Security Foreign policy

How United Is the Arab Front?

Arab stone design, courtesy of Eusebius@Commons/flickr

The Arab community has always publicly supported its Muslim counterparts. As a result there is an alliance among these states in opposition to Israel and the occupation of Palestine. However, it appears that behind the facade of Arab unity lies a game of dirty politics, where each state acts in self-interest often in contrast to the projected image of unity and loyalty.

A recent article by The Times publicized Saudi Arabia’s green light to Israel to use its air space to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.  This is surprising as it pits Muslim states against each other openly and brings the reality of Arab loyalty into question.

In order to attack Iran’s nuclear sites, Israel has the choice of three routes. The northern route involves passing the Syrian-Turkish border. The central route goes over Jordan and Iraq, while the third southern route goes through Saudi Arabia and Iraq or Kuwait. So let’s assess where these Middle Eastern states stand.


The World Cup: Hoping for the Best

World cup of hope? Courtesy of mikkelz/flickr

If you think that HIV/AIDS is Africa’s most serious problem, think again.

Malaria is the biggest known killer on the continent. Malaria is an infectious disease produced by a nucleus holding cell called Plasmodium. There are many variations of the disease but only one is fatal to humans, the Plasmodium Falciparum. In Africa the disease causes $12 billion worth of economic losses every year and worldwide it kills more than any other communicable disease except tuberculosis.

The ongoing FIFA World Cup in South Africa will help stimulate the strained economies on the continent and will allow states to sustain the costs of the infectious disease, thus helping people get access to the aid and treatments they need. The event has opened up 650,000 jobs to South Africans and the expected income for the whole event is around $7 billion (approximately R55 billion.)

After the World Cup is finished some 144,000 jobs will remain, allowing people that may have been out of work to continue to profit. Hopefully the income generated over this month, as well as months and years to come will make for better treatments for malaria and other infectious diseases ravaging the continent. An unfortunate factor is that malaria usually hits the poor population particularly hard and often prevents them from even accessing aid. There is hope that this event will help reverse this trend.

With the permanent jobs created by the event and with more money flowing to development and health projects, the strains on the poorest may be alleviated and access to treatment may be boosted.

For the sake of the African people, I hope it works.

Make sure to check out our recent Special Report on the World Cup and its impact beyond the football pitch.

Sam is our youngest ISN intern yet and attends the George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia. His interest include world history, sports and biology.


The ISN Quiz: Françafrique

In our latest Special Report we explored the past, present and future of French ties to its former colonies in Africa. Where does your knowledge on the topic stand?


International Relations Foreign policy


Muammar Al-Qadhafi tours the Security Council Chamber, courtesy of UN Photo/Evan Schneider

In a recent article on Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Herbst pointed out that the United Nations is not living up to its basic values: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. He also criticized the lack of democracy in the organization and particularly among its member states. He also mentioned that the UN provides international legitimacy to dictators that have no legitimacy at home.

But Jeffrey Herbst also forgets to point out the following: The UN cannot function on its own. It needs its member states to act. Even though the UN publicized and tried to address the atrocities in Darfur, its member states failed to act.

The real question is: Why do member states not act? And the answer is simple: Democracy.

Democracy does not only mean having a democratic political system, it also means accepting that the international system is democratic, for better or worse, following the “one country one vote” principle.

Some western countries wish they still had the same power as they had when the UN was created after of the Second World War, at a time when their former colonies followed their lead on almost every issue. Now this time is over and the ‘neo-colonialist’ approach no longer works.

As an example of democracy in action at the international level, African countries are now able to elect a country like Libya to the Human Rights Council, because the continent has a comfortable amount of votes in almost every body of the UN.

Now that the organization applies the “democratic” rules so praised by the founders of the United Nations, it is normal that every member state gets the same power and can have more or less the same impact on the UN, regardless of whether it is governed by a dictator like Mugabe or by a social democrat like Tarja Halonen.

Indeed the presence of Libya in the Human Rights Council is representative of the willingness of a part of the world to have its word on Human Rights and some western leaders need to accept that not everyone is pursuing the same objectives or the same values as Europe and North America. They will certainly not simply acquiesce to those values or related demands without a fight.

The time when the UN was a mere tool of US foreign policy, as its former UN Ambassador John Bolton saw it, is now well and truly over.

Welcome to the new era of multilateralism.


When Dictators Have ‘Image Problems’

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama with Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and his wife, photo: Lawrence Jackson/wikicommons

You’re ranked the 14th worst dictator in the world; you preside over a country with a per capita GDP that is higher than that of Italy, but your people’s living standards are among the lowest in the world; your son is widely accused of spending his daddy’s (read: country’s) money on a USD 33 million private jet, a USD 35 million Malibu mansion, speedboats and a fleet of fast cars; and you win 96.7 percent of the vote in a presidential election, and then international observers publicly doubt the election’s credibility.

Well, if all that applies to you, you really have an image problem.

Luckily, there are professionals who can amend such glitches. We recently learned that former Clinton aide and DC lobbyist Lanny J Davis took on the noble task of recasting the image of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (described above). And all that for the modest sum of USD 1 million.

Davis says that he only agreed to the contract because of Mr. Obiang’s promise to introduce a series of reforms. These include a more effective use of the country’s vast oil resources for the benefit of the people, social sector development, institutional reform, improved relations with human rights organizations and environmental conservation initiatives.

For years, the US government has been accused of soft-pedaling the record of this unusually corrupt and unscrupulous dictator, whom Condoleeza Rice in 2006 called “a good friend.” Also the Obama administration has been accused of looking the other way when it comes to corruption and human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea so as not to alienate this oil-rich African state. A significant amount of the country’s substantial oil resources is exported to the US, and the bulk of investment in the country’s oil industry comes from US-based oil companies.

True, you can hire DC lobbyists for almost anything these days. But the fact that Mr. Obiang hired Lanny Davis makes the story particularly controversial.

Davis is an old friend of both Hillary and Bill Clinton (they went to law school at Yale together), and he had worked on Hillary’s campaign. This naturally raises suspicions that the US State Department, and hence the Obama administration, doesn’t mind too much that Obiang’s image is getting a professional overhaul. After all, people may ask, couldn’t Hilary ask an old friend to perhaps find himself another client instead?

More disturbingly, Davis had been criticized in the past for touting himself as an ‘independent news analyst’ and devout Liberal; for speaking regularly on US television networks and writing op-eds in influential newspapers while his audience is often left in the dark about his clients.

Truly, Lanny Davis himself has an image problem. But unlike Obiang, he doesn’t seem to care.