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February 2013 Country Archive


Summary: The terrorist commando that took hostage 41 Westerners and hundreds of Algerians at the central gas extraction at In Amenas in the Algerian Sahara, operated by BP-Sonatrach, came from or through Libya, according to the Algerian Interior Minister, Dahou Ould Kablia, after the military operation to stop the Islamists came to an end, with many dead and injured. Libya and Egypt have tightened security measures at their oil facilities, after threats from Islamic extremists who, after this assault at In Amenas in Algeria, have threatened to attack other new installations in North Africa. Special defense units and increased patrol units have been deployed at all Libyan oil facilities.
The attack in Algeria, and in fact the entire occupation of northern Mali by Tuareg separatists and Islamists, was made possible by the demise of the Qadhafi regime in Libya. [Go to Libya]

Summary: A group of Syrian activists have just launched, in January, the "National Movement for the Salvation of Syria," (NMSS) which wants to expose the fact that Syria has been over-run by foreign and jihadist interests. One of the main objectives of the NMSS is to oppose any outside interference in the internal affairs of Syria. The members of the movement support the idea of unity of the Syrian state and have urged Syrians to engage in a national dialogue process and to denounce the actions of the various fanatics that have been playing an increasingly dominant role in the revolt. The group has also denounced the existence of a link between the SNCORF, the Syrian opposition coalition, and al-Qaida which has admittedly been reaching its goal to turn Syria into a second Afghanistan. As for Turkey's role in the war, the NMSS is convinced that Turkey has miscalculated in betting that Assad would be eliminated quickly. Indeed, after the impasse in Aleppo last December, the regime has regained some ground and if Turkey had hoped for, or even predicted it, there will be no quick demise for President Asad, as happened in Libya or in Egypt. The ‘official’ opposition appears more fragmented than ever, failing to reach any agreement in Istanbul on January 21 to form a government for the areas under rebel control, setting up an effective opposition haven as was established in Cyrenaica in the early phase of the Libyan revolt. [Go to Syria]

Summary: Iraq’s Sunni tribes have entered into open dissidence again, although not yet armed resistance. The role in this, of regional actors like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as in Syria seems glaringly obvious, but the Sunni Arabs, once isolated there, now enjoy the sympathy of the Kurds and even of some Shiite factions. While pressure on Maliki is greater than ever, the key issue is whether Iran will support him to the bitter end or whether, educated by the experience of Syria, they might engineer a more pliable replacement for him? [Go to Iraq]

Summary: Some major developments are underway regarding Turkey's long-standing problem of Kurdish separatism. Instability in Syria and a looming election amongst other matters have, it would seem, prompted dynamic Prime Minister Erdogan into a new chapter of relations with the PKK characterised by negotiation and dialogue. Violations of media freedom continue unabated, with television shows, both international and home grown, also sparking criticism from the PM. The use of anti-terror laws to incarcerate journalists, students, Kurds and a new faction of lawyers are worrying. [Go To Turkey]

Saudi Arabia
Suumary: Even as rumors of a succession abound, the almost nonagenarian Saudi King Abdullah continues to push forth small but significant (in the Saudi context) reforms. Crown Prince Salman, his successor, is said to hold liberal views and a diplomatic demeanor, suggesting that the reforms can expect longevity and development. Not surprisingly, the latest reforms target women and they signal a new stage in Saudi leadership as they will allow for the entry of thirty women to the Shura Council, the consultative assembly of 150 members - all of whom are appointed by the king. Until now, the Shura was only open to men, of course. The decree issued by King Abdullah marks the most significant change in the Shura Council in decades, reserving 20% of its seats (yet in a separate adjacent building) for women. [Go To Saudi Arabia]

Summary: The new Egyptian ‘democracy’ has promoted Islamic values rather than the western liberal ones that most people typically associate with ‘democracy’. The elections have led to the formation of a parliament dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and even more obscurantist formations (since dissolved); and a President who also hails from the Brotherhood. The new Egyptian Constitution represents a veritable exercise in ‘wasted opportunity’. An uninspiring Sharia influenced document approved at the polls by 62% of voters and that after a participation rate of just over 30%. This has created a major division between the elected political authorities and the opposition movements, which had never actually subsided and which lead to frequent strikes and demonstrations that have paralyzed the country. [Go to Egypt]

