Activism > International
Democracy, Human rights, Dictatorship
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Roll
12 February 2011
R: Uncle Sam
President Obama welcomed Egypt's peaceful transition of power
upon the resignation of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.
"The people of Egypt have spoken. Their voices have been heard.
And Egypt will never be the same," he said.
Amnesty International posters - in picture
Amnesty has produced powerful posters over the past 50 years.
Here are some of the best
Amnesty urgent action
UK > Magna Carta
vote / vote
Bloggingheads: Egypt, Israel and America
Robert Wright of Bloggingheads.tv
and Amjad Atallah of the New America Foundation
discuss America and Middle East democracy.
king / monarch
theocratic / military dictatorship
repressive regime USA
state TV / state-run television
Libya's underground prisons
state of emergency
lift emergency law
autocratic ruler USA
is a blind, self-taught lawyer
who is one of China’s
After serving more than four years in prison
on charges widely regarded as
he was briefly freed in 2010
only to be placed under house arrest
at his rural
without any charges
having been filed against him.
return from exile
remain in power
grip on power
cling to power
cede power to...
hand power to...
anarchy / chaos
anarchy > anarchist
Gerald Scarfe cartoon
President Robert Mugabe as Death
basic human rights
Human Rights Watch
Rights Watch International Film Festival
Peter Benenson > Amnesty International
Human Rights Awards
Human Rights Awards > the Pinter/PEN prize
abuse of human rights
human rights violation
armed paramilitary police
civil rights activist
human rights activist
crackdown (on N)
bloody crackdown USA
crack down on
blood bath USA
prisoner of conscience
crimes against humanity
Big Brother UK
Big Brother imagery
Big Brother is
1984 > newspeak
Zimbabwe's Daily News
popular rage USA
take to the streets
protest songs USA
Global map of protests: 2013 so far
We know that 2011
was the year of revolution in the Arab world,
but how is 2013 shaping up so far?
The Global Database of Events pulls together
local, national and international
news sources and codes them
to identify all types of protest
from collecting signatures
to conducting hunger strikes to
Mapping the protests
that took place in the first six months
isn't perfectly accurate
because we don't know how many individuals took part
but it does provide an insight
into political action around the world.
Arab Spring 2011-2013
Arab spring: an interactive timeline of Middle East protests
Ever since a man in Tunisia
burnt himself to death in December
in protest at his treatment by police,
pro-democracy rebellions have erupted across the Arab world.
Our interactive timeline traces key events
set oneself on fire
The death of Mohamed Bouazizi,
a fruit vendor from southern Tunisia
who set himself on fire on Dec. 17, 2010,
helped incite an uprising
that toppled the government
of President Zine
el-Abidine Ben Ali. USA
Interactive > Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East
Political Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East
In the wake of the overthrow
of the leaders of Tunisia and
here is a look at challenges
acing other countries across the region
Middle East Protests (2010-11)
Twitter network of Arab and Middle East protests - interactive map
Reuters interactive graphic
Protests in Africa and the Middle East
The Arab spring 2011
rise up against N
Boston Globe > Big Picture
Libya: Unrest and uncertainty
February 25, 2011
quell unrest / protest
clash / clash with
N / between N
fire on N
fire at N
25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre
June 6, 2014
Twenty five years ago this week,
protests at Tiananmen Square in Beijing
ended in bloodshed.
Hundreds died in the government crackdown.
Thousands gathered in Hong Kong
to mark the event and remember
though no events were planned in China.
Boston Globe > Big Picture
25th anniversary of the Tiananmen
cartons > Cagle > Slaughter in Syria
cartoons > Cagle > Syria regime
free speech USA
U.S. Constitution > First Amendment > free speech USA
yearn for freedom
freedom of expression / speech
freedom of information
call for N
New Democracies Need Free Speech
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER
NATIONS — President Obama on Tuesday used his last major address on a global
stage before the November election to deliver a strong defense of America’s
belief in freedom of speech, challenging fledgling Arab and North African
democracies to ensure that right even in the face of violence.
The speech was in many ways a balancing act for Mr. Obama, who has had to
contend with angry anti-American demonstrations throughout the Middle East
during the past several weeks, and a Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, who says
the president has projected weakness in his foreign policy. Mr. Romney has
criticized the administration for issuing what he called “an apology for
American values” in its initial response to the demonstrations.
Mr. Obama’s message seemed intended to appeal to a domestic audience as much as
to the world leaders at the General Assembly.
In a 30-minute address, he affirmed what he said “are not simply American values
or Western values — they are universal values.” He vowed to protect the enduring
ability of Americans to say what they think. He promised that the United States
“will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” And he
asserted that the flare-up of violence over a video that ridicules the Prophet
Muhammad would not set off a retreat from his support of the Arab democracy
Mr. Romney was also in New York on Tuesday, talking about foreign aid at a forum
sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative, where Mr. Obama also spoke after his
United Nations address. But Mr. Romney was left to make his own case on a much
smaller stage, where the host was former President Bill Clinton, an Obama
Mr. Romney called for a rethinking of how American foreign aid is disbursed,
suggesting that it could be tied directly to how governments and organizations
work to open up their markets and encourage employment. “The aim of a much
larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free
enterprise,” he said.
That idea is bound to set off debate, since many labor rights organizations —
and in fact, many American labor unions — argue that free trade pacts like the
ones advocated by Mr. Romney serve only to ship jobs overseas.
Mr. Romney managed a smile when Mr. Clinton, who has been slamming him in swing
states on behalf of Mr. Obama, introduced him, and he even joked about the help
Mr. Clinton has been giving his rival on the campaign trail. “If there’s one
thing we’ve learned this election season, it’s that a few words from Bill
Clinton can do a man a lot of good,” Mr. Romney said.
Mr. Obama appeared to relish the larger canvas of the United Nations and his
subject, freedom of speech and why in the United States, even making “a crude
and disgusting video” is a right of all citizens.
“As president of our country, and commander in chief of our military, I accept
that people are going to call me awful things every day,” Mr. Obama said. “And I
will defend their right to do so.” For that, he received cheers in the cavernous
The president worked to explain — before a sometimes skeptical audience that has
never completely bought into the American idea that even hateful speech is
protected — why the United States values its First Amendment so highly.
“We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a
tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities,” Mr. Obama said. “We do so
because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious
differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not
repression, it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against
bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual
respect.” He said Americans “have fought and died around the globe to protect
the right of all people to express their view.”
Just two weeks after the beginning of violent anti-American protests that led to
the deadly attacks on American diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya, Mr.
Obama vowed that even as the United States worked to bring the killers to
justice, he would not back down from his support of democratic freedoms in the
“It is time to marginalize those who, even when not resorting to violence, use
hatred of America, or the West, or Israel as the central principle of politics,”
Mr. Obama said. “For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes excuses, for
those who do resort to violence.”
On Iran, Mr. Obama warned that time to diplomatically resolve the Iranian
nuclear issue “is not unlimited.” But he refused to go further than what he has
said in the past, that “a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be
contained,” despite pleas from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to
establish a new “red line” that Iran cannot cross without provoking military
“America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe there is
still time and space to do so,” Mr. Obama said. “We respect the right of nations
to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations
is to see that we harness that power for peace.”
He devoted most of his remarks to the Arab democracy movement and its fallout.
Benjamin J. Rhodes, one of Mr. Obama’s deputy national security advisers, worked
on the speech, but as a starting point he had the president’s own thoughts after
he learned of the attacks in Benghazi that claimed the lives of the four
Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Mr. Obama had accompanied Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the State
Department to console grieving employees there, and spoke off the cuff, a senior
administration official said, about the devotion of diplomats like Mr. Stevens
and the American ideals that they put themselves in the line of fire to uphold.
