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 "

Friday, February 25, 2011

Discontent around the World

2011 has witnessed a shaking of the Arab world not seen since the aftermath of World War II when many former Western colonies began their march towards independence. Egypt had gained independence in 1922, following WWI, with Saudi Arabia and Iraq following in 1932, but the trickle became a torrent during and immediately following the global hostilities. Lebanon in 1943, Jordan and Syria in 1946, and others in years following: Libya 1952, Tunisia, Sudan, and Morocco 1956, Kuwait 1961, Algeria 1962, and North Yemen 1967.

Side note: In the early sixties, many sub-Saharan African countries gained independence, along with former colonies in South Asia. The next "spasm" of independence, globally speaking, was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-1991, freeing a number of Eastern European satellite nations from Russia's control. The point being, we are witnessing something rare, but not unprecedented. We can look further back to World War I for an early wave of that century, enmeshed with the collapse of several monarchic empires in Europe, and the rise of Communism led by Russia's Bolshevik revolution.

Because so many of these Arab countries had fossilized under quasi-military dictatorships or royal family power, we could hope that this current reverberation would be a move forward - towards more humane governance, human rights, and democratic representation (intelligent nations will work towards those ends), but it is likely not all will follow that path. Iran for example seems to have traded in one autocratic ruler for another.

And while the change in Egypt and Tunisia were completed with - relatively speaking - a small loss of human life, Libya appears to be headed down a bloody revolutionary path. A full scale civil war, however, between tribes, mercenaries, and other groupings along fault lines, is still only a distant possibility and hopefully will be avoided. Civil wars, such as the decades long conflict in Sudan where over two million died, or in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which was the world's deadliest conflict since World War II, killing 5.4 million people from 2002-2008, while simultaneously being the least reported) are on a scale of a completely different magnitude.

Armed Libyan rebel standing in empty ruins. Thousands now reported dead, defections by pilots who had been ordered to bomb their fellow countrymen, mercenaries brought in to support Kadhaffi. However, his control of territory continues to shrink, and Libyan diplomats around the world are continuing to disavow their loyalty to him.

German warship in Libyan port to provide citizens a way out.

A long line of Chinese waiting evacuation from Libya. Over 30,000 worked in the country, mainly in it's oil fields.

Quickly, elsewhere how is discontent being handled in this apparently very troubled 2011?

Ivory Coast - two leaders remain entrenched in two cities. One elected leader, the other defeated, but not leaving. Civil war could reignite

Civilians stream out of capitol as clashes erupt between leaders' forces.

Iraq - even as this country emerges from its own occupation and civil and ethnic conflict, people have been killed in recent days, protesting apparent corruption and inattention to basic human needs (water, electricity, health infrastructure)

China - a flareup of protests similar to those in 1989, has been put down, though without bloodshed.

The latest Chinese protestors coined themselves as a Jasmine Revolution - as was in Tunisia. Here demonstrators and police stand in uneasy proximity.

Iran - harsh crackdown on a small re-emergence of the 2009 green protests.

Ireland - voting today is likely to hammer the governing party, Fianna Fáil, following historically low poll ratings in the wake of the 2008–2011 Irish financial crisis.

Nuns head to the polls in Ireland

Wisconsin - public employee protests continue against a budget bill submitted by the Republican Governor to a Republican-majority legislature. Democratic Senators remain hiding out of state to avoid losing a vote.

Democratic Assemblymen, dressed in orange to symbolize their support for public employee unions, shout angrily at their Republican colleagues.

Finally, another Islamic jihadist, wealthy, privileged, and being educated in the US, has been uncovered and arrested in Lubbock, Texas. Authorities say Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, 20 years old, came to the United States with one goal: to kill Americans, including President George W. Bush. From a Dallas newspaper report, he used a student visa to enter the country and a Saudi corporate scholarship to finance a year of English language classes at Vanderbilt University, chemical engineering classes at Texas Tech University and business classes at South Plains College.

Aldawsari had obtained two of the three chemicals needed for a bomb and was researching potential targets — including the Dallas residence of former President George W. Bush, the homes of three former military guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and dams in Colorado and California, an F.B.I. affidavit said.

