March 2012 Country Archive
PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW MARCH '12
This issue surveys ‘The Arab Awakening,’ plus March
Syria, Libya, Turkey,
Egypt, Saudi Arabia,
Morocco, Iraq, Iran
(For quick access click on
each country name)
The Arab Awakening
“To Democratise is to Islamicize”
This perception from Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center
was by way of public explanation for the Russian stance on Syria. Unfortunately,
we think it hits the nail square on the head. RUSSIA were being demonised
because they have (since the 1960’s) been arms suppliers to SYRIA, yet some
media try to make it appear that they have only recently become involved, like
the Saudi’s clandestine help to the rebels. Given the neighbouring Israeli
presence the US never did, nor were ever likely to supply Syria.
The fact is that this is a civil war that is going on in Syria. To deny that and
call it something else is to prevaricate. It is a brutal civil war but not in
every part of the country. Both the government and the rebels have done and are
doing terrible things. There are no Geneva conventions here!
It isn’t new for Syria. The two powerful strands in the country are the secular
Baath, led by the Assads and based on the approx 30 % religious minorities; and
the Moslem Brethren based on the Sunni majority. In a sense this uprising is the
latest round in a history of brutality between them, going back for decades.
As we have consistently reported over past months, arms have been flowing to the
rebels from Saudi Arabia; Jordan; Lebanon and Iraq; indeed generally from the
Sunni Moslem neighbours, because what the west seems to have not yet fully
caught onto is that:
this war is about bringing the nation back to God!
Baath Syria is, as Baath Iraq was also, a secular state where all religions and
none are equally acceptable.
The Arab League is almost entirely Sunni Moslem
SYRIA currently occupies a lot of news time. Those brave but reckless western
journalists reporting from inside SYRIA are mostly there without permission, and
so have their mentors from amongst the rebel groups, get their news and shoot
their film from the perspective of the rebels on the receiving end of the
shelling, etc. That does enable readers and viewers to have reports and see, not
only the violence of the military assault, but also some of the horrors
perpetrated by the rebels, particularly in literally ‘butchering’ certain
classes of prisoner.
The government knows it is in a civil war, which it does not intend to lose. The
western ‘line’ to have the president stand down, is presumably to allow a
democratic choice of a successor. Such a presumption is either cynical in the
extreme, or plain naïve. But ‘naïve’ won’t do for the US, UK or French foreign
They have picked sides. Yet the side they want to win has at least four heads.
The BBC published a ‘Guide to the Syrian Opposition,’ which it says is
“fractious and deeply divided.” The Syrian National Council that Foreign
Secretary Hague of the UK is backing, are largely exiles living outside the
country. Whatever the other opposition groups stand for, the one that matters is
the Moslem Brotherhood. They have always been there and have rebelled before,
based on Hama and Homs in 1982 when they took fearful casualties. If the
overthrow of the Alawites were possible, then there is no doubt who a
‘democratic Syria’ would choose, as in Tunisia and Egypt. The majority are of
course Sunni, (hence the support of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states) but with a
large minority, some 30% to 33% who are not. Neighbouring Iraq already has a de
facto Shia government, much to the dismay of the Saudis whose major worry at
this time is their confrontation with Iran. Now the US has withdrawn, Iran
indeed can be seen to be the major beneficiary of the US 1993 invasion of Iraq.
So much for miscalculation!
Indeed the US, UK, and French support for the rebels - any rebels, would seem
primarily to be driven by the desire to eradicate Iran’s only Arab ally. Is it
that it simply seems too good an opportunity to allow to pass by?
“The Friends of Syria” the name for the US/UK/ France conference held in late
February in neighbouring Tunisia, was used by grandstanding western statespeople
to protest the Syrian government’s assault on the rebel base area in Homs, in
which many innocent civilians mixed up with the armed rebels, have undoubtedly
suffered death and mutilation. But this illustrates that it is a civil war,
inevitably ugly and unspeakably cruel. It is not very different to the recent
events in Libya, but the upshot of that, where the NATO contribution made the
big difference, can now be seen in the state of chaos that remains.
The Arab League as arbiters of democracy (see below) are a sad, bad joke. So
many of their members - and of the western governments involved, have got a dog
in this fight. Can there be any doubt that the US/ UK/ France/ Israel/Turkey see
this as an opportunity to stick it to the Iranians? Their talk of peaceful
resolutions, yet instant dismissive reaction to Assad’s referendum, indicates
simply that they want him gone. But if that happened, the Alawites who would
quite rightly be in fear of their lives, would pick another leader, his ’attack
dog’ brother perhaps, a pugnacious Special Forces general.