He returned to that subject at the United Nations on Tuesday. “There are no
words that excuse the killing of innocents,” Mr. Obama told the General
Assembly. “There is no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There is no
slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or
destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.”
It was the president’s first truly expansive response to the unrest that erupted
over the video made in the United States, and it came just as his campaign was
battling attacks from Republicans over his foreign policy. Mr. Romney, at the
Clinton conference, did not repeat those accusations. Nor did the president, in
either his remarks at the General Assembly or at his appearance at the Clinton
forum, make his own partisan attack.
But the presidential election seemed to be a subtext, and while Mr. Romney was
the first up at bat in the dueling speeches on Tuesday, Mr. Obama had the more
presidential forum in the high-ceilinged General Assembly chamber. After the
ritual of waiting for 10 seconds in a chair just below the stage while he was
introduced, Mr. Obama walked to the lectern.
“I would like to begin today by telling you about an American named Chris
Stevens,” he said. He spoke of Mr. Stevens’s “love and respect” for the people
of North Africa and the Middle East, of his penchant for “walking the streets of
the cities where he worked, tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he
could, speaking Arabic and listening with a broad smile.”
At the close of his remarks, he returned to the slain American envoy. “Today,”
he said, “I promise you this: Long after these killers are brought to justice,
Chris Stevens’s legacy will live on in the lives he touched.”
contributed reporting from New York.
Obama Tells U.N. New Democracies Need Free Speech,
Free Speech in the Age of YouTube
September 22, 2012
The New York Times
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
COMPANIES are usually accountable to no one but their shareholders.
Internet companies are a different breed. Because they traffic in speech —
rather than, say, corn syrup or warplanes — they make decisions every day about
what kind of expression is allowed where. And occasionally they come under
pressure to explain how they decide, on whose laws and values they rely, and how
they distinguish between toxic speech that must be taken down and that which can
The storm over an incendiary anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube has stirred
fresh debate on these issues. Google, which owns YouTube, restricted access to
the video in Egypt and Libya, after the killing of a United States ambassador
and three other Americans. Then, it pulled the plug on the video in five other
countries, where the content violated local laws.
Some countries blocked YouTube altogether, though that didn’t stop the
bloodshed: in Pakistan, where elections are to be scheduled soon, riots on
Friday left a death toll of 19.
The company pointed to its internal edicts to explain why it rebuffed calls to
take down the video altogether. It did not meet its definition of hate speech,
YouTube said, and so it allowed the video to stay up on the Web. It didn’t say
very much more.
That explanation revealed not only the challenges that confront companies like
Google but also how opaque they can be in explaining their verdicts on what can
be said on their platforms. Google, Facebook and Twitter receive hundreds of
thousands of complaints about content every week.
“We are just awakening to the need for some scrutiny or oversight or public
attention to the decisions of the most powerful private speech controllers,”
said Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor who briefly advised the Obama
administration on consumer protection regulations online.
Google was right, Mr. Wu believes, to selectively restrict access to the crude
anti-Islam video in light of the extraordinary violence that broke out. But he
said the public deserved to know more about how private firms made those
decisions in the first place, every day, all over the world. After all, he
added, they are setting case law, just as courts do in sovereign countries.
Mr. Wu offered some unsolicited advice: Why not set up an oversight board of
regional experts or serious YouTube users from around the world to make the
especially tough decisions?
Google has not responded to his proposal, which he outlined in a blog post for
The New Republic.
Certainly, the scale and nature of YouTube makes this a daunting task. Any
analysis requires combing through over a billion videos and overlaying that
against the laws and mores of different countries. It’s unclear whether expert
panels would allow for unpopular minority opinion anyway. The company said in a
statement on Friday that, like newspapers, it, too, made “nuanced” judgments
about content: “It’s why user-generated content sites typically have clear
community guidelines and remove videos or posts that break them.”
Privately, companies have been wrestling with these issues for some time.
The Global Network Initiative, a conclave of executives, academics and
advocates, has issued voluntary guidelines on how to respond to government
requests to filter content.
And the Anti-Defamation League has convened executives, government officials and
advocates to discuss how to define hate speech and what to do about it.
Hate speech is a pliable notion, and there will be arguments about whether it
covers speech that is likely to lead to violence (think Rwanda) or demeans a
group (think Holocaust denial), just as there will be calls for absolute free
Behind closed doors, Internet companies routinely make tough decisions on
Apple and Google earlier this year yanked a mobile application produced by
Hezbollah. In 2010, YouTube removed links to speeches by an American-born
cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, in which he advocated terrorist violence; at the time,
the company said it proscribed posts that could incite “violent acts.”
ON rare occasions, Google has taken steps to educate users about offensive
content. For instance, the top results that come up when you search for the word
“Jew” include a link to a virulently anti-Jewish site, followed by a promoted
link from Google, boxed in pink. It links to a page that lays out Google’s
rationale: the company says it does not censor search results, despite
Susan Benesch, who studies hate speech that incites violence, said it would be
wise to have many more explanations like this, not least to promote debate.
“They certainly don’t have to,” said Ms. Benesch, director of the Dangerous
Speech Project at the World Policy Institute. “But we can encourage them to
because of the enormous power they have.”
The companies point out that they obey the laws of every country in which they
do business. And their employees and algorithms vet content that may violate
their user guidelines, which are public.
YouTube prohibits hate speech, which it defines as that which “attacks or
demeans a group” based on its race, religion and so on; Facebook’s hate speech
ban likewise covers “content that attacks people” on the basis of identity.
Google and Facebook prohibit hate speech; Twitter does not explicitly ban it.
And anyway, legal scholars say, it is exceedingly difficult to devise a
universal definition of hate speech.
Shibley Telhami, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, said he
hoped the violence over the video would encourage a nuanced conversation about
how to safeguard free expression with other values, like public safety. “It’s
really about at what point does speech becomes action; that’s a boundary that
becomes difficult to draw, and it’s a slippery slope,” Mr. Telhami said.
He cautioned that some countries, like Russia, which threatened to block YouTube
altogether, would be thrilled to have any excuse to squelch speech. “Does Russia
really care about this film?” Mr. Telhami asked.
International law does not protect speech that is designed to cause violence.
Several people have been convicted in international courts for incitement to
genocide in Rwanda.
One of the challenges of the digital age, as the YouTube case shows, is that
speech articulated in one part of the world can spark mayhem in another. Can the
companies that run those speech platforms predict what words and images might
set off carnage elsewhere? Whoever builds that algorithm may end up saving
is a technology correspondent for The New York
Free Speech in the Age of YouTube, NYT,
With American Arms
December 17, 2011
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
WHEN President Obama decides soon whether to approve a $53 million arms sale to
our close but despotic ally Bahrain, he must weigh the fact that America has a
major naval base here and that Bahrain is a moderate, modernizing bulwark
Yet he should also understand the systematic, violent repression here, the kind
that apparently killed a 14-year-old boy, Ali al-Sheikh, and continues to
torment his family.
Ali grew up here in Sitra, a collection of poor villages far from the gleaming
bank towers of Bahrain’s skyline. Almost every day pro-democracy protests still
bubble up in Sitra, and even when they are completely peaceful they are crushed
with a barrage of American-made tear gas.
