Protests in EswatiniEswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is a country in sub-Saharan Africa that has been dealing with protests for weeks. The pro-democracy protests in Eswatini are against the rule of King Mswati III, who has been criticized for his lavish lifestyle.

Poverty in Eswatini

In 2018, Swaziland changed its name to Eswatini. It borders South Africa and Mozambique. According to NPR, the country is Africa’s last absolute monarchy, and political parties are banned there. The ruler of the country is King Mswati III, who has reigned since his coronation in 1986.

King Mswati III has received heavy criticism for living in luxury while nearly two-thirds of Eswatini’s population of 1.2 million live in poverty. This gaping inequality is one of the reasons for the current pro-democracy protests in Eswatini.

Additionally, more than 330,000 people in Eswatini struggle with food insecurity. The country is still reeling from COVID-19 and a 2016 drought that ravaged the country’s food supply. Most of its people face poverty while their king lives in splendor.

Pro-Democracy Protests in Eswatini

Over the past few weeks, protests have broken out in Eswatini. People have rallied in opposition to the monarchy, and specifically the king. They are also expressing displeasure about restrictions on political expression and the poor state of the economy.

The protests have also caused immense damage both to the country and its people. At least 40 people have died, and more than 150 protestors have been taken to hospital with injuries. Additionally, violence and looting have caused a lack of basic necessities for many citizens. Protestors are calling for greater political participation, a limit on the monarchy’s power and a popular election for a Prime Minister instead of an appointment by the king.

Light in the Darkness

However bleak the forecast may seem for the protests in Eswatini, there is a ray of hope. Following the social unrest in Eswatini and South Africa, female religious leaders organized a Day of Prayer for their countries to heal.

The Leadership Conference of Consecrated Life in Southern Africa (LCCLSA) organized an online Day of Prayer. The event encouraged participants to pray for peace, healing and an end to the violence. Some people also shared testimonies of how the violence has affected them and their families, allowing for collective healing.

“Though painful and sad to listen to, the testimonies proved to be inspiring and gave a glimmer of hope in the midst of the hopelessness that people are feeling,” Sr Nkhensani Shibambu, President of LCCLSA, told Vatican News. “Many people were moved and touched by the initiative and felt inspired to begin the rebuilding of the country from the ashes that had surrounded them in the past weeks.”

While protests ravage Eswatini, highlighting the inequity between the lavish lifestyle of King Mswati III and the two-thirds of citizens living in poverty, there is hope in people coming together to pray for healing and a better future for the country.

Laya Neelakandan
Photo: Flickr

Democracy in Haiti
An unidentified gunman assassinated Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, in his residence on July 7, 2021. The assassination marked a new chapter in Haiti’s tumultuous history of governance. Never possessing true legitimacy, years of institutionalized corruption and patronage to Haiti’s small business elite characterized Moïse’s time in office. People accused Moïse and some of his top staff of embezzling billions of dollars in foreign funds. He had no intention of leaving office, and instead closed Haiti’s parliament and delayed legislative elections. In Haiti, the thought of democracy in Haiti – with free and fair elections – is a distant dream.

Internal corruption has led to governance that prioritizes the interests of the nation’s wealthy minority, holding the prosperity of Haitians hostage in the process. The country has yet to reflect the true democratic will of the Haitian people. For far too long, the Haitian people have suffered due to their country’s political turmoil. They deserve a government that will work fervently towards providing economic opportunities and an educational infrastructure that will benefit future generations.

The Heart of Haiti

While resilient at its core, Haiti is one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Furthermore, the country never recovered from the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed over 250,000 people. The COVID-19 pandemic has recently exacerbated its already deteriorating infrastructure. Lagging behind the rest of the world, Haiti has not administered any vaccines. Despite a lack of basic resources, the Haitians refuse to give up. Family farms and women-led food markets in urban hubs have transformed the national economy. As a result, hope is undergoing restoration in a population that its own elected officials have unfairly marginalized.

