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Ed Webb

Americans, Put Away Your Quills - By Nathan J. Brown | The Middle East Channel - 0 views

  • constitution writing is a supremely political process. It is not carried out by philosopher kings but pushed through by real political forces playing a gritty political game. Despite what some of us may dimly remember from junior high school U.S. History, our process was no different. Constitutional kibitzing rarely finds an enthusiastic audience. After the initial election in the various Arab countries, the constitution will be the first test of the new balance of political forces -- and it will be the first real opportunity for them to discover not simply how to compete, but how to cooperate. Even more important than the text they produce, the patterns of interaction they establish as they draft will produce lasting patterns for politics. They need to keep their eyes on each other -- and that is precisely what they will do.
  • The U.S. experience, rich as it is, is very idiosyncratic. From a constitutional perspective, the United States is a marsupial: exotic and sometimes even cuddly, but also a product of a completely different evolutionary path.
  • Tunisia received its first constitution when France was an empire and Germany was not yet a state. Egypt has a long and rich tradition of constitutional experiments dating back almost as long. Much of that heritage is deeply troubled to be sure, but most Arab societies are full of people who already speak their own constitutional language
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  • Tunisians debating the country's identity -- so far the biggest hot button issue in constitutional debates -- are hardly likely to pull in foreign consultants to draft language. The Egyptian committee of one hundred people is unlikely to want to be seen as allowing outsiders to vet their work in a political context in which "foreign agendas" are the topic of daily denunciations in the press.
  • If the United States can overcome its own phobia of international law, it will find these documents a promising source of values and of language that Arabs have already accepted in theory.
  • The Egyptian military shows definite signs of attempting to shoehorn in a permanent constitutional role for itself and an exemption from civilian oversight. We likely cannot make them change their minds, but we can communicate publicly to Egyptians that they are doing so without our blessing.
Ed Webb

The Arab revolts in year two | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • a heightened politicisation on all levels
  • the interplay between domestic politics and regional geopolitics certainly promises more turbulence
    Essential reading
Ed Webb

How Qatar got its fingers burned. A foreign policy that backfired - 0 views

  • "There was much to gain from making a highly visible stand against authoritarian misrule in North Africa, in Syria and in Yemen. Moreover, the opportunity cost of doing so was low at first as Qatari expressions of declaratory and material support for opposition movements elsewhere were unlikely to rebound domestically while they also played into Qatar's efforts to be taken seriously as a responsible participant on the regional and international stage." However, according to Ulrichsen, this strategy has started to unravel – partly because of Qatar's ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and partly because it is now viewed less as an impartial mediator and more as an activist and opportunist.
  • "In contrast with the gradual domestication of Brotherhood movements in Kuwait, in the UAE and to a lesser extent in Saudi Arabia where they developed local political groups, Qatar extended and diversified its ties with the regional branches of the movement outside Qatar while keeping a firm lid on any activities at home.  "While Qaradawi and others were given a platform on al-Jazeera, they and other Brotherhood exiles were accommodated in Doha on a tacit understanding that they would refrain from intervening in or commenting on social issues within Qatar itself, thereby establishing a clear distinction between the domestic and regional spheres of activity, and what activities were permissible and what were not."
  • "Above all, there's a danger that the lack of a coherent strategy in its foreign policy which is opportunistic, seizing opportunities as and when they arose, now makes Qatar susceptible to international and domestic sources of instability going against one of its main drivers of foreign policy – which was to maintain a network of security and stability." For these reasons, Ulrichsen expects Qatar to become more introspective under its new emir. 
Ed Webb

The State of Reporting on the Middle East: A STATUS/الوضع Conversation with C... - 1 views

    Well worth listening to the conversation between experienced observers of the region, and of those reporting on it.
Ed Webb

These Limestone Walls: The Arab Spring and Climate Change: A New Dialogue on Sustainabi... - 0 views

    Dickinson student on US oil dependence
Ed Webb

US-Arab disconnect: Revolutions restate region's priorities by Ramzy Baroud* - 0 views

  • the language spoken by the US and that by Arab dictators is largely absent from the lexicon of oppressed, ordinary Arabs aspiring for their long-denied basic rights. Arabs are not unified by the narratives of al-Qaeda or the US. They are united by other factors that often escape Western commentators and officials. Aside from shared histories, religions, language and a collective sense of belonging, they also have in common their experiences of oppression, alienation, injustice and inequality.
  • the al-Qaeda model never captured the imagination of mainstream Arab society. Arab revolutions didn’t challenge Arab society’s perception of al-Qaeda, for the latter had barely occupied even a tiny space of the collective Arab imagination.
Ed Webb

