Miriam can't stop talking. And when she does, it's mostly to look down at a torrent of emails, SMSs, and tweets flooding her smartphone. It's been a heady nine months for the soft-spoken but sharp-witted 24-year-old Egyptian student turned activist. She's juggling the ordinary demands of a heavy course-load at Egypt's top university with a slew of extracurriculars (she's embarrassed to admit she's an avid squash player), but also working through the existential hangover of heavily participating in a leaderless revolution that's now causing more of a headache than a thrill. While polishing some academic work on the role of social media in Egypt's uprising, she's been ferociously tweeting on the country's virtual front-lines, fielding 140-character blows left and right. And she's doing it for the Muslim Brotherhood.
"Miriam" (she prefers to use a pseudonym, for "security reasons") is one of the admins of @Ikhwanweb, the official English-language Twitter page for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, one of the most prominent Islamist organizations in the world. Ikhwanweb, the Muslim Brotherhood's official English website, started the twitter account @Ikhwanweb back in 2009. For years, the account was a robotic-curated Twitter feed which did little more than link to the website's posts. But Miriam has recently helped transform the account into a virtual coliseum for some of Egypt's most heated debates.
Lauren E. Bonn
The world awoke to a new front in the Arab Spring as thousands of protestors fought through guards to occupy Kuwait's Parliament on Wednesday night. Chanting "this is our house" and "the people want the removal of the Prime Minister" the youthful crowd, accompanied by opposition parliamentarians, certainly looked the part of Arab revolutionaries. Yet Kuwait has been working toward this climax since before Tunisians took to the streets of Sidi Bouzeid. And while drawing momentum from Arab brethren in Egypt and elsewhere, Kuwait activists are not seeking regime overthrow but rather something even more rare -- a genuine constitutional monarchy in the Gulf.
YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images
Moroccans head to the polls in just under two weeks to elect a new parliament. The elections have been touted as a test of the King's constitutional reforms, passed by referendum in July, and are ostensibly shrouded in uncertainty. Will the elections produce gradual movement toward democracy, as the regime has promised? Will the winning political parties take advantage of their somewhat increased powers and enact better policies? Will Moroccans even show up to vote? Will Morocco be the Arab Spring's great success or great failure, as the Atlantic provocatively asked?
In all likelihood, the elections will neither produce clear answers about Morocco's future, nor will they reveal just what it is that Moroccans want. They certainly seek change -- their country has one of the highest levels of inequality in the Arab world, and one of the lowest incomes with GDP per capita under $3,000. Political parties are widely viewed as corrupt and inept, and unemployment and underemployment continue to pose problems, particularly for the younger generation. Yet Moroccans are divided as to how best to rectify these problems, and whom to hold responsible.
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images
With parliamentary elections approaching rapidly, the unwarranted excitement about Egypt's democratic transition is giving way to unfounded frustration. Both inside and outside the country, analysts and political contenders have been focusing on the difficult conditions governing the elections. But while many of these concerns are valid, it is far too soon to despair. Elections are only one part of the complex political process unfolding in Egypt since the revolution.
The complaints about the elections span a wide spectrum. Whether it is the timing of the elections providing too little time for the new parties to prepare, or the pacing of the elections (between the two houses of the parliament the elections are expected to take four months) which would allow for "engineering of results," or having a mixed electoral system (proportional representation slates and individual candidates); there is increased fear that the upcoming parliament would be dominated by Islamists and ex-National Democratic Party (NDP) members. In reality, they are the two groups with financial resources and organizational experience in running campaigns. As such, many assume that the elections will be the end of Egypt's short-lived "revolution."
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Egyptian-Americans let out a collective sigh of relief this week. After months of governmental handwringing, the Egyptian High Elections Commission finally confirmed that Egyptians abroad will be able to exercise their right to vote in upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. Egyptian expatriates were permitted to begin registering yesterday on the Commission's website. Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian-Americans have struggled to find their place in the new Egypt. But their participation in Egypt's first real elections will prove what they already knew -- that they too are Egyptians and they too will help chart Egypt's new course.
Like their fellow Egyptians in Tahrir Square, Egyptian-Americans rose up and demanded the fall of the regime on January 25. But unlike their compatriots in Tahrir, Egyptian-Americans also had to prove -- to others but more importantly to themselves -- that their demands were just as legitimate, that their voice was just as authentic.
