NDN Blog

MENA Chat Webcast – Reforming Aid To Egypt

In this latest MENA Chat webcast, Bradley Bosserman explores the strategy and challenges that underlie U.S. democracy assistance in the Middle East. He is joined by Dr. Sarah Bush, whose recent research provides important insights on possible reforms. Rebecca Abou-Chedid is also featured.  Drawing on her experience in Cairo she discusses some of the ways these dynamics play out in Egypt. Follow this link to view the webcast.

As background — Secretary Kerry, following his first Middle East trip at the helm of the  State Department, approved the release of $250 million in aid to the young Egyptian government. While Egypt’s economy remains on the brink and in desperate need of foreign assistance, the move is not without controversy. Republican Senator Marco Rubio last week proposed legislation that would place new conditions on further aid disbursement, while some activists remain critical of funding the government without assurances that they are committed to making real progress toward more democratic institutions and protecting key political and civil rights.

Dr. Sarah Bush is an expert on foreign aid strategy and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Temple University. She recently published “Confront or Conform? Rethinking U.S. Democracy Assistance” for the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).

Rebecca Abou-Chedid is a Fellow at the Truman National Security Project, Co-Chair of the Board for Just Vision, and former National Political Director for the Arab American Institute.

And on Thursday, March 28 at Noon – Join Bradley Bosserman as he walks through a previously unpublished briefing deck he's been presenting to members of Congress and Hill staffers over the last couple weeks. "MENA Engagement Briefing – A Real Opportunity to Lead"  will highlight the latest market research and detail political opportunities and framing mechanics that can successfully support a strategy of broader economic engagement with the Middle East and North Africa. 

Sec. Kerry Ramps Up Economic Statecraft in Egypt

Many foreign policy strategists have, for years now, been propagating the notion that the Middle East is yesterday’s problem and that much more of our time and energy should be spent focusing on Europe and Asia. While a confluence of circumstances will surely shift American priorities in the medium to long term, the import of Secretary Kerry’s trip to the Middle East and North Africa highlights the fact that there remain many U.S. strategic interests to protect in that region and that the challenges and opportunities there will continue to command a very large share of the attention from national security policymakers in the years to come.

If there was a single theme that Secretary Kerry carried with him to Egypt over the weekend it was that inclusive economic growth is a top priority. The new Secretary of State announced a handful of new U.S. initiatives -- $190 million in direct aid, expansion of the QIZ program, and $60 million in capital for Egyptian Enterprise Funds. In the run up to the trip, he was widely expected to push the Morsi government toward the reforms needed to secure a $4.8 billion loan under negotiation from the IMF, but these additional measures are positive indications that the State Department does genuinely believe that the “United States can and wants to do more.”

Read the rest of this essay here

New Report: Recommendations on US Policy Toward the Middle East


The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) last week issued a new report full of recommendations on ways that President Obama could adjust his Middle East policy in his second term. In “Moving Beyond Rhetoric,” POMED collected the succinct and varied suggestions of 15 ideologically diverse MENA experts which, when taken together, offer a vision of a more bold, engaged, and robust approach to the region. POMED Executive Director Stephen McInerney summarized the report’s common conclusions as three central take-aways:

Take Bold Steps: Avoid the timidity, caution, and “tinkering around the margins” that have thus far characterized the U.S. response to dramatic and historic changes.  Take assertive steps to help influence the outcomes of transitions at this critical moment.

Engage More Broadly: Reverse the longstanding tendency of relying primarily on narrow, government-to-government relationships.  Strengthen relationships with a diverse set of actors across the region—not just the new faces in power.

Use Leverage and Incentives: Demonstrate a willingness to use leverage and offer concrete incentives to positively influence the actions of key actors in the region, including U.S. allies.  Don’t just declare a desire or an expectation that governments will take constructive steps—clearly identify rewards and consequences to encourage such actions.

The full report is available for download on their website, and it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the near-term future of US policy in the region.


New Op-Ed on Preparing for Syria’s Transition

Today I published an article arguing that the US and international community need to do more to prepare for a post-Assad Syria. The essay was published by Syria Deeply, a recently launched news and analysis platform designed illuminate the complex issues of the Syrian crisis through on the ground reporting and in-depth expert commentary.


