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August 2012 Country Archive


22 New country reports
This August Issue analyses the situation of the leading national players in the ‘Awakening’: Syria; Iraq; Libya; Egypt; Saudi Arabia; and closely involved neighbours Iran and Turkey.

Afghanistan and Pakistan best read together, are next. Russia and a clutch of FSU nations follow: Ukraine; Belarus; Kazakhstan; Uzbekistan. Troubled Balkan states: Bosnia, Serbia.

In Asia: North Korea; India; Taiwan; Philippines; Vietnam; Bangladesh

Summary: The situation in Syria has become ever more complicated. The civil war has reached the heart of Damascus and is spreading rapidly in Aleppo, Syria’s richest city. The rebel attacks have intensified to such an extent that it makes it impossible for analysts, and regime officials, to even consider a ‘security’ solution. Only a military solution is plausible now, meaning that diplomatic solutions and government compromises or inspired ‘democratization’ processes have failed to materialize. (Go To SYRIA)

Late in July there was a sudden resurgence of Al Qaida terror bombings and attacks in Iraq. 37 attacks were carefully co-ordinated in over a third of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Like neighbouring Syria there is a Shia government in Iraq, and the Sunni opposition in both countries includes the Al Qaida islamists, whose first concern is to eliminate the Shia heretics -and “to dominate territories we used to dominate – and more,” said their leader in Iraq, Abu Bakir al Baghdadi. Although Iraq’s oil production continues to rise, tension over Kurdistan’s oil and over Prime Minister Maliki’s growing authoritarianism is only intensifying. As the regional political landscape becomes more complicated, it is also likely to reflect negatively on Iraq. (Go To IRAQ)

Summary : On July 7, Libya held its first elections after 42 years of dictatorship; Colonel Qadhafi banned political parties and effectively ruled the country by decree, even while there were the trappings of popularly elected ‘committees’. The elections also mark Libya’s shift away from the National Transition Council (CNT), which led the country during the immediate post-Qadhafi period toward a democratically elected government (the General National Congress GNC) and a new constitutional process. (Go To LIBYA)

Summary: Muhammad Morsi, representing the Muslim Brotherhood, has won the Egyptian presidential election. Defying his initial promises to appoint a woman and a Christian as his prime minister and deputy prime minister, respectively, Morsi announced that Hisham Kandli, a Muslim Brother and perhaps in an even more revealing appointment, Khairat el-Shater, the true leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, will serve as deputy prime minister. This is not a start indicative of reconciliation and raises doubts over Morsi’s victory speech in which he assured that he would be a president for “all Egyptians.’ (Go To EGYPT)

Summary: Saudi Arabia has barely been touched by the wind charged with the ‘Arab Awakening’. The kingdom has been able to sail along amid the tense waters of the Persian Gulf and the pressure coming from Egypt across the Red Sea with few arrests and even fewer shots fired – Bahrain notwithstanding. More than other Arab countries, Saudi Arabia has shown interest in technology but not necessarily modernity. At least, that is, as far as its philosophical and sociological contours, consideration for which could evidently create conflicts in a nation founded on salafist principles precluding the possibility of alternative visions and explanations. Indeed, philosophy is not a subject to be found in the curricula of Saudi universities. (Go To SAUDI ARABIA)

Summary: As sanctions continue to tighten, the Iranians try to play tricks to smuggle their crude around, but they are finding it more difficult than they might have thought. Right now everything seems to converge against Iran: the Syrian crisis, the sanctions, the economic crisis – will the Iranian regime budge on the nuclear programme? (Go To IRAN)

Summary: The Syria crisis has dominated Turkish affairs after a military jet was shot down and fears of a humanitarian crisis due to swelling numbers of refugees continue to grow.

As the Assad regime looks increasingly bellicose, observers wonder if this could lead to an increase in sympathy for Turkey's own armed forces, which have been subject to a major ‘defanging’ campaign by Prime Minister Erdogan. Turkey's EU accession talks have officially
stalled as Cyprus assumed the rotating EU presidency; however a positive change has been noted in Franco-Turkish relations thanks to the arrival in office of new President Francois Hollande. The Turkish government's stance on the rights of women and the Kurdish minority continues to attract criticism. (Go To TURKEY)

Summary: efforts to build up a positive momentum continue in Kabul and Washington – this month we had the Tokyo conference of donors and the US decision to classify Afghanistan a ‘major non-NATO ally’. However, the mood remains muted in Afghanistan and there is little optimism about the future. (Go To AFGHANISTAN)

Summary: While foreign investment continues its free fall, the government believes that next year could see a turn-around with significant investment in the energy sector. Faith in Pakistan’s economic prospects remains low as government bonds are downgraded and political stability remains a long way off. (Go To PAKISTAN)

Summary: ‘the financial activity of NGOs; make slander and libel a criminal offence; and blacklist certain websites,’ are bills presented to parliament. Two moderate Islamic spiritual leaders are attacked in Tatarstan, signalling that the violence in the North Caucasus is spreading. Russia takes its final step towards entering the World Trade Organisation and presses Kazakhstan and Tajikistan to help secure its borders (but see Uzbekistan below) in anticipation of the 2014 US/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. (Go To RUSSIA)

The European Union is seeking to make it easier for students and businessmen to visit the EU in a move that critics say rewards President Viktor Yanukovych at a time when human rights abuses are still rife. Yulia Tymoshenko now stands accused of involvement in murder, and the appeal against her conviction for abuse of office has been postponed for a third time. The detention of her ally Yuri Lutsenko has been deemed unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights and Ukraine is becoming less democratic in what Freedom House calls a process of “Putinisation”. (Go To UKRAINE)