People here admire much about America and welcomed me into their homes, but
there is also anger that the tear gas shells that they sweep off the streets
each morning are made by a Pennsylvania company, NonLethal Technologies. It is a
private company that declined to comment, but the American government grants it
a license for these exports — and every shell fired undermines our image.
In August, Ali joined one of the protests. A policeman fired a shell at Ali from
less than 15 feet away, according to the account of the family and human-rights
groups. The shell apparently hit the boy in the back of the neck, and he died
almost immediately, a couple of minutes’ walk from his home.
The government claims that the bruise was “inconsistent” with a blow from a tear
gas grenade. Frankly, I’ve seen the Bahrain authorities lie so much that I don’t
credit their denial.
Jawad al-Sheikh, Ali’s father, says that at the hospital, the government tried
to force him to sign papers saying Ali had not been killed by the police.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has recently distanced himself from the killings
and torture, while pledging that Bahrain will reform. There have indeed been
modest signs of improvement, and a member of the royal family, Saqer al-Khalifa,
told me that progress will now be accelerated.
Yet despite the lofty rhetoric, the police have continued to persecute Ali’s
family. For starters, riot policemen fired tear gas at the boy’s funeral,
The police summoned Jawad for interrogation, most recently this month. He fears
he will be fired from his job in the Ministry of Electricity.
Skirmishes break out almost daily in the neighborhood, with the police firing
tear gas for offenses as trivial as honking to the tune of “Down, Down, Hamad.”
Disproportionately often, those tear gas shells seem aimed at Ali’s house. Once,
Jawad says, a shell was fired into the house through the front door. A couple of
weeks ago, riot policemen barged into the house and ripped photos of Ali from
the wall, said the boy’s mother, Maryam Abdulla.
“They’re worried about their throne,” she added, “so they want us to live in
Mourners regularly leave flowers and photos of Ali on his grave, which is in a
vacant lot near the home. Perhaps because some messages call him a martyr, the
riot police come regularly and smash the pictures and throw away the flowers.
The family has not purchased a headstone yet, for fear that the police will
The repression is ubiquitous. Consider Zainab al-Khawaja, 28, whose husband and
father are both in prison and have been tortured for pro-democracy activities,
according to human rights reports. Police officers have threatened to cut off
Khawaja’s tongue, she told me, and they broke her father’s heart by falsely
telling him that she had been shipped to Saudi Arabia to be raped and tortured.
She braved the risks by talking to me about this last week — before she was
Khawaja earned her college degree in Wisconsin. She has read deeply of Gandhi
and of Gene Sharp, an American scholar who writes about how to use nonviolent
protest to overthrow dictators. She was sitting peacefully protesting in a
traffic circle when the police attacked her. First they fired tear gas grenades
next to her, and then handcuffed her and dragged her away — sometimes slapping
and hitting her as video cameras rolled. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights
says that she was beaten more at the police station.
Khawaja is tough as nails, and when we walked alongside demonstrations together,
she seemed unbothered by tear gas that left me blinded and coughing. But she
worried about her 2-year-old daughter, Jude. And one time as we were driving
back from visiting a family whose baby had just died, possibly because so much
tear gas had been fired in the neighborhood, Khawaja began crying. “I think I’m
losing it,” she said. “It all just gets to me.”
Since the government has now silenced her by putting her in jail, I’ll give her
the last word. I asked her a few days before her arrest about the proposed
American arms sale to Bahrain.
“At least don’t sell them arms,” she pleaded. “When Obama sells arms to
dictators repressing people seeking democracy, he ruins the reputation of
America. It’s never in America’s interest to turn a whole people against it.”
Repressing Democracy, With American Arms, NYT,
Tyrants Do Time
The New York Times
By KATHRYN SIKKINK
TIME is running out for former government officials accused of murder, genocide
and crimes against humanity. In the past few months, the final Serbian
war-crimes fugitives were extradited to The Hague, the trial of the former
Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, began in Cairo, and the International
Criminal Court opened hearings on the post-election violence that plagued Kenya
These events have provoked a chorus of trial skeptics, who contend that the
threat of prosecution undermines democracy, exacerbates conflict and could lead
to greater human rights violations.
Critics argue that the threat of prosecution leads dictators like Col. Muammar
el-Qaddafi of Libya and Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan to entrench themselves in
power rather than negotiate a transition to democracy. In El Salvador, where
domestic courts have refused to extradite officers accused of murdering Jesuit
priests 22 years ago, critics claim that such a prosecution would undermine
stability and sovereignty.
But we do not know whether extraditions would destabilize El Salvador, or
whether Sudan and Libya would have been better off than they are today if the
I.C.C. had not indicted Mr. Bashir or Colonel Qaddafi.
Indeed, those arguments rest on proving or disproving a counterfactual. While
the I.C.C. indictment may have prompted Colonel Qaddafi’s desire to hide once he
left power, we do not know whether it shortened his last days in power or
Historical and statistical evidence gives us reason to question criticisms of
human rights trials. My research shows that transitional countries — those
moving from authoritarian governments to democracy or from civil war to peace —
where human rights prosecutions have taken place subsequently become less
repressive than transitional countries without prosecutions, holding other
By comparing countries like Argentina and Chile that have used human rights
prosecutions with those like Brazil that have not, I found that prosecutions
tended not to exacerbate human rights violations, undermine democracy or lead to
Of 100 countries that underwent a transition from 1980 to 2004 (the period for
which extensive data is available), 48 pursued at least one human rights
prosecution, and 33 of those pursued two or more. Countries that have prosecuted
former officials exhibit lower levels of torture, summary execution, forced
disappearances and political imprisonment. Although civil war heightens
repression, prosecutions in the context of civil war do not make the situation
worse, as critics claim.
Such evidence doesn’t tell us what will happen in any individual country, but it
is a better basis from which to reason than a counterfactual guess. The
possibility of punishment and disgrace makes violating human rights more costly,
and thus deters future leaders from doing so.
From the final Nuremberg trials in 1949 until the 1970s, there was virtually no
chance that heads of state and government officials would be held accountable
for human rights violations. But in the last two decades, the likelihood of
punishment has increased, and newly installed officials may be more cautious
before deciding to murder or torture their political opponents.
In addition, trials seem to project deterrence across borders. If a number of
countries in a region pursue prosecutions, nearby countries also show a decrease
in the level of repression, even if they have not held trials.
In Latin America, young military officers need only look to Argentina and Chile,
where 81 and 66 individuals, respectively, have been convicted for crimes during
previous dictatorships, to absorb the lesson that the possibility of punishment
is much greater than it was in the past. This may help explain why military
coups are now so rare in the region.
Likewise, the sight of Mr. Mubarak in a cage in a Cairo courtroom could deter
government officials elsewhere in the region who are considering repressive
measures against their populations. This may not help much with Mr. Bashir or
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who are already deeply complicit in violent
repression, and are unlikely to be deterred. But the history of dictators shows
that some leaders cling to power at any cost, so it is hard to argue that the
threat of prosecution is uniquely responsible for their continuing iron grip.
This does not mean that all governments must immediately and simultaneously
begin far-reaching prosecutions. The desire for justice is persistent, and if
political conditions for prosecutions are not ripe immediately after a
democratic transition, such prosecutions can be held later.
Cambodia issued its first war-crimes conviction last year, over 30 years after
the horrors of the killing fields. And domestic courts in Uruguay took 20 years
to sentence the former authoritarian leader Juan María Bordaberry for human
rights violations. Mr. Bordaberry died this summer in his home, where he was
serving a 30-year sentence for ordering the murder of political opponents.