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Compared to recent dramatic events -- Qaddafi's demise in Libya, Tunisia's groundbreaking elections, the Coptic killings in Egypt -- Jordan's latest cabinet shuffle barely registered as a news blip. Indeed, King Abdullah's dismissal of wildly unpopular Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit had been expected as early as this summer. Still, many analysts greeted new Premier Awn Khasawneh with hope and anticipation. In a country that has simmered with growing unrest, the appointment of a new government explicitly charged with rejuvenating a moribund political reform process may represent a decisive royal concession. As opposition protests enter their eleventh month, perhaps the monarchy has realized that democratization can wait no longer.
Such an appraisal is admirably optimistic, but it is a convenient fiction produced for Western consumption. Scryers of Jordan must look beyond any given cabinet to understand that although the Hashemite palace trumpets the cause of democracy, its goal during the Arab Spring has been to preserve autocratic supremacy. A transition to constitutional monarchy exists more as fantasy in the minds of liberals than a goal supported by the palace. Yet that is the logical endgame of Jordanian democratization: a near-absolute monarchy devolving power to a fairly elected parliament, alongside a General Intelligence Directorate that no longer interferes in public life.
Later this month, the representatives just elected by Tunisian voters will begin the task of designing a new political order for the country. If all goes well (though it may not) Egyptians and Libyans will follow suit by drafting new constitutions. It is still not inconceivable that other Arab societies will join them in an attempt to reinvent political systems on a more democratic basis. People in these societies are about to engage in an unprecedented process for them -- while they have all lived under constitutions before, those documents generally enabled authoritarian government. Now they want to write constitutions that will allow them to live democratically. As Americans, this seems to be a story we know well -- a people rises up, throws off oppression, and then deliberates carefully how to write a set of rules for a new republican order fit for a free people. Therefore, we will soon hear lots of well-meaning advice on how Arab societies should write their constitutions and what those constitutions should say.
We saw in Iraq how much U.S. understanding of the constitution drafting process was colored by the U.S. experience. Commentators rushed to speak about a "Philadelphia moment," recommended favorite clauses from the Bill of Rights, and even argued over judicial review by reference to Marbury vs. Madison or Roe vs. Wade. We should have learned our lesson: much of our advice will be bad and most will be irrelevant.
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Oman held parliamentary elections on October 15 -- two weeks before the Tunisian elections that captured the world's attention. But nobody paid them much mind. And why should they? There is not much more to be said beyond the high "participation" rate (76 percent of those who bothered to register), the solitude that the one elected woman may feel among her 83 male colleagues, or the election of three protesters. Tribal alliances still drove results in a country where political parties are not allowed and where, for most seats, 1,500 votes is enough to get elected.
But this might be deceiving. This has been Oman's least quiet year in a generation. The Economist scored Oman sixth highest within its (unsophisticated) Arab instability index in early February, a forecast met with wide incredulity at the time. A few weeks later, the country was shaken with memorable scenes of unrest: protests -- some violent, most peaceful, loyalty marches, regime concessions, a GCC "Marshall Plan," labor strikes and opportunistic demands, and regime crackdowns. The ground has significantly shifted beneath the feet of a regime that has overseen the rapid transformation of society over the last 40 years, underwritten by absolute power and facilitated by oil income.
MOHAMMED MAHJOUB/AFP/Getty Images
The performance of the Islamist party Ennahda in the October 23 Tunisian elections, in which it won 41.5 percent of the seats, has refocused attention on the upcoming Egyptian elections scheduled to begin on November 28. Some analysts have minimized the Muslim Brotherhood's prospects for success by pointing to polls suggesting that the group -- the largest and best organized in Egypt -- hovers between 15 to 30 percent approval. It may be true that the Brotherhood isn't as popular as we might think. But elections aren't popularity contests. In fact, as the campaign unfolds, it appears likely that Egypt's Islamists will do even better than expected, just like their Tunisian counterparts.
Seven months into the uprisings, the Syrian opposition has yet to develop a united voice and platform. Unless these disparate groups unite and present a credible and viable alternative to the Assad regime, both Syria's fearful majority and the international community will find it difficult to effectively push for meaningful change in Damascus.
CHRISTINE OLSSON/AFP/Getty Images
Egyptians have finally begun to learn the rules that will govern their first post-revolutionary parliamentary elections, scheduled to begin on November 28. The election law announced by the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) is remarkably complicated, generating great confusion both inside and outside of Egypt. Those poorly understood rules will play an important role in shaping the results -- and are already pushing the Egyptian party scene into a polarized competition between Islamist and secular blocs, with independents somewhere in the middle with no clear political or economic agenda.
