Nancy Okail, director of Freedom House’s Egypt office in Cairo, is one of dozens of activists being prosecuted by the Egyptian authorities as part of a crackdown on independent civil society groups in the country. She previously worked for the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and Egypt’s Ministry of International Cooperation, serving under the same minister—Fayza Aboul Naga—who has played a prominent role in the current campaign against nongovernmental organizations.
For much of the past decade, global press freedom has been in retreat. This may seem counterintuitive in an era marked by the constant development and refinement of new communication technologies. Yet even as the internet, blogs, microblogs, mobile-telephone videos, and other forms of new media are reshaping the information landscape, governments are finding new and more sophisticated ways to control news coverage and manipulate political discourse.
by Husain Abdulla*
On February 14, 2011, large numbers of peaceful protesters turned out across Bahrain to demand fundamental changes to the island kingdom’s political system. Exasperated with the autocratic rule of the al-Khalifa family, they called for free and fair parliamentary elections, an end to the gerrymandering and other tactics that politically marginalize certain groups (particularly Shia Muslims, who form a majority of the electorate), and the immediate release of all political prisoners. However, security forces overseen by Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa—an uncle of the king who has served as prime minister since 1971—brutally crushed the protest movement, arresting, injuring, and killing many innocent citizens. As a result, more than 13 months after the protests began, the existing obstacles to Bahraini democracy remain largely intact.
The release of some 3,000 e-mail messages believed to be from the personal accounts of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and members of his inner circle has shined a light on the cynicism and deceit of the dictatorial regime in Damascus. Assad is revealed to mock his own countrymen as well as the reforms he promised in response to the antigovernment protests that began a year ago. In the e-mails, he refers to these reforms as “rubbish laws of parties, elections, media.” That he offered them at all, of course, would seem to fly in the face of his long-standing assertion that the uprising is an assault by foreign-backed terrorists, as opposed to a legitimate demand for political change by Syrian citizens.
Hadeel Kouki is a young Syrian activist who was detained and tortured by Bashar al-Assad’s regime for demanding her basic human rights. At the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, she spoke on behalf of Freedom House about her treatment by the regime and called on the Human Rights Council to take action to stop ongoing atrocities committed by the Syrian regime against its people.
Watch Hadeel Kouki's testimony, starting at 1:35:16, or click here.
by Nicholas Bowen*
Despite the recent focus on Iran’s nuclear program, the country’s deteriorating human rights situation has been the subject of mounting international concern for a number of years. The conservative presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who first took power in 2005, has harmed Iranians’ interests through its divisive factional infighting, economic ineptitude, and deepening confrontation with both the democratic world and Iran’s Arab rivals. But a newly published United Nations report has highlighted the extent to which the regime’s policies have also degraded the country’s already poor human rights conditions during Ahmadinejad’s tenure.
by Sarah Trister
Manager of Congressional Affairs
The offices of Freedom House, along with those of 10 other organizations, were raided and closed by Egyptian police on December 29th. Since then, the assault on Egyptian civil society has intensified, and pressure on U.S. democracy organizations in Egypt has grown. In an attempt to justify its actions, the Egyptian government has engaged in an aggressive campaign of misinformation about what is taking place. In response, we offer the following fact sheet:
To mark the first anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 revolution—which resulted in the fall of long-time president Hosni Mubarak just 18 days later—a coalition of more than 80 revolutionary groups issued
a statement underscoring just how unfinished the revolution really is.
