Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why are there so many pirates and why are they all Somali?!?

Today, while scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I came across the above status update by a curious young woman (who happens to be a Jedi Knight from what I understand). Since I have some knowledge in the area I decided to write about it and assuage (Google it) any other curious minds.

Okay, so Somalia is a war-torn eastern African nation sitting on the vital international waterway called the Gulf of Aden. This area of Africa is normally referred to as the Horn of Africa, and the Gulf of Aden is vital because it provides access to Egypt's Suez Canal. If international shipping was not able to access the canal, ships transporting goods (oil) to Europe and the United States from Arab gulf states and Asia, would have to go all the way around the bottom of the African continent. Each trip would be thousands more miles and cost thousands more dollars. So we generally want to avoid having to do that.

Somalia has a vast coastline and therefore its people have become expert mariners (I hope you don't have to Google that one) over the centuries. Over the last century these Somali mariners have concentrated their expertise in the industry of fishing, but something changed in the early 1990's and its repercussions continue to this day. The latest manifestation of which occured today when news media reported that four Americans were murdered by Somali pirates.

After years of rebellion that began in the 1980's, in 1991 the Somalian government was effectively rendered obsolete by civil war. The country descended into anarchy, the navy was disbanded, and many naval officers found their skills useless. At the same time the Cold War, which lasted over 45 years and pitted the United States against the Soviet Union, also ended in 1991. This meant Somalia was now unable to patrol its coastal fishing territory at a time when the world's naval super powers were reducing the amount of vessels they each had patrolling the world's oceans, thus making much ocean-based commerce less secure. The combination of these two factors wreaked havoc on Somali fishermen.

Soon after the fall of Somalia's government, illegal fishing ships from all over the world began scooping up fish by the ton in what use to be internationally recognized as Somalia's exclusive economic zone. Somali fishermen were no match for the new intruders, but a new industry was to make way and thrive in the chaos - pirating. What began as an effort by experienced former Somali navy men and mariners to protect Somalia's fishing territory, and impose fines on the illegal intrusion that was devastating their economy, devolved into the violent, multi-million dollar tradecraft we see today. The Somali mariners soon realized the lucrative, however illegal, opportunity they had in front of them and they seized on it. Please keep in mind that most of the acts of piracy committed by Somalis have not ended in violence. In fact, marine insurance companies continually account for the risks of piracy when deciding their premiums, and have even opened backdoor channels in order to pay pirate ransoms. However, the trend is definitely moving in the direction of increased violence and death.

So this is where we are, and it will most likely continue until Somalia regains an effective government. That should be easy enough, hey it's Africa right? Alright folks, back to Carmelo.
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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Middle Pieces

Wow, I can't say I saw this coming. Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Yemen, Sudan...Libya. In country after country in the Middle East, protestors are taking to the streets in attempts to force their autocratic governments to step aside. The "Jasmine Revolution" as its been called.

A little more than a week after Egyptian democracy protestors forced their leader Hosni Mubarak from power, we see dynasties and monarchies much older than Mubarak's facing turmoil not seen since their creation. Jordan's King Abdullah II has pledged to institute democratic reforms in an effort to stave off upheaval. The Islamic monarchy in Bahrain has been battling demonstrators for weeks, but today said it would release all political prisoners in a move that may signal the end of its reign. Let's put this into perspective; right now an estimated 100,000 protestors are marching through the streets of the Bahrainian city of Manama...Bahrain is a country of less than one million citizens.

Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, today announced he will not seek re-election to the tumultuous presidency he has held since 1989, while Yemen's president remains defiant in a nation still clearly divided. But nothing is more intriguing than what's happening in Libya, a country at odds with the United States for decades.

Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi has been the leader of Libya since he led a military coup there in 1969, but now refugees are fleeing the country as it decends into chaos. Refugees have reported hundreds of deaths at the hands of pro-government supporters, and claim that the capitol of Tripoli looks like a war zone. When hearing of Qaddafi's recent statements, I can't help but be reminded of Iraq's former information minister, "Baghdad Bob," who proclaimed confidence in the invincible Iraqi army as the buildings literally crumbled around him.

Pre-Qaddafi era Libyan flags have been reported sprouting up at Libyan embassies around the world, and Libyan government officials have resigned in protest at the bloody crackdown. Most notably, the ambassador to the U.S. Has resigned and the Libyan ambassador to the United Nations has called on Qaddafi to step aside immediately. There have also been reports that senior Libyan military officials have asked the armed forces to support the rebellion, however, it has also been reported that military helicopters and war planes are responsible for many of the deaths. Human Rights Watch has confirmed over 200 dead, while some estimates reach as high as 500.

One of the United States' oldest foes seems to be at the end of his tenure, and it doesn't appear that a U.S. Airstrike will be held responsible...oh and Carmelo Anthony just got traded to the Knicks. As my boy Martin Lawrence put it in the movie Bad Boys II, "Shit (definitely) just got real."
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is it too late for civility in Egypt?

