Egypt’s Lack of Democratic Values

02egypt-articleLargeOn Thursday, three journalists working for Al Jazeera’s English-language network were ordered a retrial ain Egypt after a sham proceeding in which they were given between 7-10 years in prison for “…conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false reports.” The reason for this is two-fold:

1) Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, like all new strongmen, wants to possess as much control over the press as he can. He is afraid that a currently tumultuous political climate may sweep him out of power just as quickly as it brought him in. This is why the three were arrested in the first place.

2) Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar, a state that has long shown favor towards the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. But the Brotherhood was also former President Mohamed Morsi’s movement, who was brought in after democratic elections that resulted from the Arab Spring. Now since the ouster of Morsi, and the installation of el-SiSi, Al-Jazeera has been leading a critical viewpoint against el-SiSi for the last 18 months. But under pressure from Egypt, the Saudis, and the UAE, Qatar has put an end to its anti-el-SiSi campaign. Therefore these latest events may lead to the release of the three A-Jazeera reporters as a quid pro quo for the less critical look at el-SiSi.

So all in all, these three men were fulfilling their obligations to the essential ingredient of a functioning democracy, namely, the freedom of the press. We cannot make informed decisions without the information pertaining to the matter at hand.

The Mid-East region demanded more rights in the streets and squares just a few years ago and yet these events come right out of the old ways.

Also, for more on this cause, checkout the website for the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) where you can find a good graphic entitled “2014 prison census: 220 journalists jailed worldwide.” It is a worldwide map of states currently imprisoning journalists with the offending countries highlighted and the number of prisoners being held. The page also includes some good charts and even a listing, nation by nation, of each journalist known two be serving time their.





Egypt 2013 or France 1848 from Marx

11EGYPT-articleInlineI wrote a post a while back about the need for the experts and press to not to sound a death knell regarding the democratic revolution in Egypt just because of the difficulties having occurred their. But the “difficulties” are getting quite serious, I now observe.

So related here is a great article in the NYT by Sheri Berman, a political science professor at Barnard College, who applies Marx’s analysis of the 1848 French uprising to the current uprising in Egypt, and hopefully Egypt will not hold such a bloody experiment in politics as the Europeans did in the 19th century.

Read Here.

Romanticizing the American Revolution to Criticize the Arab Spring? Not so Fast

Live TV gives political pundits all kinds of opportunities to make silly observations about the world.  On Real Time with Bill Maher this past Friday night, conservative writer Charles C. W. Cooke made one of the strangest and silliest I’ve witnessed in quite a while.  When discussing the ongoing battles over new governments in the Arab Spring countries, Cooke made the following point:

You have this revolution in America in which the British fight the British and then they codify classical liberal values into a constitution and it’s great. But that’s not how it goes down normally. Normally there is bloodshed and its horrible and especially in the Middle East what they want to replace their dictatorships with if you look at the polling it’s Sharia law…What the Americans did was a massive step forward. It wasn’t perfect. It was resolved in a Civil War that was bloody and awful. But if we are going to write off the greatest revolution, the greatest constitution in the world because it was imperfect and it was flawed then we should all go home.

The implication being made here is that the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution was mostly “great” until the Civil War and then it was really “great”.  Gutsy claim, particularly when he was sitting right next to an African-American with lady parts who then proceeded to give him a bit of a verbal smacking around for his statement.

The reality about the American Revolution is that we would be appalled by the rights given to people in the immediate aftermath if a new country began that way today.  And let’s not forget that the first government structure the U.S. formed, the Articles of Confederation, failed and was replaced by the Constitution less than a decade after ratification.

That being said, let’s take a look at some of the “great” conditions in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War:

  • If you were a slave, even if one of the Founding Fathers owned you and did naughty stuff with you, you were still a slave.
  • If you were a woman, you would be allowed to get a college degree…just a little over five decades later.  (This to go along with some other equal rights violations noted here.)
  • If you were a homosexual in most of the country, you would not be given equal marriage rights…wait, we still haven’t fixed that one?  Seriously?
  • How about some voting facts.  If you were a white, land-owning, 21+ year old man, you got to vote.  If you did not fit that description, no ballot for you.
  • If you were a woman, you would be granted the right to vote…132 years after the Constitution was ratified.
  • If you were Native American, you would be granted the right to vote…159 years after the Constitution was ratified.
  • Asians-Americans followed five years after Native Americans.
  • We are all aware of the Civil Rights movement needed to grant African-Americans the right to vote without being oppressed in the mid 20th century.
  • 18 year olds would have to wait nearly two centuries to be granted voting rights despite being “allowed” to die for their country.

