This past week, representatives from some 20 countries in the Arabic-speaking world and beyond got together, once again, to talk about Internet freedom in the region. The meeting was particularly interesting, convening as it did in a country where the government clearly doesn't know what to make of this whole "freedom" thing.
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In one of his pithier moments, Alexander Hamilton, l'enfant terrible of the American Founding Fathers, reflected on the potential shelf-life of the recently ratified U.S. Constitution: "So long as we are a young and virtuous people, this instrument will bind us together in mutual interests, mutual welfare, and mutual happiness. But when we become old and corrupt, it will bind us no longer."
Hundreds of thousands of readers saw this image in their newspaper: A woman in a niqab with a bruised and bloodied left eye that you might miss at first glance -- but which you can't un-see once you've noticed it. It is a visually compelling advertisement, definitely a strong beginning for a campaign by the King Khaled Foundation to "end abuse in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." The ad featured an anti-violence slogan, followed by a list of numbers to report cases of domestic abuses. In an ultra-conservative environment that has routinely avoided dealing with such issues, the campaign is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Judge Muhammad Daming Sunusi didn't see anything wrong when he said that rape victims and their perpetrators must have enjoyed their sexual intercourse. But then neither did the members of the Indonesian parliamentary commission who were conducting a confirmation hearing for his appointment to the Supreme Court. The judge made the remarks as he rejected proposals to introduce capital punishment for rapists.
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Jakub Wisniewski gives the background to Poland's remarkable economic success story.
In our latest case study published in conjunction with Princeton's Innovations for Successful Societies, Laura Bacon and Rushda Majeed tell the story of a remarkable Sicilian mayor who decided to take back his city from the Mafia.
In this week's column, Christian Caryl explains the lingering scandal behind the story of Alexander Lukashenko, Europe's last dictator. Caryl also reports on the reasons why the U.S. government has decided to withhold its assent to the new UN telecommunications treaty that the Americans accuse of infringing on the freedom of the Internet.
Mohamed El Dahshan reports on the internal Muslim Brotherhood politics that are fueling the current unrest in Egypt.
Adam Baron analyzes the problems that plague Yemen on the way to a planned national political dialogue.
Corey Brettschneider argues that the U.S. government should actively condemn hate speech as well as protecting the freedom of the word.
Endy Bayuni explores the reasons behind the current surge in union activism in Indonesia -- including the surprising willingness of local governments to support wage hikes.
Juan Nagel mulls over the continuing speculation about a successor to cancer-plagued Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
The Project on Middle East Political Science offers a video conversation on the new Egyptian constitution with expert Nathan Brown.
At Jadailyya.com, Linda Herrera, Magdy Alabady, and Adel Iskandar analyze the political role of Mohamed El-Baradei in Egypt's current political unrest.
Writing for the Jamestown Foundation, Wladimir van Wilgenburg explains why fighting between Kurdish groups and Arab rebels helps Bashar al-Assad.
The website of the pro-democracy group Girifna offers an update on the latest protests in Sudan.
Democracy Digest offers two useful takes on the situation in Venezuela amid renewed reports that President Hugo Chavez is again struggling with cancer. One post speculates on the fate of chavismo without Chavez. The second brings together commentary on the state of the opposition as speculation about the possibility of a post-Chavez Venezuela revs up again.
Anne Applebaum, writing in The Washington Post, posits that corruption is becoming the new galvanizing issue for activists around the world.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty offers a breakdown on a Swedish documentary that tracks corruption linked with Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the dictator of Uzbekistan.
The Monkey Cage features a post in which an array of political scientists weigh in on the function of legislatures in authoritarian regimes:
A new report from the International Crisis Group explains why Muslim insurgents are gaining ground on the government of Thailand in the country's turbulent South.
A new U.N. report details illegal drug trends in Asia and the Pacific.
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Last week I wrote about the efforts by some countries -- Russia and China in particular -- to push for an international regulatory regime for the Internet. The issue has come to a head because of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), which started on December 3 and is set to end tomorrow (Friday). The conference was supposed to draw up a new international treaty on telecommunications, but the United States, the countries of the European Union, and others who favor an open internet free from state control opposed inlcuding any mention of the Internet, which, they feared, would essentially give a pass to repressive governments that would use the regulations as an excuse to block objectionable content. On Wednesday night the conference erupted in controversy when the chairman attempted -- by questionable means -- to include an Internet resolution into the text of the treaty. That resolution was then approved by a majority of the conference participants.
