A happy Easter to all those celebrating this week!
In the latest for our new Putinology column, Anna Nemtsova reveals the unruly forces that are troubling the Kremlin's security services.
Juan Nagel bemoans the absurdity of Nicolás Maduro's presidential campaign in Venezuela.
Mohamed Eljarh assesses a weak point in Libya's media reform that is essential to the country's democratic transition.
Jonathan Morduch and Timothy Ogden advocate using microfinance to meet the real financial needs of the world's poor.
Min Zin argues that Burma's political elite have failed their country in preventing a recurring pattern of ethnic violence.
Greg Rushford argues that it's not just the world's advanced economies driving trade inequality.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
Reporting for The New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin shares the economic hardships forcing an Afghani father to give away his daughter, and the government that won't support him.
In a new paper for the New America Foundation, Philip Napoli and Jonathan Obar examine the global phenomenon where new internet users are gaining access by using cell phones instead of computers.
International Crisis Group assesses the growing discontent in Eritrea and the potential for a violent power struggle.
In a recent Issue Perspective for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Stephen Engelken argues that India and Pakistan need to expand their trade ties in order to maintain peace in South Asia.
Following Russia's latest crackdown on non-profits and activists, Russian journalist Masha Gessen writes for the International Herald Tribune, comparing the tactics to the Soviet Union.
ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/Getty Images)
M. Steven Fish and Katherine E. Michel explain why Tunisia is taking the right approach to establishing democractic institutions.
Anne Applebaum explores the motivations for people to support authoritarian regimes.
Dalibor Rohac argues that religion isn't necessarily the key to understanding the success of Islamist parties in the MENA region.
Endy Bayuni explains the tensions underlying recent violence among Indonesian migrants.
Peter Passell introduces the Legatum Institute's 2012 Prosperity Index.
Jackee Batanda reports on the corruption scandal that has soured Uganda's relations with foreign aid donors.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
David Rieff attacks the assumptions behind America's democracy promotion agenda.
The Arabist provides alternate sources of English versions of the new Egyptian draft consitution -- with a bit of arch commentary along the way.
Amrit Dhillon criticizes the Indian government's restrictions on morphine for the poor.
At The Monkey Cage, Joshua Tucker offers a handy overview of Ukraine's parliamentary elections and what they tell us about the Ukraine's continued drift toward authoritarianism.
Writing for The Irrawaddy, Burmese journalist Aung Zaw explains why the resurgence of ethnic conflict in northwestern Burma bodes ill for the next phase of reforms.
At Jadaliyya, Basma Guthrie and Fida Adely explain why the Jordanian government is tightening the screws on the domestic media.
Foreign Policy's own Marc Lynch writes on the burgeoning dissatisfaction in Kuwait.
Writing for OpenDemocracy.net, Paul Rogers argues that western intervention in Mali would be a gift to Al Qaeda.
Democracy Digest offers a useful situation report on the state of democratic institutions in Tunisia.
[The photo above shows Cubans lining up to receive government coal rations in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.]
Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images
An Egyptian expatriate friend asked me recently about the state of the Egyptian military back home.
It's a difficult question. The military has always been mysterious, and that's just as true in respect to its business interests as its military capabilities. The former, however, appears to be more jealously guarded than the latter.
Photo by STR/AFP/GettyImages
(A note to our subscribers: from now on the Democracy Lab Weekly Brief will begin arriving in your inbox on Monday mornings. You'll receive the next installment on November 5.)
William Lloyd-George profiles the Islamist warlord who is threatening to transform his corner of northern Africa into a safe haven for jihadis.
Writing from Tbilisi, Molly Corso analyzes the tensions surrounding the formation of a new government after this month's parliamentary elections.
Christian Caryl argues that America's non-voters deserve to be taken seriously by the rest of their compatriots.
Jamsheed Choksy and Eden Naby warn against sectarianism in the wake of the Arab Spring and consider measures to protect religious minorities.
Mohamad El Dahshan rediscovers a lost satire on dictatorship.
