Earlier this month, Libya's Supreme Military Court reviewed an appeal by 19 Ukrainians, three Belarusians, and two Russians who stand accused of aiding the regime of Muammar Qaddafi by helping his forces to maintain military equipment during the revolution. The defendants maintain that they are engineers who were working for an oil company and were not politically motivated to assist the Qaddafi regime.
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In a widely expected move, the Venezuelan government announced last Friday that it would devalue its currency by 32 percent. The Venezuela Bolívar (BsF) will now trade at 6.3 BsF per U.S. dollar, up from 4.3 BsF per dollar. This costly move was probably influenced by events that took place halfway around the world, in Beijing.
Photo by LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images
Joseph Allchin explains why the war crimes trials under way in Bangladesh show why transitional justice and party politics don't mix.
Christian Caryl argues that treating democracy as an inevitable outcome may actually hurt the cause of democracy.
Nazila Fathi looks at how Iranian leaders are responding to the deepening economic crisis created by sanctions.
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Three students from the Makerere University College of Computing and Information Sciences have won the Microsoft Imagine Cup Grant worth $50,000 for their project WinSenga, a smartphone app that performs ultrasounds on pregnant women and can detect problems like ectopic pregnancies and abnormal heartbeats. The winning, Team Cipher256, consists of Aaron Tushabe, Joshua Okello, and Josiah Kavuma.
Cristina Odone profiles Carne Ross, the crusader who's trying to save diplomacy from itself. And Willam Lloyd-George offers a portrait of Shwe Mann, the Burmese politician who's now being wooed by the White House despite his checkered past.
James Kirchick accuses Georgia's recently elected prime minister of threatening to derail the country's fledgling democracy.
Christian Caryl addresses the question of what makes a hero, and argues that Thein Sein, Burma's ex-general president, has what it takes.
Peter Murrell and Chuluunbat Narantuya explain how Mongolia's nomadic culture is helping the country evade the resource curse.
Ellen Bork warns the United States government against rushing prematurely into close cooperation with the Burmese military.
Alex Thurston analyzes the latest violent twist in the saga of Mauritania's troubled transition to democracy.
Endy Bayuni casts a skeptical eye on the human rights declaration recently passed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Jackee Batanda explains Uganda's involvement in the rising rebel movement in Congo -- and what Kampala can do to help end the crisis.
Juan Nagel takes a look at the latest mysterious disappearance of Venezuela's ailing president.
And here are this week's recommended reads:
The Atlantic Council's Egypt Source offers an excellent background on Egypt's constitutional crisis. Particularly useful are Nancy Messieh's close reading of the draft Egyptian constitution and Yussuf Auf's in-depth examination of the role of the Egyptian judiciary. Mohsin Khan provides much-needed coverage of a vital issue that has gone lost amid the political turmoil: The government's new economic plan.
Writing for NowLebanon, Hussein Ibish gives a scathing take on Egyptian President Morsi's efforts to accumulate power.
Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment makes a plea for reform of the U.S. democracy promotion establishment.
In a remarkable report for National Geographic, Jeff Bartholet tells the personal story behind a Tibetan's decision to set himself on fire as a protest against Chinese rule.
Tunisia Live offers excellent reporting on the continuing clashes between protestors and security forces at Siliana.
The International Crisis Group presents a must-read report on why Sudan desperately needs reforms if it is to avoid a new round of warfare with its own citizens and its neighbors.
Writing for CogitASIA (at the Center for Strategic and International Studies), Phuong Nguyen explains why Burma's important new laws on public assembly remain a work in progress.
Harvard's Calestous Juma shows how tribalism hampers the building of democratic institutions in Africa.
Photo by PHIL MOORE/AFP/Getty Images
Last week the UN finally released a controversial report that accuses Uganda and Rwanda of supporting rebels in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). When a leaked version of the report first appeared in October, Uganda's Army spokesperson, Felix Kulayigye dismissed it: "It's hogwash, it's a mere rumor that's being taken as a report," he told Radio France Internationale. "It's undermining the credibility of the mediator which is Uganda, and when you undermine the credibility of the mediator you are actually undermining the entire process."
