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May 2011 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW MAY '11

 

“The Arab Spring”

The leitmotif is change!



A round-up of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, Egypt as well as Turkey & Iran
Excepting only for Tunisia where it all started and where a way ahead looks to be agreed, we analyse the different ways that ‘the Arab Spring’ is playing out in the very different nations where it has manifested itself.

A Kingdom:
SAUDI ARABIA, highly conservative, sensible enough to keep its citizens at all levels apart from the poverty so evident in many neighbours, yet it cannot insulate itself from these very neighbours, particularly Yemen and Bahrein, where it has had to take a position on the upsurge for ‘change’. But Saudi of all nations is resistant to change.  Their powerful version of religion is polarised on teachings of the 18th century preacher, Mohammed ibn abd el Wahhab, a version of the Salafi, fundamentalist Sunni doctrines who as our EGYPT report explains have worryingly emerged from some dark place, as a ‘bombs and bullets’ danger to civil life, in an Egypt now looking towards a democratic election.

LIBYA still makes the news because of the Nato involvement and of course Ghadaffi is currently the west’s favourite ogre, but there is no sign of a resolution, nor is there likely to be, as long as he remains there - the rebel leaders quite frankly are afraid of any future including him, with good cause. Again we look at the possible de facto break-up of LIBYA into Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, which it used to be.

IRAQ’s version of this ‘democratic wave’ was to protest the near hopeless government inability to provide clean drinking water, refuse disposal and access to reliable electricity. Of course such is the importance of IRAQ that there is other news, of political failure to provide honest democratic government, justice in the courts etc, yet the latest news on oil is good.

SYRIA is now in the eye of the storm. It is unlike the other Arab states as we explain, but whilst they very quickly met all the long standing demands of the protestors, there is still a move to squash dissent and the Syrian army, unlike those of Egypt and Tunisia are a part of the problem. So intermeshed are the ruling faction with the armed services, that they seem effectively to be the same thing.

TURKEY and IRAN are spectators. Turkey being a democracy and the former imperial power stands ready to help the peace process. Iran a theocracy, therefore unpredictable yet militarily powerful, is perhaps a worse offender against human rights than even the worst of these Arab nations and their cruelty is likely one day to rebound on them, as history appears to indicate.


Turkey: Overlord to arbitrator?
Until a century ago Turkey was the imperial overlord of the Arab nations now embroiled in civil war and strife, but now has a unique position as potential arbiter and conciliator in a big-brother role. It is an Islamic nation, but not plagued by Sunni-Shiite strife. It is a full blown democracy, indeed it is facing elections in a few months time this year. It has adequately demonstrated its independence of the USA and the other western powers involved, all of whom are it’s partners in NATO. It may be remembered that when the US launched its ill-judged invasion of IRAQ, the Turkish government reluctantly, under great diplomatic pressure, agreed to the US disembarking an army in Turkish ports to travel overland through TURKEY to invade Iraq from that direction. However the Turkish parliament showed better judgement and over-ruled their government, refusing to sanction playing any part in the invasion. They are in many respects the obvious and most highly qualified, potential peacemakers in the Arab Spring. In Libya they have already a functioning embassy in Ghadaffi’s capital of Tripoli, as well as a busy consulate in the rebel capital of Benghazi. The problem they foresee, as do others, is what will replace the Ghadaffi regime if it is defeated? With the dangers of un-reconcilable tribal adversaries creating a kind of Iraq or Afghanistan, a peace settlement must be thorough and just, and not just ‘victors justice’. How to resolve Syria, with whom the Turks have a frontier is even more tricky, since there is a balance of power issue here underlying the al Assad supremacy. That is the Alawite-led group of minorities who fill the important posts in the military and the government - whilst the majority Sunni do not.


