US embassy cable - 07TUNIS1263


Identifier: 07TUNIS1263
Wikileaks: View 07TUNIS1263 at
Origin: Embassy Tunis
Created: 2007-09-18 09:20:00
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
DE RUEHTU #1263/01 2610920
P 180920Z SEP 07
E.O. 12958: N/A 
REF: TUNIS 1259 
Sensitive But Unclassified.  Handle Accordingly. 
1. (SBU) Learning from early experience (reftel), MEPI has 
adopted a two-track approach to promoting reform in the Arab 
World: timely and flexible response to short-term reform 
opportunities are wedded to longer-term efforts at building 
and strengthening the next generation of democratic 
reformers.  In this cable, we examine specific cases to see 
how we are faring on both tracks.  In Lebanon, relatively 
strong civil society groups, a permissive operating 
environment, and our ability to seize on opportunities has 
led to successes on both the short- and long-term objectives. 
 In Algeria, however, where conditions had seemed promising, 
a strategic plan to help improve democratic practices ahead 
of this year's elections had limited success due to 
government resistance and weak NGOs.  On the longer-term 
track, MEPI has adapted a successful model of training and 
internships to a wide variety of new actors, including 
students, lawyers, journalists, and businesspeople, while 
supporting an Arab civil society umbrella group that is 
providing advanced training for democracy activists from 
around the region.  Lessons learned from these and other MEPI 
experiences point to several essential ingredients for 
--  a strategic plan for supporting reform in each country 
that fits in the context of the overall relationship; 
--  capable, reliable local partners; 
--  good coordination among posts, NEA/PI and the Regional 
--  flexibility in developing and executing programs; 
--  diplomatic efforts to beat the drum on the general reform 
message and occasionally to address specific obstacles to 
program activities; and 
--  persistent and consistent USG support, which will build 
momentum for the long run and underscore the seriousness of 
our commitment. 
End Summary. 
2. (U) This is the second in a series of four cables by the 
MEPI Regional Office in Tunis, based on three years of 
supporting MEPI activities from Morocco to Lebanon.  The 
other cables are: 
--  Overview (reftel) 
--  Public Diplomacy (septel) 
--  Small Grants - the Secret Weapon (septel) 
3. (SBU) The MEPI poster child for responding to reform 
opportunities is Lebanon.  Lebanese civil society is among 
the best developed in the region and faces relatively few 
constraints to its activities by either government officials 
or law.  Thus, in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination 
in February 2005, working closely with a well organized and 
committed Embassy team, NEA/PI and the Tunis Regional Office 
(RO) were able to move quickly to set up a number of MEPI 
programs to reinforce the importance of democratic elections 
in June/July.  Using small grants or by adjusting existing 
programs, such as with NDI and IRI, we were able to fund 
within a couple of months a series of activities implemented 
primarily by local organizations. 
4. (SBU) Projects included public opinion polling, roundtable 
discussions of electoral issues, public education campaigns 
promoting participation, as well as extensive domestic 
election observation and exit polling on all the polling 
days.  These programs were not designed to affect the results 
of the elections, but to help raise the level of informed 
debate, to confirm election results by independent observers, 
and more generally to add to the public sentiment that 
Lebanon had regained its independence and was on a path 
towards more fundamental reforms. 
5. (SBU) Following elections, civil society identified a new 
electoral law as a priority area for reform and the 
government established an Electoral Commission to draft new 
legislation.  MEPI quietly provided international experts 
through UNDP to advise the commission.  MEPI programs are 
also providing expertise to government and political 
movements to improve their communications strategy and 
mechanisms.  A MEPI-funded independent Lebanese website, set 
TUNIS 00001263  002 OF 004 
up one year ago to provides non-partisan news about Lebanon, 
is now averaging 500,000 hits per day. 
6. (SBU) Our most ambitious effort yet is the result of two 
years of effort.  Post, MEPI and our key partners have sought 
out organizations outside of Beirut to support grassroots 
work in all areas of the country, reaching the various 
sectarian communities, to develop a network of local partners 
with a genuine national reach.  This network will participate 
in a coordinated MEPI project in which each of our Lebanese 
partners trains civil society activists and promotes 
democratic practices at its respective local level, using the 
same materials and methodology.  At the same time, the 
network is available to implement coordinated campaigns on 
national issues, as they arise. 
7. (SBU) Success in Lebanon has been achieved by 
collaborating closely with post to identify reform 
opportunities and then using MEPI's mechanisms to respond to 
them quickly and flexibly.  Dynamic civil society partners 
and a permissive environment made it easier.  The political 
context remains fragile, to say the least, and could affect 
the programs, short-term impact.  Their long-term relevance, 
however, seems assured. 
8. (SBU) In early 2006, Algeria seemed like the perfect test 
case for MEPI.  In many ways, the country appeared to be 
turning a corner, putting the dark years of the  90s behind 
it.  US-Algeria relations were growing, oil revenues had 
skyrocketed and the government maintained a steady discourse 
about the need for reform in all sectors.  While the GOA had 
at times been sensitive about certain types of MEPI programs, 
it had let most of them proceed.  With parliamentary and 
local elections planned for 2007, we decided there was an 
opportunity to enhance democratic practices around those 
events.  Other ongoing MEPI programs would continue in all 
pillars, but we would undertake a major new effort on the 
political front. 
9. (SBU) A MEPI assessment team visited Algeria and developed 
a multi-project strategy.  It identified US and Algerian NGO 
partners and $2 million of additional MEPI funding was 
committed to support the new activities.  The largest 
component was to be run by NDI, focusing on several elements 
of political party training.  A major Algerian NGO would 
handle nation-wide public education and get-the-vote-out 
activities.  A local women's rights NGO would use the 
election campaign as a platform on which to profile its 
priority issues and to pressure political parties to adopt 
public stances on them.  As in Lebanon, the objective was not 
to affect the results of the elections, but to enhance the 
quality of campaigns, public debate and participation. 
