Today's Headlines

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Secularist Success in Tunisia

Following a coup in Egypt, civil war in Syria, and mounting armed conflict in Libya, Tunisia may well be the Arab Spring’s last hope for a true success story. Three years after deposing dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s populace has voted in its second parliamentary election, and preliminary results show that the leading secularist party Nidaa Tounes (“Call for Tunisia”) has won 80 of 217 parliamentary seats. Nidaa finished ahead of the incumbent Islamist party Ennahda (67 seats), and its electoral success is viewed as a mandate from the people to uphold Tunisia’s secular reputation.

Tunisians line up at the polls. Photo courtesy EPA. 
Among the states that experienced regime change during the Arab Spring, Tunisia stood alone for its history of secularism and relatively peaceful transition. Following the uprising, however, Ennahda’s rise to power coupled with two assassinations of secular opposition leaders and attempted suicide attacks led to fears that the country was backsliding into extremism. These fears are hardly surprising given the tragic trail of events in Egypt, Libya, and Syria, but do not appear to be manifesting in the latest elections. While extremist parties like Ansar al-Sharia continue to threaten political stability, the willingness of Ennahda, Nidaa Tounes, and the multitude of smaller political parties to seek coalition and cooperation has for now overcome their ideological differences in the interest of stability.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

House of Kurds: ISIS-Kurdish Fighting Threatens Turkey’s Stability


Intense fighting between ISIS and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters over the past month for control of the strategic city of Kobani on the Turkish-Syrian border threatens not only domestic stability within Turkey, but also the peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Nigerian Ceasefire: Too Good to Be True?

The world received unexpected good news today when Nigeria's defense minister announced a ceasefire between the Nigerian military and the infamous insurgent group, Boko Haram. More importantly, it was announced that Boko Haram had agreed to release some 200 schoolgirls that made international headlines (and more importantly, thanks to my colleague Vicky, headlines right here) six months ago when they were kidnapped by the group. Since the kidnapping, a coalition of forces has been combatting Boko Haram in an attempt to suppress what appeared to be unstoppable momentum as they continued seizing hostages and securing land. For a while, it seemed as though the Nigerian government was powerless against them, and hopes of the girls' safety diminished over the weeks.

Unsurprisingly the world rejoiced at today's news, and rightfully so - the kidnapping of the schoolgirls was demonic and tragic. However, after taking a step back, it's easy to question the seriousness of this ceasefire. One has to look no farther than the Ukraine to understand the fragility of such an agreement, and Nigeria is arguably more volatile than Ukraine when it comes to conflict. So the question remains: will the ceasefire hold up, and will it hold up long enough to return these girls to their families?

There's good reason to ask this question. As I wrote back in May, Boko Haram is arguably one of the most horrifying examples of an insurgency that exists today. Sure, ISIS operates on a much larger scale and has a penchant for executing prisoners and posting the videos online for the world to see, and there are innumerable other groups around the world seeking to instill fear in local regions and kill innocent people. But Boko Haram has a particularly senseless method of committing heinous acts, with apparently little motivation other than simply killing as many people as possible. The fact that they even kept 200 schoolgirls alive as hostages for this long is shrouded in mystery, as it does not conform to their routine mode of operation (for a while, it was assumed that these girls would be drugged and eventually sold as sex slaves, although if today's announcements are accurate, this was not the case).



This is not to mention the broader geopolitical status of the region, where it would be charitable to say they are not doing well. Nigeria has been battling Boko Haram for years now, and has embarrassingly been unsuccessful in diminishing their capabilities to project terror on various regions in the country. Not too far away is Mali with their own terrorism-related woes, and the Central African Republic which is equally volatile these days. Africa is seldom the place where hopefulness pays dividends when it comes to these types of situations.

Ultimately, it would be heartless to express nothing but cynicism and skepticism at the announcements that came today, especially given the travails to stem the Ebola epidemic in the western horn (not to mention the seemingly endless turmoil all over the Middle East and in Ukraine). We should be optimistic at this news. However, that optimism should be guarded, as there are several key factors that lend distrust to the motives of Boko Haram. For now, let's hope that these girls are returned to the families that have ached over them for so many months, and that Boko Haram has somehow finally come to its senses and will accept more peacefulness in such a troubled nation.

Friday, October 10, 2014

It’s a Good Day to be a Girl

I don't even have to write an article, I could just give you Malala quotes.
Today, the Nobel Peace Prize committee announced its youngest winner ever, Pakistani education advocate and world-famous terrorism survivor Malala Yousafzai. Her co-recipient Kailash Satyarthi,is an equally impressive child labor activist, who goes beyond rhetoric to leading actual raids of factories employing children, even standing down armed guards. Together, they are excellent representatives of the people who actively fight every day against fundamentalism, extremism, and violence.

Ms. Yousafzai’s activism on behalf of women and girls’ education everywhere has earned her nearly universal praise from the West, including this latest honor, yet she still cannot return home to Pakistan due to fears for her and her family’s life. While she is widely known and celebrated abroad, feted by heads of state, and has even met Queen Elizabeth II, Malala is often called a Western pawn or CIA agent in the Pakistani media, with some even doubting the veracity of the Taliban’s attempt on her life in 2012.

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Week in Protests: Spotlight on Hong Kong

As my colleague Colin Wolfgang likes to say, “protests are so IN right now.” The latest country to experience mass pro-democracy protests is also perhaps the most surprising: in China over the last two weeks, student groups and pro-democracy activists have joined forces in Hong Kong to stage huge demonstrations and sit-ins. Despite a total government blackout on information leaving Hong Kong, reports and photos are still coming out showing that the protests have spread throughout the central area of the city, and show no signs of abating.
 
School children join the pro-democracy protests. Courtesy Getty Images.
The protests taking place in Hong Kong are primarily due to a declaration in August that Beijing would reserve the right to vet all candidates for the chief executive of the autonomously administrated city. The vetting process will take place in the first direct elections for the position, due to take place in 2017. When Hong Kong gained independence from the U.K. in 1997, part of the agreement for its transfer to Chinese administration was autonomous rule for 50 years, and direct elections for the chief executive in 20.