The people of Libya were invariably forced to express their support for Muammar Qaddafi for over 40 years in order to ensure their personal safety. The intolerant and authoritarian nature of Qaddafi's regime constrained Libyan's political, civil, and religious rights by curtailing their freedom of expression and thought, freedom of association, and free access to information.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
Over the weekend, Libya's interim legislature, the General National Congress (GNC), voted overwhelming in favor of a controversial political isolation law that will ban Qaddafi-era officials from holding public office. As many as 164 voted in favor of the law, while four members voted against it and 19 members did not show up for the voting session. The circumstances under which the vote passed were far from ideal for deciding important legislation: The capital of Tripoli was effectively being taken over by armed supporters of the law. Militias besieged numerous government ministry buildings for more than a week, and several ministries continue to be blockaded even after the passing of the law. Many lawmakers are demanding Prime Minister Ali Zeidan's resignation.
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
This morning, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the city of Zawiya, about 40 km west of the capital, to denounce the takeover of government ministries by armed groups in Tripoli. The demonstration moved on to both Algeria and Martyrs Square, with numbers growing by the hour. The protesters, who have remained there, are calling for the disbanding of all armed militias in Tripoli and the end of the siege.
In what might be a first for history, a group of Egyptian conscientious objectors protested in Cairo last Tuesday for the freedom of a Jewish Israeli citizen. Representing the "No to Compulsory Military Service" movement, while simultaneously promoting the right of Israel to exist, the peace activists came out to Talaat Harb Square, just meters from Tahrir Square, to support the rights of their fellow objector, Natan Blanc.
Maikel Nabil Sanad
MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images
Tensions between Burma's Buddhists and Muslims have flared up again, this time in Meiktila, a town in central Burma. A brawl between a customer and a seller in a local market on March 20 triggered a fight that broadened into a full-fledged sectarian riot. State-run media reported that 32 people died in the violence. The government announced a curfew for Meiktila and two nearby towns. For the moment, the situation in Meiktila appears to be under control. It should come as no surprise that most of the lives and property destroyed so far belong to Muslim residents of the community. Independent observers said that the damages -- including the death toll -- are likely higher than the government's report.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images
You'd think that Libyans wouldn't have much in the way of objections to Coptic Christians. There aren't really enough of them in the country to cause any problems: Only about 1 percent of the population consists of Copts, and more or less all of them are immigrants. Unfortunately, their low profile hasn't protected them from the forces of intolerance.
What has changed in Tunisia since opposition leader Chokri Belaid was assassinated? I've asked many Tunisian friends that question. Most remained silent for a few seconds, smiled sadly, and whispered, "not much." One, a well-known activist, noted bitterly that what was clear was that Belaid didn't die "for that incompetent man (Laarayadh) to become prime minister".
Photo by FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
On Thursday, a Bangladeshi tribunal found Delwar Hossain Sayeedi guilty of crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. The tribunal condemned him to death -- in stark divergence from their ruling in the case of his political colleague, Abdul Quader Mollah, who received a life sentence from the same court. In response to the Sayeedi verdict, Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamist party in which both Sayeedi and Mollah hold prominent positions, stepped up its protests against the tribunals. The result was a spate of violence that has now left more than fifty people dead.
Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images
In last week's post, I mentioned how Libyans were planning to use the second anniversary of their revolution to exercise their democratic right to peacefully protest and hold their elected government accountable. For the record: There was no second revolution, no apocalyptic violence, and no jihadi takeover.
Photo by MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
When I left Burma sixteen years ago, the last place where I stayed was the Rangoon home of my friend Thet Win Aung. We got up at three in the morning and said goodbye to his parents as monsoon rain poured down outside. Then we got in a car and headed for the Thai-Burmese border. Little did I know how much was to happen before I would be able to return to my homeland.
Mac Margolis explains why Brazilian political consultants are all the rage in Latin America and beyond.
Min Zin anticipates President Obama's planned trip to Burma and what it might mean for the development of the country's democracy.
Pedro Pizano and Jamie Leigh Hancock offer a rare glimpse inside one of Africa's harshest dictatorships.
Based on an interview with Transparency International co-founder Laurence Cockcroft, Christian Caryl contends that corruption is set to become one of the defining political issues of the twenty-first century.
