The news headlines of recent days have brought to the fore some serious shortcomings related to the functioning of democracy and attitudes towards it. The questions raised are fundamental and answering them poses some real dilemmas even to staunch believers in democracy around the world.
Events unfolding in Egypt since last week are as dramatic for the country itself as they are for the future of democracy in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and beyond. A democratically elected President was deposed and replaced by the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, while opposition and religious leaders were clapping along. In this scheme, opposition leaders who lost to Mr. Morsi at the ballot box a year earlier were offered senior government positions in what is touted as a national unity government but is not. The main premise of the military-spearheaded “non coup” is that transitional arrangements will lead to a return to full legality and new elections through a dialogue of all political forces, while the country is rescued from economic disaster.
This may be more or less what the pro-Western and modernist elite, as well as millions of largely secular-leaning Egyptians may want to see. In their mistrust for the Muslim Brotherhood, which was there from the start of Mr. Morsi’s Presidency and was reinforced by some of his decisions and his rather poor performance, they are ready to twist the facts and participate in a process that denies democracy in the name of democracy. They claim the strength of numbers at Taxim Square and opinion polls, when they should know that in a democracy the only decisive poll is the ballot itself, which cannot happen every month of year. And they are directly or indirectly cheered on by outsiders, who preface their statements with words of sorrow for the rapture in the democratic order, but basically show understanding for the rationale put forward and are willing to give the new order a chance.
This is not good enough, though. If one sticks to principles things are very clear, and should be stated as such. Mr. Morsi has to be reinstated as the legitimate President of Egypt and the troops should retreat to their barracks. Those religious and political figures who are worried about the state of the country and the economy should discuss with the President possible solutions, including the formation of a national salvation government under him. And the good allies and friends abroad should encourage such developments with advice for moderation towards all sides.
Democracy has its limits and that should be openly said and accepted. Expedient majorities cannot legislate away individual or collective rights of smaller groups. Nor can oppositions focus on overthrowing those in the majority from day one of their term and with whatever means. In a democracy there is a legitimate and useful role for everybody, from government and opposition politicians to politically-neutral civil servants to the private sector and civil society. They can all contribute on the basis of their respective responsibilities that they should hold dear, and not only their rights, advancing their country in the process.
One can only hope that the next transition in Egypt, which should happen in the next few days, will be peaceful and that the settling of accounts will be limited to public debate and the ballot box without any further military interventions, arrests and killings. The opposite may bring chaos and even civil war to this largest and most influential of Arab countries, and may create a new pole of instability in a region already marred by old and new conflicts that transcend its narrow borders threatening the stability of the bigger world.
Brussels, 8 July 2013
I spent a good part of the past February to June period helping prepare a Salzburg Global Seminar (SGS) session entitled “A Climate for Change: New Thinking on Governance for Sustainability”. The seminar took place from 23 to 27 June 2013 in Salzburg, Austria, at the beautiful Schloss Leopoldskron. About 50 persons from 26 countries, with ages spanning 60 years and professions covering a wide range of sustainability-related fields, came together to consider some major global challenges of our times. From conceptualizing the interconnections between people, the environment and the economy, to rethinking economics, trade and finance, addressing climate change and the food-water-energy nexus, learning from local good practices and investing in knowledge sharing and education, engaging civil society and the private sector, and holding institutions and other actors accountable at all levels, this was a very rich exchange, with an impact on all those that participated and hopefully beyond.
I am reproducing below the Salzburg Statement issued at the end of the session under the title “Finite Planet, Infinite Potential”. It can also be found online at www.salzburgglobal.org/go/515 , where the session’s report will also be posted in the coming weeks. Happy reading and hopefully acting in response!
Brussels, 6 July 2013
We face a daunting future. Unless we change course, we will condemn our children and grandchildren to an uninhabitable planet. We must act with urgency, inspired by individual and collective wisdom, to address critical challenges such as climate change, population growth and biodiversity loss. We have to support and sustain life, now and into the future.
