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.
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Ben Bland argues that Vietnam's economic miracle is losing steam, and makes the case for why the Communist Party is to blame.
Gamze Coskun explains why Turkey's rhetoric about promoting democracy in the Middle East lags behind its capabilities.
Karen Coates reports on why Cambodians would like to see Obama defend their human rights.
Juan Nagel explains why Venezuelans vote the way they do.
Min Zin offers a few helpful tips to President Obama in his dealings with Burma.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
Seamus Martov explains why conflict and cronyism in Burma are hurting tigers as well as people.
The United States Institute of Peace presents a valuable new report on the politics of security sector reform in Egypt.
Morten Jerven argues that bad statistics are misleading us about the health of African economies.
The Cairo Review of Global Affairs offers an interview with former U.S. Ambassador, Ryan Crocker on the Iran and Syria crisis and what we can learn from Iraq and Afghanistan.
At The Monkey Cage, James Fearon wonders why it's so easy to seize power in certain African states.
The FT's Jonathan Kay shares his thoughts on the motives behind rent-seeking.
Aidan Hartley tells the story of a successful London restaurateur who returned to his home in Somalia to show the flag against the Islamists of Al-Shabaab.
The International Crisis Group presents a paper detailing possible paths out of the crisis that Egyptian politicians now find themselves in.
Photo by ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
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.
Capital punishment has never been a contentious political or emotional issue in Indonesia. Although the death penalty is rarely applied, most people in the country still support its use, particularly for terrorists, serial killers, and even drug traffickers. The government would typically add treason to the short list of criminal offenses punishable by death.
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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
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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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."
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On Friday, the Burmese monk Shin Gambira, one of the leaders of the 2007 protests, was reportedly detained by the authorities. Earlier this week, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi received formal approval from the election commission to run in the parliamentary elections in April and a UN envoy said Burma was considering allowing foreign election observers in to monitor the polls. The US waived one of its sanctions against the country, making it easier for Burma to get help from international financial institutions, and reports indicated CIA director David Petraeus may travel to Burma later this year. According to a report ranking countries on their respect for the rule of law, Burma ranked last out of 197 countries, offering the least legal protection for foreign companies and investors.
Thailand's ruling party submitted a plan to the Parliament to amend the country's constitution, which was drafted after the 2006 coup. A similar attempt four years ago led to large protests.
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), the country's notoriously powerful spy agency, faced a rare wave of court actions against it. Although most of the cases have little chance of success, some analysts believe they demonstrate new resolve on the part of the judiciary to curb the power of the security establishment.
Two Tibetan brothers are said to have been shot down by Chinese security forces. They had been on the run since participating in January protests against Chinese rule. This comes after another Tibetan protester was reported to have set himself on fire in China's Sichuan province. A Chinese human rights group said that a dissident writer had been sentenced to seven years in jail for inciting subversion in a poem he wrote. Three other dissident writers have been sentenced to jail in the past few months.
The Maldives President resigned - under duress, according to him - after three weeks of protests and a police mutiny. Since then there have been violent clashes, and the Maldives' Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against the former president and the former defence minister. The UN arrived Friday to meet with both parties.
(As FP's Joshua Keating noted in his report on the turmoil, the incident reminds us coups have become an increasingly rare phenomenon in recent years.)
Spain's notorious international human rights judge Baltazar Garzon, most famous for indicting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, was convicted for overstepping his jurisdiction and barred from the bench for 11 years. (The photo above shows a pro-Garzon demonstration in Madrid.)
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Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.