The latest would-be terrorist, or prepared martyr as he would call himself.

Mr. Aldawsari’s journal, which says “it is time for jihad,” and his e-mail account also contained at least two semicryptic references to New York — a plan to spend a week there as part of a to-do list that culminated in leaving car bombs in unidentified places during rush hour and a link to a Web site of feeds from the city’s traffic cameras.

So, a spectrum of ways to manage and mismanage discontent around the world, as February, 2011 nears its end.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A rare focus on a US story

The May 2010 blog entry briefly mentioned social unrest in Greece where protesters violently vented their anger at government austerity programs designed to pull in generous pension and salaries. The alternative was bankruptcy, and the crisis threatened the value of the Euro.

Street violence this past year in Greece and France over pension and benefit rollbacks.

In France this past fall, even more violent protests disrupted Paris and other cities, when the French government said enough, and raised retirement age from 60 to 62. In both cases, as well as in Spain, these European countries were forced to accept that their generous pensions, retirement, and other negotiated social contract clauses were in the final analysis, an "overpromise" to their citizens. When funds are not available to pay out, either massive inflation or a pullback of outlays is needed.

So in a similar fashion in the US, the "pension and benefit chickens" have come home to roost. Wisconsin's Governor, Scott Walker, took action in February, putting forth his 2011 budget which would force state employees to kick in 5.8% of their pay towards their own pension/retirement savings, and up to 12.6% of the cost of their health insurance. The state is broke, said Walker, we're over three billion in debt, and need to deal with our financial house.

Crowds of state employees and sympathizers overflow the Wisconsin capitol building protesting loss of wages and limitations on their public employee unions' negotiating rights.

The reaction was striking - literally and figuratively. State employees descended on the capitol in Madison in the thousands, shouting, running through the capitol building itself in protest. At the same time, Democratic Senators fled the state so that they would not have to debate the proposed budget bill (and likely lose the vote), therefore denying the legislature the legal minimum number to enact a fiscal bill. (In Wisconsin this session, there are 19 Republican Senators and 14 Democrats. The rule is that 20 must be present to vote on a bill with fiscal implications, and just 17 on non-fiscal bills.)

Leadership on display? Wisconsin's Democrat Senators flee the state to avoid losing a vote on a bill.

After the first few days, it became clear that the real issue at stake was not the increased contributions by state employees, but that the Walker bill also considerably tightened the restraints of public employee union bargaining. The proposed legislation would require that public employee union workers hold a vote each year whether they wanted continued union representation, that items to be negotiated would not include pension and retirement benefits, but only salaries which would be limited to inflation increases.

Walker said that if only salaries were limited, public employee unions could simply ask for more funds in pensions and retirements which was becoming a large part of Wisconsin's monetary liabilities.

The disagreement quickly took on national faultlines. President Obama called it an apparent assault on unions (generic), and Reverend Jesse Jackson appeared to lead the protesters in singing "We Shall Overcome." Protesters even took it international with placards calling Governor Walker the Mubarak of the Midwest, and historical with what seems an inevitable comparison between Hitler and someone an individual disagrees with.

What happened to our national remorse and calls for civility after the Arizona shootings?

Apparently the distinction of a 30+ year rule by an autocratic leader enriching himself, and a democratic turnover of elected officials not always to one's liking is difficult to grasp.

Fiscal conservatives struck back, noting that there was a fundamental difference between unions and management in a private for-profit setting. There, employees and management were theoretically equal - all at risk if the enterprise could not remain profitable. In a public employee setting in contrast, there is no profit motive, taxpayers do not have the option of not paying their taxes to support government costs, as individuals have the option of simply not buying products (such as a car) from a given company.

All this seemed lost on public employee strikers, who tearfully declared that if it was not for unions, we'd not have weekends or a 40 hour week. To be accurate, it was indeed the labor movement in the early 1900s that brought about these needed changes, while public employee unions only began forming in the early 1960s - ironically Wisconsin being a leader. The Jungle, written in 1906 by Upton Sinclair is an American classic on the value of the labor movement.

