The U.S. Embassy in Cairo's Twitter feed disappeared for about an hour today following an online sparring match with a feed operated by the office of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy over Jon Stewart's impassioned defense of Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef. When the embassy's feed returned, a tweet linking to the Daily Show clip had been deleted, and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that embassy officials "came to the conclusion that the decision to tweet it in the first place didn't accord with post management of the site."
There's bad diplomacy, and then there's the Twitter fight that followed this afternoon between the Muslim Brotherhood's English-language Twitter account (@IkhwanWeb) and American radio show host and media personality Rick Sanchez (@RickSanchezTV). The improbable feud started when the Muslim Brotherhood tweeted an Al Jazeera report featuring a comment Sanchez made in 2010 that was widely reported as being anti-Semitic and led to his firing from CNN. The Muslim Brotherhood pointed to the incident as an example of the West's "double standards" about free speech:
The Muslim Brotherhood's confusion about the government-ensured rights of an individual vs. the rights of private employees notwithstanding, Sanchez came looking for a fight this afternoon. Armed with a loose understanding of the situation, Sanchez eagerly began trolling @IkhwanWeb.
The Muslim Brotherhood responded, and from there, it was a good, old-fashioned troll fight. @IkhwanWeb was right that Sanchez didn't have his facts straight, but their defense of Egypt's freedom of speech rang a bit hollow given the circumstances:
.@ricksancheztv Mr. Shanchez, we value freedom of speech, it's what Egyptians fought for & no power can take this fundamental right away— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
.@ricksancheztv perhaps u shld get facts first. He wasn't arrested, but questioned and released re complaint brought by pvt citizen, not us— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
.@ricksancheztv absolutely false, we've nothing to do w investigations, it's a fact & if u ve evidence to contrary plz announce to the world— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
Sanchez then declared victory. Several times.
And that's today's installment of how Twitter is making politics weird. Remember, folks: Don't feed the trolls.
Ahead of Pakistan's May 11 general election -- the first time in the country's history that an elected government is expected to (peacefully) hand over power to another elected government -- the British Council has conducted a survey of Pakistani youth between the ages of 18 and 29 -- a demographic that makes up 30 percent of the electorate and will play an important role in the upcoming election.
The May election is expected to test Pakistan's democracy, but the survey results do not bode well for the country's democratic future: Only 29 percent of those surveyed think that democracy is the right political system for Pakistan, while 38 percent favor Islamic sharia law and 32 percent prefer military rule.
A whopping 94 percent of those surveyed think that Pakistan is heading in the wrong direction.
This is a dramatic change from 2007, when 50 percent of young people in the country were similarly bearish. For some context, in the United States last week, 57 percent of those surveyed by Rasmussen think that the country is heading in the wrong direction.
This doesn't mean, however, that Pakistani 18- to 29-year-olds are going to throw up their hands in resignation. According to the report, "A substantial majority of the youth still believe that they will have a role in changing the country for the better." The question is, will democracy have a place in that "better future"?
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Iran may have just scored a massive, albeit largely symbolic, victory in its cold war with the United States. And it is a very cold war -- because the battle being waged is over ice cream.
On Monday, the Iranian ice cream company Choopan appeared to unseat Baskin-Robbins as the reigning Guinness World Record holder for the largest tub of ice cream. In celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Choopan made a five-ton batch of chocolate ice cream in a carton more than six feet wide and five feet tall. Representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records were on hand to observe the occasion but have yet to announce whether the Iranian company officially beat Baskin-Robbins's 2005 record of four tons of vanilla.
The Iranian state news outlet PressTV was on hand to record the achievement. "I'm here with my family to see the biggest ice cream in the world in Iran, and Iran is making it, and I think everyone is having fun," one woman told a reporter. "First, I came to this event because it gives me national pride for our achievement, and of course I love ice cream," said another.
When reached for comment, Baskin-Robbins issued a statement to FP saying, "While we understand another company is vying to break this record, we remain focused on serving our guests around the world our delicious variety of ice cream flavors, custom ice cream cakes and frozen treats, and wouldn't rule out trying to break another record in the future."
This is just the latest battle in the long-churning U.S.-Iranian ice cream war, and it was previously fought on the proxy battlefield of Baghdad. In December 2010, as the United States wound down its commitments there while still trying to maintain its influence, Liz Sly reported in the Washington Post that an Iranian ice cream franchise was investing where American companies wouldn't.
[Ice cream parlor co-owner Ali Hazem] Haideri says he did not deliberately site the outlet near the embassy, and indeed seems somewhat anxious about the store's proximity to rockets aimed at Americans.... Yet there's something brazen about the Green Zone location of a franchise whose Web site declares that its goal is "to exalt the name of Iran and reinforce Iranian identity."
With no immediate plans from American companies to try and retake the record, the ice cream war could melt away before it has a chance to morph into a large-scale culinary conflict like the great Lebanese-Israeli hummus war.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
The presence of Aung San Suu Kyi in the front row of a military parade (above, next to Major General Zaw Win) earlier today was stunning to many observers: both for how unthinkable her presence would have been just a few years ago (she was locked up in her house, after all -- by the military), and for how far Aung San Suu Kyi appears willing to go to reconcile with an institution still distrusted by many of her fellow Burmese. (See this slide show of Burmese political cartoons in FP for one perspective on how 'reformed' the military and the government in Burma really are). On the same day the military announced its plans to retain a role in politics for the near future
Does The Lady's presence underscore how much has changed in Burma since her house arrest, or does it highlight how much power the military still has? Probably both. One thing for sure: the photo above is an amazing sight.
NYEIN CHAN NAING/AFP/Getty Images
For the first time in Pakistan's history, a democratically elected civilian government has successfully finished its five-year term -- despite a flurry of anti-government protests. But what does that success look like?
Foreign direct investment collapsed after President Asif Ali Zardari's government came to power in 2008, and has continued declining since, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, foreign aid from the United States spiked, more than doubling under the new government to over $4 billion a year before tapering off again in 2011.
The country's relative political stability has paid off in some respects. Child mortality is down. School enrollment has continued to improve as well, rising three percentage points between 2008 and 2011 (admittedly not as impressive as the 14-percent increase over the course of the previous five years). On the other hand, since 2009 the ratio of girls to boys receiving a primary or secondary education has declined, indicating that enrollment is increasingly skewing toward boys. Pakistan may have fallen from ninth to 13th place in the Fund for Peace's annual ranking of failed states between 2008 and 2012, but the slightly better finish was still pretty dismal (as Robert Kaplan's "What's Wrong with Pakistan?" article for FP's Failed States package last year attests).