Iran: the neighbour with a goodwill bypass
This month’s Update includes the reactions to the events in the Arab countries, their neighbours, because to the surprise of the Ahmadinejad regime, the Green movement which they thought they had suppressed by their usual horrific licensed thuggery, and by other brutal police state methods, suddenly bounced back in the form of hundreds of thousands on the streets once again. Two prominent leaders who opposed Ahmadinejad in his phoney presidential re-election, have been removed from house arrest into full confinement. But our report this month as usual, looks at the range of IRAN’s political and economic activity and we find one item particularly interesting, perhaps of some significance. There is observed within the President’s own coterie of ministers, senior officials and advisors, a tendency it might be called, to question the supreme role of Islam in their country and instead to emphasise nationalism and Iran’s long and often distinguished history, as the rallying symbol for the nation. Recent news makes it clear that Ahmadinejad has had a ‘spat’ with the leading Ayatollah. How that is resolved may take some time to show out. It is interesting in the people that are associated with this tendency, politicians around the president, which in the event of their being successful, we would regard as progress. That could mean more rational decisions might be anticipated than those on offer from political priests, intent on a theocracy, of which they are always the only qualified interpreters. Our report tells more.


Iraq: demonstrations are about incompetence
‘Arab Spring’ protests here, given that they have a representative legislature, however shaky, have largely concentrated on the incompetence of their government in providing adequate supplies of such fundamentals as electricity and water.

The important news from here is that the Iraqi government may not request US troops to stay beyond 2011 after all. Our Update and forecast for the year explain more. Given the strong Iranian government influence on this largely Shi-ite government and its recent dramatic increase in oilfield potential, this may cause concern in Washington.

Otherwise there are tensions between the IRAQ government and the Arab League, which appear to us - as to the Iraqi government - to be hinging on the Sunni composition of most Arab League countries, as distinct from the majority Shia government make-up in Iraq.
Good news for Iraq in conclusion, oil revenues are definitely ‘on the up’ and on that front, as we explain, it is also expected that a solution to the long stand-off with the Kurds over oilfields in their territory may be imminent.


Libya
As we have suggested since the beginning of this year and of this conflict, if the existing deadlock continues, as it might well do, the former states of Cyrenaica in the east based on Benghazi; and Tripolitania in the west surrounding Ghadaffi’s capital of Tripoli, are quite feasible replacements for an irrevocably divided LIBYA, should that remain the position. At the time of writing, objectively neither Ghadaffi’s nor the rebel forces appear to have the capability of capturing the other’s key strongholds in the east and the west. Of course Ghadaffi is the key. If he were persuaded to go into retirement, a political solution could be found. Obviously his life is in great danger (one of his sons is reported killed in an air raid, which just as easily could have been the colonel), not only in the course of an intensive war fought in a very few compact locations, but also because his removal must be the priority of the Rebel high command, with ‘few tears to be shed’ by the Nato nations should that happen. Indeed Russia’s PM Vladimir Putin, has already accused Nato of seeking his death.


Egypt: The Intolerance threat to Democracy
Those who hoped for a government something similar to the democratic nations of the world, which we believe to include many of those that risked their lives in demonstrating against an tyrannical regime –and some did not live to see the conclusion, now have a different problem to confront. From dark dank places underneath the rocks have emerged the worst kind of intolerant religious fanatics, the Salafi, (established in only one Arab state – Saudi Arabia under the name of Wahhabi), their aim being to take the world back to the 7th century, when they regard life on earth as the Prophet left it, with the parting instructions he gave, as the only acceptable way for our time. That all other faiths or Islamic variations of their precise code, are in error. It is this sect of Islam that is the faith of the Al Qaeda militants. Our report on EGYPT gives more detail. It is the Salafists who have recently murdered Coptic Christians, and have burned their churches, the Copts were already established in Egypt since long before the Prophet lived. It is they who destroy their mosques and murder Sufi Moslems, a mystical and tolerant sect of Islam that have a million members in Egypt. Sheikh Mohammed Hassan is a prominent Salafist leader whose ‘democratic credentials’ are that he issued a fatwa in December “to shed (presidential contender) Al Baradei’s blood.”

The new civil tolerance of the Muslim Brotherhood whose political strength was simply that they had an organisation in place, means that they are putting candidates forward for election, and now the Salafists in their shadow, are likely do the same. The imam of the al Ahram mosque in Cairo has publicly condemned these extremists, but the new authorities in Egypt will need to establish and enforce the rule of law, if there is to be any hope of the nation progressing, rather than regressing into full blown Sharia.