Meat packing employment conditions were the focus of Upton Sinclair's powerful expose'

As Franklin Roosevelt once observed, "... Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the government. All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations ... The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for ... officials ... to bind the employer ... The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives ... "Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees. Upon employees in the federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people ..."

So, lines are drawn and accurate history is dumped. Even ethics are out the window as Wisconsin doctors were shown on TV apparently writing medical notes saying perfectly healthy teacher/protesters were "sick."

The conflict is being watched closely across the 50 US states - 45 out of 50 states do not have enough money set aside to fund their pension and retirement obligations, and the total nationally is over $3 trillion in "unfunded pension liabilities," according to the Wall Street Journal.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

In New Jersey, Governor Christie has moved forcefully on the same issue, as recounted in this narrative from a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

He introduced pension and benefit reforms on a Tuesday in September [2010], and that Friday he went to the state firefighters convention in Wildwood. ... Mr. Christie had proposed raising their retirement age, eliminating the cost-of-living adjustment, increasing employee pension contributions, and rolling back a 9% pay increase approved years before "by a Republican governor and a Republican Legislature."

As Mr. Chrisie recounted it: "You can imagine how that was received by 7,500 firefighters. As I walked into the room and was introduced. I was booed lustily. I made my way up to the stage, they booed some more. . . . So I said, 'Come on, you can do better than that,' and they did!"

He crumpled up his prepared remarks and threw them on the floor. He told them, "Here's the deal: I understand you're angry, and I understand you're frustrated, and I understand you feel deceived and betrayed." And, he said, they were right: "For 20 years, governors have come into this room and lied to you, promised you benefits that they had no way of paying for, making promises they knew they couldn't keep, and just hoping that they wouldn't be the man or women left holding the bag. I understand why you feel angry and betrayed and deceived by those people. Here's what I don't understand. Why are you booing the first guy who came in here and told you the truth?"

He told them there was no political advantage in being truthful: "The way we used to think about politics and, unfortunately, the way I fear they're thinking about politics still in Washington" involves "the old playbook [which] says, "lie, deceive, obfuscate and make it to the next election." He'd seen a study that said New Jersey's pensions may go bankrupt by 2020. A friend told him not to worry, he won't be governor then. "That's the way politics has been practiced in our country for too long. . . . So I said to those firefighters, 'You may hate me now, but 15 years from now, when you have a pension to collect because of what I did, you'll be looking for my address on the Internet so you can send me a thank-you note.'"

And so the US too finds that at some point, spending and funds are tied, and truth is needed but painful. Meanwhile, the Arab unrest remains the issue of these first months of 2011.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Will the status of women be part of needed reforms in the Middle East?

Protests continue in Iran, Algeria,Yemen, Bahrain, Iran, Algeria, and have spread now to Libya. In the latter three countries - Yemen, Bahrain and Libya - there have been new deaths and sharp reprisals in just the past two days. Scattered among all these protests, one sees glimpses of women participating, from those dressed in modern Western garb and hairstyles in Egypt and Algeria, to those clad in burkhas in Bahrain and Iran. But will political reforms - even if successful - address more than just the conditions that led to entrenched autocratic rulers?

Modern young Egyptian women in protests

On Wednesday, Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN Women (Formerly UNIFEM), spoke up in a timely way regarding the status of women around the world. "Women are in a particularly vulnerable position. They are overrepresented among the poor and among those who lack access to basic social services, and are underrepresented and under paid in the labour market. The lack of social protection is a social liability that undermines economic performance and nurtures political and institutional instability." (

Egyptian Coptic Christian women protest

If we use just the brief words above to establish even basic criteria, we'd have:
1) The % of women in poverty compared to the national population
2a&b) The % differential in equal pay for equal work, as well as access to the formal labor market itself
3a&b) The % with access to basic social services - health and education being two

Egyptian Muslim women protest

Another less defined but critical criteria might be security - from harassment and violence, to equal access to freedoms enjoyed by their male counterparts. A recognized, accomplished (and controversial) scholar on the Middle East, Daniel Pipes, spells out a somber picture of Arab women regarding this criteria.

