At noon today, the center of Benghazi was rocked by the explosion of a huge car bomb. The blast, adjacent to the city's leading Al-Jala Hospital, killed at least three people while injuring at least 15 more. Needless to say, it's more bad news for the deteriorating security situation in one of Libya's most important cities. This is the first time that attackers have targeted a crowded area in daylight, clearly an attempt to inflict as many casualties as possible. Witnesses on the ground are reporting extensive damage to nearby buildings and cars.
A massive car bomb targeted the French embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli this morning. The explosion occurred around 7 AM local time in the residential area of Hay al Andalus. Two French guards were wounded. So was a Libyan girl who lived in a nearby house. She had to be flown to Tunisia for specialized treatment.
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
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.
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
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
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.
BULENT KILIC/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
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
James A. Robinson explains why Colombia's remarkable degree of political stability is not all that it's cracked up to be.
Malik Al-Abdeh wonders whether the creation of a new umbrella group for the Syrian opposition group will actually help to bring down the Assad regime.
Mohamed El Dahshan argues that the current government ban on pornography in Egypt threatens freedom of expression.
Larry Jagan analyzes the dynamics within the Burmese leadership and explains why fragmentation of the ruling party would be a disaster for the country.
Christian Caryl explores the comparison between two civil war presidents, Bashar al-Assad and Abraham Lincoln.
Besar Likmeta profiles Ina Rama, Albania's first female general prosecutor and valiant hero in the fight against sleaze.
Jackee Batanda reports on the increasing demoralization of a Ugandan public battered by new revelations of corruption in high places.
And here are this week's recommended reads:
Thomas Carothers and and Nathan J. Brown explain the real danger for democracy in Egypt.
Katrin Verclas and Lina Srivastava wonder why a new list of democracy promotion heavyweights is bereft of women.
In a Guardian interview with Colin Poulton, the SOAS research fellow makes the case that the establishment of democratic institutions in developing countries can be detrimental to the rural poor.
A new RAND report assesses the nation-building challenges in post-Qaddafi Libya.
A new report on Burma from the International Crisis Group, Storm Clouds on the Horizon, shows how continuing sectarian conflict is casting a shadow over the reform process. Writing in The Independent, Emanuel Stoakes stresses the need for President Obama to acknowledge the issue during his upcoming trip to Burma.
In an analysis for the Middle East Research and Information Project, Pete Moore explains why -- despite the recent turmoil there -- Jordan is unlikely to experience its own version of the Arab Spring.
Sarah Kendzior argues that there are good reasons for holding policy forums in authoritarian countries.
Alina Rocha Menocal takes issue with the notion that "building institutions" is the best formula for promoting development.And finally, Evelyn Lamb, writing in Scientific American, explains the background of the Gini coefficient -- and why it's not like the Kardashians
Photo by Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images
On October 7, 2012, the office of the Egyptian General Prosecutor decided to start an official investigation accusing me of "blasphemy" -- or, as they call it, "insulting Islam." My crime was expressing my atheist beliefs on my Twitter account. The Egyptian authorities also arrested my friend Alber Saber on similar charges. He remains in jail to this day.
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.
Christian Caryl reports on the Salafi movement, which has been implicated in many of this week's protests around the Middle East.
The recent shooting spree against police in Central Java and the discovery of two houses storing massive explosives in and near Jakarta suggest that Indonesia may be lagging in countering the threats of terrorism from radical Islamic groups. Approaching the 10-year commemoration of the October 12 suicide bombing that killed hundreds of foreign tourists on the holiday island of Bali, this Muslim-majority nation is already coming to terms with the fact that the threats will remain. Still, people hope that the police will be able to foil any plot of major attacks before it happens. The police's special counter-terrorist unit, Densus 88, has won praise for busting terrorist networks and has made many arrests since its creation in 2003. Indonesia has not seen any major terrorist attack after the elite force killed Noordin Mohammed Top, the Malaysian bomb maker linked to all the Indonesian suicide bombing attacks since Bali, during a raid in 2009.
Photo by BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Three Ugandan pre-university students, Alvin Kabwama, Nigel Kinyera, and David Tusubira, have designed a bomb detector and detonator prototype. The design was announced at a press conference and has since made headlines, but it has been met with mixed emotions. While some people applaud the students' initiative, the majority of Ugandans are skeptical of their work.
Some have gone on to denounce a prototype car created last year by students from Makerere University as part of an MIT partnership. The argument is that the design was unoriginal, using parts from other car models. Such critics fail to see that this is exactly how most industrial innovations come about. Prototypes like this one are how you get to the developments that revolutionize societies.
Author Will Dobson, publisher of the new book The Dictator's Learning Curve, talks to Christian Caryl about why the despots aren't as dumb as you think.
Thomas Miller learns why Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy believes he can bring the Arab Spring to Southeast Asia.
Robert Looney explores Saudi Arabia's efforts to wean itself off of dependence on oil - perhaps giving hope to other commodity-driven economies.
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.")
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
The stage was already set for battle between the 52,000 Indonesian fans of Lady Gaga, who bought and paid for tickets to see her perform, and the 30,000-strong Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who promised to disrupt her concert in Jakarta scheduled for June 3.
Going by the Twitter and Facebook posts this week, the Little Monsters (as fans of the American pop singer call themselves) say they are not intimidated by threats from the FPI, Indonesia's notoriously violent, self-proclaimed morality police. "If it's a fight they want, then it's a fight they'll get" is essentially the attitude of the mostly young Lady Gaga fans.
But now it looks like the showdown will never materialize.
The police. The real ones, paid with taxpayers' money.
OSCAR SIAGIAN/AFP/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.
MARC HOFER/AFP/Getty Images
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.
The probability that Hugo Chávez may soon leave the political stage is increasing. Which member of his movement is poised to lead it?
Information on Hugo Chávez's health over the past year has been heavy on innuendo and short on fact. But in recent weeks, Chávez has virtually disappeared from the public airwaves, which suggests that his condition is serious. During his rare public appearances, he appeared sickly and unwell. On two recent occasions, he broke down and cried while pleading for his life.
In short, this is a very sick man who may not have much longer to live. The question that begs asking, then, is who can lead the chavista movement in the post-Chávez years?
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
Thirty-five years after the end of the "Dirty War," Alex Gibson shows how a trial in Argentina is struggling to come to terms with a legacy of state-sponsored violence.
Peter Reuter explains why the West won't be able to contain money laundering from developing countries unless it cleans up its own act first.
Min Zin asks whether Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is making a mistake in her latest confrontation with the powers-that-be, and also offers an entertaining primer on the politics behind the latest Burmese New Year celebrations.
Mohamed El Dahshan explores the decision that has thrown Egypt's presidential election into disarray.
Juan Nagel shows why the Venezuelan government's recent decision to subsidize beauty products will score it political points.
Endy Bayuni explains how Aceh's separatist leaders have morphed from guerillas into governors.
And in his column, Christian Caryl argues that economic inequality is now becoming a hot political issue in both rich countries and poor ones.
This week's recommended reads:
In Foreign Affairs, Leon Goldsmith writes on the Alawite community of Syria and the motives for their persistent support of the Assad regime.
In an essay in the current issue of Journal of Democracy, political philosopher Abdou Filali-Ansary casts light on why many voters in the Arab world prefer Islamist parties -- and arrives at some surprising conclusions.
A new report by the International Crisis Group documents the growing fight over resources between the Iraqi central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government.
Writing for Project Syndicate, Alfred Stepan and Etienne Smith discuss the surprising resilience of democracy in Senegal.
Democracy Digest reports on the difficulties faced by Russian dissidents following Vladimir Putin's victory in the March 4 presidential elections. And the German Marshal Fund examines the recent release of imprisoned opposition leaders in Belarus. (The photo above shows activist Dmitry Bondarenko meeting his wife after leaving prison.)
And don't miss Jeffrey Bartholet's great travelogue from post-Mubarak Egypt in National Geographic.
VICTOR DRACHEV/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.