Browsing articles from "August, 2009"
Aug 29, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Favorable democracy trends in the Middle East?

F. Gregory Gause, a professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont, has written a devastating critique that democratizing trends are favorable in the Middle East, as Thomas Friedman, David Ignatius, and James Traub, among others have argued.  Gause asserts that supporters of this argument make one of three claims: Islamic parties are losing ground, radical Islam is losing popularity, and an Obama effect.  According to Gause, the first and third ones are wrong, and the second is irrelevant.

First, Gause claims that Islamic parties are not losing ground.  In particular, viewing Lebanon’s and Iran’s elections as supporting this trend is misleading:

Contrary to the punditocracy’s analysis, the June 2009 Lebanese parliamentary election was far from an anti-Islamist referendum…the key swing voters were Christians. As Lebanon is the only Middle Eastern country with an electorally significant Christian community, it can hardly be a bellwether for trends elsewhere in the Middle East…Moreover, as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was quick to point out, his coalition actually received over one hundred thousand more votes total than his March 14 rivals. The Christian communities are overrepresented in Lebanon’s parliament and the Shia drastically underrepresented. March 14’s comfortable parliamentary majority in fact was drawn from fewer than 50 percent of the votes cast in the election…All told, hailing the Lebanese vote as a blow to Islamist political fortunes more generally is a profound misreading of events.

And heralding Iran as data point number two on the Middle East–secularism trend graphs only shows the pundits’ multilevel misunderstanding of the politics and dynamics at play in the Middle East…In Iran, this electoral phenomenon is a reflection of disillusionment with the powers that be, who happen to be Islamists a “throw the bums out” mentality that is a standard trope of politics everywhere…The problem with seeing Iran as a model for the Arab world is that, for the most part, the “bums” who would be thrown out of power in real democratic elections in the Middle East are our allies, the leaders who cooperate with the United States, host our military bases and maintain peace treaties with Israel. Since throughout the Arab world the most important and organized political-opposition forces are Islamist, a “throw the bums out” sentiment would lead to more Islamist governments, not fewer.

The supposed regional trend against Islamist groups of which the Iranian and Lebanese elections are purported to be a part is highly suspect. If we take 2005 as a starting date, indeed not so very long ago, we see victories by Islamist parties and coalitions in national parliamentary elections throughout the region. This was the case in Iraq, Palestine and Turkey. In Egypt, despite increasingly blatant government intervention against them, the Muslim Brotherhood won 20 percent of the seats in the 2005 Egyptian parliamentary election. More importantly, they won nearly 60 percent of the seats they contested.

Second, Guase argues that waning popularity for radical Islam is irrelevant for democracy:

Armed extremists play into politics through bullets, not ballots. Their fortunes tell us little about electoral tendencies. It is incorrect to conflate the very positive trends regarding the decline of al-Qaeda and its ilk in Muslim public opinion and politics with the fortunes of mainstream Islamist political parties.

Third, Gause contends that there is no Obama effect:

Finally it is a mistake to attribute recent events in the region to an “Obama effect” of rising pro-American sentiment…It was Christian voters who determined the Lebanese outcome, and Obama’s outreach has been to Muslims. Far from encouraging opposition to the Iranian regime, the Obama administration has made its willingness to engage Tehran’s rulers a centerpiece of its new Middle East policy.

Gause suggests that three principals should democracy assistance programs in the Middle East:

  1. Do no harm to core US interests, such as Arab-Israeli peace, stability in the Persian Gulf, and nuclear non-proliferation.
  2. No hypocrisy: don’t talk about democracy where we don’t want it, such as in Egypt and Jordan.  The US is much better off by being honest than pushing for elections, but not accepting the results, as occurred with Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian elections.
  3. Help consolidate democracy where it exists, specifically Iraq, Kuwait, and Turkey.

I am not a Middle East expert, so I will refrain from analyzing the paper.  It seems convincing to me, however.  Michael Allen has more.

Aug 29, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Dan Brumberg on Afghanistan

Dan Brumberg, Co-Director of the Democracy and Governance Program at Georgetown University and Acting Director of the Muslim World Initiative at the United States Institute of Peace, argues that the US faces a no-win situation in Afghanistan as more US troops alone is not sufficient to defeat the Taliban:

the battle against the Taliban cannot be won by American (or other Western) soldiers and pilots…there must be a political solution that unites all factions behind a government widely seen as both effective and legitimate.

Brumberg contends that Afghani leaders, especially President Karzai, have not been serious about addressing these issues.  He concludes:

This may be a no-win situation…we cannot stay but we cannot go. This is the great conundrum that President Obama faces as its pulls U.S. troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan.

Not all agree with Brumberg’s conclusion that we cannot leave.  As I wrote in a recent post, knowledgeable people on Afghanistan are beginning to suggest that US interests do not require that we defeat the Taliban.  See, for example, discussions at Abu Muqawama and Democracy Arsenal.

Aug 28, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

A Closer Look at US D&G Funding

In a recent post, I discussed how pleased I was to see that the Obama administration is asking for a sizable increase for Democracy and Governance (D&G) programs in its 2010 budget request.  Since then I have taken a closer look at the numbers to get a sense of what they tell us about the priorities of the administration in this area.  There is some good news and some less than good news.

First the less than good news.  D&G funding is overwhelmingly and increasingly concentrated in a small number of countries in conflict.  Just over 50% of all D&G funding goes to four countries, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Sudan, and one-fourth of the requested increase is for these countries. The governance challenges these countries face suggest that D&G programs in them face a high likelihood of failure.  As one might infer from my recent post on Afghanistan, D&G programs are unlikely to be successful in a country where soldiers openly and publicly demand bribes from foreign election observers on election day while neglecting their duty to provide security.

At the same time, there is some good news.  The administration is increasing funding for a number of countries where democratic institutions are functioning, but where democratic consolidation is not yet certain (and in some cases where serious backsliding is occurring), specifically Bangladesh, Bolivia, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Lebanon, Liberia, Serbia, Nigeria, Nicaragua, Serbia, and Ukraine.  I am very pleased to see funding increases in these countries as D&G programs are likely to be most successful in countries where governments are trying to govern democratically and/or where pressure forces them to do so.  Greater funding for these countries amounts to almost one-third of the total requested increase.  Nevertheless, total D&G funding for these countries is only about 10% of global D&G funding and only 20% of the amount for Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Sudan.

In sum, we are far from using D&G funds in their most productive way.  While D&G programs can help stabilize a country in a post-conflict environment, they are no substitute for security.  In my opinion, concentrating funds in countries where security is the main challenge is a questionable policy.

Aug 27, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Protest in South Africa

For a while I have been interested in the violent protests that are a daily occurrence in South Africa.  The subject has caught my attention not only because of their frequency, but also because of the targets and methods protestors employ, for example killing elected officials.  When I was in South Africa a few weeks ago, municipal employees protested by dumping garbage in the street and vandalizing government property.  These demonstrations fascinated me because government employees protested by creating unpleasant work for themselves when they returned to their job.

Today’s protests top the ones I have mentioned above.  In Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, approximately 1500 to 2000 members of the South Africa National Defense Force held an illegal march, destroying government and private property.  The most interesting part for me was the standoff between the police and the soldiers:

The protest turned violent when marchers arriving at the Union Buildings [the office of the President] were not allowed access to the property. According to media reports, police fired rubber bullets at protesters who refused to disperse after handing over a memorandum of grievances.

You know you have a serious governance problem when the police fire rubber bullets at soldiers who are protesting illegally and violently.

Aug 27, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

2010 Budget Request for D&G Programs

Because I was out of the country for the past four months, I missed the Obama Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget request for democracy and governance programming.  The US Government calls these programs Governing Justly and Democratically (GJ&D).  Overall, the budget is a nice surprise as the administration is requesting a 9% increase, from about $2.5 billion in FY 2009 to $2.8 billion in FY 2010 (the fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30.)  Thus, while some have criticized the administration for not talking enough about democracy, it seems to be committed where it counts, the amount of money it is willing to spend.

The figure that most immediately stands out is that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan account for close to half the GJ&D budget.  Combined, the administration is asking for $1.3 billion for GJ&D programs for these three countries, with the vast majority going to Afghanistan. That country alone accounts for almost 30% of global GJ&D programs.  Perhaps surprisingly, by far the biggest cut for all countries is an $82 million decrease for Afghanistan, from $882 million to $800 million.  While this may appear dramatic on the surface, the decrease is mainly the result of election-related expenses.  The FY 2010 budget is actually close to 50% larger than the FY 2008 budget, the year prior to the election.  By far the largest increase for all countries is an additional $107 million for Pakistan, a 130% rise over FY 2009, primarily for programs in civil society, human rights, and rule of law.  The administration is asking for an 11% increase for Iraq, or about $20 million.

The budget also requests substantial increases for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Nigeria, Serbia, Sudan, and Ukraine.  Alternatively, the administration is requesting a cut for West Bank and Gaza of $18 million, or 30%.  This cut is less dramatic than it seems as it comes from expenditures following the war in Gaza in December 2008/January 2009.  There are three genuinely disappointing country cuts, however, Georgia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.

Another interesting area to examine is expenditures across agencies.  The budget requests significant increases for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Affairs and Office of Transition Initiatives and about a 10% cut for the State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.  The other unfortunate cut is a $15 million for the National Endowment for Democracy, from $115 million to $100 million.

Overall, I think the budget demonstrates a serious commitment to support for democracy abroad by the administration.  I am very pleased with it.  Freedom House and the Project on Middle East Democracy have more detailed analyses.

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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