World Bank mustn't say "democracy," but "deploy troops" is OK

UPDATE: Wed, May 11: World Bank media chief David Theis responds (see end of comments section below) I finally read the World Bank's 2011 World Development Report, Conflict, Security, and Development. It shed new light on an earlier discussion I had by email with World Bank Media Chief David Theis last month, which I reproduce here, and then I add a new letter I just sent to Mr. Theis.

To World Bank Media Chief David Theis, April 7, 2011

David, I noticed that President Zoellick's speech yesterday on the Arab Democratic Spring did not actually mention the word "democracy" … The omission is quite startling given the topic, so I was wondering: is there a legal prohibition (such as from the articles of agreement) that prohibits the President from overtly using the word "democracy"? Bill

From World Bank Media Chief David Theis, April 8, 2011

Hi, Bill. Since you worked at the World Bank for 16 years, you probably know that our Articles of Agreement say that the Bank, which is owned by 187 member countries, “….shall not interfere in the political affairs of any member; nor shall they be influenced in their decisions by the political character of the member or members concerned.”

Here's a link to the Articles, if you need a refresher:

Thanks very much,


New letter yesterday

To World Bank Media Chief David Theis, May 9, 2011

Dear David,

I have finally had a chance to read the 2011 World Development Report (WDR) on Conflict, Security, and Development. On p. 188, it says:

" External forces can ...begin to restore confidence ... They can also deploy troops to provide physical security guarantees against a relapse."

On p. 192, it talks again about the idea for external forces “to deploy peacekeeping operations to confront violence in a timely manner.”

Thanks for the refresher in your April 8 letter on the restriction that the World Bank “not interfere in the political affairs of any member.”

And thanks for explaining that any descriptive use of the word “democracy” on Arab revolts by President Zoellick would be such an interference in political affairs of a member state.

I was just wondering if you would consider a deployment of outside military troops to be less of an interference than using the descriptive word “democracy”?

Thanks for any clarification you can provide.

All the best. Bill

Mr. Theis kindly said he would check with the WDR team and get back to me.

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Libya: Never say never again

News update Saturday 9 am: Western allies dither while Qaddafi invades last rebel stronghold. Was the agreement on the no-fly zone so easy because it would be too late and so wouldn't actually happen? BREAKING NEWS 2:30pm: Obama announces US will help enforce UN resolution on no-fly zone on Qaddafi: not alone but as part of European and Arab coalition, and with limited objective of protecting civilians.

Readers of this blog know that this author is NOT a big fan of external military intervention as an instrument of a ludicrously broadened concept of "development" that includes resolving civil wars. However, any social scientist can only argue on the basis of generalizations over a large number of cases, and generalizations have exceptions. Never say never. There COULD be that golden moment when an outside military force does something good (like the famous example of the British commandos in Sierra Leone).

Of course, we also have to take into account that unaccountable outside powers will invoke the (usually low) probability of a good outcome as justification for even more (usually bad) interventions (often motivated by their own interests). Let's not pretend that the accountability problem is anywhere near a solution.

Still, for the sake of the people of Libya, all of us can only hope this will be one of those golden moments.

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Er, Yes, Madam, Muslims do want liberty

There is a common view that Muslims don't share the values of liberty and democracy, as expounded by, say, to take a random example, Michele Bachmann from a few years ago. Do recent events vindicate those who had already argued there was a universal hunger for liberty? One of them was Michael Novak, who says today in a Wall Street Journal oped  (gated, sorry) today:

{There was} the slumbering yet restless desire for liberty in the Muslim of the human race would one day be awakened, even with an awful suddenness.

It may be that this is what we are seeing today, if only in a promissory note to be fully cashed in years to come. A rebellion against a cruel dictator is not same long step as a choice for a polity of law and rights; it is only a step.

Yet it took the Jewish and Christian worlds centuries to begin cashing in their own longings for liberty...The universal hunger for liberty is not satisfied in any one generation..

But let us now rejoice that in our time we have lived to see one of liberty's most fertile and widespread explosions. Islam, a religion of rewards and punishments, is -- like Christiantiy and Judaism -- a religion of liberty. History will bear this out.

David Brooks in NYT agrees on the Arab world:

many people in Arab nations do share a universal hunger for liberty. They feel the presence of universal human rights and feel insulted when they are not accorded them.

Culture is important, but underneath cultural differences there are these universal aspirations for dignity, for political systems that listen to, respond to and respect the will of the people.

