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Korean Unification Flag?

Korean Unification Flag

Most people are familiar with the fact that the Korean peninsula and Korean people have been separated for over half a century. Following the Second World War, the nation was divided along the 38th parallel and each nation developed along different routes. The Northerners embraced Communism and followed the Juche ideal, while their southern neighbors became an outpost of the capitalist system on the Asian mainland.

Yet while disagreements remain, it appears that both nations have an earnest desire for reconciliation and cultural diplomacy has been a useful vehicle in promoting unification.

The recent trend for North Korea and South Korea to compete together as one nation in global sports events is certainly a positive development. The two nations started competing together in 1991 at the World Table Tennis Championship in Japan in and the World Football Championships in Lisbon. While the two nations did not compete together in the Beijing Olympics, they did march together under one flag in Sydney 2000, Athens in 2004, Turin 2006 and the Doha Games in 2006.

Anyone familiar with tensions between North and South Korea will agree this represents a breakthrough in relations. Yet, this begs a question; what flag do they march under?
The answer is simple. They march under the Korean Unification Flag.

This flag was first used in 1991 during the table tennis championships in Japan and was designed specially for this event. This flag not only represent each nation’s desires for unification, but is in itself a monument to the cooperation which made it possible.

Yet, unfortunately all is not well in the flag department.

Recently a disagreement has erupted between the North and South over the use of the flag and national anthems in and an impending preliminary match in Pyongyang in March of 2010. It seems that North Korea would like the unification flag to fly and a neutral Korean anthem to be played at the start of the match. However, Federation International Football Association (FIFA) regulations stipulate that during FIFA games, each nation’s individual flag must be flown.
North Korea argues that this violates the spirit of the June 15th Joint Declaration the two nations share. The FIFA governing body has been called in to moderate the disagreement.

Yet, there are other issues. The flag, which consists of a blue silhouette of the Korean peninsula on a white background, now includes the Liancourt Rocks a territory who ownership is disputed with Japan.

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May 19, 2010 Posted by | Background Info, Politics | 2 Comments

Turkey: Quick tour of modern issues

Turkey

Turkey, roughly the size of both France and Britain, is situated on the Bosporus Straits, a bridge between European and Asian cultures. Due to its close relations with the West, Turkey is a founding member of the United Nations, a significant troop contributor to NATO, and is currently negotiating membership in the European Union. Turkey maintains a predominantly Sunni Muslim population of nearly 70 million.

History

Immediately following the First World War, Turkish revolutionaries initiated the Turkish War of Independence (1918-1923) against the Allied forces occupying defeated Ottoman territory. This effort, lead by soldier-statesman Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, was successful and secured a nation for the Turkish people under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

Upon achieving independence, Ataturk quickly realized that to survive as a nation Turkey needed to shed its Ottoman past and adopt the Western path of social, political and legal modernization. While no doubt authoritarian, Ataturk’s reforms which centered on his “Six Arrows” concept (Nationalism, Populism, Republicanism, Revolutionism, Secularism, and Statism) transformed the nation into a modern state.

Due to Ataturk’s reforms, Turkey is known today as the Middle East’s only truly democratic and completely secular country. Nonetheless, struggles between religious and secular forces remain a fact of the Turkish political spectrum. In 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997 when Islamic regimes gained strength, the military intervened to maintain the secular nature of the Turkish government. As recent as 2007, the Turkish military has made its deep commitment to secularism publicly known.

Invasion of Cyprus

Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus was a result of tensions between Turkish and Greek Cypriots on Cyprus. Upon becoming an independent republic in 1960, Cyprus was left with two clear ethnic groups; the majority (80%) Greek Cypriots in the southwest and Turkish Cypriots to the northeast. As time progressed two separate educational, governing and legal systems resulted in a self-segregated population. Due to complicated and uncertain power sharing agreements, these two groups found themselves more and more often in conflict.

As political tensions deepened into ethnic violence, each group rallied around their individual grassroots organizations seeking their own solution to the “Cyprus Issue”. The Greek Cypriots focused on a policy of Enosis, which demanded Cypriot unification with mainland Greece. The Turkish Cypriots, uniting under the concept of Takism, advocated a partitioning of the island into separate Turkish and Greek regions. At the center was the Cypriot faction which called for a united and independent Cyprus.

