Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Daily Media Digest

North Africa and Middle East


EU fears waves of immigration
A Libyan navy, near the Maltese coast. UN condemnds crackdown. The intricate tribal context.
Call for unity in Bahrain
Algeria to lift state of emergency
The passage of the Iranian ship through Suez delayed for 48 hours
Launch of the Magna MENA Fund
The consequences of the political turmoil to the world economy

Africa

Battles errupt in the Ivory Coast
S. Africa is going through a complicated economic situation

Europe

Kosovo: Thaci re-named PM
Greek bail-out to be extended
France's nuclear ambitions
Italy and Turkey's friends
Putin at the EU


US and Canada

Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago

Australia and New Zealand


Christchurch tragedy
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Revolution and the Muslim World | STRATFOR

Revolution and the Muslim World | STRATFOR

Daily Media Digest

North Africa and the Middle East

Violences continue in Libya. Testimonies about the regime. Events in Libya dominate the main pages of the international media. Libya and its oil resources. Libyan embassy in Australia cuts ties with Gaddafi
Two Iranian warships enter Suez Canal
Yemen president insists to stay in power

Europe

Merkel plays down Hamburg defeat.
Zu Guttenberg gives up his doctorate till further clarifications
Serbia hurry up to enter the Algerian arms market
David Cameron in Egypt: The urge for reforms
Greece plans tought tax evasion laws




Africa

Omar al-Bashir will not stand for re-election
Police base in Somalia attacked by insurgents
Discussions about Cote d'Ivoire

Asia

China cracks down on social media
Chances for reconciliation between Thailand and Cambodia in the border dispute

Latin America


Hunger strike in Venezuela. Chavez's failures.
Chilean miners to visit Israel
Argentina and MERCOSUR


US and Canada


Another Chinese official refugiated in Canada?
US Navy leader to China: "be responsible and constructive"


Australia and New Zealand


Earthquake in New Zealand
Australia hit by cyclone
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Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: Crude World

As a direct consequence of the previous book I wrote about, the world of those involved with various transactions with raw materials is crude, at least immoral and violent: A crude world. Among all the resources, oil benefited of a triple attention and was introduced as actor in various evaluations of political and geopolitical moves. The war in Iraq? Of course, the cause is the oil, many answered automatically with a self-sufficient air. But what about Afghanistan? Wait and see, something have to be there excepting poppy...

What we don't talk too much is the fact that the natural resources, in wrong hands, prove to be lethal weapons turned against the population and democracy. In Iraq, not the American soldiers sold the oil for getting money for building expensive presidential palaces, but Saddam's clique. This is only an example. 

Peter Maass started the documentation  for the book started long before 9/11 and the author visited several countries as Nigeria, Russia, Kuwait, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Iraq or Kuwait. The author is following the idea of the "resources curse": natural resources, specifically oil, creates many troubles and it is not the automatic condition for improving the economic status. South Korea and Japan might be good examples in this direction. Among the cases analized - in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America - all the countries are fighting with institutionalized corruption, democratic deficit and economic unbalances. The notable exception: Norway enjoying lots of resources and equally a vibrand economy and a democratic system. In many situations, as it is the case in Russia or Saudi Arabia (who possesses 21% of the world's conventional reserves, p. 17), information about the volume of resources are classified under the category of "state secret", allowing abuses and various infringements of the international legislation.

But, oil also brought know-how, created the need for highly educated specialists becoming part of the local elites and international investments. In the latter case, the big companies adapted very rapidly to the local customs and are eager to pay as many bribes as possible to get their fields or investments. All you need is to ask "What's your number?"

The situation is not deadlocked, even it will be very difficult to challenge the deep culture of abuse and manipulation, lasting for centuries: the creation of monitoring bodies in terms of business ethics, implementation of transparent legislation, the push for democracy and rule of law all over the world. The interest for alternative energies might switch progressively the interest to other kind of energy resources, with a less appetite for arbitrary. By then, I completely agree with this affirmation (p.118):  “Like a nation or nationality, the industry has its particular belief system, its financial and political interests, its social layers and pecking orders. In some ways, it has the hallmarks of a political party and a religious movement”.

