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.
Photo by BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
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
Photo by Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images
For centuries, if a woman wanted to play a prominent public role in Albania's closed-off, conservative society, she had to chop off her hair, borrow a pair of baggy trousers, sport a gun, and forgo marriage, sex, or children. Ina Rama shattered that mold when she became the country's first female general prosecutor five years ago. A diminutive, attractive blonde with movie-star charisma, she's been an unlikely hero on the otherwise dismal world of Albanian politics.
Photo by GENT SHKULLAKU/AFP/Getty Images
It is a truth universally acknowledged that child marriage is bad. Yes, it's just wrong, on the simple moral level when an 11-year-old is pushed into marrying someone four or five times her age. But the practice causes plenty of harder-edged problems too -- ranging from early pregnancy (the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide) to lost education opportunities and the psychological burdens of running a household from an early age. It's commendable that there are so many organizations, both at the global and grassroots levels, that are committed to stopping child marriage. But now, thanks to the first ever International Day of the Girl Child, you can too! Here's the hashtag: #DayoftheGirl. Problem solved.
SAM PANTHAKY/Stringer/AFP/Getty Images
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
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.
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.
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."
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
This week, The New York Times covered Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to Thailand -- the first foreign trip for Burma's opposition leader in 25 years. Many people who have dealt with Suu Kyi and her political entourage over the years say that the Times report, which described a striking lack of organization in the upper ranks of the National League for Democracy (NLD), was spot-on.
Last week, Suu Kyi's staff turned down a request for a meeting from Paul Collier, one of the world's top economists. Their excuse: The Lady was busy. "Perhaps her staffers don't know who Collier is," one source in the opposition told me. "The Burmese opposition movement has missed the chance to benefit from a great mind." Meanwhile, government newspapers covered have reported that ministers and presidential advisors gave Collier plenty of time.
Prominent experts from the Burmese exile community, many of them with valuable experience acquired in their years abroad, say that the NLD is ignoring them even while the government is actively soliciting their services. "There is no proper mechanism set up by Suu Kyi for Burmese researchers to play a contributing role to the opposition movement," says a Burmese scholar who graduated from a top U.S. university and visited Rangoon a few months ago.
Soe Than WIN/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.
May has been an eventful month thus far in Uganda's literary scene. The African Writers Trust (AWT), a non-profit entity that brings together African writers -- both from the continent and the diaspora -- to share skills and knowledge, held a writers workshop in Kampala.
Nii Ayikwei Parkes, a London-based Ghanaian writer and experienced performance poet, led the workshop. For ten days, Nii Ayikwei mentored emerging Ugandan poets and university students, conducted poetry workshops, and shared his personal writing and publishing experiences with the writing fraternity.
"Poems move the world," Nii Ayikwei told his students. He stressed his belief that it is ambiguity, rather than big words, that moves a poem and makes it stronger: "If you know what you're writing about from the beginning, then there's no complexity, no emotion."
In the second such incident this month, Tunisia's hardline Salafis decided to scale buildings in order to, well, put up a flag. Seeing the cheers of joy and victory, few things seem to entertain them more, it appears.
This latest incident occurred last week, on March 25. Half a dozen men climbed the clock tower at the entrance of Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis -- which was the flashpoint of the capital's revolutionary protests last year -- to hang, askew, a flag too small to be really visible from afar on the copper-colored ‘Big Ben.' The Tunisian blogosphere quipped, for that matter, that the Salafis were attempting to turn the clock back a few centuries.
In case you were wondering (as I was), that flag, black with white inscriptions (or vice-versa), is widely referred to as the "Caliphate" flag. It carries the shahada -- the declaration of faith, which states that "there is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet." Some trace the origins of the flag to the Prophet Muhammad himself; contemporary narrators have informed us that he carried a black banner, which he called "the eagle," to battle, however it is not known if the shahada was inscribed on it. The white one is the ‘civilian' banner, which flew over the city in times of peace.
While it would historically have represented an Islamic nation-state, the flag is today common to a number of Islamist movements, perhaps the most notorious being Hizb-ut-Tahrir. It is a wholeheartedly partisan flag and, for Muslims, has no spiritual significance -- rather, it mostly looks like a photographic negative of the Saudi flag.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
It's been all Burma, all the time this week on the Democracy Lab, as we present our Burma Special Report. Experts weigh in on the crucial challenges the country must tackle in order to strengthen its path toward development, and (hopefully) democratization.
Tom Malinowski assesses the strength of sanctions in encouraging regime liberalization in Burma, and what its future leaders must do to continue this process.
In an excerpt from The Lady and the Peacock, a new biography of Aung San Suu Kyi, journalist Peter Popham shows the moments when Daw's extraordinary courage facing the Burmese military turned her into an iconic figure.
Rick Rowden assesses Burma's options for economic opening and development.
And Christian Caryl reports from Burma's former capital of Yangon, capturing the fever of excitement as well as the aura and strength of Aung San Suu Kyi. He also looks at how rampant corruption hinders the nation's possibility for development.
Some recommended reads for the week:
Stanford University's "Post-Soviet Post" looks at one factor impeding Ukraine's prospects for democracy (and the rule of law, and human rights): the pervasiveness of sexism in government.
Following the coup last week, a new report by the International Crisis Group discusses how to put Mali back on the path of constitutional order.
The Democracy Digest follows the feuding between the SCAF and Muslim Brotherhood, the two main contenders for power in Egypt.
An interview published in the Council on Foreign Relations gives an insider's view to the Arab League summit meeting in Baghdad this week.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Generally speaking, women have not exactly been conspicuous among the leaders of the ethnic minorities that are at odds with the Burmese central government. But that may be changing.
In late January, a group representing the Karen, one of the biggest ethnic groups in Burma, issued a statement calling for women to be given a bigger role in the peace talks between Karen rebels and the government. "Our concerns must be brought to the negotiating table, and the abuses we have suffered must be redressed and prevented once and for all," Naw Zipporah Sein, who is the General Secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), told me on the phone. She was speaking from a town on the Thai border. (The photo above shows a Karen girl in a refugee camp in Thailand.)
Before she was elected to that post in 2008 she served the head of the Karen Women Organization (KWO). It was under her leadership that the KWO published a widely noted 2004 report entitled "Shattering Silences," which documented 125 cases of the systematized rape and sexual abuse of women allegedly committed by Burmese military troops in Karen State over a twenty-year period. Today, despite her unprecedented leadership position in the KNU, Zipporah Sein told me that she's still unhappy with the status of Karen women. To the injury of maltreatment on the battlefield by government troops comes the insult of inadequate representation in the ruling circles of the rebel leadership.
The KNU, one of the most powerful rebel groups in Burma, has been fighting for ethnic autonomy since 1948. The government recently announced that it had concluded a cease-fire deal with them. A few days ago, however, it was none other than Zipporah Sein who called that agreement into question. The New York Times quoted her as saying that "[w]e still need to discuss the conditions."
Efforts to stop the fighting drag on. As the latest in a series of fragile ceasefire deals, the Mon ethnic group, which operates along the Thai-Burma border, announced last Wednesday that it reached "a preliminary ceasefire agreement" with Burma's pseudo-civilian government.
Similar agreements have been struck recently between the government and other ethnic rebel armies, including the Shan State Army-South, the United Wa State Army, and at least seven other armed groups. The one major exception is the continuing war between the Kachin and government troops.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images
Earlier this week, the first democratically elected parliament in Egypt in sixty years held its opening session in Cairo. Just under half of the lawmakers belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is set to exercise power in the country for the first time since it was founded 84 years ago. Inna Lazareva speaks with Dr. Mohammed Ghanem (pictured above), the Brotherhood's spokesman in London.
Foreign Policy: It's been a year since President Mubarak's resignation, and his appointees in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) are still in power. Now that the Muslim Brotherhood has become the strongest force in Parliament, how will you manage relations with the SCAF?
Mohammed Ghanem: This first parliament in Egypt is critical. The Muslim Brotherhood will not be able to exclude the SCAF or its influence, at least during this initial term. Equally, the Supreme Council will not simply give up its privileges. The military has an interest in politics and it has a very strong involvement in the economy, which sometimes contradicts their job of protecting the country. But eventually I hope that democracy will enable us to reach a good balance and to emulate models such as the United Kingdom. The SCAF will be given due respect for protecting the country. It will be impossible to deny them political participation, but we realize the need to restrict them from heavily influencing political decisions as before. We know that we have to be very delicate in balancing the power. Compromise is a good policy to adapt and, although people on the street will not always appreciate this compromise, there is simply no other way.
FP: There has been much speculation about the 1979 Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel. What is the Muslim Brotherhood's position on this?
MG: This is not a straightforward matter. In the Qur'an, Israelites are a people descended from the respected King Daoud (King David). We also distinguish between the Jewish people and the Zionist movement. Lastly, we always look at the issues of Palestine and human rights legally. If someone takes someone else's land, this should not be tolerated. At the same time, no figure in the Muslim Brotherhood will take a decisive stand on the issue of Israel for the whole of Egypt. Such matters require the full political process to reflect the will of the people and will be decided in parliament.
FP: Egypt's economy is suffering from corruption, an inflated public sector, and the government's subsidy policy. What are your priorities for getting the economy back on track?
MG: I can assure you that all the politicians in the Brotherhood understand that subsidies are bad. But the high rates of unemployment and poverty make the question of dealing with subsidies very awkward in Egypt. There has to be a balance between solving the problem and managing the consequences, which could be disastrous. Subsidies will have to be phased out gradually, and a well-regulated market should eventually be given the mechanism to determine prices. How long this will take, and how this will be dealt with politically, depends on the harmony of the parliament. We have to find a way to convince the Egyptian people that they have been indulged in subsidies against their own interest and for the benefit of the rich. This is difficult, as many people don't fully understand the negative effects the subsidies have on the economy.
The priority for now is to form the new parliament, agree on a constitution, elect a president, and decide on how authority between parliament and the president is divided. Nobody can predict an outcome yet.
Over the past five or ten years, the public sector experienced a highly corrupt change in ownership. Businesses have been demolished, destroyed, sold at a loss to Mubarak's gangs. When you steal from the poor who are already poor, the effect is disastrous. As an economist, I think that the whole international financial system is a farce at the moment. I predict that the next international revolution will be against the banking institutions. This has already begun with the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the attacks on the private houses of bank managers is a new phenomenon which should not be ignored. You can't have justice in a human society without economic justice.
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.