Are coups good for democracy? -Washington Post


There was a lot of optimism when Ben Ali, Mubarak and Qaddafi were ousted, then a lot of disappointment. This study suggests we should not be surprised:

“since the end of the Cold War, regime change of some sort increasingly follows successful coups (68 percent pre-1990 compared with 90 percent afterward, with the rest simply reshuffling the leadership). Though more of these changes now end in democratization, the most common outcome is still the replacement of one dictatorship by a different group of autocrats …..56 percent during the Cold War and 50 percent since the end of it.”

“The bad news does not end there. Using annual data on repression, we find that coups that launch new dictatorships lead to higher levels of repression in the year that follows than existed in the year leading to the coup. Moreover, in daily event data for the 49 coup attempts that have occurred since 1989, we find that there is only one case of a coup followed by a drop in state-caused civilian deaths during the subsequent 12 months.”

Freedom in the World: 2016 -Freedom House


Freedom House has released its 2016 global summary. As usual, the results were not good. However Tunisia has made the list of “Free” states. A rare bit of good news from the region.

“These developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.

  • The number of countries showing a decline in freedom for the year—72—was the largest since the 10-year slide began. Just 43 countries made gains.
  • Over the past 10 years, 105 countries have seen a net decline, and only 61 have experienced a net improvement.
  • Ratings for the Middle East and North Africa region were the worst in the world in 2015, followed closely by Eurasia.
  • Over the last decade, the most significant global reversals have been in freedom of expression and the rule of law.”

The methodology for a study like this is of course extremely important. How you ask the questions and what questions you ask will have a big impact on your findings. This is particularly important when you are trying to measure ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. A partial description of Freedom House’s methodology is below. There is a link to the full description below that:

“Freedom in the World uses a three-tiered rating system, consisting of scores, ratings, and status. The complete list of the questions used in the scoring process, and the tables for converting scores to ratings and ratings to status, appear at the end of this essay.

Scores – A country or territory is awarded 0 to 4 points for each of 10 political rights indicators and 15 civil liberties indicators, which take the form of questions; a score of 0 represents the smallest degree of freedom and 4 the greatest degree of freedom. The political rights questions are grouped into three subcategories: Electoral Process (3 questions), Political Pluralism and Participation (4), and Functioning of Government (3). The civil liberties questions are grouped into four subcategories: Freedom of Expression and Belief (4 questions), Associational and Organizational Rights (3), Rule of Law (4), and Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights (4). The political rights section also contains two additional discretionary questions……

Political Rights and Civil Liberties Ratings – A country or territory is assigned two ratings (7 to 1)—one for political rights and one for civil liberties—based on its total scores for the political rights and civil liberties questions…..

Free, Partly Free, Not Free Status – The average of a country’s or territory’s political rights and civil liberties ratings is called the Freedom Rating, and it is this figure that determines the status of Free (1.0 to 2.5), Partly Free (3.0 to 5.0), or Not Free (5.5 to 7.0) (see table 3).

Trend Arrows – A country or territory may be assigned an upward or downward trend arrow to highlight developments of major significance or concern….

Electoral Democracy Freedom in the World assigns the designation “electoral democracy” to countries that have met certain minimum standards for political rights; territories are not included in the list of electoral democracies. According to the methodology, an electoral democracy designation requires a score of 7 or better in the Electoral Process subcategory and an overall political rights score of 20 or better. Freedom House’s term “electoral democracy” differs from “liberal democracy” in that the latter also implies the presence of a substantial array of civil liberties. In Freedom in the World, all Free countries can be considered both electoral and liberal democracies, while some Partly Free countries qualify as electoral, but not liberal, democracies.”


How a Donald Trump presidency could affect Canada -CBC


From a purely academic perspective, Trump would make a fascinating president. More than any other president in recent memory, he is a political outsider. Not only is he reviled by Democrats and the left, he gets love from the republican establishment. Even George W Bush, who cast himself as a maverick surrounded himself with advisers from the Reagan era. If he were to take the presidency, it would provide a great opportunity to see exactly how much impact an individual can make in office -for better or worse…

This article takes an interesting look at how his election might impact US relations with Canada.

“There is also a concern that while Trump might not build literal walls at the Canadian border, he could thicken them by calling for more border security out of fears that Canada’s recent influx of Syrian refugees could somehow pose a threat to the U.S.

He has said he would ban Muslims coming into the U.S. and send back Syrian refugees. “I suspect someone  like Trump would easily buy into the immediate post 9/11 rhetoric that Canada was somehow at fault for allowing some of the hijackers to cross our borders into the U.S., which was obviously incorrect,” Abelson said.

Still, other observers, such as political scientist Brian Bow, the director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University, says much of Trump’s talk on issues that could affect Canadians is just that — talk. And in that respect, he may not be that much different than past candidates.”


Persian (or Arabian) Gulf Is Caught in the Middle of Regional Rivalries -The New York Times


This article looks at the seemingly trivial dispute over the term “Persian Gulf”. It is no small mater on either the Iranian or the Arab side. As the article points out, Americans frequently use the term Gulf to avoid controversy. I can say from my own experience, that usually does not work. I referred to ‘the Gulf’ once at a talk in Tehran and I was corrected in no uncertain terms, by three separate members of the audience. I have seen a couple of other academics at conferences in North America meet the same fate.