Syria: The “known unknowns”
The Syrian revolt is like no other. There is a family the al Assad, at the very top with the president, Bashir al Assad a former opthamologist in London, called home to the presidency on the death of his father an Airforce General, who many years before, had seized power. Bashir’s brother Basil, groomed for the succession, died in a car smash, apparently an accident, so Bashir got the job. SYRIA is surprisingly modern in many ways, overlaying its ancient history, but in this modern world once colonialism was behind them, a military regime took charge and the Assad family generals took over that, under a political system called the Ba’ath –a version of pan-arab socialism, better known to the west under Saddam Hussein in neighbouring Iraq. Their rivals for power were the Moslem Brotherhood whose 1982 armed rebellion was ruthlessly crushed along with much of the city of Homs, and as a political movement they subsequently have been completely out of it. About 70% of Syrians are Sunni Moslems, but there are large minorities, the most significant being the Alawi, who are a large tribe with their own variation of Islam, with Christians, Druses and others. These minorities stick together, basically running the armed forces and the government, and especially the dreaded political police, whilst the majority Sunni are the merchants, often prosperous and largely making up the other classes.

The fact is that Syrians are well tired of the police state. Many had hoped a younger man like their president, familiar with the democracy of the western world, would bring in substantial reforms - and indeed as we report, the detail of the newly minted 16th April reforms addressed all the demands of the demonstrators, yet power remains in the hands of the existing rulers and violence continues. Unlike the Egyptian and Tunisian revolts where the army did not engage, the problem in Syria is that the minorities that control and command the army, are the government! It is indeed more reminiscent of post-Saddam Iraq than the North African states enmeshed in the Arab Spring. Syria borders Israel and Lebanon, both of which must be deeply concerned at how the outcome will affect them. How then will Syria resolve?


Saudi Arabia – home of the salafists
Although preserved from the rude cut and thrust of the fighting, Saudi is deeply involved in the middle-eastern wave of unrest and demand for change. Its own religious, the ultra conservative Wahhabi are essentially Salafists, a fundamentalist form of the Sunni, whose religious views if not political ones, are also those of al Qaeda and the late Osama bin Laden, and who are now creating mayhem in post- revolutionary EGYPT, as that country’s report explains.

Change is what Saudi’s rulers most emphatically do not want and yet ‘change’ is the leitmotif in all the countries currently undergoing strife. Saudi has wisely pre-empted violence in its own country so far, largely by spreading money around, but it has a substantial Shi-ite population around the oilfields in its north-east, just across the Gulf from Iran – the patron of all Shi-ites - who feel aggrieved with their ‘second-class’ Saudi citizenship, as they perceive it. But politically moderate Saudi is a giant in the Arab world and is worried to have lost Egypt’s Mubarak as its certain partner in maintaining the status quo, and in facing up to the threat, as it is perceived, of Iran. Even more immediate for Saudi is it’s inevitable involvement with its troubled neighbours, Yemen and Bahrein. As our SAUDI ARABIA report explains, in these very different situations the country is making its contribution by a mix of diplomacy and military muscle. But unlike any of the other Arab states, Saudi with its immense wealth and desire for stability, alone has a ‘regional take’ with regard to all the other middle-east nations, including all those on which we report, now focusing on SYRIA and the outcome there.


Pakistan & the US drifting apart?
It is apparent that the real power in Pakistan due to the spavined state of national politics lies with the army and critical to this state within a state, the ISI plays the role of foreign ministry following an agenda of its own. Now that Osama bin Laden has been killed at a town fairly close to Pakistan’s capital Islamabad in a custom-built fortified villa, a few hundred metres from the Army’s military academy – equivalent to West Point, Saint Cyr or Sandhurst, it seems either that his presence there, finally detected by the CIA (or informants); was either a fieldcraft classic of ‘hiding in plain sight,’ or protection by a rogue element of the ISI. We don’t know and we may never know. What matter most is that this architect of terror is no more.


Whether this sensational development helps or hinders the US Pakistan relationship remains to be seen, although President Obama, in his White House announcement was at pains to compliment Pakistan as a necessary fellow warrior against terror, as our following paragraph makes clear.

The strength and steady hand of the army, is the best guarantee that the 100 or more nuclear weapons the country now possesses, do not fall into the hands of Islamic terrorists who would of course delight in being able to make a bigger bang. The political government is to say the least very weak, the whole edifice could be brought down by a short series of mischance's, or ‘the enemy within’. The nation’s finance and economics are a gruesome mess and whilst foreign relations, in the military sense, are concentrated to the south on India, from which in real terms there is no imminent threat, quite apart from the (blocking for both of them) nuclear stand-off. To the north the other and truly more problematical area, is the situation of Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan which includes the ever present problems of its own tribal people in almost inaccessible highlands, resentful of political rule by the dwellers on the plain, hence enjoying a high degree of autonomy under their tribal chiefs and mullahs.

Since there is a large degree of ethnic/tribal overlap with their cousins in neighbouring Afghanistan they have hitherto with a degree of impunity, provided both recruits and safe havens for the Taleban fighting the ISAF troops, in what in most Afghan regions is close to a stand-off. But back in the Pakistan highlands, the havens are no longer so safe, given the combination of persistent raids by ISAF Special Forces and the increased use of high precision drones targeting identified Taleban notables, but inevitably causing civilian casualties in so doing. The ISI in particular which represents the army in some former tribal alliances, is now unable to guarantee them protection as hitherto, and has lost credibility and bargaining power as a result. This month’s PAKISTAN report updates on the different and complex aspects of the situation, particularly on the military’s relations with the USA (who have come to regard them as somewhat double- dealing), as well as looking again at the economy and the unhappy civilian government.

When the dust settles on the story of the late-night shoot-out at the custom-built bin Laden fortified villa, many questions will arise, leaving aside as to how this place of refuge was in a Pakistani military cantonment and who built it; like how did they get from there 1000 miles from the Himalayas to the sea by helicopter, or if transferred to Afghanistan and a transport plane capable of landing on a carrier, therefore slowly, to a US aircraft carrier, in order to have a burial at sea (so the body would not become a place of pilgrimage)? It is a safe prediction (1) that conspiracy theorists will have a field day; and (2) that there will never be any cross-examination to establish that what we are told is the truth.


Afghanistan shuffling towards a settlement
All the signs are of an incipient war-weariness, not only as is well observed amongst the allies of ISAF but also, there are indications of a similar interest from the Taleban side – Mullah Omar the longstanding chief of the Afghan Taleban has issued orders to no longer target schools and there appear to be other signs of a softening of previously rigid and hateful positions regarding civil life. This is being interpreted as their moving into a pre-negotiating stance for some not too distant time. The problem we are identifying in this is the position of the US military. There have been regional successes from the so-called surge, but the Taleban have reacted quite logically by fighting defensively, yet at the same time moving into areas of the country opening hostilities, where previously they had little presence. The near impossibility under these circumstances of delivering a knock-out blow over the Taleban which would spell military victory to the public back home in the US, and allow for a withdrawal in conditions of success, do not seem apparent. There are apparently fears of a withdrawal being widely regarded as another Vietnam - as an humiliation and dreadful waste of life and resources. However, the game has changed! Since the mission in the first place was about killing bin Laden, now achieved, that might be sufficient to satisfy the military’s need for an honourable outcome. The process of ‘bringing back the boys’ will have been brought forward, to the great delight of the US and the ISAF nations, and probably the AFGHAN government, if an arrangement, for which they have no doubt been preparing, is possible with the Taleban.


India
We publish news of an anti-corruption campaign organised by a large group of distinguished individuals, whose objective is nothing less than the eradication of the ancient malpractice of institutional corruption. It is indeed a principal flaw in India’s democracy. Currently listed by World Audit as 48th (of 150) in the Democracy tables (the criteria being political rights, human rights, freedom of speech, absence of corruption); it is ranked within that at 70th in the world in terms of corruption, by Transparency International. There is no doubt that corruption is a major flaw in civil life and that only a thorough-going drive at all levels to eradicate it will do the job.