Summary: The impact of international sanctions on the Iranian regime is causing them to increasingly argue over how to manage this assault, although not yet on how to get out of the present predicament. Another friendly regime Iraq, is now threatened, in addition to Syria, highlighting how isolated Iran is becoming. Still Teheran does not seem ready for accommodation yet. [Go to Iran]

Summary: Karzai appears finally to have chosen who will succeed him as President: he is telling foreign diplomats that it is Omar Daudzai, his chief of staff. This has important political implications, but it is being overshadowed by clear signs that the US administrations wants to accelerate disengagement from Afghanistan and leave little behind in 2015. [Go To Afghanistan]

Summary: As India enters 2013 with the shocking incident of rape and murder of a 23-year old woman in the capital city of New Delhi and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government undergoing an acute crisis of legitimacy, crucial developments have been taking place on the international front for the world’s largest ‘democracy’. The positive story of India-Pakistan relations came to a sudden halt as incidents of ceasefire violations by the Indian and Pakistani army took an unexpectedly barbaric turn when two Indian soldiers were shot dead and one of them beheaded, allegedly by Pakistani commandos, at the India-Pakistan border. However, in contrast to its relations with Pakistan, India got positive signals from Beijing when the new Chairman of the Communist Party of China (CPC) wrote that China wants good relations with India and gives “great importance” to the South Asian country. Finally, India reaffirmed its friendship with its longtime ally Russia, at the 13th Indo-Russia Summit by signing defence deals worth US$ 2.9 billion and preparing a long-term roadmap in the civil nuclear energy sector. [Go To India]

Summary: The arrest of Prime Minister Ashraf plunged Pakistan into a political crisis, after the PPP and the Supreme Court had seemed to have reached a modus vivendi until the May elections. Political entrepreneurs of various persuasions scent the blood, and are circling around the political establishment, looking for the chance of taking a bite or two from the sick giant. In the meanwhile, the Pakistani economy continues to drift. [Go To Pakistan]

Summary: Bangladesh entered 2013 with a series of successful diplomatic ventures with two big powers in the region – Russia and India. Dhaka not only solved the border disputes with India but has also conducted meaningful dialogue on the long-standing issue of sharing River Ganges water resources. Moreover, the two countries have decided to sign an agreement to ease visa restrictions that will support easier mobility of businessmen, senior citizens and children. With Russia, Bangladesh has signed 10 agreements and MoU’s on numerous areas with particular focus on the nuclear power plant that Bangladesh has been keen on building for some time. [Go To Bangladesh]

Summary: In many ways the past twelve months has been a banner year for the Philippines. The economic growth path appears to have shifted up a notch higher and more money is being poured into education and support for the poorest of the poor. The former Chief Justice, a ‘midnight appointment’ in the dying days of the Arroyo watch has been impeached and convicted on corruption charges, sending a clear message than nobody is above the law. Former President Arroyo herself is facing charges in the anti-graft court. President Aquino has courageously used his authority and his mandate to bring Congress around to passing the Reproductive Health Bill. as well as other important measures that will, over the longer term reap significant benefits for all Filipinos, and hopefully bring down the country’s galloping population growth rate. A new law strengthening measures against ‘enforced disappearances,’ is among other measures that have strengthened civil and political rights. Despite all the progress, President Aquino’s popularity is actually slipping. Could it be because many of these measures to improve the country’s health have yet to impact at the lower levels of society? [Go To Philippines]

Summary: Vietnam has scored poorly in the latest report of the State of World Democracy with a ranking of 129th out of 150. It appears that in the short-term, conditions will only get worse for human rights activists, as the government implements a widespread crackdown on all forms of dissent that shows no sign of easing, and every indication – judging by the penalties being meted out in the courts – that the situation is worsening. Yet the flipside of this situation is that the one-party government in Hanoi has found favour with foreign investors, precisely because of the perceived political stability. When it comes to placing their money productively, investors give short shrift to human rights concerns. Perhaps, the present situation, however regrettable from a Western perspective, is the price to be paid for a country to bootstrap itself out of poverty. Only time will tell whether as the economy improves, the Communist Party of Vietnam will develop a more humane face. [Go To Vietnam]