In an unexpected move, Qatar will hold its first-ever parliamentary elections in the second half of 2013. According to the plan announced Tuesday by Qatar's Emir Hamid bin Khalifah Al Thani, two-thirds of the country's advisory Shura Council will be up for vote, while the rest will remain appointed. But in contrast to similar reform initiatives undertaken by Arab governments made nervous -- or challenged directly -- over the course of the previous ten months, Qatar's decision is an entirely proactive one. Indeed, as indicated by the results of several recent, scientific public opinion surveys, its citizens are quite pleased with their current political system -- and have little interest in changing it any time soon.
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Most commentary about the results of Tunisia's historic election on October 23 has focused on the success of the moderate Islamist party Ennahda. With 41.5 percent of seats in the Constitutional Assembly, Ennahda certainly did score an impressive victory. But two other results of equal importance should not be overlooked. Several liberal and leftist parties also did well, giving strong representation to the major political trends in the forthcoming assembly. And even more striking, the parties that banked upon an explicitly anti-Islamist campaign message lost badly.
By any standard,
Tunisia's elections marked a crucial step toward the institutionalization of
democracy in a country that has endured decades of dictatorship. The peaceful
and orderly process of holding elections sets an important regional precedent. But
the election campaign exposed an important rift between Islamists and
secularists that will have enduring effects on Tunisian politics. How the new assembly
and the competing political forces
those issues will be decisive in determining whether the elections now pave the
way for a genuine democratic transition.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
"Raise your head high, you are a free Libyan" chanted tens of thousands in Benghazi on October 23, 2011 as the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) announced the liberation of Libya. "The tyrant is dead and his rotten body is under the feet of the Libyan people," said the NTC's Minister of the Martyrs and the Injured to an ecstatic crowd in Benghazi. "He told us we were rats. But we caught him hiding in a sewage tunnel, exactly like a rat. Let the other tyrants remember," said Muhammad Abdullah, a fighter from Misrata.
The defeat of the dictator is not enough for successful democratic transition. Libya will now have to deal with the legacy of that tyrant: decades of underdevelopment, corruption, vendettas, repression, and a war that left tens of thousands of Libyans dead and billions of dollars worth of damage. But pessimists are wrong to assume that these challenges doom Libya to collapse into violent chaos.
"Libya will not be another Iraq. I can guarantee you that," said Abd al-Hakim Belhaj, the former commander of the Libya Islamic Fighting Group and now the commander of the Military Council of Tripoli. Every Libyan politician, tribal leader, military, and paramilitary commander I have spoken with realizes the stakes of the coming transitional period. If Libya survives the volatile transitional phase, it has the chance to be a democratic Dubai. If not, it may look like Iraq, Afghanistan, or Somalia. To get through this transition, Libya urgently needs a strategy of disarmament, reconciliation, and reintegration to avoid a clash between the many armed Libyan units.
MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images
At 6:30 a.m. yesterday, the elections workers on Hope Street were scurrying and the army had taken their positions. My neighborhood elementary school was being taken over to hold the first elections since the overthrow of Ben Ali in January. A small group of voters gathered around the gates on Rue Amel (Hope Street) to cast the first ballots.
The orderly conduct of voters, observers, elections officials, and security personnel was a constant refrain throughout the day. Tunisians I spoke with almost seemed surprised that their bureaucracy could function so well. Hedia, a family friend excitedly told me, "The observers didn't try and do anything -- they just let us vote on our own." Living in a country that has never held free elections, Tunisian voters seemed to surprise themselves by the efficacy of the process. Now, all attention will turn to the outcome -- not just who won seats, but how the new assembly will be formed and where it will take the new Tunisia.
AMMAN—Hundreds of activists filled the streets of downtown Amman on Friday, reiterating their weekly demands for the Jordanian government to implement political and economic reforms. But this week, the chants ringing from the crowd carried a more optimistic tone, as demonstrators and Jordanian lawmakers are cautiously welcoming King Abdullah's appointment last week of a new prime minister, Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh.
Khasawneh is a man unknown to most Jordanians. He has spent most of his long career in public service away from the limelight, as a legal adviser to the late King Hussein and senior official in the foreign ministry. Since 2000 he has served on the International Court of Justice in The Hague, including three years as the ICJ's vice president from 2006-09. Yet many Jordanians believe Khasawneh represents the best chance since the Arab Spring began for Jordan to achieve meaningful reform. With his legal talents and lack of political entanglements, many hope that he will be able to bridge the kingdom's deep political divides and tackle the corruption that is pervasive throughout the Jordanian government.