Syria having been cold shouldered except by Russia, since the time of the
Israeli wars, had found an ally in Iran. This, unusually for the middle-east has
not been a matter of religion, since Syria has long been a secular state where
all religions or none, are a personal matter for their citizens. The Alawites,
like most of the other minorities, are one variety of ‘nonconformist’ Moslem, as
are the Druses, the Ismailis, the Shia and more, who differ from the majority
primarily in that they are not mainstream (Sunni). With a secular constitution,
before beating up its own people, Syria could have been said, by definition, to
be one step (a long stride to be sure), nearer a western style democracy than
any others except Lebanon, in the Arab world (which as we can see, is still a
very long way).
After a full year of revolution there are at least four separate Syrian rebel
organisations each with different backers. Which would dominate, should they
succeed? To the mainstream Sunni, it is an affront to belong to a state which
allows freedom of religion. ‘Secular’ simply means ‘godless’ to the rebels, who
are motivated to bring in sharia law and the dominance of their religion, (yet
outsiders will claim as we do, that a secular state is a necessary forerunner of
The organised rebels are doubtless enhanced by nascent democrats, as in Egypt
‘the internet savvy’ generation, and those who have lost family members, but the
long existing mainstream rebels of the Moslem Brotherhood desire particular
change which, includes rejoining the umma, thus restoring the power of religion
– specifically the Sunni branch of Islam. They also want revenge on the al-Assads
and the Alawites.
To the rebels, self-evidently ‘God’ is a cause worth dying for. None of this is
to deny that the government of the Alawites have run a tight ship in Syria,
allied with the other minorities –Syrian Orthodox Christian, Druses, Kurds, Shi-ites,
Ismailis, Armenian Christians, together totalling about a third of the
population. In this severe regime they have not been significantly different to
the other nations of the Arab Awakening, to which freedom and justice are
strangers. The Sunni middle-class here have been compensated with light
government and taxes, and have prospered. Hence central Damascus and Aleppo -
the main business and population centres, have remained supportive of the Assads.
The rebels have little support there, in fact to the contrary, since the revolt
has obviously had a major negative impact on business.
There is a probability and this is our main fear, that if this civil war goes to
the rebels, the Alawites and the other minorities including the Syrian and
Armenian Christians with whom they are allied, would be subject to a far
reaching religious purge, a terrible religious war, with the west, as now,
standing helpless on the sidelines.
Under the Assad family it has long been by western standards, cruel to its
enemies, and in this fighting it certainly has matched or even outdone the
rebels, brutality for brutality. Of course the government can be seen to be
doing this by their use of artillery, but it is not a solution for Assad to step
down, to make way as the Western governments wish, for what? A democratic
government like… where exactly?
See below: The ARAB LEAGUE. On which Arab state should a new Syria model itself?
Our SYRIA report concludes that ‘stalemate’ might be how that nation and this
crisis will wind up. The fact is that this has been the ugliest confrontation in
the ‘Arab Awakening’ with issues about heresy as prominent as democracy, and
deep divides between the western powers with Moscow, Beijing and Tehran, and
their Syrian proxies, none of which happened in the case of Libya. (Go To SYRIA)
The Arab League as arbiters of democracy
World Audit Democracy table has a right sidebar panel below
listing all the members of the Arab League out of 150 nations in the world in
order of democracy. 2012 figures reproduced here. For methodology see World
|United Arab Emirates
Their highest ranking is 74th place out of 150 nations in the world! To have the
Arab League pontificate about democracy is simply ludicrous. They were formed in
1945 and this is as far as they’ve got with their civil societies, after 67
years of sharing the world with all the many different forms that there are of
To say that democracy is not understood by the Arab member states, is manifestly
to misrepresent the case. They understand it - and nowhere do the rulers want
it! Remember democracy means not only ‘fair votes,’ and other ‘political
rights’, but ‘human rights,’ a clean system of courts and of impartial justice -
with ‘corruption’ no part of the equation. If it were just votes - as Stalin is
attributed with saying, it doesn’t matter who votes- what matters is
So in the obvious absence of democracy, then stability may be the next best
thing. But if a government is so cruel and tyrannical, as it is claimed is
Syria, then it is up to Syrians to change it, not for outside powers to ordain
that a government or a leadership must change, without any evidence that this
would make for a better situation and with every likelihood that it would become
As the academic in Moscow noted: ‘democratisation equals Islamicization’.
