Democracy Lab

Finish What You Start

Getting rid of a dictator is a great achievement. But it's only the beginning of a successful transition to democracy.

It's been a bad year for bad guys. Indeed, if anyone had predicted at the end of 2010 that in the following twelve months Mubarak of Egypt and Ben Ali of Tunis would step down and face prosecution, that Qaddafi, Kim Jong Il, and Osama Bin Laden would be dead, and that Ratko Mladic would be in jail, no one would have believed it.

Much has been written about the nonviolent revolutions driven by "People Power" youth movements in Tunisia and Egypt. Their unity, planning, and nonviolent discipline inspired half a dozen additional nonviolent movements, posing the first serious challenge to dictatorships in decades, and prompting leaders in Morocco, Jordan, and even Burma to promise reforms, launch talks with banned opposition parties, and reform constitutions. It encouraged tens of thousands of Russians to demand free and fair elections this past winter in the biggest countrywide protests since the downfall of the Soviet Union.

2011 was the year when mass nonviolent struggle proved its worth as a tool for toppling brutal and long-lasting dictatorships. Yet activist movements have not been as successful when it comes to installing and sustaining democratic forms of government.

Late last year, more than 90 percent of registered Tunisians voted in their first fair elections in almost 30 years. The same month, however, the streets of Cairo witnessed ugly scenes of sectarian violence and a military crackdown on protestors. That startling contrast should prompt us to ask why.

We can find a useful analogy in President John F. Kennedy's words from 1961, when he described the objective of the U.S. space program as "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."  It seems that some of these nonviolent revolutions have been limited solely to removing incumbent regimes without much thought about what was to follow. In other words, they've focused on landing a man on the moon without considering the return journey.

Removing the incumbent regime is only one component of a successful democratic revolution. Equally essential are the creation of a new democratic government and protecting it from the potential threat of a coup d'état. How do we explain the fragility or failure of some of the nonviolent revolutions after such courageous struggles to remove dictatorships? How is it that activists failed to map out a strategy for the transition to a democratic government and the means for sustaining that change?

Political transitions are difficult to understand, especially from the outside, but there are several steps that are clearly indispensible when it comes to organizing a successful nonviolent movement.

1. Have a clear vision of tomorrow

First and foremost, movements must have a vision of what they want to achieve. They need to answer the question: "At the end of this struggle, what will be different, and who will benefit?" There are many facets to this: How will the executive branch be constrained? How will the judicial system be protected from corruption? What rights will the people insist have unequivocal protection?  A clear picture of this kind can serve not only as a guide in the struggle against an oppressor, but also as a useful blueprint for building a new democratic government.

Some of the success stories are illustrative. In South Africa, pro-democracy reformers defined the principles for a future society early on. In 1955, the African National Congress (ANC) sent tens of thousands of volunteers to cover the countryside to collect "freedom demands." The result of this massive public campaign was the famous "Freedom Charter," which called for the end of the apartheid government and equality for all citizens. This undoubtedly helped to establish clear principles for the struggle that resulted in the establishment of today's South African democracy.

Then there's the case of Serbia after the nonviolent Bulldozer Revolution of October 2000 and the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic. The movement's leading forces, which included the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, the nonviolent youth movement Otpor, and various civil society groups, also had a clear "vision of tomorrow." They defined it in a 1998 manifesto that outlined the need for free and fair elections, media freedom, freedom of speech, good relations with neighbors Croatia and Bosnia, and a roadmap to EU membership. Today, after facing many challenges (including the 2003 assassination of its first democratic prime minister, Zoran Djindjic), Serbia continues to follow these original goals.

2. Maintain unity

The three principles of unity, planning, and nonviolent discipline are the keys to success in nonviolent struggles against autocratic regimes. The strategists of the civil rights movement in the U.S. built on the unity of black and white activists. Harvey Milk's campaign for sexual minority rights focused on an alliance of "gay" and "straight." In 2000, it was 18 Serbian opposition parties that joined together in support of a single presidential candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, against the dictatorial Milosevic. Unity was a key component of success in all of these cases.

