U.S. Democracy Promotion, a Round-up

Here is a recent policy watch of the U.S. efforts, stances and statements concerning democracy promotion worldwide, especially in the Middle East:

(Source: International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)


  • Bush: U.S. Military Committed to Freedom and Liberty Throughout World
  • Security Council Urges Syria To Set Up Better Ties with Lebanon
  • Bush, British Prime Minister Pledge Support for Iraq's Government
  • Zoellick urges Arab countries to stay committed to economic, political reforms
  • U.S. Wants To Help Emerging Democracies "Find Their Own Voices"
  • State's Zoellick urges Egypt to move forward on political reform plans
  • Bush Says New Iraqi Government a "Decisive Break with the Past"
  • Bush Bans Travel to U.S. by Belarusian Dictator, Associates
  • Volker Defends OSCE’s Democracy And Human Rights Work
  • State’s Boucher Discusses U.S. Policy in Central Asia

Bush: U.S. Military Committed to Freedom and Liberty Throughout World

"And we learned an important lesson: Decades of excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe. So long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place where terrorists foment resentment and threaten American security.

So we are pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. I believe the desire for liberty is universal -- and by standing with democratic reformers across a troubled region, we will extend freedom to millions who have not known it -- and lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.

We're still in the early stages of this struggle for freedom and, like those first years of the Cold War, we've seen setbacks, and challenges, and days that have tested America's resolve. Yet we've also seen days of victory and hope. We've seen people in Afghanistan voting for the first democratic parliament in a generation. We have seen jubilant Iraqis dancing in the streets, holding up ink-stained fingers, celebrating their freedom. We've seen people in Lebanon waving cedar flags and securing the liberty and independence of their land. We've seen people in Kyrgyzstan drive a corrupt regime from power and vote for democratic change. In the past four years alone, more than 110 million human beings across the world have joined the ranks of the free -- and this is only the beginning. The message has spread from Damascus to Tehran that the future belongs to freedom -- and we will not rest until the promise of liberty reaches every people and every nation."

President Bush

By Melody Merin
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington – Speaking to graduates at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point May 27, President Bush highlighted the American military’s contribution to fostering and maintaining liberty and freedom throughout the world.

The United States is "pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. I believe the desire for liberty is universal -- and by standing with democratic reformers across a troubled region, we will extend freedom to millions who have not known it -- and lay the foundation of peace for generations to come, " the president said.

Bush, noting the graduates were the first to enter West Point after the September 11, 2001, attacks, told the class of 2006, "Each of you came here in a time of war, knowing all the risks and dangers that come with wearing our nation’s uniform."


Citing the emerging democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush said, "Coalition forces drove the Taliban from power, liberated Afghanistan, and brought freedom to 25 million people. … The terror camps have been shut down, women are working, boys and girls are going to school, and Afghans have chosen a president and a new parliament in free elections."

The president also recalled how Iraqis, after years of dictatorship by Saddam Hussein, stood up and "defied the terrorists" by casting their ballots in three free elections in the past year, and noted the historical significance of the establishment of a new Iraqi government.

"When the formation of this unity -- with the formation of this unity government, the world has seen the beginning of something new: a constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East," he said.

He added that even though challenges lie ahead for both Afghanistan and Iraq, "The world is more secure, because these two countries are now democracies --and they are allies in the cause of freedom and peace."

The transcript of the president’s speech is available on the White House Web site.

Security Council Urges Syria To Set Up Better Ties with Lebanon

U.S. Ambassador Bolton says council sent a "clear message to Syria"

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- The Security Council May 17 pressed Syria to work with Lebanon to delineate a clear boundary and establish diplomatic relations.

Adopting Resolution 1680 by a vote of 13 to 0 with China and Russia abstaining, the council strongly encouraged Syria "to respond positively to the request made by the Government of Lebanon, in line with the agreements of the Lebanese national dialogue, to delineate their common border . . . and to establish full diplomatic relations and representations."

The resolution also highlighted Secretary-General Kofi Annan's April report that urged Iran and Syria to cooperate in disarming Lebanese militias and in helping to restore Lebanon's political independence.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said that the resolution was "a clear message by the Security Council to Syria that we expect them to respond to the offers the government of Lebanon has very responsibly made."

"We'll give Syria some period of time to do that and then in consultation with the government of Lebanon we'll decide what to do next," the ambassador said after the vote.

Bolton added that the United States was "very pleased " with the council's action. The resolution, he said, does a number of things for the first time.

"First, it explicitly refers to the role of not just Syria but Iran in bringing stability to Lebanon by referring to the secretary-general's report. It makes clear that the burden is now on Syria to respond to Lebanon's request for border delineation and full exchange of diplomatic relations," the ambassador said.

"It clearly says to Syria that it needs to do more to stop the flow of weapons across the Syrian-Lebanese border and it makes it clear that the further disarming of all militias inside Lebanon is an important priority," he said.

"We think it is an important step forward in the implementation of [Resolution] 1559 which we continue to follow closely as well as the implementation of 1595 which is the investigation” of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri, the ambassador said.

Bolton said that the sponsors of the resolution -- Denmark, France, Slovakia, United Kingdom and the United States -- felt it was important for the council to state its position and support for the secretary-general's report in the form of a resolution, not a presidential statement as some delegations would have preferred.

The resolution does not mention Iran by name but calls "on all concerned states and parties" as mentioned in the secretary-general's report to cooperate with Lebanon.

Bolton pointed out that only two states are mentioned in Annan's report -- Syria and Iran. "So there is no ambiguity on what that phrase means," he said.

The resolution commended Lebanon for taking measures to stop the movement of weapons into its territory and called on Syria to take similar measures.

It also welcomed the decision of Lebanon to disarm Palestinian militias outside refugee camps within six months and called for further efforts to disband and disarm all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.

Security Council Resolution 1559, passed in 2004, calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon; disbanding and disarming of all militias; the extension of the government's control over all Lebanese territory; and strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon.

Bush, British Prime Minister Pledge Support for Iraq's Government

Terrorists fear that Iraqis believe in democracy and liberty, Blair says

Washington -- President Bush said Iraq’s new permanent, democratically elected government “represents a new beginning” for Iraq, as well as a new relationship for Iraq with the United States and others in the international community.

Speaking May 25 with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the White House, Bush said the United States and the United Kingdom will “work together to help this new democracy succeed,” and will “take advantage of this moment of opportunity and work with Iraq's new government to strengthen this young democracy and achieve victory over our common enemies.”

The president acknowledged that the “violence and bloodshed” that has targeted coalition troops, Iraqi government and security personnel and innocent civilians “has been difficult for the civilized world to comprehend,” and also that the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power has been “controversial.”

However, Bush said, “I strongly believe we did and are doing the right thing.”

“If Saddam Hussein were in power today, his regime would be richer, more dangerous, and a bigger threat to the region and the civilized world,” he said.

Bush also said that despite the violence, the Iraqi people have demonstrated through several elections their choice for freedom. “Because of their courage, the Iraqis now have a government of their choosing, elected under the most modern and democratic constitution in the Arab world,” he said.

Prime Minister Blair, who recently met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials, said the challenge in Iraq “is still immense, but I also came away more certain than ever that we should rise to it.”

Blair said it is “utterly inspiring” to see democratically elected leaders from all of Iraq’s various religious and ethnic communities “sitting down together … and choosing to come together as a government of national unity, and completely determined to run their country in a different way for the future.”

The British leader said that every act of terror in Iraq, rather than being seen as a setback or failure, should instead be seen as “a renewed urgency for us to rise to the challenge of defeating these people who are committing this carnage.”

These acts of violence have not been perpetrated because Iraqis do not believe in democracy or want liberty, but rather because the terrorists fear the opposite, Blair said.

“[I]f the idea became implanted in the minds of people in the Arab and Muslim world that democracy was as much their right as our right, where do these terrorists go, what do they do, how do they recruit? How do they say America is the evil Satan? How do they say the purpose of the West is to despoil your lands, wreck your religion, take your wealth -- how can they say that? They can't say that,” he said.