In most Arab countries, the Shari'a, or Islamic law, defines the rules of traditional social behavior. Under the law, women are accorded a role inferior to that of men, and are therefore discriminated against with regard to personal rights and freedoms. Pipes explains: "In the Islamic view...female sexuality is thought of as being so powerful that it constitutes a real danger to society." Therefore, unrestrained females constitute "the most dangerous challenge facing males trying to carry out God's commands." In combination, females' "desires and their irresistible attractiveness give women a power over men which rivals God's."

Conservative Bahraini women protest

"Left to themselves," Pipes continues, "men might well fall victim to women and abandon God," resulting in civil disorder among believers. In traditional thought, Pipes notes, women pose an internal threat to Islamic society similar to the external one represented by the infidel. Therefore, traditionally, the Arab woman marries at a young age to a man of her father's choice. A husband is entitled to divorce any time, even against his wife's will, by merely declaring verbally that this is his intention.

From another source ( we read, ["Although the image of the egalitarian woman is slowly developing within some more secular Arab states, it remains largely confined to urban centers and upper-class circles. Ritual sexual mutilation of females is still common in rural areas of Egypt, Libya, Oman and Yemen. Furthermore, laws that restrict women's rights remain in force in almost all Arab countries. In Syria, a husband can prevent his wife from leaving the country. In Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Jordan, Morocco, Oman and Yemen, married women must have their husbands' written permission to travel abroad, and they may be prevented from doing so for any reason. In Saudi Arabia, women must obtain written permission from their closest male relative to leave the country or travel on public transportation between different parts of the kingdom.

According to the UN, "utilization of Arab women's capabilities through political and economic participation remains the lowest in the world in quantitative terms. In some countries with elected national assemblies, women are still denied the right to vote or hold office. And one in every two Arab women can neither read nor write."

Libyan woman protests Khadafi's decades-long rule

In a Saudi Shari'a court, the testimony of one man equals that of two women. In Kuwait, the male population is allowed to vote, while women are still disenfranchised. Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia all have laws stating that a woman's inheritance must be less than that of her male siblings (usually about half the size). Moroccan law excuses the murder or injury of a wife who is caught in the act of committing adultery; yet women are punished for harming their husbands under the same circumstances.

Wife-beating is a relatively common practice in Arab countries, and abused women have little recourse. As the State Department has noted regarding Jordan (and most of the Arab world): "Wife beating is technically grounds for divorce, but the husband may seek to demonstrate that he has authority from the Koran to correct an irreligious or disobedient wife by striking her."

In Saudi Arabia, restrictions against women are among the most extreme in the Arab world. Saudi women may not marry non-Saudis without government permission (which is rarely given); are forbidden to drive motor vehicles or bicycles; may not use public facilities when men are present; and are forced to sit in the backs of public buses, segregated from men. At Riyadh's King Saud University, professors lecture to rooms of men while women watch via closed-circuit television from distant all-female classrooms.

"[Islamic] Advice columns" in the Saudi Arabian press recommend strict disciplining of women as part of a proper marriage. Women must cover their entire body and face in public, and those who do not are subject to physical harassment from the Saudi religious police, known as the Mutaaw'in.

Arab regimes find different ways to deal with the international pressure to improve women's rights. They often prefer to introduce mild improvements in women's status rather than to enacting radical reforms that might contradict their ideology and antagonize conservative elements in the country.]

If there were ever reasons to support the overwhelming, quick transition of power from a secular autocratic ruler in Egypt to something yet to be defined, it may be that there is space for Egyptian women to set a new standard in a reformed Arab government for respect and equality. Egyptian women have had the benefit of living in a "secular" state, have relatively high educational levels and skills compared to most other Arab nations, the ruling class has extensive contact with Western social norms as well as the reputation for moderation that another moderate Muslim nation enjoys - Turkey.

Traditional rural Turkish women - illiteracy remains a formidable challenge.

So is Turkey a model for women's equality in a Muslim society? A NATO member, and an aspiring member of the European Union, Turkey's social gender equality was the focus in 2006 of EU's Commissioner of Employment and Social Affairs at the time, Vladimir Spidla. During his visit to Ankara that year, Spidla recognised Turkey's "huge progress" in legislative areas affecting women's right, but said that women in that country still faced serious problems in terms of discrimination, domestic violence, lack of access to education and illiteracy. He also said that Turkey was still struggling to stem the practice of "honour killings" (the killing of women by relatives for allegedly disgracing the family).

