Monthly political analysis on nations in
economic or political transition



Our nineteen new country reports/analyses in this issue are:
EU’s ‘rogue’ nation Hungary; Ukraine: EU aspirant, but not there yet. Syria’s nasty civil war getting worse; Iraq: too close to civil war; Post-revolutionary Libya: al Qaida now established; Egypt’s mind-boggling political chaos; Turkey coping with fractious neighbours; Saudi – legacy of the dying king; Iran: disqualifies strongest candidates to elect a new president; Bangladesh: huge ‘Taliban-style’ challenge; Afghanistan: overflowing with uncertainties; Pakistan: Nawaz Sharif, father of corruption back in power; India: apprehensive of its violent northern neighbours. Russia: godfather of ‘Putinism’ departs Kremlin; North Korea, back (again) from the brink. Serbia: Good news about Kosovo! Communist Vietnam to privatise; Taiwan’s fishing spat; Philippines: good news for democracy!

A Deficiency of Good News

We lead this issue unusually with two problem European nations - one already an EU member, the other a problem candidate. HUNGARY was a Soviet colony after the Red Army occupied it in World War II. It showed a lively opposition to communism expressed in a dramatic uprising, put down by the Red Army. Eventually the Russian soldiers left and freedom arrived. Along with other central Europeans it embraced democracy and duly became a member of the European Union. When that happened, Newnations (whose raison d’etre is to report and analyse nations that have not yet achieved democracy) moved on, since acquiring EU membership is sufficiently stringent to weed out those states that have no place in the EU. Yet in an unhappy ‘first’ for the EU, Hungary has seriously gone rogue, as our current report shows, and could, unless it mends its ways, face expulsion.

UKRAINE is a former all-union republic of the Soviet Union, one of the fifteen that had independence thrust upon them by Yeltsin in 1991. It was full of ‘promise’ that failed to get delivered. The original communist apparat changed the party’s name but kept its methods, including fixing the elections. That caused sufficient of an uproar called the Orange revolution, which petered out amidst accusations of corruption and the inability of leaders to work together.


Unfortunately the new nation’s institutions as with the USSR generally, including the courts, were/are broadly speaking corrupt. Amongst other outrages, Ukraine has kept imprisoned the previous elected Prime minister, the feisty Yulia Tymoshenko, for some dreamed-up offences, with the effect that her formidable opposition is stifled. So much so familiar, but Ukraine even now, for economic reasons is seeking membership of the EU, as preferable to joining the Russian’s Customs Union which seeks to lure them, along with other former Soviet colonies into their Greater Russian outfit.

Arab Awakening….and Religious War
In the trouble-wracked middle East we include in this issue SYRIA, IRAQ, EGYPT, LIBYA, SAUDI ARABIA, TURKEY, IRAN which excepting only Egypt, we have covered for several years. Egypt’s troubled early experiments with democracy, as filtered through an Islamist lens, are distinctly unimpressive, but then the concept of democracy is clearly not understood by Egyptians,or at least not to those elected. After all, the Koran, largely written in the seventh century, does not enlighten in this respect. In fairness neither did it back then, anywhere in the world, but if the Islamists continue to insist that everything a government needs to know can be found in ‘Sharia’, their chaotic results in the world of the 21st century are hardly surprising.

Of course a key element of the Syrian civil war, questions what kind of society would result in a rebel-run Syria, comparing perhaps with the Egyptian experience, should the rebels replace the secular government? There is no doubt that the Islamists of Al Qaida and allies scent victory, probably mistakenly - unless the west, making common cause, acts really foolishly. The successor to Osama, Dr Ayman al Zawahiri (formerly an eye specialist like Syria’s Bashar al Asad), who has pushed hard to get their myriad volunteers into the country - they are held to be the most effective fighting force amongst the rebels - has sent them another message. They must ensure that a fully Islamic government in Syria (Sunni of course), is the result that they achieve. This embodies the familiar Al Qaida mantra of overthrowing “the corrupt, westward leaning rulers of the Arab states” and replacing them with Islamic rule.

‘Geneva 2’ is the outside powers attempt to achieve peace, but as objective observers of Syria for the past ten years, we see, as presently constituted (and as we explain in our report), that it is slated for failure! This is a disaster, as a political solution must be found, but it will not be simplistic.  The US must surely back off supporting a cause which if successful, will bring in not democracy - no chance of that but Sunni fundamentalism in the shape of the jihadists now battling and taking casualties, for their version of the religion.  Just look at Libya now, for the pattern of events!