We need innovative approaches to governance that reflect the complexity and interdependence of sustainability challenges and that safeguard human dignity, gender equity and the common good.
This Statement is addressed to leaders of governments and international organizations, business, religion, civil society, science, education and the media, and to individuals. Ten priority actions can transform life chances and opportunities for current and future generations throughout the world:
Together, women and men of all nations, races and creeds, we have the knowledge and means to avert the grave threats facing humanity. The global transformation required may not be fast, easy, simple or cheap – but it is perfectly possible. We offer two proposals for urgent consideration:
Salzburg, June 2013
No comment — Let the official links speak for themselves…
And two US civil society organizations that take their roles seriously:
Federal prosecutors have charged National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden with multiple felonies. The charges include espionage, although several prominent lawmakers have questioned the legality of the intelligence-gathering programs revealed by Snowden, and whistleblower protections should shield him from retaliation if his disclosures expose illegal actions. Snowden is the seventh whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act.
The Government Accountability Project (GAP), the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization, which represents two of the whistleblowers charged with Espionage by this administration (NSA whistleblower Tom Drake and CIA/Torture whistleblower John Kiriakou) released the following statement regarding this latest development:
The Obama administration’s charge of espionage against Edward Snowden is not a surprise. This administration has continually sought to intimidate federal employees – particularly intelligence community workers – and suppress any attempt they might make to speak out against gross corruption, wrongdoing, and illegality.
In GAP’s view, Edward Snowden is a whistleblower. He disclosed information about a secret program that he reasonably believed to be illegal, and his actions alone brought about the long-overdue national debate about the proper balance between privacy and civil liberties, on the one hand, and national security on the other. Charging Snowden with espionage is yet another effort to retaliate against those who criticize the overreach of U.S. intelligence agencies under this administration. The charges send a clear message to potential whistleblowers: this is the treatment they can expect should they speak out about constitutional violations.
It is particularly noteworthy that Snowden spoke truthfully to the public about NSA surveillance after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper intentionally lied in his testimony before the U.S. Senate about these same activities. Clapper, however, has not even been admonished for his purposeful, deliberate deception of both the Senate and the public.
It must be emphasized that the channels internal to intelligence agencies for whistleblowers are neither effective nor confidential. Their gross inadequacy is best illustrated by what befell GAP clients and NSA whistleblowers Tom Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe, all of whom suffered retaliation after they reported internally serious misconduct at the NSA. Like these three men, Snowden will face serious consequences for exposing the wrongdoing and crimes of others. At the same time, those who stretched their interpretation of laws to invade the private lives of Americans, while lying to the Congress and the public about their actions, will simply continue working.
GAP released a statement on Snowden and the NSA surveillance that can be found here. Media calls regarding this statement can be directed toward GAP President Louis Clark at 202.441.0333 firstname.lastname@example.org, or GAP Communications Director Dylan Blaylock at 202.236.3733 email@example.com.
Dylan Blaylock is Communications Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.
|National Whistleblower Center Issues Statement in Support of NSA Whistleblower|
|Washington, D.C. June 10, 2013. The National Whistleblower Center issued the following statement in support of NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden:
Statement of Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center
“Edward Snowden should not be prosecuted. Instead, the White House must keep the promise made by President Obama, during his 2008 election campaign, when he pledged to support legislation that would fully protect all government whistleblowers, including those in sensitive national security positions.”
“Until Congress enacts a law, setting forth reasonable procedures by which civil servants can disclose national security violations to the American people, the government should not prosecute these whistleblowers. Congress and the President must do their jobs, and stop destroying the lives of civil servants who try to report misconduct”
There is significant historical precedent for the protection of whistleblowers demonstrating that such protections were strongly supported by the Founding Fathers. Mr. Kohn previously discussed this precedent in his New York TimesOp-Ed, The Whistleblowers of 1777. Mr. Kohn is also the author of The Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step by Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself (Lyons Press, 2011).
