Archive for May, 2022

What Can the U.S. Do to Restore Democracy in Tunisia?

Monday, May 23rd, 2022

[On May 23, 2022, Radwan Masmoudi moderated a Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy panel discussion of what the United States can do to restore democracy in Tunisia. This is my summary of highlights of the program, not a transcript. Use of the first person is for convenience only. For a video of the entire discussion click here.]

Sharan Grewal (College of William & Mary; Brookings Institution). We should learn from the mistakes we made in responding to the coup in Egypt.  Aid restatement must be clear about what Kais Saied must do to restore suspended aid. We should delegate decision to restore aid to a third party to depoliticize the decision. We should call the coup a coup since the word is effective in delegitimization. The belief that Saied has the popularity to sell IMF reforms to the Tunisian public is misplaced.  He has already lost popularity and would not want to delegitimate it further by alienating his remaining base who are leftist Nasserists, not Islamists or free market supporters. He needs an off-ramp, a means of being able to claim victory even as democracy is restored. This requires a negotiated solution.

Sara Yerkes (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace). Partially agreed with Sharan.  There is more the international committee needs to do to stop Saied’s power grab that is harming Tunisia. The threat of a new constitution means we have only a couple of months to act. Constitutional referenda usually pass. This will allow him to claim popular support. I do not believe aid suspension will work. I know Tunisia is not Egypt. Sharan made good points about things that could have been done better. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi knew the U.S. would never abandon Egypt. But the language to trigger aid cutoffs is military coup, which does not apply to Tunisia, so while it may affect the conversation, it makes no legal difference. The aid to Egypt was much larger, and it didn’t matter because others stepped in, as they would in the case of the much smaller aid to Tunisia.  Russia needs friends now and could easily fill the gap. Removing aid only removes what leverage we do have. Further, cutting aid could adversely affect Tunisian security on both its borders and internally. Economically it would be counterproductive in that it would hurt not Saied, but the common people.  I suggest a different approach. Keep existing aid levels but rejigger it by giving the money not to the government but to the civil society among whom we have strong partners on the ground.  Redirect aid out of hands of the police. Reward Saied for good behavior by offering to increase the total amount of aid. I agree with conditioning IMF loan on reforms, but you need more than that.  Offer diplomatic carrots like a visit to the White House. Offer clear, public benchmarks. Vague goals like “return to democracy” won’t do the trick.

Shadi Hamid (Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings; Fuller Seminary). This is a the conversation we should have had nine months ago. We must act in the next few months or throw in the towel. I called for suspension of aid and IMF talk last year. Responses that Tunisia is different from other coups have been proven wrong. Partial aid cuts don’t work. The failed aid cut in Egypt was incredibly partial, consisting of only 8% of the aid. It  dilutes the message. Even U.S. officials were unsure of what it meant. Kerry said to his Egyptian counterpart aid is “a very little issue.” I would agree that aid cuts are not the only answer.  I call for the maximalist option in which the IMF is our primary lever. It is a little messy to involve the IMF in political questions, but the U.S. has the ability to do it if it has the political will and brings its European partners on board. Anything less than a full-throated approach runs the risk of alienating Saied without affecting things. Tunisia is at risk of default. IMF support also opens up other financial lines and is the key to the Tunisian economy. Tunisia needs the U.S. much more than we need them. There is no excuse to tiptoe around Kais Saied when he is in such a weak position. We say that the struggle between democracy and authoritarianism is the most important struggle of our time, but we suffer from Middle East exceptionalism in which we act as if we do not believe democracy is appropriate to the Middle East.

Larry Diamond (Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, Stanford University). We should not be overly offended by the Biden administration’s lack of attention to democracy in the Middle East because the administration has similarly slighted the issue elsewhere, including India, where Muslims make up one of the largest minority groups anywhere in the world. The same for the Philippines. There are few countries in the world that have so disproportionate an impact on the future of democracy for their population size as Tunisia. Although the law banning aid to countries in which a coup has taken place refers to military coups, the signaling impact of calling this a coup is essential to undermining its legitimacy. If we do not call a spade a spade here, where in the world shall we do so? The difference between Sharan and Sara’s positions may not be as great as it sounds because the impact of cutting government-to-government aid cannot be overstated. If we can cultivate training and lending for small and medium enterprises in Tunisia, it can help to separate the regime from the people while emphasizing our commitment to the Tunisian people. The goal of private diplomacy can and should be to manipulate the cost/benefit analysis. We must make clear to Saied what will happen to him if he continues down the path of institutionalizing this coup.  It is simply not correct to say constitutional referenda always succeed. We should urge our friends to not boycott the election.