An exhausted Hilary Clinton and an inept William Hague ‘jumped in’ at the start of the civil war, clearly seeking to damage Iran and unwisely oversimplifying the issues. Henry Kissinger, to his credit back then, correctly analysed this as the latest battle in a religious war that started in the seventh / eighth centuries. Having told the world ‘ad nauseam’ that Asad would be gone in double quick time, William Hague never understood that this was no tyrannical individual, like Saddam Hussein, but a ruling family as in all the other Arab states, apart from Lebanon and Iraq. That the loyal Alawite soldiers are now fighting and taking casualties, not just for the al-Asads, but knowing who it is that they are up against, they are fighting for their lives and those of their families, irrespective of anything else. From one ancient minority amongst many which abound in the middle-east, the Alawites, who have identifiably lived there since the 8th/9th centuries, are well aware of the Sunni rage at their predominance.

Undoubtedly, the Asads reacted far too hard on the farmers of the North East who originally were legitimately protesting the lack of water which prevented them from farming their land. True the Moslem Brotherhood used the resulting anger to try once again to grab power. This time with the proliferation of Al Qaida and the intervention of other salafist purists like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it developed into the religious confrontation that Kissinger had described. (He also asked why was the US getting involved? That certainly sounded like the voice of reason). Happily the US has thus far not gone in too deep, despite Mr Hague at an early stage apparently seeking to volunteer US ‘boots on the ground.’  There are unlikely to be UK ones, apart from in neighbouring states, like Jordan.

As a colleague who once lived in Syria reminisced, Syria was the only Arab nation where you could ask a girl to go out to dinner or the movies, without a posse of male relatives - ready to hold a kangaroo court for you and for her, seeking blood. It was along with Lebanon simply the most liberal of the Arab states, the foundation of that being the religious tolerance built into its constitution, which is why it was attractive to middle-eastern Christians of some five or six different sects. Also to several non-mainstream Islamic sects including: Ismailites, Sufis, Shiites, Alawites, Druses and more, leaving aside such non-Arab ethnicities as Turks and Kurds. That religious/ethnic tolerance accounts for the 30% of minorities in the Syrian population. The Alawite/Moslem Brotherhood’s quarrel was that of Sunni purists outraged that this nation should be ruled by ‘heretics’; the Saudi and Qatari interest being the same, but also a part of the latent hostility and power rivalry between Iran and in particular Saudi Arabia.

Iraq as our report makes clear, is itself hovering on the brink of a flat-out Sunni war against the Shia, who in Iraq are the majority and the elected government. Al Qaida in Iraq is fomenting murderous outrage after outrage, to start ‘a holy war’ pitting the Sunni against the Shia. No place for the west, but nevertheless there is a humane duty to seek to stop the violence, the frightful 'butchers bill' and awful refugee problems, so reminiscent of those long and quite terrible civil wars in the Lebanon and Algeria. Thus the developed and secular nations must keep trying to find a political solution since backing the rebels in Syria, and (probably) the government in Iraq, still doesn’t ensure either a military victory, nor any solution.

Egypt and Libya reports both tell of the post-revolutionary chaos, worse perhaps in Libya’s case, as it appears that al Qaida/AQIM has taken control of numerous Islamic rebel bands and is putting down roots, a fair warning about what to expect in Syria if the Sunni rebels were to predominate.

Turkey these days is an important and significant nation, one of only two democracies in the middle-east, which the other one Israel foolishly alienated, by ‘executing’ nine Turkish ‘peaceniks’ on the absurd MV Marmara ‘demo,’ aimed at ‘breaking’ the blockade on Gaza. That hostility with a little necessary help from Obama, has eased, but has not yet wholly healed. Turkey unfortunately shares a border with Syria and despite itself is dragged into the conflict. Car-bombs exploded in a Turkish border town and some fifty victims fatally wounded. Turkey has its own much wider story not least the events involving the Kurds –its own and those of IRAQ; its important and thriving economy and the ins and outs of its presidential elections, coming soon.

Saudi Arabia this issue looks at the works of the elderly King Abdullah who has opened a door to the Saudi version of an ‘awakening,’ not least in women’s rights, which we believe will not be closed again without a massive rupture with the citizenry. It seems that the king is now on life-support and his supposed successor, the crown prince, himself an elderly man will be the last of the direct royal line - being the sons by various wives of King Ibn Saud, founder of the kingdom. Hereinafter the choice will be from amongst the many, many grandsons.

