Around the World

News from around the globe impacting our world.

Japan Nuclear Crisis to Last Nine Months. The operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says it expects to bring the plant to "cold shutdown" by the end of the year. The story from the BBC.

The Ongoing Brutal Crackdown in Bahrain. Arrests and troop movements signal another government crackdown on protests in the Gulf state. Both The Guardian and Al Jazeera have coverage.

Cuba to Introduce Wide Reforms. Speaking at the start he first congress of Cuba's ruling Communist Party in 14 years, Cuban President Raúl Castro is calling for wide political and economic reforms. Castro said top political positions should be limited to two five-year terms, and promised "systematic rejuvenation" of the government. In terms of economic reforms, free education and healthcare would still be guaranteed, but mass subsidies of basic goods would be removed and social spending would be "rationalized". More from the BBC.

Early Returns in Nigeria Favor Incumbent. Goodluck Jonathan, the incumbent president leads in Christian south while his main rival, Muhammu Buhari, is ahead in Muslim north as counting is under way. Full coverage from All Africa

World Bank President Warns of Crisis. Robert Zoellick, the President of the World Bank, is warning that the world is "one shock away from a full-blown crisis." In particular, Zoellick is worried that rising food prices pose the main threat to poor nations who risk "losing a generation". The story from the BBC.

A Hong Kong Bubble? The Asia Sentinel looks at the real estate market in Hong Kong. Hong Kong likes to lay the blame for its escalating property prices on the influx of mainland money, particularly into high-end apartments. However the latest evidence from the HK Monetary Authority suggests that Hong Kong is doing much to help the process along. Meanwhile the territory's lending institutions are helping mainland firms avoid the rather modest efforts that China has been making to rein in credit growth.

Finns Voting in Crucial Parliamentary Elections. Finns are voting today in elections that may have a deep impact on the sovereign debt crisis in Eurozone countries and for the future of the euro itself. Finland has a unicameral Parliament with 200 seats and all seats are being contested. These elections, against the backdrop of the ongoing Irish and Portuguese debt crises, have seen the rise of right wing populism in the Nordic country. The polls show that the True Finns party, led by Timo Soini, stand to gain close to 20 percent of the vote in Sunday's elections on an anti-Islam, anti-Europe platform. Der Spiegel has a preview of the Finnish elections and what's at stake in this one of the most pro-Europe countries in the EU. I'll have a wrap-up later once results are in.

In the Middle East, the Obama Administration is Still Failing to Live up to its Rhetoric

In a speech earlier this week to the U.S. – Islamic World Forum Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again exposed tensions at the core of the Obama administration’s response to popular uprisings for human dignity throughout the Middle East and North Africa. These inconsistencies leave human rights and democracy activists in the region wondering which side the U.S. government is on, and how far it is prepared to support a new vision for a region grounded in democratic government, respect for the rule of law and human rights.

The general theory of the administration’s approach to the region is clear enough: denying the legitimate rights and aspirations of people throughout the region is not a sustainable way for governments to rule.  In her speech secretary Clinton spoke of “exposed myths…that governments can hold on to power without responding to their people’s aspirations or respecting their rights.”

Problems come when the administration is required to apply its theory in practice in the form of specific policies designed to deal with the challenges presented by specific country situations.  Here the speech is laced with caveats and qualifications: will the Arab spring result in lasting reforms?  Well, “these questions can only be answered by the people and leaders of the Middle East and North Africa themselves. The United States certainly does not have all the answers…” Hardly a ringing endorsement of the reform agenda.

There's more...

In the Middle East, the Obama Administration is Still Failing to Live up to its Rhetoric

In a speech earlier this week to the U.S. – Islamic World Forum Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again exposed tensions at the core of the Obama administration’s response to popular uprisings for human dignity throughout the Middle East and North Africa. These inconsistencies leave human rights and democracy activists in the region wondering which side the U.S. government is on, and how far it is prepared to support a new vision for a region grounded in democratic government, respect for the rule of law and human rights.

The general theory of the administration’s approach to the region is clear enough: denying the legitimate rights and aspirations of people throughout the region is not a sustainable way for governments to rule.  In her speech secretary Clinton spoke of “exposed myths…that governments can hold on to power without responding to their people’s aspirations or respecting their rights.”

Problems come when the administration is required to apply its theory in practice in the form of specific policies designed to deal with the challenges presented by specific country situations.  Here the speech is laced with caveats and qualifications: will the Arab spring result in lasting reforms?  Well, “these questions can only be answered by the people and leaders of the Middle East and North Africa themselves. The United States certainly does not have all the answers…” Hardly a ringing endorsement of the reform agenda.

There's more...

A Deepening of Democracy in the Islamic World

Though few would have ever predicted it at the time in the last quarter of the 20th century, there was a great march towards democratic governance the world over. This great march began in of all places in Portugal on 25 April 1974 in a nearly bloodless military coup that overthrew the Estado Novo, a 48 year old fascist dictatorship. The events of that Spring in Lisbon are now remembered as the Revolução dos Cravos, the Carnation Revolution. The coup began in the early morning with playing of two songs on Lisbon radio: first spun was E Depois do Adeus, Portugal's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 sung by Paulo de Carvalho, to signal the start and José Alfonso's banned song Grandola Vila Morena to signal its success. In the wake of the coup by junior military officers tired of endless and unwinnable wars in Africa and Timor Leste, the citizens of Lisbon came out into the streets and placed carnations into the barrels of their rather nervous army. Though it would take Portugal another five months to unwind itself of its Empire and the country would struggle through some political instability, the country would make the transition from an authoritarian dictatorship to a liberal democracy at the end of a two-year process of a communist-dominated military administration.

Portugal was followed by the fall of the Greek Junta in July 1974 and following the death of Generalísimo Francisco Franco in November 1975 Spain would begin its transition to a liberal democracy. Few were sanguine for the prospects for democracy in southern Europe. The British historian James Cleugh would write that "Spain is not, and will never be, a 'democratic' country." James Mitchner, the American author, predicted that after Franco would come another Iberian tyrant. And as for Greece, observers, then and now, wondered if the passion of Greeks for killing one another has really ceased.

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