Huffington Post: Egypt Map Shows Why Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam Is Such A Big Deal

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Egypt Map Shows Why Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam Is Such A Big Deal

June 14, 2013

The Associated Press reports that Ethiopia has ratified a landmark accord with five other African countries concerning the shared use of the Nile River and its tributaries. The agreement is seen as a step forward in Ethiopia’s plans to build a massive, hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile River, which feeds the Nile. Egypt is neither a signatory of the new agreement nor a supporter of the dam, and Egyptian politicians have recently been caught suggesting that the dam be sabotaged, according to AP. If you are wondering why Egypt cares so much about the construction of a dam along the Blue Nile 1,400 miles away, look no further than the following map:

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Created by Wikipedia user Giorgiogp2, this map depicts the population density of Egypt in 2010, measured in persons per kilometer squared, with the deeper shades having higher density. Data was taken from Columbia University’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center.

The fight for control of the Nile is a complex and long-running issue involving factors such as British colonial policies, economics, and massive environmental questions. Organizations like GlobalPost, Reuters, and The Economist have terrific in-depth stories explaining these concerns. But ultimately, Egypt’s commitment to preserving its control of the river is very easy to explain: the Nile is Egypt, and Egypt is the Nile.

Egypt is the most populous country in the Middle East — the government estimates a population of close to 84.6 million people — yet 97 percent of the country is barren desert. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 99 percent of the Egyptian population lives on that remaining 3 percent, most of which is the Nile River valley and delta, as the population density map shows. Though Egypt is yet to actually threaten military action to halt the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, President Mohamed Morsi has stated that all options are on the table. What is clear to Morsi was clear to every ruler of Egypt reaching back to the Pharaohs: without the Nile, there is nothing.

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Huffington Post: Why Is Turkey Protesting? A Look At What Taksim’s Protesters Are Angry About

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Why Is Turkey Protesting? A Look At What Taksim’s Protesters Are Angry About

June 4, 2013

It began as a nice day in the park. On May 30, before Turks drew the wrath of their government and the attention of the world, a group of activists congregated in a small park in Istanbul, hoping to save it from being razed for the construction of a shopping mall and replica Ottoman barracks. Only 1.5 percent of Istanbul is devoted to public green space, making Gezi Park a key respite within the sprawling metropolis. The day had “a festival-like atmosphere,” with people singing, dancing and eating watermelon and chickpeas sold by street vendors, the Atlantic Cities reports.

Then police raided the demonstration with tear gas and water cannons, more protestors appeared in response, and the once peaceful protest morphed into a massive outpouring of anger at the Turkish government.

Now it seems protesters are airing as many grievances as there are mosques in Istanbul: complaints of aggressive urban development; the loss of cultural heritage; violations of press freedom; growing Islamism in the government; police brutality; Turkish support of Syrian rebels; and the pursuit of peace with the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

Through every complaint runs the idea that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now entering his 11th year in power, is ignoring the wishes of his people in pursuit of his own authoritarian goals. The police abuses over the past week have been well documented, but Erdogan cannot be seen simply as Turkey’s Hosni Mubarak or Muammar Gaddafi. The climate and circumstances in Turkey are not so easily simplified.

Was Recep Tayyip Erdogan democratically elected?

Yes. Turkey has been a parliamentary republic since 1923, and despite a history of single-party rule and military coups, its elections of late have been widely hailed as both free and fair. When Erdogan was first elected Prime Minister in 2002, his Justice and Development Party (AKP) controlled a majority of Turkey’s legislature despite receiving only 34 percent of the total votes. The country remains strongly divided, but AKP’s tally has grown in each successive election, culminating in a full 50 percent of votes in 2011. The AKP’s advancement comes in large part from Turkey’s economic revitalization over the past decade, when the nation rode a massive growth wave while the neighboring European Union, which Turkey hopes to join, faltered.

What do Erdogan and his party want?

AKP is typically described as a socially conservative, pro-business, moderately Islamic party. New development projects reflect the party’s pro-business tilt, though bolstering Turkey’s economy often comes at the expense of cultural landmarks and the environment. The reconstruction of Gezi Park fully epitomizes that dichotomy.

