Transitions

Democracy Lab Weekly Brief

This week, Egyptians celebrated the first anniversary of the ouster of Hosni Mubarak amid speculation that the Muslim Brotherhood has struck a power-sharing deal with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the country's military rulers. The SCAF announced that it was lifting the long-standing state of emergency in time for the January 25th anniversary. However, by excluding "cases involving thuggery," the announcement raised concerns that the generals are still trying retain options for suppressing protest. (In the past, the government has been known to denounce protestors as "thugs"). Egypt's newly-elected Parliament convened its first session since the fall of Mubarak on Jan. 23.

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh left the country, ostensibly to receive medical treatment in the United States. What this means for Yemen's progress toward democracy remains unclear. Saleh's departure was preceded by an acrimonious debate over an immunity law that assured him clemency for any past crimes. Meanwhile, growth of secessionist sentiment appears to be on the rise as political turmoil in the country continues.

Libya is still struggling to establish a central authority amid protests criticizing the National Transition Council for its lack of transparency and its failure to deliver on past promises. Its transitional government came under fire from Amnesty International for failing to take any concrete steps to end the torture and ill-treatment of detainees and to hold accountable those responsible for these crimes. Medecins Sans Frontieres suspended its operations in detention centers in Misrata, citing a growing number of patients with torture-related wounds. MSF doctors also said that they were even being asked to provide treatment to abused patients in the middle of interrogation sessions.

On Sunday the Arab League announced a plan calling upon Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to his deputy and demanding the formation of a national unity government within two months. Syria rejected it almost immediately. But the Arab League chief and the Qatari Prime Minister said that they will present it to the UN Security Council early next week.

In Russia, liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky was barred from participating in the March presidential elections by the national electoral commission.

Elsewhere, the President of El Salvador was criticized for naming a retired army general to head the National Civilian Police, a move described by opponents as unconstitutional and contrary to the spirit of the peace accords that ended the country's civil war in 1992. In Guatemala, the ex-military leader General Efrain Rios Montt was placed under house arrest on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, Kenya's finance minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, resigned four days after being indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. The ICC accused him of inciting political violence during the 2007 elections.

In the Maldives, the government asked the UN for help in resolving a judicial crisis after the army arrested a senior criminal court judge for corruption. In Malaysia, it appears that Anwar Ibrahim's acquittal of sodomy charges on January 9 may not have been proof of judicial independence after all. The prosecution has now appealed Anwar's acquittal while the court re-opened its case against his head legal counsel - both on the same day, prompting suspicions of political interference by the government.

Tibetan protests in the Sichuan province in China escalated. Up to five Tibetan protestors were reportedly killed and more than 40 wounded. The level of violence is reminiscent of the 2008 protests a few months before the Beijing Olympic Games. The demonstrations appear to have been partly inspired by the growing number of Tibetan protestors setting themselves on fire.

In Burma (Myanmar), one of the directors of the central bank declared liberalizing foreign exchange controls to be a priority. The bank is following recommendations from the IMF, which has said that it will offer loans to the country if existing sanctions are lifted.

In the Oceania region, Papua New Guinea dealt with a brief but dramatic military mutiny that is merely the latest episode in a continuing political crisis.

Finally, Reporters without Borders released its 10th annual press freedom index, highlighting some major changes in the rankings. "Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011," said the report. "Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy."

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