Photo by ITU Pictures
Three students from the Makerere University College of Computing and Information Sciences have won the Microsoft Imagine Cup Grant worth $50,000 for their project WinSenga, a smartphone app that performs ultrasounds on pregnant women and can detect problems like ectopic pregnancies and abnormal heartbeats. The winning, Team Cipher256, consists of Aaron Tushabe, Joshua Okello, and Josiah Kavuma.
James A. Robinson explains why Colombia's remarkable degree of political stability is not all that it's cracked up to be.
Malik Al-Abdeh wonders whether the creation of a new umbrella group for the Syrian opposition group will actually help to bring down the Assad regime.
Mohamed El Dahshan argues that the current government ban on pornography in Egypt threatens freedom of expression.
Larry Jagan analyzes the dynamics within the Burmese leadership and explains why fragmentation of the ruling party would be a disaster for the country.
Christian Caryl explores the comparison between two civil war presidents, Bashar al-Assad and Abraham Lincoln.
Besar Likmeta profiles Ina Rama, Albania's first female general prosecutor and valiant hero in the fight against sleaze.
Jackee Batanda reports on the increasing demoralization of a Ugandan public battered by new revelations of corruption in high places.
And here are this week's recommended reads:
Thomas Carothers and and Nathan J. Brown explain the real danger for democracy in Egypt.
Katrin Verclas and Lina Srivastava wonder why a new list of democracy promotion heavyweights is bereft of women.
In a Guardian interview with Colin Poulton, the SOAS research fellow makes the case that the establishment of democratic institutions in developing countries can be detrimental to the rural poor.
A new RAND report assesses the nation-building challenges in post-Qaddafi Libya.
A new report on Burma from the International Crisis Group, Storm Clouds on the Horizon, shows how continuing sectarian conflict is casting a shadow over the reform process. Writing in The Independent, Emanuel Stoakes stresses the need for President Obama to acknowledge the issue during his upcoming trip to Burma.
In an analysis for the Middle East Research and Information Project, Pete Moore explains why -- despite the recent turmoil there -- Jordan is unlikely to experience its own version of the Arab Spring.
Sarah Kendzior argues that there are good reasons for holding policy forums in authoritarian countries.
Alina Rocha Menocal takes issue with the notion that "building institutions" is the best formula for promoting development.And finally, Evelyn Lamb, writing in Scientific American, explains the background of the Gini coefficient -- and why it's not like the Kardashians
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"I called people up so they would join the revolution. And they died. I let (Ahmed) Harara walk onto Mohamed Mahmoud Street, and he was blinded. My friends, who weren't into politics but whom I talked into coming to the streets, died... All so you would block porn sites, you sons of bitches?"
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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.]
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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).
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Any decent Muslim would have been angered by the portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed in the film Innocence of Muslims. But it took a few days longer in Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, for the rage to translate into violent protests against American interests of the kind that happened elsewhere in the Muslim world.
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.
Wednesday saw Venezuela's opposition presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, field questions from the internet in a first-of-its-kind Facebook Forum in Latin America. Relaxed, wearing a red short-sleeved shirt, Capriles took his message of inclusion right to the netroots -- likely a strong demographic for him, and one of the few mediums the government still does not monopolize.
The Chávez camp has been running its campaign largely on fear-mongering, painting an apocalyptic picture of mass layoffs, savage cuts to social spending, and widespread political retaliation should the opposition win the election. For Capriles, the challenge has been to defuse these fears, portraying himself as a safe pair of hands for the hopes and dreams of rank-and-file chavistas, as well as his own supporters.
DANIEL LARA (for the Capriles campaign)
You'd think it would catch the world's attention. The revolt is being led by an educated, young, polyglot class of people attempting to spread the message in half a dozen languages. Media-savvy bloggers and activists are being arrested; internet campaigns to free them are launched every day (in Arabic and English). Foreign journalists are being detained and deported. The protestors are confronting a military-religious dictatorship with demands for a civil state and social and economic justice. And, unlike some of the other worst offenders in Africa, the ruling regime is at least somewhat familiar to the western public thanks to coverage of the atrocities in Darfur and South Sudan (not to mention the involvement of George Clooney and company and the International Criminal Court's first arrest warrant -- as yet futile -- for an acting head of state).
Courtesy of Azaz Shami
It's been three days since I first heard about the insulting sms message sent by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (shown above) to his finance minister: "Stand your ground, we're the number four power in Europe. Spain is not Uganda." Business Insider translated the statement as follows: "We're a major power, not some random IMF-case banana republic." (A friend and blogger, Rosebell Kagumire, first posted it on Facebook, where I saw the link to the article.)