As Haiti navigates this transition of power, it is ever as important for the international community to support the Haitian people. Following Moïse’s assassination, White House press secretary Jen Psaki professed, “We again stand ready to provide support, provide assistance, in any way that is formally requested by the government there. We’re looking forward to hearing from them on what they would request and how we can help them through this period of time.” The next month will prove to be vital in ensuring the restoration of democracy in Haiti. As U.S. officials and other members of the international community offer hands of assistance, it is crucial that their vested interests remain out of the picture.

What is Next?

While uncertain, the road to democracy in Haiti is promising. Legislative elections are now scheduled for September 2021, but Haiti must first solve the predicament of who will be the country’s interim president. Nevertheless, this is a monumental moment in Haitian history. The world will have to see if Moïse’s death will ignite unity across Haiti, bringing peace to its people who have long experienced immense poverty. It is up to Haiti’s political leaders to prevent democratic backsliding and in turn, forge a brighter future. Likewise, international organizations such as the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) must continue to amplify their presence in Haiti during this turbulent time. Achieving true democracy in Haiti is possible, but much more groundwork is necessary.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

Chile’s electionOver the weekend of May 15-16, 2021, a very unique election took place in Chile. Chileans voted for mayors, governors and city councilors. The distinctive part of Chile’s election was the vote for 155 representatives who will make up the Constitutional Convention responsible for drafting the new constitution of Chile.

The Need for a New Constitution

Back in 1973, Augusto Pinochet came into power as an authoritarian military dictator. Pinochet drafted a constitution that was reflective of his rule. Since then, Chile has been making the transition to democracy through several presidential administrations, the current being that of President Sebastián Piñera. Pinochet’s 1980 constitution has been a point of contention because many Chileans perceive it as favoring corporations over citizens.

Additionally, the constitution does not even mention indigenous people who account for more than 1.5 million Chileans. Chileans generally want to move away from the old constitution, which symbolizes the move from a transitional period into a full embrace of democracy. A new constitution would allow this to happen. Chile’s election decides who participates in the drafting of this monumental document.

Protests in Chile

Public disapproval came to a head in October 2019 when massive protests swept the South American country. Major cities like Santiago, Valparaíso and Concepción experienced riots, looting and several casualties as a result. An increase in subway rates initially triggered the demonstrations. The riots continued over concerns of extreme economic inequality and poor public health and education systems. One of the demands of the protests was to rewrite the constitution. A new constitution was seen as a solution to address the root of all the issues.

In October 2020, Chile’s government held a referendum in response to the protests. The referendum asked Chileans if they would want a new constitution, and if so, Chileans were to specify the type of body they would task with drafting this new constitution. Chileans responded with a majority of more than 78% of the country voting in favor of a new constitution to be drafted by a group elected by popular vote.

The Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention is the first in the world to have a gender parity requirement. Because of the election, 50% of legislative seats will belong to women. Another milestone is the inclusion of Chile’s indigenous people. Indigenous representatives will account for 17 of the 155 convention seats. Seven of these seats go to the Mapuche, the largest Indigenous community. In recent years, industrial deforestation has wiped out much of the Mapuche lands, greatly harming the community.

In addition, six out of the 155 representatives will come from the LGBTQ+ community. Although the nation is facing great troubles, the achievements of Chile’s election should not be overlooked. The built-in diversity and representation should be cause for global celebration. The majority of seats have gone to independent and opposition candidates. This goes against the right-leaning coalition that is currently in power under President Piñera. Since the “government-backed candidates” now take up only about a quarter of the seats, they are left unable to pass legislation or block dramatic changes.

The Goals of a New Constitution

One of the primary goals of the leftward shift is fighting poverty in Chile, but not in the traditional sense. In terms of GDP per capita, Chile is considered the wealthiest country in South America, but the wealth is distributed very unequally. Chilean’s want the country’s wealth to be distributed equally, which should be reflected in better housing, education and healthcare for all.

Whether through indigenous rights, equitable educational services or the taxation of the wealthy, the Constitutional Convention will figure out how to make Chile a more equitable place. A well-structured and democratic constitution has the potential to bring lasting change to the country and reduce extreme poverty, which is why Chile’s election is such a significant moment in the country’s history.