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The Reciprocity Principle

Nick Kristof generously quoted a statement from an earlier blog post:

I don’t support autocracy in your society if I don’t want it in my society.

This could also apply to some other common themes of this post:

I won't invade your country unless I want you to invade mine.

I won't use exploitative photos of you for fund-raising unless I want you to use exploitative photos of me for fund-raising.

I won't support my aid agencies forcing you to do something unless I want your aid agencies to force me to do something.

I won't listen to my celebrities' opinions on your affairs unless I want you to listen to your celebrities' opinions on my affairs.

I'm sure the readers can think of other examples of the reciprocity principle, as well as some reasons why it does not ALWAYS apply.

This principle may not be a completely original contribution of the current author.

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Toppling Qaddafi

Who was that madman ranting about his hallucinations on Libyan TV, desperately in need of an anger management intervention? Oops, that's the ruler of the country. He has gotten even more ridiculously scary since our last post.

A small group of young people who have taken drugs have attacked police station like mice ... However there is a small group of sick people that has infiltrated in cities that are circulating drugs and money.

This bunch of greasy rats and cats.

Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world...I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents ... I will die as a martyr at the my last drop of blood. ...You men and women who love Gaddafi ... get out of your homes and fill the streets. Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs. They are taking your children and getting them drunk and sending them to death. For what? To destroy Libya, burn Libya. .. Forward, forward, forward!

Sympathies to the courageous Libyans fighting for their freedom against this crazed tyrant.

What can the rest of the world do? The usual "don't just stand there, do something" could result in counter-productive actions. Any military intervention would play into Qaddafi's hand, especially since there really is nobody that can be trusted to do a "neutral humanitarian" intervention.

Trade embargo not a good idea -- why punish the Libyan people? Libya's opening to tourism and trade with the West in the last few years has arguably made this current revolt more possible, not less possible.

(True confessions: I went to Libya myself for a trek in the Sahara over Christmas holiday. And I have to also confess that, even being extremely skeptical of "benevolent autocrats," I too was deceived that "Qaddafi had changed.")

Too many NOs for you? Well here's some Constructive NOs: NO to any aid to Libya, NO to any caving in to Libyan government contract blackmail, NO to arms sales, NO to "colonial reparations." NO to "slavish" courting of Qaddafi (Feel free to apply any of all of that to you, Prime Minister Berlusconi).

YES to freezing foreign assets of the Qaddafi family, which the FT reports to be substantial (OK, Swiss?)

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A Presidents' Day for Protesters

President's Day is really a lame holiday.  But the protesters around the world are rescuing it. Here is my all-time favorite definition of democracy, from one of today's honorees--Abraham Lincoln:

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.

The genius of the first sentence is reciprocity: democracy means I will not impose on anyone else anything I do not want anyone else to impose on me. If everyone follows this rule, then ... democracy. It captures "all are created equal" and individual rights in 14 words (10 of them words of 3 letters or less), what a nice contrast to all those wordy attempts to define democracy! (including this blog post)

Could reciprocity extend internationally as well? I don't support autocracy in your society if I don't want it in my society?

For the figurative slaves protesting against your figurative slaveholders in Libya, in Bahrain, in Iran, everywhere else...may you realize your dream of democracy.

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Dictators v. Democracy: our Autocrat Unintentional Self-Parody Index (AUSPI)

Update 2pm Saturday Feb 19: more reports of protests today in Benghazi, and more killings by Qaddafi forces. Qaddafi strategy of cutting Libya off from intl media and Net seems to be working, as these heroic protesters are not getting much world attention. UPDATE 4pm: Shaky reports of more protests and massacres out of Libya. This eloquent statement in the Guardian by a noted Libyan author:

I appeal to Colonel Gaddafi and his security forces: for the sake of the mothers, for the sake of those who died, for the sake of Libya, please don't shoot and torture your people.

Hisham Matar

As reported in the Guardian, this video posted on Youtube shows protesters in Tobruk knocking over a statue of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's Green Book:

We took a first step towards this rigorous index in an earlier post.  Reacting to news that even Libya is having protest demonstrations, we think that the outlook for democracy in Libya could be affected by the comically extreme AUSPI shown below.

As the latest tragic news comes in of protester deaths, the people of Libya are not laughing...

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Abraham Lincoln in Egypt

Today the doubts begin on whether there will be a happy democratic outcome in Egypt. There are no guarantees. Today is Abraham Lincoln's birthday. His most famous words also addressed doubts about democracy. Could American democracy survive a civil war? Could it make a transition from half slave and half free to emancipation?

our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us ... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The Americans of Lincoln's generation proved the doubters wrong.

