Food-riot watch: Mubarak tells Army to make bread, not war


I noted back in January that Egypt's stability might be in danger from rising wheat prices. Egypt is the world's second-largest importer of wheat, and some 14 million Egyptians depend on subsidized bread. Prices for non-subsidized bread have risen by 26 percent already this year, and corruption is rampant within the state distribution system. Given that the Egyptian Arabic word for "bread," aish, is the same as the word for "life," this is a huge problem.

Hosni Mubarak is worried, too. Government daily Al-Ahram reported Monday that the Egyptian president has ordered the Army to boost its own bread production to addess worsening shortages. Mubarak appeared to blame the shortages on population growth, not on market distortions and forces. But the problem is likely to get worse unless global wheat prices suddenly ease -- something that is not likely to happen for another few months, if at all. Four people have reportedly been killed thus far in social unrest related to the bread crisis, and there will likely be more deaths to come. With the government already cracking heads in advance of municipal elections coming up on April 8, it's going to be an ugly couple of weeks in the Arab world's most populous country.


Tuesday Map: Fear of endless partition

Tensions in Kosovo between minority Serbs and U.N. peacekeepers turned violent Monday when a peaceful protest in the Serbian controlled northern half of Kosovska Mitrovica got ugly (think Molotov cocktail ugly). The clash left one U.N. police officer dead and more than 130 people injured. And despite today's calls for an end to the violence from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, riots have only continued.

You may be wondering: Why is it so important for Kosovo to keep this little town within its newly declared borders? Ask an Albanian Kosovar, and he'll tell you it's not. Mitrovica is a sad little town, once ravaged by war and now home to a bunch of scared, isolated Serbs. And the same can be said for many small towns situated between Kosovo's northern border with Serbia and the Ibar River.

So why not just let them go? After all, if Albanian-majority Kosovo can just leave Serbia, why can't Serb-majority Mitrovica leave Kosovo in turn?

Because, for the last eight years, the West has toed the "partition is not an option" line, and with good reason. In a region already teeming with disputed boundaries drawn around ethnically cleansed communities (fruits of the wars of the 1990s), partition could only make things worse.

Looking at Kosovo alone, partition would be tough. More than half of Kosovo's Serbs live south of the Ibar. To only partition the northern enclaves would only half address the issue, and even moderate partitioning would indirectly legitimize the population swapping that turned so bloody back in 1999. Regionally speaking, partition would also only add fuel to separatist flames, sending the wrong message to Serbs in Bosnia's Repulika Srpska and Albanians in Macedonia.

So even as the U.N. withdraws its forces from the north, the West will keep up its "no partition" mantra. Good thing, too. The last thing Europe needs right now is a precedent for the creation of endless mini ethnic states.