Lucy Gentry
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19-impacts-freedom-in-the-world
The focus of 2020 was the COVID-19 pandemic. Issues like food insecurity, mental health, increased poverty and widespread misinformation impacted people all over the world. As a result of unemployment, lack of social protection and various trade restrictions that have disrupted the international food supply chains, tens of millions of people are in danger of succumbing to extreme poverty. People’s freedom in the world is increasingly vulnerable.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health services in nearly the entire world have experienced disruption, even though the demand is increasing. The societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered mental health conditions for some and worsened pre-existing ones for others. In a United Nations (U.N.) article addressing misinformation surrounding the pandemic, Dr. Briand, director of pandemic and epidemic diseases suggests that “when people are anxious and uncertain of a number of things they tend to compare with things they know already or things they have experienced in the past.” Fear and apprehension surrounding the vaccine have made it vital for organizations like the U.N. to provide accessible and understandable information that addresses public concerns.

Freedom in the world has been an overarching issue during the pandemic. It is also likely to have serious implications in the coming years. Freedom House is a nonpartisan, independent watchdog organization that researches and reports on various core issues within the contexts of civil liberties, political rights and democracy. Throughout 2020, Freedom House compiled reports and data on how repressive regimes have reacted to the pandemic, often at the expense of basic freedoms and public health.

Freedom House Report: “Democracy Under Lockdown”

According to a Freedom House report about the impact of COVID-19 on the global struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights has deteriorated in 80 countries since the start of COVID-19. The report is based on a survey of 398 experts from 105 countries. GQR conducted it in partnership with Freedom House. The research shows a trend of declining freedom worldwide for the past 14 years that COVID-19 has exacerbated. Countries that lack accountability in government are suffering the most due to failing institutions and the silencing of critics and opposition. Countries such as the United States, Denmark and Switzerland have also seen weakened democratic governance, even though Freedom House categorizes them as “free.” Even open societies face pressure to accept restrictions that may outlive the crisis and have a lasting effect on liberty.

5 Aspects of  a Weakened Democracy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. Abuse of Power: Governments use the pandemic to justify retaining special powers, including interfering with the justice system, unprecedented restrictions on political opponents and increased surveillance. According to the research, the police violently targeted civilians in at least 59 countries. In 66 countries, detentions and arrests have increased during the pandemic response.
  2. Protection of Vulnerable Groups: Marginalized communities disproportionately face restrictions and discrimination and those in power often blame them for spreading the virus. Governments that abuse marginalized groups have continued to do so while international attention focuses on the pandemic. Due to government shutdowns, civil society has a reduced capacity to enforce accountability for human rights violations.
  3. Transparency and Anticorruption: In 37% of the 65 countries that the research included, government transparency was one of the top three issues that affected the government’s pandemic response. The report also notes that 62% of respondents said they distrust information from their national government. Some governments, such as those in Nicaragua and Turkmenistan, have outright denied the existence of the virus. Others like Brazil and Tasmania have promoted unsafe or unverified treatments. Opportunities for corruption have grown as national governments quickly distribute funds to the public without mechanisms in place to monitor those funds.
  4. Free Media and Expression: Freedom House research found that at least 47% of countries in the world experienced restrictions on the media as a response to the pandemic. Journalists have also been the target of violence, harassment and intimidation. At least 48% of countries have experienced government restrictions on free speech and expression. In 25% of the “free” countries, as classified by Freedom House, national governments restricted news media.
  5. Credible Elections: COVID-19 disrupted national elections in nine countries between January and August 2020. The postponed elections often failed to meet democratic standards because of delayed rescheduling or lack of adequate preparation for secure voting.

Protecting Freedom Now and in the Future

In 2020, the International Labor Organization (ILO) predicted that there would be a 60% decline in earnings for nearly 2 billion informal workers in the world. It is also the first year since 1998 that there will be a rise in poverty. According to Larry Diamond from Stanford University, good governance within a democracy is essential for poverty reduction. Freedom House recommends five ways to protect democracy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Emergency restrictions should be transparent with support from the rule of law while being purposeful and proportional to the threat.
  2. Restrictions, especially ones impacting basic rights, should not last a long time and should have independent oversight.
  3. Surveillance that uses new technology must be scientifically necessary and have limits on duration and scope. An independent organization should also monitor government surveillance.
  4. Protecting freedom of the press is important. The population should have open access to the internet and people should combat false information with clear and factual government information.
  5. It is essential to adjust voter registration and polling station rules, encouraging distanced voting methods and only postponing elections as a last resort.