Blair also expressed his view that in the coming months more Iraqi provinces will be coming under the control of Iraqi security forces.

Contrary to the impression that Iraqis “wish that we were gone from Iraq and weren't there any longer in support of the Iraqi government or the Iraqi forces,” the prime minister said, “not one of the political leaders,” with whom he met in Baghdad, regardless of their political party or community, “wanted us to pull out precipitately.

“All of them wanted us to stick with it and see the job done,” Blair said.

A transcript of the joint press availability is available on the White House Web site, as is a May 26 joint statement on efforts to strengthen defense cooperation between the United States and United Kingdom.

State's Zoellick Sees Important Changes Under Way in Mideast

Zoellick urges Arab countries to stay committed to economic, political reforms

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt -- The Middle East is undergoing an important era of change, and the United States will continue supporting those in the region who champion political and economic reforms, according to Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.

"I believe people will look back five years from now, and they'll see the changes were much greater than they might have expected, because I think that there are actually big things afoot here," he told an audience at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt May 21.

He said by and large Arab governments have failed to meet the needs of their people in the past. "The political systems following the Ottoman Empire, whether they be dynasties, whether they be pan-Arabism, Arab nationalism, Arab socialism, have not really developed the goods for people. And the U.N. Arab Human Development Report said it pretty bluntly. It said there's a black hole."

Zoellick blamed this failure to provide political and economic opportunities to the citizens of the Arab world for the rise of political Islam as a force of opposition to the established order.


He said some of the tension in the Middle East today can also be attributed to the United States' advancement of the freedom agenda and its support for those in the region who are pushing for reforms against the resistance of status quo forces.

Arab League Secretary General Amre Moussa, speaking at the same panel discussion, said the people of the region have recognized the need for change and are moving ahead with social, political and economic reforms.

"It is my opinion that we have started. We already agreed that reform and modernization must be the first thing on our agenda of recreating, rebuilding, reactivating our societies," he said. "It will not be easy. But in the final analysis, we have to enter the 21st century. We cannot live in the 20th century."

He pointed to the Arab League's May 2004 Tunis Declaration as an example of how the Arab world is taking the cause of reform to heart. That report called for improvements in democratization, women's rights, civil society empowerment, human rights, education, economic opportunities and the culture of knowledge.


Zoellick praised the principles of the report but challenged the Arab world to translate those words into concrete actions.

Moussa defended a cautious pace of reform in the region, saying it has a fragile security situation. He said further progress depends upon stability.

But Zoellick dismissed that point, saying, "I always get a little cautious when people overemphasize stability, because it suggests rigidity in the old order as opposed to trying to promote change."

"I hope that the foreign policy agenda does not become the excuse for delayed reform," he said.
Zoellick said the argument is particularly weak when it comes to economic reform. He noted that several countries in East Asia have undertaken important economic reforms despite political tensions in the region.

The deputy secretary said there is an important struggle taking place in the Middle East for the soul of Islam. He said there are those who would take Islam back to the medieval caliphates while others propose a modern interpretation consistent with democratic principles. He said the United States could help empower the voices of modernization, but ultimately "it's for the people of this region to determine what future they want."


Zoellick said the decisions and actions of the people in the region will have an impact on how the Middle East is perceived abroad. While deploring the collapse of the Dubai Ports World deal to assume management of several U.S. ports, he said it is indicative of how the American people fail to understand much of what they see in the region, such as the outbreak of deadly violence following the publication of offensive cartoons in a Danish newspaper.

"Was that the best way to respond?" he asked.

"If you want to win the support of the American people, not just the government, it's going to require the average person, or the business person, or the leaders in the community, to stand up about what they believe in," he said.

More than 1,200 government, business and civil society leaders are gathered in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh for the three-day World Economic Forum looking at political and economic developments in the Middle East.

U.S. Wants To Help Emerging Democracies "Find Their Own Voices"

State's Zoellick urges Egypt to move forward on political reform plans

Washington -- The foreign policy of the United States toward emerging democracies is to help those countries “find their own voices” and “make their own way” towards freedom, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said May 21.

Zoellick spoke to reporters at a press roundtable in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where he participated in the World Economic Forum for the Middle East.

The United States created the Forum for the Future program, he said, to further President Bush’s goal of encouraging freedom and democracy abroad, as articulated in his second inaugural address in 2005.

“[O]ur goal is to help others find their own voices, to attain their own freedom and to make their own way, and we have various tools by which we can do that,” Zoellick said.

For example, through the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the Bush administration is providing about $500 million to regional organizations over the next five years to support democracy and legal development, plus another $100 million every three years.

Zoellick also mentioned the administration's Millennium Challenge Account, which channels aid to countries that adopt economic and political reform, and trade initiatives designed to empower individuals.

“[T]here's the trade side which is everything from the [Qualifying Industrial Zones] … that have been really taking off in the Egyptian context to the Free Trade Agreements to [Trade and Investment Framework Agreement] to getting countries in the [World Trade Organization], which Saudi Arabia just did and Algeria on its work to do so,” he said.

The deputy secretary expressed his view that the Middle East is now “in an era where there are some fundamental changes taking place,” due to stress on its political systems, economic globalization, economic modernization and heightened security concerns.

Economically, “this is a region where at least in recent years, other than energy, it really wasn't well integrated into the world market system,” he said, but pointed to recent strategizing and modernization undertaken by Gulf states and North African countries, as well as others in the Middle East.

In politics, Zoellick said it is important for countries to allow legitimate opposition, saying of opposition groups that "if you block their ability to compete in elections, well, they're going to turn to other forms of opposition. … So it's all the more reason in our view why you should try to open up a political system.”


Zoellick said the United States supports President Hosni Mubarak’s political reform plans for Egypt, and is “trying to urge the Egyptian government to follow through on it.”

Specifically the plans involve “the new judiciary law; repealing the Emergency Law and substituting a counterterrorism provision in its place; expanding press freedom through dealing with some of the detention provisions; changing some of the criminal law structure,” he said.

Zoellick repeated the Bush administration’s condemnation of the detention and treatment of opposition leader Ayman Nour.

“I think you are now in a phase where you've got some resistance by the vested order to try and maintain the status quo,” he said, and he criticized the reaction of security forces against the political opposition, saying that these are “not only wrong actions, but mistakes,” and “conflict with the government's own desires and interests and where they want Egypt to go.”

However, he said opposition groups like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood need to make clear their commitment to following a democratic process and to nonviolent solutions.

As for U.S. aid to Egypt, despite concerns of the government’s treatment of political opponents, Zoellick said, “I do not think it would be useful to cut the aid,” and that U.S. financial support “is in our mutual interest” in areas such as encouraging financial reform and the bilateral military partnership.

“Egypt is a very important partner to the United States, and … we've been very forthright about the process of trying to support the economic reforms and encourage the political reforms, and when we've had disagreements we haven't been shy in stating them,” he said.

The transcript of Zoellick’s remarks can be found at the State Department Web site

Bush Says New Iraqi Government a "Decisive Break with the Past"

Iraqi people have no limit to their potential if they remain united, president says

Washington -- President Bush praised the formation of Iraq’s new government and said that as long as the Iraqi people remain united, there is “no limit to the potential of their country.”

Speaking in Chicago May 22, Bush said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s formation of Iraq’s first permanent democratically elected government “marks a victory for the cause of freedom in the Middle East.”

The new government “has strong leaders that will represent all of the Iraqi people,” and are committed to serving everyone in Iraq, regardless of religious or ethic identification, the president said.

By representing all Iraqi communities, the new government makes a “decisive break with the past,” and will provide a better future for the Iraqi people.

“Iraqis are determined to chart their own future and now they have the leadership to do it,” Bush said.

The formation of the government also opens a “new chapter” in U.S.-Iraqi relations, Bush said. “The new Iraqi government does not change America's objectives or our commitment, but it will change how we achieve those objectives and how we honor our commitment.”