INDIA and Pakistan have agreed to encourage bi-lateral trade and not to let the political and security situation prevent progress. They will we are told, make a serious effort to expand existing levels of trade. This must be a grave disappointment to the Pakistani terrorists whose whole purpose is to rupture anything approaching normality between the two nations.


South Africa
SOUTH AFRICA’S president Jacob Zuma is of the opinion that he and his colleagues of the African Union did a great job in peace talks in Libya with Col Ghadaffi. Zuma could not himself make it to Libya, he was preparing for a trip to China, but the AU called for an immediate cease-fire and for Nato “to cease the bombings and give the cease-fire a chance.” Although well motivated without doubt, presumably the AU leaders didn’t know that the Colonel had unilaterally declared a ceasefire as Nato first got involved, but then carried on with his heavy weapons and aircraft, smashing up rebel-held towns, which is how the UN resolution enabling Nato’s intervention came about. President Zuma has come under another kind of attack from his neighbouring president in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, who is clearly physically unwell, if still robust in his statements - although these are oftimes filtered through his state media. “The Sunday Mail” acts as his mouthpiece in criticising President Zuma who it described in an article as: “a liability, not only to South Africa but also to the rest of the continent.”

More important perhaps, is that South Africa attended its first BRIC conference, the initials representing Brazil, Russia, India, China, the most powerful of the emerging economies. South Africa’s economy is substantially smaller, but the most important on the African continent. We report on oil shale “fracking” a term we are beginning to hear a lot of and tell the fascinating story of Schabir Shaik, formerly bagman to Jacob Zuma. He was sentenced to fifteen years in jail of which he had served two and a half, before Zuma, the newly elected president almost as his first act arranged for his release from jail, on medical parole. Whatever his medical condition, Mr Shaik swiftly was returned to jail on account of two physical assaults he was accused of perpetrating whilst out of confinement, thus breaching the terms of his bail. It is an unedifying story but important if one wants to understand how South Africa ‘works’. All this and much more in this month’s report


Russia
Russia has failed to attract Foreign Direct Investment on the scale that might have been expected. This can be laid at the doors of its bureaucracy, its corruption and a widespread distrust of the civil courts. It is extraordinary to consider that the reputation of the civil courts still being under the sway of the administration, twenty years after the end of the USSR, is thus untrustworthy for settling civil disputes and has really not improved over this long period of years. Most big FDI deals include provision for arbitration in Stockholm, Oslo, London or Switzerland, anywhere the parties can agree where there is the rule of law in fact, outside of the former Soviet Union for this reason. However FDI is picking up. Russia concluded big FDI deals one with Pepsi Cola who are probably the largest multinational corporation who have ever traded in RUSSIA since they were well established long, long ago, in the days of the USSR; the other really big deals involve BP, again no stranger to doing business here and also as we describe Esso (who are probably indirectly responsible for the long incarceration of Mikhail Khordokovsky who had attempted to sell them the then largest Russian oil company and RUSSIA’s greatest asset, a deal that fell with Khordokovsky).


Belarus
The ruler of this FSU state, Lukashenka, is rightly regarded as Europe’s last dictator and even twenty years after the end of the Soviet Union, the country is nowhere near any identifiable form of democracy. The secret police, still named the KGB, are probably the single reason that this unpopular man is still in power. BELARUS’s neighbours with whom they share frontiers are democratic: Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and partially-democratic Ukraine, as well as Russia, who have never really taken their independence seriously. It is hard to say that Russia is wrong about this, as the evidence now appears to be that the deep financial hole in which Belarus finds itself - our current report explains - will now only be alleviated by Russia alone or with former Soviet partner states. The EU were prepared to help Belarus, contingent on fair elections and the end of brutality, but Lukashenka miserably failed on both these counts. It is not impossible that things are bad enough that Belarusians will themselves overthrow Lukashenka, but such is the degree of ruthlessness the regime employs, it is currently unlikely.