Much of the latest analysis of the ongoing crisis in Syria focuses on securing the Assad regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons. In particular, how to keep them out of the hands of groups like the Nusra Front. While that is critical, the more difficult, and no less important, consideration for policymakers should be preparing a real strategy for a post-Assad transition. It’s in U.S.interest to see the creation of a free and stable Syria that promotes regional security. But the time to put the pieces in place that can enable that is not the day after Assad falls. The time is now.

Post-Assad Syria will be messy and awash with weapons. Those involved in the transition should learn the lessons of de-Baathification–the U.S.-led process in Iraq that disassembled all institutions of Saddam Hussein’s regime, creating a destabilizing vacuum. In Syria, maintaining as much continuity of key institutions —especially within the military and security apparatus—will be critical to avoiding a disaster. Meanwhile, the Supreme Military Council, the military wing of the Syrian opposition, will not be equipped to effectively manage reconstruction and the distribution of aid in the immediate aftermath of Assad’s downfall. That is why the new government should invite an international stabilization force into the country with a temporary mandate of peace enforcement.

Frederic Hof, former Special Advisor for Transition in Syria, suggests that such a force would “protect vulnerable populations, expedite the delivery of humanitarian assistance, provide law and order and suppress, with deadly force, extremists and stay-behind regime elements.” It would also be able to minimize the bloodletting of Alawites and regime collaborators. More importantly, it would help maintain stability on the ground, which would allow the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) to undertake the important work of establishing political and governing institutions and crafting a real time-horizon for the implementation of constitutional and parliamentary processes. However, as Ambassador Hof admits, it is not intuitively clear under which auspices this force would be formed, who would contribute troops, and from where the funding would come. These are conversations that need to occur now. If serious preparations do not begin until Assad falls, it will be impossible to respond quickly enough to achieve the goal of stabilization.

The recent experiences in North Africa make clear that political processes and security are not sufficient to ensure a successful transition. Reconstruction, political transition, and humanitarian aid are all crucial, but costly endeavors. Unfortunately, the international community has not yet come to terms with how this work will be funded. Yaser Tabbara, a Syrian-American member of the opposition, explains that the SOC has conducted studies that reveal the “cost of the management of the liberated areas” to be “close to the neighborhood of $500 million a month”. The largest donation thus far has been a commitment from Saudi Arabia of $100 million.

But even Tabbara’s estimates are woefully low. In reality, a successful Syrian transition will cost billions of dollars. If the United States and the international community wish to see the formation of a democratic, stable, and secure country, they need to plan now for funding the transition. Ambassador Hof has called upon Friends of Syria, the group of over 100 countries supporting the opposition, to act immediately to create an interim reconstruction fund. “It could take The World Bank and other international financial institutions months to do needs assessments, organize pledging sessions, and the rest,” he says. The piecemeal and insufficient funding of transitions in Libya,Egypt, and Tunisia are prime examples of the problems presented by financial support policies that are slapped together after the fact.

The Deauville Partnership, an international framework to coordinate aid to the transition countries, was created in May 2011 and involves the U.S., the E.U., and key Gulf States. This partnership serves a laudable coordination function and has mobilized billions of dollars worth of support, but simply rolling Syriainto that framework at this stage is probably a bad idea. Not only is the Deauville money already spoken for, but bureaucratic constraints have prevented much of it from actually flowing to the intended countries, even long after autocratic governments were toppled. A report by The Atlantic Council concludes that “a clear accounting of exactly what has been transferred to partnership countries is difficult to ascertain, particularly since there is a tendency to double-count funding or re-package initiatives under the Deauville banner that were already in the works.”

Another problem with just adding Syria to the Deauvillewait-list is that the funding is conditioned upon moving toward democratization objectives and economic reform. Those are important considerations for Libya,Egypt, and Tunisia, which are well into their transitions. While Syria will hopefully be a good candidate for that process before too long,Damascus will need large amounts of funding immediately to simply avert a humanitarian disaster. Right now, the country faces a real possibility that Assad’s fall will create tens of thousands of refugees, destabilize the region, and create a comfortable home for dangerous extremist groups. The international community cannot afford to wait for a perfectly democratic government or constitution in the days, weeks, and months that will follow the ouster of the regime.

While it is impossible to know exactly when or how the Assad regime will collapse, it now appears inevitable that it will. When that occurs, the United States and the international community need to be prepared to answer the call for real assistance. The institutions and tools that everyone knows will be needed must be planned for now. There are fighters outside Aleppo and Damascus giving their lives each day in a grueling battle for a free Syria. Those wishing to support them need to make sure that the tools to build that new country will be ready when those brave revolutionaries call for them.

