So far, the wave of protests jolting the Middle East has targeted mostly regimes friendly to the United States. With the prominent exception of Libya, a country that is rather peripheral to the region’s political life, the uprisings of the Arab Spring have weakened Washington’s friends and, consequently, brought satisfaction to its foes. All of that could change with the events unfolding in the latest country engulfed by reformist protests, Syria. Much like Egypt, Syria stands at the heart of the Middle East. But unlike Cairo, Damascus has remained a very large thorn in America’s side for decades. Run by […]

KIGALI, Rwanda — On a Thursday afternoon in February, a plot worthy of a Hollywood script unfolded in Goma, the freewheeling provincial capital that clings to the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Starring a high-profile Congolese fugitive, a cadre of foreign businessmen and a U.S.-registered Gulfstream jet, the tale featured a car chase that resulted in the seizure of $6.8 million in cash and a dramatic runway arrest that netted a half-ton of gold. Four foreign nationals — including a Frenchman, two Nigerians and a Houston-based diamond dealer — are now awaiting trial in the Congolese capital, […]

Observers around the world are glued to their TV and computer screens, barely able to keep pace with popular protests seizing one Middle Eastern country after another and changing the Arab world for good. Yet, largely ignored by Western media, the revolutionary wave of the “Arab Spring” has also reached the autonomous Kurdistan Region in Iraq, where it could have the dangerous side effect of plunging the whole of Iraq back into sectarian violence at the very moment the last American troops are scheduled to leave. Unsurprisingly, the popular protests originated in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan’s most secular and liberal city, where […]

Kazakhstan’s oil and gas reserves, as well as its pivotal location, make it of strategic importance to the United States and its allies. But in the run-up to Kazakhstan’s presidential election later this week, the country’s contested democratic practices and uncertain transition to the next generation of political leaders leaves its future unclear. Unfortunately, due to Washington’s preoccupation with the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan, both Kazakhstan and its upcoming election run the risk of being largely overlooked. Last month, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev rejected the idea of using a national referendum to extend his term until 2020, despite […]

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Amid all the criticism of the U.S. and coalition military intervention in Libya, one strain in particular has focused on the role played by France and President Nicolas Sarkozy in leading the charge toward action. In his typically thorough fashion, Art Goldhammer does a great job of explaining both the personal and political factors behind Sarkozy’s zeal. As Goldhammer mentions, there is the thirst for glory, the appetite for risk, the desire to make up for flubbing Tunisia and receiving Gadhafi on a state visit to Paris in December 2007, as well as the potential boost a global leadership role […]

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The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has long been considered among the region’s most stable. But a growing uprising, along with the government’s aggressive crackdown on demonstrators yesterday, have many wondering if the Assad family’s decades-old grip on power might finally be breaking. A Washington Post report this morning called the demonstrations “the most serious unrest” of Assad’s 11-year tenure. (His father, Hafez, ruled the country for 29 years before him.) The Post cited a pre-dawn raid on the southern city of Daraa by Syrian security forces “in which dozens of people were killed, according to witnesses and activists.” […]

The young men and women who took over Cairo’s Tahrir Square in late-January electrified the Arab world with their calls for building a new Middle East. When their peaceful protests subsequently toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, they took the first step toward moving their country from decades of autocratic rule into a future of democracy. Six weeks into that future, the forces of liberal democracy have suffered their first major defeat. On Saturday, Egyptians by the millions went to the polls to cast their vote on proposed changes to the constitution. The progressive leaders of the uprising struggled to get […]

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Greg Scoblete responded to my argument in support of a military intervention in Libya, which he aptly dubbed the “Because We Can” standard, by questioning just what it is we think we can do: It’s important to recognize that intervening in Libya and bombing Gaddafi’s supporters is not the same thing as finding a politically acceptable end-state to the country’s rebellion — a fact that is being resolutely overlooked by most of the campaign’s supporters. So, yes, there are very low barriers to entry in Libya, which makes it attractive where a campaign against Bahrain or Burma is much less […]