Endy Bayuni examines why Indonesia's Islamist parties have so far had little success at the ballot box.
Min Zin looks at how some of the players in Burma's political scene are bending the constitutional rule book to their own advantage.
And Juan Nagel assesses Venezuela's democratic credentials.
And here are this week's recommended reads:
In a new article for Foreign Affairs, Ruchir Sharma argues that we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the BRIC success story.
At The New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley wonder whether Islamist ascendance bodes ill or well for the legacy of the Arab Spring.
A story by the BBC describes the growing schism between secularists and Islamists in the Syrian opposition. In a new report, Human Rights Watch provides evidence of continued use of cluster bombs against civilians by the government of Bashar al-Assad.
Fahed Al-Sumait, writing for Jadaliyya, looks at the growing political crisis in Kuwait.
Writing for OpenDemocracy.net, William Callahan examines how debate over the relative virtues of authoritarianism and democracy figures in the growing rivalry between China and India.
And finally, a group of activists has released "An Outsider's Guide to Supporting Nonviolent Resistance to Dictatorship," a new handbook on the art of peaceful revolution.
[The photo above shows Egyptian worshipers gathering in a soccer stadium to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.)
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
My father recently bought a new copy of an old book. We couldn't buy it earlier because it was virtually impossible to get one when Hosni Mubarak was president. You'll understand why when you hear the title: Dictatorship for Beginners: Bahgatos, President of Greater Bahgatia. (You can see a copy here -- in Arabic, but you don't have to understand the text to enjoy it).
Writing from Libya, Christopher Stephen offers a forensic analysis of the Benghazi consulate attack.
Syrian dissident Ahed Al Hendi recalls what it was like growing up under the personality cult surrounding the Assads.
Christian Caryl examines little-noticed corners of the Arab world where the spirit of rebellion continues to smolder.
Jon Temin explains why Sudan's governance problems are too deep to be cured by concessions to breakaway regions.
Guest blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad casts a critical eye on Mideast potentates who are using blasphemy laws to silence critics.
Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez analyzes the factors influencing Venezuelans' decisions to emigrate after the Hugo Chávez victory in this month's presidential election.
Katrina Lantos Swett and Robert P. George make the case for keeping post-revolutionary constitutions in the Arab World free of blasphemy laws.
Jackee Batanda observes plans by the Ugandan security forces to crack down on the country's social media.
And Endy Bayuni writes about the political strategy behind Indonesia's creeping liberalization of laws on capital punishment.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
In a new paper from the Brookings Doha Center, Salman Shaikh proposes a path forward toward a solution to Syria's deepening crisis.
The Inter American Press Association warns of a rising threat to press freedom from authoritarian governments and violence across Latin America.
Democracy Digest analyzes a political assassination in Tunisia that could have a profound effect on the course of the revolution.
As talk grows of a possible military intervention in Mali, the Council on Foreign Relations offers a useful backgrounder on Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. (The photo above shows Tuareg fighters in northern Mali.)
An intriguing blog post from The Economist describes the crucial differences in local government around India.
Ivan Krastev reflects on the importance of trust in democracies in a recent TED talk.
Courtesy of The Atlantic.com, Russian dissident Sergei Udaltsov live-tweets his detention.
And finally, be sure to check out this thought-provoking obituary of Cambodia's King Sihanouk, who died this week at age 89.
On October 7, 2012, the office of the Egyptian General Prosecutor decided to start an official investigation accusing me of "blasphemy" -- or, as they call it, "insulting Islam." My crime was expressing my atheist beliefs on my Twitter account. The Egyptian authorities also arrested my friend Alber Saber on similar charges. He remains in jail to this day.
Reporting from Caracas, Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez explores scenarios after this Sunday’s presidential vote in Venezuela. The main question: Will Hugo Chávez give up power if he loses?
Christian Caryl tells the story of an elementary school teacher in Sudan who faces execution because she had the courage to stand up to the regime. And Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch presents a gallery of similarly courageous but little-known activists from around the world.
