How to keep the Arab Spring blossoming
February 4th, 2013
09:46 AM ET

How to keep the Arab Spring blossoming

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.


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Topics: Arab Spring • Syria
January 31st, 2013
09:23 AM ET

Arab Spring’s hits and misses

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.

Read the full Washington Post column here

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Topics: Arab Spring • Middle East
January 29th, 2013
12:29 PM ET

Wanting Egypt to fail

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.


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Topics: Arab Spring • Egypt
January 15th, 2013
03:23 PM ET

Don't lose hope over Arab Spring

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.


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Topics: Arab Spring
December 13th, 2012
04:02 AM ET

Economic development key to consolidating democracy in Tunisia

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.


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Topics: Africa • Arab Spring • Development • Uncategorized
December 5th, 2012
11:53 AM ET

Egypt's deeply flawed draft constitution

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.


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Topics: Arab Spring • Egypt • Middle East
Changing Middle East looks depressingly like what it replaces
November 21st, 2012
12:49 PM ET

Changing Middle East looks depressingly like what it replaces

By Danielle Pletka, Special to CNN

Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are her own.

This small war between Hamas and Israel will pass. The just announced ceasefire may be sustained. Or Israel may move from aerial bombardment to a ground incursion, which will deter Hamas from relighting the fuse for some time. But not forever, because Hamas exists only to fight with Israel. It has no other purpose. Those who counter that Hamas governs need only look at Gaza to understand that governance is far from Hamas’ aims or abilities. Will this late 2012 battle end differently for the Palestinians? Advance a two state solution? Heal the ills of the Palestinians? Allow Israel to live in peace and security? No.

Another question:  Will the realignment of the Middle East to an order more congenial to Hamas matter? Clearly, Hamas believed that with its Muslim Brotherhood brethren at the helm in Egypt and the new spiritual leader of the region’s Sunni Islamists at the helm in Turkey, this adventure would end differently. Of course, Hamas’ hope was not to destroy the state of Israel. Rather, it was to gain the upper hand in its endless and fruitless battle against Fatah for the Palestinian political mantle, ideally with the wind of the Arab world’s Islamist revolutions at its back. That won’t happen either. Egypt’s Mohamed Morsy and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan are willing to lend rhetorical support and a few visits to Gaza, but they’re never going to do anything substantial for Palestinians because they neither care enough about actual Palestinian people nor wish to queer their pitch with Europe and the United States.


10 foreign policy priorities for Obama
November 8th, 2012
02:35 PM ET

10 foreign policy priorities for Obama

Barack Obama has won reelection as America’s president. But while the economy – and avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff – will inevitably take up much of his time, there are numerous foreign policy challenges facing the next administration. GPS asked 10 leading foreign policy analysts to name 10 things that Obama should focus on next. The views expressed are, of course, the authors' own.

Keep Arab Spring on track

By Kenneth Roth

Kenneth Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch.

The biggest human rights challenge facing President Obama in his second term is finding ways to help keep on track the reform agenda that launched the Arab Spring. Most important is ending the horrible slaughter of civilians in Syria. Obama should stop pretending that Russia’s and China’s obstructionism absolves the U.S. of responsibility to continue ratcheting up pressure to stop the atrocities.

In Egypt, the regional trendsetter, Obama has properly said he respects the election that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, but now he should press the government, like all others, to respect basic rights, including of women and minorities. In Libya, Obama should stop treating the country as a “mission accomplished” and actively help elected authorities build the rule of law. And Obama should keep his promise to “promote reform across the region” and stop the discrediting double standard of making exceptions for U.S. allies, whether friendly monarchs or Israel.


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Topics: 2012 Election • Afghanistan • Africa • Arab Spring • Asia • Barack Obama • China • Conflict • Cuba • East Asia • Economy • Iran • United States
October 19th, 2012
12:53 AM ET

Time to lay off the Benghazi issue

By Michael O'Hanlon, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings (where he was a colleague of Rice’s for several years), teaches at Princeton and Columbia and Johns Hopkins and is a member of the CIA External Advisory Board. The views expressed are his own.

