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Most people know that Iran developing and possessing a nuclear weapon is a major problem that we have to solve, and we need to do it soon. And the latest poll from the Pew Research Center confirms that conclusion.

Public Supports Military Action Against Iran to Prevent Nuclear Weapons – Pew Research Center.

However, what the poll also shows is that although most Americans believe that we should pursue a diplomatic solution to the problem, they also, almost paradoxically believe that such efforts will ultimately fail. Therefore, a majority also said they would support military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. And keep in mind as well that there is not much partisan division over this approach. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support this.

I completely agree with and understand the sentiment of the people polled, Iran developing a nuclear weapon is incredibly dangerous and the problem needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. But where we differ is in the last part, the use of military force part.

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The advancement of democracy throughout the world has always been uneven, and fraught with setbacks and false miracles. The last few years have demonstrated this powerfully.

Latin America is becoming, overall, more democratic. This is good news, but lamentable anti-democratic tendencies in Venezuela and elsewhere warrant close watching.

Democracy in Africa is a mixed bag, with failed states and entrenched poverty proving to be as much, if not more, of an obstacle to democratisation as authoritarian regimes. In countries such as the Democratic republic of Congo, free elections have not increased security. What Africa needs most at this time is not a rapid proliferation of free elections (which could actually do far more harm than good), but rapid stabilisation, regional cooperation, and pro-poor economic development.

In Asia, the minority of democracies seem stable for now, but so do the majority of non-democratic regimes. The Saffron Revolution in Burma failed to cause the collapse of that country’s brutal junta, despite the unfathomably brave actions of its long-suffering citizens. Pakistan has just been put under martial law, with opposition activists and lawyers being rounded up en masse and independent media severely curtailed. China, the region’s fastest rising power, continues to be a powerful refutation of the oft-espoused idea that market liberalisation naturally brings greater freedom for ordinary people.

The same can be said for Russia, where civil society has been marginalized in the public sphere and repeatedly bludgeoned by the ever more anti-democratic policies of the Government of President Vladimir Putin. 

Democracy is ailing in Russia’s "Near Abroad" as well, with Central Asia dominated by authoritarian regimes of varying degrees of brutality, and the Caucasus region remaining volatile, and largely un-democratic. Just the other day, it became clear that the OSCE will not be able to effectively monitor Russia’s upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, and may have it’s election monitoring activities restricted or curtailed altogether in countries such as Armenia, increasingly swayed more by Russia’s anti-Western line than the European Union’s promises of closer ties.

If liberal democracy is entrenched anywhere, it is in Western Europe. But, even there, the forecast is not uniformly blue skies and sunshine. The rise of right wing parties is posing unprecedented social and political challenges in relatively tolerant countries (such as Switzerland and Belgium) and even the most tolerant, such as the Netherlands.

And now we come to the United States and Canada, to the majority Anglophone democracies North America. Canada, democracy-wise, falls more in line with Western European states than it’s nearest southern neighbor. With strong and independent institutions and a dynamic multi-party legislature, Canada isn’t perfect by any means, but its system is open, self correcting, and self-improving.

Tragically, this is no longer so in the United States. Eight years of unrelenting, unpunished corruption and law-breaking have badly damaged the United States’ democracy in reputation and in practice. Public faith in the legislative and executive branches are at historic laws. The Department of Justice, with its long string of corruption scandals and reputation for politically-tainted policy, can lamentably be now seen as neither as a pillar of the rule of law nor an independent branch of government. But the problem is even more severe than that: with more and more evidence surfacing of Justice Department officials –from the Attorney General on down– collaborating in criminal actions by the Bush Administration, the Justice Department itself is becoming the country’s most destructive underminer of the rule of law. To these alarming realities, American civil society has been slow to react, but rule of law organisations, most prominently the Center for Constitutional Rights and ACLU, are now, at this very late stage, working to together to strike back hard at the administration that has turned what was a flawed liberal democracy into something unrecognizable to its own citizens and the people of the world.

And just a soon as it had begun, it was over. The two-day Rabat, Morocco, conference was a great success, drawing inquisitive, engaged young people from the US and Morocco to discuss two big issues: democracy and security. While the first day included discussions by three panels of experts, the second day was dedicated to youth dialogue (hence the “American-Moroccan Youth Dialogue” title).

On account of the caffeine delivery delay, we started the day a half hour late, but made up the time throughout the day. We divided the 40-odd participants into four groups, making…? That’s right, 10 for each group. (And we’re not math majors). The groups were given the first topic—“ Democracy”—and were told to discuss for 1.5 hours. Clearly, you could spend years discussing this topic and could approach this topic from many angles. We wanted to give each group the opportunity to speak about what they found most interested and to see what direction the discussion led. I hopped from room to room, and was very impressed and surprised by some of the comments, especially from the Moroccan side. Several young Moroccans were very outspoken and critical of the king and his policies (especially regarding the alleviation of poverty). The Moroccans felt they were able to share these thoughts and these criticisms, which I took to mean one of two things. Either, they felt that this forum was a “safe space” in which criticisms of the king’s policies would be accepted, or they are not afraid to speak out against unpopular policies in general. Either way, I took this is a very good sign.