Citizens in at least 90 countries have had significant protests against government restrictions. Journalists have risked their freedom and safety to report on the pandemic and the oppressive actions that government entities have taken. However, the pushback against reduced freedom in the world and guidelines that international organizations like Freedom House set inspire hope for a turning point in democracy’s current trajectory.

– Charlotte Severns
Photo: Flickr

Mostar's Election
More than 25 years ago, the Bosnian War ended. Today, the country is still working to repair the damage the divisions of people within its borders caused. In 2008, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constitutional court declared that the city of Mostar’s election rules were discriminatory toward more than half of its population. In the past 12 years, no elections occurred within the city. The two major political parties of the country, the Bosniak and Croat parties, have not agreed on new election rules. As a result, the same mayor did not run Mostar for the period. He has had no local council and has been solely responsible for allocating the city’s budget of 230 million euros.

With little accountability, the institutions of the city have slowly disbanded. As a result, the city has been crumbling, with trash piling up in the streets. Both the Croats and the Bosniaks started to leave the country to find better opportunities abroad.

The Efforts of Irma Baralija

Realizing that the city was only worsening, while the division amongst political officials was never going to result in a proper democratic vote, Irma Baralija sued the government through the European Court of Human Rights. Barajila, a local philosophy teacher, sued because the country had deprived her and the other 100,000 citizens of the right of voting in her district.

In October 2019, Barajila won her case. This resulted in the European Union and the United States officials working with Bosniak and Croats to set election rules by June 2020. With the rules specified in time, the first democratic vote occurred in December 2020, where the citizens had a say in local policies and officials for the first time in more than a decade.

Barajila is proud of the accomplishment within her home city. She stated that hopefully, other citizens would see the impact individuals can have in seemingly party-driven and group-oriented politics. She hoped that people followed her lead by voting in Mostar’s election on December 20, 2020.

The Outcome of Mostar’s Election

The results of the election caused different feelings. On the one hand, citizens were able to express their opinions. On the other, the two parties that have divided the country still are heavily running the show and causing conflict. In particular, both parties have claimed fraud and asked for a recount in specific districts.

In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to express one’s opinion is as important as ever. How a country decides different issues regarding healthcare and economic openings can have a significant impact on individuals’ lives. Regardless of the controversial outcome of the election, the realization of Mostar’s election can be a major achievement in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s development.

– Aidan Farr
Photo: Flickr

Democracy and human rightsThe country of Belarus is both physically and politically stuck between Russia and Western Europe, which have been at odds for the past several years. Currently, Belarus is in the wake of political protests and social unrest. Additionally, the country is reaching a tipping point and the people are demanding change. The first step is the introduction of a new democracy and human rights bill in the U.S. Congress.

The Presidential Election

Belarus’s current president is Alexander Lukashenko, a man given the nickname of “Europe’s Last Dictator.” In August 2020, the nation held a presidential election and a high majority of the country’s population claimed that the election was entirely fixed. Lukashenko won in a landslide victory and claimed his 26th straight year as Belarus’s leader. Consequently, massive waves of political protest immediately followed the election. It demonstrates a demand for the president’s removal from office.

Lukashenko showed no indication of planning to resign. Vladimir Putin politically supports Lukashenko. However, there is strong evidence that suggests that Putin’s support comes from the worry of a potential social rebellion of the Belarusian people. As a result of the social outcry, protestors and police forces have violently clashed.