Ambassador Susan Rice has been roundly criticized of late for her comments made on five Sunday morning talk shows the weekend after the Benghazi tragedy in which four Americans lost their lives to a terrorist attack. Because Rice stated her belief that the violence was the result of a mass demonstration gone bad, rather than the planned extremist attacks we now know them to be, some have even gone so far as to demand her resignation from her current cabinet position as United States ambassador to the United Nations.

This is way off the mark and extremely unfair to a dedicated official who has served the country tirelessly and remarkably over her four years in the Obama administration. Rice did not choose all her words perfectly that weekend, even based on what was known at the time, it is true. There should have been a bit more nuance and more acknowledgement of the uncertainty in some of them. But there is no basis for concluding that she sought to mislead, and no reason to think that harm came to the country's interests because of her comments. While there are issues worth debating in regards to Benghazi, to Libya, and to the state of the Arab awakenings more generally, the unkind focus on Rice badly misses the mark.


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Topics: Arab Spring • Libya • Terrorism • United Nations • United States
October 10th, 2012
04:09 PM ET

Flirting with extremism in Tunisia

By Sarah Chayes, CEIP

Editor’s note: Sarah Chayes is a senior associate on the South Asia program of the Carnegie Endowment for International for International Peace, which published this article here. The views expressed are her own.

Protesters “were piled into pickup trucks with their black flags,” recalled two Tunisian eyewitnesses, the co-founder of a humanitarian group and a college professor. Both requested anonymity for security reasons. “I knew something would go wrong,” shuddered one. Although no loss of American life resulted, last month’s organized attack on the United States embassy in Tunisia – in which four locals did die – was at least as portentous as the sack of the Libyan consulate.

Unlike residents of Benghazi, Tunis-dwellers did not turn out to challenge the commandeering of their public space by well-marshaled extremists. And, whether through immaturity or latent connivance, the attitude of the Tunisian government has been equivocal. Further incidents, such as the roughing up of an elected official a couple of weeks ago, suggest that the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party may be flirting with violence to help ensure its grip on power.


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Topics: Arab Spring • Middle East • Taliban • Terrorism
How different are Romney and Obama's foreign policies, really?
October 8th, 2012
03:10 PM ET

How different are Romney and Obama's foreign policies, really?

In a major speech two weeks before he debates President Barack Obama on international issues, Mitt Romney argued that Obama is failing to provide the global leadership needed and expected by the rest of the world.

Romney called for the U.S. to join allies in ensuring that rebels fighting government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad get military hardware they seek. He also criticized Obama's overall approach to the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And he argued that last month's attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans "was likely the work of the same forces affiliated with those that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001."

What's the difference between the candidates' stances and what does this mean for U.S. policy? Fareed Zakaria weighs in on this and more in this edited conversation:

Q: One of the points you've brought up before is that these two candidates really see eye-to-eye on a lot of foreign policy issues. The only one that we really heard that was different was Romney's stance on arming the Syrian rebels. How does the United States go about doing that?

ZAKARIA: If you were to have listened to that speech, you would assume, atmospherically, that Romney had very strong disagreements with the Obama administration, but his problem is that Obama has run a foreign policy almost like a moderate Republican. It's been internationalist. It's not been too liberal in the sense of human rights oriented. It's been tough. So the Syrian issue is the one place Romney can find to make a distinction. FULL POST

Topics: 2012 Election • Arab Spring • Foreign Policy • Iran • Mitt Romney • Syria
Obama steps up over freedom of speech
September 25th, 2012
07:20 PM ET

Obama steps up over freedom of speech

By Fareed Zakaria

Mitt Romney and his campaign feel that they have an opening in the presidential campaign, on foreign policy at least. The unrest in the Middle East the past couple of weeks, including the killing of the American ambassador to Libya and widespread protests over a controversial YouTube video that has been condemned as blasphemous, has left a general sense of turmoil in the region. The Romney campaign wants to take advantage of it.

On the surface, it seems like a reasonable idea. And Obama has made some missteps including the inexplicable decision to not meet with any foreign leaders this week during the U.N. General Assembly. But I don’t think it will work. And one need look no further than President Obama’s speech at the General Assembly to see why.

International events, even crises, typically help the president because they make him look, well, presidential. The symbolism of Obama delivering a speech at the United Nations will have been a powerful reminder to the public that Obama is the president and Mitt Romney is not. This in turn has the effect of conferring a certain gravitas on the incumbent.


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