Cuba: dissident beatings threaten engagement theory

For the 12th Sunday in a row, over 80 Cuban dissidents were brutally beaten and arrested for attempting to peacefully march to — or from – Mass, according to reports.

Over 60 of those arrested were members of The Ladies in White, a group composed of the wives, mothers, sisters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners. Meanwhile, prominent democracy leader, Antonio Rodiles (above), founder of the independent think-tank Estado de Sats, had his nose shattered by the secret police agents that arrested him.

While U.S. President Barack Obama argues that the best way to promote political change is engagement, analyst Stephen Collinson writes for CNN,if Cuba doesn’t respond to his overtures by improving its human rights and democratization record — or the situation worsens — his whole theory of talking with U.S. adversaries will be undermined, with serious consequences for his legacy.”

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Ideology fuels Russia’s curbs on foreign media, NGOs

russia info warfareSweden’s Modern Times Group AB is the latest company to face being pushed out of Russia as President Vladimir Putin’s media law tightens control over the country’s broadcasting and publishing industries, Bloomberg reports:

Billionaire Alisher Usmanov offered $200 million for a controlling stake in local broadcaster CTC Media Inc.’s operating business, CTC Media said Monday. A sale, which would end Modern Times’s 14-year-old venture in Russia, would incur a writedown of 400 million kronor ($47 million) for its 38 percent stake, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing confidential details.

Modern Times isn’t alone. In April, Finnish media group Sanoma Oyj divested its stake in Vedomosti to entrepreneur Demyan Kudryavtsev. The newspaper’s joint owners, News Corp. and Pearson Plc, must decide whether they’ll adhere to the same rules that limit foreign ownership of Russian media companies to no more than 20 percent by January next year.

“Media is turning back to Soviet times when it was just an instrument for ideology,” said Nikolay Petrov, an independent political analyst in Moscow. “International investors who helped Russian media to establish as a business are getting squeezed out, being replaced by locals loyal to the Kremlin.”

russia putinThe FSB, a successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB, will help the upper chamber of the Russian parliament prepare its list of foreign organizations deemed to be a threat to the country’s security and whose activities will be banned in Russia, The Moscow Times reports:

While the list has yet to be compiled, obvious candidates to feature on it include George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, the National Endowment for Democracy, the MacArthur Foundation and the National Democratic Institute, Konstantin Kosachev, who heads the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, was cited by Russian media as saying last month.

“We cannot let Russia’s geopolitical opponents carry out a cynical policy aimed at [establishing] a single leadership in the world,” Kosachev said at Friday’s meeting of the Federation Council, according to a statement published Friday on the council’s website.

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Egypt’s new anti-terror law won’t halt ‘self-inflicted slaughter’

egyptGeneral_Al_SisiEgypt looks set to approve a new anti-terrorism law which civil society groups say will curb press freedom, but do little to counter jihadist groups.

The regime has blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for recent terrorist attacks, but there is little evidence that the Islamist group’s beliefs overlap with jihadists such as ISIS, says the Daily Beast’s Ruth Michaelson:

Analysts such as Michele Dunne, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, brand this view as politically motivated and badly miscalculated. “Normally the approach is divide and conquer your enemies, not unify and conquer them,” says Dunne [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy], who also points out that this approach by the Egyptian state often sweeps up secular groups such as the 6th April labor movement or the hardcore football fan groups known as the Ultras in “trying to capture everyone under the same title of terrorism” as if “all dissent is the same.”

egypt mb pargeter“Whatever the Egyptian regime says, there is no evidence that anyone has been able to access that the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS are essentially two sides of the same coin—it’s a laughable argument for anyone that knows a single thing about political Islam,” says Brookings analyst Shadi Hamid. “ISIS considers the Brotherhood to be apostates—

Dunne labels the Brotherhood’s concerns about controlling their younger members as part of a wider shift in politics among Egypt’s youth, Islamist and non-Islamist, in the face of a crackdown on civil liberties. This by no means pushes everyone toward violent tactics, but it does create a generation of young people who are growing up alienated from a government that is claiming to protect and champion their futures.