The election in August 2020 created a chain reaction of historical change for the country. Belarus’s citizens have a history of keeping their personal political opinions private. Nevertheless, the severity of this matter encourages people to break their silence. This social upheaval brought with it extreme pushback from law enforcement, which led to more than 7,000 arrests of political demonstrators within seven days after the election. In addition, these arrests include accusations of extreme abuse and the disappearances of inmates. This has gained the attention of the U.N. Like everywhere else, Belarus also has significant cases of COVID-19. In response, the U.N. put $7.5 million toward medical aid and spread prevention. Furthermore, basic universal human rights have now become one of the main focuses of Belarus’ and the U.N.’s plan for positive reform.

A Democracy Bill

In October 2020, a team of U.S. politicians introduced a proposed plan of solution for the situation in Belarus. It proposed the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights and Sovereignty Act of 2020. This act would grant the U.S. an opportunity to help introduce democracy to the people of Belarus. In a recent press release from the Committee on Foreign Affairs, each House member supporting the bill explained the reasons for their support.

Moreover, one of the most notable quotes came from Republican Leader Rep. McCaul. He said, “We stand with the historic numbers of peaceful Belarusian protesters that continue to flood the streets to demand a more democratic country. Their voices must be heard and the Belarusian authorities using violence, arbitrary detentions, and repression in an attempt to stifle their calls to chart their own future must be held accountable.” He went on to clarify that the U.S. would not consider Lukashenko’s victory legitimate.

Basic human rights belong to every person, no matter their geographical location or political situation. This serves as a reminder that not every country shares the same rights globally. The introduction of democracy and human rights is an important piece to the puzzle of trying to make circumstances better for a nation and its people.

Brandon Baham
Photo: Flickr

Efficacy Through ConditionalityDuring a summit in 2005, the G8 nations committed to increasing aid for Africa from $25 billion to $50 billion a year by 2010. This was a great change in the trend from previous years when foreign aid was in decline. Often, disappointment related to the effectiveness of foreign aid had caused a decrease in donors’ commitments, but recent studies have tried to prove that donors can improve foreign aid’s efficacy through conditionality.

Aid Conditionality as a Way to Improve Democracy

Foreign aid can influence democratic development through three methods. First, promoting democratic institutions and the balance of power and empowering civil society organizations. Second, strengthening channels that contribute to democracy, such as the income per capita and education. And third, conditionality.

Aid conditionality is “the use of pressure, by the donor, in terms of threatening to terminate aid or actually terminating or reducing it, if conditions are not met by the recipient.” Therefore, donors can perform aid conditionality in different ways:

  1. Potential donors can require the fulfillment of ex-ante conditions regarding the requirements of democracy, governance or human rights before coming to a formal agreement or forming a relationship with the potential donee country.
  2. Donors can impose ex-post conditions in a contractual relationship or legal instrument that the donee country should fulfill.

Moreover, positive and negative conditionality exists. A positive conditionality means that the aid provider can reduce, suspend or terminate the aid if the government does not follow the conditions, while a negative conditionality consists of provisions that the donor can give as rewards when the government fulfills the requirements.

Some provide a general critique accusing negative conditionality as ineffective because sanctions that countries can impose due to conditionality may affect the impoverished more rather than the government it is targeting. Moreover, the government of the recipient country may easily obtain alternative funding sources. In contrast, the application of positive conditionality does not often experience dispute.

When Can Aid Conditionality Work?

Some argue that the efficacy of aid conditionality relies on the democracy levels of the recipients. Since governments’ primary goals are to maintain power, in an environment of open political competition, the governments must spend the aid they receive to the level that it allows them to comply with donors’ conditions and also stay in power, whereas autocracies can stockpile as much aid as they receive while maintaining power.

The European Union, for instance, had set aid conditionality elements when it comes to its provision for sub-Saharan countries. After 1977’s Uganda crisis, the EU decided not to remain neutral in situations where there are massive violations of human rights and democracy. Therefore, it imposed human dignity as a precondition for the provision of aid and, consequently, human development. Moreover, in 1995, the EU decided to declare respect for democratic principles, rule of law and good governance as essential elements and that it could withdraw aid disbursements if recipients did not comply with its parameters.

The Case of Niger

With the return to power of President Tandja after the coup d’etat of 1999, Niger was able to normalize its relationship with the European Union and establish a relatively successful political situation from 2005 to 2009. During those years, the government’s opposition operated through the official channels and institutions and Niger experienced great levels of political and social stability.