Turkish norms in the cities are more fluid - modern and secular, or religious yet tolerant

Stressing that equal opportunity was a "priority for the EU," Spidla noted that the percentage of women in employment was some 24% of Turkey's total work force: the EU average is 57%. And that at the time, only 18% of Turkish women aged 18 to 24 were in education whereas the EU average is 61%.

While Pipes paints a dark picture, and Turkey might be seen as one of the brighter spots in the Muslim world thereby offering a near term goal, the political crisis reaching across all Arab nations offers a real opportunity for these populations to address one of their most glaring shortfalls.

Turkey's women's volleyball team

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Arab unrest continues, or "the chickens have come home to roost."

Ripples from the Egyptian ouster of Mubarak continue to spread. Iran's 2009 reformist movement has resurfaced, as well as a more forceful protest in Yemen, and now Bahrain and Algeria. Before looking at the last three countries, we should note that Mubarak is now holed up in his Sharm el Sheikh residence, is reported to be in fragile health, depressed, reluctant to take proper medication, and wishing to die on Egyptian soil.

One is reminded of a verse from the Bible, "How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!" 2 Samuel 1:27 referring to the deaths of King Saul and his son Jonathan. The phrase "weapons of war", in this case, still referring to the human leaders of militarily-led governances...

The famous Dore depiction of King Saul's demise.

Conversely, referring to the people's uprising, an old proverb says 'Tread on a worm and it will turn.' The meaning was that even the most humble creature tries to counteract rough treatment. Shakespeare in Henry VI amplified the thought:
"To whom do lions cast their gentle looks?
Not to the beast that would usurp their den.
The smallest worm will turn being trodden on,
And doves will peck in safeguard of their brood."

The modern day saying reminding us of the ever-changing and fragile nature of supremacy and fall is "the chickens have come home to roost." An old proverb, frequently used in the English language going back to Chaucer’s “Parson’s Tales” (1390), it returned to widespread modern consciousness on December 4,1963, just two weeks after the assassination of John F Kennedy. Malcolm X had delivered a speech, and was afterward responding to a question concerning the late President. It was Malcolm X's answer, that the Presidents death was a case of "chickens coming home to roost."

Malcolm X's remark of nearly 50 years ago is in vogue today, and his December 4, 1963 speech is illuminating as to his vision of a cleansing separation in the name of Islam, in contrast to MLK Jr's Christian view of integration, non-violence, and the need to stand up to injustice.

The speech itself was a declaration that God was still going to judge White America for the sin of enslaving black Americans. But Malcolm X's provocative response to the question was so powerful, that the speech itself, titled, God's Judgment of White America, came to be known as "The Chickens Come Home to Roost" speech. (the transcript can be found here, and elsewhere ...)

(This saying, by the way, is now used with abandon and glee by all perspectives for all events - from describing the 2001 twin towers attacks to the 2010 US election results - illustrating that truisms are available to the wise and unwise alike. Just as rain falls without favor on the just and unjust.)

A country of 35 million or so located on Africa's north coast is perhaps most famous for its long fight for independence from the French after World War II. Since its independence in 1963, the government has been dominated by strong men backed by the military. From Wikipedia, "Elections were planned to happen in 1991. In December 1991, the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of the country's first multi-party elections. The military then intervened and canceled the second round. It forced then-president Bendjedid to resign and banned all political parties based on religion (including the Islamic Salvation Front). A political conflict ensued, leading Algeria into the violent Algerian Civil War. More than 160,000 people were killed between January 1992 and June 2002."

Algerian's beautiful city of Tangiers along the Mediterranean belies the social unrest found in the country.

Today, protests are underway with demonstrators in Algiers chanting “Bouteflika out!” referring to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has ruled Algeria with a tough hand since 1999, maintaining power through elections that opposition figures say were rigged.

So far, Algerian police have taken a robust response to the demonstrations, as seen in this policeman's energetic headlock on a protester.