There are many examples where these alliances were abandoned and old divisions returned, sometimes in a matter of weeks or months after people "left the street." In Ukraine, two leading politicians in the Orange Revolution of 2004 (which peacefully removed the old Soviet-style leadership), Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Timoshenko, clashed within the newly elected coalition. In 2010, both Yushchenko and Timoshenko lost the presidency to Viktor Yanukovich, their original opponent in the Orange Revolution. Likewise, Egypt saw religious violence against Coptic Christians despite the victory over Mubarak's 30-year rule. The lesson to be learned is that building a movement based on fighting a common enemy means that defeating that enemy eliminates the movement's raison d'être and diminishes its capacity to rebuild the system. Keep your eye on the prize: the "vision for tomorrow."

3. Don't assume "game over" once the "bad guy" is defeated

Many nonviolent campaigns failed because they didn't go far enough: removing the "bad guys" as an obstacle to change is only one, albeit important, step in a larger process. To ensure success, the public must understand that the struggle does not end when a tyrant is defeated and removed from power; it ends only when a democratic government is in place and able to defend itself from a coup.

Recent experience offers examples of what can happen when democratic revolutions fail to anticipate the challenges ahead. During the Cedar Revolution of February 2005, Lebanese youth united and mobilized various elements of Lebanese society. They succeeded in kicking out occupying Syrian troops and forcing the resignation of pro-Syrian government officials after decades of bloody civil war -- all without firing a single bullet. Nevertheless, this peaceful revolution was followed by a political crisis and renewed sectarian violence, ending with the establishment of the Hezbollah-dominated government that continues to rule today.

In February of this year, the democratically elected president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed Anni, was deposed in what appears to have been a coup staged by the military and police. That turn of events of threatened to negate a remarkably successful transition that began in 2008,  when a nonviolent movement removed the country's long-time military leader and paved the way for the new president's election -- perhaps the most remarkable shift toward democracy in the Muslim world of the past decade.  Cases like these should serve as cautionary tales for pro-democracy activists.

4. Maintain momentum

Power vacuums are transitory by their very nature. There may be many groups standing by to fill the void created by revolutions. Strong organizations have the best chances of seizing the initiative. In some cases, that institution may be one of the pillars of the previous regime (like the armed forces in Burma or Egypt). Therefore, movements that want to succeed need to start early on with developing a strategy that takes into account the capabilities of these "pillars of support" as well as demographics, infrastructure, geography, and relations with external players. Most important is ensuring the strength of opposition figures and personnel who will be able to establish working relationships with members of these powerful institutions. Such contacts are essential for preventing future power struggles between these groups.

In Egypt, the success of 19 days of "nonviolent blitzkrieg" that toppled Mubarak gave way to an interregnum dominated by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). The moving forces behind Mubarak's downfall last winter -- secular youth groups -- have been relegated to the margins.

It seems that these original activists of Tahrir Square failed to anticipate the challenge posed by the two most organized institutions in Egypt: the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. The growing distance between Mubarak and the military -- his primary pillar of support -- should have alerted the Tahrir organizers to plan a defense against the threat of the army usurping their revolution.

By contrast, the strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood was quite effective. Like the army, it believed it was incapable of successfully opposing President Mubarak and waited patiently for the nonviolent movement to defeat the regime. Both the Egyptian military and the Islamists are strong, disciplined, and experienced groups, ready to use any opportunity to seize power. Again, this potential threat was widely known among the population, and pro-democracy activists should have anticipated it. For both the army and the Muslim Brotherhood, the loss of momentum after the ousting of Mubarak provided an opportunity to exploit the success of the People Power movement and to re-direct it away from its original goals and towards their own.

Accordingly, the activists should have continued with direct nonviolent actions in order to keep the public mobilized and capable of demanding major transitional reforms, such as creating an interim national government, holding a referendum on a new constitution, releasing all political prisoners, holding free and fair elections, and ending censorship. By disbanding the mobilized public and leaving the political and geographical center of the revolution (Tahrir Square), the democracy movement allowed the creation of a vacuum that was immediately filled by the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. This was precisely the moment when the greatest and most durable gains could have been accomplished.

