Cristina Odone profiles Carne Ross, the crusader who's trying to save diplomacy from itself. And Willam Lloyd-George offers a portrait of Shwe Mann, the Burmese politician who's now being wooed by the White House despite his checkered past.
James Kirchick accuses Georgia's recently elected prime minister of threatening to derail the country's fledgling democracy.
Christian Caryl addresses the question of what makes a hero, and argues that Thein Sein, Burma's ex-general president, has what it takes.
Peter Murrell and Chuluunbat Narantuya explain how Mongolia's nomadic culture is helping the country evade the resource curse.
Ellen Bork warns the United States government against rushing prematurely into close cooperation with the Burmese military.
Alex Thurston analyzes the latest violent twist in the saga of Mauritania's troubled transition to democracy.
Endy Bayuni casts a skeptical eye on the human rights declaration recently passed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Jackee Batanda explains Uganda's involvement in the rising rebel movement in Congo -- and what Kampala can do to help end the crisis.
Juan Nagel takes a look at the latest mysterious disappearance of Venezuela's ailing president.
And here are this week's recommended reads:
The Atlantic Council's Egypt Source offers an excellent background on Egypt's constitutional crisis. Particularly useful are Nancy Messieh's close reading of the draft Egyptian constitution and Yussuf Auf's in-depth examination of the role of the Egyptian judiciary. Mohsin Khan provides much-needed coverage of a vital issue that has gone lost amid the political turmoil: The government's new economic plan.
Writing for NowLebanon, Hussein Ibish gives a scathing take on Egyptian President Morsi's efforts to accumulate power.
Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment makes a plea for reform of the U.S. democracy promotion establishment.
In a remarkable report for National Geographic, Jeff Bartholet tells the personal story behind a Tibetan's decision to set himself on fire as a protest against Chinese rule.
Tunisia Live offers excellent reporting on the continuing clashes between protestors and security forces at Siliana.
The International Crisis Group presents a must-read report on why Sudan desperately needs reforms if it is to avoid a new round of warfare with its own citizens and its neighbors.
Writing for CogitASIA (at the Center for Strategic and International Studies), Phuong Nguyen explains why Burma's important new laws on public assembly remain a work in progress.
Harvard's Calestous Juma shows how tribalism hampers the building of democratic institutions in Africa.
Photo by PHIL MOORE/AFP/Getty Images
The sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims that started in western Burma last June has now taken 200 lives and caused some 100,000 refugees. This issue should take a prominent place in President Barack Obama's agenda as he stops off in Burma this week. It will be the first time that any U.S. president has visited the country.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images
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
(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).
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.
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.
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.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/GettyImages
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.
The White House announced yesterday that it is lifting two of its major sanctions against Burma. At the same time, the Obama Administration nominated the first U.S. ambassador to Burma in 22 years. (Technically speaking, President Obama first extended one more year of the "national emergency" that serves as the legal basis for the investment ban, then used his presidential waiver to suspend the sanction. Yeah, it's confusing.) He also decided to waive a measure banning the export of financial services, which was a provision of the JADE Act passed by the Congress in 2008.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined five possible responses to the political opening in Burma in remarks she made on April 4. The United States, in Ms. Clinton's words, resolved to "meet action with action." Yesterday's announcement means that the U.S. has now implemented all five of the measures she alluded to.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
We already know that drones are powerful weapons. In "Predators for Peace," Jack C. Chow depicts a not-too-distant future in which airborne robots can be used to boost humanitarian relief efforts and good governance.
As governments cut back on foreign assistance budgets, Peter Passell makes the case for a smarter approach to development aid.
Alina Rocha Menocal, noting that Latin America still suffers from gross inequality, sees the answers in sound public policy.
Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP/Getty Images
As I write this, about 2,000 Burmese workers in a town on the outskirts of Rangoon are continuing a strike at the Chinese-owned Tai Yi slipper factory. (The photo above shows a worker at a garment factory in Rangoon.)
"This could be the biggest labor strike since oil workers went on strike and marched in protest against the Burma Oil Company and British colonial rule in 1938," Phoe Phyu, a young lawyer who represents the workers, told me earlier this week. "More than 90 percent of the workers joined the strike."
The walkout started on Feb. 6, when the company refused to pay five days of wages that it had deducted for a holiday to mark the Chinese New Year, which is not officially recognized in Burma.
An industrial worker in Burma earns about $50 to 60 per month. All workers have to work overtime, and draw on hard-to-get performance bonuses to make around 60,000 to 70,000 kyat ($75 to $87.50) a month.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
I've been waiting for this story to die away but it doesn't appear to want to. I'm observing its escalation with amused horror. Amused, because it looks like the Egyptian military government is effectively bullying the U.S. in a crisis neither really controls. Horror, because when all is said and done the losers will be the Egyptian people.
A brief recap: In December, the Egyptian authorities raided the offices of 17 humanitarian organizations. The police confiscated documents, money, computers. The government, basing its actions on a shameful and draconian Mubarak-era law, accused the groups of receiving illegal funding from overseas and operating in Egypt without proper registration.
Four of the 17 are U.S.-based organizations: the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), and Freedom House. One is German, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. Several of the groups' staffers, including such notable figures as Nasser Amin, director of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession, were detained and questioned for hours on end.
MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images
On Monday (Jan. 16), U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, on a visit to Burma, met for the first time with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
McConnell, the Senate's leading Republican, called it "an emotional moment," and said that both of them had probably thought "that we were never going to meet." "It's an incredible day," he continued.
McConnell, who has long been one of the biggest supporters of Burmese democracy movement, also welcomed president Obama's decision to restore full diplomatic relations with Burma last week. (That, of course, was in reaction to the Burmese government's release of hundreds of political prisoners and its conclusion of a cease-fire agreement with the Karen ethnic rebel group.) The Senator said that he is also convinced that Burmese President Thein Sein is "a genuine reformer" after meeting with him in the capital of Naypyidaw. McConnell also hinted that sanctions on Burma could be eased or lifted following the April by-election, which Aung San Suu Kyi (known to the Burmese as "Daw Suu") and her supporters are going to contest.
McConnell laid out three criteria for the removal of sanctions. First, the government should accept the presence of international observers at the April by-elections. Second, it should stop fighting with the country's ethnic minorities. And third, it should end its murky relationship with North Korea.
More importantly, the Senator said he would take advice from Daw Suu on the sanction issue. Many U.S. lawmakers share McConnell's optimism.
This is pretty remarkable stuff. McConnell is the architect of sanctions against the Burmese junta. The Burmese military and some foreign experts have tended to see him as a hardliner, a staunch advocate of tough measures against Burma's rulers.
Other countries are already forging ahead. Australia eased travel restrictions against Burmese officials in early January. Norway has decided to lift trade and investment sanctions. Some members of the European Union are considering whether to start lifting sanctions against Burma as early as February to encourage the reform process.
Now some of my own sources in Washington tell me that it's possible there could be a gradual lifting of some elements of the wide-ranging American sanctions against Burma, which include an arms embargo, bans on imports and investment, a ban on visas for senior government officials, and financial sanctions against regime leaders and their cronies.
The first thing to go would be a removal of the visa ban against officials. It would allow U.S. lawmakers to invite members of the Burmese parliament to the U.S. to provide them with exposure to democratic institutions. Then, depending on the results of the April-by election, President Obama can decide whether he wants to renew the investment ban, which runs out in May. Obama could also lift the 2007 presidential executive order that imposed financial sanctions against the regime's officials for their crackdowns against Buddhist monks and protestors in the same year.
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.