Despite this, after President Tandja’s efforts to remain in power caused an escalation of the political and social tensions, the EU-led talks failed and the party in power began to harass the opposition and media. In 2009, the EU decided to withdraw its support, which the coup d’etat of 2010 later followed. The return to a democratically-elected government in 2011 led to the return of the support that the EU gave as aid disbursements and, therefore, the effective use of the donor’s ex-post aid conditionality that later contributed to Niger’s democracy development.

After the new political transition, Niger received a consistent rating as a democracy based on the Polity IV scale. Since then, the country’s political situation remains stable although tensions remain palpable. Now, although the country’s most recent president, Mahamadou Issoufou, has had authoritarian tendencies, he is willing to step down from power and allow a new transition of government.

The Utility of Aid Conditionality

Studies show foreign aid’s efficacy through conditionality regarding producing democracy development under certain situations. Regardless, donor countries and organizations should not be so quick to abandon these policies as the policies can positively impact a country’s social and political environment. Therefore, all donors must understand in depth the different ways aid conditionality could affect policy outcomes in recipient countries based on highly complex situations where donors give foreign aid.

– Helen Souki
Photo: Flickr

The Arab Spring
On February 11, 2011, the chant of the people echoed throughout Tahrir Square. The screams of “Ash-shaʻb yurīd isqāṭ an-niẓām,” translated as “the people will topple the regime,” had inundated the despot. But the regime has proven more difficult to expunge. Today, the Arab Spring in Egypt has failed. Since the 2011 protests, the poverty rate in Egypt has risen from 25% to 33%. The state has fomented religious persecution in the name of antiterrorism and is discouraging private media.

The Arab Spring

In 2011, a series of uprisings known as the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East. In Tunisia, when authorities confiscated the cart of a street vendor named Mohammad Bouazizi, a video circulated of Bouazizi self-immolating in protest. According to authorities, Bouazizi lacked the proper paperwork. A female officer allegedly slapped him. Bouazizi’s plight was emblematic of a youth problem across the Arab world.

In Tunisia, the poverty rate was 14.7% and most of that number consisted of youths, many of whom had an education. After a visit from Ben Ali, the president of Tunisia, in which Ali feigned concern for Bouazizi’s grievances, the street vendor died. The death of Mohammad Bouazizi sparked a revolution across the Arab World. In Egypt, the situation was worse. Approximately 20% of Egyptians lived below the poverty line and another 20% lived near the poverty line.

In 2010, an Egyptian man named Khaled Said videotaped two policemen allegedly consuming the spoils of a drug bust. The policemen later found and mutilated him. His death sparked even more indignation toward repression in Egypt. He became a symbol of brutal government repression under Hosni Mubarak.

Hosni Mubarak

In his youth, Mubarak rose up the ranks of the military until he eventually became commander of the Egyptian Air Force in 1972. Subsequently, he became vice president of Egypt. During this time, Islamic extremists murdered President Anwar Sadat, and Mubarak witnessed his assassination. Sadat’s death made an indelible impression on Mubarak. It made him desire the preservation of power at all costs. He became president in 1981 and immediately issued an emergency law.

Mubarak would give the Egyptian police and the military sweeping powers to crack down on any perceived threats, including opposition from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mubarak’s economic policies also encouraged major disparities between the rich and the poor in Egypt. Because of the government’s reliance on foreign aid, the IMF and the World Bank urged the Mubarak regime to adopt neoliberal principles based on privatization, subsidy cuts and deregulation. These policies encouraged severe inequality, which ignited massive protests consisting of hundreds of thousands.

On February 11, 2011, the recently appointed vice president of Egypt, Omar Suleiman, announced that Mubarak would willfully resign from his position as president. Many thousands celebrated in Tahrir Square. Today, however, a military strong man has once again wrested power from the people.

From Morsi to Sisi

By 2013, most people had become vehemently opposed to Mubarak’s replacement, Mohammad Morsi, for his 2012 constitutional declaration, which placed him and his edicts above judicial review. Thus, the military led a popularly supported coup against the first democratically elected Egyptian president; the man who would replace him was named Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi.