The second 1.5 hour discussion session was dedicated to “Conflict and Security.” Terrorism in Morocco is completely rejected, deemed “un-Moroccan” and “un-Islamic.” Perhaps even more so than the Americans, the Moroccans spoke about the threat of domestic terrorism and the pressing need to begin to address root causes of terrorism—especially poverty and education. Throughout both sessions, groups were developing policy recommendations addressed to the Moroccan and American Government that were to be voted on and, optimally, ratified in the afternoon.

After lunch, the large group reconvened and debated the 33 draft policy recommendations under the titles: Education, Media, Moroccan Politics and Governance, Combating Terrorism, and American Democracy Promotion Projects. In the democratic tradition, we welcomed amendments (2) and debate about each recommendation. At the conclusion of debate, each participant voted on secret ballot “yes” or “no” to the recommendation. After three hours of debate and amending, we ultimately ratified 20 recommendations (by getting a majority of votes from both nationalities). We were all very pleased with the result, this body of recommendations we had organically created through democratic practice—consultation, voting, consensus.

Laurel Rapp

Rabat, Morocco

Written on May 26

The first day of the Rabat, Morocco, conference has just come to a close! We’re all exhausted, but very pleased with the way it turned out! Al Jazeera (Qatar-based pan-Arab TV station) was there broadcasting introductions and two of the three panels all day, which adds a bit of excitement to the mix. In the US, Al Jazeera is perceived as quite negative, portraying a skewed image of the US to the world, but for all of the Middle East, it’s THE moderate news source. But I’ll return to press coverage later…

I kicked off the conference to a room of 80+ with a welcome and introductions including a picture of the rather dismal world opinion of the US. I detailed the purpose of the two-day conference, to increase cross-cultural understanding, to give young people a voice because they so often fall on deaf ears, and to create a space for Americans and Moroccans to discuss their countries’ policies in a neutral forum. Conference partners James Liddell of the Project on Middle East Democracy (Georgetown-based student group) and the President of the Moroccan Center for Strategic Studies spoke about the importance of such a dialogue at this very critical time in history.

Introductions were followed with some very knowledgeable and renowned scholars, activists, and politicians. The first day had three panels entitled:

1) “Talking About Democracy”

2) “US Democracy Promotion Projects in Morocco”

3) “Security in the context of US-Morocco Relations”

All of the panels were fascinating, but perhaps the most fun to watch due to the tension among the panels (and the one that received the most bizarre and misinformed press coverage) was the third panel.

The third panel included the President of the research center partner organization, a Moroccan from a local NGO currently staging a boycott against the American Embassy, and an American Government representative. Awkward? Younes Foudil of the Moroccan NGO participating in the boycott went head-to-head with Craig Karp, the seasoned diplomat from the American Embassy in Rabat (in a very civilized and respectful way, as professionals do, of course. Sorry kids, little to no Jerry Springer action).

Karp, of the Embassy, generously told Foudil that he was encouraged by the development of Moroccan civil society and its realization that boycotting and striking are powerful tools to social change (even boycotting his work….quite generous). Despite the impressiveness of all three panelists, the audience directed a barrage of questions solely at Karp—questions ranging from—more or less—“how do you sleep at night” to more nuanced, less personally offensive questions about official policy towards the contested southern region of Morocco (or region south of Morocco, depending on who you talk to). The first day ended on a high note with applause and positive energy that participants will take to tomorrow’s day of dialogue.

And now for some comic relief: As we all filed outside to the pool terrace of the hotel for Moroccan mint tea and cookies in our business suits, we came across a rather curious sight. Right in the middle of our tea break space was a European couple lounging by the pool facedown, in bikini and speedo, I had to chuckle to myself as Al Jazeera started setting up its cameras to interview us and had to move to avoid this h’shuma (shameful according to Islam) sight.

Laurel Rapp

Rabat, Morocco

Written on May 25, 2007

Only a few days away from the third and final conference in the “Bringing the World Home Series,” and we’re still trying to manage several (ok, one) diplomatic crises.  This conference series, sponsored by AID and POMED (the Project on Middle East Democracy) very successful opened in Amman, Jordan, in mid-April.  Prince Hassan of Jordan and Boutros-Boutros Ghali were honored guests and speakers, participants engaged in productive, exciting dialogue, and the event got excellent pres (which is always nice!).  We then moved to Cairo in early May, where we welcomed Americans and Egyptians from around the world (as far as New Zealand, Bosnia, and Washington DC) as we hotly debated American foreign policy in the region, listened to experts, and ultimately enjoyed a dinner cruise on the Nile.

