Until last year, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed was best known for his high-profile advocacy on behalf of small island nations in climate change talks, which included high-profile stunts like holding a cabinet meeting underwater and starring in an acclaimed documentary. But political reality got in the way in March of last year when he was, he claims, forced from power in a coup.
Nasheed first came to office in 2008, in the Maldives' first multiparty elections, ending 30 years of rule by authoritarian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. But after taking the presidency he frequently butted heads with the ex-president's allies in government and, in early 2012, ordered the arrest of a judge who he accused of trying to quash a corruption investigation. The arrest provoked demonstrations, and shortly afterward, Nasheed resigned, later claiming that he had been forced out at gunpoint by Gayoom loyalists. (He wrote about the events for Foreign Policy.)
Nasheed was arrested last March -- after taking refuge for several days in the Indian embassy -- in connection with the judge's detention. He is currently awaiting trial and, if convicted, would be ineligible to contest presidential elections scheduled for next September. On Monday, Nasheed caught a break when the country's high court delayed his trial while it investigates the legitimacy of the lower court that was to hear his case.
With all this going on, FP spoke with Nasheed on Wednesday by phone from his office in Male:
Foreign Policy: Do you believe that you will be able to contest this year's presidential elections?
Mohamed Nasheed: I don't think it is certain yet at all. I don't see the authorities here being willing to accept that. They know they cannot win if we contest. I am unfinished business, because they have to finish me off for their coup to be successful. So there may not let me contest at all.
FP: So what will happen in Maldives if you can't run?
MN: There's been a lot of hope among the younger generation that this country can change, that we can change our government though peaceful political activity and through the ballot and not through brute force. A fair amount of people have invested a lot of their life on trying to bring these changes. When they see it vanishing into thin air, there's bound to be a backlash.
FP: In another recent interview you said, "Usually in a coup you kill the other man, but in this instance I remain an irritant to them." Does that imply that you fear for your safety?
MN: There are always so many rumors going on in Male. Recently we've heard the that the Artur brothers from Armenia, who have a history in Kenya, have been in the Maldives. [The Artur brothers are alleged drug smugglers and hitmen from Armenia who have been implicated in a number of crimes in Kenya. Prime Minister Raila Odinga has accused them of a plot to assassinate him.] The police have commented on it and there's a very big scheme. There are all sorts of reports coming out related to these too people. There are always reports of murder attempts. Always reports of threats.
FP: So why do you think it is that the government has allowed you to remain an "irritant," rather than detaining you or forcing you into exile?
MN: They just couldn't! They've tried so many times. They tried a number of times and somehow every time they try to arrest me and test the waters, there's been a very big public outcry and outrage. So they just haven't been able to do that.
FP: This affair started with a showdown between you and the Maldives judiciary, including the arrest of the chief judge before you left office. If you got back into power, do you think you'd be able to work with these judges?
MN: Well, you know the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Judiciary has come and made a very long assessment on the judiciary here. A number of other international agencies -- the Commonwealth and other friendly countries -- have all had a good look at the judiciary. I don't think that there is rampant corruption in the Judiciary. The problem is that Gayoom is unwilling to let go. So my feeling is that another election would finally make it very clear that Gayoom is history and then we would be able to have space and room for us to reform the Judiciary.
FP: A number of countries, including the United States and India, recognized your departure as a legitimate transfer of power. The U.S. State Department also endorsed the findings of a Maldivian government commission last August, which found that no coup had taken place. Why do you think these countries are supporting the government's position?
MN: Governments always have to see if they can maintain some status quo and stability. You can see why the Indian government, for instance, had to recognize the new regime. But I think they were very naïve in thinking that this was a peaceful transfer of power and constitutional. They have seen what has happened since then and now they are coming around and demanding a peaceful election and so forth. I think the international community must learn from what they have experienced in the Maldives.
FP: As you're no doubt aware, unrelated to your case, there's also a call for an international tourism boycott of the Maldives over the case of a teenage girl who was sentenced to 100 lashes for premarital sex after she was raped. Are you worried that...
MN: [Interrupting] But this is not unrelated! Yes I am worried, but this is the heart of the matter. The coup was mainly radical Islamists. It was their coup. There was a core group within the military and the police who were very radical in their religious views and came out shouting "Allahu Akbar." They smashed the museum. This was the first flush of the coup. Then the politicians took over. But these politicians are having to introduce a much stricter code of shariah because that was the understanding. The attorney general has submitted to the parliament amendments to the penal code that would allow amputation, beheading, and stoning. This is what the international community totally failed to understand and is still what they are unable to see.
FP: So should the world be concerned about the spread of religious extremism in the Maldives?
MN: Our society here is generally very moderate. That's why they elected me. That's why they want to elect me again. I just thing we've given too much attention to marginal groups like these radicals. [The Islamists] contested us in a parliamentary election and did not get a single seat. They contested us in local council elections and did not get a single seat. But after the coup they have three cabinet ministers.