“In light of a full year of failure,” the statement by the Revolutionary Youth declared, “it is clear that the junta has not achieved the goals of the revolution.” Amid the demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other cities across the country, both celebrating the anniversary and calling for an end to military rule, that statement struck a sobering note. Hundreds have been killed since last January 25 by Egyptian security forces; thousands of others wounded in clashes; and over 12,000 civilians have been put on trial in military courts for a range of crimes, most of them political in nature and in any case a violation of guarantees of due process. Meanwhile, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) faces spiraling economic problems, with a budget crisis and a sharp depreciation of the Egyptian pound potentially in the offing. The hoped-for democratic transition seems to be in serious jeopardy.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the SCAF’s attempt to eviscerate Egyptian civil society and handcuff its international partners through a campaign of legal intimidation and media sensationalism that began in the summer of 2011. What has been portrayed by the Egyptian government as strictly a matter of law—the need to investigate NGOs to ensure they are in compliance with Egyptian law governing their registration and ability to move funds into the country—has been given the lie by the manner in which the investigation has been carried out. Freedom House, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, along with 14 other organizations (many of them Egyptian), were all raided on December 29 by armed security police. Our offices were searched, equipment and records seized, cash on hand confiscated, and the premises closed and sealed. Freedom House’s local staff has been repeatedly interrogated by the investigating judges. International staff of some of these organizations has been prevented from leaving the country. The media vilification campaign continues unabated, and some organizations, including ours, have been falsely accused (though not formally charged) with attempting to foment instability and “chaos” in the country. All this has taken place despite the fact that Freedom House and its sister organizations made every attempt to comply with Egyptian law by being transparent about our activities, submitting applications for legal registration, and cooperating with the investigation.
The raids are only the latest episode in a broader war on Egyptian civil society. Over 400 Egyptian organizations are likewise under investigation, and some of their offices have been closed as well. Their employees too remain under investigation. It is no coincidence that the Egyptian government’s actions focus almost exclusively on organizations involved in human rights, democracy building and governmental oversight. These activities pose a challenge to long-entrenched interests in Egypt.
The SCAF’s motivations seem clear. Pulling a page from Mubarak’s playbook, the military wants to ensure that it is seen as the only authority in Egypt that can control the rising power of the Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood (whose Freedom and Justice Party won 46 percent of the votes in the new parliament) and its more radical counterparts, the Salafis. By intimidating or eliminating the ability of civil society as well as liberal politicians and parties to offer alternatives, the army can justify its continued grip on the levers of power. This is an especially effective message in some Washington corridors of power.
In addition, the military wants to ensure that its plans for shaping the political transition now underway are not disrupted by political forces opposed to its control. At stake is the military’s ability to avoid civilian oversight of its budget and activities, and to retain control over its web of economic interests (by some estimates military or military-controlled industries account for around 40 percent of the Egyptian economy.) The SCAF also fears it will be held accountable for past crimes and human rights abuses—as the Revolutionary Youth’s statement demanded—if more democratic alternatives arise to successfully challenge the state.
Despite an energetic campaign by the U.S. Administration and Congress, the SCAF so far appears to have calculated that it can carry out its campaign against civil society without paying a significant cost to
its relationship with Washington. So far they have been proven correct.
Why should this matter to the United States? For more than 30 years, America has invested in Egypt as a cornerstone of regional stability, based on its commitment to peace with Israel, counterterrorism cooperation, and quiet facilitation of US military movement in and out of regional theaters of war. Cairo remains the third largest recipient of US military assistance ($1.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing annually) and the fourth largest aid recipient overall. But with the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, military needs are fewer. And the sweeping political changes in the region over the last year have transformed the very meaning of regional stability. Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has been a leader in both war and peace; it must now become a partner on political transformation, where its example, positive or negative, will have a major and perhaps transformative impact elsewhere.
Most important, the stability of this major country depends on completing the transition to democracy. The alternative—reversion to authoritarianism and resurgent radicalism—poses a serious threat of deepening political turmoil and increased economic stress, with potential regional repercussions. This is in no one’s interest. But it is more likely if civil society cannot operate freely. Without effective advocates for political freedoms, transparent electoral processes, civil liberties and representative government, Egypt’s press, political parties and citizens will more vulnerable to government repression and investors will keep their money off the table. All this has serious implications for the country’s future.
Re-opening our offices and returning equipment and documents would be a welcome first step by the Egyptian government to begin addressing the problems it has created.
But that’s only a start. Will Freedom House and its Egyptian partners be allowed to operate freely? That is where the larger and more important fight lies.
The U.S. government has considerable leverage available to influence Egypt’s course. The State Department and Foreign Operations bill, signed into law by President Obama late last year, requires that before military aid to Egypt can be released, the Administration must certify that the Egyptian military is assisting the transition to civilian government and the implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, religion, and due process of law. Used properly, this certification requirement gives the Administration an opportunity for a powerful diplomatic conversation that it should use not just to roll back the current crisis manufactured by the Egyptian government, but also to enlarge the political space in which civil society can operate.