Domestic security under Zardari's government got off to a rough start, but has started to improve more recently. Domestic suicide bombings surged in the last year of Pervez Musharraf's government -- from the single digits through the first half of the decade to 57 in 2007. Terror attacks hit their peak with 90 suicide bombings in 2009, but the number fell to 32 attacks in 2012.
For what it's worth, in the last five years there have also been 353 U.S. CIA airstrikes against terrorist targets that killed at least 2,376 individuals, compared to 12 strikes with a minimum death toll of 159 people from the start of the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan in 2004 through 2007.
That figure does not include the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad in May 2011 -- for which President Obama famously did not give advance notice to the Pakistani government because of concerns about al Qaeda sympathizers in the Pakistani military and intelligence service. At an event at the Brooking Institution last month, retired CIA analyst and South Asia expert Bruce Riedel speculated that bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is also being sheltered by the Pakistani military. If the civilian government is slowly finding its sea legs, it has a long way to go.
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For the fourth time in one month, a Bulgarian citizen has self-immolated in an apparent protest against economic hardship and political corruption. The BBC reports:
The man, 52, threw petrol over himself outside the presidential palace in Sofia, police said. Security guards extinguished the flames and he was taken to hospital with severe burns where an official said his life was in danger.
As austerity measures make life increasingly difficult in the beleaguered country, the extreme response from Bulgarians has left the country's leaders reeling, prompting the resignation of a mayor in the city of Varna and, before that, the fall of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov's center-right government.
As an act of political resistance, suicide protest is largely associated with Tibetan monks and Dalit women in India. But while the current outbreak of self-immolations in Bulgaria is shocking, it's not exactly surprising. The country has a history of grievance driven self-immolation -- more than many European countries.
According to a literature review of deliberate self-burning (DSB) over a 20-year period, conducted by Medecins Sans Frontiers in 2003, Bulgaria had an average of 7.4 cases per year (between 1983-2002) and a total number of cases that was only surpassed among European countries studied by the Netherlands. The report, which draws a distinction between psychiatric illness and political motivation as a causal factor, notes that Bulgaria had the lowest correlation to mental illness among European countries studied, with only a third of immolations stemming from clinical psychiatric disorders.
Eastern Europe more generally has a history of self-immolation as a form of political resistance, largely in opposition to Soviet rule. In 2011, Foreign Policy's Christian Caryl discussed the most famous case, when the Czech student Jan Palach set himself on fire in 1969 and caused "a profound 'moral shock' to the nation that haunted it for decades to come." The recent Bulgarian cases are similarly haunting, proving once again that self-immolation -- while harrowing -- is often an effective way of getting the government's attention.
People across the world are celebrating International Women's Day today as both a reminder of the struggles women face and a celebration of their achievements and progress since the holiday's inception in the early 20th century. In many countries, it's even an official national holiday. But in a few, men are explicitly excluded from participating.
In countries such as China, Madagascar, and Nepal, the holiday is specifically geared toward "women only." In China, for instance, women get a half day off but men have to work. Other less institutionalized examples of male discrimination exist as well. The London borough of Tower Hamlets, for example, once made news by banning all men from its libraries on International Women's Day.
This "positive discrimination" against men raises interesting questions in a world where gender gaps are still so pronounced. Just look at the latest figures for cross-country rankings of women's political representation. Rwanda, is the only country in the world where women outnumber men in parliament, and just by 6.3 percent. The bottom five countries, conversely, have zero female participation, and Yemen, which comes in sixth-to-last, has a mere 0.3 percent. The United States ranks pretty poorly as well, finishing in 77th place with women holding only 17.8 percent of national legislative positions.
Globally, women are behind when it comes to literacy, health, and income, and things are not changing fast enough. According to the World Economic Forum's comprehensive 2012 study, only nine countries have closed health and education gaps, while none have managed to completely eradicate gaps in economic or political participation.
Debates about the best ways to change these numbers often center on methods of "positive discrimination," from legislative quotas to affirmative action programs. But does positive discrimination reinforce problematic gender divides? Or is it necessary in a world where women are still so widely disadvantaged? These questions might be too complicated to tackle in a blog post, but they are certainly worth thinking about. Particularly on International Women's Day.
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After several months of will-she-won't-she, today brought a fresh wave of speculation that actress Ashley Judd will challenge Mitch McConnell for his Kentucky Senate seat in 2014. It's still unclear whether Judd, a Democrat, could pose a serious challenge to the Senate minority leader, and, given that Kentucky's unemployment rate continues to hover around 8 percent, it's unlikely either candidate would run a foreign-policy focused campaign. Still, just what would the foreign policy of a Senator Ashley Judd look like?
Judd doesn't appear to have staked out positions on U.S. drone policy, defense spending, or Iran just yet. But where Judd has spoken out publicly is on women's issues in the developing world like family planning, public health, and in particular rape -- perhaps as a result of being a rape victim herself. She's given a speech before the U.N. General Assembly on human trafficking and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She's on the board of the D.C.-based Population Services International, and her role as global ambassador for their YouthAIDS program has taken her to countries such as Cambodia, Kenya, and Rwanda (the picture above shows her in Thailand). In 2010, she made a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to highlight how valuable minerals like tin and tungsten fuel violence against women. She's also chronicled her travels on her blog, ashleyjudd.com, where she at times gets intensely personal in her reflections:
Here's what she wrote about traveling to Congo and using Apple products made with minerals potentially mined in Congo:
Apple is known for the clean lines of their products, the alluring simplicity of their designs. Dare I....go so far....as to suggest...this signature cleanness is stained by the shit and urine of raped women's leaking fistulas?
On interviewing a women whose mother was raped three times:
I am still holding her child. I have been crying some. She tells me I am not like other white women. I confide in her, telling her I have chosen not to have children because I believe the children who are already her [sic] are really mine, too. I do not need to go making "my own" baby when so many of my babies are already here who need love, attention, time, care.
Judd has made this last point before, and Republicans have sought to highlight a 2006 statement Judd made in which she called it "unconscionable to breed, with the number of children who are starving to death in impoverished countries."
While Judd may not have a fully fleshed out foreign policy platform yet, it is clear she's passionate about some issues. But whether advocacy on rape in Congo will win her traction in Kentucky remains to be seen.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images
Sure, Senator Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster on Wednesday was dramatic in the moment. But in the history of filibusters, it's unexceptional. After all, it was the ninth-longest in U.S. Senate history, according to USA Today -- not exactly a glowing achievement in the practice's millenia-long international history.