It has never been easy for any country to confront its past. Almost all leaders,
when faced with calls for accountability, have wanted to turn the page and look
toward the future. But demands for justice are robust, and countries that have
held former leaders accountable have in most cases come away stronger.
a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota,
author of “The Justice Cascade:
How Human Rights Prosecutions
Are Changing World
Making Tyrants Do Time, NYT, 15.9.2011,
in Syria's bloodiest day of protests
Fri Apr 22, 2011
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
(Reuters) - Syrian security forces shot dead dozens of protesters on Friday,
rights activists said, the bloodiest day in a month of escalating demonstrations
against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
Activist Ammar Qurabi said at least 49 people were killed in unrest which swept
the country, mainly from bullet wounds but also from inhaling tear gas. Many
more were wounded and around 20 were still missing, he said.
It was not possible to independently confirm the figures.
Tens of thousands of people had taken to the streets of cities across Syria and
chanted for the "overthrow of the regime," reflecting the hardening of demands
which initially focused on reforms and greater freedoms.
The protests went ahead despite Assad's lifting of the state of emergency the
day before. Ending the hated emergency rule, in place since the Baath Party
seized power 48 years ago, was a central demand of demonstrators, who also seek
the release of political prisoners and dismantling of the security services.
"This was the first test of the seriousness of authorities (toward reform) and
they have failed," Qurabi said.
Before Friday's violence rights groups had said more than 220 people had been
killed in the unrest which broke out on March 18 in the southern city of Deraa.
As in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions that ousted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali
and Hosni Mubarak, citizens are rebelling against both a lack of freedom and
opportunity and security forces' impunity and corruption that has enriched the
elite while one-third of Syrians live below the poverty line.
In the first joint statement since the protests broke out, activists
coordinating the demonstrations on Friday demanded the abolition of the Baath
Party monopoly on power and the establishment of a democratic political system.
"All prisoners of conscience must be freed. The existing security apparatus has
to be dismantled and replaced by one with specific jurisdiction and which
operates according to law," they said in the statement, which was sent to
Aided by his family and a pervasive security apparatus, Assad, 45, has absolute
power in Syria.
Protests swept the country of 20 million people, from the Mediterranean city of
Banias to the eastern towns of Deir al-Zor and Qamishli. In Damascus, security
forces fired teargas to disperse 2,000 protesters in the district of Midan.
In the city of Hama, where Assad's father ruthlessly crushed an armed Islamist
uprising nearly 30 years ago, a witness said security forces opened fire to
prevent protesters reaching the Baath Party headquarters.
"We saw two snipers on the building. None of us had weapons. There are
casualties, possibly two dead," said the witness.
Witnesses said security forces also shot at demonstrators in the Damascus
district of Barzeh, the central city of Homs, the Damascus suburb of Douma, and
on protesters heading for the city of Deraa, where Syria's uprising first broke
out five weeks ago.
Al Jazeera showed footage of three corpses, wrapped in white burial shrouds,
which it said were from the eastern Damascus suburb of Zamalka.
Ahead of the main weekly prayers on Friday, which have often turned out to be
launch pads for major demonstrations, the army deployed in Homs and police put
up checkpoints across Damascus, apparently trying to prevent protests sweeping
in from suburbs.
After prayers finished in Deraa, several thousand protesters gathered chanting
anti-Assad slogans. "The Syrian people will not be subjugated. Go away doctor
(Assad). We will trample on you and your slaughterous regime," they shouted.
Assad's conciliatory move to lift the state of emergency followed a familiar
pattern since the unrest began a month ago: pledges of reform are made before
Friday when demonstrations are the strongest, usually followed by an intense
Activists said some funerals for those killed on Friday took place in Damascus
suburbs in the evening. Funerals have been another platform for protesters in
recent weeks and security forces have opened fire when mourners started
The authorities have blamed armed groups, infiltrators and Sunni Muslim militant
organisations for provoking violence at demonstrations by firing on civilians
and security forces.
Western and other Arab countries have mostly muted their criticism of the
killings in Syria for fear of destabilizing the country, which plays a strategic
role in many of the conflicts in the Middle East.
reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman,
Yara Bayoumy and Mariam Karouny in
Sami Aboudi in Cairo;
writing by Dominic Evans;
editing by Diana Abdallah)
Dozens killed in Syria's bloodiest day of protests, R,
says 79 arrested in protests
Wed Mar 2, 2011
(Reuters) - Iran's opposition said at least 79 people were arrested at protest
rallies on Tuesday that the government denied had taken place at all.
Authorities have deployed large numbers of security forces to prevent any repeat
of the massive unrest that followed hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's
2009 re-election, and on Wednesday state media made no mention of Tuesday's
Opposition websites said thousands of people demonstrated in Tehran and other
cities to demand the release of "Green movement" leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and
Mehdi Karoubi who they believe were taken from their homes last week and jailed.
Prosecutor-General Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei denied the arrests, saying both
men were still in their homes but were being prevented from communicating with
the outside world.
According to opposition website Sahamnews, at least 79 people were arrested on
Tuesday. Sites said some 1,500 were arrested on February 14 during the Green
movement's first rally in more than a year, which was called to show support for
pro-democracy uprisings in North Africa.
The police said "dozens" of people were arrested on February 14, and a
parliamentary committee set up to investigate the events said only small groups
of trouble-makers turned up.
Talking of events on Tuesday, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told
reporters: "A limited number of people, influenced by anti-revolutionary groups,
were intending to do something."
"No specific incident happened on Tuesday in Tehran," he said, according to the
semi-official Fars news agency. Dolatabadi declined to give the number of
Despite the official line that there has been no significant resurgence of the
Green movement, which the government considers to be a seditious plot guided by
its Western foes, parliament has called for Mousavi and Karoubi to be tried and
Two people were shot dead on February 14, deaths that each side has blamed on
The parliamentary report, issued on Wednesday, accused Mousavi and Karoubi of
staging the February 14 rally at the encouragement of U.S., British and Israeli
"Foreign intelligence services had contacts with the sedition leaders urging
them to call for a rally in support of popular uprising in Egypt and Tunisia ...
as a pretext to create tension in the country," said the report, according to
the official IRNA news agency.
Opposition leaders deny such accusations.
Iranian government leaders have hailed uprisings in several Arab states as part
of an "Islamic awakening" inspired by the 1979 revolution which ousted the
Analysts outside Iran say the uprisings have been overwhelmingly secular, not
religious, in nature.
The Iranian opposition took those pro-democracy protests as inspiration to stage
its own first significant show of vitality since December 2009 street protests,
which were crushed by the elite Revolutionary Guards.
Mousavi and Karoubi -- reformists who lost to Ahmadinejad in the June 2009
election -- were held in their homes, incommunicado, after they called for the
rally. Authorities warned such "illegal" gatherings would not be tolerated.
Opposition website Kaleme said it believed Mousavi and Karoubi and their wives
were secretly whisked from their homes last Thursday and taken to Heshmatiyeh
prison in Tehran.
The authorities' reluctance to confirm their whereabouts shows the sensitivity
of taking aggressive action against men who remain rallying points for
opposition to Ahmadinejad.
Reza Derakhshi; editing by Mark Heinrich)
Iran opposition says 79 arrested in protests, R, 2.3.2011,
Family rule is under siege, at last
Feb 18, 2012
Dictatorship is under siege throughout the Arab world: fingers are crossed
that democracy will prevail. Something else is under siege, too — the notion of
family rule. This is among the oldest, and most harmful, concepts in human
society. Is it about to vanish at last?