Now it is up to the Egyptians to be dedicated to the unfinished work, to be dedicated to the great task remaining before them, that their nation shall have a new birth of freedom.

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Liberated Egyptians: you're welcome!

Clive Crook's blog notes the following story from Politico:

the Obama administration finally notched a foreign policy victory with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision to resign and turn over power to top military officials...

"Great news for the administration/president," said one senior Democratic official who asked not to be named. "People will remember, despite some fumbles yesterday, that the President played an excellent hand, walked the right line and that his statement last night was potentially decisive in bringing this issue to a close. The situation remains complicated and delicate going forward, but this is a huge affirmation of the President's leadership on the international stage."

Clive hilariously suggests each of us substitute our own name for "the President" to have more fun with the absurdity of this statement: "Aid Watch played an excellent hand, and its blog Thursday night was potentially decisive in bringing this issue to a close."

What's more, we could use the classic aid evaluation technique of before and after analysis to demonstrate the huge effect of Aid Watch blogs on events in Egypt. The following is only a sample:

Jan 31: our blog Double Standards Brigade Goes to Egypt signals that a major American player is on the protesters' side. Mubarak then announces he will not run for re-election.

February 9: our blog Ignorance Dooms Autocracy announces that some development economists think autocracy is bad for long run development. Protests explode further.

Friday, February 11: The critical moment: our blog posted at 3:30am Egyptian time ridicules Mubarak's speech from Thursday night. Mubarak then resigns.

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Egypt is Free!

That is what the people in the streets are chanting as the seismic news of Hosni Mubarak's resignation spreads.

I have goosebumps. Regardless of what the future holds, this is a historic moment. This is a moment to celebrate the remarkable achievement of ordinary multitudes of Egyptians who wanted their inalienable rights, that all individuals are born free and equal.

To close with the words of the Arab poet Abul-Qasim al-Shabi (1909-1934) (previously quoted on this blog).

If, one day, a people desires to live, then fate will answer their call.

And their night will then begin to fade, and their chains break and fall.

ADDED PARA 12:40PM: "No democracy please, you're Muslim": could all those self-appointed pundits on the American media worrying about whether Muslims can handle democracy kindly be quiet for a while, and just celebrate this day?

For great slideshows of pictures from today, see NYT and WSJ

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The art of saying nothing: Mubarak speech mashup

UPDATE 12 noon, February 11: so wordy emptiness wasn't such a good move. Now if we could just overthrow the aid bureaucrats who produce documents as bad as the Mubarak speech. In the Isaac Asimov sci-fi classic Foundation, an envoy from the Empire arrives for 5 days of talks to promise a small planet Imperial protection against attack. Scientists at the Foundation then use symbolic logic to analyze the Imperial envoy's transcript, and reach this conclusion -- real guarantees of protection: zero; content of 5 days of talk: zero.

Veterans of aid bureaucracy are used to long wordy documents full of buzzword-heavy promises, which actually say nothing. So perhaps we aid veterans are qualified to analyze another group skilled at promises while saying nothing: autocrats trying to defuse protests against their rule.

I took a transcript of Mubarak's speech on Thursday night and mashed it up and compressed it. The results are certainly unfair to Hosni Mubarak, as first the transcription was done by computer, and second I was no doubt biased assembling the words below (they are in order, but leaving out other words in between to compress the transcript).

But hey who better to treat unfairly than a clueless bureaucratic oppressor?! all of the words below are  from the transcript:

committed strongly to implement without hesitation all of that without hesitation. This commitment stems from a severe commitment, a strong commitment. commitment to this And express a similar pledge And commitment to carry on -- to protect the Constitution, the interests of The people, Will be guaranteed with Transparency and freedom. to Implement the demands of people Within the constitution's Legitimacy and in a way that Will achieve stability and also at the same time put Forward a framework agreed Through a responsible dialogue Amongst all the forces of Society and with all -- with Most degree of frankness and Transparency.  put it forward to implement it.And these plans would be implemented within reason. in fact, started a very constructive national dialogue that includes Egypt's youth, which have led, for a call for Change and all the political Forces. This dialogue has resulted in The principled agreement in Opinions and stances which has Put  in the path, on the right Path And should carry on this Dialogue so that to get it from The framework into a real plan, A clear road plan, and within a Precise and fixed timetable. This national dialogue has made over the formation of a Constitutional commission to look into the required Constitutional amendments and ad Hoc legislative amendments. It has also agreed for the Formation of a commission which Will follow up a sincere Follow-up. The formation Have both commissions should be made from who have experience And trust Composed of leaders and experts. Yesterday the first Report regarding the Constitutional priority, Constitutional amendments, as Proposed by the commission composed of the Judiciary and the legal experts To study legal and Constitutional amendments as Required. And in response to the outcome Of the commission's report This is stressing at the same Time that other amendments will be implemented according to Necessity and as needed. These amendments to facilitate accordance To the right circumstances and The prevalence of stability so That we can do that. we should Continue our national dialogue That have already started.