Event Recap – Investing For Innovation in MENA


On January 15th the MENA Initiative hosted a panel discussion focused on the new investment opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa. MENA Initiative Director Bradley Bosserman moderated the wide ranging conversation.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Naz Ash highlighted some of the exciting work that the State Department is doing to support entrepreneurship in the region, while articulating the critical role that economic statecraft plays in supporting US interests abroad.

Leslie Jump presented a robust vision of the exciting and fast-growing start-up culture that her venture capital fund is supporting. She discussed the opportunities and challenges presented by investing in early stage companies in the region and touched on her firm’s innovative new entrepreneurship accelerator in Cairo.

Phillip Blumberg explained how his company is overcoming hurdles in order to bring their proprietary new agriculture technology to market in North Africa and the Middle East. He shared his unique experience of doing business in the region and argued that many more opportunities can be made available by effectively aligning US policy with the needs of private sector firms interested in long-term regional investments.

You can follow this link to download full audio of the event.


INVITE: Today, Tue, Jan 15th - "Investing for Innovation in the Middle East and North Africa"

Today, Tuesday, January 15th, NDN's MENA Initiative is hosting a luncheon event on "Investing for Innovation in the Middle East and North Africa." This panel will bring together senior policy officials, private sector investors, and global innovators to discuss some exciting current projects as well as future opportunities for building economic growth in the region by harnessing local entrepreneurship. Space will be limited so please RSVP TODAY.

Currently confirmed panelists include:

  • Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Nazanin Ash - Bureau of  Near Eastern Affairs, responsible for assistance and partnership initiatives where she overseas MEPI
  • Leslie Jump - a global investment pioneer and Partner at Sawari Ventures
  • Philip Blumberg - CEO of Blumberg Capital Partners

Location: NDN Event space at 729 15th St. NW

Time: 12:00  - 1:30 PM

Contact: Bradley Bosserman


Video: Interactive Discussion on Egypt and the Middle East

I recently hosted an interactive video Spreecast to discuss the elections in Egypt as well as broader challenges facing US policy in the Middle East. We had a good discussion about the forces driving politics on the ground and what it means for American interests and actions.

I was joined by Zack Gold, a DC-Based Middle East Analyst, and Hayes Brown, a Blogger/Reporter covering National Security issues for Think Progress. You can watch the video here. Stay tuned for more video events like this in the near future. You can keep yourself in the loop on our latest Middle East analysis at the MENA Initiative website and by following me on Twitter: @BradEEB


MENA Spreecast - Thur. 12/20 at 2:00pm

Brad Bosserman will be hosting an interactive video SpreeCast on Thursday, 12/20/2012 at 2:00PM to discuss the elections in Egypt as well as broader challenges facing US policy in the Middle East.

He'll be joined by Zack Gold, a DC-Based Middle East Analyst, and Hayes Brown, a Blogger/Reporter covering National Security issues for Think Progress. They'll be answering your questions and chatting about some of the latest developments. Join the discussion.



The Egyptian Constitutional Referendum and the Impact of Voter Boycott


Egyptians returned to the ballot-box yesterday in the first of two rounds of voting to approve their controversial new constitution. Unofficial reports indicate that the referendum received 56.5 percent approval, with 43.5 percent of the voters choosing to reject the constitution. Tensions certainly ran high throughout the country, with many protests outside of polling places, but it appears that the street violence many feared was fortunately absent.

While some have claimed that voting irregularities call the results into question, the much larger threat to the validity of the referendum is the very process by which the constitution was drafted, and the the fact that much of the opposition actively called for boycotts. The Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm ran an article articulating the calls of these groups in the days before the election, arguing that “voting on this constitution is also invalid, and the last thing we want to do is give legitimacy to a process that is already void. We shall not be carried away by the illegitimate rules they [President Morsi and the Brotherhood] are imposing on Egyptians. This whole game is unacceptable and illegitimate.”

While the popular critiques of the referendum and constitutional process are certainly valid, it’s worth considering whether the strategy of boycotting the polls is the best way for the opposition to advance their cause. High profile opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei has called for cancellation of the referendum in order for the body drafting the constitution to engage in a dialogue with a broader group of Egyptians, allowing for alterations to the current charter. This is the immediate goal shared by most opposition groups, though ElBaradei’s National Salvation Front did, in the end, call for a “no” vote rather than a boycott. The early voter turn-out numbers, however, seem to indicate that many Egyptians simply chose to stay home.