FP: I wanted to just ask you briefly about climate change. What's your take on the current state of international negotiations after last year's meeting in Doha and what should be the approach of small island development states like yours going forward?
MN: I think we need to come out with a positive narrative, where we can have more renewable energy, where we can have more jobs out of it -- not to equate development and carbon emissions. I would like to see development linked to more production of renewable energy. We need more emphasis on the production of energy without carbon.
China Digital Times posts the photo above, from Hong Kong's Open Magazine, which purportedly shows a young Peng Liyuan -- military pop star and wife of current President Xi Jinping -- entertaining the troops in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. The photo was originally posted by Weibo user @HKfighter, whose account has since been deleted, who wrote:
@HKfighter: After the Tiananmen Massacre, Peng Liyuan sang to comfort the soldiers. Open Magazine published this photo. [Then] for the 82nd anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party [in 2003], she sang the theme song for a commemorative film, declaring “fight for power, rule the country,” the heartfelt thoughts of the Party elders.
Paul French profiles Peng today on Foreign Policy.
Dissident blogger and FP contributor Yoani Sánchez is currently touring the United States after recently receiving permission from the Cuban government to travel outside the country.
Along with activist and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo, she spoke today at the Cato Institute in Washington. When asked by a member of the audience to explain her opposition to the U.S. embargo on Cuba -- particularly in light of the fact that fellow leading dissidents including Óscar Elías Biscet, Berta Soler, and Guillermo Fariñas want it to remain in place -- she replied:
I want to begin by saying that all the people you have mentioned are brothers and sisters in the struggle and I have excellent relationships with them. Unlike the Cuban government that forces a monolithic vertical structure and only reflects one point of view, one of the excellent things about the dissident movement is that it reflects a wide variety of viewpoints. This diversity does not stop us from sharing the same goal, which is a transition to a democratic system in Cuba.
I come from a generation of Cubans that have grown up with an official discourse constantly running through my ears that has expertly used the embargo as it foremost excuse -- blamed for everything from the lack of food on our plates to the lack of liberty in the streets. I have seen since I was a child how the official media constantly presents the embargo as the big bad wolf from the fairy tales I read as a child.
I would love to see how the official propaganda apparatus would function without this big bad wolf. I doubt that it could.
Sánchez spoke about the increasingly vibrant online independent media scene in Cuba and discussed plans to start an online newspaper when she returns to her country. "You can't even imagine the speed with which information is circulating on the island of Cuba," she said. "There's a whole alternate web of circulation where things [are] taken off the Internet and put on a thumb drive and passed from citizen to citizen in a manual way."
She continued: "It took me a full 10 years to see images from the fall of the Berlin Wall. But my son was able to witness the images from Tahrir Square almost exactly as they were happening."
Sánchez wrote for FP about her struggles to travel outside Cuba last November. She has traveled to Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and the Czech Republic since she was granted a passport, and has been met at several of her stops by pro-Cuban protesters, who have disrupted her events. At today's event, she said she suspected that the Cuban government may have granted her permission to travel in order to set up the very public disruptions, or in hopes that she would remain abroad. "They made a bad bet," she said.
Jose Castañares/AFP/Getty Images
Rather than following the day's headlines, my goal here is to explore the theory, data, and scholarly debates behind world news. That could mean looking into social science research that expands our understanding of new developments. It could mean keeping an eye on the intellectual food fights playing out across university campuses and think tanks. It could mean delving into the books that are shaking up policy debates -- or are about to.
But my broader goal with the project is to expand the definition of what we consider "foreign policy." Many FP readers are likely familiar with the latest strains of thought in, say, development economics, military doctrine, or political science. But I'm interested in exploring how fields as diverse as anthropology, linguistics, psychology, medicine, religion, or cartography can help us have a more informed conversation on global politics.
For the first day, I wrote on how Twitter may have been used by military planners during the Libyan war, how geologists determine the all-important spot where a country's continental shelf ends, and consider what -- if anything -- Hugo Chavez's 'Bolivarianism' had to do with the actual Simon Bolivar.
I'll hope you'll visit regularly, comment, and engage me on Twitter at @joshuakeating. I will still be writing frequently on Passport for newsier items, but the day-to-day supervision of the blog will now in the more than capable hands of my colleague, Uri Friedman.
Running this blog for the last five (!) years has been an absolute blast. Thanks to all of you for reading.
Visitors to the filesharing megasite Pirate Bay today might be surprised to see a North Korean flag on the page's usual Pirate Ship logo. The image links to the following post on the site's blog:
The Pirate Bay has been hunted in many countries around the world. Not for illegal activities but being persecuted for beliefs of freedom of information. Today, a new chapter is written in the history of the movement, as well as the history of the internets.
