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GEOPOLITICAL OVERVIEW
ON MAY 1ST 2012


This issue surveys:

‘Arab Awakening’ nations:


Egypt, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Morocco,


We welcome a ‘newnation’: Myanmar


Updated reports:


India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey,

North Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Russia,


Belarus, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Serbia,

Macedonia




Revolutions to Reverse History

 

Newnations and its parent ‘World Concern’, are pledged to promote Democracy in those many nations in the world who don’t have it. By democracy we mean: Human Rights, Political Rights, Justice in the Courts, Free Media, and the Absence of Public Corruption.

Like many others, we were first appalled and then excited at the possibilities of an Arab Awakening, after the despairing actions of a street seller in Tunisia tragically drove him to self-immolate. This provoked an outrage that caught the spirit of the times across the Arab world, from the Atlantic coast of Morocco by way of all of North Africa, to the Arabian (Persian) Gulf. There were exceptions: Algeria, a vast country with a 35 million population has hardly been affected, still recovering as it is, from a brutal colonial battle for independence and then the army-controlled government fighting for its survival, with the Islamic forces unleashed, in response to its refusal to accept the results of a democratic election. All of which has seen 100,000 dead in this country alone. Algeria has had all the upsets that it can stand, for a while at least.

But moving east and south, the ‘Awakening’ in different forms, took in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and more. The monarchies have fared better than military governments, one important reason being that established monarchies, backed of course by a controlled military, have had generations to work out their ‘modus operandi’ with the Sunni religious establishment, the only other existing power in their land. The exceptions were Iraq and Syria, both being post-Ottoman creations, with Iraq having experienced an American invasion, now left with an elected Shi’ite government. And Syria with a long established mixed minorities government (Alawite, Christian, Druses, Shi’ites, Ismailis), yet with a majority Sunni population. The highlighted countries above are each reported in this May issue and their longer modern stories are in our archives. Observers of the scene, like us, concerned to see signs of progress, may well share our deep disappointment, ’though not surprise, at the present outcomes.

Go to EGYPT, perhaps the most widely followed story in the ‘Awakening’ and see the appalling place where their revolution has taken them. As we feared from an early point, the incomplete overturning of the rule of the army (which might still result in a lethal ‘Algerian outcome’ ), lies in the wake of the exercise of the democratic vote to replace the military, inevitably with the representatives of the ancient religion, Possibly a worse outcome for the citizens, (certainly the largely unemployed computerate generation, who took most of the casualties in Tahrir square), to be ruled by single-minded literalist proponents of an seventh century theology. This hardly helps in creating a modern economy, based on the past millennium's experience, where Islamic states, the most advanced in the 11th century world, have stood obstinately still ever since, whilst the world around them moved onwards and upwards.

Look at LIBYA whose revolution was enabled by NATO intervention, and thus engaged many western TV viewers. A dictatorial but unified state, has now moved into a series of semi-brigand enclaves, where all ‘power comes from the barrel of a gun.’

In SYRIA, we are witnessing a generalised fighting opposition with such varying objectives that there are four separate leaderships, seeking change certainly, but for many of them, and certainly their outside backers, it is not about creating democracy at all – what do they know of democracy in Saudi, or the Gulf Cooperation Council? Rather it is to replace the existing ruling family who are unorthodox Moslems, with the kind of ‘safe’ Sunni administration with whom their ruling families can do business.

Sadly, the US, France and Britain, ( all seeking to ‘dish’ number one enemy Iran’s only Arab friend), have taken sides in what is essentially a war of religion.

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Moving away from the current disasters of the Arab Awakening, we have a very encouraging report on THE PHILIPPINES. There a truly democratic change is taking place as the result of an election, in what had hitherto been one of the most backward nations in the world and a byword for corruption, political murder, repression of free speech, and more.

We welcome MYANMAR (once Burma), our first report on which is in this issue.

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EGYPT ruled by principles idealized as a ‘Spring’ should not be digging up such laws as those that limit free speech and engagement with civic minded youth. Nevertheless, Egypt is not entirely to blame. The United States gives it plenty of excuses to enforce such laws and Egyptian ministers, who appear to have confused the Arab Spring or Awakening, with a call for more nationalism, rather than common sense, always play the Israel card to stifle criticism. Seeking to justify the outrageous ongoing trial of Freedom House staff, the Egyptian minister for International Cooperation, Fayza Abul Naga, stated that US pressure to release the workers “was preventing Egypt from becoming a democracy, a modern state with a strong economy affecting Israel’s interests directly.”