Only 33 percent of eligible voters turned out on Saturday. A stark decrease in participation from the parliamentary elections that took place a year ago and garnered over 60 percent turn out. The Egyptian al-Arham suggests the numbers indicate that the “apathy many people showed towards the referendum cannot be ignored in the context of the ongoing battle between the ruling Islamists and the civil opposition.” But what will happen if the constitution passes without broad-support from the electorate? Will it discredit the entire process by denying a popular mandate and force Morsi and his FJP back to the bargaining? I’m skeptical.

The Muslim Brotherhood has asserted a robust governing mandate since Morsi’s election despite the fact that he won only narrowly, and that many of his supporters held their noses as they cast their ballots out of fear that Shafiq would win the presidency. If the relative “illegitimacy” of that mandate has had a demonstrable impact on the actions of the government, I haven’t seen it. On the other hand, empirical studies of large-scale election boycotts seem paint a slightly more optimistic picture, at least in the medium term. Emily Ann Beaulieu’s exhaustive study of the subject found that:

…international election monitors were more likely to be invited to subsequent elections following a major boycott.  It was once again highlighted that international actors might prove to be a receptive audience, particularly for Gandhian boycotters, and might be able to pressure incumbent regimes, either for political reform or for greater international involvement in the future.  Thus, international involvement is motivating the behavior of both incumbent rulers and their oppositions, leading rulers to hold elections and, in some cases, to make those elections more fair, and providing oppositions with an opportunity to engage in this particular form of protest.

It would be rational, then, to hope that broad-based boycotts of the referendum process may be able to leverage international and domestic support behind encouraging the ruling government to implement more democratic processes in the future, especially as they relate to electoral law and independent election monitoring. And as Brookings Fellow Shadi Hamid has pointed out, serious negotiations about election law need to take place in advance of the upcoming parliamentary elections, as the power to set those rules moves from President Morsi to the Brotherhood-dominated Shura Council. If phase-two of the referendum, scheduled for December 22, is characterized by a comparable level of voter apathy, it seems we’ll have another test-case for the value of electoral boycott. Though the outcome is still a mystery.


Building Start-Up Culture in MENA 2.0

A friend today emailed me an interesting article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review that describes the rapid growth of Al-Tibbi, a Jordanian start-up bringing Arabic-language health technology to the masses. The founders of Al-Tibbi have managed to find both a market niche and investment capital allowing them to to grow ”from 5 employees in 2010 to 23 in 2012, plus 10 freelancers.” While the particular future of global e-health is fascinating and filled with potential, I think the larger story here is the entrepreneurial opportunities that are being created all across the Middle East and North Africa, aided by expanded internet penetration. The article explains that:

This conversation now also includes e-commerce—in fact, business-to-customer online sales in the region could reach USD$15 billion by 2015 (MRG International—October 2011). In a recent report of 8 countries by the Dubai School of Government, 84 percent of 4,000 Internet users said that social media tools can assist in developing entrepreneurial skills, and 86 percent thought that social media was an important tool for startups. This suggests that Internet users are looking to the online space to shape civic and commercial participation, helping them to learn and enhance productivity.

The transition countries in North Africa are facing myriad complex challenges from the development of civil society, political reform, economic diversification,  and addressing staggering unemployment.  But these issues aren’t silos. There are tools that can help move the dial a many of these fronts simultaneously. Connecting foreign capital to educated wannabe entrepreneurs in Tunisia, for instance, would be great for the local economy, the investors, the composition of and stability of the national economy and tax base, in addition to creating tools and platforms that can be used to shape and enhance civic participation.

A long-term strategy for aiding the development of a more open, democratic, and prosperous Middle East will require action in many areas, but an important and under-discussed tool should be a huge push for creating and empowering entrepreneurs in the region and then connecting them with investors, capital markets, and partners. Once we stop thinking of the region as a series of fires to be put out, we can start to see it for what it is and can be: A growing consumer market of 300 million people that is brimming with potential based on internet penetration,  mobile adoption, relatively high levels of education, and a deep hunger to create better lives for themselves and their neighbors. That’s MENA 2.0.

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