M. Steven Fish and Katherine E. Michel explain why Tunisia is taking the right approach to establishing democractic institutions.
Anne Applebaum explores the motivations for people to support authoritarian regimes.
Dalibor Rohac argues that religion isn't necessarily the key to understanding the success of Islamist parties in the MENA region.
Endy Bayuni explains the tensions underlying recent violence among Indonesian migrants.
Peter Passell introduces the Legatum Institute's 2012 Prosperity Index.
Jackee Batanda reports on the corruption scandal that has soured Uganda's relations with foreign aid donors.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
David Rieff attacks the assumptions behind America's democracy promotion agenda.
The Arabist provides alternate sources of English versions of the new Egyptian draft consitution -- with a bit of arch commentary along the way.
Amrit Dhillon criticizes the Indian government's restrictions on morphine for the poor.
At The Monkey Cage, Joshua Tucker offers a handy overview of Ukraine's parliamentary elections and what they tell us about the Ukraine's continued drift toward authoritarianism.
Writing for The Irrawaddy, Burmese journalist Aung Zaw explains why the resurgence of ethnic conflict in northwestern Burma bodes ill for the next phase of reforms.
At Jadaliyya, Basma Guthrie and Fida Adely explain why the Jordanian government is tightening the screws on the domestic media.
Foreign Policy's own Marc Lynch writes on the burgeoning dissatisfaction in Kuwait.
Writing for OpenDemocracy.net, Paul Rogers argues that western intervention in Mali would be a gift to Al Qaeda.
Democracy Digest offers a useful situation report on the state of democratic institutions in Tunisia.
[The photo above shows Cubans lining up to receive government coal rations in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.]
Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images
In 2009, Moe Thee Zun, a famous student leader during Burma's 1988 pro-democracy movement and a former chairman of the All Burma Students' Democratic Front, flung his shoe at a car carrying then-prime minister Thein Sein while he was attending the UN General Assembly in New York. He argued that Thein Sein and the repressive military junta ruling Burma do not represent the people of Burma -- whom they brutally killed during the peaceful protests of the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
Now Moe Thee Zun is back in Burma after 24 years in exile. The student leader, who was condemned to death in absentia by the old military regime, can now legally return to his homeland -- now that-President Thein Sein's pseudo-civilian government has removed his name, along with 2,081 others, from a blacklist denying him entry into the country. After his arrival on Saturday he held a press conference at which he declared that he had returned to help the president's reform process and make peace in the war-torn areas of the country.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/GettyImages
For decades, members of Indonesia's Shiite Muslim minority have led a somewhat secluded but peaceful life. Everyone knew of their existence in Indonesia, but no one was going around asking about their faith and practices -- and they didn't go around flaunting their religious identity either.
Most Muslims in Indonesia were not aware of their Sunni identity. They could not even tell the difference between Shiite and Sunni, or understand the historic deep-seated enmity that has split Muslims in other parts of the world. The majority of Muslims in Indonesia may follow the Sunni teachings, but many of their daily practices resemble the Shiite traditions, such as the way they pay homage for dead relatives. This suggests that Shiite influence is far larger than the number of people who profess to follow the denomination. It has had a presence in Indonesia long before many educated Muslims were drawn to Shiism after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978.
Burmese government ministers and their proxies are building up their frequent flyer miles. They've been making trips to their Southeast Asian neighbors as well as Western countries ranging from Norway to the U.S., the newest enthusiasts of Burma's reform. The cynics might characterize these trips as part of a charm offensive, but in fact they're much more substantive than a PR ploy. These are not the usual attempts to solicit aid from the West; they are, in fact, part of a campaign "to bring the exiles back home."
Major Zaw Htay, the director of the Presidential Office, recently made a visit to the U.S., where he met with a cozy reception from the State Department and some Burmese groups. Hla Maung Shwe, a leading businessman-cum-advisor to the regime, is due in August. In fact, Burma's general-turned-civilian president, Thein Sein, has apparently assigned his trusted aides to lead these delegations to court the West and the community of political exiles.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/GettyImages
As you drive out of Caracas International Airport, one of the first things you see as your car starts up the Coastal Range into the city is an abandoned toll booth. Hard as it is to believe, there was a time when the rickety, 60-year-old highway linking the capital to the coast and its airport actually charged a toll.
The idea that Venezuelans would have to pay for their inherent right to drive their cars was deemed as nonsense by the Chávez administration, and was abandoned not long after the new president took power. It's a shame, because if there is one thing this country needs, it's some sort of congestion pricing.
Caracas does not top the ranks of the world's worst cities for traffic. That dubious honor usually goes to cities like Moscow, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, or Beijing. Yet if there is one thing the inhabitants of this polarized metropolis can agree on, it's that traffic is nerve-wracking.
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
You'd think it would catch the world's attention. The revolt is being led by an educated, young, polyglot class of people attempting to spread the message in half a dozen languages. Media-savvy bloggers and activists are being arrested; internet campaigns to free them are launched every day (in Arabic and English). Foreign journalists are being detained and deported. The protestors are confronting a military-religious dictatorship with demands for a civil state and social and economic justice. And, unlike some of the other worst offenders in Africa, the ruling regime is at least somewhat familiar to the western public thanks to coverage of the atrocities in Darfur and South Sudan (not to mention the involvement of George Clooney and company and the International Criminal Court's first arrest warrant -- as yet futile -- for an acting head of state).