And then it was back across North Africa to Rabat, Morocco, (where I currently live) to finish up the preparations for the Rabat conference that is to take place May 25-26.  We have a great selection of panelists and qualified youth participants who represent a variety of viewpoints—always makes for interesting dialogue to say the least.  Our three panels are currently on “Talking about Democracy,” “US Democracy Promotion Projects in Morocco,” and “Conflict and Security.”  Recent developments at the US Embassy and Consulate in Morocco, however, may have doomed the appearance of the US Embassy representative scheduled for the third panel—whose presence is currently hanging by a thread—while my co-chair and I sit at the edge of our seats, biting our nails.  Without going into painful and obscure detail, the US Embassy is currently under much scrutiny after a political gaffe (did he misspeak? Or does he truly not recognize Moroccan claims to the Western Sahara) on the part of the American Ambassador in reference to contested territory in southern Morocco (which is a generally obscure conflict for all of the world with the exception of Morocco, Algeria, and the UN).  This coupled with the closing of the US Consulate in Casablanca following a suicide bombing last month, American Government officials in Rabat aren’t Morocco’s favorite people right now; American Government officials claim that the Consulate has yet to open due to security concerns, while many Moroccans have interpreted it as a symbolic statement against the Moroccan population.

In any event, what this means for us is that the Embassy has become very sensitive to media, and after hearing that Al Jazeera wanted to film portions of the conference, they’ve suddenly gotten cold feet.  Understandably.  Yet, we think it’s very important for both a Moroccan and an American Government official to be present to explain official policy.  So, the jury’s still out in regards to the appearance of our US Government official.  I’ll keep you posted.

Laurel Rapp
Rabat, Morocco
Written on May 22

Una’s note: Laurel blogged these a while back, but they didn’t show up, so I’m posting them now. The Cairo conference took place May 3-5.

Report 1.

Bringing the World Home:  An American-Egyptian Youth Dialogue on U.S. Policy

After a two week lull, the second conference in the three-part “Bringing the World Home” series was held this weekend at the American University in Cairo.  Unlike the Amman conference that focused on democratization in Jordan, the Cairo conference was to assess US policy in Egypt and the Middle East.  The evening opening ceremony was open to the public, drawing many Egyptians from the environs and Americans studying at the university. The American contingent was decidedly smaller, bringing about 10 students from around the world (Europe, North Africa, New Zealand, the US) and about five Americans studying abroad in Cairo.

The keynote speaker, Ambassador Sobeeh, spoke very briefly about U.S. policy in the region, more specifically about the state of Israel.  He was somewhat coolly receive by the American participants for his strong, unbalanced words against Israel and his general failure to address U.S. policy outside of its unconditional support of Israel. 

The evening continued with speeches of introduction by sponsoring organizations, including my presentation of AID and a short film the Egyptian delegates prepared on the importance of the conference.  The film was a series of still images, and our initial concern surrounding the film (which initially featured many anti-American images), came to represent a variety of positions.

Report 2.

Cairo Conference Day 2

The first full day of the conference was very intensive—several panels, a lot of discussion in small groups, and informal conversations scattered in between.

Friday kicked off on a good start.  The first panel on “US Democracy Promotion Strategy” was composed of a professor from the American University of Cairo, conference chair Rashad Mahmood, and Saana al-Banna, the great granddaughter of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.  After an overview of the six phases of American foreign policy as seen by Prof Lynch, Rashad and Saana discussed impediments to US democracy strategy in the region. 

After the panel, students went off to their small discussion groups to delve deeper into issues covered by the panel.  I attended a rather large group, perhaps 20 Egyptians, 4 Americans.  Clearly, the topic we were to be discussing is INCREDIBLY controversial and difficult.  Unfortunately, some of the Egyptian participants went on the offensive against the outnumbered Americans, lambasting US foreign policy in their region, lamenting the double standards of its policy, and supporting claims with faulty or no evidence.  One 19-year old Egyptian student claimed that because of America’s moral depravity (claiming that most Californians walk around naked all the time—a suspect claim at best, but then again, I’ve never been to CA myself.  Neither has he coincidentally.)  Little to no substantive solutions were offered to complaints (we were charged with preparing policy recommendations stemming from the discussion). The Americans left feeling rather frustrated and upset.   

I found the afternoon panel on “US and Regional Conflicts{“ incredibly interesting. The two panelists—representatives from the US Dept of State and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, spoke about US involvement in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the War in Lebanon this summer.  The American deleaguate was generally optimistic about America’s role in the Middle East, although did admit to concerns about the War in Iraq.  The Egyptian deleguage discussed, among other things, his personal relationship with September 11 (in Washington at the time) and how it changed the world forever and set the US on a new, more aggressive course. 