The list could go on and on.

The point being the American Revolution has worked out pretty well but it has taken quite a while for this to happen and the conditions in the country were downright disgusting, in some cases, for many, many decades.  To expect the countries that were a part of the Arab Spring to magically be anything resembling “ideal democracies” after such a short period of time is lunacy and shows no understanding of history.

With the ease in which information travels now, it should be expected the Arab Spring countries will improve their democracies much quicker than the United States.  But we must recognize it will take quite some time, just as it did (and continues) with America.

Difference in Egypt and Tunisia Transitions Affected by Education More Than Religion?

A recent op-ed in Foreign Policy discusses the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt becoming more ‘Islamist’ as time goes on as they seemingly increase their power in government but notes a slight difference between Egypt’s transition and Tunisia’s:

In Tunisia, the Islamist Ennahda movement quickly found that, despite a landslide election victory in 2011, secular parties and a vibrant civil society would resist any attempts at “Islamization,” particularly when it came to writing the country’s new constitution...Ennahda decided to withdraw several proposed clauses, including one that would enshrine sharia as a “source among sources” of legislation…Tunisia…is generally seen as the closest thing the Arab Spring had to a success story. One reason is that Tunisia — unlike Egypt — has been able to take its time. The drafting of Tunisia’s new constitution has been a slow…process.  But slowness is the price of consensus. Once the process is completed, Tunisians will be able to point to a constitutional document that enjoys broad support across the political and ideological spectrum.(Emphasis added)

New democracies but what government awaits?

The author warns that some believe Tunisia will still be debating how much “Islamization” is allowed for some time to come but there seems to be a more tolerant tone in the country than in Egypt.  What might explain this more moderate process when debating the infusion of religious values in their new governments?  The answer could be education.

If we look at some of the rankings where education is a key factor, we see Tunisia ranks higher (albeit somewhat slightly) than Egypt in education index, human development index, and school leaving age.  Comparing the two at Nation Master also shows Tunisia better in nearly every education category given.

The debate over level of education versus level of religiosity goes back and forth at times but the more important factor possibly playing a role here is religious tolerance.  As noted in this polling data from Gallup a decade ago:

education level correlates positively with the likelihood to be tolerant of other faiths, even if they don’t actively seek to understand them.

But the most interesting and, maybe, the most relevant info to this case is in this article of polling data from Gallup.  It finds:

even though they do not belong in as great a number or attend as frequently as their more highly educated counterparts, those on the lower end of the educational scale have much more faith in religious institutions, perhaps reflecting a broader tendency to rely on institutions in other areas of their lives — unions, HMOs, government agencies, etc. Those in this group have far less faith in the individuals at the head of their religious institutions — the clergy — than in the institutions themselves.

This reality coupled with the tolerance data suggests more education leads to a more active push from people of their direct leaders for what they want instead of a more passive faith in them.  In other words, the people in the institutions are forced to be more responsive to their better educated constituents because they tend to be more active and vocal.  And this verbalizing may tend to more tolerance of other religions and skepticism of religious implementation in government, as seen in Tunisia, while lower education levels may tend to more passivity and more allowance of religious fervor in government, as seen in Egypt.

There is still a long way to go before things have settled in both of these countries and their governments could take paths to either more “Islamization” or more secularization in the years to come.  Only time will tell.  But there certainly seems to be, at the very least, a more gradual and more moderate movement toward creating a new government in Tunisia while Egypt continues its apparently more conservative path with increasing inner turmoil still disrupting the country on a regular basis.

Friedman on Palestinian Strategy for Peace

Thomas Friedman has some interesting ideas here about Palestinian strategy in order to reopen the peace process. The point that I agree with in this piece is that the only way Palestine affects any movement by Israel is by peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience. The U.N. would really get involved in the process if this were to be their new means of protest rather than by violent means.

Read Here.