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 "

Saturday, July 27, 2013

North Korea - sixty years of self-imposed isolation and bombast

July 27 is the 60th anniversary of an armistice between belligerents on the Korean Peninsula. The agreement ended formal hostilities between the UN forces (21 countries in all, but primarily US troops), and those supporting North Korea - primarily China with the Soviet Union in sympathy. The armistice was supposed to lead to a peace agreement of some sort, but it never materialized. The line of disengagement - roughly following the 38th parallel - is called a demilitarized zone, but is in fact one of, if not the foremost, fortified border in the world.

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Still one of the more remarkable photos showing lightless, isolated North Korea, surrounded by prosperous Japan, South Korea, and relatively prosperous China. (NASA photo - found at

As an article in the LA Times described it, "On one side of the world’s most heavily fortified border, North Koreans are celebrating Saturday’s 60th anniversary of the armistice that halted the Korean War with Victory Day fireworks and a military parade. In South Korea, Armistice Day is a time for somber reflection – on the 1.2 million killed on both sides of the 38th Parallel, on the division that cleaves families these six decades later and on the long-elusive quest for a peace treaty to formally end the conflict."

As an ABC news article summarized, "Communist North Korea invaded South Korea with 135,000 troops on June 25, 1950, and three years later with more than 2.5 million dead, including more than more than 36,000 Americans who died in combat, the war ended." Today, more than 28,000 US troops remain in South Korea as a significant deterrent force against a resumption of hostilities.

The Korean war - if one read the previous two paragraphs, one article refers to 1.2 million killed and the other 2.5 million. The former number is apparently the South Korean number, while the larger number is more broadly all participants - willing and unwilling. Photo from

The ideological freeze between "the proletariat" and "the forces of imperialism" has endured in North Korea through the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the continued movement in China towards a controlled, yet free-market economy. North Korean governance has evolved as well, however, not improving just turning into a family-dynasty, typical of old-time monarchies, and modern-day strongmen and dictatorships.

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North Korea - everyone has a pre-approved slot and behavior. At this celebration of the 60th year "victory" over imperialist forces, the North Korean elite go through the motions. (Ed Jones / AFP/Getty Images / July 26, 2013)


South Korea is a vibrant, prosperous nation of nearly 50 million, while North Korea holds a population of just over 24 million, and according to UN analysis, half of whom live in "extreme poverty."

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Seoul, South Korea (Photo by ASDFGH) at the website

Military parades, perpetual vigilance against outside forces, privileges for a royal few and their military elite is the mainstay of North Korea 60 years later - what a legacy (and testimony against entrenched and brutal control).

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (third generation) greets another orchestrated and narcissistic review of the masses. Photo from

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Six in-betweens ...

A short musing on places in this world that are "between" nations' boundaries. That's not totally accurate - places where people stay when they are not recognized as officially being somewhere.

Refugees, asylum seekers, detainees, displaced - the categories are well known. And depending on the whims of reporting, some of the places where these categories of people are found receive the international spotlight. Still, a few have bubbled to the surface the past few weeks that remind Teatree of perhaps a larger number than we typically think about.

Airport transit zones - the US citizen Edward Snowden remains "trapped" in an airport in Russia. He's looking for a country that would grant him asylum, in order to avoid prosecution from the US government for spying, or leaking secrets. Some Latin American countries - Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua - have offered him various degrees of guarantees of refuge from the US reach, but he has to get there first. Regardless, living in an airport transit zone is one of those "inbetweens."

An airport transit zone - legal limbo - most people move right on through to somewhere else. (Photo from washington post)

Embassies. Snowden was receiving counsel on seeking asylum from another well covered individual Julian Assange who is living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Embassies are considered "national soil" of the country they represent, though they are clearly situated on land that is part of whatever nation they are in. Teatree understands that the situation is known as a "construct" - an artificial frame of reference that everyone involved agrees to and mentally accepts for their mutual benefit.

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US embassy in Beijing China, the scene in 2012 when the blind activist, Chen Guangcheng, sought refuge from Chinese persecution. (photo by WangMiao1989 (a reference to an event, not the year in which the picture was taken))

Refugee camps - pretty familiar. Land in a country that is adjacent to a conflict (such as in Syria) where hundreds of thousands flee for safety. The host government attempts to set up rudimentary refuge: tents, water, latrines, in order to reduce the misery of those who have fled. Refugee camps have also been established at times for streams of people leaving political oppression rather than straightforward violence.

