Cablegate: Mepi Lessons Learned 2: Addressing the Challenges

DE RUEHTU #1263/01 2610920
P 180920Z SEP 07




E.O. 12958: N/A


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.

© Scoop Media

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