Democrats must take cognisance. If that is the will of the people, then so be
However people of goodwill must understand that they can compare the society the
Syrians would then endure, which would at best be like Saudi Arabia (with
religious police, public executions and floggings, stoning of women, as
prescribed by Sharia law, all without the healing application of money), or
Iran, with the mullahs in control of every aspect of life and Sharia as the
means of exercising justice. (GO TO SYRIA )
Read this issue of Libya- a post-revolutionary example. The successor state to Qadaffi’s regime has now broken up to country-wide lawlessness with
well armed mobile clans who can’t believe their luck – life has never been so
good, they are the masters now of a masterless state!
Libya which seemed so clear-cut, (so much so as to have game-changing NATO
military intervention), within a matter of months has shown that violence has
not brought democracy. Rather it has seen the end of fighting a dictator turn
into anarchy - not even close to the stability which Qadaffi did at least
provide, which might come to be seen as second best, if democracy cannot
So it has now become something of a lawless jungle, currently dominated by
mobile gunmen of no known allegiance, but will in our view eventually fall to
the Moslem Brotherhood. The Moslem Brethren there have clandestinely survived
the time of the Qadaffis, and just as in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, they possess
what the other hopefuls don’t have, that is both organisation and a long-held,
well understood mission, that they are the party of God. (Go To LIBYA)
Prime Minister Erdogan continues to have a place at the centre of geopolitical
events, where Turkey the former imperial power over the several states in the
Arab Awakening, has itself exemplified the moving on from the theocracy, that
plagues so many middle-eastern states. Whilst promoting ‘soft Islam,’ a concept
not unlike the Christian Democrats of Europe, they have to have careful regard
for their own geopolitical interests. Theocratic Iran is their next door
neighbour and although on reasonable terms, has been a rival for many centuries.
Turkey as with Iran, Iraq and Syria all have minority Kurdish populations with
the capacity to become the swing vote in government as in Iraq. Or, to be
destabilising civil life as in Turkey, where there has been warfare going on
between the Turkish army and Kurdish independence fighters for several decades.
Turkey, once an ally of the Syrian government has definitely turned against the
al-Assads, but this might have as much to do with concerns about the Iranian
influence in Baghdad, as disgust at the military atrocities. We also look a
little more closely at the Turkish style of democracy, which whilst
substantially better than any of its neighbours, is far from being beyond
causing concern. Our report explores these issues and more. (Go To TURKEY)
From the western media’s point of view the ‘revolution’ is on hold, whilst the
big news is the 43 defendants, including 16 Americans working for NGO’s who have
been arrested, and charged with not having proper licences to be operating in
Egypt; and with their funding now re-classified as ‘illegal funds from abroad”.
It is believed that the military junta which still runs Egypt has been deeply
annoyed, because these mostly young enthusiasts have been saying in various
quarters what many westerners and Egyptians think: that it is time for the
military to pass on their civil powers to the newly elected parliament. The US
has responded with what must be true: that if Egypt criminalises these young aid
workers, the US Congress will almost certainly decline to pass the annual Bill
of aid to Egypt, averaging around one thousand, two hundred, million dollars
each year (most of which goes to the military). The Egyptian media on the other
hand is complaining that the US is interfering in Egyptian affairs – so what’s
new? Paying annually 1.2 billion US Taxpayer’s dollars must entitle them to have
something to say about this outrageous persecution of aid workers, whose
motivation is to want the best for the country they are working in. More detail
in the report: (Go To EGYPT)
The Kingdom now has to cope not only with Syria, where they are backing and
unofficially arming the rebels, but also Iraq, which with the Americans gone, is
with its Shi’ite leadership inevitably favouring the Iranians. So much so, that
the Saudis believe, according to WikiLeaks, that the Prime Minister, al-Maliki
is an Iranian agent! However in February, Riyadh resumed diplomatic relations
with Baghdad, no doubt expecting troubled times ahead. The report tells of Saudi
concerns about the Shi-ites. Saudi is mindful of the vacuum caused by the lack
of a regional power, which the US became when it had its armed forces in Iraq.
The competition is clearly Iran. In this context of a possible ‘Shi-ite A-bomb,’
we look at the question of Saudi nuclear ambitions, for which the Saudis are
talking with the Chinese, as Washington is understandably reluctant to share
nuclear technology, to avoid an all-out nuclear arms race in the Gulf. This
attitude we believe has been pushing the Saudis closer to China, who have their
own interests in getting closer to the worlds largest oil producer. (Go
to SAUDI ARABIA)
Morocco has so far come through the Arab Awakening seemingly unharmed. The
government, a relatively benign monarchy, has ridden the waves and society has
emerged with some progress to show. As our report explains, this is perhaps the
most successful of all the Arab nations embroiled in change, but it is
noteworthy that it was the Islamists of the Justice and Development party that
made the biggest impact in elections. (Go
More or less unaffected by the resurgence of the other MENA nations, Iraq has no
shortage of problems of its own. It is emerging that the government has not been
making a very good fist of running its oil industry, and we report several
changes of policy. They have not been quick learners, but hopefully they will
get there in the end. Since it is claimed that Iraqi oil reserves compare with
those of neighbouring Saudi Arabia, then theoretically, if they can get their
act together, this should become a very rich state. The president al Maliki,
whom the Saudis, according to wikileaks believe to be an Iranian agent, is
undoubtedly calling all the shots in terms of government, even though this
involves some amazing sleight of hand in dealing –well or badly, with the
several powerful components of the Iraqi body politic.