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Jordan is overseeing vast numbers of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. The UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon recently noted that this swelling of displaced persons is now the second largest in recent decades, eclipsed only by the scenes during and after the Rwandan genocide. Photo by Reuters is of the Zaatari refugee camp, near the Jordanian city of Mafraq, July 18, 2013

Illegal immigration asylum centers - these are a little less familiar, though in the past two weeks two have been referenced in the news.

Lampedusa, Italy

Lampedusa is a small island between the North African coast and the toe of Italy. Thousands of migrants arrive on this island each year from a variety of countries, but since the Libyan civil war two years ago, the stream has increased. The new Pope Francis created a bit of publicity for this land by visiting it recently and reminding the world of the plight of refugees.

Lampedusa is one of several small islands under jurisdiction of Italy where refugees and immigrants show up.(photo from wikimedia)

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An overloaded boat of migrants arriving at a harbor on the island (photo from


This tiny island is home to an "illegal immigration asylum center" run by Australia (photo from BBC article Nauru is apparently the world's smallest republic, population a little over 10,000. It used to create wealth by mining and processing "1,000 years' worth of fossilised bird droppings" but now depends on aid in various forms. Leasing room to Australia for its asylum center is likely one way the government saw some additional funds in its future.

Australia is experiencing a wave of undocumented immigration from a variety of South Asian nations. In the past, the government has had a policy of turning boats around, but because so many vessels are overloaded or in poor shape, those would-be-immigrants are now more likely to be intercepted, loaded onto official vessels and flown to asylum centers for processing or return. (map from BBC article

A unique in-between-

One of the most controversial "inbetweens" in recent years is the US terror detainee center at Guantanamo, Cuba. Here, "enemy combatants" picked up in firefights or sweeps connected with the "war on terror" are held in indefinite status without formal charges. The truth is that these individuals are often not wanted by their native countries, who are quite content to let the US take the international heat for holding them. Many detainees released back to their nations have been subsequently found again in firefights connected to jihad ideologies.

Guantanamo prisoners being held as enemy combatants (photo from

Certainly much of the Western world takes soil, status, and place as givens - not so for so many in the world.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

France celebrates its Bastille Day

Bastille Day, July 14, is France's biggest national holiday, called "La FĂȘte Nationale." For US readers, it is equivalent to our July 4th, and that similarity can trigger connections with independence days across all the nations of the world. For French citizens, it commemorates the storming of the Bastille fortress in 1789, which marked the start of the French Revolution.

There is typically a large military parade. This year, according to a Voice of America article, close to 5,000 troops, including U.N. soldiers in blue berets and servicemen from 13 African countries marched past the presidential stage, led by a Malian officer, drawing attention to France's role in liberating the African country's north from Islamist and other insurgent groups.

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The traditional military parade on the Champs Elysees (photo credit to Reuters)

Jets leave colors of the French flag in their wake ... (photo from

The storming of the Bastille fort/prison in 1789 represented the people challenging the monarchy, and eventually turning the country into a Republic. The Bastille had arms and ammunition which were distributed among the populace, although its reputation for holding political prisoners yielded only seven such individuals at the time to liberate. (graphic from Encyclopaedia Britannica)

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Outside of the capital, small town celebrations hold parades and outdoor food events, similar to rural towns everywhere. (photo from

Teatree's musing pulls him back to the late 1700's when both the US, and France established their independence in different circumstances - just two countries that come to mind, but reflecting perhaps some growth in terms of governance. Just after the Second World War, there was a spate of new independent countries (India leading the way), from empires exhausted and financially drained by two wars in 20 years. In the early 1960s, there was another surge, this time centered in Africa, where new African nations from former colonial status, though their boundaries continue to bedevil their development. The next surge that comes to mind was in 1989-1991 when independent nations emerged from their puppet-like status under the collapsing Soviet Union.

Perhaps Egypt, Syria and other Arab nations will be able to look back to the current period as the latest surge, when they too begin to fitfully and painfully move forward to newer and better ways of governance ...

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Egypt resets

Egypt, with 90 million people is the most populous Arab nation in the Middle East (not to be confused with Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation, and located in the Southeast Asia); strategically important, Egypt is sovereign over the Suez Canal; politically important, it is one of just two Arab nations that has established a peace treaty with Israel. And it is in turmoil.

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The iconic image of Egypt with its mysterious past ... (photo from

Egypt, its population packed along the critical Nile River ... (unattributed graphic)

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Egypt's Tahrir Square in Cairo, filled once again with protestors this time wanting their democratically elected President out, just as two years ago when they demanded an end of Mubarak's rule. (photo by Reuters at International Business Times)

The timeline
Two years ago, President Mubarak was ousted from office after nearly 30 years of rule - much of it conducted in autocratic fashion - when the Arab Spring movement swept through Tunisia, Egypt, and into most of the Arab world. As we know, Syria's protests morphed into a tragic and bitter civil war which has killed nearly 100,000 and displaced millions. In Egypt, the Army kept a lid on the tensions, oversaw elections and an Islamist from the most organized of the factions - the Muslim Brotherhood - took office.

President Morsi, in power for the past year, unfortunately spent most of his time and energy consolidating power, ramming through a Islamic-leaning constitution, at one time announcing near dictatorial powers only to have to backtrack amidst eruptions of protests, and most recently appointing Adel al-Khayat, "a member of a radical Islamist party linked to a massacre that killed 58 tourists in Luxor in 1997" to the very post of Luxor governor! According to the France24 article of June 23, 2013, "his appointment prompted uproar in Luxor, in the southern heartlands of al-Gamaa support. Workers in the tourist industry around its pharaonic temples feared the new governor could put off visitors at a time when business is already poor due to continued unrest following the 2011 revolution." The irony is that within a week of the uproar of his appointment by Morsi, Adel al-Khayat resigned.

Artifacts and sites can be found all along the Nile. Luxor is south and upstream from the capital, Cairo. (graphic from UK Daily mail )

The dramatic transition

Similar to the recent demonstrations in Turkey which were met with a somewhat hysterical outburst from its Prime Minister, the swelling protests against Egypt's Morsi throughout June were met with denial and obstinancy. Finally, the Egyptian military gave an ultimatum to Morsi of 48 hours to recognize and address protest leaders, but Morsi refused to engage.

P.J. Crowley, former United States Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, recently interviewed by CBS regarding the ultimatum, "if something has to give, it's going to be Morsi. Though he won his presidency in a fair and free election, he's lost legitimacy with much of Egypt's population. According to Crowley, the Egyptian military already has a roadmap that includes a technocratic government, a rewritten constitution, and early elections. The reaction of the Muslim Brotherhood is another thing, and Morsi himself has said that he's willing to die for democracy in Egypt. "This could get ugly and that has implications, particularly in terms of the Egyptian economy," said Crowley."

On Wednesday, July 3, the Egyptian army moved - deposing Morsi and sweeping up a number of Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Hundreds are now detained. By Friday, while most of the populace is behind the Army's move, Morsi supporters and the Muslim brotherhood organization have resisted, with over three dozen dead in a variety of protests.

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The army puts on a show of force, Muslim Brotherhood followers are incensed, many of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders are detained, but most of Egypt's population look for a second chance at a more secular constitution and fresh elections. (photo from Huffington post)


What legitimizes a government? Elections have slowly become a first component of what legitimizes a government, at least in the eyes of the other nations of the world. But elections alone have been shown in numerous situations that they alone do not at all guarantee a democratic responsive government.

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Enthusiasm ran high in 2012 as Egyptians voted in what were considered free and fair elections. (photo from Voice of America News)

What if a leader gains power by the ballot, then proceeds to shut the door on further adherence to the framework of laws that brought it into power? Hitler came to power legitimately, then took on dictatorial rule. Lenin came to power via a coup, the Bolsheviks killed the royal family, set up its Communist party with elections - which resulted in just a few years in Stalin's dictatorship. If one looks around the world, a number of countries go through the process of holding elections though making sure both the candidacies and real power are limited. Iran, for example, just held an election that produced a new President, but the real leaders remain the behind-the-scene religious scholars.

