Things have gone from bad to worse in the Central African Republic. Nine months after a rebel alliance known as Seleka seized control of Bangui, the country's riverside capital, and forced President François Bozizé into exile, CAR is quickly descending into chaos. The country could be "on the verge of genocide," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned last month, echoing John Ging, the director of the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who in mid-November reported being "concerned that the seeds of a genocide are being sown." According to U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, "the population is enduring suffering beyond imagination."
In a country that has endured five coups in as many decades, instability has been one of the few predictable elements of daily life. But since the Seleka rebels began their campaign against the government in December of last year, the state has all but collapsed. Following the ouster of Bozizé and his replacement with rebel leader Michel Djotodia, the Seleka alliance turned on itself. In September, Djotodia officially disbanded the predominantly Muslim rebel movement that propelled him into office, leaving battle hardened fighters, many of them foreign mercenaries from Chad and Sudan, to prey indiscriminately on the population. What ensued was rape, pillage, and blood-letting on a massive scale -- as well as the formation of predominantly Christian militias, known as anti-balaka ("anti-machete"), that have carried out their own atrocities against the country's Muslim population.
"The resulting tit-for-tat spiral of violence [between Muslims and Christians] is creating the foundation of a religious conflict that will be very difficult to stop," Lawrence D. Wohlers, the recently departed U.S. ambassador to CAR, told Foreign Policy. "Although it is the Christian population that has suffered the most until now, the Muslim population is a distinct minority and may suffer far more as Seleka's power declines," he said, adding that the country could be headed for "religious-inspired, murderous anarchy" in "which no one will be safe."
Laudes Martial Mbon/AFP/Getty Images
The Philippines boasts one of Asia's oldest democracies. But as it struggles to rein in political violence and corruption, that distinction is exactly a point of pride.
On Monday, more than 40,000 villages in the Philippines voted in municipal elections and, in the run-up, at least 22 candidates and supporters were killed in election-related violence, according to the Associated Press. Across the country, 27 others were wounded in shootouts between rival candidates, and 588 were arrested for violating the election gun ban. (Police also confiscated some "500 firearms, 4,000 rounds of ammunition, 191 knives and 68 grenades.") Before the polls opened on Monday, the Commission on Elections (called Comelec) had announced that 889 areas of the country were on their watch list because of the presence of private armies, intense political rivalries, and hrecent histories of election-related violence. Some 94 villages failed to hold elections at all, while more than 300 others reported massive vote buying.
Elections -- the most visible mechanism of a representative government -- are regularly the impetus for chaos and bloodshed in the Philippines, where even the lowest levels of government are plagued by violence, fraud and the weak rule of law.
In the worst case of election violence to date, 58 people were massacred on November 23, 2009, by the private army of a powerful political family in Maguindanao. Among the dead were relatives of a rival candidate, as well as 30 media workers covering the election. The killers used a backhoe to bury the bodies in a mass grave, some still alive. About 200 people have been charged in association with the murders, but no one has been convicted.
In theory, the Philippines has the makings of a vibrant democracy: an engaged electorate, a strong constitution, and a history of successful popular movements. But political clans, rather than political parties, continue to dominate public discourse and control public office. The historic concentration of wealth in the hands of a few families has helped to create powerful, political dynasties, while a measure signed by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ensured the proliferation of private armies and state-backed militias, often used to secure political victories for wealthy candidates. Though President Aquino revoked the measure last year, and promised to dismantle private armies ahead of the 2013 elections, cracking down on political violence has proven much more difficult than expected.
Election-related violence usually begins 90 days before polling day (sometimes well before, as in in the case of the Maguindanao massacre), and often continues for up 30 days afterwards. In Mindanao, losing candidates have been known to engage in kidnappings and violence to recoup the financial losses associated with their unsuccessful bids. Winning, of course, offers huge financial rewards. Congressional representatives, for example, receive millions of dollars per year in discretionary money from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) -- purportedly for the purpose of local infrastructure projects. In reality, members of Congress have been using the money as a slush fund for re-election efforts or for other types personal gain.
The Aquino administration's much-touted anti-corruption campaign has borne some small successes -- such as the impeachment of an unscrupulous chief justice -- but has yet to meaningfully address the culture of corruption and cronyism plaguing the country's political system.
It's often said that one of the Philippines' proudest moments came after the People Power Revolution in 1986. when CBS reporter Bob Simon declared that the Filipinos were "teaching the world" about democracy. But as the country struggles to hold elections free of violence nearly 30 years later, it seems the Philippines still has a lot to learn.
ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images
It's been a topsy-turvy several months for Alexey Navalny, the fiery Russian opposition leader who has been compared to everyone from Nelson Mandela to Vaclav Havel. First, in July, Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling nearly $500,000 from a state-owned timber company. Then, a day later, as protests against the verdict swelled, the 37-year-old anti-corruption activist was freed in a surprise move. In September, Navalny managed to compete in Moscow's mayoral race but lost to incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, who nearly doubled Navalny's vote count. A month later, Russia's Constitutional Court ruled that a law banning convicted criminals, including those with suspended sentences, from running for office was unconstitutional ("Good news, my brother criminals," Navalny tweeted at the time). And just last week, a Russian court suspended Navalny's jail sentence, though it appears Russian law would still prevent him from running in Russia's 2018 presidential elections, as he has discussed doing.
"It's clear for me that the authorities are trying by all means to hound me out of politics, coming up with some restrictions and fabricated cases," Navalny observed after receiving his suspended sentence.
But the ups-and-downs Navalny has endured in recent months raise a question: Is Navalny really the "man Vladimir Putin fears most," as the Wall Street Journal has crowned him, or is he the man the Kremlin has decided to manage as a credible -- but ultimately beatable -- opposition figure?
Acccording to the British journalist Peter Pomerantsev, he may be more of the latter. And there's evidence for that theory. In an interview with a Russian newspaper published on Monday, for instance, Sergei Sobyanin, Moscow's newly elected mayor, admitted that he consulted with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aides about what Navalny's candidacy in the city's mayoral election before it was held. "I considered that Navalny should take part in the election and [their] attitude to it was positive," Sobyanin, a member of Putin's United Russia party, recalled (the Kremlin has insisted that it has not interfered with the legal twists and turns in Navalny's case).
VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images
With six months until presidential elections and half the country undecided, it's officially campaign season in Afghanistan. Twenty-seven candidates have registered to be put on the ballot -- though many of these will likely be disqualified as their paperwork is reviewed. The first tracking poll, conducted by the Afghan news network TOLOnews and consulting company ATR, is already out -- and it shows that Afghans have a long way to go to make up their minds about who should succeed President Hamid Karzai.
The leading contender in the race is Abdullah Abdullah, the country's former foreign minister who ran against Karzai in 2009 but ultimately withdrew from the contest rather than force what would have been a divisive runoff election. He has the support of about 22 percent of the country, far more than any other candidate. "Abdullah's lead at this early juncture is not surprising, since he has more name recognition than others and has also spent the last few years organizing for the 2014 elections," Omar Samad, a senior Central Asia fellow at the New America Foundation and former Afghan ambassador to France and Canada, told FP, "whereas many other nominees entered the race at the last minute."
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
As Egypt braces for a day of rival protests tomorrow, Tunisia was also plunged into turmoil today with the assassination of secular politician Mohamed Brahmi, the head of the country's Constituent Assembly and the opposition Movement of the People party. Brahmi was shot by a motorcyclist outside his home in Tunis this morning.