Our report tells of how tensions in Baghdad with the Sunni Arabs are easing –the
Sunni lawmakers ended their boycott of parliament and a little later, the Sunni
Cabinet members also went back. Now it’s the turn of the Shi’ites, as we
explain. (Go To IRAQ)
Although Iran is an important and ancient nation of some 70 million people, it
seems to attract disproportionately more attention than any other nation on
earth. As of now, it has no nuclear bomb nor the missiles to weaponise it,
although its enemy Israel, claim it is planning to produce a bomb. - North Korea
meanwhile, as any one who reads our reports can see, not only has both bombs and
missiles and is at least as pugnacious as Iran ever was. But of course there is
no Israel in the firing line. The effect of this is that North Korea remains a
worry –a problem as yet unsolved, but not one to keep the world’s leaders awake
at nights. But Israel, when head to head with Iran, is truly scary with war
drums beating in Tel Aviv, and the geopolitical debate as to whether the
impressive IAF will go in anyway, even if not unleashed by the US.
Whether or not it would achieve the objective of destroying a future Iranian
military nuclear capacity, as of now nil, what it undoubtedly would be is an act
of war and what it would do is to evoke Iranian reprisals, not necessarily on
distant Israel but certainly on US interests. Who else could be held responsible
for allowing, not preventing their client Israel from going ahead?
No doubt plans for reprisals have been prepared, the oil transport bottleneck of
the Gulf of Hormuz is heavily tipped as the place. This is not, of course a
matter of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard motorboats taking on the mighty US navy,
but simply of their mining the Straits. No matter that minesweepers would be
deployed, what insurance companies would cover the risk of a super-tanker
hitting and being destroyed by a mine – and for how many years to come? Apart
from speculators in the price of oil it would be devastating for much of the
rest of the world. As has been commented, the world would have ‘sleep-walked
into war’ – and this in a US election year (!) But how would it finish?
Our reports from Iran necessarily look at the international situation which
constantly is changing, but also at the internal political situation which is
both fascinating and important, as it amounts to clear instability in a divided
government. It shows a capacity to improve the situation, or to see it become
considerably worse. (Go To IRAN)
Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, North Korea, Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam,
Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Hungary, Bosnia, Serbia.
Within a few days of our publication date, the March 4th Russian presidential
election will have taken place with Putin ensconced for a further six years in
his third presidential term. Our RUSSIA report tells of mass demonstrations
against Putin, simply unheard of before, but largely sparked by the resentment
of city folks against the crude electoral tactics of United Russia, back in the
December Duma elections.
For Russians who once controlled a third of the world, who put the first man
into space, whose history is studded with great names in literature, science,
the arts, indeed all of the accomplishments of an advanced society, to have to
stand by and witness the busloads of United Russia youth having their fun,
stuffing the ballot boxes in each of Moscow’s election stations as though Russia
was on the lower tier of third world dictatorships, it all became a stuffed vote
too far. Already the announcement by Putin that he was resuming his presidency
by arrangement with Medvedev, who would become the new prime minister, had
struck a discordant note, even in a ‘pretend’ democracy.
The candidates are Zyuganov (Communist); Mironov (“A Just Russia”); Zhirinovsky
(“Lib Dem”); Prokhorov (Independent); and of course: Putin (“United Russia”)
Putin has achieved a lot for Russia in the years since Boris Yeltsin, although
Russians understood that he always was the KGB’s man from the time he entered
government, so the power behind him was no mystery at all. Thus far he did and
probably still could win fair and square against a chosen field of candidates;
but to eliminate on ‘technicalities’ any candidate who could certainly show a
good result and therefore could have an established position for the following
election, which is what Putin/Medvedev have done, is treating the electorate
like idiots – they now understand that, and they don’t like it!