It has been over two weeks since reform-minded protestors took to the streets in Egypt. In that time, the Hosni Mubarak government has made verbal and concrete concessions aimed at restoring peace and normalization to the country. Mubarak has resigned from his post as the head of the National Democratic Party, the only legal political party in Egypt, and has vowed that he nor his son will run in this year's presidential election. However, he has stopped short of immediately resigning as president and dismantling the one-party political apparatus which has dominated Egypt for over thirty years.

This immediate action is what many of the protestors are calling for; the end of the Mubarak era, a new constitution, a democratic multi-party political system...freedom, this is what they want. However, in the West we have come to expect that transitions of governmental power contain two elements; they occur within the boundaries of law and are peaceful in nature. So far law and order have been hard to come by in Egypt, but there is little reason for the impending transition to need to continue down the path of a bloody revolution versus an inevitable evolution. Do the Egyptian people really want the founding of their new democracy to begin with brutality and anarchy?

While Mubarak's repressive tactics have been the overwhelming source of the bloodshed, the protestor's demand for an immediate overthrow of the whole regime also have to factor into the blame. Essentially, if the protestors are willing to accept that the transition will, and should, take time, they may end up with a better product once their new government is formed. Time...time to create effective political parties...time to communicate each party's message to the Egyptian electorate...time to draft a new and citizen-empowering constitution.

Given Mubarak's excessive tenure as president, it is no wonder his insistence on serving out the remainder of his term has fallen on deaf ears. While a timely, orderly transition is what's needed, Mubarak lacks the legitimacy to call for it. To Egyptians he is a dictator, he is the enemy, he is the problem, so how can he be trusted to usher-in reform? He cannot.

Mubarak's best option is to immediately cede presidential power to a successor whom will serve out the remainder of his term. Utilizing the input of international organizations and opposition leaders such as Mohamed ElBaradei, this successor should then begin work on drafting a new constitution which will go into effect prior to the fall presidential elections and will be published for all Egyptians to see. The emergency powers which have justified Mubarak's one-party rule should be nullified and political parties legalized. Additionally, certain elements of Mubarak's former regime should be excluded from running in the election, including even the successor chosen to help craft the constitutional document.

The worst thing Mubarak can do is continue testing the will of his people by staying in office. The longer he stays, the more radicalized the populace is likely to become, and there can be no doubt that should chaos and anarchy prevail, the Egyptian situation will be exploited by the hardline Islamist elements of society.

By taking the tangible, irrevocable step of resigning, Mubarak will communicate to the Egyptian people that the change is in fact real. One can only hope that Egyptians take this to heart and steer their ship toward calmer waters. Let history make note, when given the choice of violence and anarchy or law and order, Egyptians choose the latter.
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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Egypt in transition: Isn't it about time?

Today, Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, announced that he would not seek re-election this fall in what would amount to the end of his decades-old non-democratic presidency. The announcement comes after days of popular protests throughout Egypt calling for his resignation. However, it is unclear to me as to whether his announcement is genuine.

According to a recent New York Times article, Egyptian reactions to his announcement were not positive but quite the opposite. Protestors have called for his immediate resignation, but Mubarak's announcement seems to be an unacceptable compromise; one that could in fact result in him retaining power beyond the fall elections. Most likely, the negative reactions to his announcement signify that Egyptians are well aware of this possibility.

Egyptian presidential elections are months and months away, giving the Mubarak government plenty of time to allow popular resentment to subside. In that time, Mubarak can reassess his position, reestablish control, squash dissent, and build foreign support for the continuance of his regime. While Nobel laureate and former head of the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency , Mohamed ElBaradei, is seen widely as one of the opposition leaders who could assume power, it isn't at all clear who will actually fill the vacuum should Mubarak step down. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood, a longtime Islamist political group, has been singled out by some Western-backed leaders as an undesirable potential replacement to the current government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is one leader who's recently raised concern that a Western-friendly government may not rise from the ashes of Mubarak's downfall, suggesting that there is a market in which the appeal of sticking with the current regime can be shopped and sold. Of course, Netanyahu's comments may be more reflective of his concern that a new Egypt will be less Israeli-friendly than that it would be less Western-friendly. I don't believe most international leaders would view the West and Israel as one-in-the-same.

While, at present, Mubarak may not truly intend to give up power in eight months, his announcement should give his government, as well as others, some breathing room and additional time to analyze what this uprising is all about. Governments around the world may find that this is a grassroots, peaceful, and popular movement toward real democracy, led by an educated and cosmopolitan demographic. Egypt is not Iraq, it is not Iran, and it is definitely not the sharia-law based Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Egypt has been a leader in the Middle East for decades, and has had a Western-influenced populace for years. In the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, a peaceful domestic-led movement toward democracy in one of the Middle East's most stable countries doesn't sound so bad...actually, I thought that's what we've been waiting for?

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