It is the second high-profile political assassination in Tunisia this year. In February, gunmen shot and killed secular political leader Chokri Belaid. Brahmi's assassination comes just one day after an adviser to Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh announced that more information about Belaid's assassination would be forthcoming -- the investigation issued warrants for five people in April, but the adviser, Noureddin B'Hiri, hinted that the Interior Ministry was close to publicly accusing the assassination's planners.
Thousands of Tunisians flooded into the street as the news of Brahmi's assassination broke. Protesters swarmed the ambulance carrying Brahmi's body and gathered outside the hospital to which it was taken. Others rallied at the Ministry of the Interior and chanted, "Down with the rule of the Islamists," according to a Reuters report. Even in the relatively conservative town of Sidi Bouzid, where Tunisia's 2011 revolution began, protesters blocked roads and set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party. Protests after Belaid's death in February led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, a member of the Ennahda Party.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Egypt's liberals have a powerful, outspoken new critic, and he's one of their own: "My dear anti-Brotherhood liberal, allow me to remind you that just a few weeks ago you were desperately complaining about how grim the future looked, but now that you have been 'relieved' of them you have become a carbon copy of their fascism and discrimination," the critic appealed in Egypt's al-Shorouk newspaper.
That critic? It's Bassem Youssef, the popular satirist whose TV show, al-Bernameg ("The Program"), is an incisive Egyptian version of The Daily Show.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
It's official: Mohamed Morsy is no longer the president of Egypt. In a July 3 press conference on state television, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the removal of Morsy, the suspension of the Egyptian constitution, and the establishment of an interim government led by the former president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour.
Not much is known about the new interim president in the English-speaking world. And, as is common during times of crisis, people immediately flocked to Wikipedia to figure out who exactly is running things in Egypt. Unfortunately, Wikipedia doesn't seem to know much either. A screen shot of Mansour's Wikipedia page taken immediately after he was named provided, er, limited information.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
In a statement posted to its Facebook page and read aloud on Egyptian state television on Monday, Egypt's military leaders issued an ultimatum calling for a resolution to the country's political crisis within the next 48 hours. According to the statement, in the event that the government does not recognize the demands of the protesters -- which range from President Mohamed Morsy stepping down to addressing the country's pressing economic concerns -- the military will implement a plan to resolve the situation (what that plan might entail is not specified).
Ed Giles/Getty Images
In yet another example of the unrealistic ambitions of Egypt's new political class on the world stage, the Building and Development Party, the political wing of Gama'a al-Islamiyya (GI), is calling on the United States to remove the political party and its parent organization from the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"Gama'a al-Islamiyya and the Building and Development Party do not consider the West as opponents, but instead advocate for the good of all and embrace all ideas that serve Islam," Building and Development Party spokesman Khaled al-Sharif said in a press conference on Sunday, according to a posting on the party's Facebook page. Daily News Egypt reports that al-Sharif then went on to "demand" that GI be taken off the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list, and called for the United States to release Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the "Blind Sheikh."
GI was a fixture in Egypt's collegiate political scene in the 1980s but became internationally infamous for a campaign of terror attacks in the 1990s, which included assassinations and massacres targeting tourists. GI also occasionally worked with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, then headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later merged his organization with al Qaeda and eventually became Osama bin Laden's successor in that organization. Abdel Rahman had ties to both organizations and is GI's spiritual leader -- he was imprisoned in Egypt in the 1980s for issuing a fatwa sanctioning the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and is currently serving a life sentence in the United States for helping plan attacks in New York City, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. When the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups was compiled in 1997, GI was an inaugural member.
In 2003, GI reentered the Egyptian political arena, formally renouncing violence in exchange for the release of hundreds of political prisoners. That promise has held, mostly. The change in tactics split the organization, and a violent faction formally joined al Qaeda in 2006. Mainstream members aren't a bunch of peaceniks, either; GI was responsible for organizing the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012, and has threatened to fight for the implementation of sharia law "even if that requires bloodshed."
It's not unheard of for an organization to work its way off the State Department's terror list -- after a years-long lobbying effort, Iranian dissident group Mujahideen-e-Khalq was delisted last September -- but it's a rare occasion. And though GI and its Building and Development Party aren't the only politicians in Egypt to call for the release of the Blind Sheikh, it's certainly not going to win them any fans in Foggy Bottom. It's also not going to happen.
With Pakistan's election just around the corner on Saturday -- and amid a month-long campaign of violence that local papers have dubbed the "reign of terror" -- the New York Times reported Friday that Pakistan's Interior Ministry has demanded that the paper's Islamabad bureau chief, noted journalist Declan Walsh, leave the country. From the Times's report:
The ministry gave no explanation for the expulsion order, which was delivered via a two-sentence letter by police officers to the bureau chief, Declan Walsh, at 12:30 a.m. Thursday local time at his home.
"It is informed that your visa is hereby canceled in view of your undesirable activities," the order stated. "You are therefore advised to leave the country within 72 hours." The timing of the order means Mr. Walsh must exit Pakistan on the night of the elections.
Walsh has reported from Pakistan for the past nine years for the New York Times and the Guardian, and his journalism is characterized by an eye for detail and a knack for making a frequently perplexing country comprehensible. For the past month, his reports have focused on the run-up to Pakistan's May 11 election: political maneuvering and rivalries, patronage networks, and the string of attacks that have punctuated the campaign. We've collected some of his greatest hits from recent weeks below.
From his May 8 article on Pakistan's feudalistic patronage networks:
As a result, Multan has been transformed, residents say. The city is ribboned with new roads and expressways, while a modern airport, capable of accommodating wide-body jets, is near completion. The railway station has been overhauled, some neighborhoods have new sewerage and young students have been awarded generous scholarships.
A giant billboard outside Mr. Gilani's house lists his achievements: 34 major development projects, costing more than $280 million, all financed by Pakistani taxpayers. "Multan has become like Paris for us," said Muhammad Bilal, a 28-year-old laborer and enthusiastic Gilani supporter, at a rally last week....
Mr. Gilani, for example, was in jail from 2001 to 2006 during the rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf on a charge of arranging 600 government jobs for his constituents during a previous administration in the 1990s. "If giving jobs is a crime, then I am a criminal," he told voters at one rally, to loud cheers.
In fact, the practice is institutionalized: The government gives each Parliament member, no matter the party, about $200,000 a year to spend on "development" -- effectively, a patronage slush fund.
He writes a riveting lede, like this one from his May 5 article about Pakistan's hardline Islamist candidates:
Dust swirled as the jeep, heralded by a convoy of motorcycle riders and guarded by gunmen in paramilitary-style uniforms, pulled up outside the towering tomb of an ancient Muslim saint.
Out stepped Maulana Abdul Khaliq Rehmani, a burly cleric with a notorious, banned Sunni Muslim group. Thanks to a deft name change by his group, he was now a candidate in Pakistan's general election, scheduled for Saturday.
Or this intro from his April 21 article on the Pakistani Taliban's intimidation tactics:
When Shahid Khan started talking, his gunmen clambered onto a school's rooftop, scanning the surrounding hills with flashlights, anticipating a possible attack.
In the past 10 days, militants have carried out five attacks against Mr. Khan's party.