As disingenuous as the statement is, it does point to the fact that the United States should put more pressure on Israel to engage in serious peace talks with the Palestinians, because if there is one thing that the Arab Awakening has achieved, it is to have given the Arab Street more power. The Arab Street apparently still cares about the Palestinian issue. Even if this scare can be exploited by those with unsavoury ambitions and too much power, it is a powerful excuse for inaction and ultimately for repression of free speech and progress. Just because the Street calls it democracy doesn’t mean that this ‘democracy’ will in any way reflect the current understanding of this concept in the Western world. The situation is only made worse by political wrangling, while the economy continues its deep dive. Relations with Washington might be about to improve somewhat. But will it make a difference? (GO TO EGYPT).


SYRIA: The Asad regime will inevitably collapse, but not necessarily in chaos, nor soon. The violence of the past year is too great for it to ever regain the kind of legitimacy needed to rebuild the society or to embark on the serious reforms that, ironically, Bashar al-Asad wanted to launch at the start of his presidency, in 2000, only to be blocked by the military establishment. The situation faced by Asad is not unlike that which Saddam Hussein had to confront, after his armies were forced out of Kuwait in a supremely humiliating defeat. Certainly, the Iraqi dictator maintained power, but his Baathist republic was doomed, having lost all credibility at home and abroad. Iraq was humiliated first under a barrage of fire and then under a barrage of international sanctions that all but crippled the regime. (GO TO SYRIA).


LIBYA: The situation in Libya almost six months after Qadhafi’s death is less than peaceful. The government’s effort to mediate armed tribal disputes that seem to grow like mushrooms is ineffective; the militias know the government lacks authority, while they enjoy local legitimacy. In the months leading to the capitulation of Qadhafi’s regime, the militias were all that stood between the population and the loyalist forces. These disparate groups not only managed the actual warfare, they also oversaw the continuation of some basic services. While the regime collapsed early in Eastern Libya, leaving Benghazi as a de-facto opposition capital under the CNT, Western Libya (Tripolitania) did not have any CNT presence. (GO TO LIBYA).

SAUDI ARABIA: The Grand Prix debacle in Bahrain revitalized the al-Wafaq movement and sooner or later the monarchy in Manama will have to come to terms with the fact that violent repression alone will only embolden the movement. A compromise between the Shiites and Sunnis in Bahrain, resulting in more powers and influence for the Shiite majority, frightens the Saudis. The latter would then face greater pressure to deal with their own numerous Shiites, who have long been treated as second class citizens, owing to the Wahhabi distaste for heretical Islamic sects. The Saudis would also consider a more Shiite-friendly Bahrain as an Iranian affront, regardless of the fact that Iran is reputed not to have played any role in the al-Wafaq protests. Ultimately, Bahrain reflects the most tragic aspect of the Arab Awakening, which is that a genuine desire for more political freedom has translated from Morocco to the Gulf, through varying degrees of intensity, into an ‘Islamist awakening’ rather than a truly democratic one. (GO TO SAUDI ARABIA).

IRAQ: Like many others, we are waiting to see what kind of regime will emerge, once Maliki’s coup is completed . So far he shows all the signs of being the first new ‘Arab Awakening’ tyrant to emerge. Whilst Iraqi oil production continues to show indications that it is taking off, political tension around Prime Minister Maliki’s centralising moves continues to simmer - some observers believe this might yet lead to a new civil war. (GO TO IRAQ).

MOROCCO: Whereas, some of Morocco’s problems derive from its overly close economic ties to Europe, there is a growing crisis south of the Sahara, the Sahel, that will inevitably affect Moroccan security. Mali, a poor country but one of a tiny number of shining examples of parliamentary democracy in Africa, suffered a coup while enduring a separatist war with regional consequences in the north. Niger has faced another drought and is suffering from another period of famine. The Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali, which has seen the bulk of the fighting led by opportunist Islamist forces, could prompt a renewal of militant fighting in Western Sahara, seeing that little progress has been made in the latest round of talks. If a solution isn’t found soon, Western Sahara, in the context of the turmoil in the Sahel, could promptly become embroiled in the web of terrorist and smuggling networks that are currently threatening North and West Africa. (GO TO MOROCCO).

