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Palestine: EU Policies Frustrate Policy Aims
Egypt: Civil Society and the Proposed Constitutional Amendments
Bahey Eldin Hassan
Arab States: Corruption and Reform
Yemen: Empty Economic Reforms Slow Bid to Join the GCC
Gregory D. Johnsen
Gulf States and Yemen: Challenges to Freedom of Expression
Rafia Al Talei
Palestine: Hamas and Fatah Sign Accord
Syria: Upcoming Elections
Jordan: Parliament Approves New Municipalities Law; Debate Over Press Law
Egypt Authorities Intensify Crackdown on Muslim Brothers; Journalists Arrested
Bahrain: Political Activists Arrested
Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Watch Denied Access to Prisons
UAE: Government Appoints Members of Advisory Council
Qatar: Run-Up to Elections
Morocco: Crackdown on Press
Upcoming Political Events
Views from the Arab Media
New publications on Palestinian and Israeli politics, prospects for peace, implications of the Lebanon war, Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Islamist movements.
The European Union approach towards the government led by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) formed in March 2006 has been one of isolation; the EU and its member states have refused dialogue, at least on an official level, and have withdrawn budget support. The EU intended to press Hamas into accepting the three conditions posed by the Quartet for continued cooperation and funding: renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel's right to exist, and acceptance of all treaties and agreements signed between the PLO and Israel.
At the same time, the Palestinian population was not meant to starve. The EU therefore, following a demand by the Quartet, devised a so-called “Temporary International Mechanism” (TIM) with the aim of maintaining basic services and infrastructure while circumventing the elected Palestinian government. TIM has been operating since late June 2006 through three “windows:” one focusing on support for hospitals and clinics, a second on energy supply and access to water, and a third on social allowances transferred to the poorest part of the population and to key workers delivering essential services. By the end of 2006, the European Commission had committed € 90 million to TIM, with European member states nearly matching that amount. Approximately 150,000 Palestinians have received financial support. Also, President Mahmoud Abbas's staff has received technical assistance and capacity building programs.
TIM has certainly helped to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the Palestinian territories. But such a catastrophe was only a danger due to Western and Israeli policies: the cut-off of EU budget support; Israel's suspension of the Value Added Tax and customs transfers to the Palestinian Authority; military operations in the Gaza Strip; and extensive closures of Gaza and the West Bank. While European aid to the Palestinians actually increased in 2006, the socio-economic situation in the Palestinian territories deteriorated further.
The EU approach has also been counterproductive with regards to state building and democratization. Governing institutions, already weakened during the years of the second intifada, have been undermined further. Palestinian Authority employees have been reduced to welfare recipients. Institutional reform efforts aimed at democratization have been thrown into reverse in order to reassert the office of the president over that of the prime minister. The focus of EU policies after 2000 had been to curtail the powers of the president (Yassir Arafat at the time), by introducing the office of a prime minister, establishing financial transparency, streamlining all revenues to a single account overseen by the Ministry of Finance, and unifying most security services under the Ministry of Interior. Now, with Hamas controlling the prime minister's office, the EU seeks to strengthen President Mahmud Abbas by way of direct cooperation and assistance, thereby reversing previous reforms and devaluing the Palestinian constitution.
Moreover, the EU has undermined its proclaimed aim of peaceful conflict settlement among Palestinians. Followers of Abbas's Fatah movement have interpreted the West´s stance as tacit encouragement to hover in the wings in the hope of retaking power upon an early collapse of the Hamas government. Such an interpretation—not entirely misconstrued—has discouraged Fatah from transforming itself into an effective and democratic opposition and from pursuing urgently needed internal reform. Some Fatah elements have understood the West´s position to include supporting their regaining power by force if needs be, an attitude further hardened by recent arms shipments and military training for Abbas's forces. Within Hamas, rather than strengthening the moderate trend, the Western policy of isolation has helped increase the influence of Iran, Syria and the exiled Hamas leadership as the government has had to look for allies and alternative sources of funding. An unprecedented escalation in intra-Palestinian violence has been the consequence.
In short, the European isolation-cum-relief approach has failed to advance peace efforts. Europeans should concentrate above all on getting Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table, the only way to strengthen President Abbas effectively. At the same time, Europeans should urgently return to state building in order to avoid further anarchy and penetration by jihadists. This, however, is impossible while circumventing the Palestinian government and undermining its institutions. If a Hamas-Fatah unity government is formed, the EU should therefore work with it if it adopts “a platform reflecting the Quartet principles” as stated in the EU January 2007 Council Conclusions. If such a government fails, a dialogue with Hamas will be needed more than ever to find common ground and reasonably apply the Quartet criteria.
Dr. Muriel Asseburg is head of the Middle East and Africa unit at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), German Institute for International and Security Affairs, in Berlin.
Bahey Eldin Hassan
On December 26, 2006 President Hosni Mubarak formally requested that the People's Assembly amend some 34 articles of the constitution, a move heralded by the government-controlled press as promising "a new era of democracy" and "the rise of the citizenry." Public interest in the amendments is low, however, as Egyptians are beginning to realize that the proposed amendments actually represent the constitutionalization of measures intended to undo the modest gains of the limited political opening of 2004-2005.
