North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Monday, January 31, 2011

Revolutionary crossroads

With the escalation of Egypt's unrest in the past week - surging after Friday's day of special prayer called Salat AlJumu'ah - the future of Mubarak's government was increasingly called into question. The future direction could be a positive one where the issues of freedom of thought and expression are recognized, or negative, where extremist forces use the current unrest to bolster their positions. Across the Arab world, Egypt's uncertainty has highlighted most nations' relatively harsh and elitist control of their populations and the dangers of creating these pressure cooker dynamics.

Muslims at Salat AlJumu'ah, Friday's regular day for prayer and for listening to sermons on the topic of the day

From one journalist's reporting, "In Egypt's capital, Cairo, tens of thousands took to the streets after Friday prayers in protests never before seen during Mr Mubarak’s rule. At a large mosque in the wealthy neighbourhood of Mohandisseen, demonstrators leapt to their feet with signs and banners minutes after prayers were over. Inspired by a sermon endorsing their right to assemble peacefully, they marched several kilometres to the banks of the Nile, where phalanxes of black-clad riot police blocked their attempts to reach Tahrir Square and the state TV building, a goal listed in an e-mail distributed by protest organisers a day earlier.

The drama of a population's protest against its government.

As the unprecedented protests raged into [the weekend,] there were no signs that the protesters were coalescing around any group of leaders, let alone a single one. Many protesters are young men. Two thirds of Egypt’s 80 million people are below the age of 30 and many have no jobs, while about 40 percent of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day.

Mohamed El Baradei returned to Cairo late on Thursday amid some expectation that he might emerge as a focal point of the opposition. The Nobel Peace Laureate and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency was briefly penned in by police after he prayed at a mosque in the Giza area but he later took part in a peaceful march with supporters. Later he was reported to be under house arrest.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood opposition group, including at least eight senior officials, were rounded up overnight on Thursday/Friday. The government has accused the Brotherhood of planning to exploit the youth protests. It says that it is being made a scapegoat.

The events continued to pose a quandary for the United States, which has encouraged democracy in the Middle East but at the same values its relationship with Mr Mubarak. It gives his government at least $3 billion a year in military aid. A day after the US president Barack Obama said social and political reforms in Egypt were “absolutely critical”, his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, urged the Egyptian government last night “do everything in its power” to hold back the security forces who are battling protesters."

The Egyptian military presence included tanks on the streets and jet fighters circling in the air.

By Sunday, police forces across Egypt's cities were apparently withdrawn or minimized, while army units were increasingly visible. Over 100 deaths have been reported by Monday, January 31, while Mubarak continues to struggle to retain power, dismissing his cabinet to replace it with another, and appointing a Vice President, the first in his 30 years as President. It appears that the future will hinge on whether his political moves will satisfy enough of the public to ease their frustrations, as well as whether the armed forces remain loyal to Mubarak's governance.

Elsewhere, unrest continues in Tunisia though at a reduced level. The Islamist leader in exile, Rachid Ghanouchi, 69, and about 70 other exiled members of Ennahdha, or Renaissance, flew home from Britain two weeks after the autocratic president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was forced from power by violent protests.

Islamist leader Ghanouchi hugged by his daughter, upon returning to Tunisia from Great Britain.

Mr Ghanouchi rejected any comparison to more radical figures, including the hardline father of the Iranian revolution. ''Some Western media portray me like [Ayatollah] Khomeini, but that's not me,'' he said. While Ennahdha was branded an Islamic terrorist group by Mr Ben Ali, it is considered moderate by scholars. Experts say Mr Ben Ali used a fear of Islamists to seduce Western allies keen for a bulwark against terrorism in a volatile region, and win their blessing despite widespread repression.

The Iranian revolution of the late 1970s seems to loom over the current state of unrest. A U.S. backed Shah in Iran ruled with a strong fist, was secular and thus allowed freedoms more in line with western democratic values than what Islamic rule would provide, but in the end did not interact with the resistance and frustration building up around him. He was replaced by relative religious and secular moderates in an attempt to compromise with hardliners, but those were replaced quickly with what turned out to be a harsh Islamic theocracy. In the past 30 years, this theocracy has aspired to become the region's leading power, gain nuclear expertise if not weapons, and showed no regrets in crushing a reformist protest movement just two years ago - which had received tepid words of support by Western nations.

It is this pattern that is feared in Egypt, and elsewhere.

Iran's 2009 widespread protest against its hardline government was dubbed its Green Revolution.

A fleeting hero of Iran's protests in 2009, her name was Neda Soltai, killed in street protests.

Neda dying in the street after being shot by Iranian militia. This image was captured on a cell phone camera.

Iran's revolution in the late 1970s and its path of governance and influence in the Middle East to today is a feared outcome by many of Egypt's current crisis.

Where have Arab nations addressed their population's needs and desires in a better light? Jordan, for one has invested heavily in its rural areas the past decade, and thus, while experiencing some unrest in the past weeks, has not seen a critical mass emerge to challenge the current government's rule.

Jordan's arid Eastern and Southern regions have been the focus of government investment in an effort to address rural pastoral poverty.

In Western Morocco, its government has also quietly invested a significant amount of its revenues into positive institutions, in this case, education, and thus has provided hope and expectations for its population.
Morocco, on the Western edge of the Arab world, has apparently avoided the latest eruption of unrest.

Moroccan schoolroom - clean, comfortable, and valued.

Morocco is across the strait of Gibralter from European Spain.

Casablanca - a Moroccan city made famous in the Western World by Hollywood. In the foreground is Mosque Hassan II Casablanca

Tajine, the Moroccan national dish, is a stew cooked in an earthenware bowl and made with vegetables and either meat, chicken or fish.

No comments: