Blog of Tunisian journalist and blogger hacked

The blog of the Tunisian journalist and blogger Slim Boukhdhir has been hacked and deleted. The work seems to be done by the same group of hackers who are targeting Tunisian opposition websites and blogs. Last weeks, the website of the Progressive Democratic Party (a legal opposition political party) has been hacked for several times. Next to censorship, hacking is a serious problem that dissent Tunisian websites and blogs are dealing with.


  • […] The Free Pen the blog of Tunisian journalist and former political prisoner, Slim Boukhdhir. In July 2007, this blog was also hacked and deleted. […]

  • Serbest Kalem Tunuslu gazeteci ve eski siyasi Mahkumun blog, Slim Boukhdhir. Temmuz 2007’de bu blog da kesmek ve silinir?

  • […] Boukhdhir Blog (July 6th, 2007) his blog got hacked and completely […]

  • Stanley Lucas

    Post-Revolutions in Northern Africa and the Middle East: Fostering a Successful Democratic Transition
    by Stanley Lucas*

    Fostering democracy and economic development in countries that have been under a dictatorship for decades is a complex and challenging task that requires a clear vision and investment by the transition government and the support of the international community. After the dictator has gone, citizens who rose up against oppression and corruption are confronted with two scenarios: a slow, tough road to democracy and economic development, or permanent instability marked by political infighting and power struggles. The latter scenario can lead to an even worse situation where the victims of the regime morph into the new oppressors. We often hear political commentators discuss the uncertainty and risk posed by unknown leadership assuming power post-dictatorships, and whether or not the alternative will be any better. International technical assistance and a strong commitment by the interim government to giving political, economic and civil society leaders the tools and expertise to deal with the new challenges of building democratic institutions and breaking from old patterns and systems can help minimize the risk and shape a stable government. For these transition societies, gaining access to the know-how, through the transfer of knowledge and the sharing of experiences will foster democratic institutions and sustainable stability.

    The Success and Failure of Transitions around the World
    Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Yemen, Syria, and Libya are experiencing today what countries in Latin American and the Caribbean — and Eastern Europe and Russia — experienced in the 1980s. In Latin America, 18 dictatorships fell in large part as a result of Presidents Carter and Reagan’s efforts to promote democratic values in the region. Thirty years later, some of these countries are succeeding in their transitions and some are not.

    Brazil is a clear success story. With extraordinary economic growth, the country is poised to be a global economic leader under a stable government. Chile overcame one of the most brutal dictators, Augusto Pinochet, and now experiences successful power transitions, economic growth and rule of law. They recovered quickly from a serious earthquake in 2010 immediately after their new president took power. Colombia faced down brutal drug cartels and corruption and has led a successful transition to a legitimate economy by investing heavily in education and engaging with the international community, including pursuing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States. El Salvador emerged from civil war and now holds successful elections, stable power transitions and is experiencing economic growth. The Dominican Republic emerged from decades under a dictatorship to become one of the few countries in the Caribbean with strong economic growth, partly achieved by participating in the regional CAFTA agreement and increasing exports.

    Many countries have failed. Nicaragua, the second poorest country of the Western Hemisphere, remains mired in corruption and rigged elections and has no viable democratic opposition. In Venezuela, free and fair elections produced a dictator. The country has no media freedom, and despite having oil resources, economic development has stalled. In Haiti, the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere, rigged elections have produced dictators and corrupt leaders who have allowed a small group of elites to maintain a strangle hold on the country’s economy while keeping the meager resources for themselves and leaving the rest of the country mired in endemic poverty.

    And other countries are struggling against backtracking. A succession of governments involved in corruption has undermined democratic gains in Argentina. In Ecuador and Peru bad governance mixed with uncertain economic policies and the battle to modernize the political culture have stalled progress.

    The Middle East and North Africa have unique considerations from Latin America, such as the primacy of Islam and the threat of terrorism. However, there are many directly relevant lessons learned from Latin American transitions. Where transition failed, a similar pattern emerged. Political parties and new leaders were not ready to lead. Civil society organizations only knew how to protest, and never rose to meet their responsibilities to constructively participate in building the new system. No viable leadership was able to fill the power vacuum, and in that power vacuum, radical elements emerged and hijacked the transition process with constant power struggles. The country descends into complete chaos. The military fractured and the political institutions were weakened. The leadership vacuum also led to a free-for-all economic environment allowing elite business cartels to monopolize segments of the economy, such as ports, telecoms, oil production, and banking. In some cases, the business cartels also controlled the illicit economy operating crime syndicates, such as narco-trafficking. Foreign profiteers sought partnerships with the corrupt business cartels to capitalize on the rigged environment and aligned with the ruling regime lending international support to the networks. The elite economic group put in place government leaders who were complicit in – or architects of – the corruption and kept the state weak. These failed transition countries are among the poorest, most corrupt and unstable countries in the world presenting a constant risk to regional and global security.