By the end of the autumn 2005 parliamentary elections, the erosion of such gains was already underway. The retrenchment was accomplished in 2005-2006 through administrative and security interference in the elections, the refusal to tolerate demonstrations, the imprisonment of Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour, the renewal of the State of Emergency, the postponement of local elections, and the use of the Emergency Law against hundreds of peaceful demonstrators with no connection to terrorism. Member of Parliament Talat Al Sadat was stripped of his immunity and convicted in a military trial for criticizing the armed forces. A license for the independent liberal leftist newspaper Al Badil (The Alternative) was denied and the Political Parties Committee refused the licensing requests of twelve new parties, some of whose applications were over a decade old.
Although some of the new proposed constitutional amendments are meaningless, several are causing particular concern among civil society organizations. Amendment of Article 88, for example, would curtail judicial supervision of general elections, which in 2005 exposed fraud and lack of transparency in the electoral process. This will mean a return to regime control of election results. Other amendments include further interference with judicial independence via the creation of a new supervisory body headed by the President.
The proposed amendments would also weaken constitutional guarantees of human rights in order to pave the way for lifting the State of Emergency in favor of a counter-terrorism law. Such changes are likely to grant security forces unlimited authority to detain persons, raid residences, and monitor postal and telephone communications without court permission. A special judicial regime might be created to grant the necessary authorization and provide political cover for the security apparatus. And reimposition of the State of Emergency will remain a possibility even when there is a new counter-terrorism law.
Regarding political life, by prohibiting religious parties the amendments appear to foreclose any hope of coming to terms with political Islam. Meanwhile, the creation of new non-religious parties continues to be blocked and existing parties are beset by administrative, legislative, and security restrictions.
In response to these developments, opposition groups and civil society have been divided and on the defensive. Heads of the centrist Wafd and lefitist Tagammu, older parties that now command little support, agreed in principle to Mubarak's proposed amendments, provoking sharp criticism and allegations of deal-making with the regime from within the two parties and in the independent press. The Judges' Club, among the most active and respected advocates of reform, has expressed concern that these amendments target human rights, judicial independence, and electoral transparency. The judges have demanded that the government permit international monitoring of future elections. Human rights organizations have expressed similar concerns about elections and the limiting of public freedoms under the pretext of combating terrorism. Some public figures and the Kifaya protest movement have called for a public boycott of discussion of the amendments and the coming referendum, arguing that previous experiences have resulted in the passage of regime initiatives without any meaningful change, while the ruling parting has benefited from the appearance that the amendments were the result of free democratic dialogue.
Many in the opposition and civil society are insisting on the amendment of Article 77 in order to set a limit of two presidential terms, with the understanding that this stipulation will not be applied retroactively to President Mubarak. Some analysts expect that Mubarak will agree to such an amendment in the final moments as a sop to the opposition parties.
The quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights has recommended to the government that such term limits be established and that judicial supervision of elections be maintained. But the Council has unfortunately ignored issues strongly connected to its original purview, despite the fact that constitutional human rights guarantees will be the main victim of the amendments.
With the required two-thirds majority in the People's Assembly, there is little question that the ruling party will pass the amendments handily and move on to the required public referendum. Then the next move in the game will be to pass a raft of laws stemming from the amendments, thereby completing the constitutional and legislative process of closing the political opening in Egypt.
Bahey Eldin Hassan is director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. This article was translated from Arabic by Kevin Burnham.
Are economic and political reforms an effective way to combat corruption, or do changes such as privatizing state industries actually increase opportunities for corruption? There is not a single answer to the question, but a closer look at the types of corruption that are endemic in various Arab states and the nature of current reform policies can help explain how reform and corruption interact.
There are three main types of corruption in the Arab world. The first is petty corruption such as that of a policeman in a country such as Syria taking a bribe to forgive a traffic offence. The second is massive corruption, which plagues the economies of many countries in the region, especially in the Gulf. This type of corruption takes place during multi-million dollar contract negotiations between state officials and business leaders to secure business deals. A good example of such corruption is deals by BAE Systems PLC, Britain's biggest and most influential arms company, with Saudi Arabia. A corruption probe of BAE dealings revealed the existence of a $110 million slush fund allegedly kept by the company in order to bribe Saudi officials in order to secure highly rewarding contracts as part of Al Yamamah arms deal in the 1980s. British Prime Minster Tony Blair intervened directly to stop the probe under the pretext of protecting British national interest—an example of how Western powers reinforce corruption in the Arab world.
The third type is political corruption, which is difficult to pin down but plagues the economic health of most countries in the Arab world. Political corruption is the use of economic deals and benefits to reward political allies, which invariably leads to massive diversion of public resources to unproductive activities. It also leads to elite resistance to political and economic reform programs that would level the business playing field.
The causes of corruption vary across Arab countries, but are often linked in one way or another to state intervention and the structure of economies and public sectors. In the Gulf countries, much of the corruption stems from the lack of transparency and procedures to guarantee competition in government procurement and contracts. Another problem, is the absence of strong enforcement mechanisms for anti-corruption laws, which allows corrupt senior officials to escape any real punishment. The best example of such failure is Bahrain, which has useful anti-corruption laws but weak state enforcement. A similar problem exists in Iraq.
