Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Westminster Foundation for Democracy’

Political Islam at the LibDem Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 11th March, 2013

MENA regionThanks to a three-year cooperation programme with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the British Embassy in Tunis the Liberal Democrats hosted a group of visiting politicians from Tunisia and Lebanon at the Brighton Spring Conference. On the Saturday afternoon there was a closed session with the visitors and most of the Party’s International Relations Committee and parliamentary International Affairs Team, identifying how best that programme might proceed. But in the evening there was an open fringe meeting that addressed the subject of Liberalism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and how various political forces that might consider themselves Liberal can or should relate to ruling parties that base their core inspiration from Islam. I was the opening speaker, drawing on my professional experience working or travelling in all of the MENA countries as well as teaching at SOAS. I made the point that Islam is the most political of all religions in that it is not just a faith but a code of practice for both private and public life. A number of parties that have come to power since the Arab Awakening — such as Ennahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt — are indeed Islamic in inspiration but it is important to make a distinction between them and extremist, exclusive Islamists who have turned a perverted interpretation of the Koran into an oppressive and even murderous ideology (such as the Taliban when they were in power in Afghanistan). There is a worrying influence of salafi or ultra-conservative Islamic thought in much of the MENA region but people need to recognise at the same time that the main reason groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood gained such support was because they looked after people’s needs in societies in which the government was singularly failing to do so — in a sense engaging in community politics. I also made the point that the Arab Awakening, now barely two years old, is still in its infancy and it is likely to be a decade or more before its outcomes are clear.

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Sergei Mitrokhin and Liberals in Russia

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 12th November, 2012

Being a Liberal in Russia is a risky vocation, as putting one’s head above the parapet politically is an invitation to harrassment, arrest, criminal proceedings and heafty fines or imprisonment. High profile anti-establishment activists such as Pussy Riot get lots of foreign media attention and noises of sympathy from the outside world, of course, but even in their case that did not stop two of their number being sentenced to two years detention each in different gulags. Alas, as the leader of Russia’s Liberal Party Yabloko, Sergei Mitrokhin, detailed in a speech at Westminster this lunchtime, the long arm of President Putin’s law is getting firmer. He highlighted three aspects of particular concern regarding the current political situation in Russia and the crackdown against Liberal forces. First, there are the political reprisals, which have seen key Yabloko activists charged — often on false evidence — for demanding action against high-level corruption, for example. Second, Sergei stressed the hardening of laws and the suppression of civil rights under various amendments to the legal and civil codes. One good (i.e. bad) example is an amendment which will mean that Russian NGOs receiving grants from international bodies must now register as “foreign agents”. And last but not least in the litany of adverse developments, is what Sergei called the “clericalisation of the state”, in other words the way that a very conservative form of Russian Orthodoxy has now been melded into a state ideology which is dangerously nationalistic, anti-Western and anti-Liberal. Today’s gathering, at Portcullis House, was sponsored by Simon Hughes MP, Lord Alderdice and Liberal International, and in the discussion period after Sergei Mitrokhin’s speech I inquired exactly what helpful actions groups such as LI and the British Liberal Democrats can take to help Yabloko, without jeopardising its activists. Training in election strategies and techniques is something that I and others from the LibDems have done in various parts of the world, through the all-party Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and that may be the best answer — other than heartfelt moral support.

Link: http://eng.yabloko.ru/

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Stand Firm on Lords Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th June, 2012

At the 2010 General Election all three main British political parties argued for reform of the House of Lords. And that is still on the Coalition Government’s agenda. It is indefensible that in the 21st Century the Upper House of the UK’s Parliament should be comprised of appointees and a sizeable residue of hereditary peers and Anglican bishops. As someone who has done a lot of work overseas on behalf of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, in promoting democratic practices around the world, I am always embarrassed by the anachronism. Yet as the issue of reform looms, a sizeable body of Conservative MPs — maybe as many as 100 — are threatening to rebel when it comes to a vote. David Cameron, to his credit, has so far stood firm in favour of change, and he must continue to  do so. Some of those recalcitrant Tory backbenchers are basically aiming to give a black eye to Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is in charge of such constitutional matters. That is extraordinarily petty and short-sighted. Moreover, up till now most Labour MPs have not come out as strongly as they should in favour of the Government’s proposals. Labour effectively scuppered the AV referendum campaign by being lukewarm, at best, on the issue. They must not allow a similar thing to happen with the House of Commons vote on Lords Reform. Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson has stuck his oar in, declaring that ‘Clegg’s scheme needs to be liquidated, vaporised and generally terminated with extreme prejudice.’ Johnson is of course thereby also undermining David Cameron, doubtless with the aspiration of becoming a future Tory leader and Prime Minister. The Mayor denies that this is his ambition, but it is crystal clear. And of course, were he ever to become Prime Minister, he could then retire at a moment of his own choosing and claim a seat in the House of Lords, as has often been the tradition, without having the bother of going through anything as vulgar as another election (as would be the case with a reformed House of Lords or Senate). So, the message is clear: LibDems must not waver (including those LibDem Peers who have discovered an unsuspected love for the House of Lords as it is since they joined it); David Cameron must whip his troops in; and Ed Miliband must push aside the prospect of party political point-scoring and come out with all guns metaphorically blazing in favour of Lords Reform. Otherwise, a once in a lifetime opportunity will be lost.