    Elements of a Successful Transition Strategy
    There are common threads that run through the success stories, which can be valuable lessons learned for transitioning countries. Again, the Middle East and North African region has unique considerations, but these lessons learned provide the foundation for a transition strategy that can be customized to meet the needs of a particular country.

    After the people topple a dictatorship, military or civilian leaders – and sometimes both – typically form the interim government. The interim government serves as the entry point for democracy and will need to develop the overall framework to guide the transition process, specifically by framing a new constitution or revising the current one, organizing elections, managing foreign cooperation, and institutionalizing government relations with the rest of society. Although the interim government is the lead, democracy assistance – both domestic and international – should be targeted to all key sectors of society. Political parties will need the tools to develop political platforms that offer society a unique vision, competent candidates, leadership, and, most importantly, a political choice. Civil society, after having been all but eradicated under dictatorships, will need to learn to organize themselves into interests groups and effectively advocate their priorities on behalf of their constituents. The private sector, as the economic engine of the country, will need to understand how to engage political leadership to advocate on behalf of their industries and participate in the building of an open economy. The police and military will need assistance on how to operate under the new realities of the democratic principles and the rule of law. And finally, a robust civic education program, including media training, must overlay the entire process so the public fully understands what changes are taking place and the process is viewed as being transparent, collaborative and responsive throughout. Where efforts have been aimed at solely revising the constitution or organizing the government, these other interest groups have felt marginalized from the process and become a source of instability.

    In addition to providing technical tools to these sectors of society, it is also critical to bring them all into the process so they have a voice in shaping the new government. This requires adept leadership that is able to balance consensus building with critical and timely decision making.

    The entire transition process must be owned and led by nationals with a good understanding of how to make the process inclusive and responsive to the people of the country, and how to engage international resources and expertise where needed. They are the only ones who can decide their country’s path. They must lead the international community, rather than follow directives. In his Nine Principles of Development Assistance, Andrew Natsios, former director of US AID under President Clinton, wrote that assistance organizations “cannot replace the client”, which is the country. Where leadership has been too weak to guide the process, the transition has been undermined by elements of society characterizing the interim government as a “puppet” eroding public opinion of the international community and the interim government.

    Along these lines, it is also important for the international community to present an international or “best practices” approach to democracy assistance avoiding any one country being viewed as taking the lead. When a single country is viewed as leading the process, there has been a tendency for the transition to be viewed as that country “imposing its will” or “exporting their democracy” providing a clear opening for radical elements to undermine the process. Democracy takes on unique cultural characteristics in every country; therefore, architects of a democratic transition should be made familiar with and make an effort to seek out information on the various forms democracy can take in order to identify principles that will work in their unique situations.

    Capacity is often a huge challenge in the wake of a revolution. As we have seen in many of these uprisings, the opposition movement was organized on Facebook or Twitter, and there is no clear leader or political party that can fill the leadership vacuum when the dictator leaves. In fact the absence of viable leaders may be even more systemic. Many repressive countries often experience a “brain drain” with highly educated and capable individuals taking flight for countries where freedom reigns. In a transition, a country will need leadership and administrative capacity quickly so drawing from the vast resources of the Diaspora communities is critical to filling capacity gaps quickly. There are policies and practices that can be implemented by the international community and the interim government to encourage repatriation of the Diaspora, including hiring Diaspora to manage international initiatives or offering economic incentives to return.

    Finally, the dictators and members of the previous regime must be fairly tried for corruption and violence. But this effort, if not carefully managed, can turn into a witch-hunt impacting the ability of the government to continue basic functions. There will be members of the government that were not complicit in the criminal activity of the former regime, and they should be included in the transition process and feel that the new governance structure is open to them.

    Technical Assistance Priorities for Key Actors

    Interim Government. The interim government should manage and oversee the transition process, all the while keeping top of mind that they are temporary. Their role is to reorganize the government and set the timeline for and oversight of free and fair elections. If there is not a clearly defined set of operating rules for the interim government and limits on their roles at the outset, it can morph into a self-interested group focused on maintaining power. To avoid this scenario, any member of the interim government should be prohibited from running for office in the first elections if possible.

