Arab Reform Bulletin: December 2007
|Wednesday, December 19,2007 06:30|
December 2007, Volume 5, Issue 10
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Lebanon: Civil Society says “No More Silence”
Mauritania: Fragility of a New Democracy
Libya: Freedom of Expression under the Law
Lebanon: Presidential Vote Delayed
New publications on Lebanon, Palestine, Arab-Israeli peace, Iraq, Egypt, Gulf States, North Africa, Sudan, media and academic freedoms, economic reform, and more.
Steven A. Cook
While the heady days of the so-called Arab Spring of 2005 and the soaring rhetoric of President Bush’s “forward strategy of freedom” are long past, the question of whether and how the United States should promote democracy in the Middle East is still debated. Each of the prospective candidates for the 2008 U.S. presidential election has, in one way or another, established a position on the issue. Keeping in mind that a new president’s actual policies are often shaped more by breaking events than by campaign rhetoric, there are already some observable differences.
The six candidates often cited as most likely to win their parties’ nomination (Senators Clinton, Edwards, and Obama on the Democratic side; Senator McCain, Mayor Giuliani, and Governor Romney on the Republican) have expressed common themes on the subject of democracy promotion in the Middle East. For example they all say (as does the Bush administration) that if Arabs are provided with an opportunity to process their grievances through democratic institutions, there will be less terrorism. In the wider pool of candidates, only third tier contenders Republican Ron Paul and Democrat Dennis Kucinich have rejected outright the notion of promoting political and economic change in the Middle East.
Yet, in recognition of the failures of Iraq, all the candidates emphasize that democracy cannot and must not be imposed through force. They also agree that free and fair elections are only one component of a democratic society, citing the need for the establishment of the rule of law, transparency, accountability, human rights, tolerance, women’s rights, and an educated citizenry as other primary principles of a democratic polity. In general, the candidates have been rather vague about how the United States can promote such developments.
Although the rhetoric has much in common, there are enough differences among the candidates to discern—even at this early date—how much emphasis each would be likely to place on democracy promotion should he or she enter the Oval Office. Senator John McCain was a co-sponsor of the 2005 “ADVANCE Democracy Act” (which never became law), which instructed U.S. diplomats and officials “to use all instruments of United States influence to support, promote, and strengthen democratic principles, practices, and values in foreign countries.” In his recent Foreign Affairs article laying out his foreign policy priorities, however, McCain stated merely that the United States would help “friendly Muslim states establish the building blocks of open and tolerant societies.”
For his part, Governor Mitt Romney has emphasized the need for U.S. help in providing economic opportunity for Arabs as a pathway to the emergence of democratic political systems. While supporting political reform in the Middle East, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has argued that order and stability are a prerequisite for democratic development. He contends that Washington can be helpful in promoting democracy, but that it must be modest in its expectations of what can be achieved and how long it might take to see results. Giuliani has said he would tie good bilateral relations with the United States to a country’s positive record on good governance, human rights, and “democratic development”—a policy that, if pursued seriously, could put his administration in conflict with some of Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East.
On the democratic side, Senator Hillary Clinton has argued that the United States must support Arabs who embrace the ideals of democracy. Her critique of the Bush administration is that the White House has talked about democracy, but done little of the hard work to build democratic institutions. The Senator has also called for human rights to “be a centerpiece of foreign policy and a core element of our [U.S.] conception of democracy.” More than any of the other candidates, Senator John Edwards situates democracy promotion within a policy to fight extremism. As part of a long-term effort to support political change, Senator Edwards has called for $3 billion in funding for global primary education, increasing microfinance programs, supporting health care in developing countries, and “dramatic increases” in the “promotion of constitutional democracies and the rule of law across the developing world.”
Finally, Senator Barack Obama, a co-sponsor of the “ADVANCE Democracy Act,” has indicated that it is in the interest of the United States “to help foster democracy through diplomatic and economic resources.” Yet the Senator has argued that Washington must be modest in its approach and signal a spirit of partnership with the Arab world as it promotes democracy. Of all the candidates, Obama provides the strongest hint of how he would go about promoting political change in the Arab world. The centerpiece of his approach can be described as conditionality in which economic and military aid, trade deals, and debt relief would be coupled with an “insistent call for reform.”
Steven A. Cook is the Douglas Dillon Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).
