The Saudi intervention in Bahrain has upped the ante in the Saudi-Iranian cold war, crystallizing it into a wider Sunni-Shiite schism in the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia has reportedly invoked a treaty with Sunni-dominated Pakistan to secure troops to stabilize both Bahrain and its own oil-rich eastern provinces. Riyadh has also asked Turkey to make it clear to Iran that interference in the Gulf states will not be tolerated. At the other end of the spectrum, Shiites worldwide are enraged at what they see as Western duplicity in not stopping Saudi heavy-handedness in Bahrain, while showing solidarity with anti-regime protestors […]

Six months ago, Hosni Mubarak was the unchallenged ruler of Egypt, and his son Gamal was generally assumed to be the heir-apparent — a modernizer and reformer waiting in the wings. Today, Mubarak père is detained in hospital, while Mubarak fils is prisoner No. 23 at Tora Farm, the country’s most notorious prison. The wheel of fortune has turned so dramatically for the Mubaraks, in part because the provisional military government found it necessary to mollify protesters — who continue to challenge its reform bona fides — by vigorously taking action against the ancien regime. Indeed, with the wheels of […]

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For many Cuba-watchers, the highlight of Fidel Castro’s speech before the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana on Saturday was a call to shorten term limits for the country’s politicians. The Castro brothers have held office so tightly and for so long, however, that questions are being raised about the extent to which Cuba’s relatively tiny circle of political elite can nurture the sort of leadership transition that now appears on the near horizon. “It’s a fair question, whether there are a broad enough set of younger people who can assume the mantle of leadership inside the […]

When the Arab uprisings started spreading across the Middle East, human rights and democracy activists around the world held high hopes that the peaceful push for reform would spread to the many countries where populations live under repressive leadership. After protesters succeeded in overthrowing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a British member of parliament declared, “I would like to see regime change in Zimbabwe and Burma.” The sentiment was optimistically echoed by exiles of repressive states and their supporters in many places. For a moment, it seemed as if the exultant Egyptian protesters might just unleash a wave of freedom that […]

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In an attempt to salvage his 24-year hold on power, Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaore, has responded to mounting unrest in the West African nation by dissolving his cabinet and sacking the country’s top military commanders — hasty moves made early this week after soldiers, protesting over undelivered housing allowances, began looting parts of the capital. While his goal may be to mollify angry demonstrators, Compaore is ultimately doing what “[Hosni] Mubarak tried to do and what [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali tried,” says David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Burkina Faso, now at George Washington University’s Elliot School […]

Although events in the Middle East confirm that the power of an angry crowd in a public square remains potent, the Internet is fast becoming the medium of choice for spreading political ideas. The number of global Internet users has doubled during the past five years, and now exceeds 2 billion people. In response, governments worldwide are seeking new means to influence and often control this discourse. Freedom House’s newly released report, “Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media” (.pdf), shows how governments have employed deviously creative tactics to control Web sites, blogs and […]

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Tension simmered in Yemen on Monday after a fruitless meeting with Gulf mediators and violent late night demonstrations in Sanaa. Late on Sunday, hundreds of thousands protested against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s call for an end to men and women demonstrating together against the regime, and called for his departure.

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The Chinese government’s decision, reportedly made at the highest levels, to arrest not only world-renowned artist Ai Weiwei, but also several of Ai’s lesser-known associates, raises the question of what criteria, if any, Chinese authorities use to determine who to target with such crackdowns. Understanding the political calculus behind the crackdowns is no easy task, according to Iain Mills, a Beijing-based World Politics Review contributor. “It’s ambiguous and totally arbitrary, really. There is no apparent logic as to when they decide to arrest someone,” Mills told Trend Lines earlier this week, noting that “probably 90 percent of those arrested or […]

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The uprising against the 41-year rule of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi began peacefully. But when government troops used force to suppress the demonstrations, they escalated into what increasingly looks like a civil war. Opposition forces, based mostly in the east, are fighting the much better-equipped and better-trained Gadhafi troops. But their leaders are trying to change that.

DENPASAR, Indonesia — The recent spate of popular uprisings in the Middle East has surprised and captivated public attention. It is now widely expected that policymakers in Washington, Brussels and the U.N., among others, will draft pro-democracy aid packages for the region, many of which will focus on security sector reform (SSR). This is a welcome development, but in the rush to support Egypt, Tunisia and possibly Yemen and Libya, aid donors should not forget countries that are already going through a similar process. Indonesia is a case in point. The archipelago nation, with its 240 million inhabitants, happens to […]

One year ago, Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya was being praised for its efforts to become a responsible stakeholder in the international system. Meanwhile, Gadhafi’s children, especially his son Saif al-Islam, were being cultivated as the best hope for initiating a process of political and economic reform, so that Libya might replicate the path blazed by Taiwan, where another dynastic transfer of power from father to son led to democratization. Indeed, Gadhafi’s son Khamis was in the United States on a professional internship when the current crisis broke out. He was quickly recalled to take command of the 32nd Reinforced Brigade of […]

SHANGHAI — North Korea has long been an important link in East Asia’s organized criminal networks. But recent reports suggest that, as the collapse of the country’s planned economy continues, the scale of these activities may be expanding and the dynamics behind them changing. While Chinese, South Korean and other Asian criminal networks have historically been active in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), traditionally the North Korean government was also a major participant in illegal activities. It is known to have been engaged in narcotics production and trafficking, people trafficking and currency forgery. However, as the country’s planned […]

Many Western observers hope that India’s growth as a global power will both balance China’s rise and ensure that rise remains peaceful. Indeed, the U.S. has identified India as a crucial partner for the coming century, and as part of its effort to cultivate a strategic partnership with New Delhi, Washington has even pledged to help India develop its nuclear energy capabilities. But the continued disappearance of India’s women and girls described in preliminary census figures released last week is putting the future of India’s security partnership with the West at risk. According to the census figures, the sex ratio […]

On April 4, 2011, Kazakhstan’s Central Election Commission (CEC) announced the preliminary results of the presidential elections held the previous day. As expected, incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev won re-election by a wide margin, garnering 95.5 percent of the votes cast. The CEC will announce the final results in a few days, but these are not expected to change the outcome. Despite noting significant irregularities, most of the international observation teams confirmed the outcome’s validity. China, Russia, the United States and many other governments have already congratulated Nazarbayev on his victory. But the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) […]

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The announcement this week that the United States is effectively pulling its longtime support for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in favor of political transition in Yemen have spawned a fresh wave of reports about the threat of al-Qaida in the country. The country’s political tumult has prompted many Yemeni military troops to abandon their posts, while others have been summoned to the capital, according to the New York Times, which reports that the resulting power vacuum is being filled by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The extent and true nature of the al-Qaida threat in Yemen, however, continue to […]

The ebb and flow of the Libyan civil war has led most American and European commentators to draw two conclusions. First, the conflict will end with a negotiated settlement. Second, international peacekeepers may be required to make any deal work. The case for a negotiated settlement is based on the simple fact that a military solution to the crisis is unlikely: The rebels probably cannot win on the battlefield, and Col. Moammar Gadhafi cannot be allowed to do so. A stalemate is also unappealing, not least because it would require the U.S. and Europeans to continue policing Libya’s airspace, at […]