    While the goal of the interim government will be to look to the future, in the interest of stability, it will also need to lead the effort to address the past. Outgoing dictatorships leave behind a traumatized society that deserves justice. The interim government will need to fairly prosecute perpetrators of violence and corruption from the former regime, but again must walk the line to avoid a witch-hunt. The success of the transition in Chile, for example, was based on their ability to prosecute the perpetrators and human rights violators while successfully integrating those civil servants and professionals who were not involved in the nefarious aspects of the former regime. The international community can play a key role in providing a legal framework for countries to build a credible case against and fairly try former members of the regime.

    Political Parties. Political parties will be the foundation for democracy, providing future mayors, deputies, senators, ministers, governors, and presidents. However, countries that spent decades under dictatorship have weak political parties. After a revolution, they have a lot of energy, but no tools or experience to channel that energy into constructive participation in the transition process. Immediately after the fall of these regimes, political parties tend to mushroom. Weak political parties and inexperienced candidates can end up being the source of chaos and instability without proper training. Assistance provided early on to all democratic political parties can minimize this potential. To be credible, international actors must avoid picking winners and provide equal assistance to all parties.

    Assistance should focus on developing a democratic culture in the parties and organizing viable institutions by providing education on the “how to” basics: how to organize a party; how to develop a platform; how to develop messages and a communications strategy; how to recruit candidates and members; how to fundraise; how to use information technology to promote the party’s agenda (many involved in the Middle East and North African revolutions have already demonstrated proficiency with technological tools); how to manage a campaign; how to operate as a minority party, and how to govern while in power; how to build coalitions; and, how to interact with civil society and the private sector. The parties need the fundamentals.

    The interim government can also help to create an environment that will promote a representative and viable political party system by enacting legislation that regulates the legal operation and activities of parties. There should also be a system to monitor the parties’ activities. In many failed states, political parties can become covers for crime syndicates that influence, control or intimidate the government, like the FARC in Colombia or Lavalas in Haiti, or a front for terrorist organizations.

    Civil Society. Youth, women, farmers, teachers, churches, and the media will discover a whole new life with the return of their freedom. They sometimes forget that with rights comes responsibility. Under a repressive regime, all they knew – and the only tool they had – was protest, so they often fall back on this tactic for every issue or grievance. Here again technical assistance can help guide the process early on and avoid constant protest and instability on the streets. Civil society programs can provide interests groups with the tools to organize and advocate based on their culture and political practices. They will need to learn how to interact constructively with the government, parliament and political parties. Conversely, government, parliament and political parties will need to learn how to be accountable to civil society by integrating their priorities into the transition plan, the policy and legislative agendas and party platforms. Fostering this environment of advocacy and public debate will move the country away from falling back into old habits of political upheaval and violence. In the Middle East and Northern Africa special attention should be given to the youth, as they have been the main participants in the opposition.

    Private Sector. The private sector will provide an essential role in ensuring post-revolution stability by creating jobs, promoting economic development and creating an economic climate that will attract investment. It is important that the private sector define its vision for promoting economic growth, and for the transition government to actively pull them into the process and seek their input. In many countries, revolutions have resulted in a fractured private sector. There are the business cartels that cling to the status quo and use their resources to put leaders in office that will help them maintain their empires, and those reformers that will finally have an opportunity to participate in an open and transparent economic and political process.

    The reformers in the business community need to learn to engage the government, parliament and the political parties to advocate the enactment of pro-business public policies, encourage a free market and attract investment. Interaction with parliament should focus on pro-business legislation, robust trade policy and responsible tax and fiscal policies. Interaction with political parties will facilitate the incorporation of pro-business plans into their platform. In order to create these linkages between the government, parliament, political parties and the private sector a technical assistance program should be focused on how to effectively identify policy priorities and advocate change. Chambers of Commerce and industry organizations will need to learn how to organize, much like political parties, and manage budgets attract members and build consensus among their membership.

    Conversely, the interim government will often need to revise business rules and regulations to put in place a legal environment that encourages entrepreneurship by providing incubation services and access to credit for new businesses. Under a dictatorship, setting up a new business would have required political favor, special access or bribes. And, monopolies would have likely ruled the economy. The barriers to entry in the business sector would have been high benefiting the elite and politically connected few while the masses lived in poverty. The interim government can lead an effort to break up monopolies and put in place the fiscal and economic policies that will encourage domestic businesses and attract foreign direct investment. Economic growth can minimize political instability.

    The Military. The military is often one of the only institutions with the capacity to assume power in a transition. In many countries, however, the military and the police are part of the dictatorship’s repressive apparatus. These institutions are sometimes involved in illicit economic activity, corruption, and human rights violations, such as in Chile under Pinochet, but they remain unchallenged because they were essential to the dictator’s grip on power.

