Tag Archives: 2013

The F1 Event in Bahrain: A Lost Chance For The Opposition

How did the revolutionaries use this event to raise more awareness or invite foreign support? A large-scale protest that disrupted the logistics or running of the race would have obviously grabbed some headlines and will have certainly embarrassed the Bahraini security forces.

[dhr]

Bahrain-Unrest

[dhr]

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]uch to the chagrin of organisations like Amnesty International the F1 event in Bahrain went ahead and was earmarked to make around £26million for Bernie Ecclestone, let alone the huge amount of money generated by Grand-Prix-tourism and advertising for the Bahraini government. Even as some news agencies reported that the Grand Prix would be less eventful than last year, claims were being made that the government had arrested suspected pro-democracy supporters and had ejected an ITV news crew. In fact, even last week when I was in Manama, the tense mood was still apparent as I was stopped by the police on three separate occasions and asked which newspaper I worked for. Flattered though I was, I had to work hard to convince them of the truth that I was just a tourist. It is standard Bahraini government behaviour but still an opportunity for the opposition to attract more media attention.

So would it have been better if the Grand Prix had been cancelled, or if the event had continued with some reports of disturbances? A cancellation would certainly have caught the attention of the F1 fans, which had been waiting a whole week to see the continuation of the competition; how many of those fans are active human rights activists is unclear but probably not high given the level of spectation. However, the fact that the F1 continued gave the pro-democracy supporters an interesting opportunity to broadcast their grievances to the world. The mere fact that the majority of newspapers last week referred to the event as the ‘controversial Grand Prix’ is inadvertent propaganda for the revolutionaries. Interestingly, after his earlier dismissive reaction to calls for the F1 to be cancelled, Mr Ecclestone actually criticised the government for giving the opposition “a platform” to protest. He also told news reporters he would be meeting the opposition leader after the qualifying stage, for what purpose he did not say.

So how did the revolutionaries use this event to raise more awareness or invite foreign support? A large-scale protest that disrupted the logistics or running of the race would have obviously grabbed some headlines and will have certainly embarrassed the Bahraini security forces. Before the F1 events began such a situation seemed highly unlikely given the large security force, long-running crackdowns and pre-emptive arrests, but it seems the protesters realised this too as demonstrations were stepped up the night before and the early-morning of the race. Tyre burnings in Manama also drew some attention, but the tactics were too mild or poorly timed to encourage the kind of attention that would bring their situation forward in the news.

Obviously the Bahraini government and the F1 organisers also had their own press strategies which were extremely harmful to the pro-democracy campaign. This included F1 legend Jackie Stewart weighing in on the side of the Bahraini government. His statement that the anti-government clashes are “no different to the Glasgow Rangers and the Glasgow Celtics [clashes]” is in my opinion a disgustingly naive (or purposefully destructive) assessment of the situation. The fact that this may have been taken as gospel by F1 fans threatens to undermine any pro-democracy efforts to get their word across to the very influential audience of the motorsport. It’s hardly surprising that Jackie supports the Bahraini regime though, seeing as he had a hand in the promotion of Bahrain as a location for F1 races.

The question of violence and destruction of property in Bahraini protests is also an interesting point to address. The branding of the pro-democracy protesters as ‘terrorists’ because the protesters burned tyres and clashed with police seem highly sensationalist to an opposition supporter. But strangely it seems to have worked in turning (at least the British) F1 spectators against the opposition efforts. A very heated and exhausting conversation with my warehouse colleagues showed that they were angry that the “selfish” and “irresponsible” opposition wanted to spoil a beloved international event; although they understood there was excessive and extreme police violence. It would seem that the Bahraini government’s attempt at alienating the opposition argument from F1 spectators has been, in this specific case, successful. Given the lack of international support though I would guess that has been the occurrence across the wider F1 spectator community as well.