On the scene in Tbilisi, James Kirchick reports on the surprising aftermath of Georgia's parliamentary election -- especially President Mikheil Saakashvili's remarkable acceptance of his own defeat. And Kirchick's dispatch from election day provides a vivid account of the tensions and hopes leading up to the vote.
In an excerpt from his new book, economist Justin Yifu Lin compares the experiences of transition economies and offers a few useful rules of thumb for reformers.
Christopher Stephen, on the scene in Benghazi, describes a local backlash against the militants who killed a popular U.S. ambassador.
In the run-up to Venezuela's epochal election, Juan Nagel reports on the shifting balance of forces, while Francisco Toro takes a closer look at whether Hugo Chávez has improved the life of the country's poor.
Reflecting on Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to the United States, Min Zin takes her to task for neglecting to mention the country's continuing civil war.
Endy Bayuni reports on the Indonesian Anti-Corruption Commission's effort to take on one of the country's most graft-ridden institutions: the police.
Mohamed El Dahshan investigates the absurdities of Egypt's campaign against blasphemy.
And Jackee Batanda recounts the curious tale of a run-in between U.S. diplomats and a Ugandan general.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
A paper from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance provides an in-depth look at Venezuela's presidential election.
In a provocative op-ed, MIT scholar Brian Haggerty argues that those who argue for a "limited" intervention in Syria are likely to be proven wrong by conditions on the ground.
The International Crisis Group offers a handy backgrounder on Malaysia, where a long-anticipated general election may soon shake up the political landscape.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Sadanand Dhume explains why he expects little from the new anti-corruption party just launched in India.
The Jamestown Foundation's Igor Rotar worries that the explosive situation in Central Asia's restive Ferghana Valley is likely to aggravate instability throughout the region.
A new book from Democracy Lab contributor Francisco Martin-Rayo tells of his travels through the terrorist recruiting grounds of Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia.
And finally, Jadaliyya offers a withering review of The Daily Show appearance of Jordan's King Abdullah II, who, they say, is incorrectly portrayed as a reformist "constitutional monarch." You be the judge: You can find Part I of the interview here.
The Daily Show
"The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities," John Dalberg-Acton wrote in 1877. Egypt now seems to be reveling in its failure to pass that test. (Though I should add that a certain degree of caution is advisable here.)
In a remarkable interview with Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, Nazila Fathi asks Iran's leading human rights activist why she believes that an attack on Iran would strengthen the mullahs and undermine democratic aspirations.
Mark James Russell explores how South Korean popular culture has been giving the country's exports a brand name bump in the developing world.
Looking ahead to next week's parliamentary election in Georgia, political scientist Scott Radnitz argues that having two political machines contending for power is better than one. This week's case study from Princeton's Innovations for Successful Societies offers an in-depth look at one of President Saakashvili's signature reforms.
Christian Caryl makes the case that Aung San Suu Kyi should not be immune to criticism.
Roger Bate urges the FDA to take regulating internationally sourced pharmaceuticals more seriously.
Mohamed El Dahshan takes aim at the seemingly archaic Egyptian economic policy.
Endy Bayuni contrasts the various Indonesian views on blasphemy laws.
And here are this week's recommended reads:
The International Republican Institute offers a handy overview of the political scene and the major players in Georgia's October 1 election. At The Atlantic, Charles H. Fairbanks Jr. looks at the recent prison scandal there and what they say about the legacy of the 2003 Rose Revolution.
The Caracas newspaper, El Universal, analyzes the impending Venezuelan presidential election through the prism of both candidates' tweets. Reuters investigates the scandal over a fortune in government funds spent on a factory that never quite got built.
In its latest report, Freedom House takes a critical look at the state of censorship on the web.
October's issue of Journal of Democracy includes several noteworthy papers on the state of Burma's transition, including pieces by Hkun Htun Oo on minority rights, Min Ko Naing on civil society, and Brian Joseph and our very own Min Zin on the challenges of building democracy.