For centuries, in some cases for millennia, regions and nations have been ruled
by families — either formally as royalty, or de facto via warlords, khans and
shoguns who in most cases inherited their positions. As recently as a century
ago, families still ran most of Europe, all of Russia and Japan, while an
assortment of warlord-like figures with inherited standing ran much of what’s
now South America and the Middle East, and kings and emperors controlled the
subcontinent and most of Africa.
Today family rule has been vanquished, or reduced to constitutional status, in
most of the world. The big exceptions are Cuba, North Korea, the Middle East,
and parts of Africa and Pakistan. The fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, following
a 30-year warlord-style rule — and the unlikelihood that his sons will inherit
control of the country, as Mubarak planned — represents a major subtraction from
the remaining portion of the globe under family control.
Let’s hope the trend continues. Today China, India, the United States, Indonesia
and Brazil, the world’s five largest nations, representing more than half of the
global population, have abolished all forms of inherited rule. Much of the rest
of the world has done or is doing the same. This is no guarantee of happiness,
of course. Open systems can be chaotic (the United States), still lack personal
freedom (China) or be poorly administered (Italy). But in the main, ending
family rule has been good for societies that achieve this.
Mubarak kept Egypt out of war, but that’s the only positive that can be attached
to his three decades of warlord rule. Egypt’s economy stagnated, while theft of
public funds by Mubarak and his family members was rampant.
Backwardness, corruption and repression are the hallmarks of all nations still
suffering under family rule. Most of the Persian Gulf has kings or emirs whose
sole accomplishments in life are the accidents of their births; North Korea has
the maniacal and incompetent Jung-Il family; Cuba has the Castros, both are one
thousand times more concerned with personal power than with the welfare of
Perhaps it was inevitable that in a simpler past, family rule would have been a
part of human culture. In the modern era, family rule differs little, in
structure and function, from organized crime. Now the crime boss of Egypt is
out, following the removal of the crime boss of Tunisia.
We can hope the example will spread to other parts of the region, and that more
family rulers will fail or flee. And we can hope that the United States will not
backslide. The current generation has seen America’s first presidential
succession, from George Hebert Walker Bush to his son George W. Bush. The
younger Bush’s brother Jeb may be a future presidential candidate, while there
remains a chance Hillary Clinton, wife of a former president, could be elected
to the White House. George W. Bush was freely chosen for his post, rather than
strong-arming his way to rule. But family rule is family rule — not good for any
Bahrain, where the current strongest protests are occurring, is ruled by an
absolute monarch whose primary achievement in life was being handed a crown by
his father. The sooner his family’s rule ends, the better. The sooner the whole
concept of family rule fades into history, the better off the human family will
Family rule is under
siege, at last, R, 18.2.2011,
Dozens Reported Killed
in Libyan Crackdown
February 18, 2011
The New York Times
By ALAN COWELL
PARIS — At least 24 people have died in protests in Libya
against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, according to Human Rights Watch, and
demonstrations were reported continuing into the early hours of Friday in what
seemed the most serious challenge to his 41-year rule.
Exiled opponents of the Libyan leader said on Thursday that protests mirroring
the turmoil in the Arab world had broken out in several parts of the country on
a so-called “Day of Rage.”‘.
But the ferocity of the government’s response emerged only on Friday when the
advocacy group Human Rights Watch said security forces “killed at least 24
protesters and wounded many others in a crackdown on peaceful demonstrations
across the country.”
The organization quoted an unidentified protesters as saying demonstrations also
began late Thursday in Tripoli, the capital. The worst of the violence reported
so far has been in restive east of the country, where Colonel Qaddafi has long
faced greater discontent than in the capital.
Reuters said thousands of protesters remained on the streets of Beghazi, Libya’s
second city, into early Friday.
“According to multiple witnesses, Libyan security forces shot and killed the
demonstrators in efforts to disperse the protests, Human Rights Watch said,
calling the crackdown vicious. Protests broke out in five places, it said —
Benghazi, Al Beyda, Zentan, Derna and Ajdabiya.The protests seem to feed on
earlier grievances, both economic and political, particularly in the east of the
country whose people have long felt disadvanted compared to those in the
capital. The South Korean news Yonhap on Friday quoted the South Korean Foreign
Ministry as saying 200 people forced their way into a South Korean-run
construction side at Derna, in eastern Libya, on Thursday and occupied it.
The action in a month and seemed to be related to “discontent o over the
government’s housing policy,” the ministry said.
Throughout the protests, the state media in Libya have ignored the
demonstrations, offering a counter-narrative that depicted Libyans waving green
flags and shouting in support of Colonel Qaddafi.
The official JANA news agency said the government supporters wanted to affirm
their “eternal unity with the brother leader of the revolution.”
Two days ago, “subscribers to Libyana, one of two Libyan mobile phone networks,
received a text message calling upon ‘nationalist youth’ to go out and ‘defend
national symbols,’” Human Rights Watch said.
The protests began late on Tuesday in Benghazi, Libya’s restive second-largest
city, and spread to other areas. In a land where any display of dissent or
opposition is rapidly quashed, the violence seemed to present a highly unusual
challenge to Colonel Qaddafi’s rule.
“Today the Libyans broke the barrier of fear, it is a new dawn,” Faiz Jibril, an
opposition leader in exile told The Associated Press. But that assessment had
yet to be tested against Colonel Qaddafi’s repressive internal security
apparatus. Several opposition Web sites and exiled leaders said the authorities
had deployed military snipers and commandos to suppress the unrest.
As the confrontation spread to the city of Al Beyda east of Benghazi, a Web site
opposing Colonel Qaddafi said four protesters had been killed by government
forces. Other accounts put the death toll higher.
Quryna, a privately owned newspaper in Benghazi, reported the firing of a local
security chief over the violent crackdown in Al Beyda.
On Thursday, according to news reports from Tripoli, traffic moved freely on
Omar al-Mokhtar street, the capital’s main thoroughfare, banks and shops were
open and there was no increased security presence.
But Mohammad Ali Abdellah, the deputy leader of an exiled opposition group, the
National Front for the Salvation of Libya, said in a telephone interview from
London that roads leading to Tripoli’s central Green Square had been closed off
and that people living nearby had been warned in text messages from the
authorities not to join any protests.
In Al Beyda, he said, hospital authorities had appealed for international help
to cope with an influx of around 30 or 40 people with gunshot wounds after
security forces opened fire on protests that erupted on Wednesday night and
continued into early Thursday.
His account could not be immediately verified.
Mr. Abdellah also said separate protests broke out again on Thursday in
Benghazi, Misratah, east of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast, and Al-Kufrah in
the southeast. Other reports from opposition Web sites spoke of protests in
several other places including Zentan, Rijban, southwest of Tripoli, and Shahat,
southwest of Benghazi.
Video provided by an opposition leader showed marchers in Zentan chanting: “Down
with Qaddafi. Down with the regime,” The A.P. said.
Colonel Qaddafi has sought to defuse the protests, doubling the salaries of
state employees and releasing 110 accused Islamic militants. But some of the
protests appear to draw on much older grievances. They were first set off on
Tuesday night when the police arrested a human rights lawyer representing
families of 1,000 detainees massacred in 1996 at the notorious Abu Salim prison
Colonel Qaddafi took power in a bloodless coup in 1969 and has built his rule on
a cult of personality and a network of family and tribal alliances supported by
largess from Libya’s oil revenues.
Mark McDonald contributed reporting from Seoul.
