Eritrea, a country of roughly 6 million people on the Horn of Africa, is one of the world's most repressive states. There is no freedom of speech, press, or religion. Not a single election has been held since the country achieved independence two decades ago after a 30-year war with Ethiopia. Prolonged detention and torture are routine for any dissenters. And adults are forcibly conscripted mandatory military or national service that can last as long as the government decides.
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Over two months have passed since the July 3 coup in Egypt, but nearly nothing new has been achieved. Assurances of reform by the new leadership differ little from the ones given by previous dictators, including Mubarak, Tantawi, and Morsi. The current legal framework is now essentially back to what it was during Mubarak's rule. The leaders of the new military government declared a state of emergency when they took over, and on Sept. 12 they extended it for another two months.
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For years, Venezuela's government has dodged accusations that it does not protect freedom of speech. Critics usually point to the frequent use of public airwaves to broadcast government propaganda, as well as the many TV and radio stations the government has shut down for playing critical content. The government usually responds by citing the continued operation of Globovisión, a sharply critical all-news station (or rather, the only critical news station). Chavistas claim that its survival throughout the Chávez era refutes any allegations of censorship.
Kampala is in an uproar. The Ugandan government has just shut down four private media outlets -- a move that follows a crackdown on journalists from the Daily Monitor newspaper a few days earlier. The government's anger was prompted by a story in the paper said to reveal details of a plan by senior officials to assassinate rivals opposed to a scheme by President Yoweri Museveni to arrange for his son to succeed him in office. By exposing deep rifts within the ruling establishment, the paper has shaken Uganda's political establishment to the core.
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)
The field of journalism witnessed a huge expansion in Libya since the February 17, 2011 uprising. Under Qaddafi's rule, the media was tightly controlled. Freedom of expression was censored entirely Today there are 200 printed newspapers in Tripoli and Benghazi alone, and more than 18 satellite TV channels throughout the country, and the number is only increasing. However, the industry still has a long way to go before it can become a reliable source for many Libyans.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Joseph Allchin explains why the war crimes trials under way in Bangladesh show why transitional justice and party politics don't mix.
Christian Caryl argues that treating democracy as an inevitable outcome may actually hurt the cause of democracy.
Nazila Fathi looks at how Iranian leaders are responding to the deepening economic crisis created by sanctions.
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
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.
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
After an intense political season culminating in Hugo Chávez's reelection last month, Venezuela's voters are now set to head back to the polls on December 16 to elect state governors and state legislatures. Many voters seem to be wondering, though, whether the whole thing matters.
Photo by RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages
Recently Ugandans had one small cause to celebrate. The World Bank announced that their country had moved up in the rankings in its annual ease of doing business survey. And not only did Uganda move up -- it also overtook regional rival Kenya, which had long enjoyed a much better rating in this area. The ratings are important, of course, because foreign investors quite understandably prefer to put their money into places where there are fewer obstacles to business.
MICHELE SIBILONI/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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
With one month to go before electing a president, both sides of Venezuela's dismembered public sphere are pulling out all the stops. The polls find both candidates at the top of their games.
There are two sets of opinion polls on this race. The first group puts Hugo Chávez comfortably ahead, with leads in the low double digits and an unusually large number of undecided voters. These polls show that the gap is closing -- but not quickly enough for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles to change the outcome. The other group of polls shows the race in either a dead heat, or with Capriles leading; there are respected pollsters in both groups.
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.
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:
Mohamed Fadel Fahmy interviews Robert Becker, who decided to stay in Egypt and have his day in court rather than leave the country with the other Americans implicated in the NGO affair.
Francisco Martin-Rayo argues that America is undermining Yemen's opportunity to build democracy for the sake of waging war on Al Qaeda. (The photo above shows Yemeni jihadis manning a checkpoint.)
Reporting from The Hague, Christopher Stephen explains why the welcome verdict against Charles Taylor shouldn't divert attention from the continuing irrelevance of the International Criminal Court.
Ahead of Sunday's presidential elections in Russia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he may run for president for a fourth time in 2018. But some observers think he may face significant challenges during his third term.
At a European Union summit in Brussels, Serbia finally received official approval as a candidate for membership in the EU. At the same the EU's 27 member nations withdrew their ambassadors from Belarus.