In April 1967, back in Greece, a military coup toppled the democraticly elected government. The new military junta in Athens grew impatient with the lack of progress with Enosis and deposed the Cypriot President in July of 1974. Turkey saw this as an unacceptable attempt by Greece to annex Cyprus, and launched Operation Attila; the amphibious invasion of Cyprus (called “the 1974 Peace Operation” in Turkey). The Greek Cypriots reacted to the Turkish occupation of large parts of Cypriot territory with increased violence and the world community attempted to broker a peaceful settlement.

Soon domestic support for the Greek-backed junta collapsed and as hostilities slowed, a stalemate emerged with the Turks occupying the northern third of the nation. In the meantime, The United Nations had intervened with the United Nations forces in Cyprus (UNICYP) and installed a buffer zone.

In 1983, the Turkish region declared independence and formed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which is recognized only by Turkey. Today, very little has changed, with few significant cases of hostilities the Greek and Turkish factions, separated by the UN buffer zone, have retreated to their respective enclaves. As of 2009, the Cypriot issue remains unresolved and tensions still exist between Greece and Turkey.

Conflict with the PKK

Another important issue in modern Turkey is its ongoing conflict with its Kurdish minority. The Kurds are a nation-less ethnic group numbering 30 million located in the shared border region of Turkey, Iran and Iraq. The Turkish government, like its Iranian and Iraqi counterparts, has rejected Kurdish calls for cultural and political freedoms. As a result, for nearly 20 years there has been an ongoing, low intensity conflict between Turkey and armed Kurdish fighters.

The Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), established by Abdullah Ocalan in 1975, is the militant wing of the Kurdish nationalism movement. Considered by the European Union, the United Nations and the US to be a terrorist organization, it is a leftist Marxist nationalist force struggling to establish an independent and autonomous Kurdish state. The Turkish government deems the PKK a terrorist-secessionist movement as well.

The PKK, which is often known for kidnapping, cheical attacks, assassination, sabotage and suicide bombings, funds itself through drug smuggling, extortion, human trafficking and donations. According to the Turkish government, the ongoing conflict has since taken the lives of at least 26,000 PKK fighters, 5,000 Turkish forces and an additional 5,000 civilians. By 1999 the PKK had entered into a quasi-cease fire with the Turkish government. However, in the wake of the US lead invasion of Iraq (2003), the PKK once again took the offensive conducting terror attacks, targeting Turkish forces, politicians and civilians.

More recently, the PKK rejected their ethnic-based approach replacing calls for an independent state with a desire for increased autonomy and cultural freedom. Today nearly 4,000 Kurdish fighters are still based in Iraq, leading to increased pressure as Turkey occasionally crosses the Iraqi border to confront the PKK there and the PKK doing the same. In the fall of 2007 tensions between Turkey and the PKK exploded into a new wave of violence with PKK attacks in Turkish cities.

Recently Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Bagdad to meet with Iraqi and US representatives agreeing to cooperate in dealing with the PKK forces in Iraq.

May 18, 2010 Posted by | Background Info, Politics | Leave a comment

Iran: A brief tour

The Islamic Republic of Iran

Iran: Political Map

Roughly the size of Alaska, Iran is home to nearly 70 million people and its capital, Tehran, is the Middle East’s largest city. Known as Persia until 1935, Iranians consider themselves Persian, not Arab. Farsi is the national language and Iran is overwhelmingly a Shi’a Muslim nation. Iran’s geographical position oversees the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, through which nearly half of the world’s maritime oil shipments flow, making Iran an important regional and global power. Iran is also a founding member of both the United Nations and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The Islamic Revolution: 1979

The Islamic Revolution can be described as the conclusion of many decades of foreign influence in Iranian domestic affairs. Since oil was discovered there in 1911, Iran had been plagued by foreign powers attempting to control its wealth.

During the Second World War, the Allies invaded neutral Iran and deposed Reza Shah Pahlavi allowing his son, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to assume power. Pahlavi, known as “The Shah”, was a pro-Western authoritarian monarch who has been credited with sowing the seeds of the Islamic Revolution. While the Pahlavi did instigate a series of modernizing reforms such as improving Iran’s infrastructure and women’s’ rights, his reign was characterized by its dictatorial elements. Soon the Iranian people began to rise up in opposition to the Shah’s undemocratic regime.

As discontent mounted, a general strike erupted causing the Shah to flee Iran with democratically elected and Western-educated Dr. Mohammed Mosaddeq taking charge. Mossadeq quickly set Iran on a course of autonomy, nationalizing Iran’s oil industry and returning it to Iranian control.