Anthony Kuhn of National Public Radio tells the story of Singapore's forgotten dissidents.
Democracy Digest offers a helpful introduction to a new report, Political Parties in Democratic Transitions, that analyzes the dynamics of democratic transitions.
As the wave of protests around the Muslim world ebbs, two authors offer their perspectives on the motives of religious anger: Kenan Malik compares the latest protests with the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and Steve Cole, writing in The New Yorker, shows why the TV imagery of fanatical rioters usually falls short of a complex reality.
Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
In the aftermath of what seems to be known now as just "the movie," a young man is in prison for being an "atheist," while another has been sentenced to six years for offending Islam and the president. More footage of protestors being beaten by the police, more pictures of clouds of tear gas hovering over Downtown Cairo.... Really, little has changed... Or perhaps there has been no change at all.
To clarify, everything that follows is my own. I am not speaking for anyone, I am not claiming I know what's going on with others, I am simply writing what's on my mind, no one else's.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images Europe
Christian Caryl reports on the Salafi movement, which has been implicated in many of this week's protests around the Middle East.
With her white hijab and the slight gap between her teeth, Fatma Nabil looks like my cousin. She probably looks like everybody's cousin.
Yet after presenting the afternoon news last week, Fatma became the most recognizable face on Egyptian television: She is, after all, Egypt's first veiled TV news anchor. Ever.
Syrian journalist Malik Al-Abdeh argues that the Syrian National Council's lack of leadership has been a disaster for the revolt against Assad.
Political analyst Jay Ulfelder explains why Kim Jong Un may be about to embark on reform in North Korea.
Blair Glencorse and Charles Landow report on five East African nations that are working towards an economic community modeled on the European Union (but without a common currency, thank you).
Patrick Bodenham meets some of Burma's child soldiers, and examines why the government has failed to follow through on its pledge to end the problem. Christian Caryl explains why the predicament of Burma's Rohingya is becoming a new global cause célèbre for Muslims.
In an overview of recent papers on transition economics, Peter Passell explores the dynamics behind issues ranging from girls' schools to clean cooking stoves.
Their budgets may be a tad tighter and their delegations smaller, but developing countries are no less excited about the Olympics than their northern counterparts. There are, in fact, a number of transition countries with Olympic stories that are making big waves in their home nations and around the world. (And the clumsy responses of the International Olympic Committee almost always help to make the waves even bigger.) Here's a brief roundup of the Nations in Transition Olympic News (let's call this our NiTON review):
1. The South Sudanese athlete with no flag
The rigid IOC rigid rulebook stipulates that a new country's application to join the organization must take two years. South Sudan, which has declared independence in July 2011, falls short of this criterion. The IOC, with its usual brilliance, suggested that the South Sudanese athletes compete under the Sudanese flag -- not the most sensitive suggestion for the various parties involved, considering that South Sudan recently celebrated the first anniversary of secession from its northern neighbor.
In a country where consulting a psychologist is taboo, Portia Walker explores the challenge of overcoming the civil war in Libya.
Endy Bayuni examines why few Indonesians are prepared to come to terms with the darkest chapter of the country's recent history.
Min Zin wonders whether the regime will succeed in its bid to co-opt the pro-democracy opposition through appeals to nationalism amid continuing sectarian strife.
What a waste of ink and pixels. On Monday, with much brouhaha, Egypt commemorated 60 years since the deposing of King Farouk by a military movement that called itself "The Free Officers." That movement went on to dominate the country both politically and economically for the following six decades. As the leading figures in the movement died off, they propped up new protégés (such as Hosni Mubarak) to take over from them.
Three Princeton researchers (Morgan Greene, Jonathan Friedman, and Richard Bennet) tell the story of how post-Yugoslavia Kosovo (with some help from the international community) managed to pull off a remarkable feat of state-building.
Endy Bayuni explains why Indonesians disagree about the start of Ramadan, and what it says about the country's climate of religious toleration.