It was an affront to me as a Ugandan. Indeed, a number of netizens -- both Ugandans and non-Ugandans -- took to Twitter with the hashtag #ugandaisnotspain to protest the remarks. Ms. Kagumire set up the hashtag on Twitter in order to prompt Ugandans and friends to comment about the article:
In March, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi troweled dollops of concrete onto a barren patch of land on the picturesque island of Lamu, Kenya, where a future seaport will lie. The Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), a $23-billion undertaking that will connect Kenya's coastal Lamu region to South Sudan and Ethiopia with oil pipelines, railways, and super highways, is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Africa to date. According to President Kibaki, LAPSSET "will stimulate the growth of regional economies through promotion of trade and other productive activities." He predicted that the project will boost employment and contribute to better prospects for some 167 million people in the surrounding region.
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Makerere University's College of Computing and Informatics Technology is trying to get its students to create solutions to real-life problems. On its website, the department praised one team, Cipher 256, for winning the Microsoft Imagine Cup (in the East and South Africa Region). Aaron Tushabe, Joshua Okello, and Josiah Kavuma make up the winning team. In July, they will travel to compete at the world cup finals in Sydney, Australia. Their college has won this honor for its students five times in a row.
The winning concept is a mobile phone device that can detect ectopic pregnancies in women and monitor the movements of the fetus inside the mother. The application can be used at home, since the user only needs a mobile phone to carry out the scan. Uganda has over 14 million mobile phone users; today, people have phones even in remote villages. The group took its inspiration from the UN Millennium Development Goals for cutting maternal mortality.
I'm excited about this innovation because it can potentially do a lot to detect complications during the early stages of pregnancy. By picking up on these sorts of problems early, mothers will have the time to contact a medical professional who can offer therapy. Maternal mortality rates in most African countries are still far too high, of course, and an innovation like this seems like a great way to reduce them. The application, which is called WinSenga, can be found on both facebook and twitter.
"Smile before you hit" suddenly seems like perfectly good advice for men in uniform who, in Indonesia, still think they can get away with abusing their powers. These days, in a world increasingly dominated by social media, there is a chance that you will be caught on camera, and when that happens, you might as well make sure that you look good.
Last week a young man was attacked by an army captain on a busy Jakarta road. The officer thrashed his victim on the head with a baton while wielding a pistol in his other hand. The fight apparently started after their vehicles swiped one another during afternoon rush-hour traffic. The soldier was in civilian clothes, but what gave him away was not his car's army license plate or his buzz cut, but the arrogant display of power.
The whole thing was recorded in a two-minute video that went viral on YouTube last week. The video prompted a chorus of anger expressed through all forms of social media. The spontaneous public outcry indicated that this was not an isolated incident of abuse of power by the nation's security apparatus.
"Hello Venezuela! I inform you that I approved 1.95 billion bolívars for state and local governments, coming from extraordinary income! Onward!"
The above is a rough translation of a tweet written by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez on April 17. As strange as it may seem, Twitter has now become ground zero in Venezuela's public sphere. Both the government and the opposition use the platform intensively to convey their messages, and even to talk to each another.
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In "Pictures at a Revolution," Luke Allnutt explores how visualizations of social media data can help to track the dynamics of social upheaval.
Oliver Kaplan and Michael Albertus argue that land reform holds the key to drying out the drug trade in Latin America.
In his weekly column, Christian Caryl wonders whether the planners of NATO intervention in Libya paid sufficient attention to the possible side-effects of their actions.
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Happy SOPA blackout day!
It is with no small feeling of helplessness that we observe, from the rest of world, the U.S. government's crude dabbling with legislation that threatens to cripple the internet. Unlike our American counterparts, we foreign Internet users have no representatives to petition, and despite our best efforts and the global shows of support from bloggers and online activists, we await the outcome of an American debate that will -- like the blackout of Wikipedia or Reddit -- affect users worldwide.
From a global perspective, SOPA isn't the only case in which the authorities in the U.S. have threatened to curtail the freedom of the internet in recent days.
Last week a U.S. court ordered Twitter to give it all details concerning three users in connection with a continuing investigation of the WikiLeaks affair. Those details include "all mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the ‘means and source of payment,' including banking records and credit cards."
Yep. Two of them are non-U.S. nationals. One is an elected official. And yet a court in a different country has the power to get its hands on their email details and banking records.
Plus (just to quote the Salon piece by Glenn Greenwald again):
[D]id other Internet and social network companies (Google, Facebook, etc.) receive similar Orders and then quietly comply? It's difficult to imagine why the DOJ would want information only from Twitter; if anything, given the limited information it has about users, Twitter would seem one of the least fruitful avenues to pursue. But if other companies did receive and quietly comply with these orders, it will be a long time before we know, if we ever do, given the prohibition in these orders on disclosing even its existence to anyone.
(My emphasis added.)
Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.