Naturally, this was unpopular with the foreign-owned oil concerns who were accustomed to the Shah’s assistance when exploiting Iran’s oil wealth. Quickly the British and US hatched a scheme to remove Mossadeq and return the pro-West Shah to power. The Shah’s return triggered a full-blown revolution as Iranians rejected foreign influence and united Iran under an Islamic regime. This Revolution represents the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran as it exists today.

The Iran-Iraq War: 1980-1988

Another equally influential event in Iranian history was the Iran-Iraq War which took place between 1980 and 1988. This indecisive war was incredibly destructive and a disaster for Iran in terms of industry and lives. Iran and Iraq had long-standing border disagreements and the Iranian military had been weakened by the military purges of the Revolution. Saddam Hussein, acting on this perceived weakness and fearing an expansion of the Islamic Revolution into Iraq, invaded Iran in September of 1980.

While the war ended in a brokered peace treaty and stalemate, Iran found its military and industry shattered and politically ostracized by eight years of war. Rebuilding its military, its economy and its global standing has been the goal of the Iran ever since.

Political System

While Iran is a theocratic republic, it has a unique political structure characterised by a complex arrangement of religious oversight seeking to balance a democratic system with fundamental Islamic principles. Anyone Iranian citizen over the age of 18 can vote in Iran.

The centrepiece of the Islamic political system is the concept of Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists). This policy revolves around the idea that Iranian society must always be in accordance with Sharia law and the assumption that the average Iranian citizen does not have the religious qualifications to maintain this balance.

The government of Iran has six distinct bodies each tasked with a specific function; the Supreme Leader, the office of the President, the Guardian Council, the Assembly of Experts, the Expediency Council and the Majlis.

The Supreme Leader

The office of the Supreme leader is the figurehead of this unique political system. An appointed Islamic cleric boasting impeccable Islamic credentials, the Supreme Leader wields near supreme authority in all matters. He directs policy, maintains control of the military and has the power to declare war. Currently the office of Supreme leader is held by Ali Khameini. The Supreme leader holds office for life and is answerable only to the Assembly of Experts.

The Assembly of Experts

The Assembly of Experts consisting of 86 religious experts is popularly elected every 8 years and is tasked with overseeing the Supreme Leader. The Supreme Leader is appointed by, and usually from within, the Assembly of Experts.  As a group they have the power to remove, replace the Supreme Leader and veto his decrees. However, there are no known examples of the Assembly of Experts ruling contrary to the Supreme Leader. Presently the Assembly of experts is headed by former president and conservative reformer Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The Guardian Council

This body consists of 12 learned clerics, six appointed by the Supreme Leader and the remainder being elected by Parliament. The Guardian Council is the political representative of the Velayat-e Faqih principle and ensures that all parliamentary and presidential candidates meet rigorous Islamic credentials, dismissing those who do not. Additionally, the Guardian Council can veto parliamentary legislation deemed not sufficiently Islamic.

The Majlis

Working alongside, but occasionally in conflict with the Guardian Council is the Iranian Parliament, called the Majlis. The Majlis consists of 290 popularly elected representatives who introduce legislation and approve the national budget. The Majlis does have the authority to remove the President; however as mentioned, all parliamentary candidates are first subject to Guardian Council approval. The current head of the Majlis is Ali Larijani, known for his role as chief atomic negotiator.

The Expediency Council

Naturally it is not uncommon for the conservative Guardian Council and the more liberal Majlis to disagree on legislative issues and the interpretation of the Constitution. Therefore the Expediency Council has been established to mediate these differences.  The council members are appointed by the Supreme Leader and the council is currently headed by ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The Office of the President

Conducting the practical day to day matters of the Iranian state is the President; this office is currently held by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In comparison to other governments, the office of the President does not control Iranian foreign policy or military. In Iran the president is tasked with conducting the administrative functions of the state; budget planning, appointing offices, making appearances, receiving foreign dignitaries and signing agreements. The President is elected by popular vote, and like all political candidates, must first acquire the approval of the Guardian Council. The Previous President, Mohammad Khatami, was known for his attempts to reform Iranian politics.

Iranian Military

The military of Iran is well-respected and can be separated into two distinct forces; regular and paramilitary.