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Mary Jane Wilmoth
As every one of us should know, Turks may be predominantly Muslim but they are not Arab. They speak a different language, they originate in another part of the world, and have their own separate history, even if they border and interact over centuries with the Arab world. So the term Arab Spring would not apply to Turkey, even if the country underwent a similar upheaval as Tunisia, Libya, Egypt or Turkey’s immediate neighbour Syria. Beyond semantics, there are fundamental differences of substance between the aforementioned Arab countries and Turkey. The latter is certainly a democracy, sui generis perhaps, like many are, but still a country with a political system that allows a free vote for all and where the government has the support of the majority of the population (unlike in some other democracies, one may note).
Turkey has been undergoing a revolutionary transformation of its own for several springs now, since the coming to power of the AK Party of Prime Minister Erdogan. This may be the most democratic time the country has ever known, with the millions of previously silent or silenced Turks of Anatolia, pious and hard-working people, having a government they can recognize as their own, rather than an overt or covert dictatorship that attempts to impose Western secular values, or at least appearances, on the whole country.
Let it be known, I am mostly a Western secularist myself, although spiritual in my own way. A few years ago I would have felt very uncomfortable being surrounded by women with covered heads, or men with Muslim caps and long beards. I occasionally still wish that they did not do these things and we could all look alike, distinguished by the brands, colours and styles of clothes that we choose to wear. After living for several years in New York, though, and even more recently in multicultural and increasingly Arab Brussels (it is the same Brussels of the European Union), I have to admit that I am more comfortable with all this. I can see that some people feel more confident, dignified and reassured when they follow the customs of their home countries, even in a human environment that has different traditions and may occasionally react. They feel that they continue to belong to a community, and may be lucky enough to still do so, at a time when globalization is tearing apart old identities without having created a new one – unless that is consumerism.
So I could not deny the Muslim faithful of Turkey their right to express their traditional identity and to have it recognized in the laws of their country, without fear of legal or military persecution. At the same time, I would see a revenge unworthy of pious people if now that they are in power reversed things completely and denied the rest of their compatriots the right to express their secularism and Western orientation. It is on this point that the recent protests in Turkish cities can be seen as justified. Combined with an increasing authoritarian streak of a Prime Minister spoilt by solid popular support, and increasing exploitation of developing economic and other opportunities by those around him, the protests may be a good opportunity to stop the earlier necessary rebalancing of the system before it tips to the other extreme.
It takes cool heads, common sense, patriotism and magnanimity on both sides to recognize this as an historic moment of new balance, make the necessary adjustments in positions and expectations, and bury the hatchets. At a time when Western democracies, especially in Europe, are trying to become more tolerant in response to their increasingly multicultural societies, it would be ironic for places from where migrants to Europe originate, like Turkey, to become less tolerant towards part of their own populations. Moreover, Turkey wants tourists, many of whom drink, or are uncovered women, or both. Why should it restrict those options for its own citizens who may want to live that way, and may have been living that way since the end of the Ottoman Empire?
When I was growing up in Greece in the 1960s I felt the pressure of the church and the pious society not to do any work on Sundays, fast on certain days, etc. I also remember the pro-Western dictatorship that we had at the time. Things may have not turned out perfectly for Greece, as it became evident recently, but the emancipation from the church, the ending of the post-civil war right-left divide, and the expansion of the secular middle classes were not by themselves bad things. What was apparently bad was the absolute populism, paternalism and sheer bad public management of people like Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, who may be the unintended model for Prime Minister Erdogan.
Turkey is not Greece, and Mr. Erdogan is not the late Mr. Papandreou, so I will not insist on this analogy beyond the educational parallelism of the above few sentences. What is clear to me is that it would be a great pity if Turkey missed the opportunity provided by this explosion of sentiment by part of its population to rebalance itself, become a more mutually tolerant society, and set itself on a solid path of stability and prosperity for the next fifty years.
