A prominent member of Libya's General National Congress (GNC) resigned Wednesday night. Hassan al-Amin, the chairman of the Human Rights and Civil Society Committee, announced his resignation on Libyan TV, citing numerous credible death threats against him and his family. He's since left the country and is reported to have relocated safely to London.
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
Civil war has plagued Burma for over sixty years now. At a number of times throughout that period, the ethnic rebel groups fighting for autonomy from the central government attempted to join forces. But their common foe, the Burmese military, consistently refused to have any dealings with alliances that tried to bring together all the restive minorities into a common front. The reason for this was simple: The generals always understood that ethnic rebels tend to be a fractious bunch, and that it's only too easy to incite defections by playing to a particular group's sectional interests (whether it be the offer of a favorable deal or the threat of a harsh crackdown). As a result, the Burmese army developed considerable expertise in the subtleties of divide and rule.
Ye Aung Thu/AFP/GettyImages
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."
PETER BUSOMOKE/AFP/Getty Images
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
An Egyptian expatriate friend asked me recently about the state of the Egyptian military back home.
It's a difficult question. The military has always been mysterious, and that's just as true in respect to its business interests as its military capabilities. The former, however, appears to be more jealously guarded than the latter.
Photo by STR/AFP/GettyImages
My father recently bought a new copy of an old book. We couldn't buy it earlier because it was virtually impossible to get one when Hosni Mubarak was president. You'll understand why when you hear the title: Dictatorship for Beginners: Bahgatos, President of Greater Bahgatia. (You can see a copy here -- in Arabic, but you don't have to understand the text to enjoy it).
Writing from Libya, Christopher Stephen offers a forensic analysis of the Benghazi consulate attack.
Syrian dissident Ahed Al Hendi recalls what it was like growing up under the personality cult surrounding the Assads.
Christian Caryl examines little-noticed corners of the Arab world where the spirit of rebellion continues to smolder.
Jon Temin explains why Sudan's governance problems are too deep to be cured by concessions to breakaway regions.
Guest blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad casts a critical eye on Mideast potentates who are using blasphemy laws to silence critics.
Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez analyzes the factors influencing Venezuelans' decisions to emigrate after the Hugo Chávez victory in this month's presidential election.
Katrina Lantos Swett and Robert P. George make the case for keeping post-revolutionary constitutions in the Arab World free of blasphemy laws.
Jackee Batanda observes plans by the Ugandan security forces to crack down on the country's social media.
And Endy Bayuni writes about the political strategy behind Indonesia's creeping liberalization of laws on capital punishment.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
In a new paper from the Brookings Doha Center, Salman Shaikh proposes a path forward toward a solution to Syria's deepening crisis.
The Inter American Press Association warns of a rising threat to press freedom from authoritarian governments and violence across Latin America.
Democracy Digest analyzes a political assassination in Tunisia that could have a profound effect on the course of the revolution.
As talk grows of a possible military intervention in Mali, the Council on Foreign Relations offers a useful backgrounder on Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. (The photo above shows Tuareg fighters in northern Mali.)
An intriguing blog post from The Economist describes the crucial differences in local government around India.
Ivan Krastev reflects on the importance of trust in democracies in a recent TED talk.
Courtesy of The Atlantic.com, Russian dissident Sergei Udaltsov live-tweets his detention.
And finally, be sure to check out this thought-provoking obituary of Cambodia's King Sihanouk, who died this week at age 89.
My former colleagues in Burma are preparing a special commemorative ceremony to be held next week to honor a fallen hero, Thet Win Aung. They've asked me to write an essay about him, as they plan to publish a book about him on the sixth anniversary of his death. For several days I've been unable to complete the task.
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 days preceding a presidential election are usually full of interesting story lines. In chaotic Venezuela, however, the narrative seems more jumbled than one would expect.
Let's recap: We have a 14-year incumbent who is favored to win but is barely campaigning. We have a strong challenger closing the gap, but not quite there yet. We have opinion polls giving wildly differing predictions, and a public sphere where unimportant things dominate the narrative while crucial issues are left by the wayside.
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).
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
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.
A new official report declaring the purge of communists in the 1960s in Indonesia to be a crime against humanity may be a historic milestone, but the muted public reaction suggests that this tragic episode has almost been wiped from the nation's collective memory.
On Monday, the National Commission on Human Rights, an independent state body, released its findings from a four-year investigation. The commission concludes that the army-led campaign amounted to a gross violation of human rights. It urged the government to prosecute the perpetrators and compensate victims and survivors. It also called upon President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to issue a public apology.
Carol Goldstein/Keystone/Getty Images
What a waste of ink and pixels. On Monday, with much brouhaha, Egypt commemorated 60 years since the deposing of King Farouk by a military movement that called itself "The Free Officers." That movement went on to dominate the country both politically and economically for the following six decades. As the leading figures in the movement died off, they propped up new protégés (such as Hosni Mubarak) to take over from them.
Aung San Suu Kyi has given the Burmese authorities the cold shoulder after being warned not to refer to the country as "Burma."
"I call my country ‘Burma' as we did a long time ago. I'm not insulting other people. Because I believe in democracy, I'm sure that I can call it as I like," the Nobel laureate explained at a July 3 press conference in Rangoon about her recent 17-day tour of Europe.