Ukraine
A very different series of protests are attracting attention in UKRAINE. The women’s rights campaigners of a group called Femen, regularly go topless with flowers in their hair, wear bikinis made from surgical masks, and even mud-wrestle to draw attention to their cause. Femen, launched in 2008, began as a campaign against the explosion of prostitution and sex tourism (sparked by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991), and intensified by the arrival of budget airlines and a depressed economy. It has taken on ‘world issues’ like vote-rigging and the stoning sentence meted out to Iranian Sakineh Ashtiani. The next protest, on 26 April, is timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl when Russian politicians are visiting UKRAINE. With a pool of 40 topless activists, 300 local members and an estimated 30,000 online supporters, there are now Femen groups in five Ukrainian cities.


Bulgaria
When Bulgaria was released from the Soviet yoke, ‘de facto’ power was never relinquished by the former home-grown KGB which resulted in the nation’s politics being deeply compromised –a situation that continues to this day. It is a corrupt country and in one of the EU’s more spectacular mistakes, it was admitted to EU membership along with the neighbouring state of Romania, before it was democratic or otherwise ready. The EU has tried to push it in the right direction by quite correctly withholding massive agricultural and other subventions, to which otherwise they would have been entitled, but such is the degree of barefaced corruption, it was well understood by donor countries that such monies would go to organised crime, which has long been interwoven with politics here. Bulgaria’s citizens have also been refused passport-free travel through the EU’s Shengen zone, simply because its institutions are not trusted to not abuse such privileges since BULGARIA is infamous for big-time smuggling, both of drugs and worse, of people. There is little doubt unfortunately, that Bulgaria is perilously close to becoming a ‘failed state.’ Its economy is parlous, it is undergoing increasing unemployment, it is failing to get on top of organised crime, all of which items our current report enlarges upon.


Romania
This country too with a larger economy and population than Bulgaria, was also accepted for EU membership without having achieved the pre-qualifications. It too has not been granted the Shengen zone status applied for, allowing its people to travel passport free though the larger part of the EU countries (excluding UK and Ireland). Romania too has been held back by corrupt politics and organised crime, if not quite on the scale of Bulgaria. What Germany and France, the nations whose representations stopped their Shengen application showed, was that they had failed to demonstrate at least to the satisfaction of those important EU countries, that they could control illegal immigration into their own nation, which taken with corrupt border controls would be disseminated throughout Europe. ROMANIA in fact has progressed notably in the area of official corruption with some spectacular arrests of crooked customs officials. The main worry about Romania however is that they act as a conduit for illegal immigration into the more prosperous states of Europe. The feeling however seems marginally to be that Romania has taken a decisive turn for the better, which at bottom depends on political will. Our report looks at these issues in more detail.


Taiwan
With its economy heavily reliant on that of Japan, the recent disasters on its large neighbour’s islands are likely to have effects locally in TAIWAN. This not good news for the KMT government who since their election have, as we report, lost popularity. Indeed we weigh up the election prospects of President Ma’s party in the first quarter of 2012. More and more we observe, his administration is taking on authoritarian overtones and using the same rhetoric as Beijing when dealing with criticism, a gloomy development for a fledgling democracy.


North Korea
‘The event that wasn’t,’ this month, was the visit to NORTH KOREA of former US president Jimmy Carter, leading a group of distinguished public figures from ‘the Elders,’ an organisation founded by Nelson Mandela. Carter has done this before, twice in the time of Kim Il Sung, to some effect, as we remind readers. This time Kim Jong Il did not oblige, he was not there to receive them, claiming he had to make an unscheduled visit to China. The other members of the group, Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN Commissioner for Human Rights; Gro Harlem Bruntland of Norway; the Finnish Nobel peace prize winner of 2008 Martti Ahtisaari; were snubbed, in that their presence was not even acknowledged by what passes for the media in this country, indeed in diplomatic terms the North Koreans clearly fell short. The fact is that there is deadlock in peace talks, the South refusing to move on this until the North apologise in acceptable terms for the destruction of the South Korean corvette, “Cheonan,” last year with the loss of 47 lives; and the shelling of an island in the south, last November. Carter and colleagues hoped to try to find a way forward, since ‘official channels’ were stymied. The delegation were called back to receive a message from Kim Jong Il in Beijing which we describe. Whether there was more is doubtful since the officials receiving ‘the Elders,’ were not of sufficient seniority. However Carter after leaving did roundly declare, addressing the South Korean and US governments, that “deliberately withholding food-aid for North Korea because of unrelated political and military issues, is indeed a human rights violation,” so he probably feels the visit was worthwhile.