Though not the first moderate Islamic party in Turkey (in fact, it was built on the bases of similar, older parties), AKP is by far the most powerful. Much has been made of the conversion of a secular Turkish state toward a more Islamic society. Since taking power, Erdogan has converted secular schools into religious schools and ended the ban on headscarves in universities, a change he intends to extend to government offices, according to Hurriyet Daily News. In late May, AKP also spearheaded a law limiting when and where alcohol can be sold.

Isn’t Turkey already Islamic?

Though Turkey’s population is 99.8 percent Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook, its modern state is built on the principle of secularism. The founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, wanted Turkey to make a clean break from the Ottoman Empire that preceded it, according to Bloomberg, and even went so far as to change printed Turkish from an Arabic to a Latin script. Erdogan’s critics accuse him of chipping away at Turkey’s secular foundations and moving the state gradually toward an Iran-styled theocracy.

Is the Turkish public against Erdogan’s Islamic bent?

Hard to say. Ataturk is almost universally revered by Turks, and pro-secular rallies regularly draw in the hundreds of thousands in Turkey. At the same time, pro-Islamic parties have steadily gained power, driven by the rural, conservative base that now supports AKP. It’s unclear if Turkey’s democracy and secularism are fully compatible. The first time an Islamist party gained control of the government, in 1997, it was forced out of power in a bloodless coup orchestrated by the pro-secular army.

When it comes to the reforms made thus far, Erdogan seems to have the backing of most Turks. A 2007 KONDA Consultancy poll found that 69 percent of Turkish citizens cover their heads or are married to someone who does, and a full 78 percent opposed the ban on head-covering in universities. But some Turks point to AKP’s links to the Fethullah Gulen movement, a massive Islamic NGO that runs schools around the world, and argue the party’s true goal is a fully Islamic state.

The growing emphasis on Turkey’s Islamic identity has also served as a basis for Erdogan’s entreaties with the armed separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which brought about a historic ceasefire earlier this year. Ataturk’s Turkish nationalism had no place for the Kurds, but Islamism promises to unite Turks and Kurds through a common religious identity.

Why hasn’t the military been able to stop Erdogan?

Ultimately, Erdogan is stronger. He was a member of the Islamic party ousted in 1997, and since AKP took power, the army and judiciary have tried to ban AKP and its candidates from national elections, but have failed. In return, AKP launched a massive investigation into a shadowy group known as Ergenekon, which it “claimed had been responsible for virtually every act of political violence – and controlled every terrorist group – in Turkey over the last 30 years,” according to the Turkey Analyst. Subsequent prosecutions were almost certainly politically motivated, as army generals and journalists who criticized AKP and the Fethullah Gulen movement have been pursued. More than 400 military officers have been jailed, cowing a once powerful bulwark of Turkey’s founding principles.

While the Ergenekon cases are one of the main grievances of the protesters, the public is still divided on what role the military should play, and even Turkey’s main opposition party wants to limit its political activities.

Has Erdogan squelched the freedom of the press?

Unquestionably. As of 2012, Turkey was the world’s worst jailer of journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, members of the media who criticize government actions or publish information it does not want public are charged and imprisoned through a variety of anti-terrorism laws. Journalists who question the existence of Ergenekon are soon charged with membership in Ergenekon. Even more journalists are fired or silenced by their employers, who fear prosecution. The Turkish government even banned Youtube entirely in 2008, based on charges the site hosted videos critical of Ataturk. The concerted hounding of critical journalism has been so successful that during the height of the protests this past weekend, CNN Turk chose to air a penguin documentary.

What has Erdogan done in Syria?

Erdogan has come out in strong support of the rebels battling Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. Assad has responded with small-scale attacks across the border into Turkey. Turkey says the devastating twin car bombings in the southern city of Reyhanli on May 11, 2013, were conducted by Syrian agents. Many Turks saw the 51 killed in the attack as retribution for Erdogan’s support of Syrian rebels, which 65 percent of the Turkish public opposes, according to a Pew Research poll.