Below them, Mr. Khan, a candidate for his region's provincial assembly, addressed potential voters - poor farmers and village traders, gathered on a cluster of rope beds outside the school, listening raptly to his promises. Then, after wolfing down snacks offered by his hosts, he abruptly left.
"They say it's not safe around here," said Mr. Khan, as he leapt into a waiting car, trailed by a bodyguard. "We'd better get going."
No stranger to Pakistan's extremist groups, Walsh profiled Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, in February:
...Mr. Saeed lives an open, and apparently fearless, life in a middle-class neighborhood here.
"I move about like an ordinary person -- that's my style," said Mr. Saeed, a burly 64-year-old, reclining on a bolster as he ate a chicken supper. "My fate is in the hands of God, not America."
New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson has written to the Pakistani interior minister protesting the decision, and journalists and analysts have voiced their support on Twitter.
100+ already dead in Pakistan election violence; 600k security to be deployed this wknd. Hence Pak expulsion of NYT reporter @declanwalsh.— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) May 10, 2013
Walsh, for his part, has so far only tweeted out the Times article about his enforced departure:
On eve of Pakistani elections, been asked to leave:nytimes.com/2013/05/11/wor…— Declan Walsh(@declanwalsh) May 10, 2013
Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher, a co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, was arrested at the Cairo International Airport on Friday, according to Egyptian press reports. He was returning to Egypt from a 13-day trip to the United States hosted by the Milken Institute and the Project on Middle East Democracy, during which he met with officials from the State Department, the Obama administration, and Congress, and spoke at universities and the Milken Institute Global Conference. "The goal of Maher's trip," according to a press release from POMED, "was to highlight the many challenges to democratic progress in Egypt, including a widespread crackdown on freedom of speech, assembly, and association."
Egypt's Ahram Online reports that Maher's arrest is in connection with a March 28 protest outside the residence of the Egyptian minister of the interior in which activists waved women's clothing and banners claiming the ministry had "prostituted" itself to the government of President Mohamed Morsy. Maher tweeted a picture from the protest, "Now in front of the house of the minister of the interior."
?? ???? ???? ???? ???????? ???? twitter.com/GhostyMaher/st…— ?Ahmed Maher (@GhostyMaher) March 28, 2013
Four members of the April 6 Youth Movement were arrested and then released last month for their involvement in the protest. At the time, a spokesman for April 6 told Ahram Online that no arrest warrant had been issued for Maher. But today, an Egyptian official told AFP that "the prosecution has decided to jail Ahmed Maher for four days as part of the investigation."
Maher and April 6 supported the candidacy of Mohamed Morsy. But since the country's constitutional crisis in November, he has felt disillusioned by the new government. "This regime is the same old regime, but has a religious atmosphere or shape," he said at an event at the New America Foundation on Monday. It has "the same rules, the same constitution ... the same behavior, the same strategy, the same politics -- so we need to keep the struggle until step down all of that regime."
Maher also knows the potential consequences of his protests. "Our members are arrested now and in the jail, and sometimes are tortured. So our role now is to keep the struggle," he said Monday. It's not his first arrest, either -- in fact, Maher was arrested for organizing protests as early as 2008, years before the January 2011 revolution.
"Opposition figures and protestors being arrested isn't new, unfortunately," Marc Lynch, director of George Washington University's Middle East Studies Program and an FP blogger and columnist, told Passport by email. Lynch met with Maher during his visit to Washington. "What is striking is that Ahmed would be arrested after returning from the US where he spoke (I understand) to a variety of US officials as well as academics and think tankers. It just points to the ongoing urgency of real reform of the security sector in Egypt," he wrote.
Maher's arrest also demonstrates the government's unwillingness to work with even receptive members of the opposition, according to Nancy Okail, Egypt director for Freedom House, who also met with Maher during his visit to Washington. "The arrest of any activist is worrisome, but Maher's arrest is particularly significant as he was one of the strongest supporters of President Morsy before and after his elections," Okail told FP by email. "He repeatedly expressed his willingness to extend a helping hand to the government to solve Egypt's problems -- especially with regard to reforming the police. The current repressive approach of the Egyptian government is stifling constructive discussions at the very time it should be expanding dialogue with different segments of Egyptian society."
At the State Department's daily press briefing this afternoon, Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell told reporters that the State Department was still trying to confirm reports of Maher's arrest, saying "of course, if it were true, we'll express our concerns, but at this time we're still seeking more information." Representatives from the Egyptian embassy did not respond to requests from FP for comment.
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
With Pakistani elections looming on May 11, it seems like every day brings a new report about destabilizing attacks in the country. The unrelenting violence, which Pakistan's Express Tribune has dubbed the "Reign of Terror," includes assassinations that have delayed elections in several districts and left a staggering number of casualties. Bloomberg has compiled the most thorough timeline of the attacks and estimates that, in the past month, "at least 118 people have been killed and 494 injured."
Terrorists -- mostly from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but also Baluchi separatists -- have pursued politicians in particular, and candidates have been gunned down in the streets. On May 3, Saddiq Zaman Khattak, a parliamentary candidate for the secular Awami National Party (ANP), was shot and killed along with his three-year-old son while returning from Friday prayers in Karachi. Gunmen ambushed ANP candidate Muhammad Islam on April 27, killing his brother in the attack. And Fakhrul Islam, a provincial assembly candidate for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party in Hyderabad, was assassinated by the TTP on April 11.
Bombings, some of which have targeted candidates, have also indiscriminately killed their supporters. The deadliest blast killed at least 20 individuals at an ANP rally on April 16. The attacks have targeted election events, but also included car bombings and bomb and grenade attacks on campaign offices and potential polling places. Just today, gunmen abducted Ali Haider Gilani, a provincial assembly candidate for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, after killing his bodyguards. It is the first time a candidate has been kidnapped in the rash of attacks.
"It is pretty clear that this is the most violent election I have witnessed in 23 years" of election monitoring in Pakistan, Peter Manikas of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs told the Washington Post. "It's a different type of violence in trying to disrupt the election as a whole. It makes everything unsafe."
Early in April, the TTP singled out three political parties -- ANP, MQM, and PPP -- as the targets of their attacks, but in the past week, not even the fundamentalist Jamiat-e-Ulema (JeU) party has been spared. On May 6, a JeU rally was bombed in Kurram, killing 25, though a TTP spokesman was quick to assert that the Taliban didn't oppose the party so much as the candidate, "who they said had betrayed Arab fighters to U.S. agents," according to Reuters. The next day, a suicide bombing in Hangu targeting another JeU rally killed 10. In a new statement quoted by Reuters, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud expressed opposition to the political process as a whole, writing, "We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy."
The worst violence may in fact be yet to come, as Pakistanis head to the polls this weekend. TTP pamphlets posted in Karachi are warning potential voters to stay home, the Telegraph reports. "If you stay away you will protect yourself," one reads. "If not you are responsible for your fate.... If you go there you will be responsible for the loss of your life and your loved ones." In anticipation of attacks, more than 600,000 security personnel will be on duty for the elections, with five to ten guards at each polling place, according to the Associated Press.
It's a far cry from the atmosphere you'd hope for to mark the first time in Pakistani history that a democratically elected civilian government has finished its term.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
The kind of electoral fraud Malaysia's newly reelected Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has been accused of seems too elaborate to be true.