Unforgiving autocrat Alexander Lukaschenko has had a busy few months, with a Latin American tour of sympathetic socialist regimes and a visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Minsk at the end of May. Attacks on regime critics at home are ongoing, with a recent attempt to silence two Poles who have been critical of the government. The international community continues to shun the Belarusian state, and there are moves to prevent the World Hockey Championships from being held there. (Go To BELARUS)

The deaths of striking oil workers at Zhanoazen last December is attracting more attention from the international community as the United Nations accuses President Nazarbayev of putting economic prosperity before human rights, highlighting Kazakhstan's failure to live up to its claim of being a stable state moving towards greater democracy. (Go To KAZAKHSTAN)

Uzbekistan has suspended its membership of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation and reintroduced exit visa regimes for Uzbek citizens wanting to travel to neighbouring Turkmenistan and Tajikistan in what many see as the pursuit of an isolationist policy designed to protect the country's sovereignty. (Go To UZBEKISTAN)

If Bosnia wishes to be considered for EU candidate status, the country must amend its constitution to end discrimination towards ethnic minorities, the bloc says. Given that basic policy matters were insurmountable challenges for the fragmented political elite for a period of 16 months in which they could not form a government, many doubt whether the newly formed coalition will be able to meet this objective. The 17th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre on July 11 was marked with deep sadness but also with anger towards the authorities whom citizens view with increasing distrust and frustration. The ongoing trial of alleged war criminals Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic at The Hague is a reminder of the blood which stained this state's path to modernity. (Go To BOSNIA)

The election of Serbia's new President and Prime Minister, Tomislav Nikolic, and Ivaca Dadic, make observers deeply worried about the state's political progress. Both men have strong links to ultranationalism, and whilst espousing the European cause and emphasising an interest in the future of Serbia rather than its past, many are concerned about the country regressing. Nikolic in particular has managed to ruffle feathers across the Balkans with revisionist comments about the wars of the 1990s. For a state that under former president Boris Tadic made much progress in its attempts to join the EU, this election has proved worrying. Meanwhile Kosovo remains an issue, both in diplomatic terms, since the new government also refuses to recognize the state, and in terms of violent clashes between border guards, Serbs and Kosovans. (Go To SERBIA)

[Note: This Update was completed before North Korea announced on July 25 that Kim Jong-eun is indeed married, to Ri Sol-ju]
Summary: July was doubly eventful in North Korea, with two separate bursts of outside excitement in regard to the activities and ups and downs of its leadership. Kim Jong-eun was seen out and about with an unnamed young woman, including at a concert which featured unprecedented Western cultural motifs and styles.

Later in the month, a trio of promotions and demotions hinted at power struggles behind the scenes. Typically for Pyongyang, in both episodes the ratio of fact to speculation leaned heavily toward the latter. Yet in each case the observable tip of the iceberg was interesting, and the temptation to explore the unseen bits warranted. (Go To NORTH KOREA)

Summary: This past month has marked the 25th anniversary of the end of the Martial Law period. Over the past quarter century Taiwan has made great strides towards becoming a modern western-style democracy, but as the on-going incarceration and treatment of former President Chen Shui-bian shows, the transformation remains incomplete and indeed in some areas appears to have gone into reverse. (Go To TAIWAN)

Summary: On the afternoon of 23 July, President Aquino delivered his third state of the nation (SONA) address. It was a speech filled with optimism as the president gave an account of what had already been achieved through good governance and elimination of waste. And with two major obstacles – the former ombudsman and the chief justice – removed from office, more will be achieved during the remaining years of his presidency.

Forgiveness of the past, was not an option, he said. Those who allegedly plundered the country would get their day in court. (Go To PHILIPPINES)

Summary: On the international front not only has India projected its power more strongly vis-à-vis China, by conducting tough naval diplomacy but has also come under a fresh round of confrontation over allowing Taiwan to open a consulate in Chennai.

While India is set to have Pranab Mukherjee, a government backed candidate, as its 13th president after a period of complicated consensus building, regional parties have blocked the entry of FDI in the retail sector creating frustration for American companies such as Walmart seeking to enter the Indian market. Reflecting the diversity and dynamism of India’s politics, the same party – Samajwadi Party (SP) – which has vowed allegiance to the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government stood against it on this critical reform in the retail sector by joining hands with the Left Front. (Go To INDIA)

Summary: Recent high level visits to Vietnam by senior US officials have focused attention on the growing strategic importance of each country to the other, in the face of a resurgence of Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea. But while Vietnam is anxious to obtain greater access to US weaponry, Washington has made it clear that any further development of the relationship will depend on significant improvements in Hanoi’s human rights record. For the immediate future at least, the outcome is not encouraging.  (Go To VIETNAM).

Summary: With the World Bank pulling back its loan commitment for the Padma Bridge Project (because of perceived corruption), the Sheikh Hasina government has now pledged domestic resources for its completion and also targeted her nations outstanding citizen, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus for playing a role in the rejection of the loan! The master mind behind the micro-lending Grameen Bank, however, seems to be making major advancements in the social business sector by bringing a Japanese NGO on board and accepting the chancellorship of a UK university. On the ever burning issue of military coups and mutinies, while Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the government of extra-judicial killings and torturing of paramilitary personnel who mutinied in 2009, more than 250 people have been convicted by a court for killing senior officers and dumping bodies in sewers.

Finally, on a positive note, Bangladesh and India are on the verge of sorting their Teesta river sharing issues and land boundary conflicts. (Go To BANGLADESH)

                                                                Clive Lindley. Publisher



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