In words and pictures, photojournalist Robert King tells the harrowing tale of his recent trip to the small Syrian town of Al Qusayr, where residents are fighting an uneven battle against the forces of the Assad regime.
Alina Rocha-Menocal delivers a withering indictment of Mexico's six years under Felipe Calderón.
Elliott Prasse-Freeman argues that civil society groups, not the government, offer the best hope for authentic reform in Burma.
Greg Rushford reports on the economic reforms that could turn the Philippines into Asia's next success story.
Christian Caryl celebrates Aung San Suu Kyi -- and wonders whether she can make the leap from the idealism of the past to the practical political deal-making that her country needs now.
Mohamed El Dahshan worries about Egypt's future as the country poises itself for a fresh round of political maneuvering.
And Francisco Toro explains why global oil prices are likely to be one of the most important factors in Venezuela's upcoming presidential election.
Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images
[Editor's note: Alert readers of the Brief recently brought a technical problem to our attention. It's now been fixed, but we wanted to take the occasion to let you know that we welcome your feedback.]
As the political turmoil in Egypt grows, Mara Revkin and Yussuf Auf analyze the reasons for the gridlock around efforts to draw up a new constitution.
Writing on the Egyptian economy, Peter Passell suggests a way to reform an increasingly unworkable system of subsidies.
Mohamed El Dahshan looks at an ominous military degree that has gone largely unnoticed amid the breaking news from Cairo, and also takes the measure of the government's latest effort to whip up anti-foreigner sentiment.
Hanna Hindstrom assails Burmese media reporting on the wave of ethnic violence in Burma, noting how many reporters are using their newfound freedom to indulge in xenophobia.
Min Zin explores how the conflict benefits the military junta and hinders the maneuverability of the democratic opposition.
Christian Caryl explains why hopes that Russia might soften its support for Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria are unlikely to be borne out.
[Editor's note: Democracy Lab was operating on a reduced schedule for organizational reasons this week, but we'll be back to the regular rhythm come Monday.]
And now, this week's offerings from our bloggers:
Mohamed El Dahshan writes about the less-than-inspiring choices facing voters after the first round of Egypt's presidential elections.
Min Zin marks the first anniversary of Burma's continuing civil war.
Francisco Toro reports on the latest twist in the continuing saga of Hugo Chávez's cancer.
And Jackee Batanda takes a look at the latest tech success stories from Uganda.
The first is denial. And that's what we're experiencing in Egypt right now -- for we've ended up with the worst possible outcome from the first round of our presidential elections. The winners are Ahmed Shafiq, a Mubarak loyalist whose spent most of his last post as prime minister during the 2011 revolution trying to smother the revolution and kill its children, and who now threatens violence and an "iron fist" at every opportunity; and Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who wasn't even his own party's first choice, and whose lack of charisma and imagination threaten to bore us to death over the next four years while curtailing our social and personal freedoms in accordance to the Muslim Brotherhood's conservative agenda.
Three days after the preliminary results were announced, the High Electoral Commission confirmed them with minor changes. The Commission claimed that it had used this interval to investigate fraud allegations and appeals, all of which it dismissed. Voters used the time to digest the news and find ways to deal with their disappointment.
Author Will Dobson, publisher of the new book The Dictator's Learning Curve, talks to Christian Caryl about why the despots aren't as dumb as you think.
Thomas Miller learns why Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy believes he can bring the Arab Spring to Southeast Asia.
Robert Looney explores Saudi Arabia's efforts to wean itself off of dependence on oil - perhaps giving hope to other commodity-driven economies.
Fadil Aliriza exposes the difficulties Tunisia's new government faces in rooting out corruption from the old regime.
Min Zin looks at Burma's first street protests in more than 20 years and examines their potential impact on the country's progress towards democracy.
Peter Passell argues that well-meaning efforts to reduce climate change won't work unless developing countries can be persuaded that it's good for the bottom line.
Francisco Toro shows why much-vaunted adult literacy programs in Venezuela haven't actually produced much bang for the buck.