Afternoon discussions seemed to be generally more productive.  People listened to each other, questioned in a more respectful way.  Many Egyptian participants concurred that the US should stop its support for Israel and begin supporting Arab countries in the region more.   Several Egyptians were concerned with the powerful “Zionist Lobby” in the US, concerned that it did not represent the wishes of the American people.  I and several others responded to this concern—I think there is a general misperception in the Arab world about a) the power of the pro-Israel lobby and; b) the degree to which Israel is supported by the American people.  I would argue that the majority of Americans feel some kinship with Israel as this little chunk of land is the spiritual homeland for a large percentage of America’s population.  I do believe that Americans care what happens to Israel and that it’s partially our responsibility to protect Israel as we were instrumental in its establishment.  In any event, it was important for participants on both sides to hear the mainstream views of Egyptians and Americans, understand that we both hold misconceptions about the other side, and move to a more productive place once these have been debunked. 

The first full day concluded with a talk on Islam from the Bridges Foundation, an organization that organizes educational programs about the true tenants of Islam.

Report 3.

Cairo AID Conference, May 5

Saturday was a full day of debate, discussion, and really delving into the issues we’d been discussing in passing the previous day.  We broke down into smaller groups (about 8), which turned out to be an excellent way to talk about the issues in a non-confrontational way.  Each group offered policy recommendations that were later combined into a list of 35.

After the morning panel on “War of Words,” I gave a presentation on effective international communication.  I had a whole presentation prepared that discussed methods of bringing what you’ve learned home to your communities and presenting it ina way that they will relate to.  After Friday’s events, I realized that we didn’t even know how to really talk to one another and brining the messages home is the second step; the first is communication.  I gave a presentation on the do’s and don’t of communication.  Participants did an exercise that made them stand in the shoes of another; the American participant was the Egyptian Ambassador the US and the Egyptian the American Ambassador.  With this role reversal, the ambassadors were charged in presenting their government’s position, strategic interests, and concerns for its foreign policy.  Participants said that it was a very effective way of understanding the other’s positions and misconceptions of Egypt’s and the US’s interests and goals. 

The afternoon was dedicated to voting on the policy recommendations put forth by small group discussions.   We voted on 35 resolutions ranging from the need for increased cultural exchange programs between the US and the Arab world to the importance of respecting UN resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Participants were welcome to make two amendments to the recommendation, after which point, secret ballot voting occurred.  The votes are now being tabulated, and I look forward to see what passed and what was voted down.

By the end of the two days, progress had been made.  We both understood the others’ positions better, were aware of misperceptions that our counterparts possessed of us, and came together to create and vote on policy recommendations.  Compared to the general harmony of the Amman Conference, Egypt was a bit of a wake-up call in terms of the general hostility towards the US government and Americans.  What was interesting to both sides, I think, was that although we expected to share very little common ground, we happened to agree on many of the issues when we got down to it.  I hope we will bring the lessons learned in Cairo back to our communities and share these messages.

Thanks to David in Amman for this.

U.S. Democracy Strategy:
An American-Jordanian Dialogue


April 19-21, 2007
Amman, Jordan


Conference Recommendations

The following recommendations were approved democratically by young
Americans and Jordanians (ages 18-28) at a conference entitled “U.S.
Democracy Strategy: An American-Jordanian Dialogue” in Amman, Jordan
from April 19-21. Each recommendation was developed by the participants
in small group discussions, then discussed and amended in general
session, and finally voted upon by the participants by secret ballot.
The recommendations were approved by a majority of the Americans and a
majority of the Jordanians.

The conference was organized by Americans for Informed Democracy (AID),
the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and the al-Urdun al-Jadid
(New Jordan) Research Center (UJRC). Some of these recommendations are
directed toward the U.S. government, others to the Jordanian
government, and others to the media and civil society organizations.


Strengthening Democracy

1. Recognizing that the limits placed on freedom of speech and assembly
in Jordan are undefined and unknown, causing inconsistency in their
application of upholding and protecting such rights and freedoms, and
also causing a high degree of confusion, discouraging citizens’
engagement with the political system:
We recommend that these laws and their method of application be defined
and published for the people, to promote consistency of application and
also to promote and facilitate citizen participation and engagement.

2. In order to create a culture of participatory democracy, we
recommend compulsory civic education in Jordanian schools starting in
kindergarten. This includes:
a) engaging youth in voting activities that allow them to see the result of their participation;
b) empowering young adults to affect public policy and decision-making;
c) critical thinking skills; and
d) integrating into the basic curriculum available folklore that demonstrates democratic principles.

3. Any student council in a public school or university should be elected by popular vote.

4. Create independent public awareness tools, such as a website or
television campaign on a channel with a large Jordanian viewership, to
inform citizens of prospective changes in the existing Parliamentary
election system.

5. Universities should ensure that students are not penalized for their political affiliations. This includes:
a) an ongoing student dialogue regarding political participation among university students; and
b) in cooperation with university administrations, codification of
policies regarding the political activities of university students so
that they may be consistently applied.