“It’s primarily the young people who bare the brunt of human-rights abuses,” says Dunne. “They’re killed at demos, arrested by thousands, subjected to torture. A lot of different groups are competing for, or at least trying to hold on to, the allegiance of their youth in this very hot situation.”

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Africa: why term limits matter

africaBurundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza is not alone among African leaders who defy the fundamental requisite of democracy that leaders must step down when their terms expire, notes Joseph Siegle, the Director of Research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. In fact, the continent as a whole is in the midst of a wider battle over governance norms. Burundi’s relevance to the continent’s larger struggle compels assertive action on the part of key African and Western governments interested in upholding the rule of law, he writes for the International Relations and Security Network:

This capacity to perpetuate their stay in office explains why nine current African leaders have been in power for more than 20 years, (four of these for more than 30 years). Another 10 heads of state are now into their second decade in office. In addition to the detrimental impact these extended tenures have on building democratic institutions, countries with leaders who have been in power for more than a decade tend to have higher levels of corruption and poorer economic performance.

“Through the efforts of reformers, roughly 20 of Africa’s 54 countries now limit presidents to two terms [see below]. Another 10 countries, including Burundi, have such provisions written into their constitutions, though they have yet to be implemented,” Siegle adds. “Norms around term limits have been gaining momentum in recent years. Afrobarometer polls show 75 percent of African respondents favor two-term limits for their heads of state. The last successful circumvention of term limits was in Djibouti in 2010.”

africa constitutional-terms-limits-450x437

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Crisis management vs democratization in the Middle East

mena fride

Western policies that sought to strengthen democratic values abroad during the 1990s and early 2000s were based on the implicit assumption of a lasting Western hegemony that would allow the projection of norms abroad, according to a new analysis. Unlike in Eastern Europe, however, in the Middle East democratization often seemed to clash with, rather than serve, Western geopolitical interests, notes Kristina Kausch, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at FRIDE, the Madrid-based think tank.

Today, competition for power and influence in the Arab world increasingly supersedes calls for democratization. Those states that vow to support democratic development face a number of seemingly irreconcilable dilemmas as they attempt to further their geopolitical interests at the same time, she writes in her introduction to the new FRIDE book ‘Geopolitics and Democracy in the Middle East’.

Crisis management vs democratization

“Research assessing the impact of external actors on a country’s internal dynamics of democratization has typically focused on policies explicitly designed to support democracy. However, it has neglected the effect of the full portfolio of external players’ actions on democratization,” Kausch contends:

Perhaps the most obvious linkage between geopolitics and democracy is how Western democracy promotion aspirations have largely succumbed to the turmoil and insecurity that shapes the ongoing reshuffle of geopolitical order in the Middle East. Following vocal commitments to the transformation agenda in the aftermath of the 2011 uprisings, the United States (US), the European Union (EU), and individual European governments have re-focused on retaining their influence in MENA affairs and managing multiple security crises. US President Obama’s restoration of military assistance to Egypt in spite of democratic setbacks was emblematic of the West’s re-embrace of strategically important authoritarian allies.

In an environment perceived as ‘Arab-spring-turned-sour’, dominated by damage control, democratization is increasingly viewed as a second-order priority, and sometimes as an outright security threat.

The book draws geopolitical profiles of six key regional powers (Egypt, Iran, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) and seven influential external actors (China, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States). It assesses how their pursuit of geopolitical interests in the Middle East and North Africa affects the prospects for democracy and sustainable stability across the region.

Contributors include: Lina Khatib, Soli Özel, Mark N. Katz, Karim Sadjadpour, Richard Youngs, Benedetta Berti, Behnam Ben Taleblu, Behlul Özkan, Kerry Brown, Ana Echagüe, Barah Mikail and Edward Burke.

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