The president acknowledged “setbacks and missteps,” including the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military personnel at Abu Ghraib. These “were felt immediately and have been difficult to overcome,” he said, but “we have now reached a turning point in the struggle between freedom and terror.”

The terrorists in Iraq can “kill the innocent but they can’t stop the advance of freedom,” and “now the day they feared has arrive,” with the formation of Iraq’s new government, Bush said.

“Something fundamental changed,” with the May 20 formation of Prime Minister al-Maliki’s government,” he said. “The terrorists are now fighting a free and constitutional government. They are at war with the people of Iraq.”

The president predicted that years later, people will look back and see this establishment of Iraq’s government as a “decisive moment in the history of liberty,” where freedom gained “firm foothold” in the Middle East.

The Iraqi people “have proved that the desire for liberty in the heart of the Middle East is for real,” Bush said. “They've shown diverse people can come together and work out their differences and find a way forward. And they've demonstrated that democracy is the hope of the Middle East and the destiny of all mankind.”

A transcript of the president’s speech on the global war on terror is available on the White House Web site


President Bush has banned travel to the United States by Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko and those associated with his regime, citing pervasive election fraud, corruption and human rights abuses.

In a May 15 proclamation, Bush said it is important and in the interests of the United States “to help the Belarusian people achieve their aspirations for democracy and to help complete the transformation to a Europe whole, free, and at peace.”

The United States previously applied economic sanctions to the Lukashenko regime through the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004.

“There is no place in a Europe whole and free for a regime of this kind,” U.S. Vice President Cheney told a summit of leaders from the Baltic and Black Sea states May 4 in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The full text of Bush’s proclamation on Belarus is available on the White House Web site.


The State Department’s Kurt Volker, testifying at a congressional hearing May 18, rejected Russia’s criticisms of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s democracy and human rights programs. Those programs are implemented by OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which is celebrating its 15th anniversary and is perhaps best known for its election monitoring.

Volker said the United States will not agree “to any move that would diminish ODIHR’s autonomy or decrease the OSCE’s democracy and human rights work.” He questioned the motives of those making such proposals: “We fear the real issue is not methodology, but the lack of political will among some participating states to implement existing OSCE commitments and to allow the voice of the electorate to be heard.”

An unofficial transcript of the hearing and the prepared statements of the witnesses are available on the Helsinki Commission Web site.


Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, spoke with Radio Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) May 20 on U.S. policy towards Central Asia, reaffirming that the United States “will promote democracy everywhere we can, we will promote freedom.”

He discussed the human rights situation in Turkmenistan, democratic institutions in Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan closing itself off from the world.

The full text of the interview is available on the RFE/RL Web site.


Middle East Press Freedom, a Follow-up

The Freedom House released a report on the freedom of the press in the Middle East and North Africa. As usual, the report is informative and the data is very important. The report's rankings, charts and country narratives are available here.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has released its special report of 2006 “10 Most Censored Countries.” The Middle East countries included in the 10 Most Censored Countries list were LIBYA and SYRIA. I really miss Iran; do not you?

The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has published a backgrounder on the oppression of the press in the Muslim world. It is actually about the Arab Muslim world.

Here is the press release of the Freedom House:

Press Freedom Must Continue to Improve in the Middle East and North Africa

New York,
April 27, 2006

Despite overall improvements in press freedom in the Middle East and North Africa over the last several years, the region continues to rank the lowest for press freedoms in the world, according to a major study released today by Freedom House. However, there are a number of countries that are close to an upgrade from Not Free to Partly Free status, if a few key reforms are implemented.

Generally, media in the region remain constrained by extremely restrictive legal environments in most countries. Most problematic to media freedom are the laws criminalizing libel and defamation and prohibiting any insult to monarchs and other rulers, as well as emergency legislation that remains in place which hampers the ability of journalists to write freely. In a positive trend, however, the continued spread and influence of pan-Arab satellite television networks has led to greater openness in the media environment throughout the region. Four countries--Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt--have seen improvements since 2004 and are only one point away from being ranked as Partly Free.

"Improvements in the region have been due to the impact of new media as well as the courage of individual journalists and their editors," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. "The governments must do their part to implement the necessary reforms to guarantee freedom of expression," she continued.

Each country in the region faces specific challenges to improved press freedom. Algeria's constitution guarantees freedom of expression but the country's repressive laws, which are regularly used to intimidate and in some cases imprison journalists, are evidence that these guarantees are not reflected in practice. The legal harassment of journalists should end to ensure that they are able to exercise their right to freedom of expression.

According to the Moroccan press law, which was amended in 2002, it is illegal to criticize Islam, the king and the royal family, or to publish anything referring to an independent Western Sahara. The Moroccan government should follow through on its pledge to reform the press law and stop imprisoning people for press-related cases. Authorities should allow the judiciary to operate independently, and should end the current court practice of imposing financially crippling punishments on newspapers and other publications in defamation cases.

In Jordan, articles of the penal and press codes restrict criticism of the royal family, the National Assembly, public officials and the armed forces, as well as any speech that might harm Jordan's foreign relations. These laws should be repealed. The 1998 Jordan Press Association (JPA) law should be amended to remove the requirement that journalists be members of the JPA. The JPA's vaguely worded bylaws, including provisions requiring members to practice journalism "within the framework of its moral, national, and patriotic responsibility," and to swear an oath of loyalty to the king, invite abuse. The government should also issue clear directives to security forces not to interfere with newspaper printers.

In Egypt, although journalists cross the "red-lines" that previously circumscribed the press with increasingly regularity, press freedom continues to suffer from repressive laws and extralegal intimidation of journalists. The government should amend the press law to contain positive guarantees to allow journalists to exercise their right to free expression, and should remove the requirement that editors of newspapers of which the government owns a share be vetted by State Security. The Egyptian government should also repeal articles of Egypt's Penal Code, which criminalize criticism of the President of the Republic or the spread of information that may "disturb public security," call for "changing the basic principles of the constitution," or "cause harm and damage to public security."

Related post: Middle East Press Freedom


News Concerning Middle East Reform

This is the news section of the current issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin Published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Syria: Crackdown on Human Rights Activists; Election Law Committee

The wave of arrests and trial of human rights activists and opposition figures in recent past months is continuing:

  • On May 14, Syrian authorities detained prominent writer and activist Michel Kilo days after he signed a petition calling on the government to improve relations with Lebanon. Kilo has long called for reform in Syria and has criticized the government's involvement in the political affairs of Lebanon.
  • On April 30, security agents arrested Fateh Jammous, a prominent member of the Communist Labor Party and a member of the broad coalition of Syrian opposition figures known as the “Damascus Declaration,” upon his arrival at Damascus airport from a trip to Europe where he met with other Syrian opposition figures. Jammous served 17 years in prison on charges of belonging to the banned Communist Labor Party before being released in 2000.
  • Anwar Al Bunni, lawyer and member of the Human Rights Association in Syria, said on April 23 that Shaher Haissa (detained six months ago on charges of belonging to a banned Islamic group) died due to torture while in police custody. The government said that Al Bunni died of a stroke.
  • Syrian writer Ali Al Abdullah and his son, arrested in April, will stand trial on June 18. Al Abdullah spent six months in jail last year for reading a statement by the exiled leader of the banned Muslim Brotherhood at the Al Atassi forum’s meeting in Damascus on May 7, 2005.
  • The Syrian State Security Court sentenced Mahmoud Ayoub Othman and Ibrahim Khalil Maho to up to four years in prison on April 30, on charges of belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party. Said Mahmoud Khaled Bakri was also sentenced to four years on charges of belonging to an unidentified Islamist group. Click here for more information in Arabic.
The Syrian parliament announced on May 6 it will form a committee to draft a new electoral law before legislative and municipal elections in 2007. The committee will debate changing the current simple majority electoral system to a proportional representation system. Currently, candidates for legislative elections run in direct simple majority elections in 15 constituencies.