Courtesy of Azaz Shami
The demonstrations began in Khartoum on June 16, and have since spread not only to the rest of the city, but to other parts of Sudan as well. They began with a small peaceful group of students at the University of Khartoum, near the office where I work for an international organization. A few hours later the demonstration had developed into a crowd of 100 students. I could not see the demonstration, but through the open window the teargas stung my eyes, and I could hear the crowd of students shouting slogans and the sirens of the riot police approaching the scene. Now, ten days later, demonstrations are taking place daily but everyday life caries on surprisingly normal with the sound of shouting and sirens in the background.
Courtesy of Azaz Shami
The rains that swept across Uganda Monday afternoon left devastating effects. While the press showed images of the flooded capital, Kampala, more chilling pictures emerged of the mudslides in Bududa, a region in eastern Uganda.
Located on the slopes of Mount Elgon along the Uganda-Kenya border, Bududa is a fertile area, but vulnerable to disaster. Extensive pressure on the environment from human encroachment is manifesting negative results: Mudslides occur whenever there are heavy rains. The area first made news with the landslides of 2010, when over 350 people died and many others were injured and displaced.
In words and pictures, photojournalist Robert King tells the harrowing tale of his recent trip to the small Syrian town of Al Qusayr, where residents are fighting an uneven battle against the forces of the Assad regime.
Alina Rocha-Menocal delivers a withering indictment of Mexico's six years under Felipe Calderón.
Elliott Prasse-Freeman argues that civil society groups, not the government, offer the best hope for authentic reform in Burma.
Greg Rushford reports on the economic reforms that could turn the Philippines into Asia's next success story.
Christian Caryl celebrates Aung San Suu Kyi -- and wonders whether she can make the leap from the idealism of the past to the practical political deal-making that her country needs now.
Mohamed El Dahshan worries about Egypt's future as the country poises itself for a fresh round of political maneuvering.
And Francisco Toro explains why global oil prices are likely to be one of the most important factors in Venezuela's upcoming presidential election.
Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images
There were presidential elections. Both candidates declared victory. The Higher Electoral Commission ruled to delay the official announcement of the results "indefinitely." Mubarak was declared brain-dead, then in a coma, then neither.
So it's great news for everyone. Both camps are celebrating: Mubarak's detractors are glad to see him die, while his fans celebrate his recovery from the brink!
Joking aside, "indecision" is the word of the week in Egypt, and none of the above seems to matter.
Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images
As of June 9, the war in Burma's Kachin State has been going on for one year. It's a sad anniversary.
In early January 2012, the Kachin journalist Lahpai Naw Ming was hit by a bullet fired by a Burmese soldier. But Naw Ming's companions had no way of getting him to a hospital for immediate treatment, because of the heavy on-going fighting between Kachin rebels and Burmese government troops. Bleeding profusely, the 44 year-old Kachin journalist was forced to hide in a trench in the Kachin lines for almost two hours. By the time he arrived at a hospital in a Chinese border town, the bullet in his throat had already caused damage to his main nervous system.
"I still can't move the lower part of my body up to the chest," Naw Ming told me on the phone from his hospital bed. As the chief reporter for Kachinland News, Naw Ming filed a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the war between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Burmese government troops, which broke out last June after 17 year of a ceasefire agreement. The journalist also documented on video how the Burmese army has wantonly killed Kachin villagers and razed their houses.
Traffic in Caracas -- which is chaotic at the best of times -- ground to a virtual standstill today as authorities were forced to shut down the main east-west highway crossing the length of the long and narrow city. The reason? Gunfire. Not just any gunfire, but assault rifle fire and sporadic grenades traded between the security forces and the heavily armed inmates at the notorious La Planta prison, which sits next to the highway just off of downtown.
Stories about conditions in Venezuelan prisons often have an other-worldly, Mad Max feel to them; with nearly 50,000 inmates crammed into jails built to hold 12,500, overcrowding in Venezuelan jails is cinematographic in scale. Overwhelmed by the number of people, prison guards long ago gave up trying to control what happens inside, limiting themselves to guarding the perimeter to prevent breakouts. The result is a Hobbesian state of nature inside the prison, a never-ending war of all against all that left 560 inmates dead last year.
Making things worse is the rampant corruption of prison authorities, who make a profitable trade selling anything you can think of to the inmates: marihuana, handguns, stereos, assault rifles, blackberries, girls, waterbeds, DVD players, cocaine, laptops, even military-grade grenades. Anything you can think of, you can smuggle into a Venezuelan jail -- at a price.
LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images
We already know that drones are powerful weapons. In "Predators for Peace," Jack C. Chow depicts a not-too-distant future in which airborne robots can be used to boost humanitarian relief efforts and good governance.
As governments cut back on foreign assistance budgets, Peter Passell makes the case for a smarter approach to development aid.
Alina Rocha Menocal, noting that Latin America still suffers from gross inequality, sees the answers in sound public policy.
Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP/Getty Images
Earlier this month, leaders of the former separatist group Aceh Free Movement (GAM) in Indonesia's northern province of Aceh won gubernatorial elections for the second time since giving up their armed insurgency in 2005. But they learned that governing by democratic means is just as challenging as waging guerilla warfare from the jungles -- if not more so.
Zaini Abdullah, who eight years ago served as foreign and health minister of the Aceh government-in-exile in Sweden, won the election, beating incumbent governor Irwandi Yusuf. Zaini's running mate, Muzakir Manaf, formerly the military commander of GAM, will serve as deputy governor.
A physician by profession who joined the independence fight in the 1970s, in recent press interviews Zaini has said that he will now focus on bringing peace and economic development to Aceh. Like most other former rebel leaders, however, he has not openly renounced his separatist aspirations, saying rather that he is "putting them aside."
CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.