Published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Translated by Dar Al-Watan for Journalism, Printing and Publishing.

Michele Dunne, Editor
Julia Choucair, Deputy Editor
Dina Bishara, Assistant Editor

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Insights and Analysis

Interview with Nadia Yassine of the Moroccan Justice and Charity Group  

Reformist Islam: How Gray are the Gray Zones ?
Abdul Monem Abul Futouh

U.S. Policy: Hypocrisy, Principles, and Reform in the Middle East
Steven A. Cook

Jordan: Why Political Reform Does Not Progress
Fares Braizat

Tunisia: Closing Off Avenues for Dissent
Bassam Bounenni

News and Views

Egypt: Controversial Press and Judiciary Laws, Arrests, U.S. Aid Debate
Kuwait: Reformists Gain in Elections
Iraq: Amnesty Plan
Yemen: Run Up to Presidential Election
Bahrain: Debate over Anti-Terror Bill; New Association Law
Saudi Arabia: Reduced Powers for Morality Police
Jordan: Islamist MPs Arrested; Evidence of Torture in Prisons
Syria: Continuing Crackdown on Dissent
Algeria: Referendum to Amend Constitution; Prominent Journalist Released
Morocco: Electoral Law Debate; Wave of Arrests of Justice and Charity Members
Democracy Assistance Dialogue: Sanaa Conference
Upcoming Political Events
Views from the Arab Media


Read On

New publications on Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and regional trends related to reform.

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Insights and Analysis

Interview with Nadia Yassine of the Moroccan Justice and Charity Group

Although you are not a party, how do you see your political role?

Justice and Charity is a proactive evangelical group dedicated to the renewal of Islamic thought. What is at stake for us is the human being, whom we seek to prepare through a proper religious foundation. Our mission is to show people that what they have heard about Islam is simply one interpretation favored by the powerful—no more, no less—and to present them with another interpretation. We do not believe in violence as a means of change but instead advocate using political means. Observers have drawn a parallel between our methods and those of Chairman Mao, but his revolution was violent whereas we have embarked on a long-term grassroots project using the existing political system.

Has the participation of the Party of Justice and Development [PJD] in the political and legislative process affected the ideology or goals of your group?

There was no influence at all on Justice and Charity's work plan or methods, as we rely on a firmly-grounded idea, rather than emotions, to achieve our goals. The enormous numbers of educated young people who have joined the group's ranks prove that it is proceeding on the right track. The greatest evidence of this is that we have an overwhelming majority of supporters on the ground, whereas the PJD has very few.

What are your group's priorities on the question of applying the sharia (Islamic law)?

First we need to understand what sharia means; is it only the divinely-ordained penalties or is it dynamic and in need of rediscovery? The problem with Muslims is that they have come to understand the sharia as set texts. We envision the sharia as a spirit that the heart must discover. This is why our charitable educational programs, which are related to Sufi (Islamic mystic) schools, are so important.

Thus, the most important thing in this field is the preparation of a new generation to acquire the essential tools of intellectual ijtihad (interpretation) in all fields—particularly women, who have been consistently wronged when ijtihad was performed before. The group's general leader Abessalam Yassine emphasizes that the tragedy of Muslims is due largely to the lack of female knowledge of ijtihad, or, more precisely, the exclusion of women from ijtihad. We are now seeing a renaissance of thought relating to women, who are returning to studies generally and particularly to ijtihad in order to acquire real skills.

The door of ijtihad is open in Islam. We have no ecclesiastical structure as in Christianity, but we must limit the channels for ijtihad. It should take place under the auspices of a real, democratically chosen parliament that springs from the will of the people, unlike the current parliament.

Where are your strongholds of support in Morocco?

We represent all echelons of Moroccan society—from computer scientists to cobblers—but really most members are from the intelligentsia. Only those who are qualified can push through a program or intellectual vision, including on the economic level. And so we represent the middle class, because the rich, fearing for their fortunes, would never join a revolutionary political group.

How are relations between the group and the government?

Justice and Charity is moderate and has brought balance to the Moroccan scene. This is actually fortunate for the regime, because the group's members are young people—he average age is between 30 and 35 years—who are living through very tough times economically, which could lead to an explosion. We take this anger and try to channel it into organized political action, so the regime actually welcomes us as opposed to other movements that believe in nothing but violence.

In fact, when young men are arrested at demonstrations and police learn that they are members of the Justice and Charity, they let them go. So the regime has cooperated with us for thirty years and knows full well that we are a group that believes in political action, not in violence as do the Salafi Jihadists, for example. (Editor's note: This interview was conducted before the arrest of a number of Justice and Charity activists in June.)

What is your position regarding the personal status law (Mudawwana)?

We were the first to demand that the old Mudawwana be abolished, because we see personal status laws in all Arab and Muslim countries as a reflection of the regimes' power. The autocratic and dictatorial system perpetuates this crisis, in which power and judgment are in the hands of the man within the ruling family itself, as though the Arab regimes wanted to relieve themselves of 50 percent of the population they rule—i.e. women. So the Mudawwana gave power to men in the name of religion. In fact it is not part of religion at all, being only one interpretation introduced by the Ummayids and the Abbasids, who revolted against the true sharia and returned instead to the heathen patriarchal system upon which the Prophet Muhammad had declared war.

How can you, as a group, affect change without political participation?

We are practicing something like guerrilla warfare against the regime—not in a bloody sense, but rather symbolically with hit-and-run tactics. We try to spread political and intellectual awareness, which weakens the regime's grip on power. Justice and Charity has been made possible by the emboldening of a civil society founded by the regime, but which has now moved beyond its control. For example, when I declared in public that I was in favor of a republican system I knew I had five years of jail waiting for me. Since that time the press has begun to criticize the King, whom the constitution reveres as sacred.

Justice and Charity will only participate in the political process after the current constitution is changed to one appropriate to the times in which we live and the old one is thrown into the dustbin of history—especially parts that sanctify the King and ensure he holds all the levers of power. The alternative we put forth to the constitution is an Islamic Covenant (mithaq), which will serve as the basis for a real civil society to replace the façade that the regime has built.

What form of government do you advocate?

To a great extent, the Western democratic model is the one we wish to implement. We believe that the community of the Prophet was not like the complex society of today, and that Western democracy developed many principles similar to the concept of consultation (shura) in Islam. We call for the separation of powers, a free and independent parliament, an independent judiciary, and, most importantly, interest in reforming the individual human being, who has become corrupt. We began our revolution thirty years ago with the goal of reforming and preparing Moroccans after the destruction we have suffered under the current system, which has brought us ignorance, unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, anger, and tyranny.

We will not import a carbon-copy of Western democracy because it, too, suffers from its own problems. Instead, we will take from it whatever can benefit us and make it conform to our circumstances so that we can avert the crises experienced by Western democracy.

This interview was conducted by Kyle McEneaney and translated from Arabic by Judd King.

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Reformist Islam: How Gray are the Gray Zones ?

Abdul Monem Abul Futouh

Abdul Monem Abul Futouh, a member of the Guidance Bureau of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, offered his comments on Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process in the Arab World: Exploring the Gray Zones,” by Nathan Brown, Amr Hamzawy, and Marina Ottaway (Carnegie Paper No. 67, March 2006). Here are excerpts.

I read carefully your exceptional study of the six areas that continue to puzzle researchers in the West with regard to reformist Islamist movements. To my mind, the term “reformist Islam” represents a more accurate description of the activities of Islamist movements than “political Islam.” The latter inaccurately limits the movement's activities to political participation and excludes its engagement in social, educational, cultural, and developmental issues.

It is also important to note that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic association, not just a religious organization or a conventional political party. There is a debate within the movement about the possibility of transformation to a political party that carries out the movement's reform agenda. Another possibility is establishing a separate political party, with a delineation of responsibilities between party and movement. We differentiate clearly between political and religious activities, although repressive state practices have often led to conflation of the two.

Let me now turn to the six gray zones you highlight in your paper:

1) Islamic Sharia

Islamic tenets assert three values, all of which stem from mercy. First is religious worship to discipline the soul; second is establishing justice among people without distinction; and third is achieving social welfare. Despite the fact that criminal penalties constitute only 10 percent of all Islamic law, they have drawn the most attention among scholars of Muslim societies, leading some to mistakenly equate the sharia with punishment. Penalties stipulated in the sharia serve primarily as deterrents. The more powerful the deterrent is, the more effective the law is at preserving social stability and rehabilitating criminals. In Islam, everything is allowed except what is definitively prohibited, and these prohibitions are known and limited.

2) The Use of Violence

Violence is against our interests and those of our nations. Our understanding of Islam leads us to trust wholly in human nature, and in the ability of Islam to deal creatively with this nature in an atmosphere of democratic competition that respects diversity and practices tolerance. I believe that discussions about the position of reformist Islamist movements on violence have become pointless. The fundamental distinction between resistance to oppression and occupation on the one hand, and intimidation and bloodshed on the other should be clear to all. In truth, it is the West that must be cleansed of violence. The Middle East has been for a long time a clear example of Western violence. It is our hope that the West will have greater respect for diversity and practice tolerance in word and deed.

3) Political Pluralism

To accept diversity among human beings is to accept the right to disagree. Diversity in ideas and methods is both natural and logical. In politics, leftist parties put forth ideas on social justice that are worthwhile considering while liberals offer compelling views on freedom. Societies are broad enough to encompass all of these ideas so long as they do not conflict with the highest values anchored in the constitution. The right for like-minded individuals to meet and assemble freely has become a necessity in our times, in which the modern state has grown dominant due to tremendous technological advances. Freedom of association assembly enables those who stand in the opposition to exert pressure on the authorities and helps create a balanced political life.

4) Civil and Political Rights

Democracy remains the most effective means available for achieving human rights. Reformist Islamist movements understand democracy as coexistence among all elements of society, peaceful and constitutional alternation of power, the rule of law, and the protection of individual rights and freedoms. Freedom, in and of itself, is a central Islamic value.

5) Women's Rights

Islam affirms the rights of women to administer family matters along with men, through compromise and consultation. The Holy Quran mentions that women, in public life, have equal rights of participation. They have the right to hold any public position—including the presidency, as institutions develop—and to participate in democratic governance. It is worth mentioning that the issue of women's rights is by no means confined to Muslim societies. Women in France did not win the right to vote until 1945, after showing courage and strength in resisting the German occupation. Reformist Islamist movements assign a large role to women in the national awakening. Women are half of society and they raise the other half; they are doctors, teachers, and engineers. The veiling of women in Islam, which accords with modesty and morality, does not cover their minds and personalities.

6) Religious Minorities

Freedom of worship is the most basic of all human rights, governed by the Islamic principle that “there is no compulsion in religion.” Reformist Islamist movements consider the citizen the foundation of society, regardless of religion or color. The jizya (tax on non-Muslims) and dhimma (protected non-Muslims) are historical terms only, which have been replaced by the concept of citizenship-based democracy in a nation of justice and law. This is the model that reformist Islam, with the Muslim Brotherhood at the fore, strives to envision and to build.

Translated from Arabic by Kevin Burnham and Dina Bishara.  

Click here for the full text of Abul Futouh's comments in English and Arabic.

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U.S. Policy: Hypocrisy, Principles, and Reform in the Middle East

Steven A. Cook

Observers have criticized the United States strongly for its unwillingness to recognize the Hamas government in Palestine, as well as for appearing to back away from supporting reform in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood's strong showing in 2005 elections. It seems that Washington is only interested in democratic development to the extent that this process brings to power groups and individuals that meet the approval of the United States, leading to accusations of U.S. double-standards. The problem for the Bush administration is not that it is no longer interested in promoting democratic reform. Rather, the problem is that the Bush administration has not forcefully upheld key democratic principles such as non-violence and the rule of law. Ironically, it is Washington's strenuous effort not to appear to be imposing its agenda on the Arab world that has led to charges of hypocrisy.

There is much that is laudable in Washington's push for democracy in the Arab world. Since 2003 President Bush, his two Secretaries of State, and a variety of other senior officials have spoken publicly and forcefully in favor of change in the Arab world. In addition to the resources devoted to rebuilding Iraq, the Bush administration has committed approximately $386 million to supporting democratic reform in the Middle East —more than its immediate predecessors combined. While doing so, the U.S. has been careful to emphasize that Washington is leaving it to Arabs—except in Iraq—to develop their own visions for a democratic future. Far from developing a blueprint to be imposed upon Arab societies, Washington believes that the status quo in the region is so untenable that, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Washington Post in 2005, the Bush administration is “willing to move in another direction,” implying that the United States would accept Islamist rule.

Yet Washington's support for change in the Arab world, so long as it is the result of actual or quasi-democratic practices, has left the Bush administration in a rhetorical and analytical trap. The refusal to recognize the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority government that came to power in March 2006—as the result of free and fair elections that represent the will of the Palestinian people—in particular has led Arabs to conclude that the United States is not sincere in its call for democratic change. Throughout the spring of 2006, the Arab press and opinion leaders subjected the Bush administration to withering criticism and accusations of pernicious double standards when it comes to democracy in the Arab world.

While it is true that Hamas prevailed in an election that a host of international non-governmental organization certified as among the fairest in the Arab world, this is not a sufficiently compelling reason for the United States to recognize the government of Ismail Haniyya. Hamas is a terrorist organization that specifically employs violence against civilians and does not adhere to democratic values. This very predicament—that the United States recognized the legitimacy of the Palestinian elections but not the organization elected—suggests the need for a set of principles that has been noticeably lacking in U.S. democracy promotion policy.

Specifically, as forcefully as the Bush administration has called for freedom and democracy in the Arab world, Washington must be equally forceful in upholding two basic standards: non-violence and adherence to democratic principles that go beyond mere democratic procedures. Such principles include rule of law, rights of women and minorities, religious and political tolerance, transparency, and alternation of power. Based on the statements of Hamas leaders, as well as the group's political agenda and founding charter, the organization cannot be called democratic according to most of these criteria.

Had the Bush administration articulated this set of principles and standards from the beginning it would have met with fierce criticism, but Washington at least would not have been vulnerable to charges of deceit. To be sure, political transformation in the Arab world will develop in particular ways that conform to Egyptian, Palestinian, Jordanian, Bahraini, and Algerian societies. While organizations such as Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hizbollah may have grassroots support and authentic visions of political change, the United States is not required to support them. There are other political activists and organizations in the Arab world that may not have the reservoir of support that the Brotherhood, Hamas, or Hizbollah currently command, but are certainly more democratic than these Islamist groups.

There are few reliable metrics by which the progress of democratic development can be judged. Yet by clearly outlining the basic principles that democratic political organizations and activists must uphold, Washington can insulate itself from charges of hypocrisy, identify groups that are truly democratic, and make its case for democratic change in the Arab world more effectively.

Steven A. Cook is the Douglas Dillon Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Jordan: Why Political Reform Does Not Progress

Fares Braizat

Since King Abdullah II’s accession to the throne in 1999, expectations for political reform and related debates in Jordan have intensified. In this period, five prime ministers have formed governments. In his letter of designation to successive prime ministers the king has demanded political reform, sometimes explicitly defining the issues (reform of the electoral system, political parties’ law) and other times just citing the need for political development. Despite the king's demands, there has been little progress. In fact, it is the very instability of Jordanian governments and their utter dependence on the king that renders them unable to meet his demands.

The king appoints and dismisses prime ministers and ministers and therefore has the power to enforce the reform agenda he has adopted. But the "reformers" appointed as ministers and advisors to introduce political reform so far have not been, with a few exceptions, political reformers. Concerned with economic rather than political reform, they did not see political reform as a top priority and in fact were more liberal authoritarian than reformist in orientation. Some reform-minded politicians and activists were discouraged by this state of affairs and withdrew from the reform effort, complaining of a lack of official support for their reform programs at critical times.

The slowness in reform may not be due to the faults of individual prime ministers or ministers, but rather to a structural problem caused by the current method of government formation. Governments serve at the king's pleasure. Therefore the king is indirectly liable for his governments’ failings because the people cannot hold the government accountable through periodic elections. Even the parliament has little say on government formation and dismissal. Although governments must be endorsed by parliament, they are not parliamentary majority governments.

Prime Minister Marouf Al Bakhit’s government is now preparing new legislation for political parties, elections, and municipalities among a host of other bills dealing with political reform. The fear is that work on this legislation, as with previous attempts, will not be completed if the government is changed. The pattern has been that a government begins working on legislation by debating the ideas with the relevant actors, but is then changed; the a new government then reinvents the wheel even though many of the issues may have already been settled. The record of appointed governments has also been unimpressive on other priority issues for the Jordanian people such as unemployment, poverty, corruption, and price increases.

A sense of public disappointment with the pace of political reform is evident in polls conducted by the Center for Strategic Studies. Over the past ten years, on average, Jordanians perceive the level of democracy in Jordan as rating roughly 5 out of 10. Yet over 85 percent of Jordanians prefer a democratic political system for their country, and a similar percentage rejects authoritarianism. Thus it is clear that Jordanian political reform lags behind what the public wants.

In order to address growing demand for—and disappointment in—political reform, the monarchy should lead the process of political reform and allow the coalition that gains a majority in parliament to form a government. This would require adopting a new electoral law creating the necessary conditions for nationwide political coalitions. Fifty percent of parliamentary seats should be elected based on proportional representation. The state might well need to help organize center-left and center-right coalitions to compete in the elections. A third list would undoubtedly be composed of Islamists. The official line is that the monarchy cannot create such an option while political parties are still weak. But people will not join political parties and participate in the political process until they see real incentives to do so. Once they have a clear mechanism that encourages them to become active, Jordanians can be relied upon to act in their own interests in the political realm.

Fares Braizat is a researcher and polling expert at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan in Amman.

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Tunisia: Closing Off Avenues for Dissent

Bassam Bounenni

Unlike Arab countries such as Egypt or Jordan, which opened the political space in 2004-5 only to shut it again in 2006, Tunisia has continued unabated its campaign against avenues for the expression of peaceful dissent including human rights organizations, labor unions, and civil society organizations. The latest target has been lawyers. The weapon used against them is a controversial new draft law, likely to be passed within weeks, creating an academy for the training of lawyers.

The law, which has drawn strong objections from Tunisian lawyers, gives broad authority to the Ministry for Justice and Human Rights to decide who may enter this academy and thereby who may practice law. Members of the profession view it as an attempt to bring lawyers to heel, allowing the regime to select only candidates that conform to its views. Lawyers believe the law is aimed particularly at the lawyers’ syndicate, one of the few centers of opposition and independence in a county where only the voice of authority is heard.

The action against the lawyers’ syndicate would continue a pattern of repression used effectively against human rights organizations, where regime supporters infiltrate and undermine organizations. The Tunisian Human Rights League, considered the oldest institution for the defense of human rights in Africa and the Arab world, has been subjected to a series of legal actions by members loyal to the government, preventing it from holding its annual conference. Tunisian authorities previously used similar tactics to disrupt the Tunisian Association of Magistrates. Elements of the Association loyal to the government maligned its executive office and held a special election to choose a parallel leadership.

The Tunisian government evokes the specter of foreign interference frequently as a justification to silence a wide variety of potentially independent voices, be they human rights activists, opposition politicians, or independent journalists, especially the handful of foreign media reporters in Tunisia. Tunisian authorities even refused to permit an organization concerned with the legacy of late President Habib Bourghiba, despite the fact that the founders of the organization are veterans of the ruling party.

As part of its fear-inspired campaign against dissent, the regime has recently put forward in official political discourse the slogan “No loyalty but to the nation.” Tunisian newspapers loyal to the government have become the arena for accusations of disloyalty against independent political activists and lawyers. The situation has been aggravated by recent legislation that restricted the freedom to found organizations and parties, including a counter terrorism and money laundering law that has become a tool for threatening and intimidating opposition elements. Even legally-recognized organizations and independent parties do not receive the public funding to which they are entitled under Tunisian law, forcing them to try to collect funds internationally. But such efforts bring forth accusations of lack of patriotism or even legal action, leading to a situation in which independent parties and organizations often are deprived of adequate funds to support a headquarters or even the simplest communication equipment.

Despite this bitter reality for civil society elements and opposition forces, the government’s policies still enjoy tacit approval from the international community, especially the European Union and the United States. Although they may occasionally issue official statements condemning the transgressions of the Tunisian authorities, this criticism has no true impact. Tunisia apparently remains exempt from the demands on other countries in the region to achieve greater openness and improve human and political rights records.

Tunisia, which this year celebrated fifty years of independence from French colonialism, has been able to make huge strides in the vital areas of education and culture, thereby creating a large educated class. Those gains, however, will eventually be undermined by the fact that the regime not only refuses to consider political reforms but actually is moving in the opposite direction of greater restrictions on intellectual, legal, and political activity. One example of the deleterious effects of such a trend is the worsening of corruption in the administration of the Tunisian state documented by Transparency International in its annual reports.

Despite the apparent determination of Tunisian authorities to suppress every independent political or rights initiative and the indifference of the international community, there are still Tunisian opposition forces clinging to their rights through extralegal actions. But there is a steep price to pay for opposition to the reality of daily life in Tunisia. The most recent victim was the Tunisian lawyer Muhammad Abbou, sentenced to three years in prison for a series of articles in which he criticized the government’s human rights record. As the space for free expression becomes ever narrower in Tunisia, the few who dare to challenge the situation are likely to suffer Dr. Abbou’s unfortunate fate.

Bassam Bounenni is a Tunisian journalist and researcher residing in Doha. This article was translated from Arabic by Kevin Burnham.

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News and Views

Egypt: Controversial Press and Judiciary Laws, Arrests, U.S. Aid Debate

The Egyptian parliament’s controversial amendments to the 1996 press and publications law, passed on July 10, do not abolish prison sentences for journalists, despite protests by human rights activists and journalists. Editors-in-chief of some 25 Egyptian independent and party newspapers suspended the publication for one day on July 9 to protest the government-drafted bill and hundred of journalists protested outside the People’s Assembly. At President Hosni Mubarak’s suggestion, parliament ultimately removed a clause that would have made reporting on the financial dealings of public figures punishable by up to three years in prison. However, the law retains punishment for criticizing public officials, mandating jail terms between six months and five years or a fine of 5,000-20,000 Egyptian pounds (US$870-3,480). A Human Rights Watch report criticized the new law, calling on Mubarak to follow through with his 2004 pledge that no journalist would go to prison for his or her writings.

An Egyptian court on June 26 sentenced independent weekly Al Dustour’s editor Ibrahim Issa and reporter Sahar Zaki to a year in prison for publishing a report critical of President Mubarak in April 2005. They were freed on bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,743) pending a review by an appeal court. The trial of three journalists who alleged fraud in last year’s parliamentary elections has been postponed until September 16.