MYANMAR: (the former Burma) With political reforms being implemented at a fast pace and economic pressure due to international sanctions being eased a little, April 2012 can safely be considered a historic month for Myanmar. Despite a standoff over a clause in the new Constitution and her boycott of the Parliament seat, National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi won the first by-elections in Myanmar since 1990. The reforms have been recognised and appreciated by the international community, particularly the US and the EU, by starting to suspend some of the tough economic sanctions, and opening avenues to provide developmental aid, so as to strengthen the democratic process. Finally, in addition to the domestic political and global economic events, the government of Myanmar struck a deal with the Karen rebels and is moving ahead to solve the longest and most violent ethnic conflict in its history. (GO TO MYANMAR).

INDIA: Ranging from entering the Premier League of countries that have indigenously developed nuclear-capable inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), to the possibility of strengthening relations with Pakistan, this has been an eventful month for India.

It tested Agni V, its ICBM with a range of 5,000 km adding credibility to its no-first-use nuclear policy. In addition to this, New Delhi hosted the 4th BRICS Summit that saw the signing of two important agreements that could lead to the creation of a South-South (BRICS) Development Bank on the lines of the World Bank, and reduce the salience of the US$ as a trading currency, among member countries. Domestically, tension between India’s States and its Centre continues to brew, over the crucial issue of setting up the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC). Most importantly, though, India and Pakistan might be at a point of resolving the decades old (and world’s most high-altitude) conflict on the Siachen glacier and end the battle-of-nerves between the armies of the two countries. (GO TO INDIA).


AFGHANISTAN: There is news that the US has signed a long term deal with Kabul, but no details will be released until President Obama approves. From every point of view the main question is, will the US take on a continuing military role and if so, how big, after having withdrawn the bulk of its forces from the country? The Taliban signal ‘their way’ that negotiations are to be forgotten for a while at least, while Washington mulls about the way ahead and the end state of a US presence in the country. The Afghan political elite, in the meanwhile, is still in denial about the extent and speed of western disengagement and is not making preparations for the future, except for stuffing their bank accounts in Dubai. (GO TO AFGHANISTAN).

PAKISTAN: A solution to the energy crisis seems still in the distant future and is only made worse by political wrangling, while the economy continues its deep dive. Relations with Washington might be about to improve somewhat. But will it make a difference? (GO TO PAKISTAN).

IRAN: A return to diplomacy is welcomed by all sides, but without much evidence that a breakthrough is about to happen. In the meanwhile Iran breaks with Turkey and Ahmadinejad dismisses oil sanctions, despite clear evidence of impact. (GO TO IRAN).

TURKEY continues to dismantle the military powerhouse which once held sway over the country’s political structure with a number of trials of ex-military officials. A new human rights education program in schools in cooperation with the EU, has arguably shown a willingness to engage in human rights issues. However complaints of unfounded arrests, repression of the media and political opponents continue to blight its reputation. In terms of foreign policy, Erdogan is arguably finding it increasingly challenging to maintain Turkey’s standing as a successful self-appointed East-West mediator. A recent high profile visit to China reaped mixed results. (GO TO TURKEY).

NORTH KOREA: Rocket backfires: Ordinarily North Korea does not lack for longueurs. A month can easily pass with nothing much happening. April 2012 was never going to be such a month, given the long build-up to the centenary of its founding leader Kim Il-sung: born as the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912. In the event the past month turned out to be especially eventful. So much so that this update for NewNations will focus mainly on one theme, namely April 13’s rocket launch. In hope that May will prove less eventful, we shall cover April’s other news – two major meetings which saw Kim Jong-eun assume the top state and party positions – in a month’s time. Global media, which surprisingly often play along with Pyongyang’s game, evinced huge interest in the rocket. All the more so because, with unprecedented openness – attributed to Kim Jong-eun personally – North Korea invited what it sometimes calls “the reptile press” to come take a peek at the rocket and satellite in situ; although not to witness the actual launch. (GO TO NORTH KOREA).