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Book Review: The King of Oil

In the world of the big businesses, the rules are different, the measures are different and the consequences, obviously, of another level.
The book is a careful and balanced account - for me, the first one, so I am not able to draw a detailed comparison with other works - of the adventurous life of Marc Rich. But, thinking about other similar stories of big names of the resources business, his story is having a high degree of plausibility. Love stories, dangerous places, illegal or not in accordance with the generally accepted rules, state controversies and subsequent hunting, political risks. In addition, Rich went involved in philanthropic activities, not only for the sake of fame and success.
I was reading the book with the same curiosity shared for a crime and spy story. Was wondering what the next move will be in order to avoid the long arm of the US Marshals, even I knew very well that he was not harmed and escaped miraculously the various attempts to be brought in the States. 
It is a luck of the hunted rich people? And suddenly I was thinking about the strange fate of Khodorkovsky. I don't believe in conspiration theories, as I am convinced that many attacks against Rich were deeply Anti-Semitic (and in many places in the world, ridiculous dwarfs are using his name as a self-sufficient explanation of their hate against Jews). If it is was possible to pardon him - whatever the risk - I am inclined to believe that, in fact, the whole story was having at least a very slim political substratum. Because after reading this book I am almost perfectly convinced that in this kind of businesses, it's no place for angels, but sometimes, it is worthy a prayer.
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Daily Media Digest

N. Africa and the Middle East


Protests spreading in Libya. Live testimonies about the events: http://audioboo.fm/feb17voices
Tunisia seeks Ben Ali extradition
The unrest in Morocco continues
Egypt: Banks and pyramids are now open. Will be the new government preoccupied by acquiring nuclear weapons?

Israel monitoring Suez-bound Iran ships

Asia


Failure of the Jasmine Protests?
Philippines: Remember People Power
ASEAN meeting trying to solve the border dispute


Europe


France: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, possible competitor for Sarkozy?
EU: More money for the Mediterranean countries?
Hungary: Structural reforms not on table
Russia asks Serbia to do not join NATO


Australia

Gillard, to meet Obama soon

Africa

Somalia: Suicide car-bomb near Mogadishu

Latin America

Cuba: News about the latest release of prisoners
The Chile-Peru dispute on Wikileaks
Peru: crack-down on illegal gold miners in Amazon

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Bahrain: Short overview of the kingdom

Coat of arms of Bahrain.Image via Wikipedia//Bahrain coat of arms
The recent protests in Bahrain put this country on the media spot. And, as usual when we have to deal with countries outside the European space, we have many basic questions, I tried to answer for myself, as the protests are expected to continue over the week-end.

A Major Non-NATO Ally of the US

Bahrain is the smallest Arab state and an important ally of the US in the Persian Gulf, hosting the US Fifth Fleet - about 1500 United States and coalition military personnel. It enjoys the status of Major Non-NATO Ally, conferred in 2003 by George W. Bush, a status also enjoyed by Egypt, since 1989. This status confers several financial and military advantages, among which military purchases, anti-terrorist support or transfer of technology.

The recent protests took place 10 years after the referendum aiming to introduce the principles of constitutional monarchy. Following those changes, the country successfully conducted in 2002 the first democratic parliamentary election in the Arab Gulf. In the same year, in April, it made CNN when a Bahraini youth was killed trying to storm the US embassy in an anti-US riot. On the other hand, six people originary from Bahrain went fo Guantanamo Bay, among which one member of the ruling family. From the religious point of view, it is a country with shi’a majority, struggling a difficult economic condition and a Suni minority in power.

The Cabinet is appointed by the King, with half of the members coming from the royal family. The country's elected parliament is the only one in the Gulf Arab region besides Kuwait's assembly, but its bills still need to pass an upper house (Shura) that is appointed by the king. Al Wefaq bloc, with a strong religious stance, organized last year, in October, massive rallies, asking for the boycott of elections. Now, ahead of the latest protests, members of the bloc announced the intention of refusing to partipate to the works of the legislative.

Last year, the emirate was in the midst of a major crackdown on its opposition. Two dozen dissidents, including intellectuals, clerics and a prominent blogger, had been rounded up, charged under anti-terrorism laws and allegedly tortured. A human rights group that had received U.S. funding was taken over by the government. Human Rights Watch had concluded that "what we are seeing in Bahrain these days is a return to full-blown authoritarianism." But at the end of 2010, while in Bahrain, Hillary Clinton praised implicitly the ruling family: "I am very impressed by the progress that Bahrain is making on all fronts - economically, politically, socially". When asked by a member of Parliament to comment the fact that "many people are arrested, lawyers and human rights activists”, Clinton's condescending offered explicitly her support for the ruling family. "It's easy to be focused internally and see the glass as half empty. I see the glass as half full," she said. "Yes, I mean people are arrested and people should have due process . . . but on the other hand the election was widely validated. . . . So you have to look at the entire picture". Before this week protests, the authorities imposed several restrictions to the web, as in Tunisia, Egypt, Iran...After the last protests, the US Administration asked Bahrain to show restraint.