Iran is fully taken up with its presidential elections in two weeks time. The west will soon be needing a new ‘bogeyman’ (we look at some candidates), since it appears that Ahmadinejad is finished. We report that he has been letting it be known that it was not him who was so inflexible about the nuclear question, but the Ayatollah. For his part he has claimed that he would sign a deal with the US tomorrow. Too late now for him, but it was never implausible that the Ayatollahs merely use the politicians whilst reserving the real power for themselves, the priests, who after all are in touch with the Almighty.

Bangladesh is another Islamic state, this one in south Asia situated between India and Myanmar. At the partition of the former British raj, it was called East Pakistan (separated from the western part by the Himalayas), until it rebelled against Islamabad and became independent Bangladesh, an extremely poor and overcrowded state. Yet it is still an electoral democracy, curiously run alternately by two strong female leaders, one the widow and the other the daughter of the patriarchal founders of the two big parties. The disaster of a collapsed multi-story garment factory which left 1127, mainly women dead, and maimed another 2000, is being addressed right now. Whether there will be a permanent outcome whereby this scandalous exploitation might never be repeated, it is too soon to say – but don’t hold your breath. Now the government has been confronted by a very large (previously discounted) religio-political movement, akin to the Afghan’s Taliban, a radical Islamist group who of course look to Sharia for all solutions to all problems. It won’t make life any easier for the people in this desperate place.

India: Joined with the US to call upon countries (not naming them but meaning Afghanistan), to eliminate sanctuaries and safe havens that support terrorism. In our last issue we reported two separate terrorist organisations seeking permanent bases in what has been throughout, Taliban controlled territory.

Russia: Internal politics lead this issue, since Putin’s deputy prime minister, Vladislav Surkov, held to be his grey eminence, has departed the Kremlin. What this means, Kremlinologists have not yet told us. But Gary Kasparov former world Chess champion and now an opposition leader has things to say about it. Separately, a spy scandal- a classic ‘sucker-trap’ throwback to the Cold War, embarrasses the US embassy in Moscow.

Serbia: At last some good news from Serbia. Keen to not be left permanently out in the cold and to join the EU, Belgrade has made a breakthrough agreement with KOSOVO. Hallelujah!

Philippines: News from which nowadays tends to be good, after so many decades of corruption, murder and mayhem, much of it emanating from the authorities. Marvellously, the government of President Aquino is ‘clean,’ is genuinely a reforming government and hey, it has just done very well in mid-term elections, well enough to enable the Reform agenda Aquino has promised. Also the out-of-time challenge by the Church leaders here (over 100 bishops) failed in constraining the citizens to punish the government for introducing family planning measures – this in a nation that cannot hope to find employment for its swollen population, causing much misery in splitting-up families who have to go abroad, to be able to send money home.

Vietnam: One of the world’s five remaining communist nations, Vietnam long in an economic rut, is planning constitutional reform, removing state monopolies in some areas of production and services, giving equal weight to private enterprise. They also ‘say’ that there will be greater emphasis on human rights and respect for the legal process. That would be long overdue if it does come about, because Vietnam, although admirable in the way that they fought off colonialist all-comers, not just France and the USA, but also and last of all from China, is no longer under threat, yet the state has hardly relaxed from a war footing. It is a police state, easy for tourists, but very tough on its own citizens, stifling enterprise and also having the corruption problems, endemic when great power is concentrated in few hands. Change such as this is overdue and very welcome- just so long as it happens!

Taiwan: A nasty incident resulted in the death of a Taiwanese fisherman who appears to have been in Filipino waters when confronted by a coastguard vessel. It has rocked the island nation but this is inevitable in the South China Sea where, with China demanding most of it, the other littoral states are jealous of their claimed rights and boundaries, which seldom coincide.

North Korea: We finish on more (and rare) good news from this quarter, being the absence of our customary monthly accounts of highly dangerous brinkmanship, or of mind boggling moves in an incomprehensible game where ‘the rules’ are a state secret. For a change, it’s what isn’t happening in the ‘hermit kingdom’ that is in itself good news. On past form, this could anticipate some ‘wilder shores’ type of activity soon, but our North Korea reports are always an enjoyable mind-expanding read for those who follow geopolitics, and we can recommend this one for that reason.


Clive Lindley - Publisher







All Country Updated reports


Also published on our blog page Bulletin, 1st June 2013|New Nations - a not for profit company
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