The People’s Assembly passed a new law of the judiciary on June 26, following a lengthy controversy between the Judges Club and the government. The new law includes two of the Judges Club’s demands: granting the judiciary budgetary independence from the Ministry of Justice and separating the office of the Public Prosecutor from the Ministry. The Public Prosecutor, however, will remain a presidential appointee. But the draft law ignores the judges’ demands that members of the Supreme Judicial Council be elected rather than appointed by the state. On July 2, several judicial officials considered close to the government were appointed to senior positions, including Maher Abdel Wahed (former Public Prosecutor) as head of the Supreme Constitutional Court and Moqbel Shaker as head of the Court of Cassation and Supreme Judicial Council.

Sixty members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested on June 19 and July 9 for allegedly holding illegal meetings. Almost 700 members have been arrested since March, including Essam Al Erian and Rashad Byoumi, members of the Guidance Bureau. Over 500 were arrested while demonstrating in favor of two senior judges who were brought before a disciplinary committee for denouncing the parliamentary elections as fraudulent. The public prosecutor released approximately 170 activists (some of them Muslim Brothers) between June 21 and July 7, all of whom had been involved in demonstrations in favor of the judges.

The Egyptian Movement for Change, known the Kifaya movement, released a report on corruption in Egypt on July 4.

On June 8, the U.S. Congress voted 225-198 against an amendment to cut $100 million of from the $1.7 billion in military and economic assistance for Egypt for the next fiscal year. The amendment was sponsored by Representatives Henry Hyde, Tom Lantos, and David Obey, who said that it would send a message that a major U.S. aid recipient should “reflect certain norms of decency with respect to the way they treat their population and the way they treat their political opponents.”

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Kuwait: Reformists Gain in Elections

Kuwait’s new cabinet approved in its first session a major electoral reform that would reduce the number of electoral districts from 25 to 5, a widely debated issue that led the emir to dissolve parliament in May. The number of government opponents supporting this change went from 29 to 35 seats in the 50-member Kuwaiti parliament elected June 29, after they campaigned publicly for reducing the number of electoral districts to 5 to make politics more broadly representative and less based on sectarian or tribal factors. The reformist bloc, as it has come to be known, includes Islamist and liberal MPs. Its influence will be reduced by the fact that ministers also vote as ex-officio members of parliament.

For the first time in Kuwait’s history women were allowed to vote and run in elections, but none of the 28 women among a total of 249 candidates won a seat. Women comprise 57 percent of Kuwait’s 345,000 voters. Overall turnout was 65 percent but only 35 percent among women voters.
Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah made only minor cabinet changes following the elections. He reappointed his nephew Sheikh Nasser Al Muhammad Al Ahmed Al Sabah as prime minister. Former Energy Minister Sheikh Ahmed Al Fahd Al Sabah and Minister for Cabinet Affairs Muhammad Daifallah Sharar, both strongly criticized by the reformists in the previous parliament for fostering corruption and trying to block political reform, were replaced. Sabah family members retained the top portfolios including energy, defense, interior, and foreign affairs. Click here for a list of the cabinet members.

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Iraq: Amnesty Plan

Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki presented a “national reconciliation plan” (Arabic Text, English Text) to the Iraqi parliament on June 25, offering insurgents an amnesty proposal, granting indemnity only to “those not proven involved in crimes, terrorist activities and war crimes against humanity.”

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Yemen: Run Up to Presidential Election

Allegedly after widespread protests by his supporters, President Ali Abdullah Saleh reversed a July 2005 decision to retire from public life and announced he will run in Yemen’s presidential election on September 10. The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), an opposition alliance that includes the main Islamist opposition group Al Islah and the Yemeni Socialist Party, nominated Islamist-leaning former oil minister Faisal Bin Shamlan as its candidate—the first such agreement among opposition parties in Yemen. Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, was reelected in 1999 with more than 96 per cent of the vote; his only challenger was a member of his ruling General People’s Congress (GPC). To compete in the election, candidates for the presidency must receive the nomination of at least 5 percent of the deputies present at a joint meeting of both houses of parliament.

On June 19, the GPC signed a memorandum of understanding with seven opposition parties to ensure that presidential and local elections are free of fraud. The accord states that official media will provide a platform for all presidential and local election candidates and bans the financing of campaigns through public funds. It also stipulates that the nine-member electoral commission will include five opposition party representatives. Saleh announced he would issue a decree prohibiting the intervention of the security forces in the electoral process. Parliamentarians and local officials in the Aden province threatened to sue the district’s security apparatus for trying to prevent JMP rallies on June 13 and 15. Saleh’s electoral platform includes a pledge to launch a civilian nuclear energy program

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Bahrain: Debate over Anti-Terror Bill; New Association Law

Disagreement over legal definitions of terrorism marks the debate in Bahrain’s parliament over an anti-terrorism bill. MPs believe the current definition is too broad. The proposed law defines terrorism as any use of violence or threats of violence to terrorize people, including any threat to people’s lives, property, freedom, rights or security, as well as damage to the environment, public or private utilities, national resources, or international facilities. Of 34 articles, only nine have been approved by the parliament so far, including the death penalty for jeopardizing public safety or damaging public utilities.

Human rights activists have criticized government-proposed amendments to the association law (Law 18/1973) that forbid “any speech or discussion infringing on public order or morals,” allow the police to attend any public meeting, and give security officials the power to break up meetings if any crime listed in the Penal Code is committed. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the amendments would allow security officials to restrict free expression and peaceful assembly arbitrarily. Click here to read the HRW letter to King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa and here for a letter by Amnesty International. The elected 40-member Council of Deputies approved the bill on May 18 and the appointed 40-member Consultative Council is expected to follow suit. The bill requires approval of the king to become law.

The government on July 3 introduced amendments to Article 246 of the penal code, which would ban media from publishing the names and photographs of suspects without permission from the Public Prosecutor or the relevant court. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights criticized this amendment on the grounds that it will restrict the ability of human rights activists to campaign publicly for the rights of the accused.