Liana Aghajanian reports on Armenians' revolt against the political and economic power of business tycoons.
Azzurra Meringolo interviews the leading Bahraini human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja.
Juan Nagel looks ahead to the approaching state elections in Venezuela and wonders whether the opposition will have a chance.
And Endy Bayuni tells the sad story of a scandal over judges with poor judgement.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart, writing for the Legatum Institute, present an outline for a post-war transition in Syria.
Democracy Digest examines Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's vow to stay no matter what, and analyzes the impact of his statement on the continuing civil war.
Writing for the Center for International Policy Studies, Alexandra Gheciu examines the possibility of military intervention in Mali.
At Jadaliyya, Fawwaz Traboulsi maps out the political opportunities that the Arab Spring has provided to the forces of the left -- and suggests how they might be exploited.
Shannon K. O'Neil at the Council on Foreign Relations analyzes how U.S. state votes on the decriminalization of marijuana will affect drug policies in Latin America.
Radio Free Asia provides a profile of the "multimedia monk" who has been campaigning for human rights in Cambodia.
The Economist presents a video report on the ethnic violence in western Burma.
Golnaz Esfandiari, author of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty's Persian Letters blogs, provides a unique look into the mindset of one of Iran's basij paramilitaries.
At Al-Akhbar English, Sarah El Sirgany offers an intriguing comparison of the U.S. and Eygptian presidential elections.
Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/GettyImages
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
Venezuela has just gone through a long and exhausting presidential campaign. There were massive rallies, ads of all kinds, interesting last-minute developments, and turnout on election day was heavy. The incumbent president won comfortably, and the challenger gracefully accepted defeat. The winner even called the loser on the phone.
MAX DELANY/AFP/Getty Images
My former colleagues in Burma are preparing a special commemorative ceremony to be held next week to honor a fallen hero, Thet Win Aung. They've asked me to write an essay about him, as they plan to publish a book about him on the sixth anniversary of his death. For several days I've been unable to complete the task.
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
After we shook hands and exchanged greetings, World Chess Champion and diehard Putin foe Garry Kasparov proved to be a vigorous walker, striding so rapidly with his two bodyguards that I had to break into a semi-trot or risk losing him in the crowd gathering on Pushkin Square. Within five minutes we reached the march's designated starting point on Strastnoy Boulevard, just a bit after the scheduled launch time of 2pm. Around Kasparov assembled his supporters, members of a group known as the United Civil Front, waving long droopy white flags; to our right was former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov; to our left anti-corruption firebrand Aleksey Navalny and his seemingly seven-foot-tall hoary-haired bodyguard; further to the left (both physically and politically), and amid a phalanx of youths bearing red flags, was Sergey Udaltsov, the indefatigable leader of the Left Front, in black shades and his characteristic black jacket. Tellingly, for the first time, he had not pinned the protest movement's symbol of peace -- a white ribbon -- to his lapel.
Photo By KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy leader and Nobel laureate, is coming to Washington, D.C. On September 19 she is set to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. This is the highest civilian honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress, and it will be presented to Suu Kyi "for her leadership and steadfast commitment to human rights and for promoting freedom, peace and democracy in her home country of Burma," said House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/GettyImages
Christian Caryl reports on the Salafi movement, which has been implicated in many of this week's protests around the Middle East.
From my observation of democracies around the world, I'm worried that the risk of a slide into authoritarian rule in South Africa over the next several years is rising and substantial.
This pessimistic view emerges from an unconventional understanding of what makes democracies survive or fail. For the past couple of decades, American scholarship on this subject has emphasized popular legitimacy and the habituation of elites to democratic norms and procedures as the means by which democracy solidifies. In this view of the world, the passage of time without failure is considered a useful indicator of consolidation, because time roughly measures the amount of habituation that's taken place. If that's right, then the 18-year run of South Africa's post-apartheid democracy bodes well for its ability to survive shocks that would break younger regimes.