This Sunday, Tunisians will finally go the polls for their first real democratic elections. After ten long months of political polarization, frustrated popular hopes, and complaints about mismanagement by the interim government, the elections to the constituent assembly mark a crucial step in a transition to a representative and accountable democracy. Many now fear that the elections will fail to resolve deep societal divides, or will even make things worse by empowering Islamists or restoring former regime figures. But those fears should not overshadow the hope that Tunisia has a chance to get things right and once again set an example for the Arab world.
In recent weeks Daniel Drezner and Anne-Marie Slaughter have been having an epic debate about whether nation states remain the dominant players on the world stage or non-state "social actors" are fundamentally changing international relations. Now, in a Bloggingheads.tv dialog, Drezner and Slaughter have taken their argument to video. Here they use post-Mubarak Egypt as a case in point:
Drezner and Slaughter also apply their different perspectives to the most famous non-state entity in the world: Al Qaeda
On Sunday evening, Egyptian plainclothes police and the army attacked a protest by peaceful demonstrators. Dozens were killed and hundreds wounded, while state television spread inflammatory news of Copts attacking soldiers. Many immediately concluded that sectarianism was to blame, rather than the military command which oversaw the bloodbath. The ability of Egypt's Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) to avoid accountability for its actions lies at the heart of the problems in today's Egypt.
This myth about Egypt's transition runs deep. It blames the stagnation of the country's transition on the divided protest movement, unsatisfied public sector workers, factory labors, and rural farmers. When this narrative does not suffice, the established but ineffective political parties, various Islamist parties greedy for electoral competition, and weak cabinet members are marshaled from their supporting roles to take the fall. Either way, they implicitly place the blame for Egypt's shaky transition on the doorstep of the civilians who made the revolution. Even the focus on parliamentary elections, the policy positions of Egypt's current presidential contenders, or a constitution yet to be written diverts the focus from where it belong -- the people actually in power.
Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey/AFLO/Zuma Press
Civil society is an essential component of any democracy and it will be a key factor in determining the success of the democratic transitions now underway in the Middle East and North Africa. In his May 19 speech, President Barak Obama identified "a vibrant civil society" as one of four areas in which Egypt and Tunisia should set a strong example for the region. Speaking to a global forum in Sweden last month, Secretary Hillary Clinton described civil society as "a force for progress around the world," while noting that "in too many places, governments are treating civil society activists as adversaries, rather than partners." Sadly, nowhere is that now more true than in Egypt, where the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has steadily escalated a campaign against this community which is even more repressive than during the Mubarak era.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Cynicism and skepticism always have their place, but today might just go down as an historic day on the Israeli-Palestinian front. No, there is no direct or quick fix move from the Palestinian application for U.N. membership to the actual realization of a Palestinian state (and certainly not when one factors in the Israeli response) but the Palestinian U.N. move does represent the most definitive break yet with the failed and structurally flawed strategies for advancing peace of many a year. Many Palestinians and others are now suggesting that the PLO leadership progress from the symbolism of September 23rd to a concerted struggle for their freedom centered on nonviolent resistance, diplomacy, and international legality, believing that this would finally deliver a breakthrough.
In its theatrics, today was rather predictable -- other than the Quartet statement of the afternoon, on which more in a moment. The speeches of Abbas and Netanyahu held few, if any, surprises. Abbas played to the Palestinian community at home and around the world, and to the rest of the international community.
Egyptian activists took to the streets on September 9 calling to "correct the path" of a revolution which they see slipping away. They particularly focused their ire on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which they see as leading a counter-revolution against the will of the Egyptian people. But part of their problem is that, according to a survey carried out by the Arab Barometer this summer, 94.5 percent of Egyptians responded that they trusted the SCAF and 93.5 percent thought it was doing a good job -- far more than they do any other part of Egyptian society.
While 78.7 percent of Egyptians agreed that "despite its problems democracy is the best for form of government," their support for democracy is at least in part driven by a belief that such a system is good for the economy. Of the respondents, 64.4 percent defined the most essential characteristic of democracy as either a low level of inequality or the provision of basic necessities for all citizens. Another 12.1 percent stated that it is eliminating corruption. By contrast, only 6.0 percent defined democracy's most essential characteristic as the ability to change the government through elections and only 3.9 percent defined it as the right to criticize those in power. With 84.2 percent of respondents saying that the economy represents Egypt's greatest challenge, these findings should offer some powerful lessons to all of those interested in supporting Egypt's transition.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Observers of Yemen are often asked why the revolution there has taken so long and why it has been so inconclusive. The more basic question -- never asked, though inextricably tied to this -- is why an uprising started in the first place.