Egypt: Crackdown on Protests

Egyptian police and security officers beat and detained participants in a May 11 rally near a Cairo courthouse where two reformist judges were to have appeared in disciplinary proceedings. There were also reports that plainclothes police harassed journalists covering the protests; journalists from Al Jazeera, Reuters, and Qatar national television said they were beaten and their equipment was smashed. Click here for more details. According to the Muslim Brotherhood, 300 people were arrested including some of its members, but security officials say only eight people were formally detained. Between April 24 and May 7, approximately 50 other activists were arrested for demonstrating in support of the judges. They face charges of “insulting the president, spreading false rumors, and disturbing public order.” Click here for more details.

Fifty members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested for putting up posters and distributing leaflets protesting a two-year extension of the emergency law on April 30. The law allows indefinite detention without trial, permits trial of civilians in military courts, and limits freedom of speech and association by prohibiting gatherings of more than five people without permission. The law has been renewed every three years since its institution in 1981 after the assassination of President Hosni Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat. Mubarak and Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif have pledged that the emergency law will be replaced by a more specific counter terrorism law.

Commenting on the events, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said on May 11 that the United States was deeply concerned about the path of political reform and democracy in Egypt and considered these actions incongruous with the Egyptian government's professed commitment to increased political openness and dialogue. He called on the Egyptian government to allow peaceful demonstrations for reform and civil liberties. Click here to read the full statement.

Kuwait: Electoral Law Reform; Amendments to Public Gatherings Law

A heated debate is taking place in Kuwait over the government's proposal to amend the 1962 electoral law to reduce the number of electoral districts from 25 to 10. After weeks of political feuding, the parliament voted on May 16 to refer the electoral reform bill to the Constitutional Court, as suggested by conservative and tribal MPs who oppose the bill. After boycotting the vote because they believe the referral to the Constitutional Court is designed to stall the reform process, proponents of the amendment—the liberal and Islamist MPs—decided on May 17 to interpellate Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Bin Muhammad Al Sabah, a move that may set the stage either for the dismissal of the cabinet or the dissolution of parliament by the emir. They argue the electoral amendments will make the elections more broadly representative (and less based on sectarian or tribal factors) and will discourage vote buying by undermining candidates who depend on tribal links and the provision of services in smaller districts to win seats. Despite the boycott by more than half of the MPs, all 16 cabinet members were present and voted in favor of referring the issue to the Constitutional Court. Kuwait's legislature has 50 elected deputies, but cabinet members have the right to vote in parliament. Minister of Information Anas Al Rushaid resigned on May 9 in protest against the amendment and was replaced by journalist Muhammad Al Sanousi.

On May 1, Kuwait's Constitutional Court revoked 15 clauses of the Public Gatherings Law No. 65 of 1979, which restricted public gatherings without prior permission from the authorities. The court ruled the law unconstitutional because it violated freedoms stipulated in the constitution. The law was enacted in 1979 by a decree from the late emir after he dissolved parliament. Observers believe this ruling sets a precedent in Kuwait by challenging the emergency powers of the emir; historically the Constitutional Court has shied away from ruling on the constitutionality of laws issued in the absence of parliament.

Iraq: Cabinet Posts under Debate

Disputes among Shiite, Kurdish, and Sunni politicians over the interior and defense portfolios in Iraq are delaying the formation of a government by prime minister-designate Nuri Al Maliki. Factions within the Shiite alliance are also wrangling over three candidates to head the Oil Ministry. Observers believe Maliki may take temporary control of the contested interior and defense portfolios in order to meet the May 22 deadline to form a government. The Sunni bloc has threatened to withdraw from the political process if it fails to receive its fair share in the new government.

In contrast to the discord at the national level, the parliament of Iraq's Kurdish region unanimously approved a 42-member cabinet on May 7 in an unprecedented show of unity between the region's two major parties—the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Nechirvan Barzani of the KDP was appointed prime minister and Omar Fatah of the PUK deputy prime minister.

Bahrain: Government Pressures the National Democratic Institute

The Bahraini government is attempting to restrict the activities of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that promotes democracy worldwide, ahead of upcoming parliamentary and municipal elections. The head of NDI's office in Bahrain, Fawzi Guleid, was asked by immigration authorities to leave the country by May 12 because his residency had expired. According to Lulwa Al Awadi, head of the governmental Bahrain Institute for Political Development (BIPD), Guleid's residency was not renewed because NDI's activities in Bahrain violate the Law of Political Association which prevents foreign organizations from funding political societies. NDI rejected these accusations and affirmed that it does not fund political societies but rather offers training courses for elected officials and leaders of civic groups, including the political opposition, which recently ended a four-year election boycott. Since its formation in 2005, the BIPD has demanded that NDI seek prior approval of contacts with Bahraini civic groups. NDI has rejected these demands on the basis that it operates independently in all other countries it works in (including nine Arab countries). NDI was invited into Bahrain in early 2002, ahead of Bahrain's first municipal and parliamentary elections in almost three decades. NDI announced it will continue its activities in Bahrain from its Washington office.

Palestine: Hamas and Fatah Prisoners Sign Joint Petition

Amid violent clashes between members of the rival Fatah and Hamas parties, imprisoned members of both parties drafted a joint platform on May 10 that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 boundaries alongside Israel. The document's two main signatories were Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and a prominent Hamas figure, Abdel Khaliq Al Natsheh. While President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the document, the response from Hamas was guarded. A “national dialogue” meeting between Hamas and Fatah to produce a common platform and pave the way for a government of national unity is scheduled to take place by the end of May.

Jordan: First Private Television Station

Jordan's first private television station, ATV, is set to be launched in the coming months. According to the station's managing director Muhind Khatib, former journalist at pan-Arab satellite station Al Arabiya, ATV is aimed at satisfying the dire need for a private Jordanian station focused on domestic issues. ATV, which has the same ownership as the independent daily newspaper Al Ghad, received a license from the Jordanian Council of Ministers in 2004.

Libya: U.S. Restores Full Diplomatic Ties

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced on May 15 that the United States will remove Libya from a list of state sponsors of terrorism and reopen an embassy in Tripoli “in recognition of Libya's continued commitment to its renunciation of terrorism and the excellent cooperation Libya has provided to the United States and other members of the international community in response to common global threats faced by the civilized world since September 11, 2001.” Relations between Libya and the United States dramatically improved after Libya committed to forswear support for terrorism and dismantle its weapons of mass destruction programs in 2003.

Algeria: President Pardons Journalists

In an unprecedented move, Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced on May 3 a pardon for journalists sentenced to prison for “gross insult to state officials, offending the president of the republic, injuring state institutions, defamation, and insult.” The pardon only applies to journalists who have been definitively convicted after appeal, and not to those whose appeals are still pending. The pardon also excludes renowned journalist Mohamed Benchicou, who has been in prison since June 14, 2004, because he was not convicted of defamation but of violating the currency laws. His sentence, however, was widely viewed as retaliation for his daily Le Matin's critical editorial line against the government.

Morocco: Electoral Law Reform; Crackdown on Press Freedom

The Moroccan ministry of interior is drafting a new electoral law and will refer it to parliament in its spring session, which began April 14. The amendments are being debated by Morocco's main political parties. The Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP)—the party with the most parliamentary seats (50/325)—is calling for maintaining the current proportional representation system but increasing the size of the electoral districts and the percentage of votes a party must obtain to enter parliament. Currently, parties that win over three percent of the vote in legislative elections are allowed representation in parliament. The National Rally of Independents (RNI, 41 seats) prefers a single-member district system. According to the Party for Justice and Development (PJD, 42 seats), a single-member district system would increase corruption and state interference in the elections. Like USFP, the PJD is also calling for an increase in the three percent threshold.

Politically motivated prosecutions of independent newsweeklies are rolling back press freedom in Morocco, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. In the past year, courts have imposed heavy fines on four weeklies or imprisoned their journalists; they are now instituting proceedings against a fifth weekly. The newsweekly facing the heaviest pressure is Le Journal Hebdomadaire after an appeals court upheld sentence of in a defamation suit. The punitive damages against the weekly's publisher Aboubakr Jamai and writer Fahd Iraqi were the biggest ever given to journalists in Morocco: 3.1 million dirham (US $356,500) to the head of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, a think tank in Brussels. The court also fined the magazine $10,900. Some rights groups argue that the government is using this case to intimidate independent media.