6. To educate the general public on the importance of democracy, its
implications, and their freedoms and rights as citizens of a democratic
government, we recommend using television programs among other forms of
media communication as a vehicle through which to instill the values
necessary for a successful democracy.

7. Reaffirming the importance of America’s significant foreign aid to
Jordan, we encourage the United States government to demand
accountability for its financial support of Jordanian institutions in
order to ensure that the funds have been directed toward their intended
destination. This information should be made accessible to the
Jordanian and American publics.

8. To strengthen democracy in Jordan, we believe in educating
Jordanians at the grassroots level for the purpose of generating
conditions upon which an organically cultivated, benevolent awareness
of democratic principles may be fostered. To this end, we recommend the
following:

Creating actual spaces where dialogue may occur between citizens and
governmental representatives in order to maintain clear lines of
accountability, including conferences, town hall meetings, open
parliament sessions, increased office hours for representatives, and
other initiatives.

9. Mobilizing an independent traveling troupe to engage citizens in a
tangible presentation of democratic principles by means of dramatic
performance.

10. Recognizing the overwhelming influence of the tribal and familial
pressures on Jordanian voter participation and considering it an
obstacle to genuine democratic reform, we suggest that the following
actions be taken to promote an empowered and educated electorate:
a) Each candidate should formulate their own platform based on constituent needs.
b) No candidate should be allowed to provide gifts, monetary or in-kind, in exchange for votes.

11. The Jordanian media’s involvement in political campaigns should be
expanded to using radio and television stations as well as newspapers
to increase candidate and platform recognition by:
a) A government-run television station that establishes and airs debates between candidates and allocates equal time.
b) Candidate newspaper advertisements should contain the following
information: 1) name; 2) past political activities and voting history
where applicable; 3) policy goals and platforms.

12. An independent non-partisan NGO, such as Project VoteSmart, should
be established and advertised to the general public. As a result, we
hope that grassroots groups would use this information for advocacy
purposes.

13. Remove or diminish limits on the number of individuals who can meet to discuss politics without a permit.

14. Change the one-man one-vote law to a system in which each voter has the same number of votes as seats in the district.


Engaging Political Islam

1. Recognizing that:
a) Islamist political groups are well-established and popular actors on the Jordanian political scene; and
b) As Prince Hassan bin Talal observed in his opening address for this
conference, excluding Islamist leaders from reform efforts invites them
to obstruct such efforts.

We recommend that the U.S. engage those Islamist individuals and groups
that express a credible willingness to participate in democracy by
offering the same dialogue to Islamist reformers that is currently
offered to other reformers. Even if dialogue is refused, the U.S.
should avoid stigmatizing Islamist politics in official rhetoric.

2. Recognizing the inclusion of mandatory religious education
throughout the Jordanian public school system and the importance of
religious issues in the region, we recommend the inclusion of open and
objective discussion on pertinent contemporary religious issues such as
the role of women in society, democracy and Islam, terrorism, and an
objective explanation of the beliefs of other world religions.

3. We encourage the United States to invest in and support local
Jordanian initiatives that would significantly encourage individuals
and/or representatives of all political parties to increase their
involvement in the political process, through the organization of
training sessions on campaign strategy, fundraising, media relations,
and similar skills.

4. We encourage American media to increase unbiased coverage of Islam.


Women’s Democratic Participation

1. To cultivate the delicate flourishing of democracy and share the
different processes thereby emphasizing the significance of women’s
participation upon which democracy relies, we recommend that
international collaboration be implemented between Jordanian and
American women through:
a) joint international projects and training centers; and
b) political exchange and fellowship programs.
2. We encourage the United States and Jordan to invest in and support
local Jordanian initiatives that would work toward the creation of a
Jordanian National Women’s Rights Charter.
3. We encourage the United States and Jordan to invest in and support local Jordanian initiatives that would:
a) Significantly encourage women to participate in the political
process through the organization of training sessions on campaign
strategy, fundraising, media relations, and related fields.
b) Encourage both men and women to promote the engagement of women in the political sphere, through public awareness campaigns.


Regional Impacts on Reform

1. Although democratic reforms in Jordan can and should be pursued
regardless of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. should
continue to consider the ways in which its policy toward the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict hinders democratization and strengthens
extremism.

2. We contend that economic stability will act as a buffer against the
impact of regional instability on reform. To attain this, we reaffirm
the promotion of small and medium enterprise initiatives and
micro-financing projects.

3. We reaffirm the importance of a clear and effective strategy to
foster a more stable situation in Iraq, while using the Arab League
peace initiative as a starting point and encouraging the US to
re-initiate peace talks between all democratically elected
representatives and homegrown initiatives regarding Israeli-Palestinian
conflict.

4. Recognizing the interconnectedness of political, social and economic
affairs in the region, and the significant impact of events in each
country on the entirety of the region, in particular the approach of
the U.S. government in dealing with affairs in Iraq, Iran and the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which work to hinder the cause for
democratic reform within countries of the region, we recommend that:

The U.S. administration continue to approach the Middle East as a whole
region, and address the conflicts in it in the context of the region,
with the cooperation of states in the region, rather than as isolated
incidents, maintaining that different countries and peoples require
different frameworks for resolution and democracy promotion.