The overall effectiveness of the opposition’s campaign to push their story into the global or western spheres seems to have been quite unsuccessful, at least in the long term. The news outlets are no longer running large stories on Bahraini affairs because the tournament has moved on and the Syrian situation has progressed very far in recent weeks. It seems that the only ways to really globalise this situation effectively are to either heavily disrupt a future F1 event to the point of cancellation or relocation (like 2011), or for the opposition movement to turn to much more violent means of resistance. The latter may gain intense media coverage, but is it worth the cost of human life?

[hr]

Photo Credit: Shabbirhtz

12 Predictions For 2013

From the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute, the forthcoming Israeli elections, and the health of the EU, Frazier Fathers makes 12 predictions for 2013…

[dhr]

prediction

[dhr]

1)  Shots Fired in the Eastern Seas?

As the excellent articles by Hsin-Yi Lo (Part 1 and Part 2 ) illustrated, the disputes between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands are rooted in the two country’s histories. Following the election of the Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party many signs point to relations with China over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands deteriorating in 2013. In its election manifesto the LDP called for the deployment of “civil servants”  to the islands to maintain Japanese control which of course will elicit a harsh response from China. Whether the new Prime Minister will carry out these election promises remains to be seen but all the pieces are in place for a tense year in the Seas of East Asia.

Prediction: Tensions in the South China Sea and surrounding areas remain high throughout 2013 with repeated clashes (both direct and indirect) between Chinese and Japanese paramilitary organizations (coast guard/police and protesters/fishermen). The tit for tat will continue through the year with escalating intensity and expanding into economic and military realms. That being said, both sides will stop short of opening fire on the other.

2) Bibi 2.0

If the polls are to be believed, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party appears to be headed to re-election in January. What does this mean for the Middle East? Not a whole lot; the status quo will remain with the Palestinians, the rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear program will continue (more on that later) and relations with Israel’s neighbours will remain frosty at best. Nothing will change and the Middle East will spend another year in purgatory.

Prediction: Settlement construction continues, peace process remains derailed, rocket attacks from Gaza remain a threat and relations with Washington, Europe and the rest of the Mid-East remain on ice.

3) Off the Cliff or into the Ceiling?

Although the negotiations between President Obama and House Republicans to avoid the potentially disastrous consequences may result in a deal before the January 1st cliff, this will not be the end of the US budgetary clashes. According to many estimates, the United States government will reach the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling sometime in the first quarter of 2013 after delaying tactics by the treasury. It is unlikely that any debt deal struck in the final days of December will be forward thinking enough to resolve this debt ceiling issue and as result American politics will likely immediately fallback into partisan deadlock after a brief detour for a gun control debate.

Prediction: President Obama’s agenda in almost every major policy area will be stuck in gridlock as Congress’s dysfunctional characteristics continue through 2013 towards the Midterm 2014 elections.

4) Gaddafi 2.0

Most current reports state that Syrian President Assad is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. He is slowly losing the civil war – meaning eventually the rebels will get their hands on him and he will, if he is lucky, face a farce trial and be sent to the gallows. If he tries to make a break for freedom, it is likely that his Alawite allies will attempt to hand him over to the rebels in order to save their own skin. Either way things are bleak for Assad; more or less any scenario short of a NATO invasion and his capture by Western forces will result in the current Syrian President meeting an end that could match the grizzly end met by the late Colonel Gaddafi. This of course leaves the question of what happens next.

Prediction: President Assad meets a grizzly end, either at the hands of the rebels or his former supporters. After Assad is removed sporadic fighting continues as sectarian groups battle for supremacy as the Syrian National Council struggles to project power across the country.

5) An Islamist Paradise

2012 saw northern Mali seized by radical Islamist forces as fellow TRS contributor Peter Kelly provided insight on in his piece this past fall. Unfortunately a quick resolution to this situation seems less and less likely as US UN Ambassador Susan Rice was quoted as stating that the French intervention plans for Mali were “crap”. Even with a UN resolution passing on December 20, most experts predict that forces would not actually be ready to engage the Islamist forces until September or October. What this means is that for the next 8 to 10 months the region will continue to deteriorate, radical Islamist forces will be able to dig in and implement their harsh interpretation of Islam. The risk of another African refugee crisis erupting and spilling into the fragile neighbouring countries is real and the fact that border security is non-existent in this region means that there is nothing stopping the Islamists from just disappearing into the vastness of the Sahara.

