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Vocapedia > Politics > Activism > International


Democracy, Human rights, Dictatorship




R.J. Matson

political cartoon

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Roll Call



12 February 2011


R: Uncle Sam

















President Obama welcomed Egypt's peaceful transition of power Friday

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.

PBS video

More coverage:


















Amnesty International posters - in picture        2011        UK


Amnesty has produced powerful posters

over the past 50 years.

Here are some of the best










Amnesty urgent action        UK

















democracy        USA
















































democratic transition        UK










undemocratic        USA










England > Magna Carta        UK / USA























theocracy        USA
























fair elections        USA










rigged        UK










vote / vote























Bloggingheads: Egypt, Israel and America        2011        USA


Robert Wright of Bloggingheads.tv

and Amjad Atallah of the New America Foundation

discuss America and Middle East democracy.










leader        USA










deposed leader








opposition leader








leadership        UK

















king / monarch














strongman        USA












oligarchy        USA










kleptocracy        USA
























tyrant        UK / USA








dictator        UK







dictator        USA






deposing dictators        UK











theocratic / military dictatorship        USA






junta        UK






despot        UK






Orwellian            UK






dystopia        UK






despotism        UK











totalitarian communism










regime        UK / USA







repressive regime        USA






military regime










banned books        UK











state TV /  state-run television





Libya's underground prisons





state of emergency





emergency law





lift emergency law





curfew        USA






fascist        UK






fascism        UK






neo-fascism        UK































ruler        USA
















autocracy        USA








autocrat        USA






autocratic governance        USA






autocratic ruler        USA






autocratic rule





family rule





civilian rule

























exiled opponent





armed opponent





dissent        USA






dissident        USA






Chen Guangcheng

is a blind, self-taught lawyer

who is one of China’s

best-known dissidents.


After serving more than four years in prison

on charges widely regarded as trumped up,

he was briefly freed in 2010

only to be placed under house arrest

at his rural home

without any charges

having been filed against him.











return from exile

























remain in power        USA






power vacuum        USA






people power        USA






world powers





grip on power        USA










hold        USA






hold on N





cling to power




power transfer        USA






cede power to...





hand power to N        UK






relinquish power





step down        USA






fall        USA




















leadership void





chaos        USA








mayhem        USA






lawlessnes        USA






anarchy / chaos        USA






anarchist        UK








anarchist        USA






 crypto-anarchists        UK

















civil war        USA



















Gerald Scarfe cartoon

Sunday Times

December 14, 2008



Character:  President Robert Mugabe as Death


























citizenship        UK


















human rights        USA









basic human rights        UK









Human Rights Watch        USA






Human Rights Watch International Film Festival        USA






Peter Benenson > Amnesty International






Human Rights Awards        UK






Human Rights Awards > the Pinter/PEN prize        UK






civil liberties        UK






override civil liberties





torture        UK






human rights abuses










abuse of human rights        UK






human rights violation










armed paramilitary police





activist        USA






democracy activist        USA






civil rights activist





human rights activist





fear        USA
















suppression        USA






brutality        UK






clampdown        UK






crackdown (on N)        UK / USA
















bloody crackdown        USA






crack down on N        UK / USA









repression        USA






butchery        USA






blood bath        USA






bloodshed        USA
















prisoner of conscience





political prisoner        USA






crimes against humanity        USA
















Big Brother        UK






Big Brother imagery        USA






Big Brother is watching you        UK






1984 > newspeak




















shut down






Zimbabwe's Daily News
















































discontent        USA






popular rage        USA











hunger strike












strife        USA














take to the streets        USA

























protest songs        USA






Global map of protests: 2013 so far        UK


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 rioting.


Mapping the protests

that took place in the first six months of 2013

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        2011


Ever since a man in Tunisia

burnt himself to death in December 2010

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        USA






self-immolate        USA






self-immolation        USA






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






break out















Interactive > Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East        2001






Political Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East        USA        February 2011


In the wake of the overthrow

of the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt,

here is a look at challenges

acing other countries across the region






Middle East Protests (2010-11)        USA






Twitter network of Arab and Middle East protests - interactive map        February 2011






Reuters interactive graphic        Protests in Africa and the Middle East        2011






The Arab spring        2011











break up


















































rise up against N





























Boston Globe > Big Picture

Libya: Unrest and uncertainty        February 25, 2011

















put down












quell unrest / protest





street violence






clash / clash with N / between N











tear gas


























open fire





fire on N





fire at N





death squad











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 the victims,

though no events were planned in China.


Boston Globe > Big Picture

25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre

















cartons > Cagle > Slaughter in Syria        May-June 2012






cartoons > Cagle > Syria regime        2012











security forces
















death toll




















































































free speech        USA









U.S. Constitution > First Amendment > free speech        USA












yearn for freedom        USA






freedom of expression / speech






freedom of information        UK






speak out





call for N





















topple        UK, USA








toppling        USA






oust        USA











attempted coup        USA






coup        USA








bloody coup





coup plot





coup attempt





seize power
















velvet coup





bloodless revolution










Corpus of news articles


Politics > Activism > International




Obama Tells U.N.

New Democracies Need Free Speech


September 25, 2012
The New York Times


UNITED 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 movement.

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 surrogate.

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 hall.

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 Muslim world.

“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 intervention.

“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.”


Ashley Parker 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


San Francisco

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 remain.

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 expression.

Behind closed doors, Internet companies routinely make tough decisions on content.

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 complaints.

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 lives.


Somini Sengupta

is a technology correspondent for The New York Times.

    Free Speech in the Age of YouTube, NYT, 22.9.2012,






Repressing Democracy,

With American Arms


December 17, 2011
The New York Times


SITRA, Bahrain

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 against Iran.

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, villagers say.

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 fear.”

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 destroy it.

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 arrested too.

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, 17.12.2011,






Making Tyrants Do Time


September 15, 2011
The New York Times



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 in 2007-8.

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 prolonged them.

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 factors constant.

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 violence.

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.


Kathryn Sikkink,

a professor of political science

at the University of Minnesota,

is the author of “The Justice Cascade:

How Human Rights Prosecutions

Are Changing World Politics.”

Making Tyrants Do Time, NYT, 15.9.2011,






Dozens killed

in Syria's bloodiest day of protests


AMMAN | Fri Apr 22, 2011
2:14pm EDT
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis


AMMAN (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 Reuters.

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 crackdown.

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 demonstrating.

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.


(Additional reporting

by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman,

Yara Bayoumy and Mariam Karouny in Beirut,

Sami Aboudi in Cairo;

writing by Dominic Evans; 

editing by Diana Abdallah

Dozens killed in Syria's bloodiest day of protests, R, 22.4.2011






Iran opposition

says 79 arrested in protests


TEHRAN | Wed Mar 2, 2011
9:19am EST


TEHRAN (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 rallies.

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 arrests.



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 hanged.

Two people were shot dead on February 14, deaths that each side has blamed on the other.

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 intelligence.

"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 Western-backed Shah.

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.


(Writing by 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
12:15 EST


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 Cubans.

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 nation.

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 be.

Family rule is under siege, at last, R, 18.2.2011,






Dozens Reported Killed

in Libyan Crackdown


February 18, 2011
The New York Times


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 in Tripoli.

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.

Dozens Reported 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


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 have power.”

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 “trans-partisan.”

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 disseminating it.”

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 contracting.

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 Gandhi.)

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,

and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.

Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution,
    NYT, 16.2.2011,







Arab uprisings overturn

cliches on democracy


Wed Feb 16, 2011
8:42am EST
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 ago.

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 in Tunisia.

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 abeyance.

Both the Internet and Arab satellite television undercut the propaganda of state media, encouraged people develop a consensus on their rights as citizens and facilitated mobilization.

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)

Analysis: Arab uprisings overturn cliches on democracy, R, 16.2.2011,






The Return of Pushing Democracy


February 12, 2011
The New York Times


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 concept.

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 happens.”

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 administration.

“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 Republican Institute.

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 bipartisan aspiration.

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:

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 directive

seeking a review of political reform

in the Middle East and North Africa.

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



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 dance.

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 time.

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 in the streets of Cairo.

When Democracy Weakens,










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