The Hague and Brussels, 6 June 2013
It is really disturbing what one hears about the treatment of those still held at Guantanamo Bay prison by the US. Although the exact number is disputed, it is clear that several dozen prisoners — the US Administration says about 40, while other sources according to the International Herald Tribune claim as many as 130 — have gone on hunger strike since February protesting against their indefinite detention and the legal limbo under which they are held.
It is even more disturbing to note that 86 Guantanamo prisoners have been cleared for release for sometime now. They continue, however, to be kept imprisoned, reportedly because of budgetary limitations the US Congress has placed on the Administration, and because of the search for countries other their own to receive them. This situation has to end soon, and the end should not be through the death or force-feeding (happening apparently in Guantanamo) of these human beings, who have rights as well as responsibilities under any rule of law system.
The US is a democracy not because its constitution or its authorities claim so. It is a democracy because its government generally respects the rule of law, internally at least, and its institutions and people are vigilant to push back and ensure that if there is any deviation. The application of law cannot exclude human beings because they are foreign nationals, have been accused of terrorism or are held in no-man’s land, as is Guantanamo.
If the US wants to retain its credibility in pushing for human rights and the rule of law internationally, it has to first apply it on its own territory and wherever else it is in effective control. Selective implementation of lofty principles only strengthens perceptions of double standards, leads to cynical rejection of human rights as a self-serving Western construction, undermines the global standing of the US itself, and eventually corrupts its internal democratic functioning.
Sparta, 13 April 2013
Ten years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, it is being widely acknowledged that this was an illegal war, based on fabricated intelligence and with regime change foremost in mind. Moreover, it was fought without proper planning for the post-Saddam era, and at a cost of dozens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars, leaving a mess in Iraq and beyond. This much is being admitted publicly even by protagonists in this drama, like the then Deputy Prime Minister of the UK John Prescott.
The natural next step in any law-abiding society with a reasonably long statute of limitations would be to assign responsibilities, investigate and prosecute those responsible for all this loss of life and treasure. The means might differ from one country to the other, with options including parliamentary or judicial commissions of inquiry or plain public prosecutor investigations. But one would expect something along these lines to happen both in the US and the UK.
Those directly involved in the fateful decisions will of course continue to pretend that they have nothing to account for. And if the docile attitude that the press and other opinion makers adopted in 2003 continues they will get away with it. But the Emperor is naked and people have started to whisper it; it will hopefully soon become an uproar. It would be grossly unjust and corrupted otherwise. A regular citizen is prosecuted if s/he kills one person or destroys one house. But as leader one has immunity if one causes the death of thousands and plunders his/her own and another country’s assets and resources…
Of course, there can be mitigating circumstances and mistakes made in good faith. But that is for the judicial process to decide. Those who made the wrong decisions have to explain themselves, in public. And they have to accept the consequences of their actions, as they wanted to make others pay for their wrong deeds. When that happens in earnest, and only then, may the professed moral superiority of the West be proven in practice.
The Hague, 19 March 2013
The statement earlier this month by the leader of the Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces Moaz al-Khatib that he was ready to negotiate a settlement with members of the Assad government, and the subsequent statement of Prime Minister al-Halqi expressing a similar will from the government side gave reason for hope. However, the now apparent inability of the National Coalition to unite in support of its leader’s statement, in a backdrop of new attacks on Aleppo, as well as on government and opposition installations in Damascus and elsewhere, throw the possibility of any direct peace talks back into doubt. That should not be allowed to happen. Instead, those with any degree of leverage with the Syrian government and the opposition should make clear that the Syrian parties cannot expect any support for their respective interests unless they sit down and talk to each other in earnest.
One positive thing that became evident during the short-lived spell of hope was that there can be broad international support for talks between the opposition and the government. The Russian Foreign Minister’s welcoming of Mr. Al-Khatib’s openness to dialogue should be reciprocated by those closer to the opposition, including the US, UK and France. There is always room for political maneuvering and relative positioning but this should be kept within limits, and should be firmly placed within a framework of talks between the Syrian parties themselves.
