8.07.2006

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.)

Headlines:


  • New Egyptian Press Law Restricts Free Speech, U.S. Official Says
  • U.S. Pledges Full Support for Middle East Democratization
  • Bush Outlines Effort To Resolve Middle East Crisis Stressing Middle East Freedom And Democracy
  • U.S. Condemns Death of Iranian Activist
  • U.N. Council Must Address Rights Violations in Mideast, Sudan
  • U.S. Hails Anniversary of Iran's Constitutional Revolution

"...instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability.

For a while, American foreign policy was just, let's hope everything is calm, kind of managed calm. But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested in its -- on September the 11th. And so we've taken a foreign policy that says, on the one hand, we will protect ourselves from further attack in the short-run by being aggressive and chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice -- and make no mistake, they're still out there, and they would like to harm our respective peoples because of what we stand for -- in the long-term, to defeat this ideology, and they're bound by an ideology. You defeat it with a more hopeful ideology called freedom.

...I fully understand some people don't believe it's possible for freedom and democracy to overcome this ideology of hatred. I understand that. I just happen to believe it is possible, and I believe it will happen. And so what you're seeing is a clash of governing styles, for example. The notion of democracy beginning to emerge scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, those who want to impose their vision. It just frightens them, and so they respond. They've always been violent.

I hear this amazing kind of editorial thought that says, all of a sudden Hezbollah has become violent because we're promoting democracy. They have been violent for a long period of time.

And so what the world is seeing is a desire by this country and our allies to defeat the ideology of hate with an ideology that has worked and that brings hope. And one of the challenges, of course, is to convince people that Muslims would like to be free, that there's other people other than people in Britain and America that would like to be free in the world. There's this kind of almost -- kind of weird kind of elitism, that says, well, maybe certain people in certain parts of the world shouldn't be free; maybe it's best just to let them sit in these tyrannical societies. And our foreign policy rejects that concept. We don't accept it.

And so we're working. And this is -- as I said the other day, when these attacks took place, I said this should be a moment of clarity for people to see the stakes in the 21st century. I mean, there's an unprovoked attack on a democracy. Why? I happen to believe, because progress is being made toward democracies. And I believe that -- I also believe that Iran would like to exert additional influence in the region. A theocracy would like to spread its influence using surrogates.

And so I'm as determined as ever to continue fostering a foreign policy based upon liberty. And I think it's going to work, unless we lose our nerve and quit. And this government isn't going to quit."

President Bush, July 28, 2006

Contents:

New Egyptian Press Law Restricts Free Speech, U.S. Official Says

By Carolee Walker

Washington -- The Egyptian government should take a close look at its new law imposing curbs on what journalists can write about in that country, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack at a briefing July 11.

“It is essential to have a free press as part of the political dialogue within a country that is wrestling with issues of political as well as economic reform,” McCormack said.

The law, which the Egyptian parliament passed July 10, imposes fines on members of the press who criticize the government. A last-minute intervention by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak removed a provision on prison terms for criticizing the financial integrity of public figures, but journalists still can be jailed for stories defaming Egyptian officials and foreign heads of state.

“We are strong supporters of freedom of the press, in Egypt as well as elsewhere,” McCormack said. In published reports, Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organization, said, “Criticizing public officials should not be a criminal offense at all, much less one punishable by prison terms.”

Twenty-five independent newspapers in Egypt went on strike July 9 to protest the proposed legislation. Several independent newspapers welcomed Mubarak’s intervention to change the legislation but vowed to continue fighting for additional changes that would eliminate the threat of prison sentences for journalists.

The United States and Egypt share close ties and annual U.S. aid to Egypt is nearly $2 billion. (See related article.)

In June, the United States signed a declaration of principles with Egyptian government officials bringing two U.S. security programs to Egypt. (See related article).

A transcript of McCormack’s remarks is available on the State Department’s Web site.

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U.S. Pledges Full Support for Middle East Democratization

By David Shelby, Washington File Staff Writer

Houston - The United States is committed to supporting democratic reforms in the Arab world, even if they produce election results that the U.S. government does not favor, according to Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch.

"We understand that there may be outcomes with which we are uncomfortable. We strongly support democracy, but we also reserve the right, as a government, to have a policy that contradicts the objectives of a particular political party, even if that political party was fairly elected," Welch told participants in a panel discussion on political Islam and democracy at the U.S.-Arab Economic Forum in Houston June 27.

Welch said that the presence of real political alternatives would ultimately undermine the appeal of radicalism. He said the United States is not opposed to dealing with Islamic political parties in principle. (See related article.)

"We should recognize that the concept of political Islam represents a broad diversity of views within the Arab and Islamic worlds. We should remind ourselves that violent jihadi groups form a very small minority among Islamist groups. The majority in many cases are legal Islamist political parties," he said.

The assistant secretary added that the United States has constructive dialogues with Islamist parties in Kuwait and Morocco. He said American and foreign laws prevent the U.S. government from dealing with certain Islamic political groups. By law, the U.S. administration cannot have dealings with parties considered to be terrorist organizations, and it will not engage groups that are not recognized as legitimate political parties under their own domestic laws.

Welch said that the demand for democratic reforms is rising in the Arab world and that change is inevitable.

"With this mounting pressure, governments across the region face important challenges: do they find ways to accommodate these demands or do they attempt to stifle them?" he asked.

He said that the change should be peaceful but that "it's up to the leaders of the region to provide a vision for the future that mobilizes people and offers hope."

Assistant Secretary Welch said the goal of the U.S. reform policy in the Arab world is to help build "strong institutions politically, economically and educationally so there can be an environment in which there is stable political competition and an informed population that can make a choice between what is legitimate and what is illegitimate in political expression."

He said democracy would take different forms in different countries but that it should have universal characteristics, such as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of association, freedom of the press, rule of law, protection of minorities, and rotation of power.

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Bush Outlines Effort To Resolve Middle East Crisis Stressing Middle East Freedom And Democracy

Washington -- President Bush says urgent efforts to resolve the crisis in the Middle East are continuing, both through Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s weekend return trip to the region and an impending United Nations Security Council meeting that could authorize a multinational peacekeeping force.

In his weekly radio address July 29, the president stressed once again that an end to the current violence in Israel and Lebanon must be achieved through "a sustainable cease-fire," and be pursued in the broader context of achieving democratic change and lasting peace in the region.

Bush once again placed the blame for the current crisis squarely on Hizballah and its "unprovoked terrorist attacks on Israel." He also stressed the role of Iran and Syria and renewed demands that those two nations stop enabling the group’s terrorist acts.

"Iran must end its financial support and supply of weapons to terrorist groups such as Hizballah -- and Syria must end its support for terrorism and respect Lebanon’s sovereignty," Bush declared.

Citing his White House meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair the previous day, Bush said the two had agreed that "Lebanon’s democratic government must be empowered to exercise full authority over its territory" and that "militias in Lebanon must be disarmed, the flow of illegal arms must be halted, and the Lebanese security services should deploy throughout the country."

"We also agreed that a robust multinational force must be dispatched to Lebanon quickly," the president said. That would help speed delivery of humanitarian relief to the Lebanese people and facilitate the return of displaced persons to their homes, he added.

Bush stressed his view that the fighting in Lebanon is just the latest manifestation of a broader struggle between freedom and terror throughout the Middle East -- one that he said past American policy has failed to address successfully.

"For decades, American policy sought to achieve peace in the Middle East by promoting stability in the Middle East, yet these policies gave us neither," he said.

While describing the current conflict as "painful and tragic," the president said that, if dealt with effectively, it also represents "a moment of opportunity for broader change in the region."

He pledged continued U.S. efforts to help Iraqi leaders establish democracy, and to work toward achieving the vision of "two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security."

"When the Middle East grows in liberty and democracy, it will also grow in peace, and that will make America and all free nations more secure," Bush said.

More

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U.S. Condemns Death of Iranian Activist

Jailed for participating in protests, dissident Akbar Mohammadi dies in custody

By Lea Terhune, Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack joined human rights advocates around the world in condemning the death of a jailed Iranian student dissident, Akbar Mohammadi. Mohammadi, 38, died July 30 after a nine-day hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin Prison.“

The United States condemns the Iranian government’s severe repression of dissidents, and its continued crackdown on civil society and those fighting for personal freedom in Iran,” said McCormack in a statement issued August 1. The detention and harsh treatment of dissidents and opposition leaders, he said, is “part of a deliberate campaign by the Iranian government to silence the student movement in particular, and civil society more broadly.”

Mohammadi had been arrested and sentenced to death for throwing Molotov cocktails during the 1999 protests at Tehran University. His sentence was commuted to 15 years imprisonment. He was given nearly two years leave for medical treatment of injuries sustained during his incarceration. He was arrested again in June.