In the Levant and North Africa, large scale bribery, embezzlement, and fraud are linked to the structure of the public sector and the nature of relations between the government and the economy. The Khelifa Bank case, the largest corruption probe in Algeria's history, involving some $2 billion, is an excellent example of corruption in state institutions. Corruption in Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon is also caused by the lack of proper standards of good governance, low salaries for civil servants, and the failure to introduce substantial institutional reform in the executive and legislative branches of the government.
Ultimately it is the nature of reform efforts that determines whether they will inhibit or facilitate corruption. Thus far, many governments have opted for uncontroversial programs that aim to promote regime stability rather than transform economies or polities. Within such limited reforms programs one cannot expect that corruption will be significantly reduced; rather, corruption may increase and hinder the effectiveness of reforms. Fighting corruption requires a real change in the distribution and disposition of institutional power to prevent the people who benefit from the current economic and political arrangements from using their political power to gain privileges at the expense of the public interest. As yet there is little evidence that Arab governments are willing to go that far.
Sufyan Alissa is an associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
Gregory D. Johnsen
In November 2006, Yemen walked away from a two-day donor conference in London with $4.7 billion in pledges over the next four years. The conference was a necessity for Yemen, an extremely poor country with a dire economic outlook for the coming decade. But even more than by the influx of aid, Yemen was encouraged by the fact that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) sponsored the conference, pledged more than half of the $4.7 billion, and agreed to hold a follow-up conference designed to highlight investment opportunities in Yemen for GCC states.
Yemen has been trying to join the GCC since 1996. This desire is largely driven by economic concerns, which are often masked by the rhetoric of historical and cultural ties. Yemen is eager for the significant and continuing aid that would come with GCC membership, as well as the investment capital that would flow into the country. The move would also provide a partial solution for Yemen's massive unemployment problem, which is well above 40 percent. Entry into the GCC is a safety net against failure.
The Yemeni government and GCC Secretary General Abdul Rahman Al Attiyah estimate that an additional decade is needed before Yemen is ready for full membership in the organization. But even this seems optimistic.
Yemen's economy is in disastrous shape, with more than 42 percent of the population living below the poverty line. It relies almost entirely on oil, supplies of which may be exhausted by 2015. Tragically, donors have overlooked the situation in Yemen due to a debilitating combination of negligence and fatigue, exacerbated by rampant government corruption that Yemen has only recently tried to curtail. Prior to November's conference, foreign aid to Yemen stood at $12 per capita compared to $33 for similarly poor countries in Africa.
Yemen also has rather cold relations with some of the GCC states, any one of which may veto Yemen's entry should it ever be put to a vote. Kuwait, for example, is still angry at Yemen for siding with Iraq during the 1990-91 Gulf War. Yemen sat on the UN Security Council at that time, and the series of abstentions and “no” votes that it cast at Kuwait's expense could very well continue to cost Yemen dearly in the future.
Continuing Kuwaiti animosity may be offset somewhat by concern on the part of other GCC members, particularly Saudi Arabia, about Yemen's potential to become a failed state. Allegations of weapon smuggling and terrorist infiltration into Saudi Arabia from Yemen are routine and the Kingdom is willing to do a great deal to encourage Yemen to maintain security. It also removed a major point of contention between the two countries when Crown Prince Sultan, who is largely responsible for the kingdom's Yemen policy, signed the final maps to resolve a lengthy border dispute in March 2006.
Yemen's biggest step forward in its attempt to join the GCC was directly linked to security concerns in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. At a December 2001 summit in Oman, the GCC granted participation rights to Yemen in the fields of education, health, sports and social affairs. But as security fears cooled, so too did the speed of integration. By 2004, Yemen's prospects looked so bleak that President Ali Abdullah Salih joked in an interview that now that the GCC had let Yemen into its football tournament the next step would be letting it participate in the basketball tournament.
Just as security fears will ensure that Yemen is given a lifeline, economic concerns will prevent that lifeline from growing into anything resembling full membership in the GCC. Its member states are extremely worried about what a massive influx of Yemeni workers would do to their economies. Following the 1990-91 Gulf War, Saudi Arabia expelled roughly 850,000 Yemenis from the country, most of whom have never been allowed back in. Even countries such as Oman and Qatar, which have often seemed favorable to Yemen's full integration, place severe restrictions on Yemenis visiting their countries.
GCC states have not yet had to take a decisive stand on integration, as Yemen is still working on reforming its laws to bring them more in line with GCC norms. Many of these reforms, such as the campaign against corruption, dovetail with steps that Yemen is taking to satisfy other foreign donors such as the United States and the World Bank. But the pace of change has been slow, and many of these reforms exist primarily on paper, designed more for external consumption rather than for instigating real change in the country. No combination of internal reforms, however, will create enough jobs to erode unemployment and keep pace with a population that is growing by 3.9 percent a year. So far, Yemen's GCC neighbors remain thoroughly unconvinced.
Gregory D. Johnsen is a Ph.D. candidate in History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University.
Rafia Al Talei
Among the achievements and setbacks in liberties in Arab countries in recent years, increased freedom of information and expression is often cited as being clearly on the positive side of the ledger. But in many countries, traditional and new media continue to face significant challenges, some of them enshrined in law and others in custom.