See below the disqualified candidates and the reasons advanced by the
The following candidates were denied registration by the Russian Central
Elections Committee (CEC).
||Reason of rejection
||Rejected due to the high
quantity of invalid signatures he presented to the CEC (25.66%).
||Writer, Leader of the
unregistered Party The Other Russia
||Registration request from
group of voters turned down on the grounds that the required two million
signatures had not been certified by a notary.
||Colonel General in Reserve,
President of the Academy of Geopolitical Affairs
||Registration request from
group of voters turned down because he did not inform the CEC about holding
a meeting in due time
||Governor of the Irkutsk Oblast
||Rejected due to the high
quantity of invalid signatures he presented
||Registration request turned
down because at the time of registration attempt he had lived in Russia for
less than 10 years.
||Writer, former leader of the
National Sovereignty Party of Russia
||Registration request from
group of voters turned down on the grounds that the candidate had been
previously convicted of writing extremist texts.
||Head of the unregistered
political party Volya
||Rejected due to the lack of
signatures gathered to uphold her bid (243,245 signatures gathered out of
the necessary 2 million).
||Leader of the unregistered
party Freedom and Sovereignty
||Did not present any signatures
required for registration.
||Leader of the Chairman of the
People's Patriotic Union of Orenburg, CEO of Zorro LLC
||Did not present any signatures
required for registration.
||Leader of the group "Against
Criminality and Lawlessness"
||Submitted an application on
creation of an initiative committee, but later dropped out of the
||Rejected by the CEC because
she didn't provide the necessary documentation.
Note that candidates from unregistered parties require 2 million signatures to
put up candidates, whilst registered parties do not! Then see the attempts at
registration above and the grounds on which the committee turned them down.
We suspect that it’s unlikely that Putin would even need to ‘fix’ the vote in
present circumstances, after all, the population is enormously widely dispersed
and he has a lot of positives in his favour, including an organisation in all 89
republics of the federation – and who counts the votes? But this might be the
last election where he could ‘walk over.’ The test of that is for the still
remaining six years, for which he constitutionally can put up again, if he so
wishes, one more time in 2018.
Any protest vote this time might well go to the communists, by OAPs remembering
‘the glory days’. But Prokhorov, ‘the mystery billionaire’ generally assumed to
be a stalking horse for the Kremlin, might do well for that reason. We are
influenced by the ‘smart’ Russian commentators that claim EVERY Russian
billionaire was subject to orders from the Kremlin, as Khordokovsky in his
Siberian cell might now confirm.
Go To RUSSIA.
There is a definite winding down theme in the news coming out of Afghanistan,
and a collapsing of what passed for order. It’s not all over by any means, but
the West has decided that they cannot do more than they have done, and so
planning to bring the troops home is the next step. For policy makers of course,
there is a lot of talking to do and as our report tells, there is heat if not
light between the parties, as to whether or not the Taleban should have an
office in neutral Qatar.
These parties are the US, Pakistan (who now have to face a future without the
backup of advanced military technology in dealing with their rebellious hillmen);
and Afghanistan itself, whose government might survive, but in certain
circumstances could just blow away in the wind
Our current report looks at all of these factors and more. (Go
Domestically there are three centres of power, any one of which might gain the
upper hand. Obviously there is the elected government, whose weaknesses are more
apparent then their strengths; the Army together with the ISI, their
intelligence arm, whose presence has been all too apparent in the chaos of this
nation. But in addition, the Courts have now become active power players and are
confronting the military over illegal imprisonments , torture of prisoners,
‘disappearances,’ and other causes seemingly impossible to confront. But resting
on the constitution, the courts have come into their own. The Pakistani position
is complex in the extreme, better understood we believe if following our expert
analyses. (Go To PAKISTAN)
China and India, the largest importers of Iranian oil are not joining the oil
sanctions which the US has persuaded many other important nations to implement.
Our report explains the position of India regarding sanctions, but also with
regard to Iran’s nuclear situation and Israel’s ratcheting up tensions with open
Further, India has a large Shia Moslem population which is not currently causing
difficulties, but given that Iran is the spiritual home of all Shi-ites, New
Delhi are not going to let that become a problem. Following the recent bomb
blast directed at an Israeli diplomat, which Tel Aviv quickly attributed to
Iranian agents, to the rest of the world it looked like a lethal tit-for-tat,
following the street assassination of an Iranian nuclear engineer, similarly
targeted in his car with a magnetic-clamp bomb.