When the Arab Spring started in Tunisia and began to spread in the region, I did not think the conditions in Yemen were ripe for it. Indeed corruption, inequality, and the callous disregard for law were much worse in Yemen than any other country in the region. However, the conditions usually viewed as prerequisites for revolution -- a large and mobile middle class, a strong civil society, high literacy rate, and internet penetration -- are all non-existent. Yet the state does benefit from an historical accident, the adoption of a multi-party system in 1990 as part of the unity agreement between South and North Yemen. Twenty years of multi-party experience and the attendant mobilization skills of politicking made it possible for Yemeni activists to launch the revolution. Unfortunately, the absence of a broad middle class and a dynamic civil society has stunted the movement's momentum. The revolution has gradually transformed into what is largely an elitist struggle for power.
As President Mahmoud Abbas continues to prepare the Palestinian bid for "observer" status at the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, some members of congress have threatened to cut off economic and/or security aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA). One might expect this threat to resonate in Ramallah. The PA has long been one of the most aid-dependent administrations in the world and contributing $833 million in 2009, the United States is its largest provider of official development assistance -- outmatching the second largest donor, the United Arab Emirates, by almost a factor of four.
Yet Abbas and his advisors have solidly rebuffed Obama administration pleas and congressional threats to abandon the PA's petition. Why hasn't the PA been dissuaded by the prospect of less (or no) U.S. aid in one year's time? Part of the answer, of course, lies in the homegrown political challenges confronting Abbas and his Prime Minister, Salam al-Fayyad -- progress on which seems stagnant relative to the broader "Arab Awakening" in the region. Another part lies in the intransigence of the Netanyahu government, which offers little hope for meaningful negotiations. But the final part of the answer lies in the nature of U.S. aid itself.
Aid is best at buying leverage when it is in high demand by the recipient, unavailable from other donors, and does not directly serve donor interests. In these situations, donors can issue credible threats to withdraw aid if the recipient fails to implement the donor's foreign policy demands. This year, the United States will provide only about $400.4 million* in Economic Support Funds to the PA, much of which is distributed among technical assistance projects that are widely available from other donors. This is not good material for leverage -- Congress ought not bother. The two most important unique contributions that the United States makes to the PA are diplomatic support and security assistance. However, neither is well-suited to pressuring the PA on the statehood bid -- the former because it has proven ineffective, the latter because it serves U.S. and Israeli interests so well. And that leaves the US with few remaining cards to use with a desperate Palestinian leadership.
SAIF DAHLAH/AFP/Getty Image
Is there anyone familiar with the history of the Israel-Palestine peace process who still believes that this Israeli government would defy the over half-a-million settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- by far the most influential political force in Israel -- and their networks of supporters within Israel, and present Palestinians with a reasonable peace plan for a two-state solution that would be acceptable to even the most moderate and accommodating of Palestinian leaders?
Shelly Yachimovich, an Israeli Knesset Member who is a leading candidate for the Labor Party's leadership, recently declared that Israel's settlement project is "not a sin or a crime" since it was initiated by a Labor government, and therefore "a completely consensual move." Leaving aside the bizarre notion that the consensus of thieves legitimizes their theft, if these are the views of candidates for Labor Party leadership in today's Israel, what prospect can there possibly be for an acceptable peace accord to emerge from the peace process?
When young Israeli professionals erected a tent city on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard in protest against the Netanyahu government's indifference to an affordable housing crisis in Israel, they self-consciously modeled their efforts on the popular revolutions commonly (if not uncontroversially) referred to as "the Arab Spring." Handmade signs reading "Rothschild, Corner of Tahrir" invited passersby to compare this "Israeli Spring" to the events in Cairo. Many have since done so.