Burma's election commission, which supervises laws dealing with political parties, issued the complaint in the state-run media last Friday, warning her to "respect the constitution." Authorities said she should use the constitutionally-decreed name for the country: The Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/GettyImages
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
Picture the scene: It's July 1974, and congress is on the brink of impeaching President Nixon. As the procedure moves forward, Britain's foreign minister comes to Washington, D.C. in a desperate diplomatic bid to save a key ally from losing power. But instead of talking to the White House or trying to lobby congress, the British Foreign Minister heads straight for the Pentagon, where he gives a fiery harangue beseeching the Joint Chiefs of Staff to disregard any congressional move to impeach Nixon, telling them that doing so would nullify the democratic will of the electorate, and that it's their duty to stand firmly by their president, putting troops on the streets if need be.
Substitute July 1974 with June 2012, Richard Nixon with Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo, and Britain's foreign minister with Venezuela's, and you have a rough approximation of the extraordinary events that allegedly took place just two weeks ago as Paraguay's congress moved to impeach the president.
Burma's president is aware that his reforms have so far failed to bring material benefits to the general public. Speaking to his cabinet in May, President Thein Sein said: "Our government must make a drastic improvement in addressing people's needs, including residential housing, water, power, transportation, and jobs." He seems to understand that his government's failure to deliver basic public services can lead not only to electoral losses (as exemplified by the opposition's sweeping victory in the April 1 by-elections), but also to instability and potentially to the reversal of the reforms themselves. There have been street protests demanding basic labor rights, stable supplies of electricity, and the reinstatement of confiscated land. Thein Sein recently urged his administration to avert street protests "by addressing the issues of the people at the lower level."
Paula Bronstein /Getty Images
Papuans love to call their homeland the Land of Peace not for nothing. It's not so much a utopian dream but it is a message they have been trying to convey for decades to the world, and most particularly to the Indonesian government: That whatever solutions anyone proposes to the complex problems facing Papua, they have to be non-violent.
Papua, unfortunately, is anything but peaceful. And as violence begets more violence, the territory furthest east in the Indonesian archipelago could soon spiral out of control.
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
[Editor's note: Alert readers of the Brief recently brought a technical problem to our attention. It's now been fixed, but we wanted to take the occasion to let you know that we welcome your feedback.]
As the political turmoil in Egypt grows, Mara Revkin and Yussuf Auf analyze the reasons for the gridlock around efforts to draw up a new constitution.
Writing on the Egyptian economy, Peter Passell suggests a way to reform an increasingly unworkable system of subsidies.
Mohamed El Dahshan looks at an ominous military degree that has gone largely unnoticed amid the breaking news from Cairo, and also takes the measure of the government's latest effort to whip up anti-foreigner sentiment.
Hanna Hindstrom assails Burmese media reporting on the wave of ethnic violence in Burma, noting how many reporters are using their newfound freedom to indulge in xenophobia.
Min Zin explores how the conflict benefits the military junta and hinders the maneuverability of the democratic opposition.
Christian Caryl explains why hopes that Russia might soften its support for Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria are unlikely to be borne out.
This week, the Egyptian military made its boldest attempt yet to regain control over a country that has been slipping from its grip.
The two Thursday rulings from Egypt's Constitutional Court -- which effectively disbanded parliament while allowing Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, to run for president (his image trampelled on, above) -- have thrown the whole political situation into chaos. But there's an even more ominous part of the story that everyone seems to be overlooking.
When a recent survey indicated that 80 percent of Indonesians believe their nation can become a superpower, it was more a reflection of growing nationalist sentiment in a country that is striving to maintain its independence from the current global contest between the United States and China.
Indonesia is far from gaining superpower status, if ever, so clearly there is a huge gap between the aspirations of a large majority of its people and the current reality of the nation's true strengths.
Sectarian violence in the western region of Burma that shares a long border with Bangladesh has now claimed at least 25 lives since Friday. President Thein Sein has declared an emergency in Arakan State, where a feud between ethnic Arakan Buddhists against stateless Rohingya Muslims has spiraled into full-blown communal violence. The looting, arson, and mob clashes are spreading fast.
Although a predominantly Buddhist state, Arakan is home to a large number of Muslims, including the estimated 800,000 Rohingya, who are regarded by the Burmese government as stateless illegal aliens. The United Nations has described them as one of the world's most persecuted minorities. However, many Burmese call them "Bengalis," or even use a racial slur, kalar, a derogatory term for foreigners, especially those of Indian appearance.
Ye Aung Thu/AFP/GettyImages
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.
The first is denial. And that's what we're experiencing in Egypt right now -- for we've ended up with the worst possible outcome from the first round of our presidential elections. The winners are Ahmed Shafiq, a Mubarak loyalist whose spent most of his last post as prime minister during the 2011 revolution trying to smother the revolution and kill its children, and who now threatens violence and an "iron fist" at every opportunity; and Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who wasn't even his own party's first choice, and whose lack of charisma and imagination threaten to bore us to death over the next four years while curtailing our social and personal freedoms in accordance to the Muslim Brotherhood's conservative agenda.
Three days after the preliminary results were announced, the High Electoral Commission confirmed them with minor changes. The Commission claimed that it had used this interval to investigate fraud allegations and appeals, all of which it dismissed. Voters used the time to digest the news and find ways to deal with their disappointment.
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.