The opposition is alleging that BN brought in foreigners -- mainly from Bangladesh, Burma, and Indonesia -- to supplement the party's vote counts. In addition to these so-called "phantom voters," the opposition has accused BN of flying voters from its eastern strongholds of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo to vote in mainland states where victory was less assured. (BN leader and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has denied the accusations.)
The plot is certainly convoluted: It involves complicit airline companies and suspicious groups of foreigners arriving on chartered flights prior to the election. But even if the accusations turn out to be rooted in paranoia, there's good reason for them: Malaysia -- and BN in particular -- has something of a spotty history when it comes to importing votes from abroad.
A Malaysian Royal Commission of Inquiry, for instance, is currently investigating so-called Project IC, a notorious program in which the BN -- which gets the bulk of its support from the ethnically Malay, Muslim population -- allegedly provided Muslim immigrants -- mainly from the southern Philippines and Indonesia -- in Sabah with identity cards in exchange for votes. These immigrants, already ethnically similar to Malays, were assimilated, and Sabah -- once a non-Malay majority state where BN faced electoral threats -- has been something of a party fortress ever since.
As John Pang recently wrote in the New York Times:
In one of the most brazen examples of manufacturing ethnic identity for political gain, Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister from 1981 to 2003, imported about 700,000 Muslim immigrants from the southern Philippines into the Malaysian state of Sabah. They were secretly issued Malaysian citizenship in order to create a "Malay" Muslim vote base for Mr. Mahathir's party.
Pang's description may be a bit premature, as the inquiry is still ongoing. But several members of the UMNO, the ruling Malay party at the time, were detained for their involvement in falsifying identity cards in the late 1990s, with one former member of the project claiming that in 1985 alone, 130,000 illegal immigrants received identity cards.
Accusations of bringing in Bangladeshis by the thousands to cast votes certainly go beyond your standard ballot-box stuffing. But in Malaysian politics, stranger things have happened.
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, after more than two years of being a fixture in Sanaa and cities around the country, Yemen's revolutionaries dismantled protest camps around the country. The AP reports it was a "symbolic" move, and that activists were "declaring an end to the revolution." Tawakkol Karman, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism in Yemen, told crowds at Sanaa's Change Square, "We are starting a new phase.... We declare that we toppled the rule of the family forever..."
If that strikes you as strange, it should. Yemen may have a transitional government, and last month saw the beginning of the National Dialogue, a months-long process of reconciliation and reform leading toward elections. But many of the activists responsible for driving the revolution forward are far from satisfied with these achievements. The decision to shut down the protests camps came from the Organizing Committee of the Youth Revolution, which is the most prominent -- but only one -- of several groups affiliated with the protest movement. Despite the bold pronouncements, there isn't a consensus on when -- or how -- the revolution should end.
Boshra al-Maqtari, president of the Progressive Youth Organization, stressed that "there are very big differences in the positions of the revolutionary organizations and youth movements," when reached by e-mail (her comments appear here in translation). While the youth movement has voiced concerns about having their cause commandeered by other political interests since the early months of the protests, al-Maqtari worries that the groups leading the movement now, which are tied to Yemen's Islah Party, are not leaving room for dissent in the protest movement. The decision to end the protest camps, she writes, "reflects the real problem that ... revolutionaries are no longer allowed to have any negative or contradictory opinions."
"No one ... can claim to speak for the revolution," writes Yemeni activist and journalist Farea al-Muslimi, who testified on U.S. targeted killing policy in the Senate on Tuesday. "The south remains a place where many there think their revolution hasn't even started yet."
Al-Muslimi sees the transition from the transitional to an elected government as the real test of the revolution, but the pressure for conformity in the protest movement has al-Maqtari concerned that the revolution, to date, "did not create a culture of democracy."
Both were dismissive of declarations of the end of the revolution. "The revolution is ongoing," wrote al-Matari. Al-Muslimi was blunt, telling FP it's "total rubbish to say the revolution is over."
Yemen has had this debate before, after the February 2012 referendum that formally ushered in Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, previously Yemen's vice president, into the role of transitional president. Then, protesters told the New York Times that they would wait for military reforms. Though the reforms are ongoing, the Yemeni government formalized a large shake-up in the military leadership earlier this month. But revolutions have a tendency to linger -- there are no closing ceremonies, as Lebanese satirist Karl Sharro suggested, not even in the speeches delivered at the dismantling of Yemen's Change Square camp. As she called for an end to the revolution that toppled the president, Karman proposed a new stage. "We have a new revolution," she told the remaining protesters in the square, "to cleanse the state from corruption."
Marya Hannun contributed to this post.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images
The Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix is scheduled for this Sunday, April 21. But if the country's protest movement has its way, the race won't take place at all. For months, opponents of Bahrain's monarchy have pressed for the race to be canceled or moved elsewhere to prevent the government from profiting off the event. And in recent weeks, they've stepped up their activity. While for some groups that has meant writing letters to F1 participants and promoters, others have taken a decidedly more aggressive approach.
The February 14 Youth Movement, for instance, has posted YouTube videos threatening to inflict "remorse and heartbreak" if the event proceeds. In this video, posted March 30, activists block traffic lanes with a car, douse it with gasoline, and light it on fire:
The BBC reports that February 14 may have detonated a car bomb in Manama's Financial Harbor district last Sunday. And another recently posted video shows several dozen activists armed with tires and at least 24 Molotov cocktails and several jugs of fuel shutting down a busy Bahraini intersection:
The February 14 movement is named after the date on which the uprising in Bahrain began, and its logo features the statue that used to stand in Manama's Pearl Roundabout. From Feb. 14 to March 16, 2011, activists camped in Pearl Roundabout until Bahraini riot police and military troops, backed by tanks and Saudi soldiers, broke up the sit-in, killing eight protesters. In the ensuing crackdown, the authorities have arrested thousands of activists as well as others who did not participate in the protests, including doctors held on charges of treating wounded activists.
Bahrain hosts the Grand Prix annually, and the race returned in 2012 after being canceled in 2011 -- an action that many diplomats and human rights groups have labeled insensitive at best and a boon to a repressive regime at worst. Bernie Ecclestone, president and CEO of Formula One, has been remarkably tone deaf in responding to critics. Earlier this month he told reporters, "Somebody who actually lives [in Bahrain] came to see me yesterday and said everything's very normal." His succinct reply to a campaign by human rights groups was that "it is now too late to make any changes to the calendar." He claimed human rights concerns had not been brought to his attention when the schedule was finalized late last year, despite the uproar over the 2012 race. And he seemed only marginally better informed at the inaugural race of the 2013 season last weekend, telling reporters:
I don't think the people who are arguing about their position are bad, and I don't think they're trying to hurt people to make their point. We have had all sorts of protesters -- look at those complaining about Mrs. Thatcher. This happens all the time. People use these things when there is an opportunity.
As of today, the race is expected to go ahead as planned.
Is Iraq a U.S. ally? Judging by his Washington Post op-ed this morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to think so:
Iraq is not a protectorate of the United States; it is a sovereign partner. Partners do not always agree, but they consider and respect each other's views. In that spirit, we ask the United States to consider Iraq's views on challenging issues, especially those of regional importance....
The United States has not "lost" Iraq. Instead, in Iraq, the United States has found a partner for our shared strategic concerns and our common efforts on energy, economics and the promotion of peace and democracy.
Maliki paints a particularly rosy picture of U.S.-Iraqi relations, touting the potential for investment, the growth of oil production, and the country's democratization and upcoming elections. But do any experts actually believe this?