The etymology of the term stems from a Dutch word for privateers, and it entered the American lexicon via Spanish as rogue American settlers tried to seize land in Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Mexico in the mid-19th century. Locally, they were called filibusteros -- "free-booters" -- and their populist movement was a diplomatic nightmare for the U.S. government. These expansionist efforts fell apart when the Civil War forced Americans to turn inwards, but the word had already gained its modern meaning when, in 1853, a Democratic senator, Abraham Venable, joined the Whig opposition to block a private expedition of settlers looking to seize Cuba. Despite his opposition to the aggressive expansionism, which he feared would "make the United States the brigands of the world," his own colleagues in the Democratic Party turned the word on him for his own roguish action. The term came to be associated with aggressive minority efforts to delay legislation.
Some historians trace the practice back much further in history -- to ancient Rome and civil libertarian patron saint Cato the Younger, who was known to make lengthy speeches past the Roman Senate's deadline to adjourn at dusk, blocking further business for the day.
The filibuster is truly a performance art, so much so that the most recent one before Paul's yesterday, launched on Dec. 10, 2010 by Bernie Sanders, was accompanied by charts and made into a book and an art installation. The record for the longest filibuster in the U.S. Senate is held by Strom Thurmond, who spoke (maybe off and on) for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an effort to block civil rights legislation. At the state level, the record is longer: In 1924, a Rhode Island Senate filibuster extended 42 continuous hours over three days and "began with a mass fistfight over control of the gavel and ended when Republican operatives placed a poison-soaked rag behind [Democratic Lieutenant Governor Felix] Toupin to gas him out of the presiding officer's chair," according to Gregory Koger's Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate.
Elsewhere, the filibuster (by its modern, American definition) has different names. In the United Kingdom, the practice is known as being "talked out," and it was employed in January 2012 to stymie legislation that would have adjusted daylight savings time. Since British legislation is allotted only a certain amount of time for discussion and voting before being taken off the table, members of parliament can talk until the subject is shuffled back into the stack of pending bills -- in the case of the daylight savings time legislation, the bill was talked out by Scottish and Welsh legislators who wanted more autonomy and the option to opt out of the U.K. time change.
In the United Kingdom, the tactic has also been an occasional recourse for Irish and Scottish representatives seeking to punch above their administrations' weight. But, as in the United States, it has been used to block civil rights efforts as well, including women's suffrage legislation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Perhaps the most dramatic filibuster, though, occurred in April 1963 in the Philippines. With legislators evenly divided between supporters of the Liberal Party incumbent, Diosdado Macapagal, and Nationalist Party up-and-comer Ferdinand Marcos, it came down to the Senate to decide the presidency. The day before the scheduled vote, Marcos visited Liberal Senator Roseller Lim, offering to pay off his home loans in exchange for a swing vote. Lim refused and Marcos, incensed, swore at him and his family before departing.
The next day, the Liberal senators were a man down -- Senator Alejandro Almendras was still en route, returning from a throat operation in the United States. Lim took the podium and spoke for 18 hours and 30 minutes -- he could not sit or eat, and he urinated in his pants at the podium rather than allow the vote to occur without the Liberals' crucial swing vote. Finally, Lim yielded the floor upon hearing that Almendras's fight had landed, and collapsed onto a waiting stretcher after casting his vote.
Unlike so many other filibusters, it's hard to say that Lim's act was one vanity -- but it was in vain. Lim would learn, upon awaking in the hospital, that Almendras has cast his vote for Marcos.
Paul's stand yesterday for a clarification in Obama's targeted killing policy was dramatic at times, but not that dramatic. Hey, there's always next time.
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It was widely reported last week that this year's Aipac conference, which ends tomorrow, will culminate in a mass lobbying effort by attendees to persuade law makers to officially designate Israel a major strategic ally of the United States, a designation that until now has never been awarded.
So does the bill, the "U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act," actually make a new class of alliance for Israel? Is the House about to name Israel a super-best-friend-for-life ally of the United States?
No. They're not.
The bill, which can be accessed online here, simply states that, "Congress declares that Israel is a major strategic partner of the United States." Nowhere in the bill does it define or codify this terminology; it doesn't grant special privileges like, say, being the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid or being permitted nuclear weapons without pressure to sign conventions regulating them, both of which are already part of U.S.-Israel policy. It is just a "declaration of policy," much in the way that last year's "U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012" stated:
It is the policy of the United States to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to the security of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. As President Barack Obama stated on December 16, 2011, "America's commitment and my commitment to Israel and Israel's security is unshakeable." And as President George W. Bush stated before the Israeli Knesset on May 15, 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, "The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty."
The new legislation, which extends existing legislation on military, cyber, and energy cooperation, does not alter Israel's formal designation as a "major non-NATO ally" of the United States (other major non-NATO allies make for some strange bedfellows, including Egypt, Afghanistan, and Pakistan). At this point, in other words, there's no need for other U.S. allies to start getting jealous about new official labels -- there aren't any.
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On Monday, the Israeli government launched a new bus service to shuttle Palestinian day laborers from the West Bank town of Qalqiliya to Israeli cities where they are employed. Ynet outlined the reasons behind the two new lines, which have only been advertised to Palestinians in Arabic:
A ministry source said that many complaints expressed concern that the Palestinian passengers may pose a security risk, while other complaints said that the overcrowded buses cause the drivers to skip stations.
The development has caused an uproar both in Israel and internationally, prompting comparisons to apartheid in South Africa and the United States' own checkered transportation history. In an op-ed for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Aeyal Gross compared the new bus service to the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plessy vs. Ferguson, which deemed segregation legal in cases where it is "separate but equal." Striking a similar note, Al Jazeera went with the headline, "Israel launches segregated bus service."
The Israeli Transport Ministry, meanwhile, has defended the move as pragmatic rather than discriminatory -- a way of accommodating the growing number of Palestinians who are receiving permission to work in Israel.
Lofty analysis aside, surprisingly little attention has been paid to how the change is actually playing out on the ground. The Palestinian newspaper al-Quds described the first day of the new bus service as stressful and chaotic, with too few buses to accommodate the many Palestinian laborers trying to get across the border. Palestinians who gave up on trying to board the overcrowded buses and instead chose to cross the border on foot were refused entry.
Still, like their Israeli counterparts, Palestinians primarily voiced pragmatic rather than moral concerns about the new service. One man told al-Quds that the new lines mean he has to wake up two hours earlier and get home later each day. Another lamented that he doesn't understand "why [the Israelis] had to go and make this headache." Haaretz also reported from the scene:
One man working on the Meier-on-Rothschild luxury tower asked why the Tel Aviv bus stopped at the northern train station and did not continue on to the Central Bus Station. A group of workers looking to get to Herzliya asked why the Ra'anana-Kfar Sava line wasn't extended to Herzliya. Many wondered about the buses' return times.