The Spanish Supreme Court acquitted Judge Baltasar Garzon, who had been accused of violating a 1977 amnesty law when he tried to prosecute crimes committed during the Franco era.
Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images
A few days ago the Paris-based group Reporters without Borders (RSF) released a report that caused some distress to Uganda’s information minister. The RSF report detailed the difficulties faced by Ugandan journalists and showed how the space for media freedom in the country has been shrinking.
Mary Karooro Okurut, the information minister, responded by saying that the report does not give an “accurate picture of press freedom in Uganda.”
The RSF’s Press Freedom Index ranks Uganda at 139 out of 170 countries surveyed worldwide. This is something that should obviously worry human rights activists. The report also condemns the National Resistance Movement (NRM), the ruling party, for limiting the media industry’s ability to operate freely.
Actually, though, the media should be applauded for their willingness to cover various controversial issues in this country. These are matters of national importance, ranging from the economic crisis that resulted in the “Walk to Work” protests to the debate about corruption in the oil sector.
Like any other reasonable person, I would strongly agree that the media be granted the freedom to work. But that may be a bit much to ask from a regime like the one we have here in Uganda. And perhaps matters are complicated by the political and economic hardships the country faces.
Ugandan government security operatives have threatened, intimidated, and in some cases tortured journalists. These experiences have transformed journalism into a risky profession, one in which its practitioners are susceptible to torture and unlawful arrest. You can get arrested for covering stories that make the state uncomfortable. Even radio presenters have become targets. The resulting climate of fear means that many Ugandans no longer bother discussing politics in the open.
And yet the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda, as well as its amended version, clearly provide for the freedom of speech: Article 29 (1) (a) specifies that “every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media.”
MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images
On Jan. 14, I joined thousands of people who gathered in Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis to celebrate the first anniversary of the ouster of dictator Zein El Abedin Ben Ali. The cradle of the Arab revolutions, Tunisia seems to have managed its post-uprising transition better than any other country in the region. The Tunisians already have an elected government and constituent assembly that they've tasked with drafting a new constitution. Needless to say, that puts them way ahead of Egypt or Libya. I was overjoyed to have a chance to participate in the celebration.
Expecting a street party, I brought my own tricolor Egyptian flag, which I raised alongside the others. In the sea of red-and-white Tunisian flags it was possible to spot a few others here and there. I saw a few from the various political parties (mostly the white banner of Ennahda, the Islamist group that won the most votes in the general election three months ago), black-and-white ones raised by ultra-conservative Salafis, a few Libya and Palestinian flags, and one with the national colors of the Berbers, the large non-Arab minority group of North Africa.
I confess that I had also brought along my preconceived idea of how the day might look. I imagined that it would be like one of those festive Friday afternoons in Tahrir Square back home (on one of those increasingly rare days when the army isn't brutalizing protesters, that is). I thought we'd see the same families and strollers and flags and the four sets of giant speakers alternately blaring slogans, songs, or incomprehensible jibberish, as well as the iconic vendors of popcorn and sweet potatoes who go about their business regardless of the weather or the tear gas, the fumes of whatever they're roasting actually helping to make the air less breathable.
Well, Tunis did indeed have the popcorn guy, and the guy selling suspicious-looking chemical pink-colored peanuts. But the ambience was distinctly different from what I had expected.
Apparently it was different from what many had expected.
To be sure, it was a joyful day. Yet there were many participants who seemed lukewarm. Those who were hoping for a protest that would underline that the revolution continues were dismayed by the apparent party vibe. Those who wanted to party were disappointed that the displays of joy weren't clearer or better organized.
As we drove toward the crowded avenue, two of my Tunisian friends, the activists and entrepreneurs Hanane Hassainya and Slim Amamou, lamented that the celebration wasn't taking place on the day of the escape of Ben Ali. "We should be celebrating on December 17th, on the beginning of the revolution," said Amamou. "That's a date we know. But we cannot mark the ‘end' of the revolution - for we don't know when it's going to end." We decided to walk along the avenue and get an idea of what people were thinking. We made our way past the Ministry of Interior, which had increased the size of the restricted area around the building, putting up new barbed wire barriers that pushed people farther away. With no irony whatsoever, someone had put p a big banner on the building that declared "together we build the security of tomorrow's Tunisia." But soon we found ourselves immersed in marches, bystanders, political party banners, and posters depicting the events that took place at this very spot just one year ago.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.