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Saudi Arabia: Reduced Powers for Morality Police

Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice will no longer be allowed to interrogate those it arrests for behavior deemed un-Islamic, under an interior ministry decree published on May 25. According to the decree, “the role of the commission will end after it arrests the culprit or culprits and hands them over to police, who will then decide whether to refer them to the public prosecutor.” Commission members (mutawa’in) have until now enjoyed unchallenged powers to arrest, detain, and interrogate those suspected of “moral infractions.”

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Jordan: Islamist MPs Arrested; Evidence of Torture in Prisons

According to media reports, Jordanian Prime Minister Bakhit and Intelligence Director Muhammad Al Dhahabi met with leaders of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood July 12 to defuse tensions that arose following the detention on June 11 of four Islamist MPs who offered condolences to the family of the slain leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Jordanian-born Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. On July 11, Jordan’s state security court prosecutor ordered the release of one of the MPs, Ibrahim Al Mashwakhi, and referred the other three—Mohammad Abu Fares, Jaafar Al Hourani, and Ali Abu Sukkar—to the state security court on charges of violating Article 150 of Jordan’s Penal Code, which bans all writing or speech that is “intended to, or results in, stirring up sectarian or racial tension or strife among different elements of the nation.” On July 10, Jordan’s attorney general suspended the board of the Islamic Charity Society, seen by officials as the financial arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, as part of an investigation into alleged financial irregularities.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the Islamic Action Front said that the government is cracking down on Islamists after Hamas’s victory in Palestinian elections and ahead of Jordan’s legislative elections next year. A statement by Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the arrests as “a rollback of the Jordanian government’s commitment to fully respect freedom of expression.” Government spokesman Naser Judeh said the HRW statement was an “insult to the families of the victims” of the hotel bombings in Amman in November 2005.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak said on June 29 that he found evidence of systematic abuse in detention centers run by Jordanian police and intelligence services, but that he believed torture was not a policy in Jordan. Nowak recommended that Jordan make torture illegal, abolish special courts, and introduce measures to prevent abuse in state facilities such as better medical documentation and access to lawyers and doctors. Spokesman Judeh said officials would study this preliminary report and undertake reforms if necessary.

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Syria: Continuing Crackdown on Dissent

Seventeen state employees in Syrian ministries were dismissed by Prime Minister Muhammad Naji Al Otri on June 14 without explanation, but human rights activists believe it was because they signed the Beirut-Damascus declaration, a petition by Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals, writers, and human rights advocating normalization of relations between the two countries. Human Rights Watch has documented the arrest of 26 activists in Syria during the past three months.

Syrian journalist Ali Al Abdullah and his son Muhammad, both members of the Atassi Forum for National Dialogue, will be tried before a military tribunal on charges of insulting government employees, according to a June 20 statement by the Syrian National Organization for Human Rights. On June 6, a military court sentenced writer Muhammad Ghanem to six months for “insulting the Syrian president, discrediting the Syrian government, and fomenting sectarian unrest” after he published articles on a website calling on the Baath party to end the repression of Syrian Kurds. Click here for more information on this case.

Thirteen members of the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood arrested between 1981 and 1983 have been released, according to a July 9 statement by the head of the Syrian Organization for Human Rights Mhannad Al Hasni.

The Syrian government is drafting a new political parties law, according to a June 20 statement by Minster of Expatriates Buthaina Shaaban.

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Algeria: Referendum to Amend Constitution; Prominent Journalist Released

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced on July 4 that his country will hold a referendum by the end of 2006 on amendments to the constitution. Bouteflika did not specify the changes, but many believe they will allow him to run for a third term in office, as the constitution currently limits the president to two five-year terms. On May 25, Bouteflika appointed close ally and leader of the ruling National Liberation Front Abdelaziz Belkhadem as prime minister, replacing Ahmed Ouyahia, who is known to have opposed a constitutional amendment.

Mohammad Benchicou, publisher of Le Matin, a newspaper often critical of the government, was released on June 14 after serving two years in prison on charges of violating currency regulations. The charges were viewed by human rights groups as retaliation for his newspaper’s critical editorial line. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Algerian authorities have used tough criminal laws that prescribe prison terms in order to prosecute several leading journalists who are critical of the government. Click here for more information.

Algeria’s security services are using the “war on terror” as an excuse to perpetuate torture and ill-treatment, according to an Amnesty International report published on July 10 ahead of a visit to London by President Bouteflika to sign a series of agreement to facilitate the deportation of Algerian terror suspects.

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Morocco: Electoral Law Debate; Wave of Arrests of Justice and Charity Members

After months of debate between the Ministry of Interior and political parties, the Moroccan government approved a new electoral law on June 26 and will refer it to parliament in July. The new law will bar parties that failed to win at least 3 per cent of the vote in the 2002 elections to field candidates in the 2007 legislative elections, a stipulation strongly criticized by small parties. The bill maintains the current proportional representation system and the size of the electoral districts, but increases the percentage of votes a party must obtain to enter parliament from 3to 7 percent. Moroccan expatriates will not be allowed to vote in legislative elections. The Islamist Party of Justice and Development criticized the government for excluding opposition parties from the debate.

Moroccan authorities briefly detained approximately 100 members and leaders of the Islamist Justice and Charity group (Al Adl wal Ihsan), which is believed to be the largest opposition group in Morocco, on June 14. According to the group’s spokesman Fathallah Arslane, among the arrested was the group’s second-in-command Mohamed Abadi who will face prosecutors in July. Between May 24 and June 3, Moroccan authorities briefly detained between 300 and 400 members after the group launched an "open doors" campaign to recruit outside traditional areas such as mosques and universities.

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Democracy Assistance Dialogue: Sanaa Conference

The Yemeni government hosted a high-profile conference entitled “Sanaa conference on democracy, political reforms and freedom of expression” on June 25-26, under the G8-created program of Democratic Assistance Dialogue (DAD) and in partnership with the Italian non-governmental organization No Peace Without Justice. The conference, which was attended by more than 500 government officials and civil society representatives from around the world, stirred divisions among participants. Non-government representatives described the final communiqué as a “governmental vision.” In January 2004 Yemen hosted a similar conference in which participants signed the “Sanaa Declaration,” committing their respective countries to uphold democratic processes, institutions, and values.

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Upcoming Political Events

  • Yemen: Presidential and municipal elections, September 2006
  • Bahrain: Legislative and municipal elections, fall 2006.

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Views from the Arab Media

Several political shows on Arab satellite television focused on U.S. democracy promotion in the Middle East:  

  • Al Jazeera's “Hiwar Maftuh” (Open Dialogue) featured a discussion on reform and freedom of expression in the Arab world on July 1. Former Bahraini minister of health and education Ali Fakhru argued that the U.S. government's efforts at public diplomacy are wasted because they are contradicted by U.S. practices in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Abdul Malik Khalafi of the Arab Nationalist Conference asserted that the U.S. continues to support dictatorial regimes in the region and that it has lost its credibility in promoting reform. Deputy Assistance Secretary of State Scott Carpenter responded that the U.S. administration is aware that there is a “gap of credibility” in the region and that it is trying to reduce it.
  • Al Arabiya's “Abr Al Muhit” (Across the Ocean) hosted Joshua Muravchik from the American Enterprise Institute, Najib Ghadbian from Arkansas University, and Amr Hamzawy from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on June 30. The three guests agreed that the U.S. government is hesitating about democracy promotion in the Arab world, but said that it has not yet taken a decision to “retreat” from this policy. According to Muravchik, this hesitation is caused by the electoral results in Palestine and Egypt. Hamzawy observed that the fact that Arab media are now discussing this “retreat” implies that at one point there was a belief in the existence of such a campaign. Ghadbian argued that only if it truly accepts electoral results will the U.S. prove it is committed to promoting democracy.

The heightened tension between the Jordanian government and the Muslim Brotherhood is the subject of many commentaries in the Arab press:

  • In an opinion article in Jordan's daily Al Arab Al Yawm on July 2, Editor-in-chief Taher Al Adwan argues that the only way out of the current crisis is a serious dialogue between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood should issue an official clarification and apology about the MP's statements describing Abu Musab Al Zarqawi as a martyr and should take a clear stance against terrorism. For its part, the government should call for the release of the four MPs and clarify that it is not launching an attack on the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • The arrest of the four MP's who offered condolences to Zarqawi's family was a bad political move for the government and is proof of the increasing role of the security services in Jordan, according to a June 21 article by Islamist writer Fahmi Huweidi in Ash-Sharq Al Awsat. The matter was blown out of proportion; the government should not have equated the MPs' visit to Zarqawi's family with support of terrorism.
  • Palestinian writer Mamoun Al Huseini observes in a July 1 article in Al Hayat that the current crisis has its origins in the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections. The results encouraged Jordan's Islamic Action Front to be more vocal about political reform and also led the government to accuse it of collaborating with Hamas to create insecurity in Jordan.

Two episodes of Al Jazeera's political debate show “Ma Wara Al Khabar” (Behind the News) discussed the controversial draft press law in Egypt. On June 15, Hisham Mustafa Khalil, an MP from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), explained that the drive behind bill was the need for a mechanism to fight rumor mongering in the press. Press syndicate member Jamal Fahmi and legal expert Isam Al Istambuli disagreed, arguing that draft law is an assault on democracy and a step back for press freedom. On July 3, Yehya Qallash, secretary-general of the press syndicate, criticized the law for violating President Hosni Mubarak's 2004 promise to end jail terms for journalists. Majdi Al Daqqaq, editor-in-chief of the pro-government Al Hilal, observed that there is disagreement within the NDP about the law and these divisions would come to light in parliamentary debate.

A June 30 episode of “Ma Wara Al Khabar” addressed the political future of Kuwait after the parliamentary elections. Ghanim Al Najjar, professor at Kuwait University, former parliamentary candidate Nabila Al Anjari, and Islamist MP Nasser Al Sane ‘ agreed that the triumph of reformist candidates sends a clear message to the executive of the public's dissatisfaction with the current situation in Kuwait and strong desire for political reform.

Al Jazeera's Al Ittijah Al Muakis” (The Opposite Direction) featured a discussion on July 4 on Arab rulers and the prospects for change. Karim Badr, an Iraqi politician, argued that there is a political and economic crisis in the Arab world caused by the lack of democratic leaders with a vision for the future of their countries. Ahmad Al Soufi, secretary-general of the Yemeni Institute for Democratic Development, disagreed on the grounds that only experienced and nationalist leaders, such as Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh, can lead their citizens and prevent divisions and chaos in their societies. He insisted these leaders are still in power because they enjoy mass support.

In a June 8 episode of “Al Ittijah Al Muakis,” editor-in-chief of Al Quds newspaper Abdul Bari Atwan argued that there is a systematic campaign by the U.S. against Arab media that do not support the war in Iraq and U.S. interests in the region.

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Read On


Several recent publications focus on developments in Iraq:

  • “Shiite leader Muqtada Al Sadr must be recognized as a serious political actor, but to be a constructive one he must exercise responsible leadership and defuse his movement's violent inclinations, suggests a new International Crisis Group report (“Iraq's Muqtada Al-Sadr: Spoiler or Stabiliser,” Middle East report no. 55, July 11, 2006).

  • In “What to Do In Iraq: A Roundtable,” Larry Diamond, James Dobbins, Chaim Kaufmann, and Leslie H. Gelb respond to Stephen Biddle's essay “Seeing Baghdad, Thinking Saigon,” discussing what can be done to save Iraq from a full-fledged civil war and the Bush administration from a foreign policy fiasco (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006).