The U.S. should insist on replacement of the current repressive Mubarak-era law governing the operations of NGOs (Law 84 of 2002), which has long been used to restrict activities of civil society organizations. Moreover, the United States should make clear it considers the protection of human rights and the advancement of democracy a vital interest in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, much as President Obama did in his speech on the Arab Spring last May.
Whether the United States can succeed in effecting such an important policy shift in Egypt is unclear; whether it will even wish to take on such a task is too. Nevertheless, one thing is clear: the longer the crisis inflicted on civil society in Egypt drags on, the likelier the rollback of democratic transition will become.
by Vanessa Tucker
Project Director, Countries at the Crossroads
Last week, Freedom House released the 2012 edition of Freedom in the World, its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. According to the report, Egypt remains in the Not Free category, but with a number of score improvements and an upward trend arrow to reflect progress since the ouster of long-standing president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Some might argue that this assessment does not give sufficient credit to the achievements of the uprising, while others will insist that the improvements registered in the report are not justified in light of ongoing repression.
by Christopher Walker and Robert Orttung*
In an op-ed published in the New York Times last April, we took a cautiously optimistic view on the possibility of a breakthrough for media freedom in post-Mubarak Egypt. We argued that if state-controlled media, especially television, underwent serious reform, it would tip the balance toward an open information landscape, particularly when combined with the revolution in online social media in the country.
by David J. Kramer and Arch Puddington*
As we mark the first anniversary of the events that led to the Arab Spring, it is worth highlighting the uprisings’ far-reaching repercussions for freedom, both in the region and beyond. Freedom in the World, the report on global freedom issued annually by Freedom House, found more declines than gains worldwide for 2011, but we believe that the overarching message for the year is one of hope and not reversal. At a minimum, we can say that developments in the Middle East touched off the most serious challenge to authoritarian rule since the collapse of Soviet communism. While the challenges today are far more complex than in 1989, the basic theme of captive peoples seeking freedom after decades of oppression is very much the same.
Posted at 05:38 PM in Civil Society, Elections, Freedom of Expression, Press Freedom, Religious Freedom, Africa, Americas, Arab Spring, Asia-Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe , China, Eurasia, Freedom of Association, Internet Freedom, Middle East and North Africa , Rule of Law, Russia, United States, Women's Rights | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: Civil Society, Democratic Governance, Elections, Freedom House, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Expression, Human Rights, Internet Freedom, Media Freedom, Religious Freedom, Rule of Law, Women's Rights
by David J. Kramer
President of Freedom House
*This article originally appeared in the Washington Post on December 29th.
The link to the original piece can be found here:
A months-long campaign against civil-society groups by Egypt’s military leadership came to a head Thursday when Egyptian security forces raided the Cairo offices of Freedom House and several other international and local nongovernmental organizations. These attacks were a major setback to the hopes that emerged this year with the revolution in Tahrir Square. If corrective measures are not taken, the attacks will severely damage Egypt’s long-term stability and prospects for a more democratic future.
Technorati Tags: civil society groups, David J. Kramer, Egypt, Freedom House, Hosni Mubarak, International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, NGOs, oped, raids, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Washington Post
by Mary McGuire and Sarah Trister*
The year 2011 will be remembered as one of immense political and social change around the world, particularly the Middle East. On this International Human Rights Day, Freedom House looks back at a few of the best and worst developments of the year with respect to their long-term implications for the global state of human rights.
Posted at 02:32 PM in Civil Society, Elections, Freedom of Expression, Modern Authoritarianism, Press Freedom, Religious Freedom, Africa, Americas, Arab Spring, Asia-Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe , China, Corruption, Eurasia, Freedom of Association, Internet Freedom, Isolationism, Middle East and North Africa , Minority Rights, Rule of Law, Russia, United States, Western Europe , Women's Rights | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
by Melanie Dominski
Sr. Program Associate, Freedom of Expression Campaign
Two years ago today, in the southern Philippines province of Maguindanao, 100 armed guards overtook a civilian convoy and executed the passengers in what has become known as the Maguindanao massacre. Of the 57 victims, 32 were journalists, making the incident the deadliest single attack against journalists on record and earning the Philippines the second-place slot on the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) list of the most dangerous countries for members of the media. In the course of this brutal attack, at least four female journalists were allegedly raped prior to being executed; virtually all of the female victims reportedly suffered genital mutilation, and many of the victims were beheaded.
