Browsing articles from "January, 2012"
Jan 30, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Egypt on the line

A quick update on the situation of americans under travel ban in Egypt, subject of a recent post: at least two of them are being sheltered at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for fear of being arrested. The current interpretation is that this is a new low in Egyptian-American relations, and even the annual US$ 1.3 billion in aid to the country is on the line. Would it go that far? Things are definitely worse this time, but it is certainly not the first case of American pro-democracy groups being investigated and threatened. I wonder if these events will have long lasting impacts in the work of such groups, and what they could be.

Jan 29, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

One Problem with France

It is not news that many Turks do not call what happened to Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans nearly a century ago a “genocide.” But very infrequently does this ongoing tension, usually an exaggerated rivalry of lobby groups and personal vendettas, escalate to actual state action.

We saw one of these instances last week when an Armenian Genocide bill passed through the French Senate. The bill, which while approved by parliament has yet to be signed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, would make it a crime for any individual to deny that it did, in fact, happen.

Thought Police, sure–I could write volumes on that aspect. But it certainly provoked a high-profile reaction from the Turkish government. In December, when the bill was first passed by the lower house of the French Parliament, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recalled Turkey’s ambassador to France, suspended political and economic talks–high-profile themselves due to Turkey’s jostling for admittance to the EU–, and closed Turkish airspace and waterways to French military craft.

On Tuesday, when the bill finally gained the approval of the French Senate, Erdogan pulled out all diplomatic stops. He threatened to pursue allegations of France’s own alleged (and quite well-documented) genocide in Algeria in the 1950s and 1960s, and made it clear that he would bar new state-to-state contracts with France.

Is the bill, as Erdogan has declared it, a “massacre of free thought”? Certainly, by American standards. But Turkey’s top-down, unrelenting insistence on this issue might also massacre Turkey’s geopolitical benefits. Sure, Turkey may not be angling for EU acceptance as hard as many believe. But if it wants to keep reaping the benefits of Western investment and political inclusion, especially in a world where many are both ready and willing to forgive a nation for past transgressions, it’s going to need to try a gentler approach.

Jan 29, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

How far should we go?

The recent crackdown on international pro-democracy organizations in Egypt wasn’t only a cold reminder of the real dangers for those involved in the field. It also questions the limits of political action for foreigners in transitioning countries. Pushing those limits is in many cases the most important part of the job… but does it ever become too much?

Right now it seems members of at least three D.C. based organizations – IRI, NDI and Freedom House – are under investigation by the Egyptian military, alongside dozens of other foreign and local NGOs. Their offices in Cairo were raided and shut down on December 29th, and now part of the staff is under travel ban, including Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who directs the Egyptian program of IRI.

After LaHood was prevented from leaving the country, the organizations probed and discovered that at least 40 foreigners (six Americans) are under the ban as a result of the investigation.

IRI said they have been questioned about funding and their legal status in Egypt, and that the investigation might lead to formal charges.

Neither inquiry is completely far-fetched: it is undeniable that there is foreign money coming to Egypt for purposes related to the political situation, and apparently the organizations still have problems in getting totally cleared to operate in the country.

Of course, authoritarian, semi-authoritarian, transitioning or in any way questionable governments will always have an interest in making life difficult for foreigners who try to get in any way involved in local politics. If that was reason enough to prevent the organizations from working, they might as well give up now and close their offices. The fact that there is work to be done in opening up, strengthening and democratizing the political scenario is exactly why they are needed. Not to mention it is a common scapegoat to blame foreigners for popular unrest.

On the other hand (and let me be clear: I am NOT talking about Egypt or any of the above mentioned organizations right now), I wonder if in some cases the involvement doesn’t turn into interference. Let’s face it, sometimes foreigners are indeed engaged in supporting uprisings. And with good reason. But where should it stop? Or shouldn’t it?

I personally would never side with, for example, the Kremlin in its attempts to circumvent the work of international NGOs, but I do think there is space to talk about how far they can or should go. With so many new countries joining the list of transitional ones right now, the situation in Egypt might provide a good opportunity to re-discuss the safety and boundaries, if any, of the activities of international pro-democracy groups.

Jan 26, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Call for Papers – After the Revolution: Looking Forward

Democracy & Society, Volume 9, Issue 2

We are seeking well-written, interesting submissions of 1500-2000 words on the themes below, including summaries and/or excerpts of recently completed research, new publications, and works in progress. Submissions for the issue are due Monday, February 27th, 2012.

After the Revolution: Looking Forward

The wave of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 set a precedent for political and social change. Starting with Tunisia, people began to publicly call into question the leadership of governments and individuals that hitherto they feared challenging or accepted as their political fate. However, shortly after the Arab Spring, the stark realities of political transitions have become clear. Some regimes, such as in Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, sought to use force to crush nascent uprisings. Even in the successful revolutions, most notably Egypt and Tunisia, securing political leadership that acts in the interests of the people remains a challenge. More broadly, we are witnessing revolutions still in progress, where the prospects for successful democratic transitions seem uncertain. What challenges exist to these nascent democratic movements? A number of questions emerge, including:

Opportunities and Dangers: Political transitions present groups with opportunities influence the direction or nature of the change. Notably, in the context of the Middle East and North Africa, revolutions may present Islamic parties with an opening to advance their ideologies and gain support. On one hand, this may lead to a more peaceful redefinition of groups that were repressed by previous regimes. But on the other hand, the political vacuum revolutions create may encourage the rise of more extreme ideological parties.

State and Society: The revolutions and uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have also called into question the fundamental basis upon which the state relates to society. To what extent have these political transformations altered peoples’ expectations about government accountability and notions of popular sovereignty?

The Role of the External Actors: To what extent has political change in the Middle East and North Africa called into question the capacity of external actors, such as the United States and Iran, to cultivate politically compliant regimes? Can democratic countries that were supporters of overthrown dictators, like the United States and France, play a constructive role in helping to foster democratic transitions?

The Role of the Media and Technology: There exist many untested hypotheses about the role of the media, notably Al Jazeera and technology like the Internet, added to the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Can we state with any degree of specificity the role these media played in them?

The Challenges of Governance: Democratic transitions often place political groups previously in opposition to the regime with the challenges of actually having to govern. What are some of the problems they face, or impose on these transition?

Slow Pace of Change: Many lament the slow pace of political change in the region since the uprisings began one year ago. Is this pessimism justified? Or should we expect political transitions in much of the region to be lengthy processes that are prone to backsliding?

Resistance from Regimes in Power: In the case of Bahrain, Syria and Yemen the regimes in power resorted to harsh tactics to crush dissent. Whereas in Egypt and Tunisia, leaders stepped down without much of a fight. How can we account for these differences?

These are just a few of the questions that arise as the challenges of the Arab Spring become more prominent. This issue of Democracy and Society will take a broad, analytical perspective on determining what these issues are. We seek to understand it from both a US, global, regional, and country-specific perspective. Please email submissions to by February 27th, 2011. For additional information, please contact Andrea Murta or Ayesha Chugh at

Jan 20, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Technology, Protest & Entrenched Political Elites

Unless one somehow managed to avoid any interaction with the internet this week, the protests against SOPA and PIPA are likely no news at this point.   Stories on legislation aimed to prevent piracy have been a relative constant for weeks now, ranging from discussions of human rights to assessments of the people behind this recent push.  While the struggle against this type of legislation is far from over, the impact of yesterday’s protests seems hard not to recognize.  As several representatives hurried to withdraw their support, and the administration days ago made clear that there were problems in the proposed legislation it became increasingly clear that efforts against the measures were progressing in spite of generally lacking coverage through traditional news outlets.
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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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