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Mubarak attempts to placate Democratic Revolution with a Committee

What a heartbreaking disappointment with the Mubarak speech... The language is remarkably paternalistic. And he repeatedly uses jargon like "framework" and "transition". He promised to implement some recommendations of some Committee.

This guy has obviously spent way too much time in Aid Donor Consultative Group Meetings. This speech disqualifies him as someone able to lead Egypt, but he would be a perfect fit for UN Undersecretary for Sustainable Social Empowerment Agenda Mainstreaming Transition Framework.

The jokes are out of pain....sincere condolences to the courageous activists for democracy in Egypt, may you realize your dream of freedom.

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Can US politicians please shut up and do nothing on Egypt?

Clive Crook in the Financial Times on Monday:

The US need to come to terms with its impotence at times such as this, and so does everybody else....

In Egypt and throughout the Middle East, the west is seen (not without reason) as a cultural and political oppressor....The US would most likely discredit whatever pro-democracy factions it moved to support. Again, give timidity its due.

The Obama administration {wants} to steer Egypt to stability, prosperity, democracy, peace with Israel...Wishing does not make it so, and the people who think it does should grow up.

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The US has put its boot on the scale

by Natasha Iskander, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, NYU. 10:42 pm Saturday February 5. Professor Iskander is Egyptian-American and works on development in the Middle East and North Africa. The millions of protestors have been clear: “The people want the fall of the regime! Mubarak leave!”  The responses of the US to unambiguous calls from the Egyptian people for the right to determine their own future have not only been deeply condescending, but also represent a dangerous collusion with the regime.

Omar Suleiman, spy-chief turned VP, has pledged to steward an “orderly transition,” but has refused to begin dismantling a political system that has for thirty years bolstered kleptocracy and oppression.  He has postponed meeting with a group of prominent intellectuals, businessmen, and analysts who have reached out to negotiate a transition.

Instead, he has told the protestors to go home; even more disdainfully, he has told the parents of protestors to tell their children to go home.  In other words, the massive protests that are a revolution unfolding should not be taken seriously; they are merely instances of adolescent acting-out.  Obama, perhaps unwittingly, has fed that spin: “To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear: We hear your voices” he said on February 1.   We hear your voices, but we will not listen.  Instead, the US government will continue to back a dictatorship and the security apparatus that has made it possible. “Transition takes some time… There are certain things that have to be done in order to prepare,” said Clinton today, presenting her recommendations as so eminently reasonable, so adult and measured in contrast to the protestors’ demands for Mubarak to resign immediately, now spun as rash and destabilizing.

Meanwhile, Suleiman refused today to repeal the Emergency Law that has been in force in Egypt since 1981 and which gives the authorities legal right to hold anyone without cause, to detain those arrested indefinitely, and to prevent public assembly (protests!).  “At a time like this?” responded Suleiman when Abdel-Nour, the secretary general of the meek opposition Wafd Party, suggested its repeal.  Yes, time is precisely what is at stake. There are seven months between now and the elections that Suleiman still maintains will be held in September, and that is plenty of time to detain, torture, and disappear anyone who has defended this revolution.  It is more than enough time to recast the millions who flooded the streets of all of Egypt’s major cities to demand an end to dictatorship and the right to elect their leaders as enemies of the people who need to be eliminated.

If the US continues to feign naivite and argue that transition is indeed happening, it will -- under the guise of adult reasonableness -- have gifted the regime with the time to brutalize citizens who have peacefully and respectfully voiced their demands to be treated as adults with the right to determine their own futures in a country that has consistently and strategically infantilized them.

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Constructive diplomatic advice to Hillary on Egypt: shut up

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today on Egypt:

I think it is important to support the transition process announced by the Egyptian government, actually headed by now vice-president Omar Suleiman.

There are many possible effects of such a statement, all of them bad. If the Suleiman transition process WAS something Egyptian-led and good, Clinton has now discredited him as a stooge of the US Department of State. If the Suleiman process was NOT so good, then US credibility in favor of autonomous democratic freedom sinks even lower (if that's still even possible).