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The sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims that started in western Burma last June has now taken 200 lives and caused some 100,000 refugees. This issue should take a prominent place in President Barack Obama's agenda as he stops off in Burma this week. It will be the first time that any U.S. president has visited the country.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images
Recently Ugandans had one small cause to celebrate. The World Bank announced that their country had moved up in the rankings in its annual ease of doing business survey. And not only did Uganda move up -- it also overtook regional rival Kenya, which had long enjoyed a much better rating in this area. The ratings are important, of course, because foreign investors quite understandably prefer to put their money into places where there are fewer obstacles to business.
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(A note to our subscribers: from now on the Democracy Lab Weekly Brief will begin arriving in your inbox on Monday mornings. You'll receive the next installment on November 5.)
William Lloyd-George profiles the Islamist warlord who is threatening to transform his corner of northern Africa into a safe haven for jihadis.
Writing from Tbilisi, Molly Corso analyzes the tensions surrounding the formation of a new government after this month's parliamentary elections.
Christian Caryl argues that America's non-voters deserve to be taken seriously by the rest of their compatriots.
Jamsheed Choksy and Eden Naby warn against sectarianism in the wake of the Arab Spring and consider measures to protect religious minorities.
Mohamad El Dahshan rediscovers a lost satire on dictatorship.
Endy Bayuni examines why Indonesia's Islamist parties have so far had little success at the ballot box.
Min Zin looks at how some of the players in Burma's political scene are bending the constitutional rule book to their own advantage.
And Juan Nagel assesses Venezuela's democratic credentials.
And here are this week's recommended reads:
In a new article for Foreign Affairs, Ruchir Sharma argues that we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the BRIC success story.
At The New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley wonder whether Islamist ascendance bodes ill or well for the legacy of the Arab Spring.
A story by the BBC describes the growing schism between secularists and Islamists in the Syrian opposition. In a new report, Human Rights Watch provides evidence of continued use of cluster bombs against civilians by the government of Bashar al-Assad.
Fahed Al-Sumait, writing for Jadaliyya, looks at the growing political crisis in Kuwait.
Writing for OpenDemocracy.net, William Callahan examines how debate over the relative virtues of authoritarianism and democracy figures in the growing rivalry between China and India.
And finally, a group of activists has released "An Outsider's Guide to Supporting Nonviolent Resistance to Dictatorship," a new handbook on the art of peaceful revolution.
[The photo above shows Egyptian worshipers gathering in a soccer stadium to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.)
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Reporting from Caracas, Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez explores scenarios after this Sunday’s presidential vote in Venezuela. The main question: Will Hugo Chávez give up power if he loses?
Christian Caryl tells the story of an elementary school teacher in Sudan who faces execution because she had the courage to stand up to the regime. And Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch presents a gallery of similarly courageous but little-known activists from around the world.
On the scene in Tbilisi, James Kirchick reports on the surprising aftermath of Georgia's parliamentary election -- especially President Mikheil Saakashvili's remarkable acceptance of his own defeat. And Kirchick's dispatch from election day provides a vivid account of the tensions and hopes leading up to the vote.
In an excerpt from his new book, economist Justin Yifu Lin compares the experiences of transition economies and offers a few useful rules of thumb for reformers.
Christopher Stephen, on the scene in Benghazi, describes a local backlash against the militants who killed a popular U.S. ambassador.
In the run-up to Venezuela's epochal election, Juan Nagel reports on the shifting balance of forces, while Francisco Toro takes a closer look at whether Hugo Chávez has improved the life of the country's poor.
Reflecting on Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to the United States, Min Zin takes her to task for neglecting to mention the country's continuing civil war.
Endy Bayuni reports on the Indonesian Anti-Corruption Commission's effort to take on one of the country's most graft-ridden institutions: the police.
Mohamed El Dahshan investigates the absurdities of Egypt's campaign against blasphemy.
