Focal Points Blog

Can Bahrain Lead the Arab World in Religious Tolerance and Democratic Reform?

Bahraini Minister of Justice and Islamic affairs Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa

Bahraini Minister of Justice and Islamic affairs Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa

Speaking with the Bahraini Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs His Excellency Sheikh  Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa in Manama recently during the conference on “Dialogue between Civilizations and Cultures” was to say the least full of surprises.

For one thing, one would not expect a high-level Arab official to be so candid and vibrantly open-minded to discuss his country’s problems, the future of freedom and democracy in his country, and to address charges of  human rights abuses without reservation or verbal gymnastics typical of Arab politicians.

This was in itself a major development and a breath of fresh air in the region and indeed for the future of freedom of press. According to Mr. Al Khalifa, a forty-four-year-old British educated former prosecutor and judge, Bahrain already has an open and vibrant society and it is working to develop system of government accountability which would eventually evolve to an open democracy.
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South Sudan Has Failed to Justify Its Existence

Rebel leader Riek Machar

Rebel leader Riek Machar

Earlier in May, the South Sudanese government resumed its negotiations with the rebels. That very week, The Sudan Tribune reported that numerous civilians, who had sought shelter at a United Nations base in Bor, were killed by an unknown mob. Also, trainee soldiers were shot in Mapel, and several other civilians were killed in Bentiu, allegedly by the rebels.

The international media, on the other hand, either refused to cover the crisis in South Sudan, or simply chose to highlight the fact that both sides are now negotiating with each other. Sadly, the negotiations seem to be headed nowhere, and chances of peace in South Sudan do not look good.
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Don’t Count Out the ANC

South African polling station

South African polling station

South Africa’s next elections are scheduled for today, the fifth general elections to take place since the end of apartheid and the beginning of majority rule. Since 1994, the African National Congress has won handily each general election, giving it uncontested control of the country’s presidency. During the last general poll in 2009, the ANC garnered almost 66 percent of the vote, less than it had received in 2004 yet significantly more than winners of many competitive elections around the world. Even after this lopsided victory, some were quick to declare the ANC’s dominance to be fadingwondering how long South Africans would be able to support a party unable or unwilling to respond to citizens’ needs. This theme of decline continued after the ANC again won big in the 2011 municipal elections, securing 62 percent of the overall vote, well ahead of the runner-up Democratic Alliance’s 24 percent. For comparison, the Nelson Mandela-led ANC won under 63 percent of the vote in 1994, the first post-Apartheid general elections.
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Will Nuclear Cuts Fall Victim to Tensions Over Ukraine?

NuclearWarhead

At Global Security Newswire, Diane Barnes writes:

“The current political environment is anything but conducive” to achieving significant nuclear-arms curbs, according to the … “Deep Cuts Commission” … composed of 21 experts from Russia, the United States and Germany.

In fact

… the group of independent analysts and former officials asserted that mistrust between Russia and the United States over military maneuvers in Ukraine underscores a need for the two governments to jointly consider how they can reduce the risk of a nuclear exchange.
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U.S. and Russia Testing Each Other’s Commitments in Eastern Europe

Ukraine Protests

NATO military exercises have begun in Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia as a response to the 40,000 troops Russia has amassed near Ukraine’s eastern border. The sequential deployments of the American 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in these Eastern European countries, totaling around 600 U.S. troops, illustrate President Obama’s attempt to reassure NATO allies against possible threats.

The exercises suggest a skepticism among Russia’s rivals that economic sanctions and diplomatic talks will be sufficient to halt the Russian-driven unrest in Ukrainian cities like Donestk, Kramatorsk, Slaviansk, and Luhansk. Government buildings in numerous Eastern Ukraine cities have been taken over by pro-Russian separatist forces and still “unrecognized” army officials, strongly resembling what Crimea went through before breaking off from Ukraine. 
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Hungary’s U-Turn

Sociologist András Bozóki

Sociologist András Bozóki

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

It wasn’t long after Francis Fukuyama published his “end of history” thesis that the war in Yugoslavia definitively wrecked his argument. How could the world be heading inexorably in the direction of market democracy when even the country long considered next in line for membership in the European Community was collapsing into war, nationalist extremism, and ethnic cleansing? History had not ended at all. It had returned with a vengeance.

