By Anas El Gomati, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Anas El Gomati is a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, and director of Sadeq Institute, Libya’s first think tank. The views expressed are his own.
Libya may want to move on from its past, but a law passed earlier this month with the backing of more than 90 percent of lawmakers is the wrong way to go about it.
The “Political Isolation” law would be sweeping enough if it just stuck to the provisions barring anyone that held a senior position in the Gadhafi regime from holding office again for a decade. But it also states that intellectuals, academics, civil servants, security and army officials and leading media personnel should also be barred from doing so. Even exiles and defectors in opposition during Gadhafi’s reign who held senior positions in the distant past could also be barred from serving again for 10 years.
The law, which will effectively be policed by an “Isolation Commission” tasked with vetting officials, was pushed through in the wake of increased activism by Libyan militias. Indeed, militias were quick to seize on the aftermath of the bombing of the French Embassy on April 23, one of a string of attacks in the past year on foreign interests, to help further their agenda. And, even as Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s cabinet attempted to draw up a response for the international community, revolutionary and rogue militias seized four key ministries at gunpoint, demanding that the law be passed.
By Fred Abrahams, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Fred Abrahams is a special adviser at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.
All civilians deserve protection, but some civilians deserve more protection than others. Or so it seems in Libya today.
Two years ago, the U.N. Security Council authorized a military operation by NATO with a mandate to protect civilians who were under attack by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. That operation led to Gadhafi’s fall.
Today, long after the fighting has stopped, those who are rightly or wrongly perceived to have supported Gadhafi are under threat. Thousands of women and children have been displaced from their homes and living in camps, often harassed. Men have been detained, tortured and killed. They need protection, but the nations that intervened two years ago have done virtually nothing on their behalf.
By Fareed Zakaria
The American public has lost interest in the Iraq war. A topic that was at the center of the national political debate is now barely mentioned in passing. The country has decided to move on, rather than debate whether the war was worth it - though for the vast majority of Americans, the answer to that question would be a decided, “no”.
Yet, it was the most significant military conflict that the United States has been in since the Vietnam War, and so it is worth asking – ten years after it began - what lessons might be learned from the war, aftermath, and occupation. Here is my list:
Bring enough troops. The Bush administration chose to go to war with Iraq in a manner that would make it relatively easy politically. It drew up plans for a small invading army and insisted that the costs would be minimal – silencing those within and without the Pentagon who suggested otherwise. In the first phase of the war, toppling Saddam’s army, the plan worked fine. But as the mission turned from invasion to occupation, the military’s “light footprint” proved to be a deadly problem. Iraq moved quickly towards chaos and civil war, under the eyes of American troops who could do little to prevent it. The lesson of the Balkans’ conflicts in the 1990s had been to have a much larger force, by some calculations four times larger than the United States had in Iraq. But that lesson was not learned in 2003. The next time, if it’s worth going to war, it’s worth staffing it properly.
By Sarah Leah Whitson, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sarah Leah Whitson is the director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Bahrain’s Sunni ruling family and their allies in Washington and London say they are pinning their hopes on a new “national dialogue” to break the bitter stalemate with the country’s political opposition among the majority Shia population. But a just settlement will remain elusive unless the government delivers on two outstanding reforms: accountability at the highest levels of the country’s security forces for their abusive response to the 2011 uprisings, and freedom for the country’s unjustly imprisoned opposition and human rights leaders.
This tiny island country of 500,000 citizens, 600,000 expats and 15,000 personnel of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, convulsed by five weeks of mass demonstrations in 2011, has received its fair share of international attention over the past two years. Per capita, the participation of hundreds of thousands of the country’s citizenry may have set some sort of world record for mass protests – what other country can claim to have had most of its population out on the streets protesting at one time?
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In America, "Harlem Shake" may be the top pop single. In Egypt and Tunisia, there's some serious Harlem shaking going on. And it's causing leaders to tremble as it becomes a potent symbol of protest, revolt and defiance.
Take the kids in the video at a school in Tunisia. They danced en masse to the song and posted their exploits on YouTube. That prompted a quarter of a million hits and reports of an investigation by the country's minister of education and that prompted a backlash. Video after video after video of Tunisians proudly doing the Harlem shake in defiance.
By Madhav Nalapat, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Madhav Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at Manipal University in India. The views expressed are his own.
Despite the 2008 economic crash and lingering possibility of a Eurozone collapse, the West still clings to its one-size-fits-all mentality – especially when it comes to political systems. Democracy is still almost inevitably defined in terms of the Western model, with periodic elections to choose representatives to a parliament or head of state. Local variants, such as Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga system, are dismissed as not really democratic. But this “universalization” of the Western approach – especially for countries embarking on the path of democratization – is misguided.
I was an early believer in the Middle East democracy project, with the caveat that first there needs to be a comprehensive reform of school curricula. The present fare offered to young minds, especially in Saudi Arabia, is a mishmash of confused ideas cloaked in theology. The result is that the education system fosters minds that are in many cases unable to properly grasp reality, ones that instead too often focus on vague concepts that get superimposed onto the real world. It’s little wonder that conspiracy theories are so prevalent in the region.
By Kenneth Roth, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Kenneth Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch. You can follow him on @KenRoth. The views expressed are his own.
