The Arab Spring in Review

The Arab Spring, a wave of democratic movements that swept across North Africa and the Middle East from 2010 through 2012, was celebrated as a moment of significant change in the region. Longstanding dictators like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Mummar Gaddafi in Libya, and Ali Abdullah Salen in Yemen were swept from power, and widespread  popular protests in countries like Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, and Oman led to democratic reforms. But the celebrations were short-lived as the power vacuum created in the wake of the protests created an opening for groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to operate freely. It also created an opening for radical Islamic parties to roll-back liberal freedoms demanded by protestors in the first place.

What do you think? Should the Arab Spring be judged as a success or a failure in hindsight? Should the United States have supported forces to remove dictators like Mubarak and Gaddafi? Why? How would you have advised President Obama to respond to the Arab Spring? Why?

Secular Politics in Bangladesh

Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American blogger, was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in Dhakar yesterday. Roy was a prominent critic of the Bangladeshi government and the growing role of Islam in Bangladeshi politics. His blog, Mukto-Mona, provided a community for atheists, skeptics and humanists of Bengali and South Asian descent.

In 2013, another atheist blogger in Bangladesh, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was hacked to death in a similar attack. That attack, perpetrated by an Islamic militant group, sparked widespread protests, with thousands of Haider supporters taking to the streets to demand justice while thousands of counter protesters called for strengthening anti-blasphemy laws.

Is Netanyahu’s Visit “Destructive”?

US National Security Advisor Susan Rice yesterday described an upcoming visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “destructive.” Rice asserted that both the decision by Speaker of the House John Boehner to extend an invitation to Netanyahu, and Netanyahu’s decision to visit the United States less than two weeks ahead of his own reelection, as injected a degree of partisanship into the question that complicates ongoing negotiations between the United States and Iran and is “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the United States and Israel.

What do you think? Will Netanyahu’s visit undermine US-Israeli relations? Will it affect ongoing negotiations between Iran and the United States? Why?

The Face of Gender Equality in Turkey

Thousands of Turkish women took to the streets of Istanbul last week to draw attention to the murder of a woman in a minibus taxi in Turkey. Women’s rights organizations note that violence against women in the country is on the rise, and several organizations are calling for equal rights for women in society. The groups accuse the Turkish government of an “insufficient response” in addressing gender-based violence, and in particular for normalizing the rape of non-conservative women in Turkey.

Ozgecan Aslan, a 20-year-old psychology student, was killed by three attackers while resisting a rape attempt on her way home from university. Her burned and dismembered body was discovered on last week, sparking massive protests across the country. Aslan’s case has become the rallying point for the protests and the symbol of the struggle for gender equality in Turkey.

What do you think? Has the Turkish government done enough to address the status of women in the country? What additional steps, if any, do you think the government should undertake?

Migration and Social Mobility in China

A new photography exhibit seeks to highlight to challenges faced by China’s migrants. Millions of China’s citizens have migrated from rural homesteads to urban centers over the past two decades as China had rapidly developed. Indeed, according to one estimate, up to one-third of Beijing’s twenty million citizens are migrants.

Under China’s hukou system, citizens of China are classified as either rural or urban residents. The system historically defined a wide range of asocial benefits. In more recent years, the hukou system has been reformed, but it still limits the ability of rural citizens to purchase property in urban areas. This system, according to its critics, has limited the upward social mobility of millions of Chinese.

What do you think? What are the advantages and disadvantage of China’s hukou system? Would you suggest reforming the system? Why? How?

Claiming Universal Jurisdiction in Senegal

Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, yesterday was detained and ordered to stand trial on charges that he engaged in war crimes, torture, and crimes against humanity that resulted in more than 40,000 deaths during his eight year presidency in Chad.The order marks the culmination of a 22-year struggle by former dissidents and victims of the Habré regime to bring the former president to justice.

The case is noteworthy for a number of reasons. But perhaps most notable is that fact that it represents the first use of universal jurisdiction by a member state of the African Union. Universal jurisdiction permits one state to prosecute crimes committed outside their normal legal jurisdiction—for example, in another state—under particular conditions. If successful, the exercise of universal jurisdiction by Senegal in this case may clear the way for similar cases to be launched in other African Union member states and by victims of other oppressive regimes.

What do you think? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using universal jurisdiction to bring former oppressive leaders to justice?

Oil and Economic Development in Venezuela

Like many oil exporters, Venezuela’s economy has been rocked by the recent collapse in global oil prices. According to the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Venezuela is a member, oil accounts for approximately 95 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and about a quarter of the gross domestic product. The steep decline in global oil prices have thus left a major hole in government coffers and a sharp economic downturn in the country’s economy.

To cope with the ongoing crisis, Venezuela’s government is undertaking a policy to devalue its currency, the bolivar. But the response of global currency markets suggest that the move is too-little, too-late, and that move will have little effect on the value of the bolivar, and that the government’s strategy may be an effort to retain foreign exchange in order to make upcoming loan payments to international creditors.

What do you think? Is Venezuela in danger of defaulting on its international debt? What effect would such a default have on Venezuela’s economy? And what effect might a default have on the country’s domestic politics?