North Korea
Summary: NewNations’ holiday furlough at the turn of the year leaves two main recent events to report now: one from December, the other in January. They are, respectively, the successful launch of a long-range rocket on December 12, which for the first time succeeded in placing a space satellite in orbit; and then the visit to Pyongyang from January 7-10 of a US delegation, led by former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, including the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt. Both events were extensively covered by global media at the time, so here we shall mainly summarise and try to tease out their lasting impact and implications. [Go To North Korea]

Summary: The ailing former president Chen Shui-bian is still in jail, despite many international pleas for an end to his unjust imprisonment, following a farcical trial. Yet recently released global ranking reports have rated Taiwan comparatively highly in such areas as democratic values, press freedom and investment climate but despite the international accolades, all is not well at home. President Ma Ying-jeou blames the uncertain global investment climate, but others believe it is the failure of his domestic policies and his over-reliance on China that has bought Taiwan to its present condition. [Go To Taiwan]

Summary: Russia's economy looks set to dip in the next couple of years as the country's elite resist investment in non-renewable energy and continue to rely on well-tapped oil and gas discoveries made during the Soviet era, as well as non-Russian investments.

The expectations for change that came with the protests in Russia last year against the re-election of Vladimir Putin's party into government and the man himself, as President for a third term, are fast dwindling. While the hunger for change is unabated among some sections of society - and those in power remain undecided about how to move forward politically, the opposition remains fractured and is struggling to present a viable alternative. What that might be, only time will tell! [Go To Russia]

Summary: Former Orange movement Prime minister Julia Tymoshenko is still in jail, following a ludicrous trial and international representations. The level of democracy in the Ukraine is dramatically sliding as the country slips 39 places in the latest annual World Audit Democracy Report, following another flawed election and brawls in parliament. [Go To Ukraine]

Summary: Kyrgyzstan continues to be a major central Asian transit route for Afghan heroin bound for Russia and beyond, and is believed to be a breeding ground for Islamic extremists, thereby threatening Russia's southern borders. But Russia seems to be more concerned with bringing Kyrgyzstan closer into its economic orbit than it is on tackling organised crime and the potential flow of militants. [Go To Kyrgyzstan]

Summary: Despite efforts to woo Turkmenistan, The US and EU are not favoured suitors for the Caspian nation's vast energy reserves. Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov continues to look to his neighbours and China, for the biggest deals. [Go To Turkmenistan]

Summary: In past months one of Serbia's richest man, Miroslav Mišković, was arrested for suspected fraud, indicating that Belgrade is getting tough on corruption, as it continues to pursue its EU bid. Meanwhile, there has also been some progress on the looming impediment to EU accession, Kosovo. Whilst talks are underway between Pristina and Belgrade, many observers are concerned that mutual distrust will undermine any steps forward. High political manoeuvring between rivals Prime Minister Ivica Dačić and President Tomislav Nikolić, also threatens to derail discussions. [Go To Serbia]

Summary: Bosnia is facing a number of political and economic issues at present. Recent secessionist rhetoric by Republika Srpska president, Milorad Dodik, continues to caused dismay to international observers. A recent bomb blast destroyed a war memorial in the city of Mostar, shared by Bosniaks and Croats. This indicates that the tensions which bred the conflicts of the 90’s, remain very much apparent in the modern state, whose political fragility is increasingly obvious. [Go To Bosnia]

Summary: Romania continues to face severe problems with corruption, an ineffective judiciary and with maintaining budgetary health. The austerity measures which proved so unpalatable to its citizens last year will continue to dominate political and economic affairs. These draconian measures are necessary to meet IMF requirements, and the state is dependent on the fund, for cash injections. Meanwhile the EU has expressed dismay over Romania's delays in putting the funds it has already given, to improve infrastructure, to good use. A power struggle between the state's two leading politicians, President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta is in perpetual motion. [Go To Romania]

                                                                Clive Lindley. Publisher



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