The report examines the position of India with regard to its neighbour Iran, as
well as giving an update on the important elections in Uttar Pradesh (India’s
largest state). (Go
For the Korea watcher, this issue will tell you if not all, then most of what
you might want to know about the hermit kingdom and there’s a great deal to
choose from. Always relevant is the disparity with which the western world
regards North Korea (which has both A-bombs and long distance missiles), with
their attitude to IRAN which has neither. But let your Korea watching start
here. Particularly because there is a new paramount boss here. News of N.Korea
accepting Food Aid in return for halting their nuclear program, came too late
for this issue. We will fully cover this in our next (April) issue. (Go to
This issue, in comparing leaderships, looks back on the 26th anniversary of the
departure of President and Imelda Marcos, laden down with loot; and then looks
at the presidents that followed: Corizon Aquino was one successor, the widow of
the popular Senator Aquino, assassinated as he disembarked from the plane, on
which he had returned to the Philippines. Their son Benigno is the current
president and we observe that he is dong a good job in cleaning out the ‘Augean
stables,’ the mess in which various plundering predecessors had left the nation.
We also observe that Judicial Reform is at the top of the ‘to do’ list, since a
corrupt bench of judges enabled the looting to take place and are hindering the
government’s campaign against graft. (Go
President Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT is ‘sitting pretty’ having been assured of a
further four years as president. With the excitement of the election now fast
fading, we examine and make what we can of the recent and current economic
figures, the underlying reality of which is that whatever problems Taiwan has,
as one of the world’s great exporters, the fact is that its international
customers are buying less, given the problems of the Recession. The only good
economic news was that its unemployment figures have remained stable at 4.18%.
The future depends so much on its customers, foremost amongst which is mainland
China, which is due a leadership change in the autumn, that might mean policy
changes! (Go to TAIWAN)
Last month’s issue looked at the economy of Vietnam but this month we look at
the human rights situation, 37 years after their war finished with the USA.
The Central Committee has determined to take the country into ‘comprehensive
integration’ with the Asia Pacific region, which includes fully
democratic nations like Australia, New Zealand , where freedom of the individual
is highly prized and human rights jealously guarded. So how will Vietnam be
‘comprehensively integrated’ in terms of its very restrictive civil society? We
quote the latest Human Rights Watch survey which devotes five
pages to Vietnam. It’s not good, in fact its pretty awful as readers will see.
We make the point above about the war with America, that finished in 1975.
Obviously in wartime civil liberties are restricted but that’s long gone and the
world is, or should be, a different and better place.
There is a question why is the government so routinely cruel to its own
citizens? Vietnam is one of five remaining communist countries, the others
being: North Korea; Laos; China; Cuba. Of these, North Korea in our assessment
would be the worst, indeed World Audit’s Democracy League table has them at
150th place (out of 150); Laos is at 142; Cuba at 132 Vietnam is at 128; China
is on 120.
Given that the world is no longer divided into two camps why should it be that
the remaining communist countries treat their citizens this way? Our report
itemises the various forms of repression and it doesn’t make for a pretty
picture. Yet Vietnam is a fascinating country, with much to interest the tourist
which tourism industry should be making a worthwhile contribution to the
economy. But we note by way of a conclusion, that the government is becoming
sensitised to some injustices and can only hope that the programme of
comprehensive integration with the Asia Pacific countries will lead to an easing
of the constrictions on society that are so apparent. (Go
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released in January says fears that
pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world might spread to Azerbaijan have
fuelled a crackdown on dissent.
Opposition parties in Azerbaijan joined forces, signalling a political shift.
They met on January 12 in Baku to officially create a new Resistance Movement
for a Democratic Society. But the parties' aims differ and it’s not certain that
they represent any real challenge to the Aliyev regime, who can be considered
In the meantime, rogue elements are presenting a security threat to the
government and straining the country’s relations with Iran. On January 19,
Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry (MNS) said that it had uncovered a
terror group with Iranian links that was plotting to assassinate public figures.
This has created an aggressive standoff between the two countries. Azerbaijan,
which has a secular government, has friendly relations with Israel and the US,
and Iran has accused Azerbaijan of helping Israeli assassins. In particular, the
government has accused Azerbaijan of allowing the safe passage of Israeli secret
servicemen that it claims were responsible for the killings of Iranian nuclear
scientists. Azerbaijan denied the accusation and said that Iran’s stance was an
"absurd reaction" to Azerbaijan's protest over the alleged plot by Iranian
agents to kill Israelis in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan is ‘caught in the middle’ of the West’s plans to impose sanctions on
Iran. Western governments are trying to isolate the state and starve it of oil
revenues, but in doing so, Western companies operating in Azerbaijan stand to
lose out. (Go to: AZERBAIJAN)
Georgia is inflating the level of military cooperation that it has with the US
in order to stand tall against Russia. However, the White House is keen to
dampen its fire, in order to have a more open dialogue with Moscow on the issues
of Syria and Iran. After visiting the United States on February 1st, Georgian
President Mikheil Saakashvili said that talks that he had held with US President
Barak Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had raised US-Georgian
strategic ties to a “new level”.