It was an unfamiliar scene. One Friday night in November, in the heart of Hamra, the main thoroughfare in Beirut, a concert entitled “No More Silence” drew a large number of young Lebanese men and women. But this was not just another concert. The gathering was publicizing the Khalass (No More): Together for Lebanon campaign (www.khalass.net), the latest in a series of moves by civil society forces to “drive away the specter of civil war,” in the words of one activist. With the sound of anti-war songs in the background, activists wearing tee-shirts with the word Khalass printed in Arabic and English distributed leaflets, while others explained to audience members why they joined the campaign. “We are fed up with sectarianism, talk of war, and a political elite that does not realize the gravity of the situation,” said Elie Abi Lameh of the campaign’s press team.
The political turmoil that has engulfed Lebanon since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005 has cast a heavy shadow on Lebanon’s social fabric. Sectarian language has reentered the political debate, and political forces have engaged in what one observer termed a “cold civil war.” “We had to do something to pull Lebanon back from the brink,” said Ziyad Baroud, a veteran civil society activist. “Khalass is an emergency campaign,” he added.The founding statement of Khalass, which brings together thirty civil society organizations,defines its goal as “exerting pressure on political leaders to overcome the deadlock and assert our will to live together.”
Aside from the concert, other activities included a sit-in at the Lebanese parliament on November 17 and a symbolic funeral procession on November 22 to protest the status quo. Reversing the tide of sectarianism and reminding the Lebanese of its dangers—particularly young people who have not experienced the horrors of civil war—are among Khalass’s core goals. A petition entitled “Together to Save Lebanon,” which calls for dialogue and an end to violence, has drawn some 30,000 signatures.
Lebanon’s civil society is one of the most vibrant in the Arab world, with an established record of attempting to confront the country’s chronic social and political malaises. Lebanese University Professor Fadia Kiwan recalls that before civil war broke in 1975, civil society organizations—especially student and labor organizations—began to appear stronger than traditional communal ties. Baroud relates that activists from the then-nascent civil society organized protests against sectarianism, but the tide of violence was too strong. Another milestone for Lebanon’s civil society came in November 1987, when activists organized a demonstration involving some 250,000 Lebanese who crossed sectarian boundaries to protest the war and the state"s complacency. The movement also engaged in a wide range of other activities during the civil war including symbolic strikes, protest sit-ins, blood drives, and two national congresses that affirmed the commitment of all civil society forces to national unity, despite, and with, all Lebanon’s differences. In 1997, civil society forces engaged in a successful campaign to force the politicians to hold municipal elections for the first time in 30 years.
Five months into the Khalass campaign, it is not clear whether the organizers’ efforts to go beyond politics and sectarian polarization are bearing fruit. “It has not created momentum or attracted enough popular attention,” wrote Ghassan Saoud in al-Akhbar newspaper recently. Other observers have suggested that a photo-op between two political enemies such as Saad al-Hariri, head of majority March 14 bloc, and Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement and an ally of Hizbollah, would change the popular mood ten times faster than Khalass and other anti-war civil society activities.Ziad Baroud has acknowledged that the campaign’s results so far have been less than expected. He does not, however, blame Khalass’s young activists. He believes, rather, that “the problem lies within the structural basis of the Lebanese political system. The street and the media have become the only two institutions through which debate takes place because all other state institutions are in complete paralysis.” The severe political polarization that has taken hold of the country has rendered street activities—the backbone of the civil society movement—ineffective. “There is no silent majority in Lebanon,” said Baroud. “What we have experienced is that the majority of the Lebanese people have chosen to ally themselves with one political group or the other. Communal ties have become stronger and it is difficult to ignore their impact. This poses a serious challenge to our efforts.”
Omayma Abdel-Latif is Projects Coordinator at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
Mauritania, an often-ignored country in the western periphery of the Arab world, surprised observers two years ago by undertaking one of the most forthcoming advances toward democracy in the region. Democratic reforms came as a result of a 2005 bloodless military coup led by Colonel Ely Ould Muhammad Vall. Vall demonstrated enlightened leadership by pledging to restore democracy and ensure a constitutional transfer of power through free and fair elections. A swift political transition process culminated in credible legislative and presidential elections. President Sidi Muhammad Ould el-Sheikh Abdullahi, an independent, formerly exiled economist who served in previous cabinets, was elected in March 2007 in the country’s first peaceful transfer of power. Abdullahi pledged to fight corruption, guarantee freedom of speech, alleviate poverty, eliminate slavery, and promote justice and national reconciliation.
