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July 2012 Country Archive


This issue surveys ‘The Arab Awakening,’ plus July country reports on:
Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia

(For quick access click on each country name)

North Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria.

No Summer Break For Geopoliticians

This month’s 22 fresh new country reports include:

Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

Summary: The Moscow talks on the Iranian nuclear programme have failed, now leaving little room for further negotiations. Sanctions are going to tighten in July and despite the Asian market more or less holding, Iran is facing the halving of its oil revenue in the medium term. This is now destined to be a ‘nervy’ period with Israel tempted to strike before the US presidential elections in November, thus putting maximum pressure on Obama to support their action and perhaps involve the USAF. Whatever else, it may be that history will determine that Iran has turned down perhaps the last opportunity of a face-saving way out from its position. Given the noted decline in Ahmadinejad’s power, this approach must now be laid at the door of Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. (Go To IRAN)

Summary: despite the fact that Iraq has done better than expected in terms of increasing its oil production, international investors are still not satisfied with the terms offered for oil contracts, which add to worries about the internal and regional political environment. The May oil and gas contracts auction ended up therefore in a failure. (Go To IRAQ)

Summary: In itself, cold and merciless, the downing of the Turkish Phantom should not be seen as anything more than standard military procedure. Were a Mexican fighter jet, or any other, to veer off international air space to end up flying over US territory, it too would trigger air defences to shoot it down, although there might or might not, first be a warning. There is nothing unusual about Syria’s reaction to the intruding airplane. Moreover, after the defection of the MiG 21, Syria was eager to send international signals that its defence systems were working properly and that the Air Force (and indeed the military as a whole, for that matter) remains well in the government’s grasp and those rumours of defections across the ranks, are just that, rumours. Turkey has been playing the Phantom incident to full effect, trying to present it as a deliberate hostile action in order to engage NATO, which, as demanded by a specific protocol (one which was not invoked), would have been forced to intervene on Ankara’s behalf. The fact that Iskanderun on the Turkish side of the Syrian-Turkish border has been serving as a major base from which various international agents, (apparently the whole process supervised by a CIA team to keep them out of the hands of Al Qaeda and similar jihadists, according to the NYT), are doling out weapons to the rebel Free Syrian Army and other militias, has been conveniently ignored in Turkey’s citations of international law violations by Syria. The same day incidentally, a flight of Turkish warplanes violated the Iraqi border to attack rebel Kurd bases in Kurdistan. (Go To SYRIA)

Summary: As Cyprus gears up to take the rotating presidency of the EU on July 1, Turkey has emphasized its on-going refusal to recognize the official Greek Cypriot government. This has in turn redirected attention towards the viability of Turkey's EU bid as a whole, which has seen a renewed impetus of late. Nonetheless the international agenda demands attention and shifting loyalties in Iraq, Iran and Israel are also providing challenges. A recent attempt to introduce an anti-abortion bill has been met with a storm of outrage, at the prospect of increased government interference with personal choice. Turkey's record on freedom of speech also shows no sign of improving. (Go To TURKEY)

Summary: The Arab Awakening in Libya has brought anarchy for the people and democracy for arms smugglers. At least the Oil is flowing….

Summary: The SCAF may be banking on maintaining the role of a very careful overseer, ensuring that the Muslim Brotherhood president’s position remains within acceptable parameters, especially when it comes to the choice of regional and international allies. This means that the presidential role could be very limited indeed and reduced to that of a figurehead. Morsi has already announced he will focus on national unity, appointing a Copt and a woman to fill the two vice-presidential positions. Should Morsi find ways to exercise some authority, he will likely adopt a position best described as centrist, perhaps gradually transforming the Muslim Brotherhood movement into the equivalent of the German or Italian Christian Democrats…perhaps not! (Go To EGYPT)

Saudi Arabia
Summary: The resumption of the ‘freedom to drive’ campaign and its coinciding with the appointment of who is perhaps the most liberal figure among the original ‘Sudairi’ (son of the favourite wife) princes, may yield more substantial results the second time around. Prince Salman’s appointment brings a new air to the power games around the Throne. This is not just because Salman had shown very little appetite to rule the Kingdom. His appointment, in fact, necessarily opens the door to the next generation for the succession. Salman’s nomination to the Allegiance Council as heir apparent (the next in line to the succession) will be watched closely. King Abdullah has not chosen a second deputy prime minister, which leads the Kingdom toward a younger generation of princes; the Saudis pass on their regal authority from brother to brother rather than from son to son and the successor is appointed by the ruling monarch. After Salman there are no more Sudairi brothers left. (Go To SAUDI ARABIA)

East Asia

North Korea:

Summary : June’s main event in North Korea occurred early in the month. The task of building up Kim Jong-eun as a credible leader continues, and Pyongyang’s peculiar political culture adds its own burdens. On the one hand, thrusting a callow twenty-something into the top slot merely because of who his father was compels a relentless emphasis on continuity. Now and for evermore, Kim Jong-eun must be lauded as the political heir and inheritor – the biological link as such goes unmentioned – of his father Kim Jong-il and grandfather Kim Jong-eun. (Go To NORTH KOREA)

South East Asia


Summary: Taiwan appears adrift in a tempest; not only is the government struggling with the vagaries of a global economy that appears uncertain at best, there is growing evidence of political struggles in China ahead of the leadership change later this year that add to the climate of uncertainty. Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has staked much on his soft-glove approach to China—many would call it obsequious—but so far the benefits are few to be seen and China’s present leaders may well tighten the screws and demand political talks in order to strengthen their hand ahead of regime change. This is something that Ma cannot deliver on without destroying whatever credibility he has left. Increasingly his much vaunted ‘golden age’ is looking more like a lead balloon. (Go To TAIWAN)