Prediction:The 2013 year sees much of northern Mali still in the hands of Islamist extremists. The intervention, when it occurs, will meet quick success as most of the extremists will disappear into the desert and across porous borders following a short period of fighting.

6) Negotiating with Terrorists

With a June 2014 deadline for the official withdrawal of the majority of US combat troops from Afghanistan. It is clear that if there is any hope of stability for the region the Taliban will need to be negotiated with. In October the ongoing secret negotiations between the US and Taliban collapsed over a proposed prisoner swap. Now the stage is set for potential negotiations between the dysfunctional Afghan government and the Taliban in 2013.

Prediction: Attacks on NATO personnel and Afghan government personnel and facilities will continue with the annual “Spring Offensive” being particularly bloody. Negotiations will continue behind the scenes setting the stage for the 2014 elections where the Taliban will be on the ballot.

7) A Bigger but not Better EU

July 1, 2013 sees Croatia join the happy club that is the European Union. This is the same club that is expected to hover about 0% GDP growth over the year. Although Germany, the Baltic and Nordic nations continue to have strong finances and growth, they will continue to be dragged down by worries over Greek, Italian and Spanish debt. Although an agreement was reached over EU financial regulation and banking oversight it is unlikely that this will be enough to stabilize the union’s economic woes. The pivotal moments for Europe will likely come in the Italian and German elections which are set for February and September respectively. The outcome of these elections will likely determine the fate of the European Union.

Prediction: Pro-European centrist governments will manage to maintain power in both Germany and Italy but racial and ultra-national parties like the Five Star Movement will make large gains resulting in increased political instability and a channel for vocal opposition.

8) The Thin Red Line

Despite condemnation from the UN and Benjamin Netanyahu’s drawing red lines, 2013 appears to be when decisions need to be made. Of course, the red line was supposed to come in 2012 and before that in 2011 and the year before that. Why are the summer and fall of 2013 so important? First in March of 2013 both the IAEA and the various branches of US intelligence services are due to present reports on the status of the Iranian nuclear program to their respective governing bodies. Even if these reports are damning it is unlikely that any action will occur before the Iranian presidential elections that are set for June. Since President Ahmadinejad is term limited he will be replaced and the question becomes by whom, and with the backing of which mullah’s and governing faction will the new president come. Should a repeat of the 2009 election occur it is very unlikely that the US or Western powers will remain silent as Iranians protest in the streets. But if a new hardliner president is elected, and the nuclear program remains on track, strikes of Iranian nuclear facilities will likely move to the forefront.

Prediction: If a perceived hardliner wins the Iranian elections, air strikes will hit Iran’s nuclear facilities before the holiday season of 2013. If a “reformer” wins, 2014 will become the new “Red Line”.

9) What Global Warming?

Following “super storm Sandy” global warming once again moved back into the psyche of the American people and there was renewed hope that climate change would move back onto the policy agenda. The annual UN climate change talks in Doha this past November produced much talk but no actual agreement or actions beyond meeting and agreeing to meet again before the 2015 deadline. 2013 won’t change much either. As politicians all continue to struggle to restart the world economy, it would be foolish to expect any movement on the climate change file from any major CO2 producer.

Prediction: Another bad weather year around the world has people talking of climate change; no government from the major CO2 producing nations takes any concrete action.

10) Farewell Hugo

From personal and family experience I know that battling cancer is one of the toughest fights in a person’s life. Unfortunately for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, two cancer surgeries and the follow up complications which involved internal bleeding generally do not point to a good recovery. Even after recovering from surgery, President Chavez still likely faces chemotherapy or radiation treatment and likely at minimum several months of being largely unable to lead on a day to day basis. The fact that a successor has been chosen is an unfortunate sign that Chavez’s days as President could be numbered and what that means for Chavez’s socialist movement in Venezuela and other leftist movements in South and Central America is a question that will play out beyond 2013.