 

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Electoral Reform, Democracy and the World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 23rd November, 2009

This evening, Electoral Reform International Services (ERIS) hosted what they hope will be the first of many annual receptions, in the Brunei Gallery at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). As I was lecturing at SOAS immediately before, the event could not have been more convenient. But far more important that that serendipity was the quality of the people present, including a clutch of Commonwealth High Commissioners, my old BBC World Service colleagues Elizabeth Smith and Mike Wooldridge, Electoral Reform types such as Ken Ritchie, Eric Siddique, Michael Steed et al, and of course our host for the evening. former Tory MP Keith Best, who still holds the flame aloft for fair voting (and humane immigration policies) within the Conservative Party. It was also good to see various people from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD, for whom I have done assignments in various parts of the world, including Ethiopia, where the British Ambassador at the time was Myles Wickstead, now one of the big cheeses in WFD and of course present this evening. I was heavily lobbied by a group of Iraqis who attended and who were urging that the West (including Britain) do more to foster genuine democracy and an end to corruption in that benighted land, which Tony Blair and Co ‘liberated’ only to create a political vacuum. We learn by our mistakes, I suppose — though personally I have long argued that the one thing we learn from history is that leaders learn nothing from history. Anyway, ERIS is doing great work and if it had some more financial backing, could be doing so much more!

Link: www.eris.org.uk

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Welcome Release of Ayman Nour

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th February, 2009

ayman-nour   The imprisoned Egyptian Liberal politician Ayman Nour was unexpectedly released yesterday, in a move that has been welcomed in Brussels and Washington. The 44-year-old Mr Nour is the leader of the Ghad Party (with which I have had contact in Cairo, through my work with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Liberal International). A lawyer by profession, he ran against the incumbent President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections, coming a distant second.  He was subsequently charged with fraud and sentenced to five years in jail, but he insists that the prosecution was politically motivated and designed to punish him for standing against President Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981.

The official reason for Ayman Nour’s release was ‘on health grounds’, though many commentators believe that the Mubarak administration wishes to ingratiate itself with the Obama administration in Washington, which is likely to take a tougher line than its predecessor’s on human rights abuses and democratic constraints in Egypt, which receives huge amounts of US aid annually. Mr Nour says he intends again to take over the helm of his party — which has been in a state of demoralised shock since his imprisonment — though he is technically barred from standing for public office because of his conviction, unless he receives a presidential pardon.

Commenting on Mr Nour’s release, Graham Watson, MEP, leader of the Liberal (ALDE) Group in the European Parliament, said, ‘I applaud Ayman Nour’s brave decision to return to political life. We all know that this courageous move comes at high risk to his own security and we stand with him, shoulder to shoulder.’ Those who think that this marks a return to democratic norms in Egypt should not celebrate too soon, however. As Amr El-Choukabi, of the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo told Reuters, ‘All indicators show that [Egypt] is poised for more restrictions until the government wins the next legisltive elections by an overwhelming majority and the candidate of the NDP [Mubarak’s party] wins the presidential elections in 2011.’

Link: www.freeaymannour.org

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Civil Society and Promoting Democratic Change

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 29th January, 2009

leyla-zana This morning I addressed the 5th International Conference on the ‘EU, Turkey and the Kurds’, organised by the EU Turkey Civic Commission at the European Parliament, stresing the importance of a healthy civil society within any putative democracy. That’s why the Westminster Foundation for Democracy — for which I sometimes go on foreign missions — sees NGOs as giving added value to the work of political parties in constructing an open and vibrant political space.  In a free society, the media and an independent judiciary also have a crucial role to play; That is indeed often the case in Turkey — but not when issues of cultural diversity or the linguistic rights of Kurds and other minority peoples are concerned. Certain elements of the Turkish constitution and penal code leave the door wide open for prosecutions which to an outside observer often appear malicious and vindictive. As a strong friend of Turkey, I hope that that situation will change before too long. If it doesn’t, the country has little chance of realising its goal of joining the European  Union, as the EU’s so-called Copenhagen criteria demand due respect for minority peoples.

I shared the conference platform with former Plaid Cymru MEP, Eurig Wyn, who drew some interesting parallels with the importance of the Welsh language in Wales, though as far as I know, no-one has been sent to prison for speaking Welsh in the Westminster parliament, which was essentially the case of former Kurdish Turkish MP Leyla Zana, who was the star speaker at the two-day Brussels conference. She is once again facing criminal chargzs, but a simultaneous gathering of the leaders of all the political groups in the European Parliament here in Brussels today issued a call to the Turkish government to bring a halt to all legal moves against her.

(photo of Leyla Zana: Chris Kutschera)

Link: http://www.eutcc.org/

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