Summary: Like the Philippines, Vietnam is engaged with China over competing claims to the South China Sea. Passage of Vietnam’s own Law of the Sea legislation this past month has thrown fresh fuel on the flames and had resulted in fresh warnings from Beijing. In fact, under the United Nations law of the Sea Convention, neither Chinese nor Vietnam’s territorial claims would find favour. With ASEAN seemingly impotent and with China rejecting any negotiated compromise; the stage is set for an early return of the United States into an area it deems to be strategically important. (Go To VIETNAM)

China’s assertiveness in its dispute with ASEAN neighbours over control of the South China Sea has drawn first blood with the death of a Filipino fisherman after their fishing boat was rammed by a Chinese vessel within Filipino waters, but in an area claimed by China. Three fishermen were rescued but four are still missing. The growing belligerence of China in ignoring international boundaries set under the UN Law of the Sea Convention may have more to do with the power struggle currently underway in Beijing ahead of the expected leadership change than with anything else, but it is worrisome nevertheless. (Go To PHILIPPINES)

Summary: In light of the continuing spate of political and economic reforms in Myanmar, Western donors have pledged massive amounts of aid to Myanmar. However, the new democratic government has been treading its path carefully and delayed the introduction of foreign investment and SEZ laws. Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to hold talks amidst continuing communal violence between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists, and the increasing inflow of the former into Bangladesh. Finally, with US signalling possible military-to-military bilateral cooperation, Myanmar might witness a strategic turning point after years of international isolation. (Go To MYANMAR)

South Asia

Summary: While the economic situation and political conditions worsen for India, there is reason for the current Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to smile. After months of debates and political manoeuvring, the Government officially announced Mukherjee as its Presidential candidate, putting an end to speculation. Apart from the Presidential elections, the Government is trying hard to turn India’s growth story around, by introducing a series of measures that will contribute in increasing investor confidence, control inflation, and revalue the Indian Rupee. Amidst domestic political and economic management, concerns have been raised regarding India-Pakistan relations in wake of the current political crisis in Islamabad. Improving relations with India was primarily a policy of former Pakistan PM Yousaf Riza Gilani. Will the intensity change? Will everything go back to where it started after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks? (Go To INDIA)

Summary: the disqualification and removal from office of Prime Minister Gilani weakens the credibility of Pakistani state institutions, but not so much his party, the PPP, which can with some plausibility claim to be targeted unfairly. In the background the energy crisis gets worse and law and order continues to decline. (Go To PAKISTAN)

Summary: the Chicago summit has given some respite to the Karzai regime, clarifying that the US will protect it until 2014 and probably a little beyond that as well. But the succession to Hamid Karzai looks as problematic as ever, as even his family is deeply divided internally. (Go To AFGHANISTAN)

Russia & Former Soviet Union


Summary: Members of Russia's political elite speak publicly about the potential for revolution in Russia, as pressure is kept on the Kremlin to hold fresh Duma and presidential elections. State spending on the volatile North Caucasus is expected to be half the sum that Putin promised before he was president, and relations between Moscow and Washington cool further, as Obama and Putin fail to see eye to eye on Syria, while a Russian ship (under a flag of convenience), allegedly containing armed helicopters bound for Syria’s port of Tartus, is turned back from Scottish waters. (Go To RUSSIA)

Azerbaijan, which recently enjoyed its moment of fame in hosting the Eurovision song contest, has seen a spate of protest rallies occur in its capital in the run up to the event, which many have viewed as a chance to expose the repressive regime to international scrutiny. The Aliyev family manages an administration with all the hallmarks of an autocracy, based around cronyism, exploitation of the country’s considerable resources by the political elite, and a blanket refusal to accept manifestations of dissent. On her recent visit to Baku, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton offered some criticism of the regime’s rights record, whilst however demonstrating its strategic importance for the US’ operations in Afghanistan. (Go To AZERBAIJAN)

Turkmenistan continues to enjoy the clout that its energy wealth attracts, which has lined the pockets of its eccentric dictator Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, whose exploits veer from the mind-boggling to the terrifying. A deal to export natural gas to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan is the latest example of how its huge gas reserves have seen it broker major deals of economic and strategic geopolitical import. The country's citizens, meanwhile, continue to live in a state of zero political pluralism, limited human rights and state control in all spheres of life. (Go To TURKMENISTAN)

Russian-Georgian relations remain icy over the separatist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Tbilisi can still count on US support on this issue, however, which was made clear by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a recent visit to the Caucasus nation. Clinton, whilst praising Georgian participation in Afghanistan, also pointed out that the upcoming parliamentary elections must be held to international standards of transparency. There are mounting fears that the President is developing authoritarian tendencies in his attempts to quash his political opposition, in the form of the ‘Georgian Dream’ coalition led by influential billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. (Go To GEORGIA)



Romania has rejected the former authoritarian-style ruling party in local elections and the leftist party is on track to win parliamentary elections, putting the country on course to roll back austerity measures. But the state's love affair with the EU is cooling, as living standards remain poor and interest in joining the single currency dwindles. (Go To ROMANIA)

Heavily indebted and cash-strapped, Hungary is looking to make amendments to its laws on banking in a desperate bid to win an International Monetary Fund loan. Budapest is told it has little chance of joining the euro single currency as apathy towards the EU grows. Amidst continuing economic hardship, the popularity of the ruling Fidesz party is plummeting and ultra- nationalism is on the rise. (Go to HUNGARY)

Support for the fascist Ataka movement is rising, as Bulgaria's government continues to impose tough austerity measures that are preventing improvements in standards of living. Sofia is told it has little chance of joining the euro single currency as apathy towards the EU grows, amidst continuing economic hardship. (Go to BULGARIA)

                                                                Clive Lindley. Publisher



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