Eight weeks after the tent cities in Israel went up, they are now coming down. Having organized what was thought to be the largest demonstration in Israeli history just over a week ago (approximately 400,000 people or 17 percent of the country's population took to the streets), the protest's leaders declared this phase of Israel's social protests to be over. This, despite the fact that the government made no concrete concessions to them. This fact alone should invite a reconsideration of the Israeli Spring in terms of its differences from the demonstrations in Cairo rather than its similarities. Central among these is the interaction between national-security threats and the preservation of unity within the ranks of the demonstrators. Protesters in the Arab Spring deflected their regimes' attempts to use the specter of war with Israel or Islamic radicalism as an excuse for deferring long-deferred democratic and parliamentary reforms. In an already intensely parliamentary Israel, quite a different deflection has been at work: the demand for "social justice" has been put forward in terms that attempt to deny the centrality of the Israel/Palestine conflict on the conditions the protestors would seek to change. At "Rothschild, corner of Tahrir," the protestors have posited social justice as somehow beyond politics as presently understood and practiced in Israel. Given the tendentiousness of the Palestinian question within Israel, it is only by virtue of this basic act of denial that the protests at this scale are at all possible.
The news that Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi's wife and three of his children found political refuge in neighboring Algeria comes as no surprise given the country's long-standing effort to reaffirm its revolutionary heritage, drawn from 132 years of colonial occupation and nearly eight years of a war of national liberation. Yet this historically-rooted revolutionary struggle was long ago routinized. The resulting bureaucratically defined and elitist directed nationalist myth is intended as much to sustain the political status quo as to serve as an exemplar of peoples' revolt against hegemonic rule, whether foreign imposed or domestically conspired.
Algeria's reluctance to abandon its fellow revolutionary in Libya flows from an outdated yet still dominant ideological frame of reference through which Algeria sees the world and wants to be seen by it. It also reflects an unwillingness to accept the new geopolitical and strategic realities that the Arab Spring has brought to North Africa and the Middle East.
Abd al-Hakim Belhaj, the commander of Tripoli's Military Council who spearheaded the attack on Muammar al-Qaddafi's compound at Bab al-Aziziya, is raising red flags in the West. Belhaj, whom I met and interviewed in March 2010 in Tripoli along with Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, is better known in the jihadi world as "Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq." He is the former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a jihad organization with historical links to al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Egyptian al-Jihad organization. Does his prominent role mean that jihadists are set to exploit the fall of Qaddafi's regime?
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
Jordan unveiled a package of constitutional amendments last Sunday which offered the most drastic overhaul of the 1952 constitution ever proposed. King Abdullah promised these revisions on June 12 in a surprising televised speech. The new push came in response to five months of increasingly strident protests and criticism, and seemed designed to emulate the constitutional reform gambit of Morocco's King Mohammed VI.
Many Jordanians were stunned by the explicit promise in June of a future system that would draw governing cabinets from the elected parliament rather than appointment by palace fiat. The idea of constitutional monarchy, which entails divesting absolute royal power to the legislature alongside other sweeping institutional changes, captivated the political salons, business magazines, and civic debates of Amman through July. Many intellectuals compared the excitement in the air to 1989, when King Hussein began to end decades of authoritarian closure through unprecedented political reforms.
The revisions unveiled on Sunday made some serious changes, but fell far short of that promise of elected governments. Unlike in Morocco, there will be no popular referendum. The reforms do not curb the king's core powers or move toward a constitutional monarchy in which he would reign but not rule. The election and parties law, unchecked security services, and rife corruption go untouched. Economic development outside Amman remains laggard. Will such a limited reform gambit be enough to blunt popular pressure on the embattled king?
04 Mar 2011 KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
The trial of deposed President Hosni Mubarak alongside his two sons, his ministers, and their business associates, resumed Monday after launching on August 2. Many Egyptians expressed satisfaction at seeing the dictator on trial by the country's own judicial system, and hope that his conviction would stand as an emblem for a new Egypt. But others had reservations about his treatment. Those mixed feelings reveal how even the prosecution of Egypt's head of state can only represent a first step in a longer-term and more comprehensive process toward transitional justice. The drive for retribution and punishment must not eclipse the need for truth telling, accounting, and transparency.
Egypt is not the first country to struggle with the question of how to bring leaders of a deposed regime to justice. Transitional justice is generally associated with holding accountable perpetrators of massive violations of human rights. But in recent years, activists and scholars have shifted attention to the ways in which transitional justice can facilitate the transition from autocratic to democratic government. For Mubarak's trial to play this role, Egyptians need to rethink what they want from transitional justice. While punishing the old regime for its crimes is necessary and important, the prosecution of deposed officials will ultimately prove an empty victory if the process does not help consolidate a new and meaningful democratic order that ends impunity, reconstructs state-citizen relations, and institutionalizes accountability and rule of law.
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