The new government has taken some positive political steps, including passing a law that criminalizes slavery, requiring senior officials to declare their assets, and requiring 20 percent female representation in electoral lists. Freedom of speech and the press have also registered significant improvements. Mauritania ranked fiftieth out of 169 countries in Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index 2007, the highest among Arab countries.
Consolidation and progress toward democracy in Mauritania, however, depend on the government’s ability to address its people’s most pressing concerns, namely poverty and unemployment. Progress on those fronts has been slow and signs of strain are already apparent. In what the opposition called a “revolution of the hungry,” thousands took to the streets in the Eastern impoverished regions in early November to protest sharp increases in the prices of basic food staples, electricity, and fuel. At least two people were killed after police forces used violence to disperse the protestors. In October, a coalition of five opposition parties led by Ahmed Ould Daddah, president of the Coalition of Democratic Forces, staged a mass protest in the capital Nouakchott and called for the government’s resignation, citing “ineffectiveness” and “lack of serious efforts to improve people’s lives.” Recent unpopular initiatives—such as the privatization of the National Industrial and Mining Company and plans by political and military elites close to the president to establish a political party—added to the tensions.
Despite a spike in economic growth with the start of oil production, Mauritania continues to struggle with deeply-entrenched socio-economic challenges. Over 46 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. High unemployment, high food prices, scarcity of water, insufficient road networks and public transportation, and poor healthcare and education services are among the main problems.
The government, which inherited a troubled, corruption-ridden economy, has placed high hopes on the recent discovery of oil. Mauritania began oil production in February 2006, but output is so far lower than expected. The Chinguetti field is currently producing around 20,000 barrels per day, versus a projected 75,000 barrels. Lower production levels also afflict the fishing industry, and agricultural production is vulnerable because of unstable weather conditions. Manufacturing industries also suffer due to unreliable power supplies. While oil-driven economic growth in 2006 was 11.7 percent, non-oil GDP growth was only 4.1 percent, marking a decline from the 2005 rate of 5.4 percent. According to the World Bank, Mauritania’s income per capita in 2006 was only $740, while the inflation rate was 29.8 percent.
Yet a further challenge to democratic consolidation in Mauritania are the socio-economic divisions arising from the country’s complex ethnic composition, which includes Arab White Moores (Bidan), former Black Moore slaves (Harratin), and Afro-Mauritanians. Despite the president’s pledge to promote national unity and equality, the country’s African population continues to suffer from a historically disadvantaged socio-economic position exacerbated by the continuation of slavery practices, illiteracy, and weak central government institutions. Furthermore, an estimated 25,000 Afro-Mauritanian refugees displaced after a wave of ethnic violence in 1989 remain in Senegal and Mali. The return of the refugees has faltered in the past two years mainly due to lack of sufficient funds. The government’s November 22 announcement that it is allocating nearly $8 million to ensure the refugees’ safe return and reintegration may signal that some sort of breakthrough has been reachedIn the midst of this sobering overall situation, one ray of hope lies in the fact that government efforts to obtain external economic development aid are showing signs of success. In March-July 2007, the World Bank endorsed a new Country Assistance Strategy for Mauritania and approved a total of $1.14 billion in credits and grants to support various economic reform and infrastructure development projects. In FY 2008, U.S. economic aid to Mauritania will be $5.23 million. And in a Consultative Group Meeting in Paris December 4-6, the Mauritanian government succeeded in securing $2.1 billion dollars in additional aid for its 2008-2010 investment program from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and various European countries and development organizations.
Libya’s basic legal documents affirm the right of every individual to freedom of thought, innovation, and creativity, and aim to support the flourishing of science and the spread of arts and literature among the masses, not only the elite. Articles 19-26 of the 1988 Green Charter on Human Rights and Law 20 of 1991 on Enhancing Freedom enshrine these rights. Other laws, however, sometimes contradict such principles.