The issue of defence between the two countries has been strained since the brief
2008 war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia. Since then, the United
States has not provided Georgia with any weapons, although it has given Georgian
troops military training. Georgian officials have complained that there is
effectively an embargo against them and President Mikheil Saakashvili has been
consistently keen to get hands on more US arms.
Washington is rightly nervous of being seen to give Georgia significant military
assistance and has long been annoyed with Saakashvili's belligerence and thirst
for weapons. While President Obama has held back from promising Saakashvili
significantly more than his country already receives from the US, he has
suggested that the US could sign a free trade agreement with the country. During
Saakashvili's trip, Obama said that it was a "possibility" and would be a
"win-win" situation for both countries. Obama also reaffirmed America's support
for Georgia's ambition to join NATO, which given the obligation of All fellow
members to rush to the aid of any member of NATO under attack, might appear to
belong in the higher flights of lunacy, given Saakashvili’s noted pugnacity
Given Russia's future uncertainties, as popular discontent with President
Vladimir Putin grows, the US will likely bide its time before making any firmer
promises. (Go to: GEORGIA).
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, has arranged for five more years as
leader of the Central Asian state, keeping the EU’s prospects for buying gas
from the country the same. On February 12, Berdymuhamedov won “97 per cent” of
votes in a presidential election that international observers didn’t even bother
to oversee, for lack of competition. Berdymuhamedov ran against seven candidates
including government ministers and the director of a state-run textile factory,
but none of them presented a threat. Nomination for them was a poisoned chalice,
in case any of them did well. Not a good career move! All applauded him in the
run-up to the polls, and few voters recognised anyone on the ballot paper, other
than the president, whose portrait hangs everywhere.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) sensibly didn’t
send observers into Turkmenistan during the polls, saying that being there
wouldn’t "add value", given the limited freedoms and the lack of political
competition in the country.
According to the Turkmen election commission, official turnout among the 2.9
million registered voters was “96.7 percent”. International rights groups say
there is little evidence that Turkmenistan is improving its human rights record.
Ruled with an iron fist for more than 20 years, the only area where Turkmenistan
has become more open is business. Turkmenistan has four per cent of the world’s
proven gas reserves and international energy companies are grappling to get
their hands on it. Keen to develop a wide range of customers and to attract
investment, Berdymuhamedov has courted companies in the EU, US and China.
However, he has left Europe dangling over the proposed Nabucco pipeline. The
pipeline, if built would supply gas to Europe and bypass Russia. But it cannot
go ahead unless economically, there is enough gas to fill it. While Azerbaijan
has agreed to meet some of the demand, the EU needs Turkmenistan’s reserves to
make the project viable. (Go to: TURKMENISTAN)
Our Editors resolved years ago, that with the exception of Romania and Bulgaria,
we would no longer report EU member nations because NewNations reports ‘nations
in transition’ and EU membership in itself, was normally sufficient evidence of
democracy. But then there was Hungary,’ slipped off the democratic twig’, behaving
badly, and needing the hopefully improving bright light of publicity.
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the leader of the right wing Fidesz
party, has been in power for two controversial years. During this period, he has
been accused of rolling back democratic advances in the Eastern European country
particularly via changes to the constitution inaugurated on January 1, which
some have called tantamount to a 'constitutional coup'. Numerous international
bodies, from the US state department, to the OSCE, to Brussels itself have
lambasted changes which they consider an affront to the values of democracy
enshrined by the EU, of which Hungary is an increasingly reluctant member.
Orban's recent political escapades have earned him an unenviable soubriquet -the
Budapest has been attempting to stave off the effect of a long-term budget
shortfall that has brought the country to the edge of bankruptcy at several
points. The European Commission has downgraded its economic outlook for Hungary
to a 0.1% contraction this year, versus growth of 0.5% previously, in forecasts
made earlier this week. The EU has taken punitive measures against Budapest
until it can prove that it can cut its budget deficit to less than 3%. The
government has described the decision as "unfounded and unfair.”
The IMF is also reluctant to offer funds, while the central bank's independence
is threatened. It says that unless changes are instituted, a bailout fund is off
the cards. In mid-January the European Commission gave Hungary one month to
respond to its concerns over the central bank legislation. That deadline is fast
Another bone of contention with the EU is the general tightening of state
apparatus under this regime, which some critics believe to be a reflection of a
new authoritarianism. Media freedom, observers say, has suffered greatly under
Orban. Abortion and same-sex marriages are now outlawed, and discrimination
against women and sexual minors is inscribed at a legislative level. All but 14
religious denominations have been denied official recognition, thus losing
tax-exempt status and state school payments. The European Commission has just
launched three suits against Hungary, arguing that Orban's actions and policies
are in breach of European law. The commission noted specific concerns about
constraints on the central bank's independence, excessive influence on the
country's judiciary and data protection laws, which the government's critics
claim infringe privacy laws.
