support the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people by enhancing their ability to access the Internet and communications
On Monday (12/14), Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) introduced H.R.4301, the Iranian Digital Empowerment Act, which aims to "support the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people by enhancing their ability to access the Internet and communications services." The bill would authorize the export of "software and related services that allow private Iranian citizens to circumvent online censorship and monitoring efforts imposed by the Government of Iran."
Also on Monday (12/14), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) introduced H.R.4303, the Stand with the Iranian People Act, which aims to "enhance United States sanctions against Iran" by ensuring that "sanctions are clearly targeted at the Government of Iran and individuals within the Government of Iran, rather than the Iranian society as a whole," and would impose a travel ban to the United States on any Iranian government official who has participated in human rights abuses. The bill would also forbid U.S. government procurement contracts with any entity that provides censorship or surveillance technology to the government of Iran. The bill was referred to the House Committees on Foreign Affairs, Oversight and Government Reform, Financial Services, and the Judiciary.
On Tuesday (12/15), the House passed under suspension of the rules H.R.2194, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act of 2009, in a 412-12 vote, with 4 voting "present." The bill would amend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 to prohibit investment that enhances Iran's ability to develop petroleum resources, and to prohibit the export of refined petroleum products to Iran. On Wednesday (12/16), the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Passage of the bill sparked much debate (see From Washington below).
Human Rights at State Department: Last Monday, Secretary Clinton delivered an important speech (also available in Arabic) about the administration's approach to human rights, defining America's mission as "expanding the circle of rights and opportunities to all people - advancing their freedoms and possibilities." Meanwhile the State Department launched a new website for the Universal Period Review of human rights.
Troop deployments to Afghanistan are scheduled to follow a strategy evaluation by President Obama to address growing concerns. The saga over Ambassador Galbraith's dismissal flared after an accusation of misconduct.
Iran Sanctions Debates: Debate over the role of diplomacy as part of an effective Iran strategy continued ahead of the House's vote on the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA). Supporters of the bill argued that harsh sanctions are needed to pressure reform, while opponents declared that sanctions would embolden the regime and hurt democratic efforts. Representatives introduced two alternative sanction plans that focused on supporting the Iranian opposition. In addition, commentators argued the value of increasing diplomacy efforts and engagement.
Although IRPSA did pass overwhelmingly in the House after heateddebated, the administration has suggested that it will attempt to modify the Senate version and seek alternative means to support the opposition. Passage of the bill sparked renewed debate as many argued the act is counterproductive and fails to develop a pragmatic strategy to strengthen reform.
Lebanese Visit and Palestine Debate: Lebanese President Michel Sleiman visited Washington to meet with President Obama and other U.S. officials to discuss Lebanese relations as well as Hezbollah's role in the government. Commentators criticized Palestinian stall tactics, put forth new peace strategies that supported definitive action, urged steps by the PLO and the international community, and predicted that the U.S. will support direct dialogue with Hamas.
Congressional Activity Examined: Reactions to the recent passage by Congress of the omnibus spending bill included discussion of a $50 million allocation for an Egyptian endowment, described in the blogosphere as the "Mubarak Trust Fund." Proposed legislation to monitor anti-American media in the Middle East received criticism as Sen. Nelson (D-FL) and Collins (R-ME) drafted a letter expressing concern over Turkey's strained relationship with Israel.
From the Middle East
Montazeri Death Fuels Continuing Iran Protests: The death yesterday morning of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri immediately drew throngs of mourners into the streets, in what was described as a "security nightmare" for the Iranian regime. As tens of thousands of supporters flocked to Qom for today's funeral, there were reports of violent clashes between mourners and pro-government militia. Many noted that his death comes only 7 days before the holy day of Ashura, when the martyrdom of Hussein is traditionally marked by public demonstrations and ceremonies.
Early last week, police had arrested numerous students during their continuingprotests, accusing the students of destroying a picture of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The opposition movement denied such a claim and arguedagainst ideas that they had been broken by the Iran's campaign of imprisonment, torture and persecution. In fact, despite an attack on the movement's Twitter accounts, they believe the coming months will be an opportunity to expand.