At a time when the Internet is spoken of as a medium that governments or dictatorial regimes cannot control or manipulate, in Arab countries many websites continue to be blocked or shut down. In fact their managers are often arrested, along with those who write for the websites any content that annoys high ranking government officials. Blocking websites is considered normal and is widely practiced in Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, particularly against websites that criticize governments, provide sensitive information that the government does not want circulated to the general public, address sensitive religious issues, or are considered “libertine” (a euphemism for pornographic).
Traditional media outlets face no less difficult conditions, as Gulf countries force censorship of domestic publications and forbid distribution of foreign publications containing controversial articles about the country in question. Levels of freedom of expression vary in these countries; in general Yemen and Kuwait permit greater freedom, while Oman and Saudi Arabia rank at the bottom.
In a December 2006 conference in Amman about media laws in the Gulf states and Yemen, journalists discovered that press and publishing laws in their countries were so similar as to appear copied from one country to another, particularly in areas relating to punishing or criminalizing press activities. These laws blur distinctions between the person of the head of state and his actions, placing both off-limits for criticism. In most Gulf states, with the exception of Yemen, prohibitions against defaming the sacred are taken to cover not only religions and religious symbols but also parliamentary institutions and deputies and the decisions they make in addition to heads of state, foreign governments, and the like.
Another common point among press and publication laws in Gulf countries is that they give governments broad powers to close, suspend, or ban media outlets. All of these states have extensive licensing requirements to allow the publication of any newspaper or periodical and require high levels of financial investment, which amounts to imposing forms of pre-and post-publication censorship.
Journalists participating in the Amman conference agreed on an agenda of actions to begin addressing these problems. First, they will propose specific new language to be added to press and publication laws in order to increase tolerance of freedom of expression. They will work towards the passage of laws enshrining the principle of the free flow and publication of information as an important basis for sustainable development, anti-corruption efforts, and good governance. They will also work for judicial independence and the encouragement of judiciary undertakings to present interpretations more in line with the constitutional texts. Furthermore, journalists agreed on the importance of encouraging civil society groups to take an interest in promoting media freedom, reporting on related developments, and holding governments accountable for meeting their obligations under international conventions on freedom of expression.
Another area needing work is overcoming self-censorship, corruption, and fear among journalists and elevating professional standards. This will involve raising awareness about laws related to the media and encouraging contacts with members of parliament in order to highlight the importance of free media. In addition, journalists need to write codes of professional conduct and set up independent press councils to help develop professional standards and protect media workers. During the recent Amman conference, journalists discussed how to establish a Gulf media watchdog group to publicize violations of media freedoms and create a unified strategy to defend them.
Gulf and Yemeni journalists believe that political reform and development cannot be achieved without guaranteeing the independence and freedom of media outlets. They also know that governments will spare no effort to weaken their opponents, either by continuing old repressive methods or by devising new ones. This is why journalists at the Amman conference closed with an urgent appeal to all those who wish to support the democratic reform process—inside their countries and interested international parties—to stand by journalists in their efforts to achieve greater freedom of expression.
Rafia Al Talei is an Omani journalist. This article was translated from Arabic by Judd King.
Outside observers invariably note unfavorably the virtual absence of popular pressure in the UAE for a more representative political system, as did Amal Hashim (December 2006). But if you measure quality of life by non-political criteria—economic well being, social progress, and respect for individual freedoms—UAE citizens enjoy an extremely high standard of living. How can this be when UAE citizens have fewer rights to political participation than do the citizens of Iraq and neighboring Iran?
In fact, contrary to the American historical experience, in many countries ambitious political experiments—whether internally generated, as in the Iranian revolution, or externally, as in Iraq —have so far been disasters for most citizens, while perhaps benefiting certain ambitious and elitist political activists. In the long term, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, for example, might lead to a vast improvement in the lives of individual Iranians, but it is proving to be a very long term indeed. Large numbers of Iranians have voted with their feet and given up the joy of political participation to become disenfranchised expatriates in the UAE.
Reform initiatives in the UAE have come from the hereditary rulers themselves, who have decided that current good times are not likely to last forever and that involving a wider but still restricted circle of citizens in governance is prudent. American friends of the UAE are right to encourage moves toward wider political participation, greater transparency, and increased citizen access to government decision makers. But it is presumptuous to suggest that we understand the correct tactics and timing better than the Emiratis do.
Vice President, Middle East Institute, Washington DC
Regarding the recent interview with Ayman Abdel Nour (November 2006), the current economic opening by the Syrian regime should not be seen as a free choice but rather as the only way out for President Bashar Al Assad, especially after political reform was aborted in its early stages. International political pressure that isolated Syria politically and economically, Syrians' poor standard of living, sharp economic disparities between Syria and neighboring countries, more vociferous opposition inside Syria and abroad, and the unavoidable pressures of globalization are all factors that forced the current regime to appease important sectors in Syrian society, which, after more than 30 years of political subjugation, now must worry about simply putting bread on the table. Indeed, in the absence of any political reforms, Syrians talk constantly about economic measures such as the opening of private banks and steps to facilitate investment.