Regular Army

The conventional Iranian army numbers around 650,000, most of which are conscripts. Following its poor performance in the Iran-Iraq war, Iran sought to modernize its military and reduce its dependence on foreign suppliers. Recently, Iran has expanded its domestic arms producing capabilities by developing a domestic arms industry.

Paramilitary

Iranian military doctrine places a significant amount of emphasis on paramilitary forces. The Pasdaran, the Basij and the Qods forces represent Iran’s core military capability.

The Revolutionary Guards

Formed during the Revolution, The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or often called the Pasdaran is a type of ideologically-motivated private army numbering around 120,000. Indispensible to the survival of the regime, the main task of the IRCG is to act as a counterbalance to the Iranian Regular army. Additional activities of the Pasdaran are training and equipping foreign paramilitary forces and controlling Iran’s surface missile force.

The Basij

The Basij, under the jurisdiction of the Pasdaran, is a type of voluntary national police force tasked with enforcing Islamic morality within Iran. Typical activities are policing demonstrations and ensuring behavioral codes. The Basij, numbering in the millions, accepts applicants as young as fifteen and can be called upon to act as an emergency mobilization force in the case of foreign aggression or domestic unrest.

The Qods

Another element of Iran’s defense force is the Qods Force. The Qods are a semi-clandestine force much like Special Forces units found in other nations functioning as a type of mobile insurgency training force. Created during the Iran-Iraq War, the Qods have close ties to Hamas and Hezbollah and have operated in various hot-spots such as Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Kurdistan and former Yugoslavia. Numbering anywhere between 3,000 and 50,000, the Qods Force is considered to be one of the most capable and experienced special operations forces in the world.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Background Info, Politics | Leave a comment

The Middle East: a brief political tour (2009)

Bahrain

The Kingdom of Bahrain is a predominantly Shia island-nation of 700,000 people situated in the southern Persian Gulf. Bahrain is connected to Saudi Arabia by the 28 kilometer King Fahd Causeway. Bahrain received its independence from Britain in 1971 and its capital city is Manama.

Government: Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy under the Al Kahlifa family. The current emir and head of state is Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa.

Parliament: A bicameral parliament consists of the Consultative Council (40 members appointed by the king) and the Council of Representatives (40 members popularly elected through universal suffrage). The current head of Bahrain’s government is Prime Minister Shaikh Khalīfa bin Salman al Khalifa.

Bahrain produces an estimated 49,000 barrels of oil a day and possesses 124 million barrels of reserves. Bahrain has been currently trying to diversify its economy away from its reliance on oil. Presently, oil sales account for 70% of government revenue.

Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran was created following the Islamic Revolution of 1978. With its capital Tehran, Iran is a mostly Shia nation numbering 66 million. Iran’s geographic location places it directly on the Persian Gulf and allows it to dominate the Straits of Hormuz. Due to its strategic placement, Iran is an important regional power. In contrast to much of the rest of the Middle East, Iranians are considered Persian and speak Farsi.

Government: Iran is a theocratic republic with no secular elements. The Supreme Leader is head of state setting policy while the office of president conducts the day-to-day functions of state. Currently the Supreme Leader is Ali Khamenei and the president is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Parliament: The Majlis act as Iran’s parliament. Its 290 members are elected from a pool of candidates approved by the Assembly of Experts. The current speaker of parliament is Ali Ardashir Larijani.

Religious Oversight Bodies: Two religious oversight bodies ensure that secular forces do not influence Iranian government. The Assembly of Experts appoints and oversees the Supreme Leader; the head of this assembly is Hashemi Rafsanjani. The Council of Guardians is tasked with dismissing any candidate deemed “insufficiently Islamic” and is headed by the Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati Massah.

Iran is a major oil producing nation, generating 4.7 million barrels a day with reserves claimed to be over 130 billion barrels.

Israel

Israel was created in 1948 after the United Nations partitioned former British holding Palestine into two states. Israel has a population of 7 million and is the world’s only Jewish state. The ancient city of Jerusalem is its capital.

Government: Israel is a parliamentary democracy. The chief of state is Shimon Peres.

Parliament: Israel has a single body parliament known as the Knesset. It consists of 120 popularly elected members. The Knesset drafts laws and elects the president and prime minister. The current prime minister is Ehud Olmert.

Israel is a nominal oil producing nation, producing 5,966 barrels of oil daily and possessing nearly 2 million barrels of oil in reserve.