Radwan Masmoudi (Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy).  As head of a civil society organization, I would welcome support for civil society; but I have been very disappointed by civil society in Tunisia which has been largely silent and in some cases supported the coup. Civil society organizations in Tunisia are afraid of standing up to Saied. The military has supported Saied in shutting down the parliament. Why don’t we have leverage on the military, which cares about its relationship with the United States?

Grewal. I agree that the military’s actions suggest support of the coup. They might argue that they are just following orders, but the order is unconstitutional, and they have resisted unconstitutional orders in the past. I think if a message is sent from the U.S. military to the Tunisian military, it would be effective in leveraging U.S. military aid. Although this is a presidential rather than military coup, presidential coups are becoming more common, and that increases the importance of sending the right message. Although Algeria and the Saudis have given some money to Tunisia, I am not sure that our taking a stronger stance would increase the aid. Even if it does, let it happen; the Tunisians need the money.

Yerkes. The U.S. has used the IMF as leverage since day one, but it has not worked. It is a good idea, but it is not sufficient. Suppose we cut off all aid and end IMF involvement: the result is starvation of the Tunisian people. I don’t see how that helps. I agree that the military should exert pressure.

Hamid.  We have not used the IMF lever to this point.  We are talking about suspending talks (including talks about talks) if certain conditions are not met. There is no prospect of Tunisia moving towards Russia or China. The equipment we have given Tunisia can’t run on Russian or Chinese support.

Diamond. Russia is so overextended now that a Tunisian turn to Russia does not seem plausible. When a military has been trained by the United States, we have a lot of leverage; but when the boom is lowered it sets into a motion a new set of dynamics.  A careful evaluation of costs and benefits is needed, but we should try to separate Saied both from the Tunisian people and the Tunisian military.

Grewal. Sarah’s proposal to redirect aid to civil society is clever. Another approach would be to reinstate aid in stages as incremental goals are met.

Hamid.  The United States has actively supported authoritarians in the Middle East. It has been a bipartisan strategy that goes back for decades. It cannot be changed at the margins. It requires a major change in strategy.

Grewal. The question has been raised: “Is Saied a rational actor?” There is one overriding issue for him: a new republic.

Yerkes. The U.S. had no interaction with Tunisia before the Arab Spring. We care about Tunisia because we care about democracy in Tunisia.

Hamid. I do not deny American political actors prefer democracy, but when they calculate cost and benefits democracy carries little weight. Otherwise we would not have seen the moral stains of the last twenty or thirty years.

Diamond. We all agree that the next few months are critical and that the Biden administration must be pressed to act.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

News and Analysis 5/22/22

Sunday, May 22nd, 2022

“Shareholders of both firms will soon vote on resolutions that would mandate reconsideration of a project they fear has grave human rights consequences”:

Noting that setting the blood money for a female victim at half that of a male is not found in the Qur’an, the Council calls it an “intellectual and moral evil that was rejected by jurists”:

Muslim leaders in Nigeria are calling for stronger laws to criminalize vigilantes engaged in murder in the pretext of fighting blasphemy …

… while one group seeks to take legal action against a pastor whose vile insults seem to them calculated to start a religious war:

The BJP assertion that its repression of Kashmir would enhance Hindu security proves delusional. “This new Kashmir is not secure for us, it is not secure for anybody” …

… including the “the tiny Dogra Rajput community”:

“Ariel Sharon is recorded saying …, ‘We have an interest in expanding and enlarging the shooting zones there, to keep these areas, which are so vital, in our hands'”:

Despite scarce data, studies exist indicating that mental health struggles Muslims face include high suicide risk, PTSD, adjustment disorder, and anxiety disorder:

“Israel is blocking the work of the European Parliament” — Manu Pineda:

Men engaged in polygyny not only violate the conditions under which it is permitted, but refuse to listen to scholars as to their responsibilities:

A CENTCOM spokesman “said a U.S. Air Force refueling tanker had conducted a ‘dry refueling mission'” with Israel that “was ‘not tied to’ Israel’s ongoing ‘Chariots of Fire’ exercise”:

News and Analysis 5/21/22

Saturday, May 21st, 2022

“I cannot continue to support the existence of a coalition that disgracefully harasses the society I came from”:

“The accused Dinesh Kushwah … is said to be the husband of a local BJP leader”:

Forbidden to fish, “Muslim fishermen in Gujarat have sought permission from the Gujarat High Court to undergo collective euthanasia”:

“Kashmiri carries the uncertainty of not having its own alphabet because of certain religious, political and historical ideologies and biases”:

“A new video that begins moments before Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed has emerged showing relative calm and quiet, contrary to claims by Israeli officials”:

The proposal “was originally put forward by the …  student government body” and passed by the student body”:

The victim’s family “no longer have faith in the Palestinian court system after learning the 14 suspects linked to the case were released from prison without a judicial order”:

News and Analysis 5/19/22

Thursday, May 19th, 2022

“[T]he Jerusalemite … arrested at his home in the Shuafat area in the early hours of Monday morning … [has] been held in solitary confinement since his arrest”:

What American White supremacists call the “great replacement” theory, Israeli Jewish supremacists call “demographic time bombs” …

… as Israel looks forward to repeat of a demonstration that last year featured marchers “outside one of the entrances to the walled Old City, chanting ‘death to Arabs'”:

The Timesfalsely reported that Al Jazeera and the Palestinian Health Minister said that Shireen Abu Akleh was shot during ‘clashes'”:

Israel “has chosen to prioritise the establishment of Jewish-only settlements and infrastructure in occupied Palestine, which is in itself a war crime”:

American refueling planes will participate in a simulation of an attack on Iran:

Indian “cities are being renamed to erase traces of Muslim history, while Muslims in metropolitan areas face ghettoization on account of structural biases”:

“Even if it doesn’t pass, it becomes a moment of the historical record and it becomes another seed planted,” — Palestinian-American human rights attorney Noura Erakat:

News and Analysis 5/16/22

Monday, May 16th, 2022

“The relative horror expressed over the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh is justified and necessary. It is also belated and self-righteous. Now you’re appalled?” — Gidon Levy:

Old habits are hard to break. Once again Germany bans Jews (this time Jüdische Stimme, a Jewish group that supports Palestinian rights) from speaking out …

… and “arrested and repressed anyone they saw demonstrating support for Palestine”:

“Oz, who would be the country’s first Muslim senator” condemned his opponent’s tweet that “[p]edophilia is a Cornerstone of Islam”:

Iran has arrested some filmmakers and a sociology professor:

Djalali “was sentenced to death the following year after being found guilty of passing information about two Iranian nuclear scientists to … Mossad … that had led to their assassinations”:

After approving crypto mining in 2019 the regime established licensing, regulations, and tariffs that have pushed miners into illegal activity to benefit from electricity subsidies:

India bristles that the OIC is among the many critics of its gerrymandering aimed at disempowering Muslims:

“The City Council voted unanimously in April for the street renaming to honor the city’s large Palestinian community and its contributions to civic life and business”:

The “recently reimprisoned Palestinian lawyer and activist” wants the ICC to investigate “years of persecution and new tactics to forcibly transfer Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem”:

News and Analysis 5/13/22

Friday, May 13th, 2022

“An Al Jazeera livestream captured the moment mourners nearly dropped Abu Akleh’s coffin as Israeli forces beat them”:

ICE “has gone well beyond its immigration enforcement mandate, instead evolving into something of a broader domestic surveillance agency”:

“[A]n all-too-familiar aspect of flying while Muslim”:

The chemistry professor’s dismissal brings to thirteen the number terminated “without an inquiry in the interest of the State’s security”:

“[D]emolitions in the area since last week’s court ruling [are] triggering fears of a mass deportation not seen in two decades”:

Zaghari-Ratcliffe said she had to live “in the shadow” of Johnson’s assertion that she was in Iran on professional rather than personal business:

The U.S. doesn’t share Borrell’s optimism while Iran blames Israel for the bizarre detention of the EU team at the the Frankfort airport on their return from Iran:

What Albaz’s attorney calls opposition to violent attacks on any religious site is in the minds of Israeli prosecutors “praise, identification and encouragement for violent acts”:

News and Analysis 5/11/22

Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

Israeli tactics for silencing critical information include murdering journalists:

Clara Muhammad’s “homeschool alternative to what were often substandard inner-city public schools” is part of the “legacy and tradition … that led to the Inner-City Muslim Action Network”:

Israeli censorship in the U.S.: Mark Esper is upset that the passage in his book  on what Netanyahu urged the Trump administration to do has been redacted:

Iran will not cooperate as long as the U.S. refuses to go back to the JCPOA:

A neocon think tank is accused of seeking to equate criticism of the government’s Prevent program with promoting terrorism:

Iran denies that it interested in a swap for an Iranian facing a possible life sentence in Sweden:

“The Supreme Court had issued guidelines for using loudspeakers with prescribed decibel levels from 6 am to 10 pm”:

News and Analysis 5/10/22

Tuesday, May 10th, 2022

Hindu nationalist Ram Madhav should take the medicine he prescribes:

Israel’s violent rampage continues:

“It is a criminal act and the worst crime as per Islam” — Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi :

“Activists … in repressive, occupying, apartheid, ethnocratic, or totalitarian regimes … [face] a legal system that collaborates, and sometimes even identifies with” government crimes:

A British cyclist finds Persian hospitality consistently prevails over nationalist ideology:

“Punishments for breaking the rule will (for the most part) be inflicted not on the women, but … female employees could also lose their jobs for failing to cover up” …

… while in Louisiana, a sociologist finds found empowerment through modest fashion:

“There should be no objection to loudspeakers put atop temple”:

Months of demonstrations pay off:

Israel’s policy towards non-Jews, crippling for Muslims, means extinction for Christianity in the land of its birth:

News and Analysis 5/7/22

Saturday, May 7th, 2022

Mainstream American churches are not yet united as they were against South African apartheid, but they are increasing uncomfortable about using euphemisms for the Israeli variety:

“They only close Arab and Muslims stores because the mayor has decided to pursue a racist policy against street gang violence rather than to find an effective way to. confront crime”:

The UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in the occupied territories says eviction  amounts to illegal “forcible transfer from their homes and destruction of their communities”:

HRW says that at least 17 of the 38 arrested teachers are still in detention:

Esper warned that the assassination was “fraught with a range of legal, diplomatic, political and military implications, not to mention that it could plunge us into war with Iran”:

The performers had to cancel a “Circus of Joy” tour after they “were shot at and tear gassed leaving the school to get back to are accommodation”:

“[P]olice had reportedly arrested and imprisoned at least 578 people in at least four cities in connection with the clashes”:

A Brown University professor says the current violence differs from past attacks on Muslims and that “India may be entering the stage of the anti-Muslim pogrom” …

… and the life of Muslims in Mahatma Ghandi’s home town has been made so miserable that they are petitioning the government to kill them:

“[W]hen Israeli settlers engaged in terrorist activities against Palestinian civilians under such circumstances, the courts didn’t hold Israel liable to pay for the damage caused”:

News and Analysis 5/5/22

Thursday, May 5th, 2022

“They are kidnapping Muslim children…. They don’t accept that they have other ways to live” — Siv Westerberg, lawyer who won eight cases against Swedish social services:

Arriving an hours after the man had been beaten up, the police then arrested the victim:

“[K]illers hadn’t heard any blasphemous words from the victim herself. They had reportedly heard that one of their relatives saw the blasphemy in her dream!”:

Thanks to a currency conversion error, “world’s most authoritative data on global military expenditure” falsely stated that Iran spends more on military than Israel:

The Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy seeks “just peace, human rights, credible elections, capable autonomous governance, and equitable development“:

“[T]he first gym for Muslim women in Canada … mainly teaches martial arts and self-defense”:

BJP gerrymandering:

“Korea mostly receives news and information about Islam through Western media, most of which have hostile views toward the religion”:

With America’s vacillating regional policy and dubious military commitment Gulf states are following Qatar’s lead and “hedging their bets”: