Reflections on the meaninglessness of terrorism in post-Arab Spring Egypt.
Read more. [Image: Youtube]
With the rise of al-Qaeda, increasingly repressive regimes, and weak, even collapsing states, the Arab Spring is looking more and more like a nightmare for U.S. security interests. Perhaps, then, it makes some sense that the Obama administration would increase security assistance to the Middle East, from 69 percent of the total budget request for 2014 to 80 percent. However, this also entails a significant reduction in democracy assistance to the region, which will drop from $459.2 million to $298.3 million. Congress might further deepen these cuts.
But to look at this as a security problem risks conflating cause and effect. Today’s Middle East is a product, at least in part, of failed democratization, and one of the reasons it failed was the timid, half-hearted support of the Obama administration.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Louafi Larbi]
Judging by 2014’s crowded election calendar, this will be a landmark year for democracy. The Economist estimates that an unprecedented 40 percent of the world’s population will have a chance to vote in national polls in 2014. We’ll see races in populous countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, the United States, and, most notably, India, where 700 million people are expected to cast ballots in what Fareed Zakaria has called the “largest democratic process in human history.”
But here’s the catch: The “biggest year for democracy ever,” as The Economist is billing it, follows a year that in many ways was characterized by the ascent of authoritarianism. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad, with the help of Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah, gained the upper hand in the country’s devastating civil war. In Egypt, the crucible of the Arab Spring, the Egyptian military overthrew the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi and launched a heavy-handed crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other pockets of opposition. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan silenced political opponents and stifled freedom of expression—at least, that is, until a corruption scandal and plans to redevelop a park sparked a backlash against his increasingly authoritarian governing style.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh]
Beer, some have argued, helped give birth to civilization. In ancient Egypt, sustaining humans through the vagaries of the hunt and the harvest, it was consumed by children as well as adults. It was drunk by the wealthy and the poor alike. It was an integral part of both religious ceremonies—Egyptians offered their thick, sweet version of the stuff up to their gods—and everyday life.
So it’s fitting that beer brewers ranked high in Egyptian society … and that they’d have the tombs to prove it. While doing routine cleaning of the burial plot of a statesman in the court of Amenhotep III—King Tut’s grandfather—in Luxor, a group of Egyptologists from Japan’s Waseda University discovered another tomb: that of Khonso-Im-Heb. He was, apparently, an ancient Egyptian version of Sam Adams, or Adolph Coors, or Mr. Miller High Life: the court’s head of beer production. He brewed his ancient suds in honor of Mut, Egypt’s mother-goddess.
Read more. [Image: Supreme Council of Antiquities]
Nearly six months after the mass uprising-cum-coup that toppled Mohammed Morsi, the key cleavages of Egypt’s domestic political conflict are not only unresolved, but unresolvable. The generals who removed Morsi are engaged in an existential struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood: They believe they must destroy the Brotherhood—by, for instance, designating it a terrorist organization—or else the Brotherhood will return to power and destroy them. Meanwhile, Sinai-based jihadists have used Morsi’s removal as a pretext for intensifying their violence, and have increasingly hit targets west of the Suez Canal. Even the Brotherhood’s fiercest opponents are fighting among themselves: the coalition of entrenched state institutions and leftist political parties that rebelled against Morsi is fraying, and the youth activists who backed Morsi’s ouster in July are now protesting against the military-backed government, which has responded by arresting their leaders.
So despite the fact that Egypt’s post-Morsi transition is technically moving forward, with a new draft constitution expected to pass via referendum in mid-January and elections to follow shortly thereafter, the country is a tinderbox that could ignite with any spark, entirely derailing the political process and converting Egypt’s episodic tumult into severe instability. What might that spark be?
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Turkey, one of the most repressive countries in the world for journalists, is welcoming outcasts from Egypt and Syria.
Read more. [Image: Sout Raya]
On a chilly Friday afternoon in November, just weeks before Ahmed Maher would resort to scribbling notes on toilet paper from his jail cell to communicate with the outside world, I caught up with him on the campus of Portland State University in Oregon. Maher, 33, is the co-founder of Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement, a grassroots group that was instrumental in organizing the 2011 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. I had written about Maher in 2008, when A6Y was little more than a motley cadre of rabble-rousers using Facebook and social media to rattle the regime, and again post-revolution, when the world was intoxicated by that thing called the Arab Spring, and Maher and his peers were on their way to a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.
What a difference three years makes. Egypt so far looks like an epic flail. Members of secular groups like A6Y have always known that you can’t snap your fingers and create a civil society. As Wael Ghonim, the former Google executive who helped galvanize public fury toward Mubarak’s thug-ocracy, put it: “Revolutions are processes, not events.” Unfortunately, that process to date has been characterized by economic dysfunction, broken promises from elected officials and military leadership, flare-ups of deadly violence, and, most recently, a ban on public protests every bit as draconian as Mubarak-era prohibitions. Just this week, Egyptian authorities acquitted some of Mubarak’s closest allies of corruption while filing new terrorism charges against deposed President Mohammed Morsi. A cynic would say the revolution has been hijacked. Worse, even: deleted.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
We’ve seen the amazing photos of the uncharacteristically early and intense snowstorm that blanketed the Middle East last week (and if you haven’t, head on over to In Focus), but sometimes you just can’t beat the view from 440 miles above Earth’s surface. On Monday, NASA released the image below, taken by Terra, a more than 11,000-pound satellite roughly the size of a small school bus.
Read more. [Image: NASA]
Silvio Berlusconi is out and Angela Merkel was reelected. Nelson Mandela and Hugo Chavez passed away. Fidel Castro didn’t. People took to the streets in Kiev and Bangkok, Cairo and Khartoum. The president of Syria ignored Barack Obama’s red line and used chemical weapons, while Iran was willing to engage in negotiations with the United States for the first time in 34 years. China elected a new leader and jailed another. North Korea’s tyrant-in-training executed his uncle.
There is never a dull moment in global politics, and 2013 was no exception. But which of the myriad, attention-grabbing events that took place this year will have lasting consequences? Surely, the international repercussions of Berlusconi’s political demise in Italy are not as significant as Xi Jinping’s ascent to power in China. Street protests against the government in Istanbul or Sao Paolo did not have as much impact as those in Cairo, where a democratically elected president was ousted. A thaw in relations between Washington and Tehran is bound to change the world more than the massacres in Syria. Here are the stories from 2013 that will reshape the world long after this year draws to a close.
Read more. [Image: Victor Ruiz Garcia/Reuters]
Part 2 of this year’s look back at some of the most memorable events and images of 2013. Among the events covered in this essay (the second of a three-part photo summary of the year), massive protests in Turkey, Egypt, and elsewhere, the aftermath of a massive tornado that flattened much of Moore, Oklahoma, and Malala Yousafzai celebrates her 16th birthday with an address to the United Nations. Click here for part 1, and please come back tomorrow for part 3. The series will comprise 120 images in all. Warning, some of the photos may contain graphic or objectionable content.