Press Law 76 of 1972, for example, states that the press is free and that every person has the right to express his or her view freely and to broadcast opinions and news by various means. The law also stipulates, however, that such expression must not “contradict the values and goals of society,” a vague formulation open to interpretation. Article 21 of the law bans prepublication censorship of printed materials, including newspapers, although this is contradicted by the practices of the Department of Publications, which imposes restrictions on all that is published. Works by authors and intellectuals, for example, may not be printed or distributed without the Department’s permission. Article 4 of the law gives the private sector the right to own printing houses and publish materials. In practice, this right is legally restricted to specific designated agencies that are granted the right to express the opinions of their members. The result is that only state-issued newspapers and publications praising the government are printed.
Law 9 of 1968 regarding the rights of authors (modeled on the 1967 Berne Convention before it was amended) has not been updated to take account of international developments in this field, for example regarding literary works incorporating modern technology, data, or confidential information. Article 32 of the law also infringes upon the rights of those who inherit copyright, giving the minister of culture and information the ability to authorize publication for reasons of national interest sixty days after the submission of a publishing request, even if the copyright inheritors withhold permission or do not given a response.
The penal code extends its protection to intellectual property, criminalizing any offense that violates the rights of others or oversteps certain bounds. Such offenses include promoting theories or principles that oppose the Libyan state, for example calling for regime change, overthrow of the Libyan political, social, and economic systems, or destroying one of the essential components of society. If the offender uses violence in the service of such goals, the punishment may be the death penalty or life in prison. While the punishment of individuals who commit violent acts is legitimate, prison sentences for non-violent offenses, such as possession of books, pamphlets, drawings, poetry, or any other items expressing such views, is not justified, because these acts do not threaten social peace.
Another unclear area related to expression is the penal code’s criminalization of insulting foreign heads of state [Article 220] and representatives of missions accredited by the Libyan government [Article 221]. Does “insulting” mean slander and libel, which falls under Article 438 criminalizing the violation of a person’s honor, or Article 439, which criminalizes defamation? While there are justifiable and realistic limits to these rights, “insulting” can also be interpreted to include pointed, objective criticism of policies. In practice it is acceptable for Libyans to demonstrate against policies of other countries, but not to criticize other leaders from the region.States impose conditions on intellectuals with the intent of shackling their activities, by making them acquire permits if they want to use any means of expression and by limiting permits for means of expression to those who do not challenge the authorities. There is a pressing need for thinkers who are free from fear of the other—whether that other is an official establishment, cultural customs and traditions, religious authorities, or the economically and financially powerful.
Under the leadership of reform-minded King Abdullah, the country has begun a massive overhaul of its higher education system. The Ministry of Higher Education has opened more than 100 new universities and colleges in the past four years, funded by a $15-billion budget, which has tripled since 2004. KAUST"s $10-billion endowment makes it the sixth richest university in the world before even opening its doors. King Saud University, the nation"s largest, recently announced the hiring of twenty-four Nobel laureates. The government has also lifted its ban on private universities, and will be providing $10-million toward scholarships and building costs for the half-dozen private institutions already in the works.
As a personal project of the King—and under the aegis of the relatively secular Saudi oil company Aramco rather than the Ministry—KAUST will push social boundaries by becoming the Kingdom’s first co-educational university. Some of the new private universities are hoping to follow in its path. Among KAUST"s advisors are high-ranking administrators from Cornell University, Imperial College of London, and the National Academy of Sciences. Private universities have already teamed up with consultants from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Cambridge.
Education reform is also part of a set of broader efforts to diversify the Saudi economy and “Saudify” the Kingdom"s companies, a strategy to address the staggering youth unemployment rate of 30 percent. In turn, most of the reforms are directed toward the sciences, high-tech, and other lucrative fields. "We"ve tailored most of out new programs—I"d say close to 80 percent of them—to the labor market needs," says Mohammed al-Ohali, deputy minister of higher education. Many university administrators also admit that focusing on the sciences—rather than politics, literature or history—will help them escape the scorn of the Saudi religious elite.
One of the primary challenges facing these new universities will be attracting Western faculty to a country known for its severe social restrictions, such as the ban on alcohol, most public entertainment, and women’s driving as well as restrictions on women"s dress. To overcome these challenges, KAUST is planning on spending $100-million a year on international research grants and academic prizes, and will shoulder the costs of jointly hiring professors at foreign universities who will split their time between the partners. The university also hopes to create a steady pipeline of graduate students by funding 250 undergraduates every year to complete their studies abroad in exchange for commitments to enroll in KAUST as graduate students.
