If you stick around you’ll see that it’s going to be Friedman-palooza here on D&S today, a concept which would normally nauseate me. But the NYT’s mustachioed bloviator-in-chief did touch on some excellent topics this week, namely the elephant in the room among foreign democracy promoters concerning Egypt.
“When the U.S. decides to just give away the military aid to Egypt without considering the consequences on us,” Okail told me, “it sends a message that the West and the U.S. don’t care about democracy and human rights. They just care about strategic stability. We, the defendants, felt betrayed. The battle we fight standing in that cage, hearing calls for our execution, is not a battle for our freedom but a battle for liberating Egyptian civil society.”
Okail referred to here is Dr. Nancy Okail, director of Freedom House’s Egypt office. Okail, an Egyptian citizen, is imprisoned by the SCAF and facing trial long after the military council freed the Americans it charged with stirring unrest. Suffering the inexplicable ramifications of an objectively good deed–building civil society, strengthening the party system, and just giving Egypt a hand transitioning into a well-functioning and fair democracy–Okail and her compatriots are rightly shaken.
But pay attention to the seeming betrayal that Okail is feeling now. Why is this, partially for someone working directly with a group like Freedom House but especially for an American like Friedman who observes them, such a hard and abrupt landing? It has long been painfully obvious that the U.S. only does promote democracy in locales and contexts where it strengthens, as she puts it, American “strategic stability.”
Consider Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report. By critically evaluating each country’s political freedoms and civil liberties, it makes a extremely unbiased judgement of both U.S. allies and nemesis. In the 2011 report, Saudi Arabia received a much-deserved 6.5 “Freedom Rating” (out of 7–I’ll let you guess which way the scale points) as well as rebukes on the country’s widespread corruption, government control of academia and press, unlawful detentions, treatment of women, and torture. Freedom House takes out all the stops, using words that U.S. government figureheads would never say in any Middle East speech.
But where does Freedom House operate? Not Saudi Arabia. Take a look at their office locations, all in relatively tame but strategic places around the world. Cameroon, for instance, a sought-after AFRICOM center in the natural resources hub of the Gulf of Guinea. Kyrgyzstan, home to U.S. air fleets and a peg in the complex Central Asian counterterror operation. Mexico, whose strategic stability as an American neighbor goes without saying.
We are much, much better off with groups like Freedom House than we are without them. Indeed, it is unreasonable to expect the U.S. to operate democracy promotion efforts everywhere, and Freedom House has excellently chosen locales where their programming has been effective and, until Egypt, more or less well-received. As a student of democracy promotion myself, I support this. I honestly do. But I always, even subconsciously, remember the inherent linkages between government-supported NGO activity and strategic interests. That’s just the way it is.
I suppose I get Friedman’s approach to encouraging Americans to keep a critical eye on U.S. foreign policy. He causes cognitive dissonance by setting up a simple example, like Okail in her prison cell, and compares it to our ideals, like the U.S. helping everyone get a fighting chance at democracy. And, sure, most NYT readers probably aren’t international democracy buffs. But there is so much more to the story than, like he says, “stand[ing] up firmly for our own values.” And it’s a shame that although he says the mouthpiece to say it, he doesn’t.
You’re a DG wonk and proud of it. But how many articles of clothing do you own that really put it out there? That’s why Democracy & Society, in conjunction Georgetown’s Democracy and Governance Studies program, is excited to announce its first-ever t-shirt slogan contest.
On Friday, April 20th, from 10:00am until midnight EST, our Twitter and email hotlines are open to hear your best DG-centric slogans. Got any one-liners that really stick it to the man about the awesomeness of the DG field? Any catchphrases that make you snort milk out of your nose when you hear them? Any slogans that would get you high-fives when jogging outside the Ronald Reagan Building?
We’ll pick our favorite entry to be printed on t-shirts. And, yes, the winner will have this snappy new wardrobe item hand-delivered (within the DC area) or mailed directly to them.
How do I enter?
1. On Twitter, tweet entries to @GeorgetownDG or with the hashtag #DGslogans anytime on Friday, April 20th.
2. Via email, send entries to email@example.com with the subject “Slogan Contest.”
The contest is open to anyone, not just DG professionals or Georgetown students. Good luck! And may the odds be ever in your favor.
Democracy & Society doesn’t usually cover baseball–because baseball doesn’t usually include discussions of democracy. But today the Miami Marlins suspended their manager, Ozzie Guillen, over comments he made regarding Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In a Time.com interview that was made public last week, Guillen, a Venezuelan, said that he loves and respects Castro. In true Ozzie fashion, his comments weren’t veiled, either. “I love Fidel Castro,” he said. Pretty straightforward. But the weekend saw increasing calls for his resignation and suspension from the Marlins’ Florida base. A five-game suspension was announced this morning.
Many are pointing to the league’s precedent for such a suspension–and for his potential firing. In 1996, former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was banned from ownership for two years after she made some particularly glowing comments about Adolf Hitler. She also had a history of making derogatory statements about African-Americans and admitted to keeping swastikas as decor in her house.
Fidel Castro may be bad, but he isn’t horrible. He is certainly an enemy of democratic rule, yes. And opponents of Castro, especially Cuban-Americans and Cuban immigrants, have every right to refuse to accept normalized relations. But to equate him to Hitler is no doubt blowing things out of proportion. And like we’ve seen with the GOP’s courtship of Cuban-American voters, kowtowing to the most hardline of the base can be dangerous.
If you want to win the Cuban-American voting block in Florida, the contemporary practice goes, you need to promote hardline anti-Castro positions. And that’s something the Republicans this year (and for the last fifteen-plus) have had no problem doing. Remember Newt Gingrich wishing Castro to Hell during a GOP debate this year? Sure you do. It was gross, and it probably made your skin crawl out of embarrassment.