Taking into account that Clinton also whiffed on previous statements on democracy in Egypt, what if she and every other US government official just go completely silent, please?

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Double Standards Brigade Goes to Egypt

UPDATE 8:45am 2/2/11: NYT: US policy is stuck one step behind popular movement for democracy Update 5pm: Joe Biden, oops I mean Hosni Mubarak, says he will not run for re-election in Egypt

UPDATE 8:45AM: much heavier heavyweights with similar criticisms of Double Standards (see end of post)

I want to thank all the major world leaders who have worked so hard during the past few days to confirm my own personal thesis that the Development/Foreign Policy Establishment has a Double Standard on Democracy for rich and poor nations.

I never would have thought that a cringingly catchy slogan like "Democracy is for Rich People, Not for Egypt People" would have so many takers.

UN News has helpfully posted where Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stands:

Asked directly what concrete steps he thinks President Hosni Mubarak should take to show that he is listening to the voices of the people of Egypt and if he thinks the appointment of a new Government is sufficient, Mr. Ban replied: “I would leave it to the Egyptian leaders.”

This blog already gave Secretary of State Clinton grief over the weekend for using the well-known “transition” rhetorical maneuver to avoid taking any position.

At least Vice President Joe Biden took a position.  On the PBS News Hour, Jim Lehrer asked Biden:

Has the time come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?

Biden said no. Lehrer pressed further:

Should Mubarak be seen as a dictator?

Biden helpfully explained:

Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he's been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.

Rich nations need to respect the rights of their citizens to avoid the “dictator” label, but in poor nations all you need is to be a US ally.

This is perfectly consistent with US policy in the previous administration, when (at-the-time) Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, according to a recent opinion on English Al Jazeera,

rebuffed attempts by local journalists to get him to admit to a double standard in calling for human rights without actually supporting them in countries like Tunisia and Egypt.

One has to feel sorry for Mr. Zoellick, who may someday win recognition for being stuck on the wrong side of democratic history twice. Now as World Bank President, Mr. Zoellick presides over an institution whose Egypt page on the Internet today has a helpful summary on “10 Things you may not know about the World Bank in Egypt.” This includes this affirmation of democracy in Egypt:

Through consultations processes, participation and community driven development projects, the Bank engages in active dialogue with and promotes initiative among various stakeholder groups to enhance the quality of its work and acquire a sharper focus on its mission to alleviate poverty.

OK, frankly, this post doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry about the Double Standards on shameful display for Egypt, for the Arab World, for the developing countries in general.

Couldn’t we find somebody to draw upon the words from our own democratic history to say something like:

let’s speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Christians and Muslims, rich and poor, will be able to join hands and say “Free at last! Free at last!”

UPDATE 8:45am  Great columns in this morning's papers by Nick Kristof, David Brooks, and Gideon Rachman making related and far more eloquent criticisms .

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Hillary opts for lame "transition" jargon on Egypt

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today a new US government position on Egypt, calling for a 'transition to a democratic regime.' This was also the old US government position on Egypt. As this blog has pointed out, the "transition" word is a much-used device to appear to be in favor of democracy while in fact taking no position whatsoever. The democracy scholar Thomas Carothers is one who first pointed out the emptiness of the "transition" paradigm, noting a USAID description of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2001 as a country in “transition to a democratic, free market society.”

In this rhetorical make-believe, EVERY country is allegedly in "transition" to democracy, even if a dicatator is the status quo. Dictators are just a temporary delay, or even maybe themselves gradually "transitioning," since the "transition" jargon leaves completely open WHEN democracy will arrive, or HOW SLOWLY the dictatorship will imperceptibly fade away.

Sorry, Hillary, you haven't actually said anything yet, please let us know when you get a bit more enthusiastic about people demanding their own democratic rights.

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Poetry of the Arab Revolt

Many sources have been quoting the Tunisian poet Abul-Qasim al-Shabi (died 1934). One of his most famous poems was "To the Tyrants of the World"

Hey you, the unfair tyrants...

...You kept walking while you were deforming the charm of existence and growing seeds of sadness in their land

Wait, don't let the spring, the clearness of the sky and the shine of the morning light fool you...

Because the darkness, the thunder rumble and the blowing of the wind are coming toward you from the horizon

Another of his poems even more quoted during current events is "The Will to Live":

If, one day, a people desires to live, then fate will answer their call.

And their night will then begin to fade, and their chains break and fall.

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