World View Hot Topics in Pivotal Markets
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
With Muammar Qaddafi's flight from power in Libya fueling speculation that Syria's president might be next, Iran and Russia are sweating, and regional commentators are, sometimes gleefully, taking note.
"The Khomeinist leadership is in a state of panic," crowed Amir Taheri, a long-time critic of the Islamic Republic, in the Saudi-owned, London-based Asharq al-Awsat. Eight months after the start of the Arab Spring, he added, "the ruling mullahs" fear that they, too, "may be on the path of the tsunami of change."READ MORE
Looking for aggressive foreign policy opinions, the kind that Chinese Communist Party members ordinarily reveal in private and Chinese newspapers don’t print at all? Easy. Visit Sina Weibo, China’s most popular, 200-million-member-strong, Twitter-like microblog. There you’ll find even representatives of China’s state-owned media tweeting hawkishly on foreign policy issues.
In many ways, Sina Weibo is an unsupervised platform for Chinese state media members to project passionate views on Chinese foreign policy that may clash with the official Party line but that appeal to Chinese populist sentiment.READ MORE
Fifty years after the Soviet Union put the first man into orbit, Russia's space program is facing new troubles. Last Wednesday, the routine launch of a Progress M-12M cargo ship headed for the International Space Station went terribly wrong.
“In the 325th second of its flight . . . a disruption occurred in the engine, which led to its emergency shutdown,” reported RIA Novosti. Happily, there were no humans aboard. The debris presumably rained down in the remote Altai republic and, seven days later, has yet to be found.READ MORE
There was jubilation and relief across India on Aug. 28, when a septuagenarian finally accepted an offer of honey and coconut water from two children after the 12th day of what had probably been the most prominent and widely supported hunger fast since Independence.
Anna Hazare, the anti-graft crusader who on Aug. 16 embarked on the protest to pressure the government to table a strong anti-corruption measure, the Jan Lokpal Bill, and the millions of Indians who came out in his support, claimed a victory as the government appeared to give in to their demands. Hazare had been persistent: it was his second fast of the year, following one in April.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Aug. 29, 2011 (Bloomberg) -- After Muammar Qaddafi's regime fell in Libya, even Mideast and North African commentators normally critical of Western policies in the region generally affirmed the positive role played by NATO.
At the same time, some worried that NATO's triumph, in supporting the rebels who overthrew the regime, would encourage a new colonialism. Libya and other Arab states that are in crisis, they argued, are vulnerable to exploitation of their natural resources by the West and to calls for outside military intervention or another round of it.READ MORE
If only belatedly, Lady Justice in Russia has deployed her sword and balanced scales. Authorities in Moscow have detained a lieutenant colonel in the police and are preparing to charge him with organizing the 2006 murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
Politkovskaya wrote for the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and was one of the country’s most prominent and daring human rights journalists. The newspaper, which aided investigators in gathering witnesses’ testimony, reported the charges against the officer, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov: “he received the order for the murder of Politkovskaya, created a criminal group, assigned roles to its members, arranged for the surveillance of the journalist, and equipped the killer with a pistol and silencer.” During the 2008 trial of four men charged with her assassination, Pavlyuchenkov served as a “secret witness for the prosecution.” At the time, however, it appears that “he tried to lead investigators astray regarding his own participation in the murder.” In 2009 a jury acquitted all accused, including the presumed killer, Rustam Makhmudov, who was rearrested earlier this year during a special operation in Chechnya, and has again been charged with Politkovskaya’s slaying.READ MORE
Despite the profound social changes that have transformed Chinese society over the last three decades, one traditional belief remains mostly unshaken: a man must own a house before he marries. This was a considerable burden even before China began to modernize, but now that it is home to one of the world’s hottest (some say, over-heated) real estate markets, it has become, in many cases, an insurmountable barrier.
Take, for example, the extreme but highly representative example described by Fan Yiying, a native of real estate-obsessed Shanghai, in a column published in the state-owned Global Times on Wednesday.READ MORE
For the past few months, Anna Hazare, the septuagenarian Indian social activist, has led his country's most prominent anti-corruption movement. Last weekend, it reached a crescendo when Hazare began an indefinite fast.
Hazare was protesting the Indian government's decision to introduce a watered-down version of a bill in Parliament that would give an independent body, called the Lokpol, the power to investigate political corruption at the highest levels of government. The Lokpal Bill would assign this power to a three-member group made up of current or former senior judges.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Aug. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The Arab Street has a new hero. Dubbed Flagman or the Egyptian Spiderman on Facebook and Twitter, young Ahmad Ash-Shahat scaled Israel's embassy in Cairo and replaced its flag with Egypt's.
This was in response to the death of three Egyptian policemen last week during clashes that followed a series of attacks by gunmen who killed eight Israelis near the Israeli resort city of Eilat. Egypt blames the Israeli military for killing the policemen in its pursuit of the gunmen, who fled into Egypt's Sinai peninsula. Israel says the gunmen infiltrated Israel from the Sinai. Israel has expressed regret for the death of the policemen and has said it is investigating whether its forces may have been inadvertently to blame.READ MORE
This summer has been rough for aspiring lawbreakers in Russia. Just as riots were dying down last week in London, they found their analogue in downtown Moscow early Sunday morning as hooligans took to the streets. Their efforts, though, didn’t have quite the same impact.
On the central Rozhdestvenka Street “a group of youths between fourteen and twenty-two years of age gathered” and were quickly joined by two hundred more, reported Itar-Tass. The Ministry of the Interior’s press center stated that “a majority of them were in a non-sober state and tried to block traffic,” and that police quickly dispatched special divisions, patrol cars, and rapid-reaction units “with the intent of preventing mass violations of public order.” Contrary to what one might expect, neither politics nor ethnic rancor had fired up the booze-addled, would-be vandals; “an extreme sports championship” had. After conducting “prophylactic talks” with the youths and making arrests, the police identified a pair of twenty-two-year-old Muscovites as the failed event’s initiators and charged them with “petty hooliganism.”READ MORE
Is Gary Locke, the first ethnically Chinese U.S. ambassador to China, a traitor to his Chinese heritage?
China’s editorialists, bloggers and microbloggers have debated this question in various forms, and within various forums, since President Barack Obama nominated Locke in March 2011. But the discussion has reached a new intensity with Locke’s recent arrival in Beijing, producing a remarkable degree of public introspection on attitudes toward the Chinese race, and Chinese self-identity.READ MORE
Modern India has an embarrassing history of government censorship. Its latest episode occurred last week when populist politics and a low tolerance for artists' inquiry of social issues combusted over the release of the film "Aarakshan."
"Aarakshan," meaning "reservation" in Hindi, is a film by producer, director and screenwriter Prakash Jha, who is one of the more socially-conscious filmmakers in Bollywood. It is about so-called reservations: Affirmative-action programs for the 160 million Dalits, the "untouchables," who make up the lowest caste in India.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Aug. 15, 2011 (Bloomberg) -- As the death toll from unrest in Syria mounts, with perhaps as many as 2,000 killed in the past five months, Mideast commentators who support the Syrian regime have become increasingly rare.
Even the publications of Syria's traditional allies, such as the Palestinian Hamas movement, whose top leadership is based in Damascus, are giving space to harsh indictments of those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.READ MORE
Those who imagine that self-professed liberal President Dmitry Medvedev is a naïve softie compared to his flinty-eyed predecessor (and current prime minister) Vladimir Putin should think again. At least on the subject of Russia's relations with the former Soviet republic of Georgia, he's as hard-line as they come.
On the eve of the three-year anniversary of Georgia's brief war with Russia over the renegade province of South Ossetia, Medvedev provided the radio station Ekho Moskvy with a rare interview. He cited then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s 2008 visit to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, as a turning point in his discussions with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili about the deteriorating situation in South Ossetia. After Rice’s trip to Tbilisi, Medvedev said, “[Saakashvili] stopped communicating with me, stopped talking with me, stopped writing, and stopped responding to my efforts to get in touch. . . . It may be a coincidence, but I’m almost certain that at that moment a plan came into being for the adventure that happened in August.”READ MORE
On July 31, when Democrats and Republicans reached a last-minute compromise on the United States' debt, Chinese state-owned media openly blasted the U.S., railed against the failures of the West, and used the American political crisis to warn Chinese citizens about the dangers of democracy.