The protests, including a new movement of men wearing the veil, have revealed growing fissures within the regime that have emerged as it failed to adequately address the democratic movement. The regime developed a new foreign affairs committee and also began planning to arrest Green Movement leaders and try jailed American hikers, while also threatening to expand its nuclear program.
Kurdish Party Banned in Turkey: Following PM Erdogan's trip to Washington, drawing attention to shifts in Turkish policy away from the West and towards regional interests, the Turkish Constitutional Court banned the leading Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party (DTP) for its alleged support for the PKK. The decision increased pressure on strained Turkish-Kurdish relations as Kurdish parliamentarians considered resigning in protest. The relationship had previously been experiencing a renewed optimism, sparked by proposed human right legislation.
Corruption and Brutality Distract: Moammar Qadhafi's son and Human Rights Watch condemned Libya's human rights record as the country attempts rapprochement with the United States. Jordanian King Abdullah appointed a new PM who pledged to launch a "crusade" against corruption. Yemen faced criticism for its marriage practices as well as its treatment of southern separatists and it lack of protection for innocents in the ongoing conflict with Houthi rebels and Al-Qaeda that is backed by U.S. tactical support. Pakistan President Zardari and his administration faced renewed charges of corruption as he resisted American calls to expand militaryoperations. Afghan corruption loomed large in the face of economic and strategic planning.
Leaders in the Spotlight: The NY Times profiled Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal. As Dubai begins to recover economically, the emirate has responded to public criticism through increased censorship. The Kuwait prime minister survived a parliamentary grilling and the government was accused of blocking action to assist stateless Arabs. As the PLO extended his presidential term, Mahmoud Abbas will seek a UN resolution to define Palestinian borders and extended hope for new peace talks amid Hamas defiance.
Security Issues in Iraq: Iranian soldiers seized an Iraqi oil field while the officials assured Iraq that the U.S. withdrawal will go forward despite increased threats of violence and security forces involvement in a number of bombings. Securing oil rights, censorship and public disenfranchisement continue to be major concerns ahead of elections.
Tensions in Egypt: The Kefaya party has decided to boycott the coming elections as the regime runs attacks against Mohamed ElBaradei. Meanwhile, nine Muslim Bortherhood members were released from prison, but the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior ignored orders to release a Christian blogger. Amid renewed calls to end the death penalty, Cairo residents clashed with police over evictions, an MP filed a lawsuit against a journalist for promoting vice, and a family was reported detained and tortured.
Modest Signs of Progress? After weeks of a hunger strike and international pleas, Aminatou Haider was allowed to return to her home in Western Sahara. Lebanon moved to strengthen regional relations and to empower its judicial system as the country saw some reforms despite continuing tensions regarding Palestinian groups and Hezbollah. In addition, a report was published about Oman's growing media.
Also Worth Reading
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a new report on the "Global Restrictions on Religion." The report concludes that "among all regions, the Middle East-North Africa has the highest government and societal restrictions on religion." Concerning governmental restrictions, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Egypt are among the worst offenders. For societal restrictions, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia rank among the worst. Overall, the report identifies Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and India as the most restrictive countries.
In Case You Missed It
On Monday (12/14), the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a lecture Monday by Heba el-Koudsy about the effectiveness of American democracy promotion efforts in Egypt. According to the Center's Middle East Program Director Haleh Esfandiari, every year the Center brings in an Arab journalist to conduct research as a resident scholar. This year's scholar is el-Koudsy, who has over 15 years experience in Arab journalism and currently works for the Egyptian paper al-Masry al-Youm.
On Wednesday (12/16), The Middle East Institute hosted a lecture by Thomas Lippman entitled "Saudi Arabia: The New Dynamics." Lippman, who has been traveling to Saudi Arabia for over thirty years, recently returned from a month-long trip to the desert kingdom. While Lippman admitted there have been some "really bad books" written about Saudi Arabian history since September 11th, he is currently writing a new book that will focus on the country's future. POMED's notes on the event are available on our blog or to view or download as a pdf.