A week ago we could reveal that The Pirate Bay was accessed via Norway and Catalonya. The move was to ensure that these countries and regions will get attention to the issues at hand. Today we can reveal that we have been invited by the leader of the republic of Korea,[sic] to fight our battles from their network.
This is truly an ironic situation. We have been fighting for a free world, and our opponents are mostly huge corporations from the United States of America, a place where freedom and freedom of speech is said to be held high. At the same time, companies from that country is chasing a competitor from other countries, bribing police and lawmakers, threatening political parties and physically hunting people from our crew. And to our help comes a government famous in our part of the world for locking people up for their thoughts and forbidding access to information.
We believe that being offered our virtual asylum in Korea is a first step of this country's changing view of access to information. It's a country opening up and one thing is sure, they do not care about threats like others do. In that way, TPB and Korea might have a special bond. We will do our best to influence the Korean leaders to also let their own population use our service, and to make sure that we can help improve the situation in any way we can. When someone is reaching out to make things better, it's also ones duty to grab their hand.
The story first appeared a few hours ago on the blog of Swedish Pirate Party founder and chief evangelist Rick Falkvinge. (The Pirate Party and Pirate Bay share political goals and have frequently cooperated but are separate organizations.) Falkvinge writes that the current traceroute for the site can be tracked back to this ISP located in the Potong-gang District of Pyongyang. "North Korea may have the one government on this planet which takes pride in asking Hollywood and United States interests to take a hike in the most public way imaginable," he added.
Pirate Bay lost its hosting from the Swedish Pirate Party last month, after the group faced legal pressure from an alliance of copyright holders. The hosting was moved to Pirate Parties in Norway and Catalonia, but the Norwegian party apparently dropped the site earlier today.
The typically reliable website TorrentFreak quotes at "PirateBay insider," saying “We’ve been in talks with them for about two weeks, since they opened access for foreigners to use 3g in the country... TPB has been invited just like Eric Schmidt and Dennis Rodman. We’ve declined for now.”
So is this for real, or an elaborate prank? TorrentFreak writes, "While it’s hard to believe everything The Pirate Bay says, the site does indeed route through North Korea at the moment."
I'm still not totally buying it, given that back in 2007, the site posted an April Fool's joke about moving its hosting to the North Korean embassy. "We would like to thank Kim Jong-Il for the opportunity and we would like all of our users to review their current feelings towards this great nation!" they wrote at the time.
In a post last year, the Pirate Bay's blog presented itself as a weapon against North Korean information suppression. "We receive more than 100 visits daily from North Korea and we sure know that they need it," they wrote. "If there's something that will bring peace to this world it is the understanding and appreciation of your fellow man."
Also, if they were really doing business with North Korea, they would probably know that its official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The "Republic of Korea" is the South.
So there's plenty of reason to be suspicious, though after last week, anything seems possible.
Update: The North Korea Tech blog throws some more cold water on the story:
The Pirate Bay needs a significant amount of bandwidth — something North Korea doesn’t have.[...]
When I track Internet traffic from my PC to The Pirate Bay’s website, it does appear to flow to North Korea’s Internet gateway point. What happens after that is unclear.
[The track] shows traffic running from Level 3, an Internet backbone operator in the U.S., onto the network of Intelsat. The international satellite operator is one of North Korea’s two providers of Internet connectivity. From Intelsat is runs onto the North Korean Internet, denoted by the Internet address “188.8.131.52? on line 21. But no more data is returned, so it’s difficult to plot the remainder of the path to The Pirate Bay website.
I e-mailed Falkvinge, who wrote back that the technical reports casting doubt on the story "look credible":
The Pirate Bay is tremendously skilled at two things: keeping their site online, and pranking the establishment. Given that, I lean toward it being a hilarious hoax.
Update 2: The Pirate Bay comes clean. It was a hoax:
We’ve also learned that many of you need to be more critical. Even towards us. You can’t seriously cheer the “fact” that we moved our servers to bloody North Korea. Applauds to you who told us to fuck off. Always stay critical. Towards everyone!
This afternoon, I had a chance to speak briefly with former Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski. A former minister of sport in Poland's Communist government during the 1980s, Kwasniewski was elected in 1995 as the country's second post-Communist president. He served until 2005.
Along with former Irish politician Pat Cox, Kwasniewski has recently traveled more than a dozen times to Ukraine to monitor the trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on behalf of the European Parliament. In an address to the Atlantic Council yesterday, Kwasniweski urged the U.S. to take a more active role in encouraging democracy in Ukraine. He has called Tymoshenko's controversial prosecution "disastrous" for Ukrainian democracy but also believes further EU-Ukraine integration will be productive in encouraging the rule of law.