Any benefits from economic reform, however, remain confined to a narrow elite class, due to the sharp and unprecedented rise in prices (which I personally observed during a visit to Syria last summer) and Syria's long history of corruption, favoritism, and disregard for the law. This sort of economic progress, which excludes the great majority of Syrians, combined with the growing constraints on civic and political freedoms, is likely to be ineffective in the long run. And in any case, man cannot live by bread alone.
Azza Al-Jindi Atassi
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Palestine: Hamas and Fatah Sign Accord
After months of political deadlock, Hamas and Fatah signed a power-sharing accord on February 8 under which Hamas will head a coalition government that will “respect” past peace agreements with Israel. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya of Hamas has to form a new coalition government within five weeks with nine Hamas members (including the prime minister position), six Fatah members, and four members from other factions. The vital post of interior minister, which controls the security forces, will go to an independent because both groups were reluctant to see the other faction hold the ministry. Hamas must propose the candidate for approval by Abbas. Independents will also fill the foreign ministry and planning ministry posts. Clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen have killed 130 Palestinians since May and cease-fires have repeatedly broken down.
In light of the parliamentary elections scheduled for April, on January 3 Syrian President Bashar Al Assad approved an amendment (Arabic text) to the 1973 electoral law that includes strict regulations on campaign financing. The new law prohibits candidates from providing “services and financial assistance” prior to elections, limits campaign spending to 3 million Syrian pounds (US$57,466), and obligates candidates to use an accountant to supervise expenditures during the election campaigns. The legislative elections are also expected to operate under a new political parties law which has not yet been passed. The draft law requires that new parties be “allied to, created by, or friends of the Baath” and that party founders be over 35 years old, have no criminal record, and be proven supporters of the Baathist March 8 Revolution. Political parties cannot be based on religious, sectarian, or tribal identities and cannot have operated before 1963 (only the Baath Party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, and the Communist Party are exempted from the last restriction). According to the draft law, the decision to grant a new party a license will be made by a committee that includes the head of the Shura Council, the ministers of justice and interior, the minister of state for people's assembly affairs, and three independent judges.
The presidential referendum whereby all eligible Syrian voters will be called upon to give their confidence to Assad for a second seven-year term is scheduled to take place at the end of May.
Municipal elections—the first under the new local administration law introduced in September 2005— will be held in August. The new law abolishes the “closed lists” system in existence since 1971 under which Syrians voted for candidates for provincial councils from a list set by the National Progressive Front, the ruling coalition of parties overwhelmingly dominated by the Baath Party. The law, however, continues to allow the cabinet, headed by the president, to appoint provincial governors by decree.
Jordan: Parliament Approves New Municipalities Law; Debate Over Press Law
The Jordanian parliament's lower house approved a new municipalities law on February 4 under which the mayors and councils of all municipalities will be elected, except in Amman where half the members of the council will continue to be appointed by the government. Under the 2001 law, all mayors and half of the council members in all municipalities were appointed. The lower house rejected an article that would have allowed the government to appoint municipalities' general managers. The law also includes a 20 percent quota for women in the council seats, allows joint membership in the parliament and municipal councils, and reduces the age of eligible voters from 19 to 18 years. If the law is approved by the senate and the king, new elections must be conducted within six months.
Parliament is also debating a controversial draft press law, criticized by Jordanian journalists and press freedom organizations for allowing the imprisonment of journalists for alleged offenses related to their writing.
In a continuation of the Egyptian government's crackdown on the Muslim Brothers, authorities referred the cases of 40 members arrested over the past two months to a military tribunal on February 6. Decisions by the military courts cannot be appealed; the authorities had not referred any Brotherhood members to a military tribunal since 2001. Among those facing trial on charges of money laundering and creating a militia is Khairat Al Shater, the second deputy to the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. The charges arise from military-like marches by students affiliated with the organization at Cairo's Al Azhar University in December during a protest against the rigging of student union elections. Between December 18 and January 14, Egyptian authorities arrested 23 senior members of the Muslim Brothers and at least 140 students. Click here for details.
The Muslim Brothers announced their proposals for constitutional reform—including setting a limit of a single five-year term for the Egyptian president—on February 14. The Brothers also proposed strengthening constitutional guarantees for judicial supervision of elections and for the freedom to form political parties. For more details in Arabic, click here.
Al Jazeera journalist Howaida Taha was detained for 24 hours on January 13 while producing a documentary about police torture in Egypt and charged with “practicing activities that harm the national interest of the country” and “possessing and giving false pictures about the internal situation in Egypt that could undermine the dignity of the country.” Judicial authorities initiated trial proceedings on January 27. Click here for details.
Blogger Abdul Kareem Nabil Suleiman, imprisoned since November 2006, is facing a possible 11-year prison sentence on charges of inciting hatred of Islam, defaming the president, and spreading rumors likely to disturb the peace. An Alexandria court announced that the sentence will be delivered on February 22. Click here for details. According to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, 45 journalists in Egypt face court cases.
Egypt's official National Human Rights Council called for canceling the state of emergency, amending the penal code, and improving the treatment of detainees in it third annual report (Arabic text). The council received 5,826 complains from citizens in 2006 about arbitrary detention and the practice of torture.