5. We call for organizing a series of regional conventions to let involved parties in
Iraq come together to discuss their demands and reach a consensus.

An update from David in Amman, via email:

 

Hi all,

The AID/POMED Amman conference "U.S. Democracy Strategy: An American-Jordanian Dialogue" is going quite well.  I’ve included below some of the highlights — please feel free to copy them or rephrase them for use on AID or POMED blogs or any other media outlet etc.  This is not a comprehensive report, as it’s 3:45 a.m. and I have to be back at the conference early tomorrow, but I wanted to give you something you can use.

The conference’s opening ceremony featured an address by His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal.  Prince Hassan’s speech focused on the importance of guaranteeing political freedom and participation within Jordan, and also on the consequences of American foreign policy on the region.  Honored guests at the opening ceremony included former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.  The conference participants, 50 young American and Jordanian leaders, had a brief opportunity to talk informally with Prince Hassan after his speech.  (A group picture is attached; sorry it is kind of small, we may have a better one later.)

The conference included panel discussions from guest speakers, small group discussions among the participants, and skills workshops with the theme of "Bringing the World Home."

The first day of the conference was covered in all of Jordan’s daily newspapers, including:
The Jordan Times:
Al-Dustour:  (below the fold, left side)
Al-Ghad: 
and also Al-Rai and al-Arab al-Yawm.   

The first panel discussion, on "Measuring Democracy," featured:

  • Mohammad Arslan, Member of Parliament,
  • Zarqa Darwish, Consultant, Arab Civic Education Network (Arab Civitas)
  • Mara Galaty, Democracy Officer, United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Ali Bibi, Director of Planning and Initiatives and Director of the Office of the Minister, Ministry of Political Development
  • Her Excellency Laila Sharaf, member of the Upper House of Parliament

Mara Galaty described four "pillars of democracy":  participation, accountability, transparency, and peaceful change.  Several of the participants’ small groups adopted her framework and pillars as the foundation for their analysis of how political reform should be evaluated.  She generously agreed to attend the small group discussions immediately following the panel, discussing in-depth with one of the groups how they would recommend evaluating democracy promotion efforts.

Laila Sharaf described American successes in promoting democracy in the Middle East, such as a changed international discourse, increased rights of women, more open sources of information, and socioeconomic development; and she also discussed shortcomings and failures of U.S. programs, including an American focus almost exclusively on elections, allowing conutries to fake democracy; American inconsistency in claiming to support democracy yet refusing to engage a Hamas government; and American human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

The second panel, on "Engaging Political Islam," featured remarks from:

  • Marwan al-Fa’ouri, President of the Centrist Forum for Thought and Culture 
  • Ahmed Shannaq, Secretary-General, National Constitutional Party
  • Mohamed Masalha, Fmr. Chair of the Department of Political Science, University of Jordan; President, Jordan Environmental Society; President, Damia Center for Parliamentary Studies (moderator)

Zaki Bani-Irshaid, the Secretary-General of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), had confirmed that he would attend the panel, but cancelled two hours ahead of it.  He offered to send IAF parliamentary deputy Ja’far al-Hourani to speak instead.  The conference organizing committee declined the offer because Ja’far al-Hourani was one of the IAF parliamentarians who chose to attend the funeral of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  We support the freedom of expression and we seek to engage a wide range of voices, but we felt uncomfortable hosting a figure who made that political choice.

Participants praised the third panel as one of the highlights of the conference thus far.  The panel included a diverse range of voices on women’s democratic participation, including:

  • Ibtesam Al-Atiyat, Program Officer, United Nations University International Leadership Institute
  • Roula Attar, Resident Country Director for Jordan, National Democratic Institute
  • Arwa Kaylani, President of the Women’s Branch and member of the Shura Council, Islamic Action Front
  • Her Excellency Asma Khader, Secretary-General, Jordanian National Commission for Women

Roula Attar gave a detailed presentation about the National Democratic Institute’s programs in Jordan, stressing the goal of encouraging women’s campaigning in Jordan Ibtesam Al-Atiyat differed, arguing that women should cooperate to promote women’s issues once elected.  Arwa Kaylani strongly supported women taking a more active role in politics and in their party governance, quoting the Qur’anic verse that God will change nothing if people do not change themselves.  She criticized the current women’s quota as a system with a flawed implementation, and recommended a proportional representation instead.  We were honored to have Roula and Arwa volunteer their time to stay after the panel for the small group discussions.

