Abbas trying to restore moribund Palestinian institutions?

Palestinian protesters hold signs that read in Arabic "Corruption is the reason for high cost of living" and "High prices and low wages are the policies of the government" during a protest against the high cost of living in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 11, 2012. Palestinain prime minister Salam Fayyad announced cuts to fuel prices and VAT after more than a week of protests across the West Bank over the spiralling cost of living. AFP PHOTO/ABBAS MOMANI        (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/GettyImages)

Palestinian protesters hold signs that read in Arabic “Corruption is the reason for high cost of living” and “High prices and low wages are the policies of the government” during a protest against the high cost of living in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Mahmoud Abbas, the aging Palestinian president, is said to be preparing a major speech outlining a new strategy for the Palestinian national struggle, though people close to him say that even they are not sure exactly what he might say. Or he might simply be trying to restore legitimacy to moribund institutions by replacing longtime cronies with fresh, younger faces, The New York Times reports:

All of this may be lost on Palestinians worried about rising unemployment and poverty, and the lagging reconstruction of Gaza after last summer’s devastating war between Israel and Hamas. Al Quds, the largest-circulation Palestinian newspaper, posted a video last week in which people stopped in the streets of Ramallah struggled to name a single member of the P.L.O. executive committee or to explain its role. 

Two officials say Abbas has told confidants he won’t seek re-election to the top posts in the Palestine Liberation Organization or his Fatah movement in upcoming elections, Associated Press adds.

“I think for the most part the public is not buying into it,” said Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, whose quarterly polls have shown Mr. Abbas’s approval ratings between 35 percent and 44 percent over the past year.

Mr. Shikaki said Mr. Abbas has no answers to the public’s pressing questions: “Why is he failing to unify the West Bank and Gaza? Why is he failing to confront the Israelis and the Americans? Why is he failing to deal with corruption at home? Why is he picking fights with people inside Fatah and outside?”

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How do non-democratic regimes claim legitimacy?

authoritarians xi-jinping-vladimir-putinWe need a better sense of how authoritarian regimes manipulate the concept of legitimacy to secure their rule, say analysts Christian von Soest and Julia Grauvogel. One option is to use the Regime Legitimation Expert Survey (RLES) and then apply it to the non-democratic regimes that existed in the post-Soviet space from 1991-2010. 

In contrast to hopes that the post‐Soviet countries would liberalise politically as part of “democracy’s third wave”, various regimes in the region have regressed into authoritarianism, while others have remained in a hybrid state between democracy and authoritarian rule or have never undergone any form of democratisation. 

Over the course of changes in rulers, socio‐economic crises, and even so‐called colour revolutions, non‐democratic arrangements of political rule have emerged and persisted – a phenomenon by no means limited to the post‐Soviet space. Recent research on authoritarian regimes seeking to account for these developments has provided new insights into the inner workings of non‐democratic polities. However, despite widely held views that a regime’s claim to legitimacy is an important factor in explaining its means of rule, and ultimately its persistence, current studies have largely overlooked the effect of different legitimation strategies on authoritarian power relations.

In order to address this gap, we focus on post‐Soviet regimes’ claims to legitimacy as a means of securing authoritarian rule at home. While studies examining the determinants of political support often analyse democracies, we argue that legitimation strategies are also carefully employed by regimes with democratic deficits. We focus on legitimation as the strategy by which legitimacy is sought rather than on legitimacy itself, following recent demands to take regimes’ claims to legitimacy seriously. In doing so, we distinguish between six different dimensions of legitimacy claims and present the results of a new Regime Legitimation Expert Survey (RLES) for non‐democratic regimes in the post‐Soviet region for the 1991‒2010 period.

Our analysis of post‐Soviet countries, based on the data provided by the RLES, has demonstrated the fruitfulness of systematically reintroducing questions of legitimation into the analysis of authoritarian regimes. Based on these results, we see the following avenues for further research:

  • First, carrying out more detailed case studies using a common analytical structure would be useful, as it would provide a more comprehensive insight into the use of legitimation claims to solidify non‐democratic rule and would illuminate the relationship between different legitimation strategies in post‐Soviet countries and beyond.
  • Second, systematic cross‐country comparison by means of the RLES would also allow a useful analysis of similarities and differences between the way rule is exercised in post‐Soviet countries and in other world regions.
  • Third, the relationship between different legitimation profiles and the various means by which rule is implemented – for example, repression – along with their outcomes, should be systematically explored.
  • Finally, we propose an investigation of the durability of authoritarian regimes making varying claims to legitimacy.