Noting that crucial talks on whether Ukraine will sign an association agreement with the EU are coming up in November of this year, Kwasniewski told me today, "It is necessary to decide if we want to support Ukraine and see it as part of our community of standards and values, or not. The time for this decision is quite limited."
Kwasniewski is an unapologetic euro-optimist, who despite the ongoing economic crisis, which Poland has weathered far better than its neighbors to the West, believes the country will eventually join the common currency.
"I am quite optimistic about the future of the European Union," he said. "I am sure that the EU will not only survive but will develop after the crisis. It should be our goal to be one of the main players along with the United States and China."
Kwasniewski favors "deepening of integration, strengthening of institutions and more common policies" within the European Union as well as a new push to expand to new countries, particularly to what he calls, the "two heavyweights," Ukraine and Turkey.
"The Ukraine question is complicated because of interior problems in Ukraine and because of competition between Russia and European Union," he says. "Turkey also creates questions about the real nature of the European Union and its natural borders." He also favors expanding the EU into the Balkans, though he says they have "huge homework to do" regarding legal reforms and clamping down on corruption.
He says he's not all that concerned about a crisis-era backlash to Polish immigrants in countries like Britain and France. "We have to accept a new chapter of European history that all European countries will be multicultural," he ways. "Without immigration there's no chance for development. With aging societies, it's necessary to be open." He also noted with some satisfaction that with more than 2 million immigrants in the country, "Polish is almost the second official language of Ireland"
As a left-leaning Polish politician, I was curious to hear Kwasniewski's take on U.S.-Polish relations under the Obama administration. Following the Obama administration's repositioning of the U.S. missile defense system in Poland - on the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, no less - and last year's "Polish death camps" faux pas, much has been made of supposed tensions between the Obama administration and Polish leaders. (Kwasniewski's predecessor and rival Lech Walesa essentially campaigned for Mitt Romney.)
Kwasniewski dismissed these events as "misunderstandings," but sees a bigger problem looming:
"The problem is not very serious in the relationships between Poland and the United States -- Poland is one of the most pro-American societies in Europe -- the much more important question is the American-European relationship. Here I have more fears. I understand American priorities are changing, and that the Pacific is a much more important ocean for U.S. than the Atlantic. Americans are very interested in China, but it's necessary to remember that Europe is still the most valuable and predictable ally of the United States. In my opnion, the engagement of the United States and EU is too weak. I expect more actions from the United States to strengthen these ties in the second term."
Kwasniewski recently helped form a new center-left party aiming to create a list of candidates for the 2014 European Parliament elections. He was somewhat vague when I asked if he had thoughts of returning to elected office himself:
I will support a new list of people to the European parliament and we'll see what reaction we'll have in Europe. It's very difficult to find a place for former presidents. If you are a former president it's difficult to describe what would be interesting and prestigious enough. What will happen in 2014 is difficult to predict. A former president is not a prophet, especially about his own country.
Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for 2nd Annual Concordia Summit)
At a hearing yesterday, Pfc. Bradley Manning took full responsibility for leaking the documents that came to be known as the Afghan and Iraq war logs and the "Cablegate" archive of classified diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. Given the fate that likely awaits Manning, it's a bit hard not be struck and saddened by his statement that he leaked the documents in order to “spark a domestic debate of the role of the military and foreign policy in general” and “cause society to reevaluate the need and even desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore their effect on people who live in that environment every day.”
Whatever the impact of Wikileaks documents, it would be hard to argue they had a major impact on the foreign-policy attitudes of the American public, or even provided much new information that might cause readers to revise their attitudes.
But two years after the Cablegate leak, there is one legacy of Wikileaks that confronts us nearly every day: the cables have become one of the vital tools of international journalism. Nearly every day, newspaper, wire service, and magazine dispatches from around the world feature theremarkable but no longer unusual phrase, " according to classified State Department cables released by WikiLeaks."
Here are just a few examples from a quick Nexis search of recent coverage:
Often allegations made in Wikileaks cables are used by reporters as a kind of shorthand for situations where a foreign official is widely believed to be corrupt but there's little publicly available factual data to back up the claim.
Ironically, given the political goals of Wikileaks, the use of the cables by reporters often gives U.S. officials the final say on which foreign officials are bad guys.
But on the other hand, if the ultimate goal was to introduce a bit more transparency to international politics, Manning's actions have to be considered at least partially successful.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
A somewhat baffling finding from Pew. The drop-off since 2010 seems to be the result of Republicans who think the U.S. has weakened militarily under Barack Obama -- in 2010, 73 percent put the U.S. at number one.
Today, Republicans and Democrats actually feel about the same, with 53 percent and 55 percent respectively saying that the U.S. military is No. 1. Independents, on the other hand, are less sure, with only 43 percent saying they think the U.S. has the most powerful military.
(For the record, the U.S. spends more on its military than the next 13 countries combined.)
Hat tip: Michael Cohen
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