Iraq, in particular, should be kept in mind in all this, and the waste of lives and treasure that took place there should be avoided in Syria. In the event of a settlement, or while moving towards one, there should be no blanket demonization and persecution of Baath Party rank-and-file members, civil servants and other professionals. Politics excluded, Syria has been functioning better than many countries in the region in terms of public services and social cohesion, taking also into account that it is not particularly endowed in natural resources like most of its Arab neighbours are. A smooth transition would engage decent elements of the state machinery and would put emphasis on the continuity of public services and the state, with positive openings to those thus far excluded, rather than negative purges and summary replacements.
There are well-based allegations of war crimes committed by the Assad government, as well as by opposition forces. All these allegations should be duly investigated as soon as the situation on the ground allows it, and the culprits should be brought to justice, irrespective of who may have been patronizing them during the conflict. There should be no one-sided victors’ justice, if the situation in Syria is to stabilize for the long term, but responsibilities should be handed down impartially to those to whom they belong.
Responsibility lies with all sides, inside and outside Syria. Crunch time should not be allowed to drift any further, for the sake of the suffering Syrian population more than anything else.
Brussels, 24 February 2013
A couple of weeks ago it was reported in the Greek press that a very old olive tree, reputed to have survived since the times of Plato some 2400 years ago, had been cut for firewood by a desperate Athenian who could not afford the high heating oil price. It was a very sad piece of news, at first reading at least. It showed how low Greece and its citizens had fallen, at mere survival mode, sacrificing a living monument for the sole purpose of temporarily satisfying a mundane need. It felt like the end of Greek civilization, or rather of any connection that modern Greeks had with the glorified Greeks of ancient times. And was a sign of the decline, shortsightedness and destructive self-indulgence of modern Greeks.
At second reading, though, this may not have been as tragic an incident, after all. No, in no way am I suggesting that the cultural treasures of Hellenic civilization be sacrificed to temporarily relieve the many problems experienced by modern Greeks. That would be utterly detrimental to a very important part of humanity’s heritage and would do no justice to Greeks and non-Greeks alike. Moreover, it would not be sustainable over the medium- and long-run, living off what is left of ancient glories that is. What is not so bad, though, is the symbolism that this act conveys.
The cutting of the umbilical cord to the glorious antiquity may not be such a bad thing after all. It is this connection and its incessant reminder in schools and the society at large that has been a major spoiling factor for today’s Greeks. It is as if you had a billionaire for a father, or a genius, or both. Why should you work, why should you plan and why should you worry? Moreover, no matter what you did, you would not manage to measure up to those bigger-than-life ancestors, so why even try? No, you could live off the inheritance, the value of which everybody recognized, so they better pay for it, and pay you, the legitimate heir and DNA carrier.
But now that the connection is symbolically gone, literally cut up into small pieces that can fit into a stove or a fireplace, today’s Greek may realize that he or she is now responsible for his own acts and future, for better or worse. Once the warmth of the burning wood is gone, today’s Greek may realize that s/he is left out in the cold and has to fend for him/herself. And scary as this may at first be, it can have an awakening effect and be empowering at the same time. It may wake up the creativity and responsibility, which are somewhere in there, sleeping the sleep of the pampered heir, but occasionally still showing themselves in individual acts of greatness, often by Greeks who have left the homeland and have taken their destiny in their hands. Because Greeks can operate well in an environment that has rules and demands from them, as well as rewards. But they dose off and short-circuit themselves and each other when they are under the influence of glories past.
So, may you go to a better place and rejoin Plato, ancient olive tree. Thank you for ushering Greece with your symbolic sacrifice to its post-Platonic era, and may this be another glorious time of creativity and humanism indeed.
On the road, 4 February 2013