But critics both inside and outside the Kingdom are skeptical that these new universities, even with Western faculty and Western-designed curricula, will be able to flourish in the restrictive Saudi environment. "It"s not only about buildings and labs and big names and throwing money at everything," says Khalid al-Dakhil, a former professor at King Saud University who was forced to retire early because of his controversial research about Saudi history. "If you want to build a Western-style university in Saudi Arabia, you have to remember that these institutions prospered because of the freedom of those societies. You have to be comfortable asking questions."
Even the special status accorded to KAUST by the King"s sponsorship may not be enough to protect it from adversarial forces in Saudi society. Hassan al-Husseini, a former administrator at the King Fahad University of Petroleum and Minerals, which was Saudi Aramco"s first attempt at starting a Western-style university, cautions that "when something is established by royal edict, then that same thing can be reversed by another royal edict. It"s not like you have legal protection for such things in Saudi Arabia."
Zvika Krieger is a special correspondent for Newsweek and Middle East correspondent for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Mustafa Barghouti is clearly correct when he points out in his interview (November 2007) that there is little prospect for progress after the Annapolis conference if Israel does not implement a complete freeze on settlement building in the occupied territories, and if it does not take steps to facilitate the recovery of the Palestinian economy and ease the burden of its occupation on Palestinian society. The necessity for those steps is well-known. The recent decision of the Israeli government to build an additional 300 homes in Har Homa only days before negotiations are about to resume suggests that, without a more robust engagement by the international community, the process spawned by the Annapolis meeting will be as short-lived as other well meaning initiatives since the collapse of the peace process seven years ago.
Barghouti also raises in this interview the critical role that Palestinian civil society has to play in both rebuilding Palestinian legislative, judicial, and executive institutions and in unifying Palestinian society. As he rightly points out, peace will not come unless a democratic Palestinian system is accepted by all. What is not clear from his comments, however, is whether Barghouti sees the current Palestinian leadership as possessing the political legitimacy and moral authority to negotiate any peace agreement, should indeed Israel take the necessary steps to facilitate a return to the negotiation table, or whether a resumption of the peace process needs to wait until the process of Palestinian reform, institution building, and unification is more mature.
Send your views on what you have read in the Arab Reform Bulletin to the editor at [email protected]
On December 11, the Lebanese parliament postponed for the eighth time the session to elect a new president to December 17. The Western-backed ruling majority coalition and the pro-Syria opposition have agreed on Army Commander General Michel Suleiman for presidency, but are divided on the composition of a new government and the constitutional amendment mechanism. Article 49 of the constitution, which stipulates that senior public servants must wait two years before running for president, must be amended before Suleiman can take office. The presidential post fell vacant when former President Emile Lahoud stepped down on November 23.
France will host a donors" conference on December 17 in Paris aimed at mobilizing support for President Mahmoud Abbas"s government. France has invited 69 countries to the conference, including the 44 states that attended the Annapolis meeting, as well as the European Union member states and major UN donors. Palestinian Minister of Economy Muhammad Hassuneh announced on December 9 that the Palestinian Authority is seeking to mobilize $7.1 billion dollars in aid to revive the Palestinian economy. Click here for more information.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyya on December 5 renewed a call for an unconditional dialogue with Fatah to “heal Palestinian wounds.” He called the November 27-8 Annapolis meeting a “cover for Israeli aggression.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded the following day by declaring that he is open to dialogue with Hamas, provided that it surrenders control of the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile Israeli military officials continue to discuss a possible military incursion into Gaza in response to rocket fire. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on December 5 that the Israeli military “will eventually carry out a large-scale operation in the Gaza Strip, but we are not in a hurry to do so.”
The White House announced on December 4 that President George W. Bush will travel to the Middle East in January 2008. Specific stops and dates have not yet been announced; Israeli and Palestinian media reported that Bush will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories January 9 to 11.
A December 3 Israeli announcement of plans to build more than 300 new houses in the Har Homa settlement in East Jerusalem has drawn criticism from the United States and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and prompted Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to urge U.S. intervention to stop the move. The Israel-based activist group Peace Now issued a report on December 4 saying that out of 3,449 illegal settlement buildings, only 107 have been dismantled in the past ten years.