The Miami Marlins, in attempting to firmly root themselves in their new home of Little Havana in Miami proper, have co-opted this same strategy of throwing out red meat to the base. Nobody ever said professional sports were democratic, but it certainly is interesting to watch the ludicrous, trigger-happy politics of South Florida entangle yet another actor.
Image courtesy of Mario Piperni
President Obama’s so-called “hot mic” incident with Dmitry Medvedev certainly has received a lot of traction in the press. Mitt Romney, long the presumptive GOP presidential nominee in everyone’s mind except these guys, even has a Foreign Policy article on it running today, “Bowing to the Kremlin.” For reference, here is the exchange, courtesy of ABC News:
President Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.
President Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…
President Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.
President Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.
Mitt Romney, as one would expect, takes issue with Obama’s condition of flexibility. “In a self-governing country like ours,” he writes, “the people have a right to know what kinds of decisions are being taken in their name. The American people deserve candor.”
Candor. How does this ideal notion mesh with the complexities of diplomacy? Does Mr. Romney truly suggest, as it seems, that America hand foreign leaders a black-and-white roadmap for further discussion and engagement? An all-or-nothing set of choices that would more likely serve to even further alienate our “Number One Foe”? Romney acts disgusted that Obama “appears determined to ingratiate himself with the Kremlin.” But how would anything else advance U.S. interests in the region? Ambiguity and cunning is certainly not always bad in this arena. We should be reminded of the old adage: a diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip.
Romney’s high-stakes rhetoric is one way of winning the majority of the Republican vote in the American primary contest. But living in envy of the Cold War era is not a viable strategy to lead a country through complex conflict. And if a future president Romney truly wants to (in his words) “extract meaningful concessions from Russia,” he is going to need to go about it another way. And that way, like it or not, may not sound so sexy to his voting block.
It is one of the more exciting benefits of the Social Age that major development organizations sometimes hold conference calls for bloggers to ask questions about programming efforts. This week I took advantage of the trend and dialed in to one held by USAID and GSMA regarding a new report on women’s access to mobile services in the developing world.
The report, which launched during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona a few weeks ago, focuses on an often-overlooked aspect of the use of technology-based solutions for development. According to its findings, women who live on less than $2 per day are 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than men in comparable situations. This is certainly powerful information at a time when the power of the mobile phone to solve the world’s ills has been heralded widely.
Women don’t see a need. Worldwide, most women do not see the advantages of owning a mobile phone. While a very high majority of women contacted by the survey would like to receive healthcare information, for example, such as family planning information, only 30% would want to receive it through a mobile phone. Much work needs to be done make the benefits of mobile technology more practical and upfront to women.
Women don’t like the tools we promote. The international community may be relying too much on SMS communication to the detriment of development. According to the survey, the heavy majority of women don’t “enjoy” sending SMS messages. Modes of communication with unenjoyable user experiences may not be useful for empowerment communication. Instead of staying on the SMS bandwagon, it may be worth looking into voice-based mobile tools, a much-preferred method, to promote women’s mobile inclusion.
Women need infrastructure first. Until alternative and low-cost energy solutions are in place in much of the developing world, it will be difficult for women to have comparable mobile accessibility rates to men. 38% of women surveyed were living off-grid without an electricity source and therefore could use mobile phones at all; without an off-site place of work or daily travel outside the home to charge the phone, there really is no way to get connected.
Some have argued that no technology innovation has changed the world more deeply than mobile phones. But in order for USAID and GSMA to reduce the mobile gender gap by 50% in the next two years, as is their goal, it will take a strong re-consideration of existing norms and practices in ICT4dev. Simply slapping mobile phones in peoples’ hands and developing useful applications works for some, but obviously not for all.
Interested in the GSMA-USAID study? Don’t worry, it’s not entirely negative! Check out the short report, “Portrait: A Glimpse into the Lives of Women at the Base of the Pyramid,” and the full one, “Striving and Surviving: Exploring the Lives of Women at the Base of the Pyramid.”
Posts by Region
Posts by Topic
- May 2013 (9)
- April 2013 (13)
- March 2013 (19)
- February 2013 (21)
- January 2013 (16)
- December 2012 (12)
- November 2012 (14)
- October 2012 (21)
- September 2012 (21)
- August 2012 (8)
- July 2012 (13)
- June 2012 (17)
- May 2012 (6)
- April 2012 (9)
- March 2012 (16)
- February 2012 (20)
- January 2012 (13)
- December 2011 (10)
- November 2011 (14)
- October 2011 (19)
- September 2011 (25)
- August 2011 (10)
- July 2011 (16)
- June 2011 (14)
- May 2011 (14)
- April 2011 (16)
- March 2011 (20)
- February 2011 (15)
- January 2011 (24)
- December 2010 (16)
- November 2010 (24)
- October 2010 (27)
- September 2010 (17)
- August 2010 (42)
- July 2010 (40)
- June 2010 (65)
- May 2010 (72)
- April 2010 (38)
- March 2010 (18)
- February 2010 (32)
- January 2010 (46)
- December 2009 (45)
- November 2009 (38)
- October 2009 (15)
- September 2009 (24)
- August 2009 (11)
- February 2009 (1)
Who we like
- AfPak Channel
- CIPE Blog
- Countries at the Crossroads
- Cyrus Samii
- Democracy Arsenal
- Democracy Dialogue
- Democracy Digest
- Democracy Resource Center
- EITI Blog
- Fruits and Votes
- Global Voices Online
- One Blog
- Open Budgets Blog
- Open Democracy
- Policy and Power
- Progressive Realist
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Blogs
- Space for Transparency
- The Coming Prosperity
- The Democratic Piece
- The International Jurist
- The Kaufmann Governance Post
- United Nations Democracy Fund