one of the most disturbing things I've seen in awhile. Democracy Arsenal readers will, of course, know that the US gives the Egyptian government upwards of $2 billion of aid each year. But will Democrats have anything to say about our "friends" in Egypt using our American dollars to sodomize political opponents? Don't hold your breath. It would also be nice if one of the prospective Democratic nominees for 2008 calls out Bush/Condi on their hypocrisy.

January 15, 2007

Democracy, Middle East

Time for Pharaoh
Posted by Zvika Krieger

It was the summer of 2005, and the air in the Middle East was full of hope. Lebanon had just ousted the Syrians, Iraqis were voting, and democracy was on the march across the region. In Egypt, where I had been living, the Kifaya reform movement was taking to the streets and Mubarak was allowing multi-party elections for the presidency. Even the US was hopeful, dispatching Condi to Cairo to pressure Egypt to follow through on its promises for reform. Well, we all know how this story ends. Lebanon and Iraq fall into chaos, and Egypt remains the same old authoritarian state we’ve grown to love.

It seems like the time has passed for the US to pressure Egypt on reform—both the presidential and parliamentary elections in Egypt have come and gone, and politics seem pretty much dead until Mubarak decides to pass on the throne to his son, err, retire. Not so, argues Michelle Dunne is a new paper from the Carnegie Endowment. Dunne, whom I met in Cairo last year while we were both attending the annual convention of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, has a reputation for being quite the insider on the Egyptian political scene. According to her report, the Egyptian government is in the process of introducing a slew of new legislation that would give more power to the parliament, allow political parties more breathing room, and finally abolish the dictatorial Emergency Law. While I wouldn’t get too excited just yet—the Mubarak regime has a long track record of dashing expectations—Dunne makes a convincing case that now may be precisely the right time for the US to return its attention to Egypt.

The larger issue at hand is America’s relationship with the “Axis of Good”—the benevolent dictatorships in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia that have gotten a free pass on reforms because of their generally pro-American behavior. Isn’t the central tenet of the Bush democracy doctrine that repression breeds terror, regardless of how Bush-kissing these dictators are? I don’t want to underestimate the value of having these leaders “on our side,” but there is a middle ground between militarized regime change and absolute negligence. Remember that most of these regimes are on our team because it benefits them—whether it’s countering the rise of Iran or preventing the spread of militant Islam to their own countries. Even just a little bit of nudging on reform could go a long way with these countries—and might be a way for us to do something good for democracy in the region.

UPDATE: Looks like Condi did not take my advice: Rice Speaks Softly in Egypt, Avoiding Democracy Push (NYTimes)

January 14, 2007


Hey, I Heard About This Democracy Concert
Posted by David Shorr

A lot of blog has already been spilt over merits and pitfalls of organizing democratic nations into some kind of alliance, but I'd like to take my shot. In case anyone missed it, the issue was the subject of an extended debate over on America Abroad; this tag gives a partial sampling. Formal articulations of the idea can be found by Daalder and Lindsay in American Interest and Ikenberry and Slaughter in their final Princeton Project report (potential terms as a basis for a concert of democracies are in an annex, but the entire report is a must-read).

My main problem is with the extremely strange timing of an American push for a major new international organization. This is hardly the time for the United States to go forum-shopping. I just don't know how to square this with the depletion of our moral authority account.

Continue reading "Hey, I Heard About This Democracy Concert" »

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