The fourth panel included

  • Mohamed Abu Rumman, Columnist, Al-Ghad
  • Paul McCarthy, Resident Country Director for Jordan, International Republican Institute
  • Gregor Meiering, Middle East and North Africa Coordinator, Open Society Institute
  • Sabri Samirah, former Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Jordan

Paul McCarthy presented an extended Powerpoint presentation on one of the International Republican Institute’s most recent polling results, which show in part that Jordanians are prioritizing domestic more than regional issues at the moment.  Gregor Meiering’s comments focused on the political impacts of Jordan’s economic transformtion, and Sabri Samirah presented his view that the U.S. has been inconsistent in supporting democracy in the Middle East.

Laurel Rapp has given two excellent workshops, one on "Talking about Global Issues with your Peers," and the other on "Organizing an International Discussion."  These workshops are based on AID materials from the "Bringing the World Home" model, successfully telling young Americans how to bring back the knowledge they have learned about the world to thier home campuses or communities.

The participants have met numerous times in small group discussions to suggest recommendations for how the U.S. could improve its democracy promotion policies.  The participants have now drafted conference recommendations, which will be voted upon on Sunday morning.  The closing address will be delivered by Christopher Henzel, Political Attache at the U.S. Embassy in Jordan.



Every day, more articles indicate that war with Iran is not far off. The thought that this might be true makes me feel physically sick.

Here is the rough draft of an editorial I wrote for Washington Square News. It’s a piece I should have written a long time ago.

An Attack On Iran Would Be A Tragedy For Its Democrats
by Una Hardester

An attack on Iran, by the United States or Israel, would be a disaster for the entire Middle East, but most of all for Iran’s pro-democracy forces. If Iran was attacked, all hope of peaceful democratic change would be destroyed for the foreseeable future, and the tremendous risks and sacrifices of thousands of students, human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, academics, and other members of Iran’s besieged but courageous civil society would be rendered worthless. This can’t be allowed to happen.

More than seventy percent of Iranians are under age thirty. These young Iranians desire greater freedom, and a society free of the kind of violence the ruling hard-line theocrats inflict on them, but they do not, in any way at all, want regime change to come through outside military action. This is not to say they themselves are not willing to take action.

University students have stood up to riot police and heavily-armed militia to protest the closure of newspapers, and the arrests of student leaders for political activities. Hundreds of students have gone to jail in recent years. No one knows exactly how many have been executed. Most have been tortured, some to death. Tehran’s Evin Prison is infamous for its cruel treatment of political prisoners. This past summer, a young man by the name of Akbar Mohammadi, a former student pro-democracy activist, died in his cell, gagged and chained to a bed in his final hours. Mohammadi never advocated military regime-change. He believed peaceful change would bring about a better Iran.

This belief is shared by Iran’s surviving pro-democracy activists, including Akbar Ganji, a journalist who has become, along with Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, one of the most internationally recognizable faces of Iran’s pro-democracy movement. Ganji spent six years in Evin prison for writing articles that linked senior regime members to the murders of prominent dissidents. After he was released in 2006, Ganji went abroad to speak about human rights and the pro-democracy movement in Iran. When he visited the United States, he was invited to the White House. Ganji declined the invitation. Worried by the United States’ increasingly hawkish rhetoric against Iran, Ganji said, “You cannot bring democracy to a country by attacking it.” President Bush should ponder those words carefully. Though great personal suffering was inflicted on him by the Iranian regime, Ganji still believes that change must come from within the Iranian population, even if that means more slowly than Israel and the West desire. We may curse its incrementalism, but this is how organic democracy emerges.
But what about the bomb? If Iran’s current government develops nuclear weapons, it will kick off an arms race in the region, and threaten the security —even existence—of Israel, the worried pro-attack voices say.

To them, I say; things are not as dire as they seem; you must keep a cool head. The apocalyptic threats from Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are just the blathering of a crude populist who, contrary to portrayal in American media, is a figure-head, not an autocrat. Even if the Iranian regime creates a handful of crude nuclear weapons in the next few years, it is unlikely in the extreme that it will use them against Israel. It is equally unlikely to hand them off to terrorists (another doomsday scenario bandied about lately), knowing that this would result in retaliation as surely as a direct attack would. More probably, Iran would use its nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip in the cynical game of international politics. This is the purpose of nuclear weapons today.

Unfortunately, this means Israel would have to live with a nuclear Iran, something its leaders have said they will never allow. But Israel would not have to live with this threat forever. The Iranian regime consists of individuals who have been in power since the revolution of 1979. They are aging and paranoid, and, above all else, concerned with staying in power as long as they possibly can. They understand that they are surrounded by a vast sea of youth that is idealistic, reformist, and pro-democracy, and sheer demographics ensure that their days are numbered.

The bulk of today’s young Iranians were born shortly after the revolution their parents took part in, and they have grown up with its consequences; the Iran-Iraq War, international isolation, and intense repression, but, despite efforts to the contrary by those in power, they have not grown up with an abiding hatred for the United States or the West. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not their president because they voted for him. He is their president because they did not vote at all. After turning out in massive numbers to elect a reformist in 1997, Iran’s young people then spent eight years being bitterly disappointed, and many boycotted the latest, highly unfair presidential election.

The United States and Israel must recognize this, and not buy into Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric. He does not speak for Iran. Iran’s young people lack access to international forums, to mass media, and to sympathetic ears in the West, and their voices are not heard. This is not just a shame, it’s dangerous. It allows elites who would like to see Iran’s nuclear sites destroyed, and its government deposed by military means, to paint the entire Iranian population as genocidal, anti-Semitic, fundamentalists bent on ushering in a new age of nuclear war —in other word’s, a people deserving of whatever they get. We must reject this notion.

Iran is a country of contradictions and appalling injustices. The gap between the policies and opinions of its rulers and the beliefs of its people is yawning. If the West wants a democratic and non-nuclear Iran, it will have to wait, and not intervene to stop Iran’s nuclear production process. Even Western governments funding opposition groups won’t help; it will simply give credence to the regime’s claim that dissidents are tools of the United States. The best thing for Iran’s people is for Western governments —in fact, all governments— to stay out the regime-change process altogether.
The Iranian regime will fall, but it will fall at the hands of the Iranian people, who genuinely desire solidarity and moral support from the outside. They do not hate us, but they are terrified that, in our state of frenzied fear, we may ruin all they have fought so hard for. For Akbar Ganji and Shirin Ebadi, for the countless students who have spoken out and been killed for doing so, and for all those who continue the fight for freedom, democracy, and human rights under one of the world’s most repressive regimes, Americans and Israelis must raise their voices in loud opposition to an attack against Iran.

Many of my friends went to the anti-war protest in Washington this past Saturday. Looking at their photos on facebook, I couldn’t help but think to myself how bitterly we’ll look back on these times if another war begins while we’re waking up to the bloody reality of this one.

I am genuinely frightened that there seems ot be a hopeless and resigned consensus among policy-makers, scholars, and journalists that war with Iran is not far off, and is a forgone conclusion. Israel will attack, or the United States will. One way or another, Iran’s nuclear facilities will be destroyed. The consequences will be catastrophic in terms of loss of civilian lives and environmental damage, but these will be viewed as acceptable prices to pay for disarming a nuclear or soon-to-be nuclear Iran.

But not everyone is ready to accept that. In an article titled "Europeans Fear US Attack on Iran as Nuclear Row Intensifies" an unnamed European diplomat describes the mood in Europe’s halls of power.

"There’s anxiety
everywhere you turn," said a diplomat familiar with the work of the
International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. "The Europeans are very
concerned the shit could hit the fan."

And with good reason.

A
US navy battle group of seven vessels was steaming towards the Gulf
yesterday from the Red Sea, part of a deployment of 50 US ships,
including two aircraft carriers, expected in the area in weeks.

Knowing this, and probably understanding how little it can do at this late stage, the EU is making crystal clear that an attack will not be met with European approval.

"No
path is envisaged by the EU other than the UN path," the EU’s foreign
policy chief, Javier Solana, told the Guardian yesterday. "The priority
for all of us is that Iran complies with UN security council
resolutions."

On the possibility of Israel taking military action by itself, two well known Israeli foreign affairs writers wrote in a recent New Republic piece:

If
Israel is forced, by default, to strike, it is likely to happen within
the next 18 months.
An attack needs to take place before the nuclear
facilities become radioactive; waiting too long could result in massive
civilian casualties.
Still, Israel will almost certainly wait until it
becomes clear that sanctions have failed and that the United States or
NATO won’t strike. The toughest decision, then, will be timing:
determining that delicate moment when it becomes clear that the
international community has failed but before the facilities turn
lethal.

Israel will alert Washington before a strike: "We won’t surprise the
Americans, given the likelihood of Iranian reprisals against American
troops in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East," says an analyst close
to the intelligence community. U.S. permission will be needed if Israel
chooses to send its planes over Iraqi air space — and the expectation
here is that permission would be granted. (Israel has two other
possible attack routes, both problematic: over Turkish air space and
along the Saudi-Iraqi border to the Persian Gulf.) Still, according to
the former air force commander, if Israel decides to act, "We will act
alone, not as emissaries of anyone else."

All of this fills me with despair. The best thing for Iran now would be for its religious leaders to remove Ahmadinejad from power and fully comply with the IAEA and the UN Security Council, but the chances of that happening are not good –despite Iran’s current internal political turmoil. So, if Iran pushes ahead, it appears war will soon follow. The pro-democracy movement in the country (its greatest hope currently) will be destroyed, and the danger of a regional war in the Middle East (and all the chain reaction problems it would create) will be more real than ever before.

I can’t shake the feeling of doom closing in. I think of the brave Iranian pro-democracy and human rights activists who have been beaten, jailed, tortured, and executed in the most gruesome ways over the past decade, and I think of how all their sacrifices and suffering could come to nothing.

I don’t see any hope in this, anywhere.

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