Yemeni police clashed for the fifth consecutive day with anti-government protesters calling for political reforms and the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Several thousand protesters, many of them university students, tried to reach the central square in the capital of Sanaa, but were pushed back by police using truncheons. Saleh has been in power for three decades and has tried to defuse the unrest by promising not to run again. His term ends in 2013.

Yemeni protesters wear their culturally beloved daggers in their belts.

A glamorous skyline view of Bahrain's capital city, Manama

These protests in Bahrain (and re-emerging in Iran) mark the spread of unrest into the Persian Gulf, the area where most Middle Eastern oil is produced. Many Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are U.S. allies, and Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. All of the region’s governments are classified as autocratic regimes in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2010 Democracy Index.

From the street level, Bahrain protesters in the country's capital. The unrest began to escalate at the funeral for one protester when a second protester was killed.

Besides the general discontent with an autocratic ruler, in the case of Bahrain, there is an element of perceived religious favoritism. Shiites, who represent as much as 70 percent of Bahrain’s population, say they face job and housing discrimination from the ruling Al Khalifa family and its supporters. The King, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, a Sunni Muslim, ordered an increase in food subsidies and social welfare payments, and a grant of 1,000 dinars ($2,653) to each Bahraini family.

In contrast to Bahrain's King attempting to address [minimally?] some issues, Iran's parliament witnessed many of its members defiantly chanting "Death to Karroubi, death to Mousavi" during a session on Tuesday, calling for both to be executed. Karroubi and Mousavi are the green revolution's leaders, and both under house arrest.

Iranian parliament members whipping themselves into an indignant frenzy.

Stay tuned.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Egypt embarks on new path, will other Muslim nations now follow?

Jubilation as Mubarak's reign comes to an abrupt end.

Early this week, it appeared as though Egyptian President Mubarak would weather the previous 13 days of protests. He had agreed to leave at the end of his term in September, his heir apparent son would not take his place, a Vice President had been appointed, some significant pay raises were announced, a leading protester was released, and restrictions were relaxed on internet use.

By mid week, however, the force of the protests reasserted itself. Vice President Sulemien make some provocative statements verging on threats when urging life to return to normal which were not well accepted. Upon his release, Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who had vanished nearly two weeks ago while taking part in early demonstrations then regalvanized the protest movement by calling for Mubarak's immediate departure.

Wael Ghonin momentarily became the centerpiece for a renewed surge of protests.

By Thursday, protests were spreading once again to cities beyond Cairo, and scattered strikes at industrial facilities were popping up. Rumors swept the huge Cairo crowd that Mubarak would announce his resignation that evening, but instead, expectation turned to outrage when Mubarak came on state television with a hard line stance saying he would not resign till his term ended.

Friday's crowds of infuriated protesters swelled early after Friday prayers, filling the streets, then showing up at Mubarak's residence and parliament buildings. In the afternoon, Mubarak announced his leaving the capitol for a stay in his summer residence in Sharm el Sheikh, presumably another step to prevent his very presence from acting as a focal point.

The Southern Sinai Peninsula city of Sharm el Sheikh

It is most likely that sometime in the afternoon, the military leadership came to accept that he was a liability rather than an asset (to their own position), and by the end of the day, Mubarak had resigned. "President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down and has handed power to the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces," Vice President Omar Suleiman announced on state radio and television. Within a few hours, Al Arabiya television reported that Egypt's higher military council will sack the cabinet, suspend both houses of parliament and rule with the head of the supreme constitutional court,

Crowds surge around the Egyptian parliament building.

One can rejoice with the crowds to see a strongman leave after years of oppression. As one observer noted, it was not Iran leading the movement, nor the Muslim Brotherhood, but a highly diverse mix of common people saying "enough." And while Mubarak provided stability, moderation and pragmatism in foreign affairs, he and his governing elite ruled roughly and enriched themselves immensely.

So ready or not, the next chapter begins. Assuming a calm of sorts will now return, the pedestrian questions surface as to how will the September elections be managed, or will they occur sooner. Who will emerge as potential candidates, and how will the military govern in the interim.

Yet within an hour or two of Mubarak's resignation, statements from Hamas, controlling the Gaza strip between Egypt and Israel, and other Islamic hardliners surfaced, suggesting that in the aftermath of the immediate overthrow by the people, broader religious and geopolitical maneuvering will come hard and fast.

The Hamas statement, issued by spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, declared that this is "the beginning of the victory of the Egyptian revolution." He immediately called the new Egyptian leadership to lift "the siege on Gaza," and open the Rafah crossing to allow boats to enter Gaza. "Gaza is as happy on this day as the Egyptian people, because Mubarak was the main responsible for the siege on Gaza and plotting with the attack against us."

Egypt has quietly controlled the volatile border between Egyptian territory and that of Gaza, restraining much, though not all smuggling.

Also within hours, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Habib Mohammed, spoke to a Lebanese television station, stating that "Mubarak's resignation is proof of the fall of the American-Zionist project. Mohammed promised that Egypt is now beginning "a new era."

The fallout of two Arab national protests resulting in leadership change in the first 41 days of the year are unprecedented. There was just cause, and the common people have a reason to rejoice. But the ripples are still spreading.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Beginnings ...

Egyptian change underway

Egyptian protesters remain defiant, in the streets, but not at fever pitch as seen by these individuals resting on tank wheels, and reading the newspaper.

It appears that Egypt's change in leadership and governance will not take the same path as that in Tunisia. While for the time being, President Mubarak seems to have a hold on his position (until September 2011's elections), change is already underway. Key members of the embattled ruling party, including President Hosni Mubarak's once heir-apparent son, resigned their party leadership posts and the newly appointed Vice President began talks with opposition leaders.

Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, center, meets with representatives of protesters of 25th January movement in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011. Monday, Suleiman said he would not run for President in September - further creating momentum for open and fair elections in 8 months.

As of Monday, February 7, some banks were reopening and some cleanup has begun. The government even announced a 15% pay raise for its employees! But demonstrators remained in Tahrir square and by their presence alone, continue to apply potent pressure.

A revolution's messy cleanup begins.

On the other hand, Egypt's government issued a warning of its own. Iran should keep out of the internal affairs of Arab countries in the Persian Gulf and not meddle in Iraq and Lebanon, Egypt’s foreign minister told a Qatari newspaper Friday. According to one report, the purpose appeared to be show support for the Arabs of the Persian Gulf who fear Iranian expansionism without actually committing Egypt to any course of action. “We say to our brothers in Iran,... Iraq must be left alone and Lebanon must be left alone. And Iran should not intrude in Bahrain in any way,” said Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit, “The security of Gulf countries comes first, and Egypt gives it much of its attention,” said the minister, trying to convince Arabs around the Persian Gulf that Egypt stands with them.

Egyptian tangent

In continuing fallout around the Middle East from Egypt's unrest, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki stated over the weekend he will not seek a third term. Maliki told Agence France-Presse: "The constitution does not prevent a third, fourth or fifth term, but I have personally decided not to seek another term after this one. "I support the insertion of a paragraph in the constitution that the prime minister gets only two turns, only eight years, and I think that's enough." Referring to Egypt, he said: "One of the characteristics of a lack of democracy is when a leader rules for 30 or 40 years. It is a difficult issue for people, it is intolerable and change is necessary."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

The Sudanese begin a complicated separation process already punctuated with clashes.

South Sudanese soldiers in their red berets. Southern Sudan is set to become the world's newest nation on 9 July 2011.

The process for separation called for southerners within the former national army to first report to Khartoum in the north, hand in their weapons then leave for the South. In retrospect, that appears to be more wishful thinking than reality. Battles broke out last Thursday in the river town of Malakal between rival northern troops, some of whom want to stay in the south. The fighting began when ethnic southerners who joined the northern army did not want to move, said Upper Nile state spokesman Bartholomew Pakwan Abwo. "They think they will have no rights in the north."
The borders between North and South Sudan are only defined on paper.

Some majority southern units do not plan to turn in their heavy weapons in particular. At least 30 soldiers have been killed in southern Sudan during internal fighting among troops of the national army, state officials said. Clashes have spread to cities beyond Malakal.

The river town of Malakal where the fighting began. Over the weekend, it spread to Melut and the oil-rich settlement of Paloich.