Again, the Embassy, from the Ambassador on down, was 
committed to this strategy, and all the pieces appeared to be 
in place for a successful operation. 
10. (SBU) Unfortunately, as 2006 progressed, the GOA grew 
cooler to political reform efforts, although its belief in 
reform was probably merely rhetorical to begin with.  The 
GOA's relationship with NDI in particular unmasked the 
rhetoric, as NDI experienced resistance from the controlling 
Interior Ministry.  Using visas as the bureaucratic tool, the 
GOA ensured that experts could not come to Algeria to train 
and, gradually, the NDI office was effectively shut down. 
The biggest part of our MEPI strategy was dead in the water 
and, at the same time, the GOA became stand-offish on dealing 
with our major Algerian NGO partner.  That NGO, while one of 
the few with a good reputation and a national reach, also 
turned out to be in over its head.  The training and other 
activities it held were not well organized and were watered 
down to deal with general questions of citizenship, and not 
the elections in particular.  The results were disappointing. 
 Only the women's program was truly successful, bringing 
together political party representatives for serious public 
debates on priority women's issues and garnering media 
attention of their results. 
11. (SBU) So, the bulk of the MEPI democracy strategy for 
Algeria failed to pan out.  We do not, however, view the 
overall effort as a failure.  We recognized an opportunity 
and developed an ambitious, but realistic, strategy to push 
the envelope.  It did not work out because of increased 
government resistance and the weakness of civil society on 
the ground.  But as noted in reftel, reform is not a linear 
process and each country presents its own challenges.  If we 
are committed to reform, we need to persevere - identify the 
TUNIS 00001263  003 OF 004 
next opportunity, work on the next strategy.  This, 
incidentally, is precisely what Embassy Algiers has been 
doing, focusing efforts now on areas where opportunities for 
real reform seem most tangible, such as on education, media 
reform, and pushing for the Parliament to become a more 
serious institution. 
Building the Base 
12. (SBU) A couple of MEPI's early visitor programs have been 
extremely popular with participants and seem to have an 
immediate and lasting impact on their lives, as well as 
others around them, once the visitors returned home.  The 
first is the Student Leaders Program (aka MEPI Study of the 
United States Institutes for Undergraduate Student Leaders), 
which brings university students to US colleges for a summer, 
with a focus on leadership training and civic engagement, 
before returning to conduct civic projects in their home 
countries.  The second is the Business Internship Program 
(BIP) for young Arab businesswomen.  An intensive academic 
course (mini-MBA) is followed by a three-month internship in 
a US business relevant to their careers.  Using this 
successful model of a short-term mix of academic and 
professional experience in the US, MEPI has developed new 
programs in the last two years as part of our broader effort 
to help build the next generation of reformers in the region. 
 The New Generation Program, implemented by Freedom House, 
and the Leaders for Democracy Fellowship provide training and 
internship to political activists who have already begun 
making a mark in their respective fields.  The Women's Legal 
and Business Network offers a cadre of professionals the 
opportunity to work in the US legal and business environment 
while learning from each other and their American 
13. (SBU) Some of what participants in the above MEPI 
programs learn in the US is starting to be replicated in the 
region as well.  The Kawakibi Center for Democracy Transition 
(KADEM) was launched in 2006 with the support of a MEPI small 
grant.  An umbrella group for over 100 Arab NGOs, it provides 
training and expertise, using the most effective 
international methods.  KADEM has begun a training program 
for democracy activists, using the latest methods of civic 
mobilization, communication, and negotiation skills, as 
developed initially for Freedom House's New Generation 
Program.   All of these programs are important for at least 
two principle reasons: 1) they bring together participants 
not only with American counterparts but also with others 
throughout the region, who can share experiences; and 2) they 
are having a cross-fertilization effect, in which students, 
lawyers, journalists, and other key members of civil society 
are brought into contact with each other - a critical element 
for sustainable change. 
So What? 
14. (SBU) Promoting reform is hard, not least because it 
takes a different path in each country.  This doesn't mean 
that what worked in one place cannot be applied elsewhere, 
but rather that one shouldn't assume it will work in the same 
way or on the same timeline.  Reform is also by definition 
about change, which threatens many established societal 
forces in one way or another.  It is very hard to predict the 
dynamic among these societal actors when they are confronted 
by reform movements.  Thus, there should be no surprise that 
some reform projects fail or certain strategies don't play 
out as expected.  One might even posit that if all MEPI 
programs are a success, we are probably not pushing the 
envelope enough. 
15. (SBU) What we have learned from these and other 
experiences is that certain ingredients make success more 
likely.  First, we need a strategic approach to reform in 
each country of the region that outlines realistic priorities 
in the context of the overall relationship.  Second, capable, 
reliable local civil society partners are perhaps the most 
crucial ingredient, not only for implementing successful 
programs, but also as the catalyst of positive change in 
their countries.  Where such partners do not exist, we need 
to help build that capability.  Third, good 
communication/coordination among posts, NEA/PI and the MEPI 
Regional Office ensures that our policy and program actions 
are in synch to avoid unpleasant surprises.  Fourth, USG 
flexibility in developing and executing programs is 
essential, as circumstances on the ground change rapidly. 
Fifth, diplomatic support on both the general reform message 
TUNIS 00001263  004 OF 004 
and occasionally intervention to counter government 
resistance to certain activities will be necessary.  Finally, 
persistence and consistency are essential.  We have many 
lessons still to learn, but each effort plants seeds of hope 
with our partners and demonstrates our commitment to a 
longer-term vision of a stable, more democratic region. 

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