Bahraini authorities arrested three rights activists on February 2: Hassan Mushaima, the secretary general of the Movement for Liberty and Democracy (Al Haqq); Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR); and independent activist Shaker Abdul Hussein. They were released without bail the same day after rioting in Shiite areas. The three are to be charged with "promoting change to the political system through illegitimate means, inciting hatred of the political system, agitation, and harming the public interest.” Mushaima and Al Khawaja are outspoken critics of the government and have been jailed in the past for lengthy periods because of their political activities. Al Haqq and the BCHR are banned by the Bahraini government. Six political societies including Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest political society and main opposition group, condemned the arrests in a joint statement on February 4. Click here for details
Political activists Muhammad Said Al Sahlawi and Hussein Abdul Aziz Al Habshi, arrested on November 16, were sentenced to 6 and 12 months in prison respectively for possession of leaflets calling for the boycott of parliamentary and municipal elections in November 2006. The public prosecutor charged them under articles 160, 161, and 168 of the Bahraini Penal Code, which criminalize the dissemination and possession of materials that could “damage the public interest.” Click here for details.
During its first significant fact-finding mission in Saudi Arabia , the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) was denied access to the country's detention facilities on December 18, 2006. HRW claims it was given numerous assurances from senior government officials that such visits could take place during the mission. Click here for details.
The United Arab Emirates government appointed 20 of the 40 members of the Federal National Council (FNC) on February 4, including eight women. The other 20 members were elected indirectly in December 2006 for the first time in the country's history. The government selected 6,689 voters (including 1,189 women) that were allowed to run and cast votes. Election officials stated they envisage universal suffrage for nationals in four years and an expansion of the council's role to include more oversight powers. The FNC currently lacks legislative powers. Click here for a list of FNC members.
Elections to Qatar's 29-member Central Municipal Council will be held on April 1, according to a February 4 decree by the emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Qatar is also set to hold its first legislative elections this year after the Ministry of Interior formed an electoral commission, finalized voter lists, and delineated constituencies. Qatar's constitution, approved in an April 2003 popular referendum, creates a legislative body with 30 members elected by universal suffrage and 15 appointed by the emir. Elections were initially planned for mid-2005 but postponed due to alleged problems in the voter lists. Currently Qatar only has an appointed council with a limited advisory role. According to the constitution, the legislature will have three main powers: to approve (but not prepare) the national budget; to monitor the performance of ministers through interpellations and no-confidence votes; and to draft, discuss, and vote on proposed legislation, which becomes law only with the vote of a two-thirds majority and the Emir's endorsement.
Driss Ksikes, editor of the independent weekly Nichane, and reporter Sanaa Al Aji were found guilty of denigrating Islam under Article 41 of Morocco's Press and Publication Law after they published an article analyzing popular jokes. A Moroccan court on January 15 fined Ksikes and Al Aji 80,000 dirhams (U.S. $9,300) and sentenced them to suspended three year prison terms that could be imposed if they were convicted of a future offense. Prime Minister Driss Jettou banned Nichane on December 20. The court's decision effectively extends the closure for another two months. Click here for details.
The Moroccan newsweekly Le Journal Hebdomadaire remains under heavy pressure almost a year after an appeals court upheld the sentence in a defamation suit, ordering the editor Abu Bakr Jamai and reporter Fahd Al Iraqi to pay 3 million dirhams (US$354,000) in damages to Claude Moniquet, head of the Brussels-based security think tank European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center. Jamai resigned on January 18 after Justice Ministry officials gave him a week to come up with the fine, the largest in Moroccan history. Click here for details.
Return to table of contents.
Upcoming Political Events
- Syria: Legislative Elections, April 2007; Presidential Referendum, May 2007; Municipal Elections, August 2007.
- Qatar: Municipal Elections, April 1, 2007; Parliamentary Elections (Date not set)
- Algeria: Legislative Elections, May 2007.
- Jordan: Legislative Elections, June 2007.
- Morocco: Legislative Elections, September, 2007.
- Oman: Legislative Elections, October 2007.
The Egyptian government's crackdown on the Muslim Brothers was the subject of many commentaries in the Arab media:
- Amr Al Shobaki warns that the government's latest campaign against the movement is a dangerous departure from its previous strategy of cooptation and may unleash a new form of confrontation that will be disastrous for Egypt, in a February 8 opinion article in Egypt's Al Masry Al Youm.
- The current situation is a reflection of an attempt by both the government and the Muslim Brothers to redefine the parameters of their relationship, which were established in 1954, argues Diaa Rashwan in a February 5 article in Al Masry Al Youm. It is clear that the regime's amendments to the constitution and to the rules of the political game in Egypt are intended not only to prevent the Muslim Brothers from forming a political party but to undermine all their political activities.
- The regime's current campaign will have the unintended result of strengthening the Muslim Brothers even further, according to Waheed Abdul Majid in a February 8 article in the UAE's Al Ittihad.
- The Muslim Brothers' religious ideology would create sectarian tension in Egypt and undermine the country's role as a bastion of stability in the region, according to Hossam Badrawi, member of the general secretariat of the ruling National Democratic Party, in a January 19 appearance on Al Jazeera's “Akthar Min Rai” (More than One Opinion). Ibrahim Munir, member of the Muslim Brothers supreme guide office, agued that his movement will not impose any rules outside the parameters established by Egypt's constitution.