In 2009, Moe Thee Zun, a famous student leader during Burma's 1988 pro-democracy movement and a former chairman of the All Burma Students' Democratic Front, flung his shoe at a car carrying then-prime minister Thein Sein while he was attending the UN General Assembly in New York. He argued that Thein Sein and the repressive military junta ruling Burma do not represent the people of Burma -- whom they brutally killed during the peaceful protests of the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
Now Moe Thee Zun is back in Burma after 24 years in exile. The student leader, who was condemned to death in absentia by the old military regime, can now legally return to his homeland -- now that-President Thein Sein's pseudo-civilian government has removed his name, along with 2,081 others, from a blacklist denying him entry into the country. After his arrival on Saturday he held a press conference at which he declared that he had returned to help the president's reform process and make peace in the war-torn areas of the country.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/GettyImages
For decades, members of Indonesia's Shiite Muslim minority have led a somewhat secluded but peaceful life. Everyone knew of their existence in Indonesia, but no one was going around asking about their faith and practices -- and they didn't go around flaunting their religious identity either.
Most Muslims in Indonesia were not aware of their Sunni identity. They could not even tell the difference between Shiite and Sunni, or understand the historic deep-seated enmity that has split Muslims in other parts of the world. The majority of Muslims in Indonesia may follow the Sunni teachings, but many of their daily practices resemble the Shiite traditions, such as the way they pay homage for dead relatives. This suggests that Shiite influence is far larger than the number of people who profess to follow the denomination. It has had a presence in Indonesia long before many educated Muslims were drawn to Shiism after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978.
Silent Voices, a new play at the National Theatre in Kampala, questions the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation in Northern Uganda. The rhetoric in the last couple of years about Northern Uganda has focused on the forgiving nature of the people -- and thus on how reconciliation will successfully remove the stench of the long and terrible war against the Lord's Resistance Army.
Written by Judith Adong, Silent Voices deftly captures the experiences of the people affected by the conflict. Adong was inspired by the research she carried out in 2006, looking at the use of drama therapy for former child soldiers, at the World Vision Children of War Rehabilitation Centre and at the Gulu Support the Children Organization.
But the concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation were only negotiated at the political level; the Amnesty Act forgave perpetrators who surrendered, and in cases protected them from future litigation. Adong's meetings with community members led her to realize that, "there was a feeling of betrayal, bitterness, a need for revenge and a feeling of having been neglected, while crime perpetrators were instead being rewarded and victims being ‘forced' to forgive."
Burmese government ministers and their proxies are building up their frequent flyer miles. They've been making trips to their Southeast Asian neighbors as well as Western countries ranging from Norway to the U.S., the newest enthusiasts of Burma's reform. The cynics might characterize these trips as part of a charm offensive, but in fact they're much more substantive than a PR ploy. These are not the usual attempts to solicit aid from the West; they are, in fact, part of a campaign "to bring the exiles back home."
Major Zaw Htay, the director of the Presidential Office, recently made a visit to the U.S., where he met with a cozy reception from the State Department and some Burmese groups. Hla Maung Shwe, a leading businessman-cum-advisor to the regime, is due in August. In fact, Burma's general-turned-civilian president, Thein Sein, has apparently assigned his trusted aides to lead these delegations to court the West and the community of political exiles.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/GettyImages
In a new report launched today, the liberal group Political Research Associates (PRA) documents the role of U.S. right-wing evangelicals and religious institutions in fostering homophobia in several countries in Africa. With data from seven countries (Uganda, Liberia, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Nigeria), the report exposes the impact of U.S. conservatives on policies toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people as well as reproductive rights. This latest report builds on PRA's earlier research on the issue.
The report argues that the culture wars between pro-life and pro-choice groups within the U.S. have been exported to Africa. Homophobia has connected different Christian denominations which are usually suspicious of one another, such as Evangelicals uniting with Catholics and Mormons who promote a "pro-family" agenda.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
Aung San Suu Kyi has given the Burmese authorities the cold shoulder after being warned not to refer to the country as "Burma."
"I call my country ‘Burma' as we did a long time ago. I'm not insulting other people. Because I believe in democracy, I'm sure that I can call it as I like," the Nobel laureate explained at a July 3 press conference in Rangoon about her recent 17-day tour of Europe.
Burma's election commission, which supervises laws dealing with political parties, issued the complaint in the state-run media last Friday, warning her to "respect the constitution." Authorities said she should use the constitutionally-decreed name for the country: The Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/GettyImages
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.