    When the dictatorship falls, the military lacks the experience to navigate a successful transition. They will not have experience with operating in a democratic rule of law culture. Their role would not have been “to protect and to serve” or defend national interests; rather, they would have carried out the orders and whims of a dictator and been perpetrators of violence against their people. Not all members of the military or police would have been complicit in or supporters of such tactics. But, even when high-ranking military officers closely linked to the departed regime are removed, the military is most often unable to adjust to and operate in a new political culture without proper training for their new role and new rules of engagement. To be sure, history is full of examples of military leaders becoming some of the most notable civilian leaders, but in transitions, the key is to ensure that military leaders, if engaging in politics, understand their new role and how a military functions in a democracy.

    To that end, the military will benefit from direct military-to-military assistance and training on the role of a military in a democratic civilian society. Identifying and working with high-ranking reformers within the military structure can greatly facilitate this process. The military will need to be brought into the development of the new roadmap for democracy with the support of the civilian leadership. They will also need to put in place a plan to modernize their institution including a new curriculum to train their soldiers and officers.

    Religion and Ethnic Groups. In some parts of the world, religion can be a major factor in governance and transitions. During the early months of the transition in Nicaragua and Haiti, Catholic priests who were adherents of liberation theology played a central role in shaping the new political system. Born from primitive Christian and Marxist ideology, liberation theology holds that the church should transform lay people into revolutionary units to change the political, economic and social system. The leaders of the liberation theology movement were steeped in revolution and had no notion of democratic transitions or governance. Both transitions failed, in part, because they were unable to reconcile religion with the democratic process.

    Northern Africa and the Middle East transitions will have to face these realities and answer tough questions. Do they want democracy or theocracy? Do they want a republic or an Islamic republic? How will they protect the rights of minorities? Dealing with these tough questions through dialogue and early integration into the process is critical.

    In addition to religion, ethnic groups can also play a role in transition. This was particularly evident in Iraq and continues to be a challenge in the region with Iran seeking to agitate Shia minorities. Without international assistance in Iraq, the majority Shiites, who were victims of oppression for decades, could have easily turned into the oppressors. Creating an environment of dialogue to build consensus reduces the chances of these issues getting resolved through street violence. Additionally, constitutional or legal protections should be defined to ensure the rights of minorities.

    Elections. Elections are the centerpiece of a transition, yet are only a part of building a democracy. The first round of elections inevitably will be contentious between those in the interim government, the military and private sector who may be trying to maintain the status quo, the democrats who will want free and fair elections, and the revolutionaries who adhere rigidly to their agendas. The interim government and the military can be tempted to influence elections. Succeeding in putting in place an electoral system that gains the confidence of the people and produces free and fair elections is a significant challenge.

    Free and fair elections have basic fundamentals that can serve as the foundation for discussion between the transitional government, the political parties and civil society organizations. This dialogue must be transparent, inclusive and open and result in an agreed upon set of ground rules. The international community can play an important role by serving as a non-partisan broker during the framing of the electoral system and providing the technical assistance to organize the elections. Technical assistance for the election should include how to develop ballots and ensure their security, train poll workers, organize polling stations, and provide civic education. Observation will also be key to ensure a free and fair process. International actors can train domestic election observers as well as send international observation delegations.

    Governance. After decades of dictatorship, government institutions are usually weak and civil servants poorly trained. Transforming and modernizing the ministries and other state institutions while ensuring that basic functions continue will be a priority. In addition to the pressure on the interim government to provide change, jobs, healthcare and education reform, and myriad other priorities, they will need to undertake the massive effort of reorienting current civil employees while avoiding the temptation to fire them when they are unable to execute their responsibilities. There is significant potential for mistakes in managing the bureaucracy that can lead to political instability. The new government must put in place a good governance capacity building program to strengthen state institutions, retrain civil servants and provide new policy directives aimed at addressing the priorities of the people.

    In many regions, the government capacity building aspect of foreign assistance has been overlooked by both the interim government and international community and has directly contributed to the failure of transitions. International actors are rightfully wary of working with bureaucracies where corruption has reined supreme or are too consumed with providing assistance to the transition leadership, and therefore have often neglected to provide this critical piece of support. This omission has led to countries becoming a “republic of NGOs” where the NGOs take over management of whole sectors of society, such as healthcare or education, because the state institutions are too weak to do so. This is the case in Haiti where institutions were too weak to even provide any response to the 2010 earthquake. In many cases, interim governments will need to actively seek this type of assistance.