On the 10-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion last month, Post reporter Ernesto Londoño wrote that "the country is neither the failed state that seemed all but inevitable during the darkest days of the war nor the model democracy that the Americans set out to build.... The nation is no longer defined or notably influenced by its relationship with the United States." That dynamic was on display on March 24, when Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly had a frustrating discussion with Maliki about the flow of arms from Iran to Syria through Iraqi airspace -- the latest evidence of a persistent decline in U.S. influence in Iraq, as Baghdad has drifted closer to the policies of neighboring Iran.
But does that mean Iraq is not the "sovereign partner" of the United States that Maliki describes? The assessments are mixed. Speaking with Maliki as U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in December 2011, President Obama declared, "Our strong presence in the Middle East endures, and the United States will never waiver in the defense of our allies, our partners, and our interests."
But a year and a half later, Iraq historian Toby Dodge sees the country backsliding into autocracy under Maliki. Liberal interventionist war advocate Kanan Makiya points to Iraq's leadership as a stumbling block, saying in a recent profile in the Boston Globe that the "Iraqi leadership proved itself capricious, greedy, selfish -- it was a failure on the part of the elites." In the New York Times, Ramzy Mardini of the Iraq Inistitute for Strategic Studies assessed the situation bluntly: "A decade since the occupation of Iraq began, Baghdad still cannot be considered an ally of the United States.... An alliance today is beyond anyone's reach."
Others are more optimistic. Former CIA director James Woolsey, for instance, told the Daily Beast, "There is much more Iranian influence than I would like to see. I don't know that it is hopeless." Former Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim sees the ouster of the Hussein regime and the government that has followed as "marginally a good thing, but nowhere near as good as what we thought." Writing in Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat today, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz suggests that "it is remarkable that Iraq has done as well as it has thus far" and encourages continued engagement, noting that "it is not too late for the US and Europe and the GCC countries to engage with Iraq to help steer it on a course toward inclusive and accountable governance."
And he may be on to something. Today, for the second time in two days, Iraqi officials forced an inspection in Baghdad of an Iranian plane bound for Syria. But despite estimates that Iran is transporting as much as five tons of munitions per Syria-bound flight, Iraqi officials said they only found humanitarian supplies.
JASON REED/AFP/Getty Images
Ahead of Pakistan's May 11 general election -- the first time in the country's history that an elected government is expected to (peacefully) hand over power to another elected government -- the British Council has conducted a survey of Pakistani youth between the ages of 18 and 29 -- a demographic that makes up 30 percent of the electorate and will play an important role in the upcoming election.
The May election is expected to test Pakistan's democracy, but the survey results do not bode well for the country's democratic future: Only 29 percent of those surveyed think that democracy is the right political system for Pakistan, while 38 percent favor Islamic sharia law and 32 percent prefer military rule.
A whopping 94 percent of those surveyed think that Pakistan is heading in the wrong direction.
This is a dramatic change from 2007, when 50 percent of young people in the country were similarly bearish. For some context, in the United States last week, 57 percent of those surveyed by Rasmussen think that the country is heading in the wrong direction.
This doesn't mean, however, that Pakistani 18- to 29-year-olds are going to throw up their hands in resignation. According to the report, "A substantial majority of the youth still believe that they will have a role in changing the country for the better." The question is, will democracy have a place in that "better future"?
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
The presence of Aung San Suu Kyi in the front row of a military parade (above, next to Major General Zaw Win) earlier today was stunning to many observers: both for how unthinkable her presence would have been just a few years ago (she was locked up in her house, after all -- by the military), and for how far Aung San Suu Kyi appears willing to go to reconcile with an institution still distrusted by many of her fellow Burmese. (See this slide show of Burmese political cartoons in FP for one perspective on how 'reformed' the military and the government in Burma really are). On the same day the military announced its plans to retain a role in politics for the near future
Does The Lady's presence underscore how much has changed in Burma since her house arrest, or does it highlight how much power the military still has? Probably both. One thing for sure: the photo above is an amazing sight.
NYEIN CHAN NAING/AFP/Getty Images
Who knew calling for pedestrian safety could be so dangerous? Earlier today, skirmishes between students and the guards at Egypt's Misr International University resulted in bloodshed following a 15 day sit-in to protest the suspension of 16 students and expulsion of eight.
The suspended students had been calling for greater safety measures after several incidents of pedestrians being hit, hospitalized, and even killed by traffic outside the university. As reported by the Daily News Egypt:
[On March 3], students demanded a pedestrians' bridge outside the university gate to prevent accidents. Protesting students marched to [the University Deputy Chairman Hamdy] Hassan's office to put forward their demand. They claim to have been stopped by the security personnel.
"We have a video of Hassan asking the security personnel to beat anybody who tries to move forward," said Bassem, another MIU student who preferred to withhold his last name. "In another video, Hassan threatens to kill any student who approaches his office."
Hassan denied these claims. "I told the protesting students we could meet in one of the lecture halls; my office was too small to fit us all in," he said, adding that there were between 70 and 100 protesters. "They insisted on coming into the office, so I asked the security personnel to prevent them from breaking into the office, giving them clear instructions not to beat any of them."
Hassan said that after this incident, the university chairman referred the students involved to investigation. The students accuse the administration of arbitrarily suspending students. "We don't even have disciplinary bylaws to resort to," Mustafa said.
Things escalated quickly when protesting students tried entering the campus today. They were met by security who used "rubber bullets, rocks, and fire extinguisher gas." Photos emerging show many with head injuries from bird shot. Video shows the state of chaos around the campus. It's currently unclear if it's campus security or hired security that's engaging in attacks.
Classes have been suspended until further notice.
For the first time in Pakistan's history, a democratically elected civilian government has successfully finished its five-year term -- despite a flurry of anti-government protests. But what does that success look like?
Foreign direct investment collapsed after President Asif Ali Zardari's government came to power in 2008, and has continued declining since, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, foreign aid from the United States spiked, more than doubling under the new government to over $4 billion a year before tapering off again in 2011.
The country's relative political stability has paid off in some respects. Child mortality is down. School enrollment has continued to improve as well, rising three percentage points between 2008 and 2011 (admittedly not as impressive as the 14-percent increase over the course of the previous five years). On the other hand, since 2009 the ratio of girls to boys receiving a primary or secondary education has declined, indicating that enrollment is increasingly skewing toward boys. Pakistan may have fallen from ninth to 13th place in the Fund for Peace's annual ranking of failed states between 2008 and 2012, but the slightly better finish was still pretty dismal (as Robert Kaplan's "What's Wrong with Pakistan?" article for FP's Failed States package last year attests).
Domestic security under Zardari's government got off to a rough start, but has started to improve more recently. Domestic suicide bombings surged in the last year of Pervez Musharraf's government -- from the single digits through the first half of the decade to 57 in 2007. Terror attacks hit their peak with 90 suicide bombings in 2009, but the number fell to 32 attacks in 2012.
For what it's worth, in the last five years there have also been 353 U.S. CIA airstrikes against terrorist targets that killed at least 2,376 individuals, compared to 12 strikes with a minimum death toll of 159 people from the start of the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan in 2004 through 2007.