As rioting resumes in Egypt, militias reign ominously in parts of Libya, and relentless slaughter proceeds in Syria, some are beginning to question whether the Arab Spring was such a good idea after all. But would we really want to condemn entire nations to the likes of Mubarak, Gadhafi and al-Assad? As we know from the fall of military dictatorships in Latin America and the demise of the Soviet Union, building a rights-respecting democracy on a legacy of authoritarian rule is not easy. However, there are steps that both the people of the region and the international community can take to make a positive outcome more likely.
The new governments in the Middle East and North Africa should remember foremost that an electoral majority does not grant them license to do whatever they want. Once they gain power, long-suppressed political movements may not be eager to hear that their latitude for governance is still constrained, but that is what international human rights law requires. Repression of basic rights can emerge as readily from majoritarian hubris as from a classic autocrat.
By Fareed Zakaria
The Arab world’s two largest experiments in democracy, Iraq and Egypt, have, unfortunately, poor choices in common. Both placed elections ahead of constitutions and popular participation ahead of individual rights. Both have had as their first elected leaders strongmen with Islamist backgrounds who have no real dedication to liberal democracy. The results have been the establishment of “illiberal democracy” in Iraq and the danger of a similar system in Egypt.
The best role models for the region might well be two small monarchies. Jordan and Morocco have gone the opposite route, making measured reforms and liberalizing their existing systems. The monarchies have chosen evolution over revolution. So far, it seems the better course.
By Steven A. Cook, CFR
Editor’s note: Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of From the Potomac to the Euphrates originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own.
Egypt is a mess. Just two short years after the uprising that brought Hosni Mubarak’s long rule to an end, the country is paralyzed politically, protests have become increasingly violent, sectarian tensions are high, the public health system is in total disarray, and the economy is near collapse. Nothing has gone right in this country of 84 million people that has traditionally been the most influential in the region – for good or bad – and since the mid-1970s a pillar of U.S.-Middle East policy. It is not only the peace between Egypt and Israel, but also the U.S. Navy’s access to the Suez Canal, the many daily U.S. military over flights critical to the United States in confronting the Iranian threat, and Egypt’s logistical assistance for U.S. operations in Afghanistan and until not too long ago Iraq that are of paramount importance to Washington.
As a result, an objective observer might come to the reasonable conclusion that Egypt needs help and that the international community should do what it can to help pull Egyptians back from the brink. That is certainly the view of most analysts from across the political spectrum, yet in one corner of the commentariat, they are actually hoping for Egypt to fail.
By Randall Kuhn, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Randall Kuhn is director of the Global Health Affairs Program at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
As we mark its two year anniversary, it has become fashionable to dismiss the Arab Spring as a false opening at best, or a gateway to an Islamist takeover at worst. Others have argued compellingly that radical extremists represent a small minority of citizens with little legitimacy. A more fundamental concern is whether the moderate Arab majority has the political capacity and motivation to overcome special interests who seek to undermine the original vision of social justice. My research on the role of human development in the Arab Spring suggests that they do.
On measures of human development such as infant mortality, life expectancy, and schooling, the Arab nations of today look far more similar to the nations of Eastern Europe in 1989, the revolution we all hope for, than to Iran in 1979, the revolution that many fear. Since 1980, no region of the developing world saw as much progress on basic indicators of health and education than the Arab States, fueled by foreign aid, oil money, and despots looking to placate the masses. In 1970, an infant born in Egypt was more likely to die in the first year of life than in India or most of Sub-Saharan Africa; by 2005 the infant in Egypt was less than half as likely to die. Moreover, by 2009 the average Tunisian 15-year old had a better chance of seeing their 60th birthday than the average American.
By Mustapha Tlili, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mustapha Tlili is the founder and director of the Center for Dialogues: Islamic World – U.S. – The West at New York University, and a member of the advisory committee for Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
There is universal agreement that unemployment (in particular youth unemployment) and poverty played a significant, if not the most important, role in the Arab Spring. High levels of youth unemployment and economic problems prompted civil unrest and dissatisfaction with the government, and gave many young people the time to network and organize. Yet now, economic woes – initially a democratizing force – have turned into an obstacle for many young democracies. Solving youth unemployment will therefore be instrumental in determining the long-term success of the Arab Spring.
Tunisia, where it all started, is a good case study. No wonder that the revolution in Tunisia began in the central region of the country rather than coastal areas, where about 80 percent of the population live in much better economic conditions. These central lands are economically depressed, neglected for decades by various Tunisian governments.
By Isobel Coleman, CFR
Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Democracy in Development originally appeared here. The views expressed are her own.
Egypt’s constitutional assembly pulled an all-nighter last week to hastily approve a controversial draft of a new constitution. However, the constitutional battle is far from over. Yesterday, protests rocked the country, and a crowd of some 100,000 people staged a so-called “last warning” demonstration near the presidential palace against President Morsy’s heavy-handed tactics. In addition, hundreds of journalists marched on Tahrir and at least a dozen of the country’s independent newspapers did not publish to protest against Morsy’s “dictatorship.”
The battle now moves to December 15, when Egyptians are slated to vote on the constitution in a national referendum. Liberal and secular opponents of Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the draft constitution are urging widespread civil disobedience to derail the vote; on the other hand, the Brotherhood and its allies are portraying a “yes” vote as crucial for restoring stability to the country and moving forward. Given Egyptians’ weariness of nearly two years of political paralysis and economic dislocation, the Brotherhood’s arguments for stability could easily carry the day.