The government of Georgia is courting MTV in its effots to improve its image in the world and encourage tourism. EurasiaNet.org reports:
In a bid to promote Georgia's profile in world markets and attract tourists and investors, Tbilisi has signed a deal with the global music entertainment network MTV for a high-octane concert to be televised worldwide, a source close to the negotiations has confirmed to EurasiaNet.org.
The concert, tentatively planned for May or June 2011, will be held in the Black Sea resort town of Batumi, according to Georgian Tourism Department Director Maia Sidamonidze. The performance will take place under the auspices of MTV Impact, a division of the network that uses concerts to expand MTV's reach in developing countries, with the pledge to use the MTV brand to encourage economic growth.
Georgia already enjoys a "crushing soft-power advantage" over its neighbors, as James Traub put it in an article for FP over the summer. The country has scant resources and a small population, but delicious food, friendly people and a beautiful landscape might be able to make up for that. And if Katy Perry gets a beach house near Batumi? Maybe the U.S. will be willing to join in the next fight against Russia.
In seriousness, though, it makes sense for the government in Tbilisi to push tourism and foreign investment to their tiny country and MTV, with a global audience in the hundreds of millions, is probably a good way to bring the kind of exposure that they want. The government is simultaneously trying to make English (instead of Russian), the national second language.
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A report released today by the group Physicians for Human Rights details the horrific mistreatment of African refugees who are captured as they try to cross through Egypt and into Israel. The Africans -- mainly from Somalia and Eritrea -- are systematically raped, beaten, burned and then extorted by Bedouin human traffickers before they are sent across the border into Israel. Download the full report here if you want to read in appalling detail about the experiences of a few of these African migrants.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Egyptian government turns a blind eye to these abuses. That's probably because they feel that it helps discourage migration from Sudan, Somali and Eritrea though Egyptian territory. How else does Egypt discourage migrants from trying to use the country as a transit point? A shoot to kill policy. Egyptian security forces have shot and killed more than 85 migrants in Sinai since 2007 by Human Rights Watch's count. Scores more are deported back to their countries of origin, where they are often in danger because of war or threats from the government.
Some of these migrants are asylum seekers, while others are just looking to move to a new country where they can find work and make money. But Israel doesn't want these people as residents any more than Egypt wants them as travelers. Israel repatriated around 150 Sudanese asylum seekers on Monday, according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor. Israel fears that immigration from Africa will take jobs from Israeli Jews and pose a threat to the Jewish demographic majority.
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Five tourists have been attacked by sharks (with one killed) over the past week in the waters off Egypt's Red Sea coast, a vacation area especially popular with snorkelers and scuba divers. And nobody knows what to do.
Despite the frequent depiction of the cartilaginous fish as terrifying man eaters, these kinds of attacks are actually very rare. The Egyptian government has brought in experts from around the world to help solve the shark crisis. So far no one has arrived at a definitive conclusion, but possible explanations include over fishing in the Red Sea, an excess of resorts along the coast, and the effects of climate change.
There's another theory floating around, though: Israel's infamous intelligence agency is behind the attacks. Ahram Online reports (and refutes):
Speaking on the public TV program "Egypt Today" yesterday, a specialist introduced as "Captain Mustafa Ismael, a famous diver in Sharm El Sheikh," said that the sharks involved in the attack are ocean sharks and do not live in Egypt's waters.
When asked by the anchor how the shark entered Sharm El Sheikh waters, he burst out, "no, who let them in."
Urged to elaborate, Ismael said that he recently got a call from an Israeli diver in Eilat telling him that they captured a small shark with a GPS planted in its back, implying that the sharks were monitored to attack in Egypt's waters only.
"Why would these sharks travel 4000 km and not have any accidents until it entered Sinai?" said Ismael.
Earlier today, General Abdel Fadeel Shosha, the governor of South Sinai, backed Ismael's theory. In a phone call to the TV program, he said that it is possible that Israeli intelligence, Mossad, is behind the incident and that they are doing it to undermine the Egyptian tourism industry. He added that Egypt needs time to investigate the theory.
The shark attacks have the potential to do some real damage to Egypt, where tourism is pillar of the economy and an important provider of jobs. But the idea that Israel (which is currently dealing with its own Nature Channel-worthy crisis) is behind the attacks is pretty farfetched.
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The L.A. Times' Babylon and Beyond blog reports that unlike in most of the world, the WikiLeaks dump of U.S. diplomatic cables isn't getting that much attention in the pan-Arab press:
Headlines in the heavily state-controlled Saudi media were dominated by news of King Abdullah's ongoing physiotherapy, while the top story in the Emirati newspaper, Al Bayan, centered on Prince Mohamad bin Rashid's praise for the country's progress toward "transparency." Most mentions of the WikiLeaks documents in official Arabic news outlets were scrubbed of any reference to the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, focusing instead on U.S. attempts to control the damage to its diplomatic relations.
Even the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, considered one of the most credible pan-Arab news outlets, tread lightly in its coverage and generally refrained from repeating the most incendiary quotes from the heads of neighboring states.
It's hardly surprising that state-controlled Arab media wouldn't report on the repeated requests by Arab heads of state for the United States to put a stop to Iran's nuclear program. Some Arab leaders have gone as far as supporting military strikes against Iran. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, for example, called on the U.S. to "cut the head off" the Iranian snake.
These positions might make sense from the point of view of an Arab autocrat, but they remain deeply unpopular with the populations they rule over. A 2010 public opinion poll of the Arab world found that 57 percent of Arabs think that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be positive for the Middle East. (H/T Friday Lunch Club.)
Issandr El Amrani (a frequent Foreign Policy contributor) writes on his blog:
There is so much information flowing around about US policy - and often, a good deal of transparency - that a smart observer with good contacts can get a good idea of what's happening. Not so in the Arab world, and the contents of the conversations Arab leader are having with their patron state are not out in the Arab public domain or easily guessable, as anyone who reads the meaningless press statements of government press agencies will tell you. Cablegate is in important record from the Arab perspective, perhaps more than from the US one.
The leaked cables bring to light the behind-the-scenes positions of Arab politicians from Mubarak to Abdullah, but if that information doesn't make its way into the mainstream Arabic media, what kind of effect will it really have?
Egypt's parliamentary elections went off today basically as expected, with vote buying, voter intimidation and fraud the norm across the country despite protests. What will change in Egypt as a result of today's parliamentary election? Probably nothing, but the election hints at what we might be able to expect in the future from the regime in Cairo.
"I apologize if I gave some people the impression that these elections were elections, in any real sense of the word. They were not," wrote Shadi Hamid, a researcher at the Brookings Institution and a blogger at Democracy Arsenal. They certainly weren't elections as an American would recognize them. To an Egyptian, though, they are all too familiar.
It will probably be a few days until the results are announced, but it's clear that President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party will take a majority of the votes and continue to control the parliament, as it has done for almost 30 years.
Over the course of the daythere were numerous reports of abuses: from democracy activists beaten in Nile Delta cities to repeated attacks on journalists by state security forces to candidates in Cairo slumspaying 100 Egyptian pounds (about $20) per vote, and much more.
"We all expected violence will be the name of the game today, but I think the level of violence that actually happened has surpassed some of our wildest expectations," Hossam el-Hamalawy, a blogger, activist and journalist told me in an online chat.
In the past weeks there was a discussion of whether or not to send monitors to the election in Arab world's most populous country. President Mubarak, naturally, opposed the idea and monitors weren't accredited. That didn't stop the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch from dispatching himself to a small city in the Nile Delta. He was subsequently detained by police.
The elections have been violent, and, at times, deadly. In Alexandria, rival members of the rulingparty battled in the streets. At least three people are confirmed dead by the government from election-related violence and there is speculation that the number could actually be closer to seven. The son of an opposition candidate was stabbed todeath the night before elections while putting up posters for his father.
Then again, police don't even need to directly intimidate voters. Police intimidation runs deep in Egypt, where police kill citizens with a startling regularity, as Jack Shenker reported in The Guardian.
Most reports of election-day irregularities came from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and best-organized opposition group. As Ashraf Khalil wrote for FP, the Brotherhood, which is officially banned, has been under tremendous pressure from the regime in the run up to the election. The group won an unprecedented number of seats in the last parliamentary election in 2005, an experience that the government doesn't seem eager to repeat.