That figure does not include the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad in May 2011 -- for which President Obama famously did not give advance notice to the Pakistani government because of concerns about al Qaeda sympathizers in the Pakistani military and intelligence service. At an event at the Brooking Institution last month, retired CIA analyst and South Asia expert Bruce Riedel speculated that bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is also being sheltered by the Pakistani military. If the civilian government is slowly finding its sea legs, it has a long way to go.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Sure, Senator Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster on Wednesday was dramatic in the moment. But in the history of filibusters, it's unexceptional. After all, it was the ninth-longest in U.S. Senate history, according to USA Today -- not exactly a glowing achievement in the practice's millenia-long international history.
The etymology of the term stems from a Dutch word for privateers, and it entered the American lexicon via Spanish as rogue American settlers tried to seize land in Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Mexico in the mid-19th century. Locally, they were called filibusteros -- "free-booters" -- and their populist movement was a diplomatic nightmare for the U.S. government. These expansionist efforts fell apart when the Civil War forced Americans to turn inwards, but the word had already gained its modern meaning when, in 1853, a Democratic senator, Abraham Venable, joined the Whig opposition to block a private expedition of settlers looking to seize Cuba. Despite his opposition to the aggressive expansionism, which he feared would "make the United States the brigands of the world," his own colleagues in the Democratic Party turned the word on him for his own roguish action. The term came to be associated with aggressive minority efforts to delay legislation.
Some historians trace the practice back much further in history -- to ancient Rome and civil libertarian patron saint Cato the Younger, who was known to make lengthy speeches past the Roman Senate's deadline to adjourn at dusk, blocking further business for the day.
The filibuster is truly a performance art, so much so that the most recent one before Paul's yesterday, launched on Dec. 10, 2010 by Bernie Sanders, was accompanied by charts and made into a book and an art installation. The record for the longest filibuster in the U.S. Senate is held by Strom Thurmond, who spoke (maybe off and on) for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an effort to block civil rights legislation. At the state level, the record is longer: In 1924, a Rhode Island Senate filibuster extended 42 continuous hours over three days and "began with a mass fistfight over control of the gavel and ended when Republican operatives placed a poison-soaked rag behind [Democratic Lieutenant Governor Felix] Toupin to gas him out of the presiding officer's chair," according to Gregory Koger's Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate.
Elsewhere, the filibuster (by its modern, American definition) has different names. In the United Kingdom, the practice is known as being "talked out," and it was employed in January 2012 to stymie legislation that would have adjusted daylight savings time. Since British legislation is allotted only a certain amount of time for discussion and voting before being taken off the table, members of parliament can talk until the subject is shuffled back into the stack of pending bills -- in the case of the daylight savings time legislation, the bill was talked out by Scottish and Welsh legislators who wanted more autonomy and the option to opt out of the U.K. time change.
In the United Kingdom, the tactic has also been an occasional recourse for Irish and Scottish representatives seeking to punch above their administrations' weight. But, as in the United States, it has been used to block civil rights efforts as well, including women's suffrage legislation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Perhaps the most dramatic filibuster, though, occurred in April 1963 in the Philippines. With legislators evenly divided between supporters of the Liberal Party incumbent, Diosdado Macapagal, and Nationalist Party up-and-comer Ferdinand Marcos, it came down to the Senate to decide the presidency. The day before the scheduled vote, Marcos visited Liberal Senator Roseller Lim, offering to pay off his home loans in exchange for a swing vote. Lim refused and Marcos, incensed, swore at him and his family before departing.
The next day, the Liberal senators were a man down -- Senator Alejandro Almendras was still en route, returning from a throat operation in the United States. Lim took the podium and spoke for 18 hours and 30 minutes -- he could not sit or eat, and he urinated in his pants at the podium rather than allow the vote to occur without the Liberals' crucial swing vote. Finally, Lim yielded the floor upon hearing that Almendras's fight had landed, and collapsed onto a waiting stretcher after casting his vote.
Unlike so many other filibusters, it's hard to say that Lim's act was one vanity -- but it was in vain. Lim would learn, upon awaking in the hospital, that Almendras has cast his vote for Marcos.
Paul's stand yesterday for a clarification in Obama's targeted killing policy was dramatic at times, but not that dramatic. Hey, there's always next time.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
It was a year ago yesterday that Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was formally made president of Yemen in a national referendum. He succeeded the three-decade rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who finally yielded to international pressure to step down amid a popular uprising, and Hadi's accession was meant to usher in a two-year transition to a more representative government. Yemeni politicians and U.N. officials have spent much of the past year organizing a National Dialogue, including representatives of many of the country's overlapping and competing factions, divided along tribal, political, and religious lines, to discuss constitutional reforms and, possibly, a more decentralized government.
But yesterday, three representatives from the country's restive south withdrew from the National Dialogue committee in protest of continued suppression of the "Hirak," or Southern Movement, which has called for stronger representation for Yemen's south or secession. Protesters in Aden -- which until 1991 was the capital of an independent South Yemeni state -- gathered to protest Hadi's reluctance to address southern grievances. They were met with gunfire from the military, which positioned soldiers on rooftops overlooking the protest (recalling the carnage caused by rooftop snipers just less than two years ago in one of the uprisings catalyzing moments); at least four protesters died (maybe eight now) and 40 more were wounded. On the anniversary of the referendum, Yemen's halfway revolution appears as stalled now as ever before.
The delays to the National Dialogue were expected -- six months before Saleh stepped down, when the transition plan was still a proposal, Chatham House fellow Ginny Hill said,
I see hurdles at every stage. I think it's going to be a contested process, but it's going to be a contested process that Yemen needs to go through. And I think it will be good if it's contested, because in that process -- if it can be contained within a genuinely political space, if it doesn't turn into a violent process -- the scope for forging more legitimate political structures potentially lies in this process.
The transition was always going to be messy, but it is increasingly returning to a state of affairs last seen during the uprising's tensest moments in 2011, a race to find an inclusive agreement before the country unravels.
And it is unraveling. Last week, the U.N. Security Council issued a resolution singling out Saleh and his long-exiled southern rival, Ali Salem al-Beidh, as spoilers in the peace process. Last month, a large weapons shipment, including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, was intercepted en route to Yemen, possibly from Iran; previous to the captured shipment, rumors of other shipments to insurgents had persisted for months. As news came out of Aden, Gregory Johnsen, author of The Last Refuge, tweeted:
You really had to have your head in the sand to miss what is starting to kick off in #Yemen - pretty sad.— GregorydJohnsen (@gregorydjohnsen) February 20, 2013
In the worst days of the popular uprising, secessionist tribal groups carrying the old South Yemeni flag seized a military base in the southern province of Yafai, prompting retaliatory airstrikes. If southern politicians refuse to participate and the National Dialogue collapses, this could well occur again on a much larger scale. Will Picard, head of the Yemen Peace Project, wrote last night about the potential for a renewal of Yemen's 1994 civil war. "More violence is certain," he concluded. "Little else is."
Reddit was once a site by, for, and about the concerns of "internet people." But in the past year, it has seen its popular AMA (ask me anything) sub-forum has become a popular way for celebrities, scientists, politicians and others to gain legitimacy with the online masses. Even President Obama did one.
The latest aspiring leader to allow Reddit users to ask him anything is Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, a long-shot candidate for the Iranian presidency. Amirahmadi is a professor at Rutgers who left Iran for the United States in 1975 because of the political situation. He registered as a candidate for the 2005 presidential election but allegedly was disqualified by the Guardian Council for his joint U.S. citizenship.