5. Don't put all your faith in new elites

One of the reasons why successful nonviolent revolutions sometimes fail during transition is the naive belief that real political change should lie in the hands of elites and charismatic individuals. The leaders of the nonviolent movement sometimes leave the scene after the dictator is gone and a new government installed, only to realize later that they ceded the field too early. Corruption and abuse of newfound power can mar the positive achievements of successful nonviolent revolutions. Nearly ten years after Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution, which brought unprecedented reforms to the small former Soviet state, President Mikhail Saakashvili stands accused of resorting to authoritarian methods.

Democracy movements should keep newly elected governments under public pressure and accountable from day one. The case of Serbia is again instructive. Only weeks after Milosevic was defeated, hundreds of billboards appeared in the streets of Belgrade with the image of a bulldozer (the symbol of the revolution) and an accompanying message: "Behave yourself -- we are watching you." Serbia, at the time, had 4,300 registered bulldozers and about 6 million potential riders. So the message targeting the newly elected government was clear: "Don't forget that the government should answer to the people." After all, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even if the nonviolent revolution brings a democratic government, civil society must stay vigilant and keep every future government accountable. Then democracy will come.

The events of 2011 have shown that nonviolent struggle can be an effective tool for challenging autocrats. The basic techniques of such struggle -- above all the core principles of unity, planning, and nonviolent discipline -- are now widely known to democratic activists around the world. The same strategic approach should now be applied to the problem of transition as well. No sooner have activists succeeded in achieving victory over a dictator than they find themselves confronted by persistent instability, religious conflicts, military coups, or debilitating political corruption. Yet experience shows us that such problems can be pre-empted or successfully confronted if addressed early in the planning process.

Preventing counterrevolutionary coups, installing a democratic government through free and fair elections, and building durable democratic institutions are, of course, all part of a long-term process -- one that is notably less "sexy" than confronting an unpopular dictator. Yet successful movements must have the patience, stamina, focus, and courage to keep building new societies even when the lights and cameras are gone.



Treacherous Waters

The latest bad publicity for the global cruise industry is just the tip of the iceberg.

It's not a great time, PR-wise, for the global cruise industry. It would be bad enough with all the attention surrounding the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and James Cameron's 3-D release of his blockbuster movie. But contemporary cruise disasters have been in the news with disturbing regularity as well.

In the latest incident, on March 30, a fire broke out on the luxury cruise ship Azamara Quest, forcing it to make an emergency stop at a Malaysian port. Thankfully, there were no deaths and the ship avoided the fate of the Costa Concordia, which ran aground off Giglio Island near Tuscany in January, killing at least 25 people, with seven more missing and presumed dead. Just a few weeks later, on Feb. 27, another of the Costa line's ships -- the Allegra -- lost power in the Indian Ocean after an engine-room fire, leaving more than 1,000 people without power or water for nearly a week as the ship was towed to the Seychelles.

The media coverage of the Costa disaster has focused on Capt. Francesco Schettino, who stands accused of both piloting the vessel too close to the island as a publicity stunt and abandoning ship while thousands were still aboard. But these incidents are much bigger than the actions of one captain or even one company. They are evidence of an industry out of control.

Rather than being the exception to the rule, the Costa disasters are the products of a cruise-industry culture in which passenger safety, environmental impact, the exploitation of workers, and crime -- including rampant sexual assault -- are too often merely swept under the rug. If legislative steps aren't taken to bring the industry under control, these recent unfortunate events may just be the tip of the iceberg.

The cruise industry likes to bill itself as the safest mode of commercial transportation. The claim is made on the Cruise Lines International Association's website and is frequently repeated when reports of shipboard accidents or crimes have been raised in the media or in congressional hearings. But whether a cruise ship is safe is a matter of perspective. The facts are that 16 cruise ships have sunk since 1980, 99 have run aground since 1973, 79 have experienced onboard fires since 1990, and 73 have had collisions since 1990. Since 2000, there have been 100 incidents in which ships have gone adrift, lost power, experienced severe lists -- when a ship nearly tips -- or had other events that posed a safety risk to passengers.

Admittedly, passenger deaths are infrequent. As we saw, however, following the 1994 sinking of the cruise ship Estonia in the Baltic Sea, just one accident has the potential for massive casualties -- more than 850 perished when that ship sunk within 30 minutes of taking on water during a storm.