In the Annapolis meeting held November 27-8, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Abbas pledged to seek a peace deal by the end of 2008. On December 2, Olmert announced that Israel was not bound by that target, telling his cabinet that progress will depend on the Palestinian Authority’s ability to restrain Hamas militants. Israeli and Palestinian teams will meet for their first discussions on December 12, and Olmert and Abbas will continue one-on-one meetings. Israel released 429 Palestinian detainees on December 3, the majority of whom were Fatah supporters.
Reporters without Borders issued a statement on November 29 criticizing the increase in physical assaults against West Bank journalists. Since November 23, eight journalists in the West Bank have been attacked by Fatah-controlled forces. Click here for more information.
Jordan"s Islamist opposition cried foul after suffering a major setback in parliamentary elections. Only six of the twenty-two candidates of the Islamic Action Front won seats in the November 20 elections, compared with seventeen in 2003. The majority of the parliament’s 110 seats went to pro-government independents. Voter turnout was estimated at 42 percent. A statement by the Amman-based al-Urdun al-Jadid Research Center reported significant electoral irregularities including vote buying, breaching the secrecy of voting, and the use of improper identification by voters. Click here for the final election results.
Jordan’s new twenty-seven member cabinet was sworn in on November 25. The new cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Nader Dahabi, includes thirteen first-time ministers and four women. Click here for the new cabinet line-up.
Syrian authorities launched a campaign of arrests against members of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change opposition coalition on December 9. Twenty-three leading members of the Declaration have been arrested as of December 11. The campaign comes a week after the Declaration has held its first conference in Syria on December 1, in which it elected its president and general secretariat, and issued a call for peaceful democratic change. Click here for the Declaration"s statement in Arabic. The Damascus Declaration, formed in October 2005, is an alliance that comprises various Syrian secular, nationalist, leftist, and Islamic political groups and activists. Click here for the names of those arrested in Arabic.
On November 27, Syrian authorities arrested former MP Osman Suleiman Bin Hajji, as well as Kurdish activist and Democratic Union Party member Aisha Afandi Bint Ahmed. The two were moved to an undisclosed location and reasons for their arrest have not been announced. Click here for a statement by the Kurdish Organization for the Defense of Human Rights and Public Freedoms in Syria.
The Iraqi parliament is debating a draft “Justice and Accountability Law” to replace the de-Baathification law enacted by former U.S. Civil Administrator Paul Bremer. In a November 26 parliament session, Iraqi political forces indicated their support, with the exception of those affiliated to Shi’i leader Muqtada al-Sadr. According to the draft law, Baathists may assume senior state positions, with the exception of sensitive and security intelligence posts, but the Baath party will be barred from political participation. The Baath Uprooting Committee, headed by Ahmed al-Chalabi, will be dissolved and a judicial body will be charged with implementation. Click here for the draft law in Arabic.
The Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, ended on December 3 a two-day parliamentary boycott over the house arrest of its leader, Adnan al-Dulaimi. The Iraqi government insisted that it was protecting al-Dulaimi’s safety after one of his security guards was discovered to possess keys to a car laden with explosives. Al-Dulaimi"s son and thirty of his followers were arrested following the incident on November 30. The Front, which holds forty-four of the 275 parliament seats, withdrew its six ministers from the government in August to protest Prime Minister al-Maliki’s policies.
The Kurdistan Regional Government on November 19 prohibited journalists from meeting combatants of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) who have taken refuge in the Qandil Mountains on the border between Iraq and Turkey. Kurdistan Regional Government spokesman Jamal Abdullah said that inaccurate media reports have led to an acceleration of the crisis with Turkey. Several journalists were arrested near the Turkish border as a result of the regional government"s decision. Faisal Gazala, correspondent of the satellite television station Kolsat, was also arrested on November 19 by Kurdish security forces near Mosul on suspicions of terrorist activity. Click here for more information.
Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Arrests; Torturers Punished; Other Developments
An Egyptian court sentenced three police officers to seven years and a fourth officer to three years in prison on November 28 for beating a man to death during interrogation. Under Egyptian law, the sentence for torturing a prisoner ranges between three and fifteen years in prison. Earlier this month, two police officers were sentenced to three years in prison for sexually assaulting a man at a police station. Click here for more information.
President Mubarak referred to parliament on November 28 a draft law banning demonstrations in places of worship. The “Law to Preserve the Sanctity of Places of Worship” was passed to the Shura Council on December 4 and will then be sent to the People’s Assembly. The law sets punishment of up to one year in prison and fines of 1000-5000 Egyptian pounds (US$182-910) for organizers of a demonstration and up to six months in prison and fines of 500-2000 pounds (US$91-264) for participants. The law is expected to face opposition in the People’s Assembly, especially from Muslim Brotherhood MPs who hold eighty-eight out of 454 seats.