Mohammadi’s lawyer Khalil Bahramian said he would distrust results of a forensic examination unless a neutral doctor conducted it. He also said he had been denied access to his client by prison authorities.

Human Rights Watch calls Mohammadi’s death “suspicious,” and Amnesty International, in an August 1 statement, said it “signals a need for justice reform” in Iran. The human rights groups also called for a halt to “torture and other ill-treatment in Iranian prisons.”

Human rights advocates and the U.S. government have also expressed concern about the well being of Mohammadi’s brother Manouchehr Mohammadi, who is in Evin Prison for participating in the same 1999 protests. Former Member of Parliament and student leader Ali Akbar Moussavi Khoeini and labor union leader Mansour Osanloo are two among a number of dissidents who remain imprisoned for speaking out.

“[W]e call on the Iranian Government to respect the human rights of all Iranian citizens, including students, members of religious minorities, workers and women, and to release those arrested and imprisoned as a consequence of defending universally accepted human rights and freedoms,” McCormack said.

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U.N. Council Must Address Rights Violations in Mideast, Sudan

By Carolee Walker, Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The U.N. Human Rights Council must address human rights violations among Palestinians and Israelis, as well as in Sudan’s Darfur region, Burma and North Korea, U.S. Ambassador Warren W. Tichenor told the council June 26.

Calling on council members to be “intellectually honest,” Tichenor said the council should give equal attention to “the indiscriminate terror attacks that murder innocent Israelis” as to violations of Palestinians’ human rights.

Tichenor, the U.S. representative to the United Nations office in Geneva, also said that more involvement of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Gaza and the West Bank “could help make a real difference in many lives.

”The goal in the Middle East is for Israel and the Palestinians to live side by side as two independent states in peace and security, Tichenor said. But “with a Hamas Palestinian government that continues to endorse the destruction of Israel … this long sought after goal remains elusive,” he said.

Tichenor also said the new council “must take action to streamline and depoliticize its agenda, to provide technical assistance and support to nations that need it, and to fund the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

”The new council is holding its first session from June 19 to June 30 in Geneva. The United States did not seek membership on the Human Rights Council but is an observer of its deliberations. The United States has pledged to support the council politically, diplomatically and financially.

Government and government-supported militia in Sudan’s Darfur region continue to commit serious human rights and humanitarian law abuses, Tichenor said, although the U.N.’s Commission on Human Rights resolution in 2005 calling for human rights monitors in Darfur offers “room for hope” in the region.

Tichenor said the council must act on abuses in Burma, a country with a “complete absence of basic human rights,” as well as in North Korea.

North Korea, Tichenor said, “remains one of the world’s worst human rights violators.” The regime’s violations, Tichenor said, “include torture, summary or arbitrary executions, widespread forced labor, an extensive inhumane prison camp system and infanticide and forced abortions in those prisons.”

Patrick Smeller, the State Department’s human rights officer to the U.S. mission in Geneva, called on the council to support the full implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

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U.S. Hails Anniversary of Iran's Constitutional Revolution

1906 movement led to increased democracy in Iran

By David Shelby, Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – The U.S. State Department paid tribute to the centennial anniversary of the 1906 Iranian Constitutional Revolution, calling it “a defining political moment for advancing the democratic ideas it represented.”

In an August 4 statement, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, “Iranian nationalists set forth a powerful and revolutionary concept: a written constitution founded on the rule of fair and just laws, providing for a free press and respect for individual rights.”

On August 5, 1906, in the face of persistent political activism and resistance to Iran’s autocratic form of government, Iranian ruler Mozafar el-Din Shah issued a decree calling for the drafting of a constitution and the formation of a parliament, known as the Majles. The new Majles was seated two months later, and the shah signed the new constitution December 30, five days before his death.

The following ruler, Mohammed Ali Shah, sought to roll back the political reforms, but constitutionalist forces continued to challenge the shah militarily, ultimately forcing his ouster and exile in 1909.

“This short-lived but noble constitutional movement was a significant victory for Iranian democracy and for the cause of freedom in the Middle East,” McCormack said. “Since 1906, Iranians from all walks of life have continued the struggle against unchecked power, corruption, and wide disparities in wealth.”

He said the United States supports the Iranian people’s aspirations for an open society, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, respect for human rights, the rule of law and government accountability.

“Americans believe in liberty and democracy for Iran and commemorate one hundred years of ongoing struggle toward a truly democratic state worthy of its great people,” he said.

The text of the statement is available at the State Department Web site.

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