Given the number of incidents, it's surprising that major cruise lines can still be so lax when it comes to safety precautions. That the Costa Concordia was at sea without a functioning black box -- imagine an airplane being allowed to fly passengers without a black box -- is a testament to the less-than-conscientious attitude of the industry to passenger safety and security. (There were subsequent news reports suggesting the black box was recovered, but these appear to refer to bridge voice recordings, which are quite different.)

Unfortunately, ship accidents are not the only safety concerns facing cruise passengers. Between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2008, the FBI received 421 reports of onboard crime from cruise ships, including 115 simple assaults, 16 assaults with serious bodily injury, 101 thefts, and 154 sex-related incidents. Cruise ships made these crime reports following March 2007 congressional hearings in which the cruise industry made a commitment to report to the FBI all crimes against U.S. citizens (though the data also include some reports regarding foreign nationals). The rate of sexual assault on Carnival Cruise Lines in 2007 and 2008 was a surprisingly high 115 per 100,000 passengers.

In addition to safety concerns, the cruise industry also poses major risks to the environment. These were brought to the forefront in the late 1990s after Royal Caribbean International was fined more than $30 million for illegally discharging oil and hazardous chemicals into U.S. and Alaskan state waters and for making false statements to the U.S. Coast Guard. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in 2000 that between 1993 and 1998, the U.S. government confirmed 87 illegal discharges from cruise ships (81 involving oil and six involving garbage or plastic). Seventeen "other alleged incidents" were referred to the countries where the cruise ships were registered.

Royal Caribbean is hardly the only culprit. Holland America Line was fined $2 million in 1998 for pumping oily bilge water into the Inside Passage off the Alaskan coast, in addition to other violations. In April 2002, Carnival Corp. entered a plea agreement and paid an $18 million fine, pleading guilty to numerous pollution incidents from 1996 through 2001. These included discharging oily waste into the sea from ships' bilges and falsifying records of oily bilge water on six ships to conceal company practices. A few months later, in July 2002, Norwegian Cruise Line pleaded guilty to having discharged oily bilge water for several years and to having falsified discharge logs; it was fined $1.5 million.

There are more recent environmental offenses as well. In 2008, 12 of 20 ships permitted to discharge in Alaskan waters (the only jurisdiction where cruise ship discharges are monitored and measured) violated discharge limits, logging 45 violations involving seven pollutants, among them ammonia, chlorine, copper, fecal coliform, and zinc. The year 2009 was even worse, with 13 of 18 ships that were permitted to discharge in Alaskan waters violating Alaska's discharge limits during the season, racking up 66 viola­tions involving nine pollutants.

Many environmental offenses regularly perpetrated by cruise ships -- include the discharge of sewage, the dumping overboard of solid waste, the use of incinerators (which are less regulated than incinerators on land), and the discharge of oily bilge -- go unpunished due to the patchwork of U.S. regulations, which often allows cruise lines to pollute with impunity: Regulations in Alaska, Washington, and California are relatively stringent; there is very little regulation in Oregon, the Gulf states, and much of the Eastern Seaboard.

Europe isn't much better. The European Union has regulations applying to air emissions from fuel while ships are in port. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, known as MARPOL, sets standards for shipboard discharges, but enforcement of these standards is inconsistent and is often the responsibility of the country where a ship is registered, which is not necessarily the same as where the ship operates. Carnival Cruise Lines' ships, for example, are registered in Panama.

The cruise industry's atrocious environmental record is matched, perhaps, only by its disregard for workers' rights. Workers on foreign-flagged vessels, even those owned by U.S.-based corporations, generally work without union protection and are frequently subjected to arbitrary wage cuts. As Paul Chapman, founder of the New York-based Center for Seafarers' Rights, told the Los Angeles Times: "A ship owner can go any place in the world, pick up anybody he wants, on almost any terms. If the owner wants to maximize profit at the expense of people, it's a piece of cake."