How does Erdogan see himself?

According to U.S. diplomatic cables released by Der Spiegel, Erdogan fancies himself “The Tribune of Anatolia” and believes he was chosen by God to lead Turkey. Turkish newspaper columnists have accused the PM of building a cult of personality around himself, turning his political party into a “one-man show.” In his initial response to the protests, Erdogan projected an air of defiance and a lack of concern for the grievances of those who oppose him. “If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people,” he said. “Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together 1 million from my party.”

Erdogan has reached his term limit as prime minister, but he has made clear he wants to run for president in 2014, and to alter the form of the Turkish government before then so the presidency would be more powerful than the largely ceremonial role it plays today. Erdogan does not currently control enough votes to change Turkey’s constitution unilaterally, and opposition parties in parliament are loath to help him. Even so, the protests have provided no clear sign that Erdogan’s majority has cracked, and 2014’s election seems far on the horizon.

Huffington Post: Spain’s S-81 Isaac Peral Submarine Cost $680 Million To Build… And Can’t Float

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Spain’s S-81 Isaac Peral Submarine Cost $680 Million To Build… And Can’t Float

May 24, 2013

As Spain seeks to rein in ballooning deficits, it has discovered some of its bloat surfacing from an unexpected place: under the sea.

According to El Pais, the S-81 Isaac Peral — the first of four state-of-the-art new submarines commissioned for the Spanish Navy — is 75 to 100 tons overweight. That may not seem like a lot, considering the submarine’s full weight when submerged is 2,430 tons, but according to engineers at Navantia, the Spanish shipbuilding company responsible for its design, that excess bulk is enough to prevent the Isaac Peral from successfully resurfacing once submerged.

Unfortunately for the Spainards, Quartz reports that they have already sunk the equivalent of $680 million into the Isaac Peral, and a total of $3 billion into the entire quartet of S-80 class submarines.

The descent has been precipitous for the S-80 subs, which some had hailed as the most modern non-nuclear submarines in the world. Among the S-80’s celebrated advancements is a diesel-electric propulsion engine that, ironically, promises to be 20% lighter than comparable systems while delivering 50% more power. The submarines’ technical specifications, along with a computer-generated image of what one will look like, can be found here.

If Spain hopes to salvage its submarines, it must either find some weight that can be trimmed from the current design or lengthen the ship to accomodate the excess weight, The Local notes. Though the latter option is more feasible, it is expected to cost Spain an extra $9.7 million per meter.

The submarine setback couldn’t have come at a worse time for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is embroiled in a corruption scandal and saw his approval rating hit a record low in 2013, Reuters reports. According to RT, Rajoy’s austerity cuts trimmed the Spanish military budget by 30 percent in 2012, leaving much less room for added ballast. With Quartz reporting that the S-80 program will be delayed an estimated two years and another general election looming in 2015, Rajoy likely will not see the submarines through to fruition.

Spain’s opposition United Left party pounced on the opportunity to criticize the current administration. According to EFE, United Left deputy Gaspar Llamazares quoted a famous monologue by Spanish comedian Miguel Gila in a formal question submitted to the Bureau of the Congress of Deputies, asking if the S-80 submarine was “well-colored but did not float.” While the humor may be lost in translation, the jest was taken seriously by the Bureau, which scolded Llamazares for his mocking tone.

How did such an expensive project get funded while, as El Mundo notes, the Spanish military’s entire special weapons program received a 98% cut? Sheer pride seems to have been a factor: according to Harvard Magazine, the Isaac Peral is named for the Spanish inventor said to have built the first functional modern submarine, and as El Pais explains, Spain hoped the S-80 class would be a new homegrown breakthrough achieved without foreign help.

Now that Navantia is considering bringing in an American contractor to help with the redesign, that dream seems dead in the water.