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In addition to spreading across the region, the Arab uprisings are inspiring peaceful demonstrations away from the Middle East — perhaps most notably, albeit with little international news coverage, in the former Soviet bloc country of Armenia. More than 10,000 anti-government protesters rallied last week in the capital, Yerevan, where according to the Associated Press, opposition leader and former President Levon Ter-Petrosian claimed the demonstration was inspired by the revolts in the Arab world. Outcry has mounted since Serzh Sargsyan, a former prime minister, became the nation’s third president in a disputed 2008 election, the immediate aftermath of which was […]

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Contrary to what opponents of a military intervention in Libya are claiming, the U.S. is not at war with Libya. In fact, it’s very possible that the U.S. will not even be directly engaged in any eventual acts of war against Libya. And though endgames, outcomes and objectives are valid concerns and necessary considerations, much of the hand-wringing is premature. The U.N. Security Council resolution will allow outside powers to target Moammar Gadhafi’s air and ground forces to keep them from delivering the final blow that was all but imminent even as the council voted on the measure last night. […]

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A majority of Tibetan parliamentarians-in-exile oppose the Dalai Lama’s decision to step down as their political leader. The political future of the Dalai Lama was on the agenda Tuesday when the Parliament-in-exile met in Dharamsala, India.

If there is one thing we have learned from the events of the last few weeks, it is to expect the unexpected and to at least consider the possibility that worst-case scenarios will materialize. No one could have predicted that in a matter of a few hours the world’s third-largest economy would suffer a triple disaster — a massive earthquake, a devastating tsunami and a slow-motion nuclear nightmare — just as no one expected that a fruit salesman in Tunisia would trigger a chain reaction of uprisings in the Middle East. Nassim Taleb called these high-impact, low-probability events Black Swans, […]

For the authoritarian leader, holding onto power is both an art and a science. Much depends on crafting a strategy to deal with the unique social and political characteristics of a given country. However, autocrats also take cues from events in foreign countries and build their institutions accordingly. Many observers of global politics are watching China and North Korea to see if protests and unrest currently roiling the Middle East will spread there. The leaders of China, Myanmar, North Korea and other authoritarian states are watching North Africa just as closely, in order to learn what to expect next. One […]

What a difference a year makes. On March 14, provisional results announced by Niger’s electoral commissioner gave veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou the edge in a presidential poll widely hailed as free and fair and accepted gracefully by his defeated opponent, former Prime Minister Seini Oumarou. The election fulfilled the hopes and anticipations for a strong democratic showing from Niger, which had flirted with chaos after a military coup ousted President Mamadou Tandja in February 2010. Tandja’s desire to remain in office beyond his term was opposed by the armed forces, which had helped him assume power in the first […]

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Just a few final thoughts on the opportunity I believe we missed in Libya. To begin with, many of the counterarguments to a U.S. military intervention are sound. As I’ve already agreed, a no-fly zone is unlikely to be decisive. The same holds true for a limited air strike of the kind I suggested. The advantage of the latter is that it very clearly signals our support for the anti-Gadhafi forces, who we could then supply with less-visible logistical and material support, while allowing us to avoid the long-term commitment of forces and resources of a no-fly zone. But in […]

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The swiftness with which the global media spotlight withdrew from Egypt’s Tahrir Square has been rivaled by the break-neck pace at which Egypt is implementing reforms. In what today’s Washington Post called a “crash course in constitutional confusion,” 40 million Egyptians are expected to vote Saturday on proposed constitutional amendments, the most significant of which would curb runaway executive powers that were exercised for more than 30 years by ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Noting the referendum is “the first in decades that doesn’t amount to a sham,” the Post cited pundits and politicians expressing “deep concern that citizens are ill-prepared […]

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In one of the most violent confrontations since troops killed seven protesters last month, police used tear gas and water cannon to break up demonstrations against the kingdom’s royal family on Sunday, March 14. Witnesses said rubber bullets were also fired by police. Bahrain is gripped in its worst unrest since the 1990s For several weeks now the Shi’ite majority has held rallies complaining against what it says is discrimination by the ruling Sunni minority.

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