Posted at 10:21 AM in Civil Society, Freedom of Expression, Press Freedom, Africa, Americas, Asia-Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe , China, Eurasia, Middle East and North Africa , Rule of Law, United States, Western Europe | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: Andal Amaptuan Jr. Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Anna Politkovskaya, Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, freedom of expression, human rights, human rights abuses, IFEX, impunity, International Day to End Impunity, International Freedom of Expression Exchange, journalist, Maguindanao massacre, Melanie Dominski, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, press freedom, Russia, Saleem Shahzad, Valentin Valdes Espinosa
It is a core belief of Freedom House that American foreign policy should be grounded on support for democratic values and the global expansion of freedom. Practically every aspirant to the American presidency would agree that the United States should remain the world’s beacon of democracy. But especially in an era of rival claims for global leadership and calls for fiscal austerity, the development of a U.S. strategy to propel freedom forward poses a serious challenge. Thus far, the presidential candidates have failed to grapple with the complexities of this challenge, and the discussion has been far from illuminating, to put it mildly.
Posted at 09:38 AM in Civil Society, Elections, Africa, Americas, Arab Spring, Asia-Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe , China, Middle East and North Africa , Russia, United States | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
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by Mary McGuire
Senior Communications Manager
On November 4, to mark the release of this year’s edition of Countries at the Crossroads, Freedom House and the Atlantic Council hosted a discussion on the prospects for successful democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)—particularly in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, which were among six MENA countries examined in the new Crossroads report.
The study, which assesses democratic governance in 35 countries around the world, found that despite promising post-uprising openings in areas including freedom of expression and freedom of association in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the task of “rebuilding basic institutions like the justice system, law enforcement agencies, and regulatory frameworks for the media and civil society, all of which have been warped and corrupted by decades of authoritarian rule, will require many years of effort.”
Posted at 10:13 AM in Civil Society, Elections, Freedom of Expression, Press Freedom, Arab Spring, Freedom of Association, Internet Freedom, Middle East and North Africa , Rule of Law, Women's Rights | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: Al-Arabiya Television, Ambassador William Taylor, Arab Spring, Atlantic Council, civil society, Countries at the Crossroads, David Yang, democracy, Egypt, Freedom House, freedom of association, freedom of expression, Hisham Melhem, internet freedom, Libya, Michele Dunne, Middle East and North Africa, North Africa, press freedom, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, SCAF, Supreme Council of Armed Forces, Tunisia, US Department of State, USAID, women's rights
by Charles Dunne
Director for Middle East and North Africa Programs
Eight years and a day after President George W. Bush laid out a broad agenda in support of freedom and representative government in the Middle East at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood before the National Democratic Institute (NDI) on November 7 to essay a detailed overview of the Obama administration’s response to the Arab Spring. The secretary’s remarks did much to advance and clarify the administration’s policy. But their historical continuity with the Bush policy was equally striking. Call it the Bush Freedom Agenda 2.0.
Technorati Tags: Arab Spring, Bahrain, civil society, Egypt, freedom, Freedom House, human rights, Libya, Middle East and North Africa, National Democratic Institute, National Endowment for Democracy, November 7, President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speech
by Sarah Trister
Manager for Congressional Affairs
Program Officer, Middle East and North Africa
On Sunday, October 23, millions of Tunisians went to the polls for the country’s first elections since a popular uprising ousted authoritarian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January. The balloting, held to select a constituent assembly that will serve as a transitional legislature and draft a new constitution, has been widely hailed as free and fair.
Through its “Nchoof” project, Freedom House worked with a group of local nongovernmental organizations to enable ordinary Tunisians to serve as citizen monitors during the elections. Using a system set up by the project, Tunisians could send and receive critical information, including reports of electoral violations, in real time via voice calls, text or multimedia messaging, Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail.
Nchoof employed Ushahidi open-source crowd-sourcing technology to encourage civic awareness and citizen participation. The technology, originally developed in Kenya, has been used to collect citizen reports during elections and crisis situations in countries around the world, including in a previous Freedom House election-monitoring project in Egypt, and in other projects in Haiti, Mexico, and Lebanon.
The following photographs show the Tunisian elections as Freedom House staff experienced them. Click below to see the photos and the full gallery.