Kuwait

Kuwait is a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 2.6 million and is located directly on the Persian Gulf, just south of Iraq. Well known as an oil producing nation, Kuwait possesses 10% of the world’s known reserves and produces 2.6 million barrels of oil a day making it the richest Middle Eastern country and the third richest nation in the world. Kuwait became independent from the United Kingdom in 1961, and Kuwait City is its capital. Kuwait was invaded by Iraq in 1990.

Government: Kuwait is a constitutional emirate with the Al-Sabah family ruling since 1991. The emir position is hereditary and as a result there are no elections for this position. The current head of state is Amir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah and the crown prince is Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah.

Parliament: Kuwait’s legislature is represented by the National Assembly. The National Assembly has the power to dismiss the prime minister, an office currently held by Prime Minister Nasir al-Muhammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah.S

Libya

Libya received its independence from Italy in 1951 and underwent a military coup in 1969. Known officially as the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, modern Libya is largely the product of Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi , the worlds longest sitting head of a government. Libya has a relatively small population of approximately 6 million and is predominantly Sunni Muslim.

Government: Libya has a unique style of government based upon Gaddafi’s revolutionary “Jamahiriya” vision. Jamahiriya is a term coined by Gaddafi and loosely translates into “republic ruled by the masses”. While Gaddafi holds no official office, being referred to simply as the”Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”, for all intents and purposes Gaddafi is the head of an authoritarian state. There are no political parties in Libya.

Parliament: Libyan Legistlature consists of the unicameral General People’s Congress (760 members, elected indirectly through committees). Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmudi was appointed Prime Minister in 2006.

Libya is major oil producing nation with 41.4 billion barrels of reserves and producing 1.8 million barrels of oil a day.

Oman

The Sultanate of Oman is located on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula and is home to nearly 3.5 million people. A distinct variety of Islam, Ibhadi Islam, accounts for a religious majority of between 50% and 75%. Oman is also unique for its historic connection to the island nation of Zanzibar; as a result Swahili is widely spoken in Oman. Oman is slightly unique as it was never officially a colony, establishing its de facto independence after ejecting a Portuguese presence in the 17th century. A small portion of Oman, known as the Governorate of Musandam, is separated from the rest of the nation by the United Arab Emirates.  Muscat is the capital of Oman

Government: Oman is a monarchy with Qaboos bin Sal Said as both the sitting as head of state and serving as prime minister.

Parliament: There are no legal political parties in Oman, nor are there functioning legislative institutions. However, Oman has a two-part parliament consisting of a Consultive Assembly and a Council of State. Neither wields any real power and both function only in advisory roles.

Saudi Arabia

Known as the birthplace of Islam and the site of the religion’s two holiest shrines, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a remarkably influential nation. Additionally, Saudia Arabia dominates the Arabian Peninsula and is situated between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia was unified in 1932 and is a predominantly Sunni nation of 28 million. Riyadh is the capital.

Government: Saudi Arabia is a monarchy under the Saud family. The present head of state and head of government is King Abdallah bi Abd al-Aziz Al Saud.

Parliament: Saudi Arabia has no parliament and no political parties. The Consultative Council consists of 150 appointed members (by king) and serves an advisory function only.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the world’s greatest oil producing nation, controlling 20% of the world’s known oil reserves and filling 9.2 million barrels of oil daily.

Sudan

The Republic of Sudan received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1956. Sudan is predominantly Sunni Muslim and has a population of 41 million. It is the largest country in Africa and its capital is Khartoum.  The Darfur region, known for its humanitarian crisis, is found in western Sudan.

Government: Since becoming independent in 1956, Sudan has been dominated by a series of military governments. The present government assumed power through a military coup in 1989. The current head of state is President Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. Bashir presides over an authoritarian regime. Currently a power sharing arrangement exists between the Government of National Unity, the National Congress Party (party of Bashir), and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.

Parliament: Sudanese parliament consists of two houses. The Council of States with 50 members elected through state legislatures and a National Assembly with 450 appointed seats.

Sudan recently began producing oil. Today Sudan possesses an estimated 5 billion barrels of reserves and produces 466,000 barrels of oil a day

Tunisia

The Tunisian Republic received its independence from France in 1956. Tunisia is a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 10 million located in North Africa. Tunisia is predominantly Sunni Muslim and the constitution mandates Islam as the official religion and stipulates that the president must be a Muslim. However, remaining largely secular, Tunisia has done much to facilitate the growth of its own democratic institutions in recent years.

Government: Tunisia has a presidential republic government. The chief of state has been President Zine el Abidine Ben Al since 1987.

Parliament: Tunisia has a bicameral legislature and Mohamed Gbhannouchi is the current prime minister. The 189 seat Chamber of Deputies is popularly elected while the 126 seat Chamber of Advisors is largely appointed by the president.

Tunisia is a minor oil producing nation, producing 86,210 million barrels of oil daily and holding some 4,000 million barrels of oil reserves.

Yemen

The Republic of Yemen was established in 1990 when North Yemen and South Yemen united. North Yemen received its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1918, while Southern Yemen received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1967. Yemen is located on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and its capital is Sanaa. Yemen has a population of 23 million with nearly equal percentages of Sunni and Shia.

Government: Yemen is the only republic on the Arabian Peninsula. Ali Abdallah Salih was the former president of North Yemen and has been the president of a united Yemen since its inception. The president is elected by popular vote, and his General People’s Congress dominates the government.

Parliament: Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Mujawwar heads a bicameral Parliament consisting of the 111 seat Shura Council which is appointed by the president and a popularly elected 301 seat House of Representatives.

Yemen produces an estimated 320,600 barrels of oil per day and has reserves numbering 3 billion barrels.

Egypt

Twice the size of France, the Arab republic of Egypt is a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 70 million located in Northern Africa on the Mediterranean Sea.  Egypt received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1922 and the Egyptian Republic was declared in June of 1953.

Government: Egypt is a presidential republic, with Hosni Mubarak serving as the current President. The president, which is both head of state and head of the government, greatly curtails the power of the legislature. Egypt has been under emergency law since 1967 and religious-based political parties are forbidden.

Parliament: Egyptian parliament, known as the People’s Assembly, consists of 454 deputies; ten of which are appointed by the president and the remainder being elected. The Shura Council is Egypt’s upper Parliament consisting of 264 elected members.

Egypt has a military of 450,000, the largest in Africa.

Egypt produces 664,000 billion barrels of oil a day and has 3.7 bilion barrels of reserves.

Boutros Boutras-Ghali (former Secretary General to the UN) and Mohammed ElBaradei (International Atomic Energy Association) are well known Egyptian diplomats.

Iraq

Iraq was formed in 1932 by the League of Nations from former British holdings. In 2008, the UNSC mandate for US military presence in Iraq expired and presently US forces remain in Iraq under a bilateral Security Agreement. In October 2005, Iraqis approved a Constitution in a national referendum and, pursuant to this document, elected a 275-member Council of Representatives. On 31 January 2009, Iraq held elections for provincial councils in all provinces except those in predominantly Kurdish regions. Iraq has a population of 28 million and a Shia majority.

Government: Iraq is a parliamentary democracy, or to be more specific, a federal parliamentary representative democratic republic. The head of state is the Presidency Council. Consisting of President Jalal Talabani as well as Vice Presidents Adil Abd Al Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi, the council must make unanimous decisions.

Parliament: The Council of Representatives serves as Iraq’s legistlature and it possesses a great deal of power in comparison to the president. The head of the Iraqi government is Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The Prime Minister seat is appointed by the Presidency Council, while the Council of Representatives is elected through representation.

Presently, Iraq possesses an estimated 115 billion barrels of oil reserves and produces 2.42 million barrels of oil a day.

Jordan

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a predominantly Sunni nation of 6.3 million located on the Mediterranean Sea between Saudi Arabia, Israel and Syria. Jordan was previously known as Transjordan and its capital is Amman. Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Syria received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1946.

Government: Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with King Abdullah sitting as the current head of state since 1999. Jordan has a multi-party system and the King’s veto can be overruled by two-thirds vote of both houses of parliament.

Parliament: Jordanian legislature is known as the National Assembly and its prime minister is Nader al-Dahabi. Jordanian parliament consists of two parts; a Senate (55 monarch-appointed members) and the Chamber of Deputies (110 elected members). A specified number of seats are reserved for minorities.

Lebanon

as “the Paris of the East” the Lebanese Republic was created by France out of Ottoman territory in 1920 and was granted its independence in 1943. Known for its variety of religious and ethnic groups, of its 4 million people, roughly 60% are Muslim while 40% are Christian. Lebanon suffered a civil war between 1975 and 1990, and Syria maintained a United Nations peacekeeping in Lebanon until 2005. The capital of Lebanon is Beruit.