Although the U.S. minimum wage was extended to ships registered in the United States in 1961, Congress left intact the exemption for foreign ships. A 1963 Supreme Court decision extended this exception by ruling that U.S. labor laws, including the right to organize, do not apply to foreign vessels engaged in American commerce, even if the owners of these ships are from the United States. This is the context in which the modern cruise ship industry developed and took hold. Today, as reflected in records disclosed in discovery in several court cases, the typical worker on a cruise ship has a mandatory 77-hour work week, can work for 10 to 12 months without a day off, and can earn as little as $450 per month.

Keeping these practices in place requires that cruise lines violate long-standing U.S. law. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act, provides U.S. maritime workers with the right to sue for pain and suffering damages from job-related injuries. But in the mid- to late-2000s, following settlement of Borcea vs. Carnival, the cruise industry began including arbitration clauses in cruise-ship workers' contracts -- they are now commonplace. These clauses have dire consequences for crew members. They mean that a foreign cruise-ship worker on a U.S.-based ship has limited right to sue his or her employer in U.S. courts because the ship and the company operating the ship are both foreign-registered.

Desire to get around the Jones Act, therefore, gives cruise lines a disincentive to hire American workers. The arbitration clauses, as well as the opinions enforcing them, are thus job killers for Americans because U.S. workers are protected under U.S. labor law, protections not held by non-U.S. workers.

Each of these issues requires urgent attention from both the industry and regulators. Because most accidents are avoidable -- related either to human error or to allowing ships out of port with unresolved mechanical issues -- there is a need for much greater oversight of the industry and stricter enforcement of safety standards. The all-too-cozy relationship between the regulators (the U.S. Coast Guard) and the industry needs to be questioned and better understood, and clearer regulations need to be in place for the Coast Guard to follow. Lawmakers must also recognize that the classification societies entrusted with ship safety standards, such as Lloyd's Register of Shipping in Britain, are not independent in any real sense given that they are paid by the cruise lines to certify those lines' ships. (Ideally they would be paid by and responsible to a disinterested third party.) There needs to be movement from industry self-regulation to an independent system with passenger safety and security as its primary focus. Ships should not be allowed to sail when engines or propulsion systems are known to be faulty or when mechanical or technical issues pose safety concerns.

The easiest solution for environmental issues is reintroduction and passage of the U.S. Clean Cruise Ship Act, which would regulate discharges and put environmental observers or regulators on cruise ships. Given the cruise industry's oft-stated commitment to environmental protection, it would be logical that the industry would embrace the legislation. (The act was last introduced in Congress in 2008, but, like two previous sessions, it failed in committee.)

There also needs to be legislation to address passenger and crew-member rights. The loophole that treats cruise-ship passengers differently from airline passengers under the Death on the High Seas Act needs to be addressed; the fact that a cruise line is not liable for medical malpractice by the medical staff it hires to provide care to its passengers needs to be corrected, as does the fact that foreign cruise-ship workers have no rights under U.S. law with regard to either remuneration or recourse in the case of injury or unfair treatment.

The cruise industry enjoys an enviable position. The corporations are registered offshore, thus avoiding U.S. taxes and regulations, but they benefit from many services paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. For instance, as disclosed in Freedom of Information Act requests, one disappearance from a cruise ship can cost the U.S. Coast Guard more than $800,000; the Carnival Splendor's engine-room fire that left it adrift off the Mexican coast in November 2010 reportedly cost the U.S. government $1.8 million. By registering ships under flags of convenience, the corporations also dodge U.S. labor laws, even though their passengers are mainly Americans. In effect, North Americans taking a cruise enjoy an economic vacation on the backs of the foreign workers employed on these sweatships.

International regulations do apply to the cruise industry, including MARPOL, which is under the authority of the International Maritime Organization, as well as labor codes agreed to under the International Labor Organization. Monitoring and enforcement of many of these conventions, however, is the responsibility of the country where a ship is registered, which means cruise ships face only limited consequences for noncompliance. International cooperation is required to ensure that companies can no longer skirt national regulations by simply registering a ship under a flag of convenience.

The media tends to lose interest in cruise safety a few days after the latest accident. But to prevent the next Costa Concordia from taking place, not to mention the routine abuses to cruise workers and the ocean ecosystem, cruise passengers must demand accountability and sweeping industrywide change. Anything less will be merely rearranging the deck chairs.