Generally, the millions of citizens active on Chinese microblogs welcome such criticism of the U.S. and the West. Before the debt deal, they had routinely voiced their anger and derision at the U.S. over the debt crisis. But contrary to the wishes of the Chinese Communist Party officials who control the state media, ordinary Chinese microbloggers think they deserve a say in China’s public affairs.READ MORE
The uneasy peace in Jammu and Kashmir, India's northernmost state and its only Muslim-majority one, was broken this month by two separate killings of civilians by security forces. The state, which borders both Pakistan and China, has been a tinderbox since India and Pakistan became independent in 1947. It contains the strife-torn Kashmir Valley, which is administered by India and claimed by Pakistan, and has been the target of repeated incursions by Pakistani militants for over two decades. It also hosts a powerful indigenous movement for independence. The deaths of the civilians were the latest in a long series of human-rights violations in the state and revived memories of the violence last June that erupted after a 17-year-old student was killed by a police tear-gas canister. The event sparked a cycle of protests and reprisals that lasted three months and claimed more than 100 lives.
One of the civilian deaths occurred in police custody, the other was the result of an "encounter" between the police and an alleged militant. They happened even as Indian forces engaged in skirmishes with militants in the district of Kupwara in northern Kashmir. The incidents were indicative of the nightmarish atmosphere that pervades the lives of civilians in the state, where more than 300,000 Indian troops are charged with keeping the peace and flushing out militants. Nazim Rashid, a shopkeeper in his twenties who also went by the name Anjum, was the first casualty. The incident took place on July 30 in Sopore, 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the state capital Srinagar.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
August 8 (Bloomberg) -- The stunning image of the ex-Egyptian president in the dock last week provoked many commentators throughout the Mideast to embrace the idea of an authoritarian ruler being brought to account.
Even independently owned newspapers generally supportive of their own monarchs and “presidents-for-life” ran columns and editorials overwhelmingly praising the Egyptian judicial process as Hosni Mubarak made his first court appearance in his trial on charges of corruption and murder, which he denies.READ MORE
A new transport tragedy has struck the heart of Russia's capital. On Sunday just after midnight, a pleasure craft navigating the Moscow River struck a barge and sank, reported Itar-Tass in a brief communiqué.
Disturbing details of the accident soon began to emerge. The “overloaded motorboat” – later identified as the Lastochka, or Swallow – “apparently carrying a group of partyers [sic], rammed into a moored barge . . . sinking on the spot and killing nine people," reported The Moscow Times. "The Moscow River accident is the second of its kind in less than a month after the Bulgaria riverboat sank in the Volga River, killing 122.”READ MORE
It's possible that, in the long view, 2011 will be seen as Indian democracy's summer of discontent. It's hard to escape the sense of simmering mass unrest bred by the cynicism and cupidity of the political class.
In the capital, the UPA coalition government, led by the Indian National Congress, has been rocked by corruption scandals and forced to deal with huge protests organized by groups in civil society. In Mumbai, a series of bomb blasts on July 13 led to a backlash against the state government's inability to protect its citizens. The dominant issue in Parliament and among the public is the Lokpal Bill, seen by its proponents as a radical anti-corruption measure. The latest episode in this year's extended drama of political distrust and dishonor occurred July 31, when the chief minister of the south Indian state of Karnataka, BS Yeddyurappa, reluctantly handed in his resignation after being implicated in a mining scam.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
August 1 (Bloomberg) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s plan to take a statehood bid to the United Nations in September has triggered a robust media debate over the wisdom of the move.
After a meeting of several Palestinian parties last week, Abbas said that he would aggressively court votes in the UN General Assembly even though the U.S. would likely veto the recognition of a Palestinian state in the UN Security Council, effectively undermining the move. Abbas called on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to peacefully demonstrate ahead of the September session, leading to criticism in Israel that his approach was cutting off the possibility of a bilateral solution negotiated in accordance with the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreements.READ MORE