There are some for whom Orban's defiance against the EU strikes a chord - many
believe that accession to the Union has not benefited the country as a whole.
Hungary's dependence on foreign funds means that Budapest has no choice at the
moment but to negotiate with its more democratic neighbours. (Go to: HUNGARY)
On February 10, a major breakthrough came for Bosnia Herzegovina in the shape of
a newly–created central government, finally formed after more than 16 months of
political gridlock between Serb, Croat and Muslim leaders. As in the previous
government, Serb parties will control the main economic positions, whilst the
defence and security posts will be taken up by Bosniak parties. The new Prime
Minister of Bosnia is Vjekoslav Bevanda, a Bosnian Croat economist and former
regional finance minister. Zlatko Lagumdzija of the Social Democratic Party
(SDP), a previous candidate for the Prime Minister's post, will serve as Foreign
The budget is a matter of urgency: State officials did not receive their
salaries in the month of January and the doors of national cultural institutions
are closing as their employees face mountains of wage arrears. Bevanda has
confirmed that he hopes that a budget will be passed by the end of March.
Sixteen months of political stagnation meant that the opportunity to access
valuable EU funds was missed, and sixteen years on from the war that devastated
the region, foreign investors are still somewhat wary. Unemployment reached a
four-year high at the start of this year at 43% and a significant divide between
rural and urban standards of living exists, with some rural communities enduring
Bosnia’s future harmony depends on the cooperation between its different ethnic
constituents. Coming to terms with the past is nonetheless part of Bosnia’s
future and in particular, its attempt to resuscitate an EU bid, which remains a
key part of the Balkan state’s long-term strategy. Polls show that 70-80% of
Bosnians want to join the Union, which, despite its problems, remains an
attractive source of financial sustenance. Upon its formation, Bosnia's new
central government immediately laid out ambitious plans to meet all conditions
set by the European Union over the course of March and apply for membership of
the bloc by the end of June. Much remains to be done if Bosnia is going to
recover from the political petrification which it has experienced over the past
year, due to the sparring of its political elites.
Aside from the economical and political matters, the cold snap affecting all of
Europe, forced the government to declare a state of emergency in snow-bound
Sarajevo. A thaw is mercifully underway. (Go to: BOSNIA)
Serbia has experienced some turbulence in the past months, as Boris Tadic’s
government faces a mountain of economic problems: swelling unemployment, a
withering report from the IMF on its budget and downgraded growth prospects.
Politicians, however, have other matters on the agenda – such as upcoming
elections and ongoing problems with neighbouring Kosovo.
The cold snap has not left Serbia untouched. Huge snowfalls saw 11,000 villagers
trapped by snow in Serbian mountains and least twenty people have lost their
lives. 32 municipalities in the country were forced to introduce emergency
measures, with helicopter evacuations taking place in the centre of the country
and schools and universities closing. Energy consumption sky-rocketed. As the
snow has melted, ice floes have moved down the Danube, damaging dozens of small
boats. The estimated financial cost of the cold snap is $660 million.
A recent IMF mission to Belgrade ended without a deal to allow the government to
borrow from the fund. Under the agreement with the IMF, Serbia's 2012 budget
deficit must not exceed 4.25% of gross domestic product. Unfortunately, it
already does. The refusal of the IMF to facilitate the loan is of particular
concern to employers, who are keen to ensure the international body is involved
in Serbia's economic strategies; they are particularly concerned about excess
state spending prior to the elections, due to take place on May 6.
Corruption remains inherently linked to the nation's economic issues, but the
government claims to have been making strenuous efforts to reduce it. The
omnipresent issue of organized crime is another source of concern, particularly
in terms of the nation's EU bid. In a positive step forward, on February 3, the
presidents of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia met in the Bosnian ski
resort of Jahorina to discuss ways of fighting the organized crime that plagues
Kosovo is a matter of ongoing conflict, though recently resumed dialogue between
the two countries has been praised. Recognition of Kosovo is not a prerequisite
of EU accession but ‘normal relations’ are. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has
praised EU-brokered talks between Pristina and Belgrade as heralding good faith,
a reduction in tensions and facilitating freedom of movement in Kosovo’s north,
where there have been road blocks and clashes. Another positive note is that
France has thrown its weight solidly behind Serbia's bid to join the EU. The
Swedish Foreign Minister has told the Swedish parliament that Belgrade has his
backing. (Go to: SERBIA).
Newnations country reports
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