And Jackee Batanda recounts the curious tale of a run-in between U.S. diplomats and a Ugandan general.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
A paper from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance provides an in-depth look at Venezuela's presidential election.
In a provocative op-ed, MIT scholar Brian Haggerty argues that those who argue for a "limited" intervention in Syria are likely to be proven wrong by conditions on the ground.
The International Crisis Group offers a handy backgrounder on Malaysia, where a long-anticipated general election may soon shake up the political landscape.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Sadanand Dhume explains why he expects little from the new anti-corruption party just launched in India.
The Jamestown Foundation's Igor Rotar worries that the explosive situation in Central Asia's restive Ferghana Valley is likely to aggravate instability throughout the region.
A new book from Democracy Lab contributor Francisco Martin-Rayo tells of his travels through the terrorist recruiting grounds of Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia.
And finally, Jadaliyya offers a withering review of The Daily Show appearance of Jordan's King Abdullah II, who, they say, is incorrectly portrayed as a reformist "constitutional monarch." You be the judge: You can find Part I of the interview here.
The Daily Show
On 7 October 1571, the naval forces of the Catholic countries of southern Europe fought the Ottoman Empire fleet in what is known as the "Battle of Lepanto." Against heavy odds, the Catholic forces defeated the Ottomans, denying them exclusive rights over the Mediterranean. Historians consider this a turning point in the Ottoman campaign to control the Mediterranean.
441 years to the day, opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez hope to score a victory that, to many at least, seems of similar importance. This Sunday's presidential election between Chávez and challenger Henrique Capriles is crucial for the country, as any victory is bound to have lasting consequences.
The Lady continues her U.S. tour. Aung San Suu Kyi has already visited Washington, DC, and New York City, and now she's on her way to the West Coast. Last week I had the privilege of flying to the U.S. capital to see her during her stop there. It was a great honor to greet her again in person. It was 23 years since we had last seen each other.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/GettyImages
Any decent Muslim would have been angered by the portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed in the film Innocence of Muslims. But it took a few days longer in Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, for the rage to translate into violent protests against American interests of the kind that happened elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy leader and Nobel laureate, is coming to Washington, D.C. On September 19 she is set to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. This is the highest civilian honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress, and it will be presented to Suu Kyi "for her leadership and steadfast commitment to human rights and for promoting freedom, peace and democracy in her home country of Burma," said House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/GettyImages
Christian Caryl reports on the Salafi movement, which has been implicated in many of this week's protests around the Middle East.
Syrian journalist Malik Al-Abdeh argues that the Syrian National Council's lack of leadership has been a disaster for the revolt against Assad.
Political analyst Jay Ulfelder explains why Kim Jong Un may be about to embark on reform in North Korea.
Blair Glencorse and Charles Landow report on five East African nations that are working towards an economic community modeled on the European Union (but without a common currency, thank you).
Patrick Bodenham meets some of Burma's child soldiers, and examines why the government has failed to follow through on its pledge to end the problem. Christian Caryl explains why the predicament of Burma's Rohingya is becoming a new global cause célèbre for Muslims.
In an overview of recent papers on transition economics, Peter Passell explores the dynamics behind issues ranging from girls' schools to clean cooking stoves.
Their budgets may be a tad tighter and their delegations smaller, but developing countries are no less excited about the Olympics than their northern counterparts. There are, in fact, a number of transition countries with Olympic stories that are making big waves in their home nations and around the world. (And the clumsy responses of the International Olympic Committee almost always help to make the waves even bigger.) Here's a brief roundup of the Nations in Transition Olympic News (let's call this our NiTON review):
1. The South Sudanese athlete with no flag
The rigid IOC rigid rulebook stipulates that a new country's application to join the organization must take two years. South Sudan, which has declared independence in July 2011, falls short of this criterion. The IOC, with its usual brilliance, suggested that the South Sudanese athletes compete under the Sudanese flag -- not the most sensitive suggestion for the various parties involved, considering that South Sudan recently celebrated the first anniversary of secession from its northern neighbor.
