On October 24, the ISN co-hosted a roundtable discussion with the Cordoba Foundation on the recent political turmoil in Egypt and on the possible ways to resolve it. Today, we present some of the discussion’s highlights, with a particular emphasis on the observations made by Dr Maha Azzam.
The discussion started off by focusing on the ‘narratives’ that the Western media has used to both bound and characterize the Arab Spring. In the following response, Dr Azzam focuses on the term ‘Islamism’ and how it has been misused, often with negative consequences, by media outlets, politicians and others.
Since independence, relations between citizens and their states in the Gulf have been shaped in part by the oil and gas wealth that these countries enjoy. Control over oil and gas revenues allows the governments to offer extensive benefits to citizens, while hardly needing to extract any taxes. This system, often described as a rentier state, means that while the state is absolved from the usual need to obtain income from its citizens, they in turn have less of a stake in demanding transparency, accountability and so on, or so the argument goes. Meanwhile, others in the Gulf see their state benefits as evidence of the magnanimity of paternalistic rulers.
The arguments between those who see dissidents as mere ingrates, and those who see conservatives as regime stooges, have been growing more polarized. The resulting political tensions are visible above all in Bahrain, where renewed protests are being met with an intensive crackdown today; and in the UAE, over the recent sentencing of opposition activists, and to some extent also in Kuwait. But either way, the fact remains that this economic model is not sustainable in the long term.
Once widely considered a desirable endpoint for all nations, democracy’s seeming benefits are now openly questioned by many. The poor results of democratization in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with the rise of economically successful non-democracies such as China, have caused democracy promotion to lose some of its luster. So, given these recent trends, what are democracy’s prospects for the future?
This question was the primary focus of a recent panel discussion hosted by the Forum Aussenpolitik (foraus) and NCCR Democracy at the University of Zurich. Entitled “Democracy Promotion: Lessons from Different Regions of the World,” the discussion featured three experts who analyzed the ways and means of democracy promotion; its feasibility; how and whether it should be encouraged, and its successes and failures.
On April 25, 2012 the Russian Duma passed a law [ru] that restored direct gubernatorial elections to Russia’s federal subjects, reversing a policy of direct presidential appointments. The law is one of several concessions President Dmitry Medvedev offered in response to the Bolotnaya Square protests last winter. However, on April 28 Medvedev accepted the resignations [ru] of the Governors of Permskiy Krai and Yaroslavkaya Oblast. These resignations have sparked outrage from opposition bloggers who believe that the Kremlin is reneging on promises to loosen its grip on central power.
The Russian Federation is composed of eighty-three “federal subjects” that are a mix of Republics, Oblasts and Krais with various degrees of autonomy. During the tumultuous decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union some of them gained a large measure of independence. Some, like the Chechen Republic, tried to leave the federation altogether. After becoming President, Vladimir Putin consolidated central authority, a campaign that culminated in 2005 with presidential appointments of hitherto elected federal governors. These appointments were a cornerstone of Putin’s “power vertical” framework, and as such, a return to elections seemed welcome reform.
He gives an overview of reform proposals and analyzes factors blocking the reform project. Disagreements, regional rivalries and institutional obstacles have led to a Gordian Knot, an intractable problem solved by a bold move, which will require a high degree of willingness for compromise to entangle, he argues.
Failing this, Trachsler warns against a substantial loss of legitimacy for the UN’s most powerful body. He stresses that it is particularly in the interest of small and medium states to avoid this.