World Policy Journal: Toward a More Nimble UN

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Toward A More Nimble UN

September 26, 2012

Nothing underscores the gulf between the United Nations’ rationalistic longings and the reality of geopolitics quite like a nuclear catastrophe. Born out of the League of Nations’ failure to prevent World War II and the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the UN has spent the last 67 years attempting to make the world comprehensible, offering itself as the forum where all of humanity’s ills can be brought and addressed. Many of these efforts have met success, but the founding question of how to prevent aggression by sovereign nations, especially those with nuclear weapons, still haunts the UN. As it expanded to take on all the potential calamities of the world, the institution split itself into disparate organizations working independently from each other. The result is an inability to coordinate, making it near impossible for the UN to address holistically the core issues that can lead to violent conflict.

On Friday, heavyweights from the UN gathered for a panel on Global Security Challenges, particularly those posed by asymmetric threats, at the Louise Blouin Creative Leadership Summit in New York City. Each official’s remarks reflected both the liberal-rational worldview that defines the UN and the narrower values of their own offices. Patricia O’Brien, Under-Secretary General of the Office of Legal Affairs, called on the nations of the world to respect the rule of law and their sovereign responsibility to protect against atrocities. Angela Kane, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, looked to greater interdependence and moral pressure to prevent tragedy. And Ambassador Tibor Tóth argued that it was in every state’s best interests to join and obey treaties, such as the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty whose Preparatory Commission he heads.

The high, gold-embossed ceilings of the Main Bar of the Metropolitan Club left ample space for the elephant in the room—Iran. Just two days before a brigadier general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard threatened that an Israeli preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities could bring about World War III, the representatives of the UN’s nonproliferation regime had no clear answer for how either Iranian nuclear armament or an Israeli strike could be prevented (when they were even willing to speak on the issue). There is no doubt that the UN’s ability to verify nuclear explosions has improved greatly. The cutting-edge International Monitoring System set up by Tóth’s Preparatory Commission was instrumental in detecting North Korea’s nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. Perfect hindsight, however, will not guarantee the safety of either the Israeli or the Iranian people, and an Iranian nuclear test, even if we knew exactly where it took place, would mean the time for nuclear weapons treaties and negotiations had already passed.

Now, while the asymmetric threat of a nuclear Iran is still theoretical, we must seek to address the systemic and persistent conditions that are driving Iran to ignore its obligations as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to comply with all IAEA safeguards and ensure that they are not developing a bomb. Stefaan Verhulst, chief of research at the Markle Foundation and the only non-bureaucrat on the Blouin Summit panel, described the underlying causes of the current state of the Middle East, of which terrorism, revolution, and state aggression are only symptoms. An excess of young males has led to radicalization and social unrest, directed as easily at Israel and the West as it is at the region’s autocrats. Skyrocketing food prices increase this unrest, themselves a symptom of climate change’s slow burn. The continued lack of a viable alternative to the Middle East’s oil forces precarious alliances and dangerous interventions in the region by the West. It also encourages China, which relies on Iranian oil and is expected to have a record $50 billion in trade with Iran this year, to continue opposing sanctions against Iran on the UN Security Council.  In Iran, where oppressive food prices are at least as much the product of Western sanctions as they are of climate change, these factors have coalesced to produce a populace willing to support the development of a nuclear program despite the possible consequences.

If there is hope to stop Iran’s possible nuclear armament, it will come not through the IAEA or Angela Kane’s Office for Disarmament Affairs but through diplomacy and military operations between Iran, the U.S., and other UN Security Council members. But what the UN should do, what it holds the unique potential to do, argued Verhulst, is to address these root causes not on an issue basis but together. In the individual case of Iran, such efforts would likely be too late, but unless they are taken, asymmetric threats like Iran will continue to pop up around the edges of the developed world. Unfortunately, there are high institutional hurdles preventing the UN from dealing with national security threats holistically.

Although the organization as a whole monitors nearly every issue pertinent to humanity, its individual offices and officials work in silos. Food security is monitored by the Food and Agriculture Organization, climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, demographics by the UN Population Fund, and nuclear weapons by a variety of organizations, each led by officials whose vested interest is to preserve the relevance of their own agency. All of these organizations report, directly or indirectly, to the UN Secretariat and General Assembly, but given the sheer volume of agencies within the UN, their various concerns do not produce dynamic or coordinated responses. The UN has the potential to be a paradigm-shifting organization, but when it comes to national security issues, they end up behaving like a milquetoast superpower, deploying sanctions, rhetoric or peacekeeping forces when prompted by individual events without ever being able to touch the fault lines beneath.

World Policy Journal: Boko Haram – Africa’s Homegrown Terror Network

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Boko Haram: Africa’s Homegrown Terror Network

June 12, 2012

The headlines roll in with the frequency and dispassion of soccer results. On Saturday, November 10, 2012, four men are shot at a bar in Yobe, Nigeria. On the same day in Gujba, gunmen shoot three cops then firebomb a police station, three churches, and a primary school. Eight days earlier, a retired military officer is assassinated in his home in Maiduguri. They are the victims of a sweeping regime of violence, waged across northern Nigeria since 2009 by an Islamic extremist militia calling itself Jamā’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lādda’awatih wal-Jihad, or People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad. Not surprisingly, such a long-winded title has failed to catch on, and the group is known almost exclusively by the nickname they were given by neighbors in Maiduguri while still a nascent but mostly peaceful religious sect—Boko Haram, a Hausa phrase that roughly translates to “Western education is sinful.”

Both monikers strongly evoke the rhetoric of Salafism, the ultra-conservative stream of Sunni Islam espoused by al-Qaida and its affiliates around the world. But what Boko Haram has in common with al-Qaida, and the extent to which they are in league with them, only distracts from the thoroughly local nature of the sect. For Boko Haram is not the Nigerian Taliban, as another early media nickname deemed it, so much as it is the twisted byproduct of years of poverty, corruption, and division in Africa’s most populous country. Boko Haram is Nigeria’s reflection in the mirror, and the country does not like what it sees.

Even on a continent known for ethnic and tribal conflict, Nigeria stands out for its sectionalism. The country is said to contain over 250 different ethnic groups, with a corresponding stew of languages and dialects (for more on this, see Oyenike Adeosun’s article). On top of that is a religious divide between Christians and Muslims, each of which represent roughly half of Nigeria’s population. Finally, there is a regional divide between the north and south of Nigeria. They were separate protectorates under British rule until 1914, and the south received more education and infrastructure, leading to an economic lag in the north that persists to this day.

Governing such a divided state will never be an easy undertaking, but Nigeria’s current regime still leaves much to be desired. The parade of military juntas that ruled Nigeria since independence only gave way to democracy in 1999, and one party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has controlled the presidency since then. Former military dictators regularly show up on the presidential slates of both the PDP and its rivals, and allegations of corruption, election fraud, and outright stealing of government funds are rampant.

All of this is made possible by oil, which was discovered in the Niger Delta in 1956 and soon become the pillar of Nigeria’s economy. As Fidelis Allen discusses in the current issue, the Nigerian government has a majority stake in all oil projects in the country, and the constant stream of revenue they produce has allowed Nigeria’s leaders to largely ignore the concerns of anyone outside of a well-heeled network of ‘elders’ with ties to the old Nigerian Army regimes. This, argues Allen, is the true divide that characterizes modern Nigeria—the one between those inside the Nigerian power elite and everyone else.

Boko Haram’s radical leadership plays on this divide. In Nigeria today, poverty and lack of education are exacerbated by a massive youth bulge, with 69 percent of the population below the age of 30. For unemployed young men in the north without the connections to get a patronage job, the mosque and the madrassa promise food, shelter, and a target for unfocused anger. From a young age, street children are sent out to beg for a mullah in exchange for Quranic schooling. Once grown, these so-called almajiri are steeped in orthodox Islam but otherwise unprepared for productive life, making them perfect foot soldiers for Boko Haram. The Nigerian government may be losing the battle against Boko Haram now, but it has been losing the battle for these youths for years.