Iran's former President Ahmadinejad ran the country only with the approval of The Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other religious heavyweights. (photo from

And in a rather blunt opinion piece from a respected counter-terrorism website regarding the 2012 Egyptian elections, we read, "Prior to the presidential elections, it was revealed how Egypt's Islamists viewed democratic elections as an obligatory form of "holy war." Then, any number of Islamic clerics, including influential ones, declared that it was mandatory for Muslims to cheat during elections—if so doing would help Islamist candidates win; that the elections were a form of jihad, and those who die are "martyrs" who will attain the highest levels of paradise. Top Islamic institutions and influential clerics, such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, issued fatwas decreeing that all Muslims were "obligated" to go and vote for those candidates most likely to implement Sharia law, with threats of hellfire for those failing to do so. The point was simple: democracy, elections, voting, even the individual candidates, were all means to an end—the establishment of Sharia law."

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Photo and caption from the Agence France-Presse, "Influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi on Saturday issued a religious decree, or fatwa, urging Egyptians to support overthrown Islamist president Mohamed Morsi who was toppled by the army on Wednesday." This individual is the same who called on Egyptian islamists to support Morsi last year.

One has to ask the question however, is Sharia law compatible with democracy? Would those laws if ever enacted, ebb and flow depending on the will of the governed?

When is a coup, not a coup?

The US seems to find itself without a coherent response to the latest change in government. The Obama administration has issued the usual "deep concerns," "urges all parties to respect each other" and the other bromides of diplomatic-speak, but that's about it. Even labeling the action of the past two days as a coup, which would result by law in placing a freeze on military aid to Egypt, is unlikely. In the words of two US lawmakers, we gain some insight into what "real democracy" might look like, "Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California and Democrat Eliot Engel of New York issued a joint statement that criticized Morsi for not embracing "inclusiveness, compromise, respect for human and minority rights and a commitment to the rule of law. ... Like Obama, they urged the Egyptian military "to exercise extreme caution moving forward and support sound democratic institutions through which the people and future governments can flourish." (

Teatree is sympathetic to the Army preventing freely-elected Morsi from highjacking Egypt's quest for true democracy. We should soon see however, whether the Army's intent of giving Egypt a second chance - new elections, new writing of laws, etc, comes to pass. After a year of frittering away an opportunity for good governance, new elections must be organized all the while attempting to tamp down a new round of explosive violence and resistance by the Muslim Brotherhood's supporters. One Egyptian was quoted in a recent article saying that this latest drama was not a definitive failure of the first, and the clear beginning of a second chapter, rather just steps along the way of one long difficult revolution.

Besides the great secular/islamist governance divide, are there other issues?

The real loss during Morsi's year of rule was his neglect of fashioning economic growth and broadening of its prospects, while attempting to force Sharia law and islamic piety. Egypt is truly a basket case economically, propped up by several countries, and world financial institutions.

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Egypt cannot feed itself. As the photo shows and as an article in the describes it, "Egypt’s slide from breadbasket of the eastern Mediterranean to net grain importer is elemental to an economic crisis that threatens to convulse the nation. Complicit, according to economists and farm experts, is an Egyptian government that for years refused to build the infrastructure needed to produce wheat in a cost-effective way; a privatization drive that plundered Egyptian agriculture with ill-advised and often corrupt divestment deals; farmers who sold their fields to property developers or diversified into more profitable crops for export at the expense of grains; and the U.S. government, which promoted sales of American wheat in Egypt rather than encouraging greater self-reliance."

The perilous status of women in Egypt. Once again during this latest round of protests, there were instances of gang rapes of women, mainly to teach them a lesson about their place. One can hardly imagine a happy outcome or future of Egypt in any case when half its population is apparently fair game for males - whether due to lust, to make some political statement with a western female reporter, or merely to restore "honor" due to some perceived breach of such. Muslim countries simply have a long ways to go in this regard, and Teatree believes it important to step out on a limb with a generality here that nevertheless is true.

Harassment of Egyptian women seems to be tolerated, amusing, and widespread. (Photo:Ahram Online archive)

Suddenly, Egypt is in turmoil, and the road ahead seems to be a long one before any semblance of a modern, humane life is the norm.