The U.S.-Iran confrontation is creating a dangerous polarization in the Arab world, argues Muhammad Abu Rumman in a February 6 article in Jordan's Al Ghad. The “moderate camp” sees in Iran a grave threat to Arab interests in the region whereas the “opposition camp” worries that Iran is the last bulwark against American hegemony. Arab publics are caught between two unappealing projects in the region—the American and the Iranian—because their leaders have failed to find an Arab third way.
In a similar argument, Atef Al Ghamry posits in a February 7 article in Egypt's Al Ahram that the absence of strategic thought and a national vision among Arab leaders has created a strategic vacuum that has been exploited by Iran and the United States. The Arab world has failed in assessing probable scenarios in the region and developing adequate strategies.
Azmi Bishara argued that the current crises in the Arab world have political rather than sectarian roots, in a January 27 episode of Al Jazeera's “Hiwar Maftouh” (Open Dialogue). Sectarian identities are used by leaders in political struggles. Egyptian liberal politician Osama Al Ghazali Harb contended that developments in Iraq and Lebanon demonstrate that Arab countries have failed to adopt the model of the modern nation state.
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Recent publications focus on Iraq:
- Only through a policy of military disengagement involving a negotiated accord with the Iraqi government, a dialogue with Iraq's neighbors, and new diplomatic initiatives throughout the region can the United States minimize the cost of its failure in Iraq, argues Steven Simon in “After the Surge: The Case for U.S. Military Disengagement from Iraq” (Council on Foreign Relations, Council Special Report, February 2007).
- In “Things Fall Apart: Containing the Spillover From an Iraqi Civil War,” Daniel L. Byman and Kenneth M. Pollack draw on the history of recent civil wars to propose several tactics that the United States might use to try to contain spillover from all-out civil war in Iraq if the troop surge fails (Brookings Institution, Analysis Paper no. 11, January 2007).
- Unless the U.S. and Iraqi governments acknowledge that Iraq is in a civil war, they will not be able to devise realistic policy options for designing an end to the conflict (Ahmed S. Hashim, “Iraq's Civil War,” Current History, January 2007, 3-10).
- Phebe Marr points to three characteristics of Iraqi leaders who came to power after the December 2005 elections: the lack of experience; tensions between outsiders (exiles) and insiders; the profound the development of political parties often accompanied by militias; and the profound distrust between the new leadership and those with some association with the old regime (“Iraq's New Political Map,” United States Institute of Peace, Special Report no. 179, January 2007).
- Absent a political settlement in Iraq, a withdrawal of U.S. troops is bound to hurt U.S. regional interests, argues Robert Zelnick in “Iraq: Last Chance” (Policy Review, Dec 2006/Jan 2007, 3-23).
- The Bush administration has only itself to blame for its disastrous course in Iraq to date, argues Kenneth M. Pollack in “The Seven Deadly Sins of Failure in Iraq: A Retrospective Analysis of the Reconstruction” (Middle East Review of International Affairs, vol. 10, no. 4, December 2006, 1-20).
- An International Crisis Group report emphasizes the need for new multinational efforts to reach a fresh political arrangement between the various Iraq constituents. This is achievable through a new course of action that would be attained after an honest assessment of the current situation (“After Baker-Hamilton: What to do in Iraq,” Middle East Report no. 60, December 19, 2006).
- Any new policy on Iraq must address the domestic vacuum of power as a result of Washington's failure to restore security and governance after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, as well as the regional implications of the rise of Shiite power, argues Marina Ottaway in “What Should Be Done About Iraq” (Current History, January 2007, 42-3).
Several recent publications discuss reform related developments in Arab countries:
The ongoing standoff between the Lebanese government and the opposition led by Hizbollah has paralyzed the institutions of the Lebanese state and raised concerns about prolonged confrontation and sectarian strife, argues Heiko Wimmen in “Cedar Revolution Reloaded” (Heinrich Boll Foundation, February 5, 2007).
- In “Hizbollah and its Changing Identities,” Amal Saad-Ghorayeb and Marina Ottaway argue that amid the current crisis, Hizbollah is trying to reconcile three conflicting identities: a movement that looks to Iran for support, a resistance movement revered by Sunni and Shiite Arabs for standing up to Israel, and a player in the Lebanese domestic scene (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Policy Outlook no. 34, January 2007).
- Despite its belligerence, Hizbollah is determined to ensure that Lebanon does not plunge into a civil war, according to a set of interviews with top Hizbollah officials conducted by Amal Saad-Ghorayeb and summarized in “In Their Own Words: Hizbollah's Strategy in the Current Confrontation” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Policy Outlook no. 32, January 2007).
- The February 2007 issue of Al Mustaqbal Al Arabi (The Arab Future) includes analysis of the crises in Lebanon and Iraq, with an emphasis on the inextricable fates of Lebanon and the Arab world as a whole. Click here for a table of contents in Arabic.
- Even if a deal is eventually reached between the March 14 forces and Hizbollah, it would not preclude the possibility that the violence will eventually lead to full-scale civil war, argue David Schenker and Andrew Exum in “Is Lebanon Headed toward Another Civil War?” (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Watch no. 1189, January 25, 2007).
- An International Crisis Group report calls on Lebanese politicians and outside players to recognize the enormous risks of the current Lebanese crisis and seek compromise before it is too late (“Lebanon at a Tripwire, International Crisis Group, Middle East Report no. 20, December 21, 2006).