Sisi would brutally crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal activists, accusing them of terrorism and libel. These actions have led to increasing numbers of political prisoners. In 2019, Egyptian businessmen Muhammad Ali accused the government of siphoning its resources for vanity projects and luxury lifestyles, including building palaces on state funds. Regardless of the validity of these accusations, government resources are not reaching the poorest in society, with a poverty rate of 33%.

Social Media

Although uprisings have been prevalent long before the advent of social media, social media is undoubtedly a potent weapon to expedite revolution. For men like Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali, the unfettered voice of social media was insurmountable. Now, in the case of President Sisi, it is only a matter of time before the opposition becomes insurmountable. Whether this is reason to believe the regime will fall with him is another question. For now, various NGOs such as the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) are exposing the repression of civil society in Egypt. Such work could have immeasurable effects.

– Blake Dysinger
Photo: Flickr

tunisian povertyTunisia stands as the only Arabian country to have undergone democratization as a result of the Arab Spring protests that shook the region in the 2010s. Fueled by widespread Tunisian poverty and a low standard of living, alongside many other factors, the nearly month-long campaign of civil disobedience led to the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. However, the installation of a functioning democracy has yet to alleviate all of the issues that Tunisians faced pre-revolution.

The Jasmine Revolution

In December of 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi, a Sidi Bouzid fruit vendor whose goods had recently been confiscated by local authorities, self-immolated outside of the local governor’s office. His sentiments were echoed amongst many citizens frustrated with Tunisian poverty, corruption and suppression of freedoms. Leading up to the revolution, an increasing number of middle-class citizens expressed dissatisfaction with their standards of living. Despite an approximate 7% increase in GDP per capita from 2008 to 2010, the percentage of the country’s middle class that rated themselves satisfied with their current and future prospects dropped from 24% to 14%. Due to other factors such as government corruption, something that is not accurately reflected by metrics like GDP, Tunisians felt as if they had little to gain from their country’s economic growth. As a result of these factors, many Tunisians took to the streets soon after Bouazizi’s act of defiance.

As riots escalated, with protestors dying under live fire from police, President Ben Ali appeared on national television and made some concessions, including a reduction in food prices and in restrictions on internet usage. However, these remarks proved too little, and the protests continued. By Jan. 14 2011, state media reported the dissolution of the Ben Ali regime and the establishment of legislative elections. As unrest continued, Ben Ali fled the country. While new leadership took charge of the newly reformed government, protests continued, as much of this new leadership consisted of members of Ben Ali’s Democratic Constitutional Rally. Eventually, Mohammed Ghannouchi, the acting prime minister, announced the posting of several figures from other parties in the interim government. He also reemphasized the new government’s pledged efforts to maintain economic prosperity and freer speech. Eventually, the Democratic Constitutional Rally was dissolved in the face of continued protests over the inclusion of politicians from the old regime. These reforms within the Tunisian government stand as one of the major catalysts for the Arab Spring protests, a series of demonstrations across the Arab world that demanded alterations to many standing regimes.

Fundamental Changes in Tunisian Poverty?

While the Tunisian government changed drastically in the face of this civil uprising, Tunisian citizens still face some of the issues that plagued them before. Socially, there has been continued strife between Islamism and secularism in the country, with violence spreading throughout the country in 2012 over the interaction of religion and government. While secular parties have slightly outpaced Islamist parties, there have been problems with fundamentalist violence both domestically and abroad. Tunisians have joined terrorist organizations such as ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Lybia, making up large percentages of their foreign recruits. Additionally, terrorist groups have staged attacks on Tunisian soil, attacking institutions such as museums and resorts.

Economic troubles have also challenged Tunisians. Since 2011, nearly 100,000 highly skilled workers and professionals have left the country. Despite the changes in government, unemployment still stands as a grave issue. Nearly 23% of university graduates were unemployed right before the onset of the revolution. This number has since risen to 29%. Government corruption and protracted bureaucracy have done less than initially desired in helping the Tunisian middle and lower classes. Unfortunately, some Tunisians have started to doubt the effectiveness of the new government, with only 46% saying that “democracy is preferable to any other kind of government” in 2018, dropping from 71% in 2013. However, there has been some support from the international community in alleviating these economic issues.

