Opposition groups contacted by Reuters suggested they would attend the talks but cited differences with the government over the goal of the dialogue that could undermine its effectiveness.
The news highlights the continuing pressure for reform on the conservative Gulf monarchies, which – Bahrain aside – have largely escaped the political turmoil of the Arab Awakening. But that evasion may be short-lived, analysts suggest.
Apart from their geography and shared culture, what these countries have in common is aging authoritarian leadership coupled with a young, Internet-savvy populace: an obvious recipe for tension,” notes Jillian C. York, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Director for International Freedom of Expression, who specializes in free speech issues in the Arab world.
She cites a recent article in The Economist which…..
…..describes a scenario in which—following the destruction of a mall’s kiddie dinosaur display by the country’s morality police—Saudi Arabia’s Twitter users quick make a hashtag go viral, building off one another’s jokes and mocking some of the country’s most archaic laws. As the article notes, many of the jokes mocked the morality police themselves, such as one in which a Twitter user quipped: “They worried that people would find the dinosaurs more highly evolved than themselves.”
In Oman, eight individuals were sentenced for lèse majesté and “cybercrimes,” with sentences up to one and a half years in prison.
Gulf activists have grown more vocal and are stepping up campaigns for reform, despite regime crackdowns:
Qatar, which supported Arab Spring revolts, drew calls of hypocrisy in November when it jailed a poet who had praised the revolt against overthrown Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
The poet, Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, was imprisoned for life on charges of inciting the overthrow of the Qatari government by writing, “We are all Tunisia, in the face of the repressive elite”, and insulting the country’s absolute monarch by referring to “sheikhs playing on their Playstations”.
“There have been indications of greater solidarity work by activists on cases in Gulf countries other than their own,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and Africa. “The repression against activists has largely not silenced them.”
The National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies and the Project on Middle East Democracy
cordially invite you to a half-day conference entitled
The Arab Spring after Two Years: Prospects for Democracy in the Gulf States
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
1025 F. Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004
RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Monday, February 11.
8:30 a.m.–9:00 a.m. Introductory Remarks
Chair: Carl Gershman, National Endowment for Democracy
Speakers: Congressman James McGovern, U.S. House of Representatives
9:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m. The Future of Reform in the Gulf
Chair: Tamara Cofman Wittes, Brookings Institution
Speakers: Jean-Francois Seznec, Georgetown University
Jafar Alshayeb, Qatif Municipal Council, Saudi Arabia
Gulf Civil Society Association Forum-Kuwait (TBD)
10:30 a.m.–10:45 a.m. Coffee Break
10:45 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Crisis in Bahrain: Is a Negotiated Solution Possible?
Chair: Stephen McInerney, Project on Middle East Democracy
Speakers: Tom Malinowski, Human Rights Watch
Khalil Al-Marzooq, Alwifaq Party (Bahrain)
Jalila Al-Salman, Teachers’ Union in Bahrain
Khalil Al-Marzooq is the assistant secretary general assistant for international and political affairs of the Al-Wefaq Political Society in Bahrain. He served as the first deputy speaker of the Bahraini parliament before he resigned with his colleagues in February 2011 to protest the government’s actions against peaceful protests. Mr. Al-Marzooq has spent his career defending human rights and promoting the rule of law.
Jalila Al-Salman is a Bahraini teacher and the vice president of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA). She was arrested in March and April 2011 in connection with the BTA’s calls for strikes amid the protests at that time demanding reforms in Bahrain’s educational system and protesting the killing and suppression of protesters, of which students made a high percentage. She was imprisoned for 149 days, allegedly tortured, and sentenced to 3 years in prison by a military court. She was released 5 months later after she was forced to sign false confessions.
Jafar Alshayeb is a writer, human rights advocate, and member of the Qatif Municipal Council in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. He is a regular commentator and analyst of local politics and reform issues in many press and media channels and is a columnist for Alsharq newspaper.
Carl Gershman is the president of the National Endowment for Democracy. In addition to presiding over the NED’s grants program in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Latin America, he has overseen the creation of the quarterly Journal of Democracy, International Forum for Democratic Studies, and the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program. He also took the lead in launching in New Delhi in 1999 the World Movement for Democracy, which is a global network of democracy practitioners and scholars.
Tom Malinowski is the Washington director for Human Rights Watch, where he is responsible for the organization’s overall advocacy efforts with the U.S. government. Before joining Human Rights Watch, Mr. Malinowski was special assistant to President Bill Clinton and senior director for foreign policy speechwriting at the National Security Council.
Congressman James McGovern is a Democrat who has represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1996. Congressman McGovern has been widely recognized as a tenacious advocate for his district, a tireless crusader for change, and an unrivaled supporter for social justice and fundamental human rights. Mr. McGovern serves as the second ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee and is co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Stephen McInerney is the executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), where he previously served as its director of advocacy. His writing on Middle Eastern politics and U.S. foreign policy has been published by the Arab Reform Bulletin, The Daily Star, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, andThe Washington Post. He has spoken on Middle East affairs with numerous media outlets including BBC, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, and CBS News.
Jean-Francois Seznec is visiting associate professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is also a scholar at the Middle East Institute. His academic focus is on the growth of the energy-based industries in the Gulf.
Tamara Cofman Wittes is a senior fellow and the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Ms. Wittes served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from November of 2009 to January 2012, coordinating U.S. policy on democracy and human rights in the Middle East for the State Department. She also oversaw the Middle East Partnership Initiative and served as deputy special coordinator for Middle East transitions. She was central to organizing the U.S. government’s response to the Arab awakening.