Press Freedom Reports

According to a report by Freedom House released on April 27, the Middle East and North Africa region continues to rank the lowest for press freedom in the world due to extremely restrictive legal environments in most countries. In a positive trend, however, the spread and influence of pan-Arab satellite television networks has led to greater openness in the media environment throughout the region. Also four countries—Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt—have seen improvements since 2004 and are only one point away from being ranked as Partly Free on the Press Freedom Index.

Libya and Syria were ranked the fifth and ninth most censored countries in the world respectively in a May 3 report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). According to the report, Libya has the most tightly controlled media in the Arab world. The government owns and controls all print and broadcast media and does not allow news or views critical of Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi or of the government. In Syria, the media are under heavy state control and influence; some newspapers and broadcast outlets are in private hands but are owned by regime loyalists or are barred form disseminating political content. The regime has harassed critics through arrests or warning.

A special CPJ report (“Princes, Clerics, and Censors") released on May 9 finds that independent reporting on politics remains nearly absent from the Saudi press. According to the report, the country's conservative religious establishment acts as a powerful lobbying force against enterprising coverage of social, cultural, and religious matters and government officials dismiss editors, suspend or blacklist dissident writers, order news blackouts on controversial topics, and admonish independent columnists over their writings to deter criticism or to appease religious constituencies.

Upcoming Political Events

  • Iraq: National Reconciliation Conference in Baghdad, June 11-12.
  • Bahrain: Municipal elections in May; legislative elections in October.
  • Jordan: Municipal elections expected in mid-2006.
  • Yemen: Presidential and municipal elections, September 2006.


Middle East Authoritarianism After Iraq

I will quote here from the weblog of Professor R.J. Rummel whose writings are interesting, informative and reliable as I find them.

Middle East Authoritarianism IS Getting Better—Look At The Data

By R.J. Rummel

I have been pointing out that the invasion of Iraq, the struggle for democracy there, and the democratic election of a national government was having a pro-democratic impact on other Middle Eastern Muslim countries. Since my view was at sharp variance from what some realists and other foreign policy experts have been saying, I decided to test this.

I used Freedom House ratings, 1973-2005 (see below the map on the page), and tracked the year-by-year change in ratings for Muslim Middle Eastern (ME) countries. These ratings are on civil liberties (CL) and political rights (PR), and vary from 1 for the best (labeled FREE), to 7 for the worst (Not Free). I averaged these two ratings for each ME country for each year 1972-2005, and included the latest for 2006 (see above link). I then averaged all the averages for a year, which gave me a measure of the progress of freedom in the ME. The lower the annual average the more democratic freedom in the region.

(The chart of the results available here)

The list of nations whose ratings were averaged is shown on the left. Each dot in the chart is one annual average of all these countries CL and PR ratings. The higher the average the worse off is democratic freedom in the region. As can be seen, there was a growing improvement until 1978, when the growing traditional and jihadist Islamists groups battled authoritarian governments for control over society, and as a result the ME dictatorships hardened their control of politics and human rights. This control reached its height in 1994, when the democratic wave in Eastern Europe with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 began to be reflected in the ME. Authoritarianism eased off then. This movement toward greater freedom accelerated with the fear of American action engendered by 9/11, and the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and headed steeply down with the invasion of Iraq in March of the next year, the subsequent effort to democratize the country, and Bush's announced Forward Strategy of Freedom with pressure on these countries to liberalize.

The straight line angling upwards in the chart is a bivariate regression line. It says that the overall tendency in the ME, 1973-2006 was toward greater repression and elimination of civil liberties and political rights. But, then, there is obviously coherent movement around this trend. To determine this, I calculated a 4th degree polynomial regression fit to the points, which clearly shows that there is now a sharp decline in authoritarianism. This has far to go before the region becomes democratic, which would mean an average of slightly more that 2, but it is moving away from an average of 6 or 7, which is totalitarianism at its worst.

What countries account for the improvement from 2001 to 2006? In political rights, it is Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, and Yemen; in civil liberties, it is Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen. In the United Arab Emirates, political liberties got worse, the only ME country on either scale to get worse.

Since it is not Muslim, Israel was not included. However, for comparison, since 1973, Freedom House has rated it between 1 and 2 on political rights, and 2 and 3 on civil liberties, and for every year it has classified Israel as free—that is, a liberal democracy.

What does the chart say about Bush's impact on democracy in the region? That authoritarianism is retreating could be due to other causes, but what they would be is a question. The Islamic terrorist attack on authoritarian regimes has increased, not lessened, and the only significant countervailing variable seems to be Bush's post 9/11 democratically oriented foreign policy, which has meant pressure on these regimes to begin democratization. And by hypothesis, it is supposed to have an impact. Therefore, given the above chart, I think we can say it does.

Arab NGOs On Human Rights Council Arab Membership

The Middle East dictators' system is under serious pressure after Bush's announced Forward Strategy of Freedom. Nevertheless, let it always be clear that the key and indispensable factor for change toward freedom and democracy in the Middle East is the civil society and the first target must be the status quo and stagnancy maintained by the regimes.

The Arab NGOs are moving:

Calling upon the United Nations to Deny Anti-Human Rights Arab States Membership to Human Rights Council


"A Joint Press Statement of 44 NGOs in 14 Arab Countries"

On 9 May 2006, the UN General Assembly will be holding the first elections for choosing 47 world states to the membership of the recently-established Human Rights Council. So far, around 65 states across the different world continents have announced their candidacy, eight of which are Arab within the Asian and African candidate lists.

Human rights organizations signatory to the statement consider proclamation of the new council a step forward after a long struggle for enhancing the UN role in protecting human rights. However, credibility and effectiveness of the United Nations warrant electing members enjoying a sense of accountability to the international human rights law, together with overruling the worst-performing states in terms of human rights, in application of the provisions contained in the General Assembly resolution on establishment of the council. The General Assembly resolution stressed that, during voting on membership, the candidate states' close observance of the global human rights standards must be taken into account.

It is noteworthy that most of the Arab governments are classified among the least respecting to human rights worldwide. UN commissions along with the Arab and international rights organizations have been documenting various gross human rights and international human law violations being committed for years across and within most of the Arab states.

The signatories encourage the UN General Assembly members to vote against governments notorious for their systematic antagonism to human rights in the Arab region, of which Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria are examples– among the existing candidates. The signatories believe that voting for the said governments will impair performance and undermine credibility of the General Assembly, and impede the role it plays in improving human rights conditions not only in these states but also in the Arab region and the world at large. Despite reservations to the human rights record of Morocco and Lebanon, the signatory organizations find them best candidates in the Arab region across Asia and Africa, taking into account the positive democratic and human rights developments in both states over the last years.

The signatory groups:

1. Habi Center for Environmental Rights (Egypt).
2. Egyptian Association for Supporting Democratic Development.
3. Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners ( Egypt ).
4. Syrian Organization for Human Rights
5. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti Violence Studies ( Egypt )
6. The Arab Organization for Penal Reform (Egypt).
7. The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
8. Hesham Mubarak Center for law (Egypt).
9. Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
10. Egyptian women Issues ' Center.
11. Egyptian Center for Women's Rights.
12. Arab Network for Human Rights Information ( Egypt ).
13. Bahraini Youth Society for Human Rights
14. Arab Organization for Human Rights (Syria).
15. Gulf Center for Press Freedom (Oman).
16. The Arab program for Human Rights Activists (Egypt).
17. Saudi Center for Human Rights.
18. Egyptian Association Against Torture
19. Palestinian Center for Human Rights (Palestine).
20. Bahraini Center for Human Rights.
21. Palestinian Organization for Human Rights (Lebanon).
22. Association for Democracy Development (Egypt).
23. National Council for Liberties. (Tunisia)
24. The Libyan League for Human Rights
25. Social and Democratic Egyptian Center.
26. The Committee for the Respect of Freedoms and the Humans Right in Tunisia
27. Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections.
28. Center for Alternative Development Studies ( Egypt ).
29. The Yemeni Organization Human Rights (Yemen).
30. Al-Nadim Centre for Psychological Therapy and Rehabilitation of the Victims of Violence (Egypt)
31. The Association for the Defense of Right and Liberties "ADDL" (Lebanon ).
32. The National Observatory for Press, Creativity and Publishing Freedom (Tunisia).
33. Sisters' Arab forum for Human Rights (Yemen).
34. Al-Khawei Institute (Iraq).
35. Association for Jurists (Emirates)
36. Civil Society Forum (Yemen).
37. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
38. The Iraqi Association for Human Rights.
39. Sudanese Organization Against Torture " SOAT"
40. Moroccan Organization for Human Rights.
41. Khartoum Center for Human rights and Environment Development.
42. Amel Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture.
43. Tunisian League for Human Rights.
44. Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.