In a country where consulting a psychologist is taboo, Portia Walker explores the challenge of overcoming the civil war in Libya.
Endy Bayuni examines why few Indonesians are prepared to come to terms with the darkest chapter of the country's recent history.
Min Zin wonders whether the regime will succeed in its bid to co-opt the pro-democracy opposition through appeals to nationalism amid continuing sectarian strife.
Three Princeton researchers (Morgan Greene, Jonathan Friedman, and Richard Bennet) tell the story of how post-Yugoslavia Kosovo (with some help from the international community) managed to pull off a remarkable feat of state-building.
Endy Bayuni explains why Indonesians disagree about the start of Ramadan, and what it says about the country's climate of religious toleration.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/GettyImages
It's been three days since I first heard about the insulting sms message sent by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (shown above) to his finance minister: "Stand your ground, we're the number four power in Europe. Spain is not Uganda." Business Insider translated the statement as follows: "We're a major power, not some random IMF-case banana republic." (A friend and blogger, Rosebell Kagumire, first posted it on Facebook, where I saw the link to the article.)
It was an affront to me as a Ugandan. Indeed, a number of netizens -- both Ugandans and non-Ugandans -- took to Twitter with the hashtag #ugandaisnotspain to protest the remarks. Ms. Kagumire set up the hashtag on Twitter in order to prompt Ugandans and friends to comment about the article:
In March, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi troweled dollops of concrete onto a barren patch of land on the picturesque island of Lamu, Kenya, where a future seaport will lie. The Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), a $23-billion undertaking that will connect Kenya's coastal Lamu region to South Sudan and Ethiopia with oil pipelines, railways, and super highways, is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Africa to date. According to President Kibaki, LAPSSET "will stimulate the growth of regional economies through promotion of trade and other productive activities." He predicted that the project will boost employment and contribute to better prospects for some 167 million people in the surrounding region.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
Fadil Aliriza exposes the difficulties Tunisia's new government faces in rooting out corruption from the old regime.
Min Zin looks at Burma's first street protests in more than 20 years and examines their potential impact on the country's progress towards democracy.
Peter Passell argues that well-meaning efforts to reduce climate change won't work unless developing countries can be persuaded that it's good for the bottom line.
Francisco Toro shows why much-vaunted adult literacy programs in Venezuela haven't actually produced much bang for the buck.
Endy Bayuni analyzes the maneuverings in Indonesia's political elite -- including rumors that President Yudhoyono's wife could emerge as his most likely successor.
Mohamed El Dahshan makes the case for Tunisia as a soft-power leader in the Middle East.
And Christian Caryl explains why regulating the international arm trade can make life easier for fragile societies.
This week's recommended reads:
The big story of the week, of course, is the first round of the presidential election in Egypt. FP's own David Kenner offers a handy guide to the early results.
For those wishing to go into greater depth, the Atlantic Council's Egypt Source website presents a number of excellent background pieces on the election. Economist Hoda Youseff wonders whether Egyptians are really prepared for the changes that a new president will bring. Mustafa El-Labbad examines likely shifts in foreign policy following the election. And frequent Democracy Lab contributor Magdy Samaan offers a skeptical take on the prospects for political stability once the voting is over.
Elsewhere, Jadaliyya.com examines electoral trends in Egypt, while Ahram Online presents an intriguing interview with long-time dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim.
Meanwhile, the National Democratic Institute has published a detailed study of public attitudes in Libya in the run-up to that country's next round of elections in June. The bottom line: People don't believe the National Transitional Council is doing its job. And the Legatum Institute's Anne Applebaum, writing for Slate, offers a vivid dispatch from Libya that vividly captures the tension between chaos and hope.
The Jamestown Foundation offers a finely grained analysis of the Islamist insurgency in Yemen that has taken over several provinces in the south of the country. At The New York Review of Books blog, Hugh Eakin scrutinizes the role of Saudi Arabia as Washington escalates its involvement in Yemen.