As far as we can tell, there was no mention of Plessy vs. Ferguson.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Earlier this week, we reported on the controversy in Tunisia and Egypt over some "Harlem Shake" videos, which have provoked arrests and an investigation by the Tunisian Ministry of Education, and the follow-up Harlem Shake protests Egyptians and Tunisians were planning.
Well, they happened.
The video above is from Cairo, outside the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood. Another protest took place outside the Ministry of Education in Tunis, though rain deterred some dancers.
The videos are spreading (here's one from another school, Tunisia's Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology), as is the backlash. Salafist groups have tried to intimidate students making Harlem Shake videos, and, at one school, a protest broke out that was dispersed by police with tear gas.
The videos are clearly becoming more political. In the video from Egypt, for example, a protester is wearing a large fake beard to mock conservative critics. And in the videos from Tunisia there are a number of protesters wearing the Guy Fawkes and gas masks that were popular during the Arab Spring protests of 2011. Unlike so many other flash-in-the-pan memes, the Harlem Shake might be around for a while -- especially if politicians in Egypt and Tunisia keep trying to get rid of it.
Economic arguments have a particular resonance during periods of sluggish growth, and that logic even seems to extend these days to the hot-button issue of abortion. In Switzerland, a new, very literally named initiative --"Protect life to remedy the loss of billions" - is calling for a referendum to ban abortion in the country for economic reasons. The initiative committe is led by politician Heinz Hürzeler, a member of the country's Social Liberal Movement, and maintains that in Switzerland, where 12 percent of pregnancies end in abortion, the practice represents a huge blow to the economy (comparatively speaking, Switzerland has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world, with only 6.4 abortions for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44). As AFP reports:
It calculates that if the more than 100,000 foetuses aborted in Switzerland over the past decade had been born, grown up and worked for 45 years, they would have contributed nearly 334 billion Swiss francs ($359 billion, 274 billion euros) to the country's GDP.
And, as consumers, the same 100,000 people would over 80 years pump more than 324 billion francs into the country's economy, it says.
Economic arguments abound in favor of abortion (and contraception more generally), and they tend to focus on the burden and welfare demands posed by unsupported children on both the individual and societal levels. Freakonomics has even weighed in on the debate, linking abortion to decreased crime rates in places like Romania, Canada, and Australia.
Perhaps less well known are the economic arguments for banning the practice. Like the Swiss initiative, these tend to rely on what pro-life author Larry Burkett has called "the George Bailey Affect" after the main character in It's a Wonderful Life: How the world would look, if, for each abortion, we substituted a consumer child who would grow up to become a productive member of society.
As for the campaign in Switzerland, the initiative has until August 2014 to garner 100,000 signatures, at which point the abortion ban will be put to a national referendum. Abortion was only decriminalized in Switzerland in 2002, also by national referendum.
Last night, Argo, Ben Affleck's account of the Iranian hostage situation, surprised few when it claimed the Academy Award for best picture. Also unsurprising was the reaction of Iranian media.
The film, which looks at Hollywood's role in helping smuggle six hostages out of Iran amidst the fraught 1979 revolution, has garnered intense criticism from the country for its negative portrayal of Iranians. The Iranian government even organized a conference to discuss the ideology behind films like Argo, and their use in promoting an anti-Iranian, Islamophobic agenda. And when Michelle Obama presented the Oscar via live feed from the White House, this seemed to confirm the worst fears for many in the Iranian media.
In a rare occasion in Oscar history, the First Lady announced the winner for Best Picture for the anti-Iran Film ‘Argo,' which is produced by the Zionist company Warner Bros.
Mehr News dubbed the award the "most political Oscar" saying, "the anti-Iranian movie ‘Argo', the 85th Academy Awards ceremony, unveiled the bare politicization in Hollywood."
Meanwhile Iran's state TV called the whole thing an "advertisement for the CIA."
In his acceptance speech, Affleck included a couple of shout outs to the frustrated nation:
I want to thank our friends in Iran living in terrible circumstances right now. I want to thank my wife who I don't usually associate with Iran.
Not the most diplomatic of speeches, this prompted Mehr to further lament: "Ben Affleck continues to show a bleak picture of Iran: Iranians live in terrible circumstances.”
The state-owned, Press TV, went in a different direction. In a snub worthy of the Academy, they chose not to acknowledge the film at all in their coverage of the evening, making it seem, for those who wouldn't know better, that Life of Pi and Amour were the big winners of the night.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
It was a year ago yesterday that Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was formally made president of Yemen in a national referendum. He succeeded the three-decade rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who finally yielded to international pressure to step down amid a popular uprising, and Hadi's accession was meant to usher in a two-year transition to a more representative government. Yemeni politicians and U.N. officials have spent much of the past year organizing a National Dialogue, including representatives of many of the country's overlapping and competing factions, divided along tribal, political, and religious lines, to discuss constitutional reforms and, possibly, a more decentralized government.
But yesterday, three representatives from the country's restive south withdrew from the National Dialogue committee in protest of continued suppression of the "Hirak," or Southern Movement, which has called for stronger representation for Yemen's south or secession. Protesters in Aden -- which until 1991 was the capital of an independent South Yemeni state -- gathered to protest Hadi's reluctance to address southern grievances. They were met with gunfire from the military, which positioned soldiers on rooftops overlooking the protest (recalling the carnage caused by rooftop snipers just less than two years ago in one of the uprisings catalyzing moments); at least four protesters died (maybe eight now) and 40 more were wounded. On the anniversary of the referendum, Yemen's halfway revolution appears as stalled now as ever before.
The delays to the National Dialogue were expected -- six months before Saleh stepped down, when the transition plan was still a proposal, Chatham House fellow Ginny Hill said,
I see hurdles at every stage. I think it's going to be a contested process, but it's going to be a contested process that Yemen needs to go through. And I think it will be good if it's contested, because in that process -- if it can be contained within a genuinely political space, if it doesn't turn into a violent process -- the scope for forging more legitimate political structures potentially lies in this process.
The transition was always going to be messy, but it is increasingly returning to a state of affairs last seen during the uprising's tensest moments in 2011, a race to find an inclusive agreement before the country unravels.
And it is unraveling. Last week, the U.N. Security Council issued a resolution singling out Saleh and his long-exiled southern rival, Ali Salem al-Beidh, as spoilers in the peace process. Last month, a large weapons shipment, including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, was intercepted en route to Yemen, possibly from Iran; previous to the captured shipment, rumors of other shipments to insurgents had persisted for months. As news came out of Aden, Gregory Johnsen, author of The Last Refuge, tweeted:
You really had to have your head in the sand to miss what is starting to kick off in #Yemen - pretty sad.— GregorydJohnsen (@gregorydjohnsen) February 20, 2013
In the worst days of the popular uprising, secessionist tribal groups carrying the old South Yemeni flag seized a military base in the southern province of Yafai, prompting retaliatory airstrikes. If southern politicians refuse to participate and the National Dialogue collapses, this could well occur again on a much larger scale. Will Picard, head of the Yemen Peace Project, wrote last night about the potential for a renewal of Yemen's 1994 civil war. "More violence is certain," he concluded. "Little else is."