U.S. Democracy Promotion, a Round-up

Here is a recent policy watch of the U.S. efforts, stances and statements concerning democracy promotion worldwide:

(Source: International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)

United States Highlights Continued Syrian Interference in Lebanon

Ambassador Bolton calls for U.N. Security Council resolution

By Judy Aita
Washington File
United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- U.S. Ambassador John Bolton wants the Security Council to consider a resolution on Syria's failure to stop interfering in Lebanon.

"The U.S. has concluded [that] another resolution by the Security Council is warranted to highlight the continuing Syrian failure to comply with the requirement of [Resolution] 1559, possibly also to take into account its obligations in connection with the Hariri assassination under [Resolution] 1595," Bolton said April 26 after a briefing by U.N. special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen.

Such a resolution, the ambassador said, "would be important to show the council's continuing resolve on the question."

In a recent report to the council written by Roed-Larsen, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urgently called on Syria to take measures to stop the illegal movement of weapons and people into Lebanon. He also called on all parties who have influence with the Lebanese militia Hizballah and other militias to support their disarmament and disbanding.

Annan said that Hizballah "maintains close ties, with frequent contacts and regular communication" with Syria and Iran.


Bolton said that Iran's involvement in Lebanon and support to terrorist groups in the region is an issue that also might be considered by the council.

Bolton has called the secretary general's report "an important step forward in demonstrating the importance of Iranian interference in Lebanese internal affairs."

"We all know that Iran supplies Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad," Bolton said. That activity coupled with "the alliance that Syria and Iran seem to have formed in recent months" has implications for peace and security in the region.

"We now see the effect of the financing by the Iranian Government of terrorist organizations and their effort to disrupt what we think should be progress toward a sovereign and democratic Lebanon," the ambassador said.

Bolton said that Syria's failure to accept Lebanon's offer to negotiate the border delineation and demarcation is "a continuing indication by Syria that they really don't think Lebanon is an independent country."

Delineation of the Syria-Lebanon border "goes to the fundamental reality that we're trying to create, which is a free, independent, sovereign Lebanon," the ambassador said.

Resolution 1559, passed in 2004, calls for withdrawing all foreign forces from Lebanon; disbanding and disarmament of all militias; extending the government's control over all Lebanese territory; and respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon.

Resolution 1595, passed in 2005, authorized the U.N. investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and called on all countries to cooperate with the probe.

On the other hand, State's Ereli says U.S., international community stand with Lebanese people
Syria continues to interfere in Lebanon's affairs one year after the withdrawal of its military troops and assets, the State Department said in a statement April 26.

In a statement noting the first anniversary of Syria's military withdrawal from Lebanon, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said Syria has caused economic pressure, political interference, intimidation and security incidents toward Lebanon.

"The United States, and the international community, stand with the Lebanese people as they work to reassert their independence and strengthen their democracy, and we support their call for national dignity, truth, and justice," Ereli said in his statement.

Following is the text of his statement:

(begin text)
Office of the Spokesman
April 26, 2006


Lebanon and Syria: Anniversary of Syrian Military Withdrawal from Lebanon

One year ago today on April 26, 2005, Syria completed the withdrawal of its military troops and assets from Lebanon, ending nearly 30 years of occupation. The United Nations verified the military withdrawal as complete, but noted that it was unable to conclude with certainty that the Syrian intelligence apparatus had been completely withdrawn. Unfortunately, Syrian interference in Lebanon has continued throughout the past year via economic pressure, political interference and intimidation, and ongoing security incidents. Syria's proxies have prevented the ongoing National Dialogue, which is being conducted in the spirit of the Taif Accord, from being able to properly address the Syrian-orchestrated extension of President Emile Lahoud's term of office.

Today, UN Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen briefed the UN Security Council on the status of the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559. The Security Council still has a crucial role to play in ensuring Lebanon's transformation to a sovereign independent state.

Disarmament of militias and extension of effective Lebanese sovereignty throughout the entire country remain priorities. Syria must immediately end the flow of arms to militias within Lebanon and cooperate with the Lebanese government on border security.

The Lebanese people have accomplished much over the past year, but much remains to be done. The United States, and the international community, stand with the Lebanese people as they work to reassert their independence and strengthen their democracy, and we support their call for national dignity, truth, and justice.

We call on the international community to continue to hold the Syrian regime accountable until it responds completely to concerns about its cooperation with the UN International Independent Investigation Commission, interference in Lebanon, insufficient action on the Iraqi border, sponsorship of Palestinian terrorist groups, and harsh crackdown on civil society.
(end text)

Bush Authorizes Freezing Assets of Hariri Assassination Suspects

Affirms support for ongoing investigation, Lebanese government

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- President Bush issued an executive order April 26 authorizing the secretary of the Treasury to freeze the U.S.-based assets of anyone found to be involved in the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

The order also affects anyone involved in bombings, assassinations or assassination attempts in Lebanon since October 2004, anyone who provided material support for those attacks and anyone hindering the international investigation into the Hariri assassination.

Bush noted that the international commission investigating the Hariri assassination concluded in its October 2005 report that evidence points to both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in the attack and that several people interviewed by the commission, including a senior Syrian official, had provided false or misleading testimony.

Bush affirmed the importance of supporting the commission’s investigation and assisting the Lebanese government in identifying and holding accountable the responsible parties.

The order did not specify any individual by name but authorized the secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the secretary of state, to determine who should be subject to its provisions.

The order allows the United States to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1636, which calls on all states to freeze the assets of those persons designated by the investigating commission or the government of Lebanon to be involved in the Hariri assassination.

The text of the presidential order.

U.S. Condemns Syrian Subpoena of Lebanese Leaders, Journalist

State Department calls summons cynical interference in Lebanese affairs

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – The United States has condemned the issuance of warrants by a Syrian military court summoning Lebanese Parliamentarian Walid Jumblatt, Telecom Minister Marwan Hamadeh, and journalist Fares Kashan to appear for questioning.

Reports indicate the Syrian military judiciary has summoned the three Lebanese men in connection with accusations of incitement and defamation aimed against Syria. Lebanon’s attorney general has confirmed receipt of the warrants.

“These actions are cynical attempts by the Syrian government to continue its interference in the Lebanese political process. These actions must come to an end now,” said a statement from State Department spokesman Sean McCormack May 5.

The three Lebanese men have been outspoken critics of Syria’s interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs.

“The United States, and the international community, stand with the Lebanese people as they seek to reassert their independence and strengthen their democracy, and we support their call for truth and justice,” McCormack said.

He called on Syria to cooperate with the U.N. investigation into the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and to comply fully with the provisions of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, “including by delineating its border with Lebanon, and establishing normal bilateral relations with Lebanon as evidence of its acceptance of Lebanese sovereignty.”
The full text of McCormack’s statement.

U.S. Expresses Deep Concern on Egypt's Crushing of Demonstrations

State's McCormack says as Egypt's friend, U.S. supports political reforms

Washington -- The United States has expressed deep concern about reports of Egyptian security forces crushing peaceful demonstrations protesting election fraud and calling for an independent judiciary.