US-Russia arms treaty begins implementation

The New Start nuclear arms treaty limiting the number of atomic warheads the US and Russia are allowed to possess, has come into effect. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exchanged ratification documents at a conference in Munich. Before the ceremony at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, Mrs Clinton said the treaty was "another example of the kind of clear-eyed co-operation that is in everyone's interests".

Smiles are indeed appropriate.

Mrs. Clinton said that Washington was also in talks with Russia about how the two countries can work together on other issues affecting their common security. Mr Lavrov called New Start "a product of the understanding that unilateral approaches to security are counterproductive". "The treaty that enters into force today will enhance international stability," he said.

The New Start treaty limits each side to no more than 800 deployed nuclear warhead delivery systems including bombers, missile launchers and nuclear submarines - a cut of about 50%. It limits each side to 1,550 deployed warheads. It will also allow each side to visually inspect the other's nuclear capability, with the aim of verifying how many warheads each missile carries.

The rise and fall of US and Russian nuclear weapons

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Of the people, by the people, for the people ...

The Gettysburg Address was delivered by President Abraham Lincoln during America's Civil War, in November 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the decisive Battle of Gettysburg. In just over two minutes, Lincoln invoked the principles of human equality espoused by the Declaration of Independence, and exhorted the listeners to ensure the survival of America's representative democracy, that the "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Lincoln's two minute reflection still reverberates today.

Around the world - especially in the autocratic regimes of the Arab nations - this nearly 150 year old expression of responsive government continues to confront and inspire. In Muslim countries, the challenge is whether a theocracy would better serve the people than a pluralistic democracy. In the former Soviet Union, the concept that the "state" should have its rights prevail over those of individuals was shown as bankrupt. Even the surprisingly large number of monarchies ranging from constitutional (Lichtenstein, Sweden, Belgium, etc) to absolute (Sultanate of Brunei, Lesotho, Swaziland and .. the Holy See!) flourish only to the degree that a basic acceptance of people having a respectful say prevails.

Other regimes - let's not limit it to Islamic countries struggling with the concept of an Islamic theocracy - such as North Korea, Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela for example, all have to be thinking of their rough holds and how they are to be maintained.

In the current world spotlight, Egypt's struggle continues. Over three hundred people have been killed, and fighting between factions continues in major cities. The actions of the armed forces are being watched closely, as are the intentions of Egypt's most militant Islamist group - the Muslim Brotherhood. We will return to this unfolding event, no doubt, in the future.

Running street battles in Cairo included riders on camels and horses. The expression of rage from the rider toward a man beating his fallen horse's legs captures the deadly level of emotions in this crisis. (click picture for larger image)

Other countries are pulling their citizens out of Egypt by the planeloads. Here a tiny Australian girl stands waiting in the airport.

In Sudan, the people have spoken. 99% of Southern Sudanese have voted for independence and a transition to that new state has begun, with a formal recognition to take place during the summer of 2011.

Sudanese lined up for their turn to vote.

In South Africa, another example of the people throwing off an unjust government after decades of struggle, its diplomats are expected to discuss the country's political response to the unrest in Egypt at the African Union Heads of State Summit, currently underway in Ethiopia.

In South Africa more than 40% of its ministers are women, and more than a third of the positions in Parliament are held by women. While the Egyptian crisis will be a major focus, the AU will also further the efforts being made in the AU's "Women's Decade 2010-2020."

In Zimbabwe, 86 year old Robert Mugabe continues to preside over his country's plunge into bankruptcy and desperateness. Elections originally scheduled to be held in 2011 may now be looked at with more alarm from those elites wielding power.
Mugabe making a point at a UN conference on food aid (ironic ...)

And finally, where the fruits of representative government seem to be regularly shown in the best light, Denmark is moving forward to link its country with Germany (and Sweden) in a new tunnel and bridge project over and under the Baltic Sea.
The Fehmarn project will use both an extensive underwater tunnel and new bridges to provide passage across an 18 kilometre wide strait.

It is certainly a contrast to the debris of Egypt, though the cobblestones and bloodshed there may be part of the path that must be taken before a more responsive governance is established.
Muslim cleric, overcome with emotion, cries in front of Egyptian tank.