  • The empowerment of Iraq's Shiite majority in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime offers Washington a chance to build bridges with the region's Shiites, especially in Iran, argues Vali Nasr in “When the Shiites Rise” (Foreign Affairs, vol. 85, no. 4, July/August 2006, 58-74).

  • Iraq's Evolving Insurgency and the Risk of Civil War” chronicles the history, strategy, and tactics of the post-war insurgency in Iraq and the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict (Anthony H. Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 22, 2006).

  • Iraq will most likely see a protracted internal war and economic difficulties for years to come, warns Patrick Clawson in “Iraq's Future: A Concept Paper,” (Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 10, No. 2, June 2006, 60-72).

  • The United States can help reduce violence in Iraq by pressing the new minister of interior to reform his ministry through an effective program of U.S.-supported institutional development, argues Robert Perito in “Policing Iraq: Protect Iraqis from Criminal Violence” (United States Institute of Peace Briefing, June 2006).

Several recent publications discuss reform-related developments in specific Arab countries:

  • Simon Henderson suggests that the composition of Kuwait's newly-elected legislature could lead to heightened disagreement between the country's opposition and ruling family about the character of Kuwait's alliance with the United States (“Kuwait's Elections Exacerbate Differences between Ruler and Parliament,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Watch no. 1118, July 5, 2006).

  • While Kuwait's June 29 parliamentary elections may seem routine, this year's polling has two striking features: it is occasioned by an intense controversy over the size of electoral districts; and involves an unusual alliance between the country's liberal and Islamist opposition forces (Nathan Brown and Dina Bishara, “Kuwaitis Vote for a New Parliament…And Maybe a New Electoral System,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Web Commentary, June 22, 2006).

  • Fatah's weakness, and the difficulties facing Hamas provide a window of opportunity for a third and avowedly liberal-democratic option to emerge in Palestine, argues Riad Malki in “Beyond Hamas and Fatah,” (Journal of Democracy, vol. 17, no.3, July 2006, 132-7).

  • Institutions in Palestine have the potential to restrain Hamas but Western boycotts and sanctions may only further radicalize the movement and entice it to turn to Syria or Iran (Khalil Shikaki, “Sweeping Victory: Uncertain Mandate,” Journal of Democracy, vol. 17, no. 3, July 2006).

  • Recognizing that Shiites are the key to political reform in Lebanon, the United States can take steps to facilitate Lebanese democratization, such as persuading Hizbollah to disarm and blocking Iranian and Syrian interference in Lebanese politics (Abbas William Samii, “Shiites in Lebanon: The Key to Democracy,” Middle East Policy, vol. 8, no. 2, Summer 2006).

  • Saudi Arabia in the Balance: Political Economy, Society, and Foreign Affairs is collection of essays elucidating important topics such as ideology and change, and the dynamics of regime and opposition in Saudi Arabia (Eds. Paul Aarts, and Gerd Nonneman, New York: New York University Press, 2006).

  • Comparing cases of regime survival in Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, Jonathan Spyer argues that there are common elements that enable these regimes to continue to wield power, including the absence of a free flow of information and the weakness of liberal political forces (“Failure and Longevity: The Dominant Political Order of the Middle East,” Middle East Review of International Affairs, vol. 10, no. 2, 121-37).

  • Security, rather than human rights or good governance, remains a defining factor in the recently-normalized U.S.- Libyan relations, suggests Yahia H. Zoubir in “The U.S. and Libya: From Confrontation to Normalization” (Middle East Policy, vol. 8, no. 2, Summer 2006).

Several recent publications discuss U.S. and European democracy promotion policies in the Arab world:

  • The Bush administration's “freedom agenda” in the Middle East, now under siege, can only be advanced if the United States moves beyond bold rhetoric and more systematically utilizes the full range of tools and tactics at its disposal, argues Jennifer Windsor in “Advancing the Freedom Agenda: Time for a Recalibration?” (The Washington Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 3, Summer 2006, 21-34).

  • Not only is Washington's Middle East democratization policy irreversible, there is evidence that it is already bearing fruit, suggests Lorne Garner in “Will U.S. Democratization Policy Work?: Democracy in the Middle East” (Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 8, no. 3, Summer 2006).

  • Saliba Sarar uses an independent democratization index to suggest that tying aid to the achievement of country-specific goals might be the most sensible way for the United States to advance democracy in the Middle East (“Quantifying Arab Democracy,” Middle East Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Summer 2006).

  • Roberto Menotti examines the convergences and divergences in European and U.S. Middle East democratization policies in “Democratize but Stabilize” (Middle East Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Summer 2006).

  • Democratization in the European Neighborhood includes analysis of European democratization policies in the Arab world including Egypt, and Palestine (Ed. Michael Emerson, Center for European Policy Studies, 2005).

Several recent publications focus on the role of Islamist groups in political reform processes:

    • Supporting the moderate “Islamic renewal” movement is the best way for the United States to combat extremism and promote democracy in the Muslim World, argues Abdeslam Maghroui in “American Foreign Policy and Islamic Renewal” (United States Institute of Peace, Special Report No. 164, June 2006).

    • Islamist groups in the Middle East are most likely to obtain power through democratic means rather than coup d'etat, terror, or civil war. To deal with this challenge, the United States and Europe can help create a space for liberal reformers or make sure that once in power, Islamists fail to achieve their goals, argues Cameron S. Brown in “Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: How Inevitable is an Islamist Future?Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 10, No. 2, 108-20)

    • The June 2006 issue of Democratization is a special issue on the prospects for democratization in the Muslim world and the role of Islamist actors in that process; relevant case studies include Algeria by Frederic Volpi, Jordan by Ellen Lust-Okar, and Iraq by Beverly Milton-Edward.

    • In “Mustaqbal jama'at al ikhwan al muslimin” (The Future of the Muslim Brotherhood), Amr Al Shubaki examines the history of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood with the regime and examines various scenarios for the movement's future (Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, Strategy Paper, May 2006).

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