“Analysts say the name can be a source of friction even in diplomatic encounters.

“It’s deeply emotional; it’s not simply semantic,” said Frederic Wehrey, an expert on gulf politics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Mr. Wehrey recalled meetings that degenerated into shouting matches over the name. At the heart of the matter, he said, was “a geostrategic dispute about ownership of the gulf.”

Kenneth M. Pollack, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who served as the Persian Gulf affairs director at the National Security Council, said that the terms used by American officials had become more nuanced, and that more officials now say Arabian Gulf or simply “the gulf.”

The terminology shifted along with geopolitics, he said. While the close American-Saudi relationship dates to World War II, ties deepened between the United States and other Gulf Arab states after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, and even more so with the 1991 war in Iraq.

The National Geographic Society found itself in the middle of the argument when it published an atlas adding the term Arabian Gulf in parentheses below the term Persian Gulf in 2004. After protests, National Geographic added an explanatory note to later editions.”

Why the Syrian cease-fire probably won’t work -Washington Post


“Syrian opposition groups cautiously welcomed the deal reached by world powers at a meeting in Munich on Thursday but said they were concerned that it allows Russia to continue its air campaign against the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groups — and perhaps also against moderate rebels.

The deal marks the first attempt to bring about any kind of pause to the fighting since a U.N.-backed cease-fire in 2012 collapsed within hours, and world leaders expressed hope that this agreement would herald the beginning of an end to the nightmarish war.

But many key details remain unaddressed, including when exactly the truce will begin, who will enforce it and whether the factions on the ground will accept it.”

Italian student’s death puts Egyptian abuses back on agenda -BBC


“The recent death in Cairo of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni has triggered fresh concerns about Egypt’s human rights situation, five years after mass protests forced President Hosni Mubarak from power…..”

“Rights groups say hundreds of people who have nothing to do with either IS or the banned Muslim Brotherhood have faced abuse including torture, sexual assault, arbitrary arrest, disappearances, prolonged detention, disproportionately harsh sentences, unfair trials and death in custody.

Many students, journalists, academics and secular-leaning activists hailed as heroes of the 2011 uprising are now in prison.”

Women Photographers and The Iranian Revolution -Various


Below are links to two articles about women photographers who captured the Iranian Revolution in pictures. Their stories and the their work are fascinating.

The first, which profiles the work of Maryam Zandi, looks at the revolution in general.

Revolutionaries hold up large pictures of Ali Shariati (front) and Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (back).


‘To each his own weapon, I have my camera’: Iran’s 1979 revolution – in pictures”


The second, which profiles Hengameh Golestan, focuses on the role of women during the revolution.

Women join forces to protest against the hijab ruling in Tehran, Iran, 1979

“Witness to revolution: the women of Iran 1979”–witness-1979/


Trudeau’s Middle East Policy Takes Shape -Various


It took a while, but Justin Trudeau is putting his mark on Canada’s policies in the Middle East. Last week, the Trudeau government announced that it was removing some sanctions on Iran, and Stephan Dion said Canada wanted to restore ties with Iran, albeit slowly, and “with its eyes wide open”. The rational so far has largely been economic. With Iranian President Rouhani visiting Europe to drum up investment and trade, Canada is losing its chance to get into Iranian markets. The kicker was the Iranian deal with Airbus for new aircraft, which left Canadian company Bombadier with one less potential customer for its struggling C-Series airliner. The economic argument works two ways though. Of course, trade is an end in itself for the Canadian government. However at the same time, the Trudeau government had campaigned on renewing ties with Tehran and was looking for the right opportunity. The trade angle gives the Trudeau government an easy way to deflect conservative criticism for opening dialogue with Iranian government. The Globe and Mail article linked below gives a summary, and shamelessly, includes a short quote from myself.

Canadian exporters buoyed by reduction of sanctions against Iran

This week, the Trudeau government also announced its new Iraq policy. Again, Justin Trudeau campaigned on reversing the Harper government’s policies, this time the commitment to bombing missions against ISIS. Trudeau waited several months before keeping his promise, which was not surprising given Canada’s alliance commitments, not to mention the Paris bombing. The new policy, as promised, does put an end to the bombing mission and increases humanitarian aid. However it does not mean Canada is reducing its involvement in the conflict. Indeed, Ottawa is more than doubling the military personnel deployed to the fight against ISIS and promising a two year commitment. Trudeau seems to be looking for a middle ground on this policy, keeping his election promises without alienating Washington. According to the CBC the details are as follows:

“It will also increase by 230 the 600 Canadian Armed Forces members deployed as part coalition mission.

Canada’s military effort under Operation IMPACT will also include maintaining aircrew and support personnel for one CC-150 Polaris aerial refuelling aircraft and up to two CP-140 Aurora aerial surveillance aircraft. Canada will also send troops to mark targets for the coalition partners.

Canada’s new contribution will total more than $1.6 billion over the next three years and include:

$264 million to extend the military mission in Iraq and Syria for one year until March 31, 2017.
$145 million over three years in non-military security efforts, such as counter-terrorism initiatives.
$840 million over three years in humanitarian assistance.
$270 million over three years to “build local capacity” in Jordan and Lebanon, where there are a large number of refugees.
An increased diplomatic presence in the region.”

ISIS airstrikes by Canada to end by Feb. 22, training forces to triple