Several new publications discuss developments in Egypt:
- The United States needs to recommit itself to promoting political reform in the Arab world, especially in those countries where it has the most influence, such as Egypt (Hala Mustafa and Augustus Richard Norton, “Stalled Reform: The Case of Egypt,” Current History, January 2007, 39-41).
- Egypt is in the early stages of a leadership transition that may swing the country toward greater openness and political competition or toward consolidated authoritarianism. The next few months will provide the United States with an important opportunity to promote democracy without endangering stability or the U.S.-Egyptian relationship, writes Michele Dunne (“Time to Pursue Democracy in Egypt,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Policy Outlook no. 30, January 2007).
- The 2005 parliamentary elections in Egypt have highlighted important internal power struggles with the country's ruling National Democratic Party. A shift in favor of party reformers may have a decisive effect on the future of the Egyptian regime (Virginie Collubier, “The Internal Stakes of the 2005 Elections: The Struggle for Influence in Egypt's National Democratic Party,” Middle East Journal, vol. 61, no. 1, Winter 2007, 95-111).
- In Political Life in Cairo's New Quarters: Encountering the Everyday State, Salwa Ismail shows that despite their relative autonomy, the city's new urban communities—characterized by unregulated housing, informal economic activity, and the presence of Islamist groups—are not immune from government surveillance and discipline (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).
New publications on Morocco include:
- Despite its institutional weakness, the influence of the Moroccan parliament on the country's political life and reform efforts should not be underestimated, contends Guilain P. Denoeux in “Rethinking the Moroccan Parliament: The Kingdom's Legislative Development Imperative” (Journal of North African Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, March 2007, 79-108).
- Moroccan youth cite modern rationales rather than traditional sources of legitimacy as reasons for accepting King Mohammed VI's authority, suggests Sonja Hegasy in “Young Authority: Quantitative and Qualitative Insights into Youth, Youth Culture, and State Power in Contemporary Morocco” (Journal of North African Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, March 2007, 19-36).
- Despite the fact that it allows for democratic elections, Morocco's electoral framework would benefit from measures to increase the transparency of the electoral process, according to a report by Democracy Reporting International (“Assessment of the Electoral Framework of Morocco,” January 24, 2007).
Recent publications on reform related developments in other Arab countries include:
- In “The European Union's Democracy Promotion Policies in Algeria: Success or Failure?,” Aylin Guney argues that the European Union's failure to assist Algerian democratization is related to member state policy preferences, the weakness of intervention tools such as the European Neighborhood Policy, and favoring short-term over long-term political stability (Journal of North African Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, March 2007, 109-28).
- Notwithstanding its success in developing a set of common principles, the Syrian opposition remains weak in the face of the regime's repressive policies, according to Joshua Landis and Joe Pace in “The Syrian Opposition” (The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2006, 45-68).
- Ma`arakat al Islah fi Suria (The Reform Battle in Syria) is a collection of essays examining Syria's regional policies, political Islam in the role of civil society, and the challenges of reform. Contributors include Michel Kilo, Burhan Ghalyoun and Rashwan Ziada (Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, 2006).
- A year after Hamas's victory at the polls, the movement retains a high level of public support in Palestine, while its political rival Fatah has not even begun to unify or reform itself after last year's defeat (Mohammad Yaghi, “Palestinian Public Opinion a Year after Hamas's Victory,” January 30, 2007, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Watch no. 1191).
- The winter 2007 issue of Al Majallah Al Arabiya lil Ulum Al Siyasia (The Arab Journal of Political Science), published by the Beirut-based Center for Arab Unity Studies, includes studies on the status of Islam in the constitutions of Gulf Cooperation Council countries and the relationship between state and society in Arab countries. Click here for a table of contents in Arabic.
- Although it has used cosmetic changes to maintain stability over the last two decades, the Jordanian regime should realize that given current domestic and international conditions, stability is best maintained through meaningful political reform, contends Julia Choucair in “Illusive Reform: Jordan's Stubborn Stability” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Paper no. 76, December 2006).
Several new publications address region-wide developments:
- Human Rights Watch launched its 2007 World Report on January 11. The report evaluates human rights development in Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. Click here to read the English or Arabic version of these country reports.
- The major barrier to effective U.S. support for Arab civil society is the hostility of autocratic Arab governments toward greater independence or activism in the nongovernmental sector, argue Tamara Cofman Wittes and Sarah E. Yerkes in “The Middle East Freedom Agenda: An Update” (Current History, January 2007, 31-8).
- Corruption and a lack of independence for journalists, parliamentarians, judges, lawyers, are key concerns identified by survey participants in Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, and Lebanon, according to two new surveys published by the Arab Center for the Development of the Rule of Law and Integrity and IFES (January 12, 2007).
- Fred H. Lawson's Constructing International Relations in the Arab World examines the ways in which nationalist leaders in the Arab world abandoned the project of Arab nationalism in favor of self-interested, state-oriented policies (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2006).
- Islamism and the resistance paradigm are replacing the democracy agenda in the Arab world, contends Barry Rubin in “Arab Politics: Back to Futility” (Middle East Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 1, Winter 2007, 53-62).
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