Monday, December 14, 2009

The Beacon of Legislation

The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) here in Washington "is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to examining how genuine democracies can develop in the Middle East and how the U.S. can best support that process. Through dialogue, research, and advocacy, [they] work to strengthen the constituency for U.S. policies that peacefully support democratic reform in the Middle East." You can read their blog here.

Each week, POMED produces a brief but really well-done newsletter of the week's happenings regarding democracy in the Middle East. Called "The Weekly Wire," the newsletter comes to those of us who have signed up for their mailing list. The Wire informs us of legislative actions taken by Congress as well as briefs about each country in the region. This week included some information about two interesting Congressional activities:
On Tuesday (12/8), H.R.2278, calling for the "President to transmit to Congress a report on anti-American incitement to violence in the Middle East," was passed under suspension of the rules in a vote of 395-3 and was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The bill, originally introduced by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) in May, focuses on Middle Eastern media outlets, including al-Manar, al-Aqsa, al-Zawra, that broadcast calls of violence against Americans and the United States and calls for a report in six months that lists anti-American media outlets and satellite companies that provide these channels. The bill also proposes that the U.S. should: designate satellite providers that knowingly contract with such entities as "Specially Designated Global Terrorists," evaluate levels of foreign assistance with reference to state-sponsorship of anti-American incitement to violence, and "urge all governments and private investors who own shares in satellite companies or otherwise influence decisions about satellite transmissions to oppose transmissions of [such] telecasts."

On Thursday (12/10), the House passed H.R.3228, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2010, in a 221-202 vote. On Saturday (12/12), the Senate voted 60-35 on a cloture motion to end debate and bring the bill up for a vote. The bill was then passed by the Senate in a special session yesterday and sent to the President. Full details of the Conference Report for the bill are available on the website of the House Rules Committee, including the full text of Division F of the bill, the portion of the bill making appropriations for State and Foreign Operations, as well as the Joint Explanatory Statement that accompanies it. The bill includes a controversial provision that permits $50 million of the $250 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF) allocated for Egypt to be put into "an endowment to further the shared interests of the United States and Egypt." Such an endowment has been advocated for several years by the Egyptian government, and is widely viewed as an attempt to reduce the potential leverage by Congress afforded by U.S. economic aid to Egypt. Other levels of funding in the bill include $65 million for the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which is a 30% increase over funding in recent years, but $5 million less than included in the House version of the State and Foreign Operations bill passed in July. For reference and comparison, see POMED's report on the budget and appropriations process from July, and keep an eye out for a brief report on the final version of the bill.
I'm one of those dorks who watches C-Span to see Congress in action, and while not as entertaining as a UK parliamentary session, they've been getting pretty good, what with all the props like babies and leis and all sorts of nonsensical nuttery. It's like a reality television show for the Informed, and it has the advantage of being real!

You'll probably notice that the first piece of legislation has implications for Lebanon with Al-Manar possibly being affected and all. Thoughts?

On another note, we are diligently working to ensure that Lebanese NGOs are able to take advantage of the MEPI funding. If your NGO has a good program idea related to the development and capacity building of civil society, pitch them to us. You can email me.

I encourage you to sign up for POMED's Weekly Wire.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please tell us your thoughts on this topic!