As many other countries from the region, Bahrain don’t recognize the state of Israel. But, in the same time, it designated the first Jewish ambassador of an Arab country: Ms. Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo the top-diplomat in the US who is in the same time the first female Bahraini ambassador. The members of the Jewish community, 36, are encouraged to express their identity, but they are not allowed to visit Israel, due to the lack of official diplomatic relations.

As in the other recent and very recent cases, it is not clear what will be the final outcome and this will not be able to see from a day to another. More to come, for sure.

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Daily Media Digest

Europe

Belgium: 250 days without government
Portugal under euro-zone pressure
The crackdown on the Belarusian opposition continues. OSCE expresses strong concerns.


Middle East and the Arab World

Bahrain is mourning the victims of the latest protests
Dozens reported killed in Libya
Unrest in Yemen
What's going on with Ben Ali? (Actually, I will be extremely careful with this kind of "news": recently, Mubarak also was assumed being in coma. What's the conclusion: the lost of undemocratic power leads to cerebral commotion?)
The Egyptian assets in Switzerland
Egypt: former ministers arrested
Incredible Syria: lecturing EU on democracy

Africa

Uganda votes
Nigeria adopted its first anti-terrorist act
Clashes in South Sudan: 20,000 persons forced to flee

Asia


China, ready to block UN report on North Korea
The Japan-Russia debate over Kurile: to be continued

Latin America

Brazil: War on drug-trafficking
US: Chavez' influence, in decline

Global Markets

G20 Meeting
Robert Zoellick: A monetary regime for a multipolar world 
Gazprom: ready for deliveries to the US
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

In their own words or how to use democracy to kill democracy.
Regional dangers of the current situation in Egypt, the consequences for Israel (and not only).

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Book Review: Understanding Arabs

With the whole discussions from the last two months, in the media and in the public space, about the Middle East - not exclusively focused, as usual, on the Israeli-Palestinian issue - a book explaining simply what are the main traits and cultural habits of the Arabs is extremely useful. 
And the term "Guide", from the intertitle is expressing exactly what this book it is about: an introduction in the culture, society, language, customs, religion, tradition and raily life. The examples took from the daily life are offering authenticity and direct insights. The references are mostly cultural, with basic information that need further bibliography.
But if you want to move or travel to one of the countries from the region and need more than the indications from the usual guides or if you want to start your intellectual journey across the region, this book is a good start.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pharaohs-in-Waiting - The Atlantic

Pharaohs-in-Waiting - The Atlantic

Main Players In Egypt: Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, ElBaradei, Suleiman, Protestors, Nour | The New Republic

Main Players In Egypt: Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, ElBaradei, Suleiman, Protestors, Nour | The New Republic

Egypt, Democracy and Islam

A Pew Research Center analysis from almost one year ago.
My observation is that, usually, during crisis, the opinions are very much exposed to radical and dramatic changes. Everything it is a matter of the leadership and alternatives.
For me, democracy is the only solution, but I am not too much in denial to deny the fact that for many countries, democracy doesn't mean a word. Unfortunately.
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Movie review: The Green Wave

A couple of weeks ago, I was recommended by some of my Iranian friends to take 30 minutes of my time and watch The Green Wave, a documentary about Mousavi's activity during the electoral campaign in Iran. 

I understand now very well that a radical change from a day to another or radical messages of change are, at least, counter-productive in a country whose base is still very traditional, and not necessarily city/urban-based. In this case, the "green" reference - what for us the Westerners might mean "spring", "beginning", in the Middle East it is obviously associated with religion - is understandable and at the end of the (political) game, the adversities can be reduced to who's the best fit guardian of the belief. 

I was waiting from such a movie less political advertising - very good filmed images of masses and popular gatherings, anyway - and more information: as long as it is aired in the West, we have to be convinced about what Moussavi represents in terms of potential of change. As you don't need to hold a Psychology and Psychiatry diploma for reading the face of Ahmadinejad. 

And, by the way, I wish all those whose faced are appearing in the movie are still free and alive...
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The Egypt Crisis in a Global Context: A Special Report | STRATFOR

The Egypt Crisis in a Global Context: A Special Report | STRATFOR