Killed in Libyan Crackdown, NYT, 18.2.2011,
Shy U.S. Intellectual
Created Playbook Used in a Revolution
February 16, 2011
The New York Times
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
BOSTON — Halfway around the world from Tahrir Square in Cairo,
an aging American intellectual shuffles about his cluttered brick row house in a
working-class neighborhood here. His name is Gene Sharp. Stoop-shouldered and
white-haired at 83, he grows orchids, has yet to master the Internet and hardly
seems like a dangerous man.
But for the world’s despots, his ideas can be fatal.
Few Americans have heard of Mr. Sharp. But for decades, his practical writings
on nonviolent revolution — most notably “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” a
93-page guide to toppling autocrats, available for download in 24 languages —
have inspired dissidents around the world, including in Burma, Bosnia, Estonia
and Zimbabwe, and now Tunisia and Egypt.
When Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement was struggling to recover from a failed
effort in 2005, its leaders tossed around “crazy ideas” about bringing down the
government, said Ahmed Maher, a leading strategist. They stumbled on Mr. Sharp
while examining the Serbian movement Otpor, which he had influenced.
When the nonpartisan International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which trains
democracy activists, slipped into Cairo several years ago to conduct a workshop,
among the papers it distributed was Mr. Sharp’s “198 Methods of Nonviolent
Action,” a list of tactics that range from hunger strikes to “protest disrobing”
to “disclosing identities of secret agents.”
Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian blogger and activist who attended the workshop and
later organized similar sessions on her own, said trainees were active in both
the Tunisia and Egypt revolts. She said that some activists translated excerpts
of Mr. Sharp’s work into Arabic, and that his message of “attacking weaknesses
of dictators” stuck with them.
Peter Ackerman, a onetime student of Mr. Sharp who founded the nonviolence
center and ran the Cairo workshop, cites his former mentor as proof that “ideas
Mr. Sharp, hard-nosed yet exceedingly shy, is careful not to take credit. He is
more thinker than revolutionary, though as a young man he participated in
lunch-counter sit-ins and spent nine months in a federal prison in Danbury,
Conn., as a conscientious objector during the Korean War. He has had no contact
with the Egyptian protesters, he said, although he recently learned that the
Muslim Brotherhood had “From Dictatorship to Democracy” posted on its Web site.
While seeing the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak as a sign of
“encouragement,” Mr. Sharp said, “The people of Egypt did that — not me.”
He has been watching events in Cairo unfold on CNN from his modest house in East
Boston, which he bought in 1968 for $150 plus back taxes.
It doubles as the headquarters of the Albert Einstein Institution, an
organization Mr. Sharp founded in 1983 while running seminars at Harvard and
teaching political science at what is now the University of Massachusetts at
Dartmouth. It consists of him; his assistant, Jamila Raquib, whose family fled
Soviet oppression in Afghanistan when she was 5; a part-time office manager and
a Golden Retriever mix named Sally. Their office wall sports a bumper sticker
that reads “Gotov Je!” — Serbian for “He is finished!”
In this era of Twitter revolutionaries, the Internet holds little allure for Mr.
Sharp. He is not on Facebook and does not venture onto the Einstein Web site.
(“I should,” he said apologetically.) If he must send e-mail, he consults a
handwritten note Ms. Raquib has taped to the doorjamb near his state-of-the-art
Macintosh computer in a study overflowing with books and papers. “To open a
blank e-mail,” it reads, “click once on icon that says ‘new’ at top of window.”
Some people suspect Mr. Sharp of being a closet peacenik and a lefty — in the
1950s, he wrote for a publication called “Peace News” and he once worked as
personal secretary to A. J. Muste, a noted labor union activist and pacifist —
but he insists that he outgrew his own early pacifism and describes himself as
Based on studies of revolutionaries like Gandhi, nonviolent uprisings, civil
rights struggles, economic boycotts and the like, he has concluded that
advancing freedom takes careful strategy and meticulous planning, advice that
Ms. Ziada said resonated among youth leaders in Egypt. Peaceful protest is best,
he says — not for any moral reason, but because violence provokes autocrats to
crack down. “If you fight with violence,” Mr. Sharp said, “you are fighting with
your enemy’s best weapon, and you may be a brave but dead hero.”
Autocrats abhor Mr. Sharp. In 2007, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela denounced
him, and officials in Myanmar, according to diplomatic cables obtained by the
anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, accused him of being part of a conspiracy to set
off demonstrations intended “to bring down the government.” (A year earlier, a
cable from the United States Embassy in Damascus noted that Syrian dissidents
had trained in nonviolence by reading Mr. Sharp’s writings.)
In 2008, Iran featured Mr. Sharp, along with Senator John McCain of Arizona and
the Democratic financier George Soros, in an animated propaganda video that
accused Mr. Sharp of being the C.I.A. agent “in charge of America’s infiltration
into other countries,” an assertion his fellow scholars find ludicrous.
“He is generally considered the father of the whole field of the study of
strategic nonviolent action,” said Stephen Zunes, an expert in that field at the
University of San Francisco. “Some of these exaggerated stories of him going
around the world and starting revolutions and leading mobs, what a joke. He’s
much more into doing the research and the theoretical work than he is in
That is not to say Mr. Sharp has not seen any action. In 1989, he flew to China
to witness the uprising in Tiananmen Square. In the early 1990s, he sneaked into
a rebel camp in Myanmar at the invitation of Robert L. Helvey, a retired Army
colonel who advised the opposition there. They met when Colonel Helvey was on a
fellowship at Harvard; the military man thought the professor had ideas that
could avoid war. “Here we were in this jungle, reading Gene Sharp’s work by
candlelight,” Colonel Helvey recalled. “This guy has tremendous insight into
society and the dynamics of social power.”
Not everyone is so impressed. As’ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese political scientist
and founder of the Angry Arab News Service blog, was outraged by a passing
mention of Mr. Sharp in The New York Times on Monday. He complained that Western
journalists were looking for a “Lawrence of Arabia” to explain Egyptians’
success, in a colonialist attempt to deny credit to Egyptians.
Still, just as Mr. Sharp’s profile seems to be expanding, his institute is
Mr. Ackerman, who became wealthy as an investment banker after studying under
Mr. Sharp, contributed millions of dollars and kept it afloat for years. But
about a decade ago, Mr. Ackerman wanted to disseminate Mr. Sharp’s ideas more
aggressively, as well as his own. He put his money into his own center, which
also produces movies and even a video game to train dissidents. An annuity he
purchased still helps pay Mr. Sharp’s salary.
In the twilight of his career, Mr. Sharp, who never married, is slowing down.
His voice trembles and his blue eyes grow watery when he is tired; he gave up
driving after a recent accident. He does his own grocery shopping; his
assistant, Ms. Raquib, tries to follow him when it is icy. He does not like it.
He says his work is far from done. He has just submitted a manuscript for a new
book, “Sharp’s Dictionary of Power and Struggle: Terminology of Civil Resistance
in Conflicts,” to be published this fall by Oxford University Press. He would
like readers to know he did not pick the title. “It’s a little immodest,” he
said. He has another manuscript in the works about Einstein, whose own concerns
about totalitarianism prompted Mr. Sharp to adopt the scientist’s name for his
institution. (Einstein wrote the foreword to Mr. Sharp’s first book, about
In the meantime, he is keeping a close eye on the Middle East. He was struck by
the Egyptian protesters’ discipline in remaining peaceful, and especially by
their lack of fear. “That is straight out of Gandhi,” Mr. Sharp said. “If people
are not afraid of the dictatorship, that dictatorship is in big trouble.”
Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting from New York,
D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.
Shy U.S. Intellectual
Created Playbook Used in a Revolution,
Arab uprisings overturn
cliches on democracy
Wed Feb 16, 2011
By Andrew Hammond
CAIRO (Reuters) - Arab uprisings against unpopular
Western-backed rulers have undercut the arguments of some Western intellectuals
about passive populations who are not prepared to fight for democracy.
During the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, neoconservative cheerleaders for war who
had direct access to Western policymakers said force was the only way to take
down Arab dictators. A minority of Arab intellectuals agreed with them.
Many writers, especially in the United States, suggested there were
characteristics peculiar to the region that could explain why Arabs had not been
touched by the democratic wave that toppled East European regimes two decades
Often they cited Islam, or implied there was something wrong in the Arab psyche.
Those who suggested more of a focus on U.S. policies and backing for unpopular
regimes have had less access to mainstream media and policy makers.
Bernard Lewis, one of the intellectual giants of this trend, wrote in 2005 that
"creating a democratic political and social order in Iraq or elsewhere in the
region will not be easy," as if "creating" democracy required American tutelage.
The uprisings that removed Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on January
14 and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak four weeks later have shown the people
are capable of doing it themselves, even when up against huge odds.
Scholars and opposition figures, who all opposed the Iraq war, said the
uprisings, which have so far sparked street action in Algeria, Libya, Yemen,
Bahrain, Jordan and Iran, also exposed the ulterior motives behind U.S. backing
for police states.
"The West must change its mistaken belief that we are not fit for democracy and
freedom. Now is the time for Western powers to recognize the desires of the Arab
people and to remove their support of their despotic allies," said Ali Al-Ahmed,
a Saudi dissident based in Washington.
"Tunisians and Egyptians have proven Western powers and analysts wrong about the
Arabs desire for freedom," he said.
Western countries long saw rulers such as Mubarak and Ben Ali as strongmen able
to deliver on Western foreign policy needs while cracking down on convenient
Islamist threats such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Ennahda party
Israel has reacted with great alarm to the fall of a trusted ally like Mubarak.
He spent much time in his final days in office on the phone to U.S. and Israeli
officials who fear the rise of popular forces, Islamist or secular, in a
democratic Egypt would take a different line on regional issues.
Egypt under Mubarak never veered from the script of a 1979 peace treaty with
Israel engineered by his predecessor Anwar Sadat and backed by military top
brass despite popular anger.
He imposed a blockade of the Gaza Strip, drawing the opprobrium of many ordinary
Arabs, because like Israel and the United States he did not like Palestinian
Islamist group Hamas and its links to Egypt's own Islamist trend.
"The explosion of Arab popular anger everywhere flies against U.S. policy
interests," said As'ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese politics professor in the United
States. "In other words, the U.S. needed to believe that Arabs are fatalistic
and quiescent ... to rationalize the American embrace of most Arab tyrannies."
Turfing out unpopular rulers was no small feat. It required a mass movement to
cross a barrier of fear created by an elaborate network of often ruthless
security agencies developed under a system like that of Mubarak, who played up
the Islamist threat to ensure U.S. support for his rule.
"People in the West don't realize how brutal the regimes we have in the Arab
world are," said Muhammad al-Zekri, a Bahraini anthropologist.
While the uprisings took policy makers by surprise, they were in fact several
years in the making.
In Egypt Kefaya, or Enough, movement began mobilizing Egyptians in 2005 against
the prospect of a future presidential bid by Mubarak's son Gamal, a leading
light in Mubarak's National Democratic Party. In 2008, labor strikes broke out
in north Egypt and became more frequent since then.
Activists spoke on state television about how they studied police tactics in
controlling street protests in the past in order to outfox them when the revolt
erupted on January 25. Within four days the police had lost control and the army
was sent in.
When Tunisians brought down Ben Ali, it was the spark that lit a fire waiting to
happen in Egypt.
None of this was the work of populations prepared to acquiesce in injustice.
Mounir Khelifa, a Tunisian literature professor who advised the education
ministry, says the uprisings were made possible by the emergence of a generation
who grew up during the information technology revolution and were not prepared
to accept government arguments any more on why full rights should be put in
Both the Internet and Arab satellite television undercut the propaganda of state
media, encouraged people develop a consensus on their rights as citizens and
Like their Western allies, Egypt and Tunisia underestimated their own people and
thought the old means of control -- media, police, ruling party -- would
continue to stifle them.
"There was obliviousness to a broad class of young educated people out there who
were accessing information from all over the world," Khelifa said. "Even the
school curriculums talked about a lot of things that Ben Ali was not providing,
such as freedom of opinion and fair elections," he said.
In Egypt, 40 percent of the population of over 80 million are under 30,
disconnected from the mindset of an 82-year-old former air pilot who in his
final speeches repeatedly referred to himself as their father.
(Editing by Samia Nakhoul)
uprisings overturn cliches on democracy, R, 16.2.2011,
The Return of Pushing Democracy
February 12, 2011
The New York Times
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — The cheers of Tahrir Square were heard around the
world. But if you listened carefully, you might have heard cheering from another
quarter 7,000 miles from Cairo as well, in Dallas.
The revolution in Egypt has reopened a long-simmering debate about the “freedom
agenda” that animated George W. Bush’s presidency. Was he right after all, as
his supporters have argued? Are they claiming credit he does not deserve? And
has President Obama picked up the mantle of democracy and made it his own?
The debate in Washington, and Dallas, tends to overlook the reality that
revolutions in far-off countries are for the most part built from the ground up,
not triggered by policy made in the halls of the West Wing. But the lessons of
the Egyptian uprising will ripple through American politics, policymaking and
history-shaping for some time to come.
President Bush, after all, made “ending tyranny in our world” the centerpiece of
his second inaugural address, and, although he pursued it selectively, he
considers it one of his signature legacies. The very notion of democracy
promotion became so associated with him, and with the war in Iraq, that
Democrats believed that it was now discredited. Never mind that Republican and
Democratic presidents, from Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan, had championed
liberty overseas; by the time Mr. Bush left office it had become a polarizing
Mr. Obama was seen by some supporters as the realist counterbalance who would
put aside the zealous rhetoric in favor of a more nuanced approach. He preached
the virtues of democracy in speeches, but did not portray it as the mission of
his presidency. When the Green Movement protesters of Iran took to the streets
of Tehran, Mr. Obama’s relatively muted response generated strong criticism.
By contrast, foreign policy specialists said, Mr. Obama’s embrace of the
Egyptian protesters in the last couple of weeks, if cautious at times and
confused by conflicting signals from others in his administration, seemed to
suggest a turning point.
“He got on the right side of this thing when a lot of the foreign policy
establishment was cautioning otherwise,” said Robert Kagan, a Brookings
Institution scholar who long before the revolution helped assemble a nonpartisan
group of policy experts to press for democratic change in Egypt. “And he got it
right. This may strengthen his confidence the next time this kind of thing
For Mr. Obama, the challenge may be to define the spread of liberty and
democracy as a nonpartisan American goal, removing it from the political debate
that has surrounded it in recent years. Democrats who have long worked on the
issue have expressed hope that he can shed the goal’s association with Mr. Bush,
while framing it in a way that accounts for the mistakes of the last
“The stirring events in Egypt and Tunisia should reinforce what has always been
a bipartisan ambition because they are vivid reminders of universal democratic
aspirations and America’s role in supporting those aspirations,” said Kenneth
Wollock, president of the National Democratic Institute, a government-financed
group affiliated with the Democratic Party that promotes civil society abroad.