In elections to the Egyptian Syndicate of Journalists held on November 17, pro-government editor Makram Muhammad Ahmed was elected chairman and other pro-government journalists dominated the syndicate’s council. Ahmed promised to advocate abolishing jail sentences for press offenses. Click here for the Hisham Mubarak Center for Law’s statement on the elections in Arabic.
An Egyptian court sentenced Hatem Mahran, editor of the tabloid al-Naba, on November 27 to a year in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds (US$3,600) for publishing a revealing photograph of an Egyptian actress. He was released on a five-thousand pound (US$912) bail and vowed to appeal the ruling.
On December 10, President Omar al-Bashir reshuffled the cabinet, bringing in six new ministers and a presidential advisor. According to al-Bashir, the cabinet reshuffle is intended to bolster national unity. He also announced the continuation of talks with First Vice President and Chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Salva Kiir Mayadrit, on implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The SPLM suspended its participation in the government nearly a month ago, accusing the government of hindering CPA implementation. A cabinet reshuffle was the first in a series of demands presented by the SPLM to the Sudanese president before resuming cooperation. The 2005 peace agreement, brokered by the United States and other Western countries, ended two decades of civil war between the Arab and Muslim-dominated North and the mainly Christian Black South. Click here for a list of the new ministers.
Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher in Sudan arrested for letting her class name a stuffed bear Mohammed, was released on December 3 after spending eight days in jail. Gibbons was charged with “insulting religion” and sentenced to fifteen days in prison. Sudan"s President Omar al-Bashir pardoned her after talks with two British Muslim leaders. Click here for more information.Mahjoub Ourwa, chairman of the independent daily al-Sudani, and Noureddine Medani, the newspaper"s editor, were released on November 29 after spending eleven days in prison. The two journalists were detained on November 18 for refusing to pay court-ordered fines of 10,000 Sudanese pounds (US$5,000). Ourwa and Medani were convicted of libel against the national intelligence service for a July 20 report about the arrests of four journalists. The fine was later reduced to 7,150 Sudanese pounds (US$3,600) each, which they agreed to pay. Click here for more information.
Gulf Countries: Common Market Pledged
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) concluded its twenty-eighth annual summit on November 4. The summit’s final declaration announced the launch of a pan-Gulf common market in January 2008 and common currency by 2010. Citizens of the six Gulf monarchies in principle will have equal rights to work in government and private institutions, make real estate and other investments, move freely, and receive education and health benefits in all GCC states. The GCC states have been working toward establishing a common market for the past five years, but implementation so far has been piecemeal. It remains to be seen whether the six states are able to harmonize their different laws, especially on ownership and investment. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the first Iranian president to attend a GCC summit, proposed the establishment of security and economic pacts and regional institutions between Iran and the six Gulf States. Click here for the summit’s final declaration in Arabic.
MPs from the liberal National Action Bloc proposed a draft political parties law on December 8. Political parties are illegal in Kuwait, although political groups act as de facto parties. The Kuwaiti constitution states that political parties should be allowed at some point in the development of parliamentary democracy. Click here for a summary of the draft law in Arabic.
The Independent Islamic Bloc confirmed on December 9 that it will question Minister of Education Nuriya al-Sabeeh in parliament after the Eid al-Adha holiday on allegations of mismanagement. The Islamic Constitutional Movement (Muslim Brotherhood) and the Salafi Movement have not yet declared their positions, while the National Action Bloc opposed the questioning. Al-Sabeeh has been under fire after dismissing several ministry officials. Since February 2006, Kuwait has witnessed the resignation of three cabinets and a major cabinet reshuffle to avoid confrontation with parliament.
On December 5, the parliament postponed, at the government’s request, discussion of a proposed law on purchasing and rescheduling citizens’ loans. The government is currently drafting a law to establish a fund with a capital of 300 million Kuwaiti dinars (US$1.09 billion) to help citizens pay off their debts.
