The rapidly spreading chaos in Libya should give the American people pause, and may end up giving the U.S. military another item to add to its endless to-do list. Setting the stage for what might be called the battle for Tripoli, anti-government forces and rebel military units are moving from the country’s apparently “liberated” east to face off against Moammar Gadhafi’s Praetorian Guard of tribal and regime loyalists. The New York Times described “clusters of heavily armed men in mismatched uniforms clutching machine guns,” “dozens of checkpoints operated by . . . plainclothes militiamen,” and “machine-gun toting foreign mercenaries” stalking […]

A lot of international relations theories are being stress-tested by events in the Arab world right now, with some emerging better than others. Two in particular that are worth mentioning are Ian Bremmer’s 2006 book, “The J Curve,” which predicts a dangerous dip into instability when closed, authoritarian states attempt to open up to the world; and Evgeny Morozov’s new book, “The Net Delusion,” which critiques the notion that Internet connectivity is inherently democratizing. (In the interests of transparency, I work as a consultant for Bremmer’s political risk consultancy, Eurasia Group, and penned a pre-publication blurb for Morozov’s book.) Both […]

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When she was first named foreign minister last November, I, like most observers, noted Michèle Alliot-Marie’s reputation as a professional, the kind of minister who could be counted on to take care of business and not make headlines. She arguably delivered on the first count, but was done in by her abject failure to deliver on the second, with the never-ending revelations from her ill-fated Christmas holiday in Tunisia fatally undermining her legitimacy as the face of France’s foreign policy. Nevertheless, it’s worth repeating that Alliot-Marie’s failings were a function of her professionalism — that is, they reflect the standard […]

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The African Union recently announced its intention to develop an African naval force, which would fight illegal fishing, piracy and environmental problems in Africa’s collective exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In an e-mail interview, Johan Potgieter, a retired captain in the South African navy and a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in South African, discussed the AU’s proposed naval force. WPR: What need does this proposal respond to? Johan Potgieter: Thirty-nine of the 54 countries in Africa are either coastal states or islands, with another five situated on the vast Great Lakes of central Africa. As a consequence, […]

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If the debate about how the U.S. and the international community should respond to the carnage in Libya highlights one thing, it is that we still have not arrived at either a domestic or global consensus about when and why to intervene militarily in the affairs of a sovereign state. I include Iraq in the title of this post for three reasons. First, the pre-emptive nature of the Iraq invasion in many ways served to sidetrack the debate over humanitarian interventions. Second, the outcome of the Iraq War served to chasten the broad middle of the policy debate, if not […]

As more sickening details emerge of what actually happened to CBS reporter Lara Logan in Tahrir Square on Feb. 13, the partisan rhetoric shows no signs of abating. Some claim that it was “pro-Mubarak” thugs who sexually assaulted and almost killed the 39-year-old mother of two, while others point the finger at “pro-liberation” hooligans. Still others have used the incident to demonize Muslims in general. Such distinctions, however, have nothing to do with why Logan was attacked and, in fact, obscure the real issue. Like many millions of women, girls and young boys around the world, Logan was not a […]

Much analysis of the wave of unrest sweeping the Middle East has identified economic hardship as a crucial motivation for the uprisings. Many Middle East experts pointed to unemployment and the rising price of food in Tunisia to explain that country’s uprising. The same experts pointed to unemployment and mass poverty to explain the subsequent Egyptian uprising. But after Egyptians successfully ousted Hosni Mubarak, unrest subsequently spread to Libya, Algeria, Iran, Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan, countries with very diverse economic conditions. Standards of living in Bahrain and Libya, for example, are much higher than in Egypt and Yemen. Furthermore, the […]

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The East African Community, comprising Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, recently launched a $300 million infrastructure program aimed at reducing the cost of doing business in the region. In an e-mail interview, Andrew Roberts, senior operations officer in the World Bank’s Africa Regional Integration Department, discussed infrastructure and development in the East African Community. WPR: What are the major areas of underdeveloped infrastructure within the East African Community? Andrew Roberts: Electricity access in the countries in the subregion is very low, ranging from 5 percent in Burundi and Rwanda to 30 percent in Sudan in 2008. Because demand is […]

For players of the decades-old parlor game of divining succession in despotic Arab regimes, one rule never varied: The current dictator would personally choose his successor, almost always selecting one of his sons to head the regime after his death. Until this week, that dynastic pattern seemed certain to apply to Libya’s Col. Moammar Gadhafi, whose sons have spent years seeking their flamboyant father’s favor and jockeying for position within that most peculiar of regimes. The eccentric, histrionic and often-buffoonish Gadhafi has provided four decades of outrage, disbelief and even entertainment for outside observers. For those living under his rule, […]

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Niger held a first-round presidential election in January that will go a to runoff between the two leading candidates March 12. The vote is expected to bring an end to military rule in the West African country, following a February 2010 coup. In an e-mail interview, Alex Thurston, a doctoral candidate in the Religion Department at Northwestern University and author of the Sahel Blog, discussed Niger’s election. WPR: What are the ethnic, political and institutional fault lines in Niger, and which of the main candidates represents them? Alex Thurston: News reports have emphasized political fault lines in the presidential election, […]

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This report by the Pentagon Channel, the U.S. Defense Department’s TV news service, on the killing of four Americans by pirates on February 22, includes an interview with U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Mark Fox, commander of U.S. Navy Forces Central Command, who describes the events after U.S. forces boarded the pirated vessel Quest off the coast of East Africa.

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The discussion of the impact of social media like Twitter and Facebook on popular uprisings has focused on their role as networking and organizing tools. Their function as broadcast media has been less appreciated. The thought was triggered by something we haven’t seen in the recent uprisings: the storming of state television networks — even if in Egypt there were some late moves to assemble in front of the network headquarters. In historical terms, control of a broadcast medium has been critical to revolutions. Because most of those broadcast media have been infrastructure-heavy, to contest state control of them, a […]

On Feb. 2, a car exploded 12 miles outside Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, killing three suspected terrorists and wounding several soldiers. Mauritanian security forces identified the terrorists’ intended target as the French embassy in Nouakchott, a claim repeated by a man arrested in the operation. However, in the aftermath of the attack, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released a statement, claiming the real target had been the president of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz. A few days later, AQIM released another statement to a state news agency threatening additional attempts on the president’s life. The […]

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Ugandans will vote in elections on Friday that are expected to extend President Museveni’s term to 30 years. He’s facing a fierce challenge from a former ally, Kizza Besigye. Besiye says he was cheated of victory in the last two elections and promises protests if vote rigging happens again.

What kind of country do Egyptians want to build? That is one of the most important questions arising from the country’s recent revolution, one with enormous geopolitical consequences and whose answer remains clouded in speculation, mystery and contradiction. Egyptians toppled their government in part because it cared little about their views and priorities. Until now, the public had negligible influence in the country’s policymaking process. That has changed suddenly and dramatically. Without a history of open political discourse and competitive elections, however, it is unclear what path Egyptians will choose in the coming months when, presumably, democracy will turn public […]

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In an effort to dial in a bit on the ways in which Twitter and social media in general have altered the tactical and strategic terrain of popular uprisings, I’ll toss out a few ideas that have been taking shape over the course of the past few weeks. Last time I visited this subject, I was skeptical about how determinant an impact social media might have on political revolutions. Clearly, the events in Egypt give reason for a skeptic to reconsider. The speed with which an ostensibly leaderless uprising managed to achieve its topline goal reveals something. The question remains, […]

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