    Constitution. Without a democratic constitution, none of the above will be possible. This will be the most contentious part of the transition process and will require the most leadership. There is a tendency for overzealous and aggrieved democrats to use the new constitution to ban the members of the previous regime from politics. The transitional government must work to develop an inclusive constitution with political parties and civil society involved in the drafting process. The interim government should convene an assembly to draft the new constitution. The assembly should be inclusive and transparent, and, it must be clear that the transition government will put forward the final version of the constitution for a public referendum to reject or ratify the final document.

    Regional Multilateral Institutions. In addition to the technical assistance provided to in-country actors, the transition process opens the opportunity to engage regional multilateral institutions. In Latin America in the 1980s, the Organization of American States passed Resolution 1080 that served as the basis for the drafting and ratification of the Americas Democratic Charter. This Charter provides some regionally agreed upon consequences for any government’s movements away from democracy. It also paved the way for the creation of new capabilities within the OAS, such as election observation, democracy training programs and civil society capacity building efforts. In the Middle East and Africa, there is an opportunity for the Arab League and African Union to be able to add this type of capacity and these new tools to strengthen their democratic credentials in their repsective region. Thus far, they have not played a role in any of these transitions, except Libya. The Arab League and the African Union could benefit from assistance to modernize their organizations in order to deal with this new era of transitions and democracy.

    The Implementation Process
    In addition to providing technical assistance and training to key actors, the interim government must develop a democracy roadmap, and then pull in all sectors of society to participate in the implementation. There will need to be a process that is public, transparent and inclusive. To be sure, the process will be painstaking, frustrating and full of setbacks, but in order to work and progress, it should be well mapped and well executed. Typically, the democracy roadmap is developed in four stages.

    The first stage is to secure buy-in and legitimacy by conducting a democratic assessment of all key national actors, including political parties, military (where relevant), the private sector, media, and civil society, including women and youth groups, churches, and Diaspora. All key actors should be consulted to gauge their challenges and priorities. This assessment serves as the basis for a set of reform recommendations.

    With the recommendations developed, the second stage is to convene a National Convention to seek input and build consensus on national priorities and transition. The result of the Convention should be an official announcement of national priorities and the reform agenda and the establishment of topical working groups.

    In stage three, the government should begin to really drill down on how to achieve the reform agenda by convening the working groups to discuss the action plan and determine the mechanics of implementation. For example, the government could convene a national conference on constitutional reform with leading scholars and parliament to identify necessary legislative changes to achieve targeted reforms and what forms those laws should take. In this stage, the roadmap really begins to take shape, but the process also becomes complicated with many moving pieces across the political and economic landscapes.

    The key stage is to implement the plans. To be successful, there must be clear benchmarks, timetables and monitoring mechanisms. This process needs good administrators and leaders to ensure the plans are being carried out. Action plans and roadmaps can be developed, but until they are actually implemented, they do not mean anything.

    All of the above requires an enormous commitment by the country’s new interim leadership and a realistic view of how long it will take to secure a successful transition. And, of course, it will require resources during a time when the global economy is facing a downturn and the international community is tightening its belt and cutting spending. The US, one of the main providers of such technical support, is faced with the reality of serious spending cuts, and democracy assistance has been cut substantially. The International Republican Institute (IRI), The National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) have strong track records in providing such assistance and will need more support to respond to the needs of the regions. In France, the International Organization of Francophonie (OIF), works with French speaking countries, but has limited resources and few programmatic activities that can support democratic transitions. In order to be effective, the Canadians and the French – through Francophonie – will have to expand their democracy assistance beyond electoral observation.

    Despite tight resources, this type of assistance should be a key component of any foreign aid packages and foreign policy. It does not have to be costly, in fact, it is often a small investment to effectively promote long term stability while minimizing the possibility of further upheaval and expense of military operations. Unless these resources are made available, a large part of the world could be heading toward long-term instability and potentially decline.

    Likewise, the transition governments in some of these countries have resources and should prioritize investing in their future by allocating funding and resources toward actively seeking and securing necessary expertise and technical support. Political parties, civil society groups and the private sector should all do their part as well and work to seek expertise and allocate funds to professionalize their institutions and turn them into productive participants in the new democracy. They courageously overturned a dictatorship and secured freedom and a better future for their country. They now need to take advantage of the opportunity and take responsibility for ensuring a successful transition. This is possible, but it takes time, patience, commitment, and a lot of work. The people of the Middle East and North Africa have a proud history and the fortitude and national strength to become vibrant, inclusive and prosperous countries. One can only imagine how much better off the world will be as a result of their unique contributions and participation.

    *Stanley Lucas is a political development consultant. He has more than twenty years experience providing technical assistance to political parties, government and civil society in Latin American and the Caribbean, Africa, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

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