IFES Provides Testimony to the U.S. Helsinki Commission

Publication Date: 
17 Jul 2014

On July 9, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ Regional Director for Middle East and North Africa Programs Zeinab Abdelkarim took to Capitol Hill to provide testimony to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on political pluralism in the wake of the Arab uprisings.

The Commission—also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission—is an independent U.S. government agency that monitors compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advances comprehensive security through the promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental and military cooperation. The Commission works in 57 countries and consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

The aim of the hearing was to assess political developments amongst the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Mediterranean Partners (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia) in the years following the “Arab Awakening.” In attendance were Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL). Ms. Abdelkarim shared the panel with the Honorable William B. Taylor, the Vice President for Middle East and Africa at the United States Institute of Peace, and Dr. Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland.

Specifically, Ms. Abdelkarim’s testimony offered a short outlook on key concerns that will impact the development of political pluralism in the region, including: increased tension between political entities; a decline in the status of women, ethnic and religious minorities; and continued resistance to U.S. involvement in the region. Given the region’s stark societal divisions, she also stressed the importance of transitions that are inclusive and consultative across ethnic, tribal and political lines. Ms. Abdelkarim also reminded the Commission that the implementation of democratic practices is best measured over decades, not years, and that it is not realistic to expect fast and seamless transitions to democracy.

Ms. Abdelkarim’s testimony was extremely well received, and sparked a lively discussion among the panel on the importance of local context and perception of Western intervention. Senator Cardin inquired particularly after potential, trusted regional partners, and asked the panelists how the Commission can gauge whether, in the short term, OSCE partners are showing sufficient signs of progress.

The members and panelists praised Ms. Abdelkarim’s testimony, and after the hearing, Senator Cardin personally thanked Ms. Abdelkarim for her participation and input.