This would shed more light on regimes’ legitimation strategies as domestic factors fundamentally able to influence autocratic persistence and breakdown.


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Venezuela’s manufactured crisis

vzla lopezLate last month, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela declared a state of emergency in areas that abut Colombia, shut down the border and ordered a mass roundup of Colombian immigrants, The New York Times notes:

In a decree issued on Aug. 21, he warned that drug trafficking, contraband and rampant violence along the border made it necessary to suspend basic rights, such as public gatherings and demonstrations. After Venezuelan authorities evicted Colombians from their homes, some dwellings were marked with the letter D, meaning they would be demolished.

There was, in fact, no crisis requiring these extraordinary measures along the border, where Colombians and Venezuelans have coexisted amicably through good times and bad. The whole thing was phony, a crisis manufactured by an increasingly unpopular president who is desperate to shore up support for his party ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for December.

Maduro’s popularity dipped to 24 percent in July, reflecting growing public dismay with government policies that have led to soaring inflation, a severely devalued currency and worsening food shortages. To ward off a bruising defeat at the polls, Mr. Maduro has jailed prominent opposition politicians and ordered that others be disqualified from appearing on the ballot.

Rule of law has effectively collapsed in parts of the country, Reuters reports. The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), a non-governmental organization, estimates there were 40 cases in 2014 of lynchings, usually defined as extrajudicial killings by mobs.

This Friday, the trial of opposition leader Leopoldo López [above] is expected to conclude; government prosecutors have proposed a sentence of up to 13 years on blatantly trumped-up charges, The Washington Post adds:

The United States’ and Latin America’s democratic governments should be warning the Maduro regime now that a conviction will harm relations and will prompt a meaningful response — including sanctions against all those officials involved in the trial.

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Syria: seize local opportunities

syria pdcBy taking advantage of opportunities for partnerships with segments of the Syrian population, the United States can help further its goals of facilitating a lasting political transition and weakening jihadists in Syria, says a new Atlantic Council report. These opportunities include encouraging a Sunni-Druze coalition in the south and an Arab-Kurdish one in the north, as well as deepening contact with Jaish al-Islam (JAI) in the Damascus suburbs of Eastern Ghouta, according to authors Faysal Itani of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center and Bassam Barabandi, Cofounder of People Demand Change, and a former Syrian diplomat.

Seizing Local Opportunities in Syria” presents actionable insights and concrete recommendations that align fully with the US objectives of defeating violent extremists and facilitating an inclusive political transition that preserves as much governance capability as possible.

Former CIA Director David Petraeus is urging Obama administration officials to try to peel off some fighters from the radical al-Nusrah group, to join the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, Josh Rogin reports for Bloomberg View. But Petraeus’s explanation does not account for the fact that U.S. policy in Syria has been alienating the “reconcilable” Islamists for over four years.

“We should under no circumstances try to use or coopt Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, as an organization against ISIL,” Petraeus] told CNN, using another name for ISIS. “But some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra today have undoubtedly joined for opportunistic rather than ideological reasons: they saw Nusra as a strong horse, and they haven’t seen a credible alternative, as the moderate opposition has yet to be adequately resourced.”

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Accountability in Bahrain

bahrainguulfThe continuing crisis in Bahrain is leading to bipartisan Congressional efforts to bring American pressure to bear–and to keep the United States away from involvement in repression there, writes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Elliott Abrams:

Senators Marco Rubio and Ron Wyden, a Republican and a Democrat, have introduced S. 2009, which would bar selling or giving to Bahrain materiel that could be used not for national security but for internal repression: “(1) Tear gas, (2) Small arms, (3) Light weapons, (4) Ammunition for small arms and light weapons, (5) Humvees, (6) Other items that could reasonably be used for crowd control purposes.”

The usual objection to such efforts is that we have real national security reasons to remain close to the government of Bahrain: the Fifth Fleet is based there, and Bahrain is an ally against Iran and against ISIS, notes Abrams, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

But those are the very reasons why we should be concerned about the ever-deepening divisions there, and the real repression (much of it recounted in S. 2009’s findings). The government’s treatment of the Shia is opening a huge opportunity for Iran, and is assuring that internal stability is at risk. This is what threatens our future use of the base in Bahrain, not congressional action to protect the United States from involvement in repression of peaceful dissent there.


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