Yet Fukuyama’s theory about the eventual triumph of Europe’s rational-legal bureaucracy remained deeply buried in the psyche of the architects of European integration. Yugoslavia was simply a dispiriting detour. The countries of East-Central Europe would all eventually tailor their political and economic systems in such a way as to fit into the regional European order. To get into the club, aspiring candidates had to meet a long checklist of reforms that practically remade their countries. The road to Europe, which was such a powerful slogan in East-Central Europe, was assumed to be one-way. Eventually even the warring parties in former Yugoslavia would beat their swords into accession agreements.
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Al Nusra’s Plan to Frame the Assad Regime Backfired

Chemical weapon in Syria

At Truthout, in a piece titled New Data Raise Further Doubt on Official View of August 21 Gas Attack in Syria, Gareth Porter writes about the August 2013 sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

What is now known about the attack makes it highly questionable that only the government side had the capability to carry out the August 21 attack. The exaggerated numbers of sarin patients admitted by hospitals, the dubious data on symptoms from those supposedly most affected, and the new evidence that the attack was much less lethal than believed at first are all consistent with a sarin attack that a determined rebel group such as Al Nusra could have carried out.

Read the article to find out the eye-opening details of the three points mentioned in the second sentence. It’s becoming apparent that Al Nusra’s attempt to frame the Assad regime and lure the West into attacking it has backfired. Seems like what began as the definitive justification to launch an attack on Syria ― the Assad regime’s savagery ― turned into an embodiment of the reason against military intervention: that it would benefit Al Nusra, which has demonstrated the same propensity for war crimes as Assad.

Haqqanistan

The Haqqanis, son and father

The Haqqanis, son and father

Yesterday Truthout posted a new article by Anand Gopal titled The Unreported Story of How the Haqqani Network Became America’s Greatest Enemy. Before reading and digesting with the intent to post about it, it might be useful to revisit a post of mine from September 2011 titled Escaping Haqqanistan:

Brutal Haqqani Crime Clan Bedevils U.S. in Afghanistan is the unusually colorful title of a New York Times article by Mark Mazzetti, Scott Shane, and Alissa J. Rubin. They write that the Haqqani network — separate from, but affiliated with, the Taliban — is “the most deadly insurgent group in Afghanistan” according to “American intelligence and military officials.” It’s effectively a crime syndicate — “the Sopranos of the Afghanistan war” according to Mazzetti, et al. Yet it’s as brutal as a serial killer: this year alone, for instance, the Haqqanis are responsible for the attacks in Kabul on the Intercontinental Hotel and the U.S. embassy.
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From Democracy to Veto-cracy: Destabilizing World Politics

Egyptian protests

When certain eligible voters, be they representing the majority or the minority, cannot afford to wait for the next election to remove the incumbent leaders or have no trust in plebiscite at all, and betake themselves to mobilize crowds to throttle a policy, to paralyze the administration, or to topple the legitimately elected government boldly, it is not just a threat to this democratic state’s internal stability but may also destabilize the world order if such a “veto-cracy” is becoming a worldwide phenomenon.

The recent emergence of vetocracy in many democratic states is rooted in the long-time irreversible minority position held by certain ethnic, religious, regional or economic interest groups there. When one or more of these groups have realized that it is difficult or almost impossible to access to governmental authority or undo a policy which is not in their favor, they resort to mass rallies or street protests to have their demands heard.
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Israel Projects Its Own Nuclear Behavior on to Iran

Negev Nuclear Research Center in Israel

Negev Nuclear Research Center in Israel

In a story that seems to have gone unremarked upon by other journalist, on March 31 at Inter Press Service, Gareth Porter reported:

The Barack Obama administration appears to have rejected a deal-breaking demand by Israel for an Iranian confession to having had a covert nuclear weapons programme as a condition for completing the comprehensive nuclear agreement.

In fact, though, the Obama administration had “seemed to suggest that some kind of Iranian admission to past nuclear weapons work is a condition for a final agreement.” But, its “rhetoric on resolving IAEA claims of a nuclear weapons programme appears to be less about forcing Iran to confess than responding to pressures from Israel and its supporters in the United States.” 
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