Finding the right balance has never been easy. Mr. Bush focused on democracy as
a goal after the invasion of Iraq found none of the weapons of mass destruction
reported by American intelligence agencies. He elevated it to a central theme in
his second inaugural address, according to advisers, to infuse the war on
terrorism with a positive mission beyond simply hunting down terrorists. His
argument was that more freedom would undercut radicalism.
But there was always an internal tension in his administration. Former Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld makes clear in his new memoir that he thought the
emphasis on democracy was misplaced, given the difficulties of transplanting
Western-style institutions in regions accustomed to autocracy. Then, in 2006,
the election of a Palestinian government led by Hamas quieted some of the
administration’s ardor for democracy.
Matt Latimer, a former Bush speechwriter, recalled in a recent column in The
Daily Beast that he prepared a ringing speech on democracy for the president to
deliver while in Egypt in his final year in office, only to have it watered down
at the last minute. “Demands for reform in Egypt became a mere ‘hope’ that Egypt
might ‘one day’ lead the way for political reform,” Mr. Latimer wrote.
Still, in recent days, former Bush advisers like Elliott Abrams and Peter Wehner
have written columns recalling the former president’s calls for change, and
crediting them with setting the stage for what would come later in the Middle
East, a region that skeptics often said would never move toward democracy.
Whatever the final language of the 2008 appearance in Sharm el- Sheikh, they
said Mr. Bush spoke to democratic ideals.
“He was right in saying, for the first time, that people in the Middle East
wanted freedom as much as people in any other region, and in beginning through
diplomacy and programs to help,” said Lorne W. Craner, a Bush assistant
secretary of state for democracy and currently president of the International
Mr. Craner said, “His message became conflated with the method of displacing
Saddam Hussein in Iraq,” and to too many, “the freedom agenda meant invading a
country and staying there while I.E.D.’s were going off.” But, he added, “Bush
placed us on the right side of history, and that served the interests of
democrats in the region, and the United States as well.”
Not everyone sees it that way, especially in the Obama White House, where the
assertion rankles deeply. “Was Bush right?” scoffed one Obama adviser who spoke
on the condition of anonymity. “Give me a break. How many democratic
transformations like this took place when he was in office?”
Several, actually, in Ukraine, Georgia, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan, where popular
risings also toppled entrenched ruling systems. But later events in those
countries also showed that such first steps did not necessarily point in a
straight line to lasting Jeffersonian democracy. Similarly, the change in Egypt
has only begun, as Mr. Obama pointed out on Friday. Its final destination is
still very much up in the air.
So, too, is Mr. Obama’s destination. Aides said he has been focused on the issue
of democracy abroad since the beginning of his tenure. Last fall, they compiled
a 17-page, single-spaced compendium of speech excerpts to show it. But he seems
to have found more of a voice in the last six months.
On Aug. 12, officials said, he issued a formal but unpublicized presidential
study directive seeking a review of political reform in the Middle East and
North Africa. The following month, he gave a speech at the United Nations in
which he declared that “part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for
the freedom of others.” And Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton likewise
gave speeches pressing governments in the Middle East and elsewhere to reform.
Aides to Mr. Obama said he can make progress where Mr. Bush faltered because the
current president has made reaching out to the Muslim world a priority and has
de-emphasized the idea that the fight against terrorism means a war on Islam.
While Mr. Bush also sent such messages, Obama aides said the baggage of Iraq and
Guantánamo Bay undercut the impact.
“We do not make this about us,” said one senior administration official, who was
not authorized to be identified. “We very carefully say this is about the
people. We’re on the sidelines, we never talk about our values, we talk about
universal values. Does that create space for these things to happen?” Hopefully
so, the official said.
The question then becomes whether democracy promotion will again become a
Damon Wilson, a former Bush aide and now executive vice president of the
Atlantic Council, said he was surprised that Mr. Obama did not take ownership of
democracy as an issue from the start. But with Egypt, he now has a chance to do
that, Mr. Wilson said, expressing hope that Republicans will not turn away from
the notion simply because Mr. Obama is embracing it.
“Of all the issues to fight on,” he said, “democracy is not one where we should
be declaring partisan differences.”
This article has been revised
to reflect the following
Correction: February 12, 2011
Because of incorrect information provided
by the White House,
an earlier version
of this article gave an incorrect date
for the issue of President Obama's study
seeking a review of political reform
in the Middle East and North
It was Aug. 12, not Aug. 16.
The Return of Pushing
Democracy, NYT, 12.2.2011,
When Democracy Weakens
February 11, 2011
The New York Times
By BOB HERBERT
As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering
about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on
the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.
While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and
declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but
completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really
matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians
So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene
tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the
bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the
social safety net, saying we can’t afford them. One state after another is
reporting that it cannot pay its bills. Public employees across the country are
walking the plank by the tens of thousands. Camden, N.J., a stricken city with a
serious crime problem, laid off nearly half of its police force. Medicaid, the
program that provides health benefits to the poor, is under savage assault from
nearly all quarters.
The poor, who are suffering from an all-out depression, are never heard from. In
terms of their clout, they might as well not exist. The Obama forces reportedly
want to raise a billion dollars or more for the president’s re-election bid.
Politicians in search of that kind of cash won’t be talking much about the wants
and needs of the poor. They’ll be genuflecting before the very rich.
In an Op-Ed article in The Times at the end of January, Senator John Kerry said
that the Egyptian people “have made clear they will settle for nothing less than
greater democracy and more economic opportunities.” Americans are being asked to
swallow exactly the opposite. In the mad rush to privatization over the past few
decades, democracy itself was put up for sale, and the rich were the only ones
who could afford it.
The corporate and financial elites threw astounding sums of money into campaign
contributions and high-priced lobbyists and think tanks and media buys and
anything else they could think of. They wined and dined powerful leaders of both
parties. They flew them on private jets and wooed them with golf outings and
lavish vacations and gave them high-paying jobs as lobbyists the moment they
left the government. All that money was well spent. The investments paid off big
As Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson wrote in their book, “Winner-Take-All
Politics”: “Step by step and debate by debate, America’s public officials have
rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that
have benefited the few at the expense of the many.”
As if the corporate stranglehold on American democracy were not tight enough,
the Supreme Court strengthened it immeasurably with its Citizens United
decision, which greatly enhanced the already overwhelming power of corporate
money in politics. Ordinary Americans have no real access to the corridors of
power, but you can bet your last Lotto ticket that your elected officials are
listening when the corporate money speaks.
When the game is rigged in your favor, you win. So despite the worst economic
downturn since the Depression, the big corporations are sitting on mountains of
cash, the stock markets are up and all is well among the plutocrats. The
endlessly egregious Koch brothers, David and Charles, are worth an estimated $35
billion. Yet they seem to feel as though society has treated them unfairly.
As Jane Mayer pointed out in her celebrated New Yorker article, “The Kochs are
longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate
taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of
industry — especially environmental regulation.” (A good hard look at their
air-pollution record would make you sick.)
It’s a perversion of democracy, indeed, when individuals like the Kochs have so
much clout while the many millions of ordinary Americans have so little. What
the Kochs want is coming to pass. Extend the tax cuts for the rich? No problem.
Cut services to the poor, the sick, the young and the disabled? Check. Can we
get you anything else, gentlemen?
The Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that’s a long, hard
road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a
real democracy slip away.
I had lunch with the historian Howard Zinn just a few weeks before he died in
January 2010. He was chagrined about the state of affairs in the U.S. but not at
all daunted. “If there is going to be change,” he said, “real change, it will
have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves.”
I thought of that as I watched the coverage of the ecstatic celebrations
streets of Cairo.
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