Endy Bayuni analyzes the maneuverings in Indonesia's political elite -- including rumors that President Yudhoyono's wife could emerge as his most likely successor.
Mohamed El Dahshan makes the case for Tunisia as a soft-power leader in the Middle East.
And Christian Caryl explains why regulating the international arm trade can make life easier for fragile societies.
This week's recommended reads:
The big story of the week, of course, is the first round of the presidential election in Egypt. FP's own David Kenner offers a handy guide to the early results.
For those wishing to go into greater depth, the Atlantic Council's Egypt Source website presents a number of excellent background pieces on the election. Economist Hoda Youseff wonders whether Egyptians are really prepared for the changes that a new president will bring. Mustafa El-Labbad examines likely shifts in foreign policy following the election. And frequent Democracy Lab contributor Magdy Samaan offers a skeptical take on the prospects for political stability once the voting is over.
Elsewhere, Jadaliyya.com examines electoral trends in Egypt, while Ahram Online presents an intriguing interview with long-time dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim.
Meanwhile, the National Democratic Institute has published a detailed study of public attitudes in Libya in the run-up to that country's next round of elections in June. The bottom line: People don't believe the National Transitional Council is doing its job. And the Legatum Institute's Anne Applebaum, writing for Slate, offers a vivid dispatch from Libya that vividly captures the tension between chaos and hope.
The Jamestown Foundation offers a finely grained analysis of the Islamist insurgency in Yemen that has taken over several provinces in the south of the country. At The New York Review of Books blog, Hugh Eakin scrutinizes the role of Saudi Arabia as Washington escalates its involvement in Yemen.
At OpenDemocracy.net, the French journalist and Middle East expert Francis Ghilès reflects on the past few decades of Tunisia's history through the prism of his own biography.
A remarkable piece at ProPublica tells the extraordinary story of a man whose personal fate embodies the problems of transitional justice in Guatemala.
A new European Union survey documents the continuing discrimination faced by Europe's ethnic Roma.
Eurasianet.org explains how citizens in Central Asia cope with harsh governments and dysfunctional infrastructure. Writing for OUPblog (Oxford University Press), Alexander Cooley contends that the war in Afghanistan has actually reinforced authoritarianism and corruption in the rest of Central Asia.
And as Azerbaijan hosts the 2012 Eurovision song contest in Baku, Human Rights House tracks the fate of pro-democracy activists. (The photo above shows members of the group "Sing for Democracy.")
Tunisia is not the largest or most populous Arab country. It is not at the heart of the Levant and its conflicts, and it does not host U.S. military bases (as do many of the Gulf countries). As far as Arab countries are concerned, Tunisia has always been the quiet cousin, keeping to itself in the corner of the room.
But this is changing rapidly. Now Tunisia is poised to claim a more prominent role for itself.
Tunisia's status as the "cradle of the Arab Spring" is not the primary factor in this shift. (You may remember that Egypt's revolution received far more coverage than Tunisia's.) Rather, it is the successful management of the post-revolutionary phase that is steadily pushing Tunisia onto center stage, both globally and regionally.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Can Burma make headway towards democracy when it's still saddled with an authoritarian constitution? Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo argue that countries in comparable situations have managed to overcome similar obstacles in the past.
Skeptics say that Brazil's economy is losing its mojo. But Albert Fishlow begs to differ, explaining why investors shouldn't give up so soon.
Christian Caryl tells the peculiar story of a West Texas town that has become a player in the global human rights industry.
In the run-up to Egypt's long-awaited presidential election, Magdy Samaan takes to the streets to find out what his compatriots are thinking about the political situation.
Jaime Suchlicki outlines the challenges that will face post-Castro Cuba and provides some handy tips on how to cope with them.
In his column, Christian Caryl concludes that the Russian protest movement presents little threat to Vladimir Putin's continued rule -- at least not yet.
Peter Passell offers a user-friendly overview of some of the latest research on economic transitions.
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.