Government: Parliamentary democracy with Michel Sulayman serving as President. Lebanon has a rather unique political system known as Confessionalism.  Confessionalism is a power sharing arrangement which proportionally distributes representation according to ethnic population.

Parliament: Single body National Assembly under Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. Parliament consists of 128 members elected by popular vote. Political parties in the traditional sense do not exist as political blocs are typically formed along personal, ethnic, family or regional lines.

Morocco

The Kingdom of Morocco was created in 1956 following a lengthy struggle for independence from France. A predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 34 million, Morocco is located in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea. The capital is Rabat.

Government: Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with King Mohammed VI serving as head of state since 1999. The king has controls the military and theoretically has the power to dissolve the government.

Parliament: Morocco has a bicameral parliamentary structure with the prime minister position appointed by the king. The current prime minister is Abbas El Fassi. The Chamber of Counselors is the Moroccan upper house consisting of 270 members which are elected indirectly.  The lower house is represented by the Chamber of Representatives with 325 elected seats having the authority to dissolve the government with a “no confidence” vote.

Morocco has an estimated 836,000 barrels of oil reserves and produces nearly 3,500 barrels of oil daily.

Qatar

The State of Qatar is a small peninsular nation of less than one million. Qatar is found on the northern edge of the Arabian Peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf. Qatar is predominantly Sunni with a large immigrant population. The independent Arab news network Al Jazeera, is based in Qatar’s capital Doha. Ruled by al-Thani family for over two centuries, Qatar formally received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1971.

Government: Emirate or absolute monarchy. Head of state, minister of defense and commander of the armed forces is Amir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Thani, a Sandhurst graduate, took power from his father in a bloodless coup in 1995; they have since reconciled.

Parliament:  Qatar’s legistlature consists of the Consultative Assembly containing 35 appointed members. Qatar is slowy making a change to a constitutional monarchy aiming to include more popularly elected members on the Advisory Council, yet presently, political parties are forbidden.

Qatar possesses oil reserves numbering some 15 billion barrels and produces over one million barrels of oil a day. The pronunciation of Qatar is something like “gutter” or “butter”, but not like “guitar”.

Syria

Syria is a predominantly Sunni-Arab nation of 20 million located on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean Sea bordering Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Israel. The Syrian Arab Republic was created from holdings of the Ottoman Empire and was administered by France until receiving its independence in 1946. Syria stationed troops in Lebanon from 1976 to 2005 in a peacekeeping role.

Government: Syria is a single party republic under a military regime. President Bashar al-Asad was elected in an un-oppssed referendum. The Syrian Constitution states that the president must be Muslim.

Parliament: Syrian legislature is the unicameral People’s Council consisting of 250 members. The prime minister and head of government is Muhammad Naji al-UtriI.

Syria produces 381,600 barrels of oil per day and possesses an estimated 2.5 billion barrels of reserves.

UAE

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven states and was created between 1971 and 1972. The seven emirates are; Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. Power is distributed between the central government and the individual emirates, with the central government possessing additional powers.The UAE has a population of 4.7 million with a very large number of immigrants (75%). The capital of the UAE is Doha.

Government: The UAE is a federation of emirates which functions not unlike a monarchy. An emirate is a geo-political territory ruled by a monarch or emir. The positions of president and vice president are elected by the rulers of each emirate. There is no suffrage and political parties are forbidden. The current president is Khalifa bin Zayid Al-Nuhayyan, a member of the royal family.

Parliament: The Federal Supreme Councils serves as the parliament. The FSC consists of the rulers of the seven emirates and is responsible for establishing general policies. The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have veto power. There is also a Federal National Council with 20 appointed members and 20 elected members who act as an advisory council.

While the UAE produces nearly 3 million barrels of oil a day and posses almost 100 billion barrels of reserves, the government has been successful in diversifying into non-petroleum ares. Oil revenues account for only %25 of government income.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Background Info, Politics | Leave a comment

Afghanistan: Short history of modern Afghanistan

Afghanistan

Called “the Graveyard of Empires”, Afghanistan has long been the battlefield of foreign powers. The Macedonians under Alexander the Great, the Mongols and more recently the British and Soviet empires all have tried and failed to exert control over the rugged landscape of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has existed under nearly every form of government known, at some point in time. Slightly larger than the Ukraine and home to nearly 30 million people, Afghanistan is a primarily Sunni Muslim nation with many ethnic group, pashtun and Tajik being two of the most predominant. Afghanistan is characterized by its inaccessible mountainous countryside dotted with villages but few large cities.