Here are some of the highlights from yesterday's session:
In 2005, I put my name down as a candidate, but it was not really serious. I entered the race about one month before the election day and my purpose was not really to stay the course, but rather to make a statement. Much of Iran's intelligentsia was boycotting that election and I was afraid that by boycotting, we are going to get someone elected that will not be hospitable to democracy and human rights. History proven me right.
In my administration there will be no restriction on any type of media. I believe in free speech.
The biggest problem for Iran is a lack of trust between the US Iran. I have lived 40 years in the US, I understand both cultures and laungages. I can easily build trust between the two countries. particularly because I have never been part of the problem between the US and Iran. I have tried to be part of the solution for 25 years.
Why is he doing this? Well according to Amirahmadi:
At this point, no candidate (not me, not Messrs. Ghalibaf, Velayati, etc.) is allowed to publicly campaign in Iran. In that sense, all candidates are in the same boat. No candidate can publicly campaign until he gets the approval of the Guardian Council, which will be delivered in late-May. So far, my campaign has been very active campaigning in the United States, Dubai, and the United Kingdom. We will be travelling to Iran in March, but not for public campaigns. With your help, we want to take our message of peace around the world.
Several Iran watchers, expatriates and Iranians (using proxies to gain access to Reddit) came out claiming that many of Amrahmadi's proposals aren't even within the scope of presidential power, even if he manages to obtain permission from the Guardian Council to run. They're still waiting for a response.
Amirahmadi has promised another AMA on February 12 starting at 6 PM EST. Iran's election is scheduled for June 14, 2013. I suppose an Ahmadinejad AMA might be too much to hope for.
It's an odd match, to be sure: a country with some of the most restrictive internet laws in the world (not to mention its other laws), and a company that still claims "Don't be evil" as its motto, and has been burned by authoritarian governments before. But the AP is reporting that Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea soon -- possibly as early as this month -- accompanied by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
The news comes a day after a rare New Year's Day speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that called for a "revolution" in science and technology in the poverty-stricken Hermit Kingdom. But it also comes just a few weeks after the country received international condemnation for a sneakily-timed rocket launch.
Google didn't officially confirm the story to AP and Schmidt has yet to make a public statement on why he's visiting the isolated country, which does hardly any business at all with U.S. companies. Also, it's not yet clear who exactly Schmidt and Richardson will be meeting with once they arrive. However, Schmidt has been working with former State Department Adviser Jared Cohen on a book called "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business," and has long been an advocate of the power of internet access to improve quality of life and openness.
Still, North Korea controls its internet with a far heavier hand than China, which Google has tangled with in the past. Those who have computer access mostly log on to a system known as the Kwangmyong, essentially a country-wide intranet run by a lone, state-run ISP provider (the BBC story linked to above includes the amazing detail that any time Kim Jong Un is mentioned on this intranet, his name is displayed slightly larger than the text around it). Just a few dozen families have unfiltered access to the real thing.
Can the power of "connectivity for the individual" be harnessed in a country where the government still cracks down on cell phones that can dial the outside world? Here's hoping Schmidt speaks up soon so we can hear what exactly he has in mind.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
For many Americans, there's a sense that the United States has not fared well in the comparisons inevitably invited by the attacks that occurred on the same day in elementary schools in Newtown, Connecticut and Guangshan, China. In Newtown, 20 children were killed. In Guangshan, 22 may have lost fingers, or ears, but they survived.
"That's the difference between a knife and a gun," wrote James Fallows in the Atlantic. Writing on Salon, Mei Fong asked "what good is freedom of speech and a democratic system, when these rights can't prevent the slaughter of innocents?"
But the societal soul-searching on the Chinese side has focused more on the aftermath of the tragic attacks, and many, including some state-owned media, have voiced admiration for the humanity and compassion displayed by U.S. public officials following the attacks, as well as the transparency with which the Sandy Hook shooting has been handled.
In a story headlined "Anger at attack response" published Monday, the typically nationalist Global Times newspaper reported that no local officials have visited the Guangshan hospital where many of the injured children have been treated, while a report from Xinhua, noting that no village officials could be located after the attack and that the only employee to be found was playing video games has prompted widespread disdain.
Xinhua also reported that news of the attack at Guangshan, in which a man knifed 22 children in central Henan Province, was initially deleted from the website of the local party committee, and that a news conference on the attack planned by the local government for Saturday was cancelled without explanation. The China-watching site Tea Leaf Nation notes that the names of the children injured in the attack have yet to be released.
Meanwhile, Chinese internet users have watched the aftereffects of the two tragedies play out with disapproval.
"We know much about the American killer, even his family and childhood, but know little about the Chinese suspect," wrote Weibo user and writer Zheng Yuanjie.
"In an instant, information about the deadly gun attack in an American school that claimed 28 victims blanketed Chinese media," wrote economist Han Zhiguo. "On the same day, there was a campus attack in Henan province's Guangshan county, in which 22 students were injured with lacerations....you could only find information about it on Weibo. Was mainstream media's difference attitudes [toward the two incidents ] because Chinese children's lives aren't valuable?"
The perspectives generated by these same-day tragedies on contrasting societal strengths and weaknesses may be interesting to note; still, it's worth remembering that neither society's grass is looking particularly green at the moment.
H/t Tea Leaf Nation
Egypt's increasingly influential Salafis won a victory this week by pressuring the government to finally implement a 2009 court ruling, enacted under former President Hosni Mubarak, to ban pornography. On Wednesday, Egyptian Prosector Abdel Maguid Mahmoud instructed authorities to "to take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state."
There are already strong reactions, with many on twitter using #EgyPornBan to either advocate mass downloading before the ban is enacted or to question the legitimacy of restricting freedom of expression.
While it has not been made public how and when the ban will actually be enforced, there are those like journalist and presidential advisor, Ayman El-Sayad, who think that the government should be "more concerned about the drafting of Egypt's new constitution" and other more pressing issues.
The ban does have serious consequences, however, as it upholds the ruling that the "freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism." How Egyptians decide to tackle the issue of who gets to decide what their values are, could have far reaching consequences down the road. There is also the dangerous precedent set by countries such as Russia, China and the United States, who have been accused of using anti-child-pornography laws to implement web censorship.
Egypt's porn ban will make it harder to spread "harmful" content on the internet, but for the Islamist's moral purposes, it probably won't work.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
In June, when Mohamad Morsi was elected president of Egypt, replacing the military transition government, he claimed that he would fulfill 64 promises within the first 100 days. That very same day, the website MorsiMeter was up and running to keep track of his progress. It's been about a week since the 100 day mark has passed and the weighing in has begun.
MorsiMeter is the creation of social entrepreneurs Amr Sobhy, Abbas Ibrahim and Safwat Mohamed, modeled after PolitiFact's Obameter. By crowdsourcing through their mobile app and website, MorsiMeter compiles information from a variety of sources (official, opposition and social media) in addition to direct communication with the presidential office to document initiatives implemented or in progress. MorsiMeter is as 2012 recipient of the U.N World Summit Youth Award which the team also won in 2011 for the anti-corruption initiative Zabatak. They consider MorsiMeter to be a "data tool" and strive to "empower the average citizen through sharing of information about crimes and corruption" while staying as neutral as possible.
Their report is now out and according to MorsiMeter, the baseline stats say that the president has achieved 10 out of 64 goals and that another 24 are in progress. This leaves 30 more promises "not spotted", to use to their terminology.