"[A]ctions such as these are incongruous with the Egyptian government's professed commitment to increased political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at the May 11 State Department briefing. "We support the rights of Egyptians and people throughout the Middle East to peacefully advocate for democracy and political reform."

Answering reporters' questions about the statement, McCormack said the root issue of the demonstrations was a demand for an independent judiciary in Egypt that could oversee the implementation of election laws.

McCormack described Egypt as a good friend and ally sharing many common concerns with the United States, such as fighting terrorism and working for peace in the Middle East. As a friend of Egypt, the United States will continue speaking out "very plainly" about the right of people to demonstrate peacefully. McCormack said.

The protests were called to support two judges from Egypt's highest court who went public with claims of fraud during parliamentary elections in 2005. The two have been ordered before a court panel for possible disciplinary action. The elections in November 2005 and December 2005 were marred by violence that killed 14 people.

In April, the government renewed emergency laws that it had promised to lift, a longtime demand of human rights groups because of the broad powers of arrest the laws give security forces.

The transcript of the State Department briefing.

Cheney: Russia Backsliding On Democracy

No Eastern Europe nation or NATO member is threat, vice president adds

Washington -- Russia has a "tremendous opportunity" to become a strategic ally and partner of the United States and other democracies -- none of which constitute any kind of threat to Russia, Vice President Cheney says.

The vice president made his remarks during a May 7 interview in Dubrovnik, Croatia, with NBC News following a meeting with the prime ministers of the three Adriatic Charter nations -- Croatia, Albania and Macedonia.

The vice president expressed the hope that Russia would see its future as one of friendship and partnership with the United States and Europe, along with a renewed commitment to democratic practices and human rights inside its borders. At the same time, he acknowledged that Russia currently is "backsliding on democracy to some extent," having used control over energy resources such as natural gas "to try to gain leverage over those governments that used to be part of the old Soviet Union."

"The best neighbor that a government can have is another democracy," Cheney said. "None of those governments in Eastern Europe constitute any kind of a threat to Russia. The fact that many of them are now members of NATO does not constitute a threat to Russia. It's hard, though, sometimes to get the Russians to believe that."

Cheney said that the United States and Russia have common interests around the world, including the need for a unified international position on Iran's nuclear program. He also expressed support for Russia hosting the upcoming Group of Eight (G8) Summit in St. Petersburg. "I think a good, free, open exchange of ideas among the leaders of the eight, including Russia, will be basically a positive and healthy thing," he said.

The transcript of Vice President Cheney's interview with NBC News.

Foreign Aid Must Foster Democratic Progress, U.S. Official Says

United States can play vital role in Muslim world, State's Tobias adds

By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- An effective foreign assistance program must go beyond charity and help equip the people and leaders of recipient countries to achieve a democratic transformation, the new head of U.S. foreign assistance programs says.

Although the United States “can and must play a vital and catalytic role” in promoting democracy, Randall Tobias said May 5, “the ultimate responsibility for achieving this transformation rests with the leadership and citizens of developing nations themselves.”

Tobias was sworn in March 31 as the nation’s first director of foreign assistance, serving concurrently as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the principal government agency administering economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide.

He outlined his views on the goals of U.S. assistance programs in a keynote speech at the annual conference of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), a Washington-based nonprofit organization.

Tobias said his charge in his new post involves “strategically linking how we deliver foreign assistance to what we seek to accomplish in foreign policy.”

He said, “The overarching objectives for U.S. foreign assistance will focus our resources on our intent to achieve peace and security; improve governance and democratic participation; promote investments in people; and engender economic growth.”

Tobias said that meeting these goals is “nowhere … more important than in the Muslim world today -- where the United States can play a vital role in helping people in nascent democracies build a free and prosperous future for themselves.”

He stressed that in the Muslim world, as elsewhere, “all of our assistance must be delivered in ways that make clear to those we seek to assist that our efforts are rooted in partnership, and not in paternalism.”

The aid official said that promoting freedom, democracy and development is a key part of the United States’ national security strategy because it addresses the root causes of terrorism.

“Governments that rule justly, encourage economic freedom and opportunity, and invest in their people -- the hallmarks of democracies -- do not produce or tolerate terrorists,” Tobias said. ”People who see a hopeful future for themselves and their families are not willing to bind bombs to their bodies,” he added.

Tobias said, “When hate mongers like Osama bin Laden tell Muslims to reject assistance from the West, we know that it is in part because he understands that foreign assistance promotes partnership and understanding.”

Tobias said USAID has missions in 27 of the world’s 49 predominantly Muslim countries, and the majority of USAID funding for two of the past three years – even excluding assistance to Iraq -- went to those countries.

Underlining the importance he places on the Muslim world, Tobias said that his first official trip in his new capacity would be to three Muslim countries -- Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I will see firsthand how we can work better in partnership and how we can better leverage resources on the ground to support both the citizens of the Muslim world and the committed Americans working with them in their valiant efforts,” he said.

Tobias said that all people, regardless of ethnicity, religion or geography, share the same basic desire to live in peace and provide for themselves and their families.

“With a renewed focus on sustainability and supporting Muslim countries in their own vision of democracy -- a vision that builds on a proud history stretching back thousands of years -- our foreign assistance can and will strengthen democracy and improve understanding with the Muslim world,” he said.

U.S. Official Praises Emergence of Independent Media in Arab World

State's DeSoto says journalist watchdogs are critical to democracy

By Tim Receveur
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Journalists and independent media are especially important in the Arab world because of their crucial role in checking the power of governments and ensuring the success of any democratic process, a senior State Department official says.

“Independent media empowers people, exposes corruption, encourages transparency in government, and prompts the full political participation of people,” said Oscar DeSoto, director of the State Department’s Office for the Promotion of Human Rights and Democracy.

“Without such independent voices, society as a whole suffers,” DeSoto said during a State Department-hosted webchat on World Press Freedom Day May 3.

DeSoto, who oversees U.S. government activities promoting democracy and human rights worldwide, praised the emergence of independent media organizations free of state control within the Arab world.

“For too long, the Arab community has been denied access to information, and recent developments are beginning to generate needed discussion in the Middle East,” he said. “The region still has a long way to go, as the recent UNDP [United Nations Development Program] Arab Human Development Report points out, but I'm optimistic about these first steps.”

One of responsibilities of DeSoto's office is to allocate the $147 million Human Rights and Democracy Fund to support innovative programming designed to uphold democratic principles and human rights.

“Without information and free platforms for discussion and debate, there can’t be a healthy democratic process,” DeSoto said.

He also discussed freedom of speech on the Internet, saying the U.S. government has made defending Internet freedom in closed countries a crucial part of its democracy and human rights strategy.

“Communities are better served by hearing diverse voices and opinions from diverse sources of information,” DeSoto said. “Then it's our responsibility to think critically about what these sources are telling us and make up our own minds.”

More information about the Human Rights and Democracy Fund.

Mideast Democracy Efforts Making a Difference, U.S. Official Says

Stresses that Middle East reforms must be "homegrown" to succeed

By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- The U.S. State Department’s three-year-old Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) is beginning to make a real difference in the region through its support of democratic reformers, a top MEPI program official says.

Peter Mulrean, director of the program’s regional office in Tunis, gave his upbeat assessment in a speech May 6 at the annual conference of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, a Washington-based organization that studies and promotes democratic reforms in the Muslim world.

“[A]cross the region, increasing numbers of people recognize the need for some form of democracy to give them a voice in their future,” he said. “[I]ncreasing numbers of courageous individuals are taking action and demanding that their voices be heard.” He added that a consensus is growing in the international community on the need to boost support for such reform efforts.

After he opened the Tunis office -- one of two such regional offices -- in August 2004, Mulrean recalled, “most reformers met me with skepticism … when they were willing to meet me at all.”

That skepticism, he said, had multiple bases, ranging from doubts about the United States’ sincerity, to disagreement with some U.S. policies, to fears by some that “they would be tarnished, or endangered, by being closely associated with the United States.”

