Russian drivers can now turn right on red (at some intersections)

The following is a guest post from Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

Suddenly there is a tiny bright spot on the decidedly bleak social canvass of Vladimir Putin's Russia. For the first time in history, the Russians will be able to turn right on red.

To be sure, after a year and half of discussions, it is still an "experiment," confined to only a few intersections in Moscow and the southwestern city of Belgorod. Yet amid Putinism's increasingly rigid dichotomies and the state's relentless strangulation and subversion of independent civil society institutions, first and foremost NGOs, the government ceding at least one iota of decision-making to its citizens by leaving it up to them to interpret the law and make their own choices is something to cheer.

Besides, one of the Moscow intersections at which the experiment is taking place is Andropov Prospekt, named after the Soviet Union's longest-serving KBG chief and general secretary from 1982 to 1984.

Go right on red, Russia! Go right on red!



New addition to the blogosphere: Egypt's foreign policy through translation, darkly

The Egyptian government is promoting a new blog showcasing the work of the Egyptian Foreign Policy Forum, a state-sponsored think tank. But the target audience isn't just Egyptians -- the first few posts indicate that officials are looking for an audience abroad as much as at home.

That's because almost all of the articles are translated into English. They include big-picture think pieces with titles like "Egyptian Foreign Policy, a New Vision," and more specific policy outlines like "Egypt and Russia, Horizons of Cooperation." What's more: They're translated verbatim.

Maybe that shouldn't be a surprise. But over the past year, Egyptian officials have made a habit of saying one thing in English and something very different to their constituents in Arabic. There was the Twitter sparring last September, when the Muslim Brotherhood's English-language feed tweeted after the protests on Sept. 11, "We r relieved none of @USEmbassyCairo staff  were hamed & hope US-Eg relations will sustain turbulence of Tuesday's events," while praising the protests, which breached the embassy compound, in Arabic. "Thanks. By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too," the U.S. Embassy account shot back (the tweet was later deleted). More recently, there was the Brotherhood's consolatory message to the U.S. government in the wake of the Boston marathon bombing, and, in stark contrast, a bizarre, conspiracy-laden rant posted to Facebook in Arabic.

The blog's sole Arabic-only posts so far are on Egyptian-Sudanese and Egyptian-Libyan relations, and they don't delve into anything scandalous -- both are pretty bland discussions of border economic zones and, in the case of Sudan, water-sharing rights.

There are a couple interesting tidbits tucked away in the English articles. Specifically, "A New Vision" states Egypt's intention to achieve a position of "regional leadership and special international status," including "a permanent seat in the UN Security Council." (Egypt's been swinging for the fences lately -- in March, it proposed joining the BRICS as well.) In "Egypt and Russia," the Egyptian administration expresses its interest in "achieving balance, independence, and political influence in foreign relations," breaking free of "the shackles of subordination and occupation." "This can be realized through the development of relations with different countries across the globe including Russia," the policy paper states.

All in all, it's not that provocative (though maybe a bit grandiose). But is it sincere? There's no reason to think these bland policy pronouncements aren't expressed in good faith -- but they're just a few more data points amid Egypt's many mixed messages.