Bahraini military court imposes harsh sentences on dissenters | McClatchy - 0 views

  • Britain’s Foreign Office decried the outcome. “It is deeply worrying that civilians are being tried before tribunals chaired by a military judge, with reports of abuse in detention, lack of access to legal counsel and coerced confessions,” Minister Alistair Burt said. The U.S. State Department was more cautious, saying it was “concerned about the severity of the sentences handed down” and about the use of military courts to try civilians. Nabeel Rajab, Bahrain’s most outspoken human rights advocate, told McClatchy that all 21 people “were targeted for their opinions and their political views, for opposing government policy.” He said all “were tortured, many subject to electric shock, many sexually harassed and all were deprived of the normal access to lawyers and families.”
  • At least 31 people were killed in the violence on the island, and more confrontations seem likely after the sentencing, putting an enormous question mark over a national dialogue between government and opposition that's due to begin July 1.“These sentences today are another indication that the ruling family of Bahrain are completely non-serious about this dialogue,” said Joe Stork, who follows Bahrain closely for Human Rights Watch, the independent U.S. human rights watchdog group. “There are people (in this group) who represent a portion of the political spectrum. Their views should be represented.”Rajab, a one-man human rights watchdog in Bahrain, concurred. “A big part of the people who should be at the table have been sentenced to many years,” he said. “With whom will you have a dialogue?”
Ed Webb

How Yemen's US-backed ex-dictator is tearing his country apart - Telegraph - 2 views

    Single-factor explanations rarely satisfy. Is this a sectarian conflict? An Iran/Saudi proxy war? Partly, maybe. But this is also the outcome of Saleh's regime survival strategy of divide and rule, manipulating the priorities of outside actors.
Ed Webb

Where and why food prices lead to social upheaval - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Unlike other commodities, global food prices have followed a different trajectory. Although down from near-historic highs in 2007-2008 and 2011, they are still higher than at any point in the previous three decades.
  • The economic effects of higher food prices are clear: Since 2007, higher prices have put a brake on two decades of steady process in reducing world hunger. But the spikes in food prices over the past decade have also thrust food issues back onto the security agenda, particularly after the events of the Arab Spring. High food prices were one of the factors pushing people into the streets during the regionwide political turmoil that began in late 2010. Similar dynamics were at play in 2007-2008, when near-record prices led to food-related protests and riots in 48 countries.
  • Unlike energy and electronics, demand for basic foodstuffs is income-inelastic: Whether I have adequate income has no effect on my need for sustenance. Not surprisingly, 97 percent of the post-2007 ‘food riots’ identified by a team at the New England Complex Systems Institute occurred in Africa and Asia, which are home to more than 92 percent of the world’s poor and chronically food-insecure. Careful empirical work bears out this conventional wisdom: High global food prices are more destabilizing in low-income countries, where per capita incomes are lower.
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  • Politics might affect the relationship between food prices and protest through two channels. The first is the extent to which governments shield urban consumers from high global prices. Governments in developing countries often subsidize food purchases, especially those of urban dwellers, shifting welfare from rural producers to urban consumers. But this observation raises the second-order question of the conditions under which governments will subsidize urban consumers. We hypothesized that autocratic governments were more likely to shield urban consumers. While urban dwellers can riot in the absence of elections, rural dwellers have fewer channels through which they can voice grievances.
  • democracies and anocracies did enact more pro-rural food policy. In particular, democracies in Africa and Asia enact policies that favor urban areas less and rural areas more. These take the form of enhancing farmer incomes and raising consumer prices, which often causes protests and rioting. Lessening urban bias in food policy may be good pro-poor policy, given the continued concentration of poverty in rural areas, but it carries political risks.
  • the Arab Spring reflects some of the risks autocratic leaders face when attempting to insulate urban consumers from global market prices. Consumer subsidies have long been part of the “authoritarian bargain” between the state and citizens in the Middle East and North Africa, and attempts to withdraw them have been met with protest before: Egypt’s bread intifada, which erupted over an attempt to reform food subsidies, killed 800 in 1977. These subsidies explicitly encouraged citizens across the region to evaluate their governments’ effectiveness in terms of their ability to maintain low consumer prices — prices that, given these countries’ dependence on food imports, those governments ultimately could not control
  • Our findings point to the difficult tradeoffs facing governments in developing countries as they attempt to pursue two different definitions of food security simultaneously: food security as an element of human security, and food security as a means of ensuring government survival and quelling urban unrest. These tradeoffs appear to be particularly acute for developing democracies.
Ed Webb

Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart - The New York Times - 0 views

    An excellent account of the MENA region's torments since 9/11. Highly recommended
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