A Riyadh court on November 28 acquitted two members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—the religious police—of responsibility for the death of a 28 year-old man in May. Commission members stormed the man’s house after they suspected him of distributing alcohol, which is banned in the kingdom. The court cited lack of sufficient evidence and dismissed a forensic report that stated the victim was beaten severely. The Commission is a government body charged with upholding Islamic moral values and social discipline. Click here for details.
Lawyer Abdul Rahman al-Lahem was summoned to a disciplinary committee on December 5 for publicly criticizing a court ruling punishing a victim of gang rape with 200 lashes and six months in prison. Al-Lahem is charged with “insulting the Supreme Judicial Council and disobeying rules and regulations.” His client, known as the al-Qatif girl, was sentenced in November 2006 to ninety lashes for khilwa—being alone in the company of a man who is not an immediate relative—while the seven perpetrators were sentenced to flogging and prison terms ranging from one to five years. All sentences were increased on appeal. Click here for a statement by Amnesty International.
Saudi police forces arrested 208 suspected Islamist militants on November 28. The Saudi Interior Ministry said the suspects have been planning attacks on an oil installation and security forces. Click here for details.
Mohammed al-Maskati, Director of the Bahrain Youth Center for Human Rights (BYSHR) was charged on November 27 with “activating an unregistered association before the issuance of a declaration of registration.” Bahraini law criminalizes the formation of any group without the approval of the Ministry of Social Development. BYSHR has been active in exposing government human rights violations and is a member of the Bahraini Coalition for Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation. Al-Maskati rejected the charges, citing that the BYSHR was established in accordance with the International Convention for Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a signatory. Click here for more information.
Dubai announced on December 3 that it had uncovered the largest prostitution network in the Gulf region, arresting over 300 members and clients. According to Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan bin Tamim, the recent crackdown is part of a comprehensive campaign to eliminate prostitution and human trafficking in the region. The UAE enacted a law in November 2006 making human trafficking punishable by life imprisonment and set up a national committee to combat human trafficking in May 2007. Click here for details.The Arab Network for Human Rights, in collaboration with a number of activists from the United Arab Emirates, issued a statement on November 27 criticizing continued violations of press freedom despite a recent order by Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktum abolishing imprisonment for press offenses. According to the statement, government ministries and officials continue to harass journalists and ban publications.
Algeria held elections for 1,541 municipal councils and 48 local departments on November 29. The National Liberation Front (FLN) emerged as the largest winner with 30.5 percent of the seats, followed by its ally in the ruling coalition, the National Rally for Democracy (RND) with 24.5 percent. The centrist Algerian National Front (FNA) won 11.3 percent of the seats. The third party in the ruling coalition, the Islamist Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), won 10.7 percent. Twenty-three parties and many independents contested the elections. The voter turnout was estimated at 44 percent. Despite scattered reports of irregularities, most competing parties expressed satisfaction with the election process. Click here for more information.
A local court convicted journalist Salim Boukhdeir on December 4 of “insulting an official while exercising his duty” and “refusing to produce his identity papers to the police.” Boukhdeir was sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay a five dinar fine (US$4). The case against Boukhdeir follows a number of recent articles he wrote in the international press accusing close aids of President Ben Ali of corruption. Boukhdeir had staged a fifteen-day hunger strike early in November in protest of government restrictions on the movement of political activists and confiscation of his passport. Click here for more information.
Moroccan authorities arrested six men for organizing a homosexual wedding in the northern city of al-Qasr al-Kabir on November 26. Over 600 of the town’s inhabitants staged a protest demanding a government crackdown on homosexuals. Article 489 of the Moroccan Penal Code stipulates that homosexuality is illegal and is punishable by six months to three years in jail and a fine of 120 to 1,200 Moroccan dirhams (US$15 to 155), but the law is rarely enforced. Moroccan homosexuals were recently allowed to found their own organization, which demands equal rights for homosexuals and aims to combat all forms of discrimination.
Recent publications on Lebanon include:
New publications on Palestine and the Arab-Israeli peace process include:
Recent publications on Iraq include:
New publications on Egypt include:
Recent publications on the Gulf States include:
Several new publications discuss North African countries:
Several new publications focus on the crisis in Darfur, Sudan:
Several new publications focus on media freedom, academic freedom, and education:
Other publications discuss economic reform:
New publications discussing the impact of outside powers on the region include:
Several recent publications address reform-related developments in various countries:
Other publications discuss region-wide developments:
"this commentary is reprinted with permission from the Arab Reform Bulletin. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace."