Democracy

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By Veronica Baker

In the modern history of the Middle East, freedom has been scarce. With the advent of democracy in Tunisia, however, there is a new example by which the Arab world may follow.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report for 2015, released last week, gave Tunisia a “free” rating, the first time it has done so for any Arab country in four decades. The last was Lebanon, prior to its civil war.

Tunisia’s new “free” rating comes from a jump in its political rights score, which measures electoral processes, political participation, and functioning of government.

The other half of Tunisia’s freedom rating, the civil liberties score, did not budge. Tunisia’s civil liberties score puts it equal to Mexico, India, and Ukraine concerning freedom of expression, associational rights, individual rights, and rule of law.

For Tunisia’s political rights to have increased from the very worst possible ranking in 2011 to the best possible ranking in 2015 shows commendable strength and effort on the part of Tunisian lawmakers and the groups that helped them along the way. However, the comparatively slow change in civil liberties in the same time period poses a threat to Tunisia’s future as a free country.

In the past four years, Tunisia has seen the victory of Islamist party Ennahda, followed by the voluntaryresignation of that party two years later amidst political crisis. It witnessed the signing of a constitution praised for its compromise between secular and Islamist values and its progressive focus on human rights. Tunisians recently voted in a secular-majority parliament, and elected a president seen by many as a father figure of the country.

Tunisia has also experienced political assassinations, uncovered domestic terrorist plots, and failed to make significant economic progress. Police brutality continues as Tunisia struggles to fight terrorism while respecting the rule of law. Police officers themselves are victims of attacks, weakening the country’s security. Arrests violating freedom of speech demonstrate the need for judicial and legal reform.

Tunisia’s future will depend upon its commitment to civil liberties. Patience for slow growth and instability will not continue if the government fails to give Tunisians the rights that will enable them to feel heard.

In 1787, when asked what kind of government the U.S. Constitutional Convention had created, Benjamin Franklin famously replied, “A republic, madam. If you can keep it.” The same can be said of Tunisia. The country now has the governmental structure to build a functioning democratic society. If the government allows its people to speak out, organize, and publish what they want without fear of arrest, Tunisia’s newfound freedom will strengthen and endure.

 

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By Olivia Daniels

Source: Al-Arabiya News

Last month, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi appointed Faiza Abou el-Naga as his national security advisor. This is the same Faiza Abou el-Naga who, as Egypt’s Minister for Planning and International Cooperation, insisted that Egypt reject a $3.2 billion loan package from the International Monetary Fund in June of 2011, and, later that year, requested an investigation into the foreign financing of various pro-democracy non-profit organizations. The investigation led to criminal charges under which the nonprofits were accused of using the foreign funds to aid protests against Egypt’s military regime. Abou el-Naga claimed that the International Republic Institute in Egypt serves the “right wing” agenda, and Freedom House as a front for the “Jewish lobby” in the United States. This movement caused one of the biggest rifts between Washington and Cairo since the beginning of their alliance in 1989.

Despite the government changing hands multiple times in recent years, Abou el- Naga has remained active in the political scene from the time President Hosni Mubarak appointed her as Egypt’s foreign minister in 2001 up until President Mohamed Morsi formed a new cabinet. From her position as foreign minister, she moved on to become the Minister for Planning and International Cooperation, and was one of few officials to remain in her post after Mubarak was ousted. In this role, she led the investigation against and the International Republican Institute, Freedom House, and other nonprofits, which included the prosecution of 43 human rights advocates, 19 of which were American. Abou el-Naga stated that “the United States and Israel could not directly create and sustain a state of chaos, so they used direct funding, especially American, to reach those goals.” In 2012, David D. Kirkpatrick from the New York Times wrote that “with $1.5 billion in annual American aid hanging in the balance, Egypt’s top military officer and de facto chief of staff executive is asking Ms. Abul Naga to moderate her tone.” Abou el-Naga seemed to have ignored those warnings, as she even threatened to use the “Iran card” against the United States, warning that alienating Egypt would only move the country closer to Iran. This may have worked, as aid flow from the U.S. to Egypt remained stable. Abou el-Naga then saw Morsi’s election in 2012 as her cue to step down – although clearly not indefinitely.

While the choice to appoint Abou el-Naga as his national security advisor may be Sisi’s way of sending a message to the United States, it says even more about what is happening in Egypt. Journalist Abdel Latif el-Menaway approves of Sisi’s decision. He remembers Abou el-Naga’s political history in a positive light, claiming that “those who expect Naga’s presence to be bad for civil society groups are also wrong because what governs the relationship between of the organizations is the law and as long as they respect the laws of the state there will be no problem.” But how can these organizations respect laws when the laws themselves are so difficult to comply with? The individuals affiliated with these groups were charged with operating without a license, receiving unauthorized foreign funds, and engaging in political activity. In compliance with Egypt’s laws, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute both applied for registration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2005. The groups were told their registration would be approved, but even after multiple follow-ups they never were approved, without any explanation as to why. Abou el-Naga’s assistant, Ambassador Marawan Badr, was quoted saying, “they know they are working illegally and without license,” and Abou el-Naga claimed that the activity of these groups was a product of “political funding” which is not allowed under Egyptian law. In 2012, Stephen McInerney wrote an article for Foreign Affairs that explained how groups with more “innocuous goals” had a much easier time obtaining their licenses. McInerney said that “it is disingenuous for the Egyptian government to refuse to grant U.S. NGOs registration on political grounds and then claim that the investigation against them is an apolitical matter.”

Abou el-Naga not only has a history of targeting groups that raise questions about the state of human rights in Egypt, but also is willing to risk Egypt’s relationship with the United States to maintain that position. In her new role as national security advisor, there is hope that she have bigger concerns than organizations that are working to promote human rights. Yet assuming anything with Abou el-Naga would be naïve.

Economically, it is important to keep in mind that Abou el-Naga believes Egypt should reject IMF and World Bank conditional capital. Egypt is in no position to pass up economic aid. In addition, Abou el-Naga was willing to put the $1.5 billion that the United States gives to Egypt annually on the line. Abou el-Naga is well educated, having received a Masters in Political Science from the University of Geneva, and politically keen. While she may know how far she could push President Obama without devastating Egypt’s economy, that’s not to say she won’t add the straw that breaks the camel’s, or eagle’s, back.

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