The International Labour Organization

A wing of the United Nations, the International Labour Organization, has devoted resources toward alleviating Tunisian poverty and some other societal issues currently facing Tunisians. Some initiatives include construction projects, such as a covered market in Sidi Bouzid. This provides vendors with more favorable conditions to sell their goods while providing construction workers with employment. In Regueb, a village near Sidi Bouzid, the organization has implemented the Programme to Support the Development of Underprivileged Areas, providing around 100 individuals with agricultural skills. Mahmoud Ben Romdhane, the Tunisian Minister of Social Affairs, has endorsed the collaboration of local organizations and the International Labour Organization in improving the conditions of Tunisian citizens.

Tunisians face many challenges in the near future in alleviating the societal and economic issues that stand before the country. However, the success of Tunisians in standing for a reformed government has inspired generations across the world. With support from the international community and dedication within the country, a bright future may lie ahead in regard to Tunisian poverty and political stability.

Samuel Levine
Photo: Flickr

facts about parliamentary democracy
There are many structures by which countries can run a government, ranging from democracy to totalitarianism. Parliamentary democracy is a specific form of democracy that originated with the parliament and has been evolving ever since. In order to better understand this form of government that is different than the one the United States possesses, here are seven facts about parliamentary democracy.

7 Facts About Parliamentary Democracy

  1. The structure differs from a presidential democracy. In a presidential democracy (such as the one the United States operates under), the chief executive (president) and legislature (congress) undergo separate elections. Conversely, in a parliamentary democracy, the elected legislature (parliament) chooses the chief executive (prime minister). The parliament can remove the prime minister at any time by a “vote of no confidence,” which is a less laborious task than removing a president.
  2. People refer to the British Parliament as the “Mother of Parliament.” This is because Britain developed the Westminster System of parliamentary democracy: a specific system founded on centuries of traditions. Other colonial states adopted the system, such as Australia, and many of them still operate under some variation of the Westminster System today.
  3. Fifty-one countries currently operate under a parliamentary system. Among these countries are Canada, India, Japan and Spain. Most of these countries function in combination with other systems, such as a constitutional monarchy, in which a monarch may share political power with the parliament.
  4. Prime ministers’ powers vary. There are variations in a lot of the parliamentary systems around the world. A prime minister’s power can change depending on the country and allocated duties in the constitutions. The strong prime minister model exists in the United Kingdom and most other countries that were once part of the British Empire. Some of the prime minister’s powers in these countries include the power to change the structure of ministries and the ability to call for elections at any time. Countries in which several political parties must work together to maintain a legislative majority, such as Australia, Italy and Belgium, usually possess weak prime ministers.
  5. There are a few semi-presidential systems. These are systems in which a president and prime minister rule together. The powers between the two seats can vary, with one having more power than the other or both having equal influence. Most countries that operate under this system do so to put checks in place to avoid presidential dictatorships. Examples of countries with this system include Ireland, Portugal and Russia.
  6. There is often less gridlock. Along with the facts about parliamentary democracy, there are some pros and cons. Because the parliament elects the prime minister, people often observe that these two branches function better together than in a presidential democracy in which the public elects the president. Oftentimes legislation passes with less resistance, whereas the United States has faced government shutdowns when legislation was at a standstill.
  7. There can be a quick overturning of leaders and inconsistency. While legislation can pass more efficiently, a negative consequence of the parliamentary structure is the rapidity with which things can change. Because the parliament can remove the prime minister anytime he or she falls out of favor, this can lead to a lot of restructuring and inconsistent leadership. This happened during the Brexit process, in which three separate prime ministers received the appointment to deal with the aftermath of the vote.
Many believe it is important to know about the different forms of government structures so that one can examine their own country and evaluate its relative effectiveness. Hopefully, these basic facts about parliamentary democracy have provided a foundation to understand the structure and some of the pros and cons of the system.

 – Lindsey Shinkle
Photo: Pixabay