Today's parliamentary elections are largely being viewed as a test run for next year's presidential election, when Egypt's octogenarian ruler will be up for another six-year term. There is widespread speculation that Hosni Mubarak intends to pass the presidency on to his son Gamal at some point, but the mechanism for such a transfer of power is unclear.
Today's events show that the regime is willing to use violence or outright fraud to maintain power. That's a lesson both Hosni Mubarak and his opponents will keep in mind next year.
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Life in Iraq isn't easy (and hasn't been for a while), but it's still rare to find community leaders imploring Iraqis to leave their home country. But that's exactly what Archbishop Athanasios Dawood of the Syriac Orthodox Church is doing.
"I say clearly and now -- the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing," Dawood said in a prepared statement to CNN. "This is better than having them killed one by one." In other interviews, Dawood, who lives in London, evoked the word "genocide" to describe the treatment of Iraqi Christians.
Fifty-eight people were killed in an attack on an Iraqi church last Sunday.
With the exception of the massive exodus of Iraq's large Jewish minority after the creation of Israel in 1948, there was little sectarian violence in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003.
"You know, everybody hates the Christian. Yes, during Saddam Hussein, we were living in peace -- nobody attacked us. We had human rights, we had protection from the government but now nobody protects us," the archbishop told the BBC. "Since 2003, there has been no protection for Christians. We've lost many people and they've bombed our homes, our churches, monasteries."
Eden Naby and Jamsheed K. Chosky wrote in Foreign Policy last week that there may not be a Christian population left in Iraq by the end of the century. Iran, which also has a (shrinking) Christian minority, is suffering the same fate.
But it isn't only from those countries that Middle Eastern Christians are leaving. Long-time Middle East journalist Robert Fisk pointed out last month (before the massacre in Baghdad) that Christian populations are shrinking across the region, from Palestine to Lebanon to Egypt. "This is, however, not so much a flight of fear, more a chronicle of a death foretold," Fisk writes. "Christians are being outbred by the majority Muslim populations in their countries and they are almost hopelessly divided."
In Michigan, Iraqi Christians rallied today, calling on the United States to put a stop to violence against their coreligionists.
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has affected every aspect of society in that country. As many people have written, the U.S. government seems to have been wholly unprepared for what lay ahead in Iraq. It's hard to imagine that George W. Bush, with his own deep Christian faith, expected the catastrophe in store for Iraqi Christians.
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President Obama definitely has a lot on his mind after the drubbing congressional Democrats received yesterday. It seems unlikely that he'll get himself involved in an international argument over antiquities, but that hasn't stopped the Peruvian government from trying.
President Alan García formally asked US President Barack Obama his support behind Peru's demands for Yale University to return thousands of artifacts removed from the Inca site of Machu Picchu a century ago for study at the US university.
In a letter, delivered to the US Ambassador to Peru Rose M. Likins, President Garcia said that Obama's support was "fair and necessary" for Yale University to return the pieces removed from Machu Picchu.
According to the letter, Obama's support is necessary as the US government led by William Howarf Taft in those years, was the one that authorized Hiram Bingham's work in Peru.
Without a doubt it's unfortunate and unfair American and European scientists and scholars pilfered artifacts from around the world to bolster collections at museums from Berlin to New Haven. But it's difficult to imagine that Obama, with his myriad domestic and international concerns, will do much to return pottery, jewelry and bones to Machu Pichu.
At this point it's a tired cliché to compare Turkey's booming economy and increasing international relevance to the resurgence of the Ottoman Empire. The news that Prime Minister Erdogan is visiting Kosovo today probably won't help put a stop to that trope.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an said on Wednesday that his visit to Kosovo would be first visit in prime ministerial level from Turkey to Kosovo.
"The kinsmen there constitute a serious bridge for cultural ties," Erdogan told reporters at Ankara's Esenbo?a Airport prior to his departure for Kosovo.
Yes, it seems that Imperial Istanbul is extending its influence back to its old haunts in the Balkans. By coincidence, Erdogan's visit came as Kosovo's government collapsed thanks to a no-confidence vote. Perfect timing for a Turkish takeover? Highly unlikely. Should we expect an attack on Austria next? No.
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