Israelis are in an uproar over the recent news that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spends a whopping $2,700 per year of public funds on ice cream. The story dominated Israeli headlines over the weekend, causing outrage in a country that has faced large-scale unrest over soaring food prices and cuts in government spending. Particularly controversial was the lack of transparency surrounding the ice cream dealings:
Originally this expenditure wasn't included in the Netanyahu family's maintenance budget, but his aides managed to bypass the bureaucratic procedures - transferring one budget item to another normally requires a tender - and get the go-ahead to buy his favorite ice cream flavors from a neighborhood ice cream parlor.
Netanyahu tried to spin his penchant for ice cream -- pistachio in particular-- as being for official entertainment purposes, but the Israeli press isn't buying it. Uzi Benziman, in an editorial for Haaretz, offers a few pointed questions against the prime minister. If the ice cream really serves diplomatic purposes, why should Bibi backtrack now? Also, how could the PM possibly know his guests would prefer pistachio?
...if Netanyahu not only knows who'll be visiting him in the coming year, but also that their favorite flavors also happen to be vanilla sorbet and pistachio, then what do we need the Shin Bet and the Mossad for?
So what does the prime minister's love of pistachio say about him? One not-so-scientific look at ice cream flavor as personality test, describes pistachio people:
You are a highly individualistic and straight-to-the-point person. No one should mess with you. ...You seek to distinguish yourself from everyone else and take pride in being distinctive and exclusive. You are usually both smart and good-looking and are loved by many, even if you don't know it. However, you can be quite intolerant of certain things in life and you do not like change. You are a diligent planner and seek comfort in the routine things. Perhaps you should loosen up a little and do something spontaneous and totally unplanned - you might surprise yourself!
Ideal Partner: You get along well with banana and vanilla fans
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Wow, what an awfully long day! What a roller coaster of emotion!
Kevin Baron has the full rundown. There were spats between friends -- though it seems like if John McCain and Chuck Hagel are still on speaking terms, they'll be frenemies from here on out. There were flubs -- a frequently flustered Hagel fumbling on Iran (specifically the issue of containment), senators with gotcha questions (Sen. Lindsey Graham at one point even interrupted to point out to Hagel, "I gotcha!"), and pandering all around. All in all it was the most dramatic piece of Washington theater since...well, inauguration was only two weeks ago.
It remains to be seen what effect Hagel's performance will have on his confirmation prospects. Josh Rogin reports that today's hearing has lost Hagel votes, but it seems doubtful that support will crater completely. But that's for another day.
For now, we pause to take one last look...at the looks of Chuck Hagel. We feel you, Chuck. It was ups and downs all day.
And if you think this post is an excuse for this .gif we made, it is.
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning about the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on that killed four American citizens, including the ambassador to Libya. Her remarks came after four months of controversy and finger-pointing about security lapses, intelligence failures, about and the administration's response to the attack, with critics accusing the White House and State Department of misleading the public (a charge that may have scuttled U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice's chances for a nomination to succeed Clinton in Foggy Bottom).
After months of reporting on the attack, there was little new information to be gleaned from Clinton's testimony, but it did provide an opportunity for both the secretary and her congressional critics to air their perspectives and grievances. Clinton's testimony turned emotional early on, as she choked up in her opening statements describing standing with President Obama as the bodies of the Americans killed in Benghazi arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. She also reiterated that, "as I have said many times since Sept. 11, I take responsibility."
The hearing also turned heated at times. Sen. Ronald Johnson (R-Wis.) expressed his vehement disbelief that the State Department could not determine whether the attack was a planned terrorist action or grew out of a protest in response to the incendiary film Innocence of Muslims, which had provoked rioting at other U.S. facilities throughout the Muslim world that week.
"Madam Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees [from the Benghazi consulate] would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest?" Sen. Johnson asked. "I mean, that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained," he continued, before dismissing Clinton's comment that she did not want to interfere with the processes at work on the ground as an "excuse."
The secretary told Johnson "to read the ARB [Accountability Review Board report] and the classified ARB because even today there are questions being raised" about the attackers' interests and allegiance. (Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) wrote about the ARB for Foreign Policy last month.) When pressed again, a visibly exasperated Clinton responded, "With all due respect, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or because of guys out for a walk one night who decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) were visibly frustrated by Clinton's answers. After the secretary told the committee that she had not personally read all the cables from the diplomatic mission in Libya, including those requesting increased security measures, Sen. Paul remarked that this represented "a failure in leadership," a charge that has been leveled by FP's own Shadow Government as well. "Had I been president at the time," he told Clinton, "and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Amb. Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post.". McCain again voiced his doubts about the veracity of administration messaging about the attack in the early weeks afterwards. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) compared the administration's response to the faulty intelligence behind claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003. Clinton said of the talking points, "The fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information."
McCain also "strongly disagreed" with Clinton's characterization of U.S. policy towards Libya after Muammar al-Qaddafi's fall, concluding by saying that the State Department's choice of a "soft footprint" for security contributed to the deaths at Benghazi. Clinton pointed out that Congress had placed holds on funding requests aid and security projects like those McCain cited. "We've got to get our act together between the administration and the Congress. If this is a priority, trying to help this government stand up security and deal with what is a very dangerous environment from east to west, then we have to work together," Clinton replied.
One of the few substantive clarifications was the role of the Marine personnel stationed with the diplomatic mission -- a point of confusion among many policymakers. "Historically, Marine guards do not protect personnel," said Clinton. "Their job is to protect classified material and destroy it if necessary." Several senators suggested that this should change.
Regarding that classified material, Clinton told the committee that no classified documents were left at Benghazi, "although some unclassified material was unfortunately left behind." Foreign Policy reported about this oversight in September when documents found at the razed compound suggested that there had been warning signs an attack was imminent.
Interestingly, one of the most interesting moments in the hearing wasn't about the Benghazi attack at all. Clinton spoke briefly about the hostages taken at the In Amenas gas field in Algeria, observing that the same proliferation of weapons that helped arm the terrorists in Benghazi also helped arm the terrorists in southern Algeria. "The vast majority of weapons came out of Qaddafi warehouses," she said, characterizing the spread of small arms and shoulder-fired missiles as a "Pandora's box." As to whether the attacks in Benghazi and at In Amenas were directly related, she said there was insufficient intelligence.