Philippines

One of the biggest challenges facing this Pacific nation is the relative failure to attract Foreign Direct Investment. Among the ASEAN nations the PHILIPPINES have been the laggard for many years, considered on a per capita basis, the poor numbers are particularly striking. In this issue we look at this more closely, and at the Philippines Development plan 2011-2016. Most economic problems in this country are due to the simple fact that governments have never managed to find sufficient work for a permanently growing labour force. The outcome is that a high proportion of citizens are forced to scour the world for work abroad, from which the world gains nurses, hospital workers, teachers, nannies, cooks; and from the males, many of the world’s merchant marines employ a high proportion of Filipino seamen. These people remit funds to help their families left behind, which collectively are a major factor in the country’s balance of payments. But the human tragedies that stem from this are sad in the extreme. Mothers separated for years from their young children; husbands and wives often continents apart. The fault one could say is that of government for not encouraging a birth control policy, so that the totally disproportionate number of births could bear a more commonsense relationship to any possibilities of future employment. It is not that the nation’s politicians can’t see this for themselves, but their ability to rule at all is to an unhealthy degree dependent on the Catholic church, who since they arrived with the Spanish conquistadores five centuries ago, have exerted power immoderately in areas of civic life. Since the church is globally opposed to birth control, it is in all western nations a matter for believers to take into account and decide whether to abide by that injunction. Many do not, and earn mild disapproval at worst. In the Philippines the government is unable to promote what common sense cries out for, because the elected government still cannot override Rome’s representatives in this matter. The new government is seeking to reform the institutions of the nation so damaged for so long by corruption in its many forms. We can only hope that their reforms will include a direct appeal to the people perhaps, on this issue of what amounts to the democratic will.


Central Asia & the Caucasus
The momentous events in North Africa and the Middle East continue to reverberate throughout countries beyond the region. The 70 year old leader of KAZAKHSTAN, Nursultan Nazarbayev, decided to pre-empt the winds of change if he could, with a snap presidential election. The election duly took place on April 12 and he won with 95% of the vote. He hailed the election as “open and fair” and added: “The Kazakhs approve of the work I have conducted each day during these 20 years.” None of the opposition parties had time to organise a challenge or even stand.
In UZBEKISTAN the authorities are desperately hoping to keep the democratic revolution sweeping the Islamic world at bay, by whatever means necessary. In the US State Department's annual Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010, released on April 8, UZBEKISTAN was singled out as among the world's most egregious violators of human rights. Political prisoners, torture, harassment of journalists and human rights activists, unjust defamation cases, control of NGOs and Muslim religious groups, and forced adult and child labour in the cotton harvest were all mentioned.

AZERBAIJAN also has its share of opponents to its dictatorial regime making their views known. Inspired by events elsewhere in the Muslim world, they have been demonstrating in Baku, the capital. The protests over the past several weeks have been given short shrift by the authorities in this mainly Muslim country with more than 100 detained in April and March. Leaflets are calling on leader, Aliyev, to resign and for an "end to dictatorship." An opposition spokesman said several hundred people had been arrested in various parts of Baku.

GEORGIA has not escaped the popular unrest and potential upheaval that are now rife in the Middle East and North Africa. Thousands of opposition supporters have carried out days of protests, calling on President Mikhail Saakashvili to step down. Demonstrators have gathered outside the parliament in Tbilisi, before marching on to the presidential palace, where they had planned to hold an ongoing protest.


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