VLADIVOSTOK. President Putin talking with Kim Jong-Il, Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
April 25, 2013: Six weeks of aggressive threats to start a war have come to nothing for North Korea. None of this bluster has produced any needed aid (as in free food or fuel) or offers to reduce the sanctions. No one shows any sign of giving in to this latest barrage of threats. This is a major disappointment for the northern leadership. For over half a century you could always get something useful if you ranted and threatened long enough. The north cannot risk making good on these threats and starting an actual war, as they would lose big. North Korean military planners were taught the “correlation of forces” by their Russian mentors and have calculated the growing strength of the south and the decline of the north. All those smart bombs and combat-proven new tech the south and their allies have would make a mess of the north. But maybe another nuclear or long-range missile test will help.
The real war on women is in the Middle East.
In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.
In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugarcoating it. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.
Yes: They hate us. It must be said.
Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.
So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.
But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.
Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum‘s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.
The buildup to this weekend’s sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, has been rife with drama. Ecuador’s left-wing president, Rafael Correa, announced that he will skip the 34-country conference because it excludes Cuba, which does not belong to the Organization of American States (membership requirement: democracy). The presidents of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua sparred publicly with the president of Guatemala over a drug legalization proposal. And not to be outdone, Cuba’s Fidel Castro ridiculed U.S. President Barack Obama‘s reported plan to wear a guayabera — a light tropical dress shirt originating in Cuba — at the summit.
Yet for all the hoopla, the summit will likely produce little of substance. There are already reports that officials will sidestep hot-button issues such as drug policy and the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. In fact, this is in keeping with the way these gatherings typically play out in Latin America, a land in which a dizzying array of acronymed intergovernmental organizations host an endless but ultimately empty parade of summits.
Sure, there have been some successes. The inaugural Summit of the Americas in 1994 marked a high point of goodwill between the United States and Latin American countries (Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and his like-minded allies had yet to assume power) and launched a proposal — never realized — for a free-trade bloc stretching from “Alaska to Argentina.” The third Summit of the Americas in 2001 produced the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which emphasized the importance of democratic institutions in the Americas.
But the summits are more often remembered for temper tantrums and mischievous antics by government leaders — with Chávez in particular at the center of many of the tempests. If past Latin American summits are any guide, we should expect some serious sparks to fly in Cartagena. Here are some of the least auspicious moments from summits past.
What: Ibero-American Summit
Where: Asunción, Paraguay
Meltdown: The annual gathering of leaders from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations of Europe and the Americas was marred by the absence of several heads of state, including Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who claimed they had to prepare for an upcoming — and implicitly more important — G-20 summit in France.
The poor attendance — and surely the optics of their king and prime minister mingling with lower level officials — enraged Spanish news outlets, which deemed the summit a demoralizing failure. “The summit has become redundant for Latin American powers, who already have their own voice in other, more global forums,” La Voz de Galicia lamented.
Moises Saman for The New York Times
Protesters gather in Cairo on Jan. 25, 2012, marking the first anniversary of the 2011 revolution.
By STEVEN A. COOK Published: February 10, 2012
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
CAIRO is tense and polarized. Egypt’s military is groping for solutions to the many political and economic problems that have beset the country since the fall of the old government. Various political parties and groups are united in their opposition to military rule despite being divided among themselves. The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, is trying to remain above the fray and out of the line of fire by making deals with the army. And despite the promise of parliamentary elections and the prospect of a new constitution, the situation remains highly unstable.
One could be forgiven for thinking this is a description of early 2012, but it is actually an account of early 1954, when Gamal Abdel Nasser and his military colleagues, known as the Free Officers, first consolidated their power in Egypt. Read the rest of this entry »
Ten conflicts to watch in 2012.
BY LOUISE ARBOUR DECEMBER 27, 2011
What conflict situations are most at risk of deteriorating further in 2012? When Foreign Policy asked the International Crisis Group to evaluate which manmade disasters could explode in the coming year, we put our heads together and came up with 10 crisis areas that warrant particular concern.
Admittedly, there is always a certain arbitrariness to lists. This one is no different. But, in part, that serves a purpose: It will, hopefully, get people talking. Why no room for Sudan — surely a crisis of terrifying proportions? Or for Europe’s forgotten conflicts — in the North Caucasus, for example, or in Nagorno-Karabakh? You’ll see also that we have not included some that are deeply troubling yet strangely under-reported, like Mexico or northern Nigeria. No room, too, for the hardy perennial standoff on the Korean Peninsula, despite the uncertainty surrounding the death of Kim Jong Il.
No reader should interpret their omission as meaning those situations are improving. They are not. But we did feel it is useful to highlight a few places that, to our mind, deserve no less attention. What follows is our top 10. At the end — and just to remind ourselves that progress is possible — we’ve included two countries for which we, cautiously, feel 2012 could augur well.
Many in Syria and abroad are now banking on the regime’s imminent collapse and assuming everything will get better from that point on. The reality could turn out to be quite different. As dynamics in both Syria and the broader international arena turn squarely against the regime, many hope that the bloody stalemate finally might end. But however much it now seems inevitable that President Bashar al-Assad will leave the stage after his regime’s terrifying brutality over recent months, the initial post-Assad stages carry enormous risks.
On the one hand, the emotionally charged communal polarization, particularly around the Alawite community, has made regime supporters dig in their heels, believing it is “kill or be killed,” and their fears of large-scale retribution when Assad falls are very real. On the other, the rising strategic stakes have heightened the regional and wider international competition among all players, who now view the crisis as an historic opportunity to decisively tilt the regional balance of power. In that explosive mix, the first cross-border concern is surely Lebanon: The more Assad’s ouster appears imminent, the more Hezbollah — and its backers in Tehran — will view the Syrian crisis as an existential struggle designed to deal them a decisive blow, and the greater the risk that they would choose to go for broke and draw to launch attacks against Israel in an attempt to radically alter the focus of attention. “Powder keg” doesn’t begin to describe it. The danger is real that any one of these issues could derail or even foreclose the possibility of a successful transition.
Even if Iran and Israel somehow manage to sail safely past the rocks of the Syrian crisis, the enmity between them over the nuclear issue could blow them very dangerously off course. Though sanctions against Iran and saber-rattling all around intensified at the end of 2011, some may see this as merely the continuation of a long-term trend in the epically poor relations between Iran and Israel. Read the rest of this entry »
By Richard Solash
The most intriguing breakthrough in the world of science this past year may have taken place in a 27-kilometer-long tunnel deep below the border of Switzerland and France.
That’s where researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) say they moved one possible step closer to solving one of the universe’s greatest mysteries.
Their groundbreaking experiments in particle physics were the highlight of 2011’s notable scientific and technological advances.
The group’s director-general, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, revealed on December 13 that he and his team had found “intriguing hints” that an elusive subatomic particle, theorized to be a basic building block of the universe, actually exists. Read the rest of this entry »