To provide a more nuanced look at what has actually been done, objectives are broken down into five categories: Traffic, Security, Fuel, Bread and Environmental Cleanliness. Many plans in progress are geared toward using financial incentives tied to citizen satisfaction to promote performance in civil servants and police, coordinating between the government and civil society, or using social institutions such as Friday sermons to promote civic behavior such as not throwing trash on the street.
The president's achievements include cracking down on fuel smugglers, providing waste disposal services for reasonable fees, using radio reports to decrease traffic congestion, and increasing the nutritional value of bread while subsidizing bakeries for potential crises.
Several of the "not spotted" promises, such as building new government centers out of urban areas, are additionally large undertakings that couldn't be accomplished in a 100 days. And to be honest, even if there are campaigns to make people follow road rules and traffic lights, it's not going to take effect immediately.
Is it fair to judge Morsi based on 100 days alone? Maybe, maybe not. Online voters at MorsiMeter have an overall satisfaction level of 39 percent. But given the recent clashes and all the hype surrounding this rather arbitrary deadline, Egyptians need to figure out what their real expectations are.
Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was arrested Monday morning on Fares-Maathodaa island after failing to show up for two trials within a week. Nasheed defied a court order to remain on the capital island of Male and left on Oct. 1 to campaign for the upcoming 2013 elections. In light of these events, the court awarded police the power of arrest to produce Nasheed for his trial on October 9.
Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP,) is particularly concerned given the controversy surrounding his resignation as president. In February, Nasheed stepped down -- he says he was ousted -- following a violent protest by supporters of the former authoritarian leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, following his order to arrest a High Court judge for corruption. Nasheed is currently being tried for abuse of power for this arrest order.
There is some dispute about the level of force used in arresting Nasheed. According to a MDP statement "at 9:45 a.m., 50 heavily armed masked police in full riot gear and wearing gas masks smashed down the door of a house where President Nasheed and his campaign team were staying and took him into custody." They also claimed that the masked police stormed the house, spewing obscenities and that former ministers also in the residence were pepper-sprayed and violently dragged out. The party has been tweeting and posting photos of the damage done to the house during the arrest.
President Mohammed Waheed Hassan's spokesman agrees on the count that police were dressed in riot gear for protection, but claims that they did not use force, expletives, or pepper spray. He asserted that Nasheed was not dragged out and was not even handcuffed.
The U.S. Embassy in Colombo is urging all sides to remain calm but also denies that it has had a hand in the arrest of Nasheed following allegations on Twitter that U.S. trained troops were responsible for the crackdown on opposition activists. If found guilty in Tuesday's trial, the former president could be jailed for up to three years, banished to one of the remote islands and fined to an amount not exceeding MVR2,000. This would disqualify him from running for president.
Photo by Haveeru
The recently deposed president of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed was scheduled to be tried Monday, Oct. 1, under charges of abuse of power. Instead of making an appearance, he skipped his trial and left in a fishing boat to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Nasheed was previously put under "island arrest," on Sept. 25, which restricts his travel to Malé, the 2 square mile capital of the 1,192 island archipelago. The current government cites this as standard procedure following charges where Nasheed has been accused of misusing his office to order the arrest of a senior judge, Abdullah Mohamed in January.
Nasheed, a former democracy activist who was arrested over 20 times as an opposition leader, became president in 2008. His presidency marked the end to 30 years of rule by autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed claims that his resignation and Feb. 7 transfer of power was a politically motivated coup d'état orchestrated by Gayoom supporters. In a March article for Foreign Policy, Nasheed detailed the violent situation prompting his resignation and how his warrant for judge Mohamed's arrest was made on charges of corruption in an effort to overhaul the governance of Maldives. He was replaced by former Vice-President, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, who was involved in the "coup" but will hold elections in 2013. Nasheed's recounting of his coerced resignation directly contrasts with a Commonwealth supported government inquiry which has accepted the resignation as legal though does acknowledge the occurrence of a police mutiny. The United States also accepts the transfer of power as legal.
Prior to the abuse of power charges filed in July, the "Mandela of the Maldives" took a trip to the United States where he made a case for efforts to combat climate change, while also trying to bring attention to the political situation in Maldives. In a particularly frank exchange on The Daily Show in April, Nasheed joked that with coverage by Jon Stewart, "hopefully they won't murder me." With the travel ban in place, it will very difficult for Nasheed to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Members of Nasheed's legal team have also claimed that the three judges presiding over the trial have been picked in violation of legal norms. A conviction would also bar him from being a presidential candidate.
In addition to criminal charges he also faces two defamation lawsuits to be tried in the future. Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has taken the stance that it will not adhere to court rulings till there is a reform of the judiciary system in accordance with international recommendations.
Photo by AFP/Stringer/Getty Images
In an echo of death rumors that have periodically surrounded former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe this year, there's increasing speculation about the whereabouts of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi after a local radio station pronounced him dead. Meles hasn't been seen in public since mid-July, and confirming his whereabouts and condition has proved difficult.
The confusion hit a fever pitch on July 30 when Ethiopian opposition radio outlet ESAT announced it had confirmed that Meles had died. They claimed to have received the information from diplomatic and international sources including the International Crisis Group (ICG).
The news spread rapidly via social media, only to be denied by ICG in a July 31 statement on its website:
International Crisis Group has no direct knowledge about the state of health of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Crisis Group has never commented on Mr Meles's health or his fate, and is not in a position to speculate about it. Crisis Group categorically denies any media claims to the contrary.
Meles has ruled Ethiopia through a tightly controlled autocratic regime for 21 years, and many speculate that his demise would throw the ruling establishment into chaos as his lieutenants vie for leadership.
Of course, it's not at all clear that Meles is dead, or close to death. According to his party, he's just on vacation. Or sick. Or tired. The latest statement from an Ethiopian government spokesperson claims Meles is on the mend from his mystery ailment:
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is in "a good condition and recuperating", a government spokesman has told the BBC, dismissing reports he is critically ill.
However, Bereket Simon declined to give any details about Mr Meles' whereabouts or what he is suffering from.
Mr Bereket had earlier been quoted as saying the prime minister, 57, was on holiday.
ESAT is sticking with its story that Meles is, in fact, very dead indeed and that it used other sources to confirm a tip from a protected source inside ICG:
ESAT's decision to report that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is dead, according to reliable sources, has never been easy. It was two weeks ago that we received the news from highly credible sources in Brussels. Our sources that want to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to speak to the media on this sensitive matter told us that the International Crisis Group (ICG) concluded that Mr. Zenawi was deceased.
As a responsible media outlet, ESAT tried to investigate and verify the tip meticulously before it decided to broadcast the news. To be fair to the facts, we have also scrutinized the conflicting and contradictory information coming out from the ruling TPLF clique.
Two other African presidents -- John Atta Mills of Ghana and Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi -- have passed away this year shortly after going abroad for medical treatment. However, whereas the recent death of Atta Mills was clearly reported, Mutharika's was rife with confusion. The president at one point denied early rumors of his demise by announcing to journalists: "I'm not dead.… I'm on holiday." He passed away six months later.
Although the truth will certainly come out eventually, at present it's not clear whether Ethiopia is in a crisis of leadership or simply has a terribly uncoordinated government communications department.
Adrian Bradshaw-Pool/Getty Images
This blog does not have any specific about information tied to it.