History: 1700s-1989

Modern Afghanistan has its roots in the Duranni Empire, which was founded in 1787. As competition between the British and Russian empires spilled over into Afghanistan, “the Great Game” led to Britain attempting to install a puppet regime in Kabul, acting as a buffer between their Indian colony and the Soviet Empire. Following the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, Afghanistan achieved independence and existed as the Kingdom of Afghanistan under King Amanullah.

A bloodless coup in 1973 turned Afghanistan into the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) under the presidency of Mohammed Daoud Khan. Daoud and his Marxist-styled government forged closer ties with communist Russia yet at the same time began losing control to a little known rebel group called the Mujahedeen. In an attempt to prop up the PDPA government, the USSR invaded Afghanistan on August 7, 1978 and installed pro-Soviet Babrak Karmal as President. Afghanistan became the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, once again under a Communist government. The invasions lead to a ten-year guerilla war claiming the lives of some one million Afghans. Unable to achieve a decisive victory, the Soviet Union withdrew in 1989 leaving Afghanistan devastated and without a stable government.

An important aspect of the Mujahedeen success was the support they received from the United States. During the Soviet Afghan War, the United States used the anti-Communist Mujahedeen to conduct a proxy war against the Soviet Union.  By directly or indirectly supplying them with military and financial aid, the US allowed the Mujahedeen to resist Soviet control of Afghanistan.

Taliban: 1996-2001

Withdrawal of Soviet forces left a power vacuum and Afghanistan descended into lawlessness under tribal warlords. Soon, a small religious group, known as the Taliban, emerged and began bringing law and order to the streets of Afghanistan.

Initially applauded for ending the chaotic rule of the warlords, the predominantly Pashtun religious militia under Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban occupied Kabul and imposed its own interpretation of a Wahhabi-influenced Sharia law.

Using Taliban-staffed institutions such as the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice (PVSV) the Taliban enforced stringent social and legal codes; forbidding women from working and attending school. Likewise, men were forced to wear a beard while the few non-Muslim Afghans were compelled to identify themselves with a yellow badge. Music, photography, kite flying, dancing, clapping and all forms of entertainment were strictly banned, often under pain of death. The Taliban called their new nation the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and it soon became known for its intolerance and violation of human rights.

Discontent with the Taliban’s brutal policies, resistance movements soon grew in opposition to the Taliban. Under the leadership of “the Lion of Panshir” Ahmad Shah Massoud, various opposition groups meshed into the Northern Alliance and full scale civil war broke out in 1996.

US Invasion: 2001

Following the terror attacks on the United States in September of 2001, the United States identified Osama Bin Laden as the architect and issued an ultimatum to the Taliban who had been providing Bin Laden refuge in Afghanistan. The US demanded that the Taliban hand over Bin Laden and close all terrorist training camps within its borders. The Taliban refused, citing lack of proof for the US allegations. The US, working closely with the Northern Alliance, invaded in October of 2001 under Operation Enduring Freedom.

The union of the American Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division and the Northern Alliance quickly toppled the Taliban. With the assistance of US air power, they occupied Kabul and defeated the Taliban in places such as Kandahar, the caves of Tora Bora and Mazari Sharif, thus ending the civil war. Following the loya jirga, (traditional Pashtun council) of 2003, a constitution was adopted and Hamid Karzai was elected as President of the Afghan Interim Authority. Parliamentary elections were held in 2005.

Government

Karzai remains the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the National Assembly serves as its legislature. The Afghan government faces a variety of challenges and relies overwhelmingly on outside support. The government must contend with a shattered economy (unemployment rate is 40%) and a resurging Taliban among a host of other difficulties. Since 2006, a reinvigorated Taliban functioning from bases in Pakistan has taken the offensive striking NATO forces, aid workers, civilians and Afghan government institutions.

In 2008, President Hamid Karzai narrowly survived an assassination attempt and elsewhere Taliban forces struck a jail in Kandahar freeing many Taliban fighters.  Hopes for the future of Afghanistan hang on newly elected US President Barak Obama and the 17,000 additional US troops planned for Afghanistan in 2009.

May 7, 2010 Posted by | Background Info, Politics | Leave a comment