The testimony made for a strange coda to Clinton's otherwise well-regarded term as secretary of state. Her imminent departure was mentioned as a matter of accountability by both her critics and herself. Paul remarked that he saw her decision to step down now as accepting "culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11." Clinton saw things differently. "Nobody is more committed to getting this right," she told the committee in her opening remarks. "I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure."
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In light of the recent brutal gang rape on Dec. 16, which led to the death of a 23-year-old medical student in India, there have been substantial criticisms of the government for not doing enough to protect women. Protestors say they will continue till they are satisfied that real action is being taken.
But in demanding action, the protesters should keep in mind the people who they're appealing to. According to a recent report, a shockingly high number of members of India's national parliament (MPs) and members of state-level legislative assemblies (MLAs) have actually been accused themselves of crimes against women, including rape.
The Association for Democratic Reforms (an affiliate of the Indian Institute of Management) compiled the report, using the affidavits filed by candidates as part of their nomination papers that are submitted to India's Electoral Commission. In other words, this was all public information at the time these members were elected.
According to the report, in the past five years:
These were hardly the only crimes listed in the report. Other included: assault, murder (one man had 8 charges of attempted murder), defiling a place of worship, promoting enmity between different groups, rioting and dacoity (banditry). Many of these crimes also included violence against women.
The Association for Democratic Reforms has advocated that "cases against MPs and MLAs should be fast tracked and decided upon in a time based manner." This presumably would be similar to the recently inaugurated fast track rape courts created to deter tragic incidents like Dec. 16. Though, in typical fashion, police were late to submit evidence on time (something about difficulty in using a thumb drive).
But with so many accused rapists in government, it's little wonder that it has taken so long for rape to be taken seriously as a problem.
Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP/GettyImages
He's performed with Madonna, has been on the Today show, and is scheduled to perform at a "Christmas in Washington" concert this weekend that President Obama plans to attend with his family.
But now South Korean rapper Psy -- chubby, goofy Psy, who horse-danced his way into so many American hearts this past year -- is now being dogged by some surprisingly vitriolic anti-U.S. comments from his past.
In 2004, Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, took part in a live performance of Korean band N.E.X.T.'s song "Dear American" in which he rapped:
Kill those f****** Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those f****** Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughter-in-law and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully
The rap came two years after PSY had participated in a protest concert against the presence of 37,000 troops in South Korea. During the concert, Psy lifted a miniature American tank above his head and smashed it on stage, to cheers from the audience.
As many have noted, it's important to remember the context here: the protest concert came shortly after two middle school girls in Korea were killed after they were struck by an armored vehicle operated by U.S. soldiers (the soldiers were later acquitted of charges related to their deaths). And the 2004 rap came in the wake of the beheading death of a Korean missionary in Iraq, after South Korea rejected the kidnappers' demands that it withdraw its troops.
Korea is an American ally, but has long been ambivalent about the presence of U.S. troops on its soil; many have also questioned the presence of South Korean troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Psy -- whose Gangnam Style video passed Justin Bieber's "Baby" last month to become the most-viewed video ever on Youtube -- has yet to comment.
Update -- Psy has responded in a statement: "As a proud South Korean who was educated in the United States and lived there for a very significant part of my life, I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world. The song I was featured in - eight years ago - was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time. While I'm grateful for the freedom to express one's self, I've learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I'm deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words."
"I have been honored to perform in front of American soldiers in recent months - including an appearance on the Jay Leno show specifically for them- and I hope they and all Americans can accept my apology. While it's important that we express our opinions, I deeply regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language I used to do so. In my music, I try to give people a release, a reason to smile. I have learned that thru music, our universal language we can all come together as a culture of humanity and I hope that you will accept my apology."
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Egypt's increasingly influential Salafis won a victory this week by pressuring the government to finally implement a 2009 court ruling, enacted under former President Hosni Mubarak, to ban pornography. On Wednesday, Egyptian Prosector Abdel Maguid Mahmoud instructed authorities to "to take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state."
There are already strong reactions, with many on twitter using #EgyPornBan to either advocate mass downloading before the ban is enacted or to question the legitimacy of restricting freedom of expression.
While it has not been made public how and when the ban will actually be enforced, there are those like journalist and presidential advisor, Ayman El-Sayad, who think that the government should be "more concerned about the drafting of Egypt's new constitution" and other more pressing issues.
The ban does have serious consequences, however, as it upholds the ruling that the "freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism." How Egyptians decide to tackle the issue of who gets to decide what their values are, could have far reaching consequences down the road. There is also the dangerous precedent set by countries such as Russia, China and the United States, who have been accused of using anti-child-pornography laws to implement web censorship.
Egypt's porn ban will make it harder to spread "harmful" content on the internet, but for the Islamist's moral purposes, it probably won't work.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
In June, when Mohamad Morsi was elected president of Egypt, replacing the military transition government, he claimed that he would fulfill 64 promises within the first 100 days. That very same day, the website MorsiMeter was up and running to keep track of his progress. It's been about a week since the 100 day mark has passed and the weighing in has begun.
MorsiMeter is the creation of social entrepreneurs Amr Sobhy, Abbas Ibrahim and Safwat Mohamed, modeled after PolitiFact's Obameter. By crowdsourcing through their mobile app and website, MorsiMeter compiles information from a variety of sources (official, opposition and social media) in addition to direct communication with the presidential office to document initiatives implemented or in progress. MorsiMeter is as 2012 recipient of the U.N World Summit Youth Award which the team also won in 2011 for the anti-corruption initiative Zabatak. They consider MorsiMeter to be a "data tool" and strive to "empower the average citizen through sharing of information about crimes and corruption" while staying as neutral as possible.
Their report is now out and according to MorsiMeter, the baseline stats say that the president has achieved 10 out of 64 goals and that another 24 are in progress. This leaves 30 more promises "not spotted", to use to their terminology.
To provide a more nuanced look at what has actually been done, objectives are broken down into five categories: Traffic, Security, Fuel, Bread and Environmental Cleanliness. Many plans in progress are geared toward using financial incentives tied to citizen satisfaction to promote performance in civil servants and police, coordinating between the government and civil society, or using social institutions such as Friday sermons to promote civic behavior such as not throwing trash on the street.
The president's achievements include cracking down on fuel smugglers, providing waste disposal services for reasonable fees, using radio reports to decrease traffic congestion, and increasing the nutritional value of bread while subsidizing bakeries for potential crises.
Several of the "not spotted" promises, such as building new government centers out of urban areas, are additionally large undertakings that couldn't be accomplished in a 100 days. And to be honest, even if there are campaigns to make people follow road rules and traffic lights, it's not going to take effect immediately.
Is it fair to judge Morsi based on 100 days alone? Maybe, maybe not. Online voters at MorsiMeter have an overall satisfaction level of 39 percent. But given the recent clashes and all the hype surrounding this rather arbitrary deadline, Egyptians need to figure out what their real expectations are.
Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was arrested Monday morning on Fares-Maathodaa island after failing to show up for two trials within a week. Nasheed defied a court order to remain on the capital island of Male and left on Oct. 1 to campaign for the upcoming 2013 elections. In light of these events, the court awarded police the power of arrest to produce Nasheed for his trial on October 9.
Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP,) is particularly concerned given the controversy surrounding his resignation as president. In February, Nasheed stepped down -- he says he was ousted -- following a violent protest by supporters of the former authoritarian leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, following his order to arrest a High Court judge for corruption. Nasheed is currently being tried for abuse of power for this arrest order.
There is some dispute about the level of force used in arresting Nasheed. According to a MDP statement "at 9:45 a.m., 50 heavily armed masked police in full riot gear and wearing gas masks smashed down the door of a house where President Nasheed and his campaign team were staying and took him into custody." They also claimed that the masked police stormed the house, spewing obscenities and that former ministers also in the residence were pepper-sprayed and violently dragged out. The party has been tweeting and posting photos of the damage done to the house during the arrest.
President Mohammed Waheed Hassan's spokesman agrees on the count that police were dressed in riot gear for protection, but claims that they did not use force, expletives, or pepper spray. He asserted that Nasheed was not dragged out and was not even handcuffed.
The U.S. Embassy in Colombo is urging all sides to remain calm but also denies that it has had a hand in the arrest of Nasheed following allegations on Twitter that U.S. trained troops were responsible for the crackdown on opposition activists. If found guilty in Tuesday's trial, the former president could be jailed for up to three years, banished to one of the remote islands and fined to an amount not exceeding MVR2,000. This would disqualify him from running for president.
Photo by Haveeru
The recently deposed president of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed was scheduled to be tried Monday, Oct. 1, under charges of abuse of power. Instead of making an appearance, he skipped his trial and left in a fishing boat to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Nasheed was previously put under "island arrest," on Sept. 25, which restricts his travel to Malé, the 2 square mile capital of the 1,192 island archipelago. The current government cites this as standard procedure following charges where Nasheed has been accused of misusing his office to order the arrest of a senior judge, Abdullah Mohamed in January.
Nasheed, a former democracy activist who was arrested over 20 times as an opposition leader, became president in 2008. His presidency marked the end to 30 years of rule by autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed claims that his resignation and Feb. 7 transfer of power was a politically motivated coup d'état orchestrated by Gayoom supporters. In a March article for Foreign Policy, Nasheed detailed the violent situation prompting his resignation and how his warrant for judge Mohamed's arrest was made on charges of corruption in an effort to overhaul the governance of Maldives. He was replaced by former Vice-President, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, who was involved in the "coup" but will hold elections in 2013. Nasheed's recounting of his coerced resignation directly contrasts with a Commonwealth supported government inquiry which has accepted the resignation as legal though does acknowledge the occurrence of a police mutiny. The United States also accepts the transfer of power as legal.
Prior to the abuse of power charges filed in July, the "Mandela of the Maldives" took a trip to the United States where he made a case for efforts to combat climate change, while also trying to bring attention to the political situation in Maldives. In a particularly frank exchange on The Daily Show in April, Nasheed joked that with coverage by Jon Stewart, "hopefully they won't murder me." With the travel ban in place, it will very difficult for Nasheed to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Members of Nasheed's legal team have also claimed that the three judges presiding over the trial have been picked in violation of legal norms. A conviction would also bar him from being a presidential candidate.
In addition to criminal charges he also faces two defamation lawsuits to be tried in the future. Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has taken the stance that it will not adhere to court rulings till there is a reform of the judiciary system in accordance with international recommendations.
Photo by AFP/Stringer/Getty Images
With general elections potentially on the horizon, a new party has burst onto the Israeli political scene. On Wednesday, the Pirates party, which according to Haaretz "champions ‘the freedom to copy' and ‘the pirating sector,'" applied for recognition as an official political party. Despite its name, the group, led by former Green Leaf party member Ohad Shem-Tov, does not belong to the Pirate Parties International (PPI) movement, which already has an established Israeli chapter. Though the party refuses to speak to non-pirate media, its goals apparently "range from the radical to the delirious," including "the freedom to divide and copy" and social justice.
Shem-Tov is best known for forming the Green Leaf Graduates party before the 2009 following his expulsion from the original Green Leaf party, which campaigns to decriminalize marijuana. During the general elections that year, the Green Leaf Graduates forged an unlikely alliance with the Holocaust Survivors Party, running advertisements espousing a hybrid pro-cannabis, pro-survivors benefits platform.
The Pirate creed is not new to the region. In 2011, PPI member Slim Amamou joined the new Tunisian cabinet as State Secretary of Youth and Sports. PPI also made significant inroads in May, when it won 8 percent of votes in Schleswig-Holstein during German general elections, in addition to 8.9 percent in Berlin and 7.4 percent in Saarland. Israel's Pirate party stands somewhat of a chance, since the election threshold for the Knesset is just 2 percent, but whether it asks the Jewish state to recognize the Church of Kopimism is more of a gamble.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's grand political masterstroke has officially failed. Kadima chairman and Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz announced during a closed-door faction meeting Tuesday night that his party is quitting the prime minister's coalition because it refuses to compromise with right-wing parties on the revision of the unconstitutional Tal Law, which exempted ultra-Orthodox Israelis from mandatory military service. Netanyahu's most recent compromise offer allowed for 50 percent of ultra-Orthodox between the ages of 18 and 23 to be drafted by the Israel Defense Forces, and another 50 percent between the ages of 23 and 26 to be drafted into national service. Mofaz rejected the offer on the grounds that it "violates" the "principle of equal sharing of the burden of military service."
Mofaz's decision comes two weeks before the Aug. 1 deadline for a new law to be passed and just 70 days after Kadima joined the surprise government coalition. Kadima Members of Knesset have been demanding that their party leave the coalition for several weeks, and the faction, which holds 28 out of 120 Knesset seats, is expected to split.
When U.S. President John F. Kennedy turned 45, Marilyn Monroe performed her infamous rendition of "happy birthday" in Madison Square Garden. When Russian President Vladimir Putin turned 58, he received an erotic calendar from young journalists in Moscow. But when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych turned 62 yesterday, he received...well, a fake Belarusian visa and a book on the "Basics of Ukrainophobia:" gifts from angry activists to ridicule his Belarusian roots and party's most recent legislation.
No doubt, his celebration's been a little less sultry and lot more politically heated. Widespread discontent over the recent "language bill," passed last Monday, July 3, has fueled protests throughout Ukraine and exaggerated tensions between Ukraine's Russian-speaking East and Ukrainian-speaking West. Approved by 248 of the 364 legislators present for the vote, the bill officially recognizes "regional" languages where they're spoken by at least ten percent of the population and permits their official use of in legal discourse, business, and education.
Yanukovych, who grew up in the Russian speaking Donetsk Oblast and represents the pro-Russian Part of the Regions, pledged to make Russian a second official language during his campaign, but the vote was still a shock for many Ukrainians. In response to what's been deemed "a lightning vote," the speaker of Ukraine's parliament and leader of the opposition People's Party -- Volodymyr Lytvyn - resigned. Rather than accept the resignation of its leader, parliament voted Friday to adjourn for the summer and delay discussion of the bill.
Citing article Article 10 of the Ukrainian constitution which requires that the state "ensure comprehensive development and functioning of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of social life throughout the entire territory of Ukraine," critics charge that the bill is a blatant attempt to undermine Ukraine's language and sovereignty in favor of Russia - an all too familiar criticism for Yanukovych who's been ridiculed as the Kremlin's pawn in the past.
While the jury's still out on the future of the bill, it seems like Yanukovych may need to work on his birthday plans. Last year, he simply asked for "hard workers."
Russia and Israel may disagree on Iran's nuclear program, but President Vladimir Putin and his entourage of about 400 officials and businessmen were warmly welcomed by Israeli officials during the Russian leader's first visit to the country in seven years. Upon arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Putin was "greeted by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and an IDF honor parade." Later that day, he attended an inauguration ceremony in Netanya for a memorial to the Soviet Red Army soldiers killed in World War II, along with Lieberman, President Shimon Peres, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Speaking at the ceremony, Putin invoked Russia as both war and peacemaker:
"Russia who so greatly helped win the war is the same Russia that can help peace in the Middle East."
Putin's agenda also included a stop at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but his 24-hour tour made plenty of time for discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and other Israeli officials about regional issues -- namely Iran and Syria. According to the New York Times, Netanyahu said during a joint news conference that he and Putin "agreed that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran ‘presents a grave danger first of all to Israel, and to the region and the world as a whole.'"
Israeli officials, however, are not optimistic that their concerns will have any impact on Russian policy:
"Let's not exaggerate. It is a very brief visit," said a senior Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for reasons of diplomacy. He added, "Do not expect any major breakthrough."
According to Haaretz, Peres did not have much success with Putin at the state dinner that evening:
"President Shimon Peres pressed Putin further, asking that he ‘raise his voice' against a nuclear Iran. Putin responded by saying that Russia has a ‘national interest' to secure peace and quiet in Israel but did not elaborate further."
Despite the fact that talks about Iran were more process than substance, Tel Aviv University Russia specialist Boris Morozof notes that Israel and Russia do have "points of common interest," such as military technology, counterterrorism, and Israel's vast natural gas fields.
On Tuesday, Putin traveled to the West Bank, where he "inaugurated a Russian cultural and language center in Bethlehem" and toured the Church of Nativity. He also told President Mahmoud Abbas that Russia "has no problem recognizing a Palestinian state," called his Palestinian counterpart's position on negotiations with Israel "responsible," and referenced Israeli unilateral actions as "not constructive."
Russia is a member of the Middle East Quartet, a diplomatic body charged with mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, whose members also include the U.S., the U.N., and the EU. The Quartet has made little progress since its inception in 2002, but Abbas reportedly "called for an international peace conference to take place in Moscow."
Jim Hollander - Pool / Getty Images
If you think running for office in the United States is rigorous, then you haven't met Hungary's far-right Jobbik party. After the April 2010 legislative elections that handed the extremist group 47 seats in the national assembly -- and before local elections that fall -- an unnamed Jobbik MP made a special effort to gain the upper hand by undergoing genetic testing "to ensure he did not have a Roma or Jewish ethnic background." The lab results were published by a Hungarian far-right website in May. According to the report from medical diagnostic company Nagy Gen, the MP, whose name was blacked out, has "No genetic trace of Jewish or Roma ancestors."
The company, which faces a criminal investigation for violating the country's Law on Genetics, "examined 18 positions in the MP's genome" for supposedly Jewish and Roma variants, but Joerg Schmidtke, president of the European Society of Human Genetics, criticized the company:
"This is a gross distortion of the values of genetic testing.... In addition, the test proves nothing; it is impossible to deduce someone's origins from testing so few places of the genome."
Jobbik is the third-largest party in Hungary's parliament, and is known for its anti-Semitic and anti-Roma platform. European Jewish Congress president Moshe Kantor found the racial purity test a cause for immediate concern:
"This test demonstrates a very troubling escalation by the Jobbik party ... into a genetic and racial ideology that appears to be a short step below a fully-fledged Nazi worldview."
The icing on the cake, though, is the fact that three-time Olympic water polo champion Tibor Benedek, a member of a prominent Jewish family, held a minority financial stake in the Nagy Gen, but he pulled out immediately after the report was published.
It's good to know that racial purity is making a comeback, but if the testing was truly unprofessional, it's entirely possible we may have another Vladimir Zhinirovsky on our hands.
FERENC ISZA/AFP/Getty Images
Libya will face a laundry list of challenges following its national elections, originally set for June 19, which were postponed to July 7. They key issue, said American-Libyan Council president Fadel Lamen at a panel discussion hosted by the Project on Middle East Democracy on Tuesday, is a lack of central power:
"One of the most important things about Libya is that the revolution started at a very local level, and that is the root of how we should look at the country. The country, no matter how many layers there are at the top level, is still run by local elections."
Though Lamen emphasized the importance of a partnership between the central and local levels, it is unclear whether local militias, which have been responsible for a number of recent attacks, will cooperated. As Manal Omar, director of the Iraq, Iran, and North Africa program at the United States Institute for Peace, explained:
"Even as institutions do begin to grow over the next year, these groups have tasted power. They're going to have little incentive -- even once they are reassured -- to give it up."
Omar added that she anticipates the civil society sector will experience a post-election contraction:
"A lot of institutions that we've seen may actually dissolve because their heads are going to become government leaders."
While it is guaranteed that issues such as arms and economics will dominate Libya's post-election conversation, POMED director Stephen McInerney said the atmosphere surrounding the elections themselves is one of general and genuine confusion, citing a lack of reliable public opinion polling, single non-transferrable voting, and unorganized political parties unaware of campaigning rules.
"In terms of the political process, there's a lot of confusion regarding the electoral system."
Legislative elections in Egypt and Tunisia may have produced a Muslim Brotherhood majority, and it's clear that Libya is headed in the same direction, but hopefully the poster child for armed resistance will come out of elections with an effective government.
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