VIETNAM: It’s been thirty seven years…! April 30 marks the 37th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Vietnam has come a long way since that time, yet the country remains divided: no longer on North-South lines, but rather in terms of the urban-rural divide. It is this problem that the government will need to tackle as it grapples with further reform measures. As farm workers are evicted from their land in the name of economic progress, some believe the government needs to take measures that will keep them ‘down on the farm’. (GO TO VIETNAM).

PHILIPPINES: A fresh assertiveness: It is an encouraging year for those who watch developments in the Philippines. Three items of interest this month show that President Aquino is starting to redirect policy towards issues that have lain festering for many years. First among these is the breakthrough on the talks between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), over the future of the Bansgsomoro people – the Muslim population of Mindanao. The second is the judgment of the Supreme Court over the redistribution of land assets of the president’s own family home (hacienda) to the tenant farmers who have worked the land for generations. The final noteworthy issue to come to the fore is the new assertiveness of the Philippines over its claimed territorial assets in the South China Sea in the face of rival claims of China. All three issues are worthy of comment. (GO TO PHILIPPINES).

TAIWAN: No gain without pain. Consumer confidence is falling and President Ma’s leadership style is once again called into question as the government announces massive hikes in fuel and electricity prices that were conveniently ‘forgotten’ before the election. Now many people are feeling deceived and the president’s popularity has fallen to a three-year low. Meanwhile former president Chen Shui-bian languishes in jail, his health further deteriorating. Having been railroaded into jail in a disgraceful mockery of a trial, he has to ‘confess his crimes’ before he can even apply for a pardon. (GO TO TAIWAN).

RUSSIA: The opposition has won surprising victories in local mayoral elections that could herald a shift in the country's United Russia-dominated political landscape. To claw back popularity and to be seen as a more democratising force, following the unrest over United Russia's win in the last election, and Putin's return as President, the Kremlin is setting up what it says will be an independent Television network, and a unit to investigate crimes allegedly committed by police. Resurgent violence in the North Caucasus is putting a squeeze on government forces and after 40 years of frosty relations, Pakistan and Russia are finally breaking the ice. (GO TO RUSSIA).

BELARUS: Authoritarian leader Lukashenko has released two prominent political prisoners held since a crackdown on the opposition in December 2010. But while one of the recently freed men, Andrey Sannikau, believes that the remaining prisoners will be released in the coming months, Europe and the US are maintaining sanctions and continuing to pile pressure on the authorities. (GO TO BELARUS).

AZERBAIJAN: The Aliyev regime in Azerbaijan continues to attract international censure for its oil-lubricated authoritarianism, its lamentable record on freedom of speech and the startling divide between society’s richest and poorest. The arrival of Eurovision in Baku has prompted further complaints about land expropriations, but will hopefully prove an unwitting opportunity for international scrutiny to descend upon this regime. (GO TO AZERBAIJAN).

TURKMENISTAN's autocratic leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has pledged to create a multi-party system, following an election in which he gained 97% of the vote! He has also allowed a Red Cross delegation access to its notorious prison system, freed a political opponent and sent a delegation to the UN Human Rights Committee meeting on the state. Is change afoot? The rest of the president's antics, which involve the furthering of his personality cult and on-going repression of political freedoms, particularly related to press freedom, would indicate not. (GO TO TURKMENISTAN).


ARMENIA is on the verge of a parliamentary election which current President Serge Sargisian is widely tipped to win. What concerns observers are the transparency and fairness of the elections, given that previous elections have fallen well short of democratic standards and have been tainted by accusations of fraud. A difficult economic climate, the on-going Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and tense relations with Turkey are also expected to figure on the parties’ campaign trails. (GO TO ARMENIA).

SERBIA is taking steps forward to join the European Union, but could be jeopardising its chances by vowing to stage Serbian general elections in Kosovo. At the same time, incidents of ethnic violence are increasing as a Serb nightclub goes up in smoke and an Albanian man in Kosovo is blown up outside his house. (GO TO SERBIA).

MACEDONIA and the European Union are working towards reducing the length of negotiations for Macedonia's full membership of the bloc, but ethnic tensions have resurfaced in the Balkan state after a spate of murders and riots in and around the capital, Skopje, threatening the process. (GO TO MACEDONIA).


                                                                 Clive Lindley. Publisher

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