At OpenDemocracy.net, the French journalist and Middle East expert Francis Ghilès reflects on the past few decades of Tunisia's history through the prism of his own biography.
A remarkable piece at ProPublica tells the extraordinary story of a man whose personal fate embodies the problems of transitional justice in Guatemala.
A new European Union survey documents the continuing discrimination faced by Europe's ethnic Roma.
Eurasianet.org explains how citizens in Central Asia cope with harsh governments and dysfunctional infrastructure. Writing for OUPblog (Oxford University Press), Alexander Cooley contends that the war in Afghanistan has actually reinforced authoritarianism and corruption in the rest of Central Asia.
And as Azerbaijan hosts the 2012 Eurovision song contest in Baku, Human Rights House tracks the fate of pro-democracy activists. (The photo above shows members of the group "Sing for Democracy.")
Tunisia is not the largest or most populous Arab country. It is not at the heart of the Levant and its conflicts, and it does not host U.S. military bases (as do many of the Gulf countries). As far as Arab countries are concerned, Tunisia has always been the quiet cousin, keeping to itself in the corner of the room.
But this is changing rapidly. Now Tunisia is poised to claim a more prominent role for itself.
Tunisia's status as the "cradle of the Arab Spring" is not the primary factor in this shift. (You may remember that Egypt's revolution received far more coverage than Tunisia's.) Rather, it is the successful management of the post-revolutionary phase that is steadily pushing Tunisia onto center stage, both globally and regionally.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Can Burma make headway towards democracy when it's still saddled with an authoritarian constitution? Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo argue that countries in comparable situations have managed to overcome similar obstacles in the past.
Skeptics say that Brazil's economy is losing its mojo. But Albert Fishlow begs to differ, explaining why investors shouldn't give up so soon.
Christian Caryl tells the peculiar story of a West Texas town that has become a player in the global human rights industry.
The White House announced yesterday that it is lifting two of its major sanctions against Burma. At the same time, the Obama Administration nominated the first U.S. ambassador to Burma in 22 years. (Technically speaking, President Obama first extended one more year of the "national emergency" that serves as the legal basis for the investment ban, then used his presidential waiver to suspend the sanction. Yeah, it's confusing.) He also decided to waive a measure banning the export of financial services, which was a provision of the JADE Act passed by the Congress in 2008.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined five possible responses to the political opening in Burma in remarks she made on April 4. The United States, in Ms. Clinton's words, resolved to "meet action with action." Yesterday's announcement means that the U.S. has now implemented all five of the measures she alluded to.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
When South Sudan became the world's youngest nation in 2011, we greeted it with excitement. Decades of warfare were finally over. We praised Sudan for allowing the South to go, and we praised President Omar Al-Bashir for handling the separation calmly, despite losing the country's oil sources.
For Uganda, the successful peace talks and the creation of a new state meant that the Sudanese refugees long residing in refugee camps in Uganda would soon return home. (The photo above shows refugees returning to South Sudan from Uganda last year.) Most importantly, it meant that Khartoum would end the support it had been giving Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Since the 2006 peace talks (initiated by Riek Machar, the current vice president of South Sudan), northern Uganda has seen relative peace.
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Mohamed Fadel Fahmy interviews Robert Becker, who decided to stay in Egypt and have his day in court rather than leave the country with the other Americans implicated in the NGO affair.
Francisco Martin-Rayo argues that America is undermining Yemen's opportunity to build democracy for the sake of waging war on Al Qaeda. (The photo above shows Yemeni jihadis manning a checkpoint.)
Reporting from The Hague, Christopher Stephen explains why the welcome verdict against Charles Taylor shouldn't divert attention from the continuing irrelevance of the International Criminal Court.
Since the general election in 2010, the Burmese military has proved itself to be quite savvy. The new generation of leaders have focused on modernization in order to bring their forces up to the level of their Southeast Asia counterparts. Their strategy is to decrease their reliance on China (which, they believe, takes advantage of Burma's international isolation) and to seize the opportunity to intensify their dealings with the West.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.