Boko Haram’s Islamic fundamentalism is both telling and deceiving. For all Nigeria’s imbalances, its Muslim population (larger than those of Algeria, Morocco, and Libya combined) is hardly a persecuted minority. While Nigeria’s current president is a Christian, Boko Haram’s violent campaign began under his predecessor, the Muslim Musa Yar’Adua. In the group’s northern homeland, part of the Islamic Sokoto Caliphate as late as 1903, 12 states enforce some form of sharia law. Boko Haram’s leaders complain that these laws are too superficial, focused on catching alcohol shipments and policing the content of Nigeria’s Kannywood movie industry, and they seek to impose strict sharia law throughout Nigeria. But sharia would never be accepted in the south, where most of Nigeria’s over 80 million Christians live. The few times that Boko Haram have broached negotiations, their chief demand is not sharia but the freeing of all their prisoners and immunity from prosecution.

The negotiations make clear the true purpose of Boko Haram—self-preservation at all costs. The group has bombed churches in the past, most prominently in a coordinated attack on Christmas Day 2011 that killed 40. But most of their attacks are against local infrastructure; they burn down primary schools, rob banks, and ransack countless police stations, amassing weapons and cash as they go. They have also begun bombing cell towers, supposedly in response to the government’s success in tracking them using cellphones. The high profile attacks against churches and the UN Headquarters in Abuja in 2011 garner the international hand-wringing, but it is the endless low-profile blows that actually make Boko Haram a textbook jihadist insurgency. Like al-Qaida in Iraq or the Taliban in Afghanistan, the vast majority of their victims are fellow Muslims. In fact, former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell has argued that Boko Haram “appears to be a civil war among Muslims.”

The Muslim-led state governments of northern Nigeria are unlikely to give in to Boko Haram—nor should they—but they are as much to blame for making the situation worse. Boko Haram’s turn to large-scale terrorist operations only occurred after its original leader, Muhammad Yusuf, was killed in police custody in July 2009. Since then, state police and the federal Joint Task Force have committed numerous extrajudicial killings, unlawful detentions, and acts of torture in their anti-Boko Haram campaign, drawing strong condemnation from Amnesty International. Lacking in legitimacy, the party leaders of northern Nigeria defend their positions by descending ever deeper into violence. The killing of innocents turns ever more young Muslims against the government, and the climate of lawlessness encourages unaffiliated groups to rob and kill with impunity, either claiming to be Boko Haram or counting on the assumption that they are.

There is hope that this cycle of violence can be broken if Nigeria’s security services are willing to take the first step, stop their extrajudicial killings, and pursue justice rather than revenge. But a long-term solution to Boko Haram’s uprising can only come through addressing Nigeria’s rampant corruption. Even police violence is an indirect product of this corruption; in 2012, the BBC reported that $6 billion in fuel subsidies were stolen from the Nigerian federal government in the last two years, much by corrupt officials. At the same time,noted Sam Nda-Isaiah, a columnist for the Nigerian newspaper Leadership, “the police received less than 10 percent of their appropriated budget.” While these circumstances do not excuse state atrocities, they help to explain why the police prefer killing suspects to prosecuting them.

Western governments could be instrumental in pressuring on the Nigerian government to stop extrajudicial killings and bar corrupt officials within its ranks, but the lack of a political will makes serious efforts unlikely. Despite racking up a death toll of at least 815 in this year alone, Boko Haram has only garnered 109 mentions in The New York Times since January, compared to 2,970 mentions of Hamas. Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department identified three Boko Haram leaders as foreign terrorists but declined to classify the entire organization as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, with the concomitant freezing of any assets of the group. Some within Nigeria murmur that the State Department held back at the behest of the Nigerian government, who feared increased scrutiny of Nigeria’s citizens around the world.

Ultimately, the oil that props up Nigeria’s leaders domestically also secures their position internationally, shielding them from the pressure placed on less strategic nations. Almost no one wants to see the Boko Haram bloodshed continue, but people want even less to see the oil stop flowing. And so, far from the traditional battlefields of jihad, far even from the Niger Delta oilfields that power the world, the battle for Nigeria’s soul rages on.