But the doubts have begun to fade “as they have watched our clear, political statements at the highest levels combined with concrete support to reformers on the ground,” he said.

Mulrean ticked off some of the 350-odd projects, costing $293 million, that MEPI has taken on in its three years of existence -- election observation and voter education efforts in Lebanon and Egypt; support for a new network of Arab non-governmental organizations to train democracy activists across the region; development of independent media voices; programs aimed at empowering women; and training teachers in civic education.

“We have a long way to go in changing the views of the average man and woman in the street,” the MEPI official said. But “at least among the reformers we are interested in supporting, our message is getting though.”

Mulrean stressed the view that “building democracy, if it is to succeed, unquestionably must be homegrown and reflect the unique characteristics of the region.” But the United States and others can help, both by providing assistance for practical projects and by “keeping the pressure on the governments in the region to accept democratic change,” he said.

He declared that the United States is providing support not only because it is the right thing to do, “but also because it’s essential.”

“We understand that political systems that fail to support the aspirations of their people will become brittle and ultimately collapse,” Mulrean said. “Systems characterized by an absence of political choice, transparency, jobs, and personal freedoms are incubators for discontent and extremism.

“And in today’s globalized world, the actions of extremists anywhere impact all of us, directly or indirectly,” he said.

Middle East Partnership Initiative.


Middle East Press Freedom

Reporters Without Borders has released its annual report on world press freedom.

On the terrorist attacks against the free journalists in Lebanon, I quote:

"... in Beirut, journalists live in fear of being attacked. Two senior journalists, Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni, of the daily paper An-Nahar, were killed in car-bomb attacks during the year and a star presenter for the TV station LBC, May Chidiac, was seriously wounded in another.

Lebanon has the best record for press freedom in the Arab world but is now moving towards self-censorship. The best-known political commentators are moving about carefully and no longer dare to openly criticise neighbouring Syria, which is accused by many of being behind the attacks. Others have gone into exile, to France and elsewhere."

Here is the Middle East report:

Introduction North Africa and the Middle East - Annual Report 2005

Press freedom shrinks

Informing the public in North Africa, the Middle East and Iran is a very risky business. Local journalists work in fear of government repression and foreign journalists who come to report on events in a region scarred by violence and terrorism work in very dangerous conditions.
Legislation in the region’s mixed bag of countries stretching from Morocco to Iran is the first block to press freedom, whether emergency measures or press laws. Pan-Arab satellite TV stations have been on the air since the late 1990s, pioneered by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, but authoritarianism and crippling official corruption prevents the growth of truly free news. The Israeli media, protected by laws and court rulings, are very bold and energetic however. 27 journalists were jailed in the region in 2004 for defamation, "insulting the head of state," "insulting Islam" or "putting out false news," half of them in Iran. The threat of prison hangs over Arab journalists and most write very respectfully or just censor themselves. Most Arab governments keep a tight monopoly of radio and TV broadcasting.When state control of news is not enough to keep the media in line and deny the population’s democratic aspirations, the regimes use threats and physical attacks. The many state security services in the worst dictatorships - Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Tunisia - crack down on any attempt to report events honestly and investigate sensitive topics such as corruption, Islamic fundamentalism, social and religious taboos and relations with the United States.

A grim record

The Middle East was a deadly area for foreign and local media workers in 2004 and the 21 journalists killed there were nearly half the total killed worldwide. Iraq was the most dangerous country, with 19 killed while trying to cover operations by Iraqi guerrillas and the chaos in the country since the US invasion overthrew President Saddam Hussein in 2003.
An Italian journalist taken hostage, Enzo Baldoni, was executed by his kidnappers on 26 August and at least 16 other reporters were seized and used to try to extract political concessions or financial reward. French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, along with their Syrian guide Mohammed Al-Jundi, were held for four months by the "Islamic Army in Iraq." The journalists were freed on 21 December and returned safely to France. The number of foreign journalists in the country sharply declined during the year because of the lawlessness and impossibility of moving freely around the country. For the first time, a journalist was killed in Saudi Arabia and another seriously wounded in a bomb attack on 6 June blamed on Islamic radicals fighting to overthrow the absolute rule of King Fahd. The two journalists, working for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), had gone to Saudi Arabia to investigate a suspected Al-Qaeda attack in the eastern oil town of Khobar that killed 22 people.
A Palestinian journalist was killed in the Gaza Strip on 1 March, probably as part of Palestinian in-fighting and score-settling during a year that ended with the death of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. In the Palestinian Territories, security disorganisation was accompanied by increased violence against the media, aggravating the obstructions caused by the Israeli army.

Dictatorships maintain their iron grip

Five countries in the region scored very low on the Reporters Without Borders 167-country 2004 World Press Freedom Index - Tunisia (152nd), Libya (154th ), Syria (155th), Iran (158th) and Saudi Arabia (159th).
The supposed opening-up of broadcasting in Tunisia to private ownership in 2003 has changed nothing. The media remains enslaved to President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who strictly controls all news. The police regime ensures that citizens and Internet users do not openly criticise the "Tunisian model" vaunted by the president. There is still no press freedom in Libya, despite the astonishing international rehabilitation of President Muammar Gaddafi.
The media in Syria is suffocating under the heavy surveillance of the "mukhabarat" secret police and the Baath Party’s corrupt hold on power for the past 40 years. None of the reforms promised by the young President Bashar al-Assad affected the media, which remain outdated and backward.
Iran is still the region’s biggest prison for journalists, with 13 thrown in jail during the year by judges in the pay of the mullahs and hardliners. Some were put in solitary confinement, without trial or access to lawyers. Others were tortured and mistreated to make them confess. At least 60 were summoned during the year, either officially by a court or unofficially by police or intelligence officials. About 20 newspapers and magazines were suspended or censored and the Internet media was also restricted.
The monarchy in Saudi Arabia does not even try to hide its censorship and control of news and the government and information ministry regularly summon leading newspaper editors to tell them what they can say. Nothing or very little changed concerning press freedom, despite the wealth of the local media.

Insidious but effective threats

Press freedom sharply worsened in Yemen in 2004, with one journalist sent to prison for a year and five others given suspended jail sentences. The one imprisoned, Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, was convicted of libelling President Ali Abdallah Saleh and "supporting a rebel movement" and his weekly paper Al-Shura (The Council) closed for six months. Local journalists, who were still under physical attack, took it as an open threat. The president’s promises of reform and to "work to abolish" prison terms for press offences were not followed by action.
Relations between the privately-owned press and the government in Algeria deteriorated rapidly after the April 2004 re-election of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Several papers that had campaigned against him were the target of tough reprisals, strong financial pressure or frequent summoning of their reporters. Bouteflika, who had vowed to fight "press mercenaries" and accused some journalists of harming the country as much as "terrorists," moved to tighten up the 1990 press law that had allowed the rise of an independent press.Four journalists were imprisoned and editor Mohammed Benchicou, of the now-closed daily Le Matin, was still in jail at the end of the year, officially not for a press offence but for tax arrears, though the authorities clearly wanted to silence him and others.
Press freedom had a mixed year in Morocco. The blanket pardon of all journalists in prison or whose trials had not yet started was not followed by the expected end of forbidden topics for the media. Two more journalists were imprisoned and some matters remained especially sensitive for the regime, which nevertheless announced it would end its broadcasting monopoly in 2005. In the Gulf states (Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrein), links between the media, the governments and powerful businessmen are so close that self-censorship is often the only way possible for journalists.
Privately-owned newspapers and radio and TV stations exist in Lebanon despite some threats and physical attacks on journalists. But many topics remain out-of-bounds, including relations with "friendly" countries such as Syria and Saudi Arabia. The pro-government and privately-owned press in Jordan merely reported official policy and radio and TV was boring and unadventurous, which made a US government-run station, Radio Sawa, popular with young people.
Leading journalists in Egypt, even some with regional reputations, were kept in line by financial pressure, fierce social puritanism and self-censorship related to continuing prison sentences for press offences, despite the promises of President Hosni Mubarak.