Prediction: President Chavez transfers power to his Vice President by the summer as persistent cancer treatments have him out of the country and unable to fulfill his duties.

11) Argentina Hits Rock Bottom…Again

In 2001, Argentina was bankrupt. Today, Argentina has become a key player in the international commodity markets while its exports have doubled from the $31 billion in 2001 and, if you listen to the government claims, all is well within the country. But things are not as good as they appear. In January it is expected that IMF will decide whether or not to censure Argentina over the reporting of inaccurate inflation and economic data. Since 2007, official inflation levels have averaged 8.8%, but many private and international economists peg it at approximately 20%. The government of Cristina de Kirchner seems prepared to continue its economic policies, including the nationalization of major foreign companies.

Prediction: The economic downward spiral of Argentina continues in 2013 as inflation continues to pressure the spending power of the average Argentinian. Meanwhile foreigners continue to fear additional nationalization of foreign companies in the footsteps of the Spanish oil company YPF, as a result FDI begins to decline.

12) Challenging the Dear Leader

With the election of President Park Geun-hye in South Korea, 2013 will see how Kim Jong-Un responds to his new female counterpart. Although Park has pledged to attempt to reengage North Korea, the recent rocket/ballistic missile launch and signs pointing to preparations being made for a nuclear test the question is whether the new Kim will attempt to engage with the South or continue to show his strength in 2013.

Prediction:  The first half of 2013 is relatively quiet from the North Koreans. But they start the summer with a bang by testing a nuclear weapon.

[hr]

Photo credit: John “Pathfinder” Lester

2012: Not A Bad Year For TheRiskyShift.com

2012 has been a pretty amazing year for theriskyshift.com. Since launching on the 14th January, we have had 93,981 visitors from 202 countries, notching up a total of 225,893 pageviews. Not bad, eh?

[dhr]

8021991284_734e7397ef_b

[dhr]

Of the 430 articles published in 2012 on theriskyshift.com, the top ten most-read were:

  1. ‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘Offends’ Muslims. ‘Well So Fucking What?’, by Peter Kelly
  2. A Muslim’s Reaction To ‘Innocence of Muslims’: ‘Well, So Fucking What?‘, by Tasbiah Akhtar
  3. East Asian Sea: China, Japan & The Diaoyu Island (Parts 1 & 2), by Hsin-Yi Lo
  4. ‘Innocence of Muslims’ Rioting Has Nothing To Do With Religion, by Lucy Thirkell
  5. The Security Implications of Arctic Sovereignty, by Samuel Lewendon
  6. A Rough Week For The English Defence League, by Jill Hallgren
  7. Iran’s Currency Crisis: Why The Revolutionary Guards Will Win, by Sam Ferdowsi
  8. Is Iraq The Only War Tony Blair Should Be On Trial For, by Harry Martisius
  9. UFOs, The “Unknown Unknowns”, & IR Theory, by Giuseppe Paparella
  10. Survival Of The Fittest Students: It’s ‘Fucked Up’, by Anastasia Kyriacou (also the winner of our October competition)

Many thanks to all our staff members, contributors and readers. To a successful 2013!

[hr]

Photo credit: TimSnyder

An Introduction To The Forthcoming Israeli Elections (Part One)

With the recent announcement from Benjamin Netanyahu that Israeli elections will be held approximately 8 months ahead of schedule (in early 2013), we thought an introduction to the domestic Israeli political landscape was in order. 

[dhr]

The Streets of Jerusalem

[dhr]

The government of the 18th Knesset was one of the most stable in the topsy-turvy world of Israeli politics: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now the second-longest serving premier in Israel’s history of squabbling, multi-party coalition governments. This represents a rare achievement in the fickle world of Israeli politics, where internal wrangling and ego-fuelled disputes are daily occurrences.

With the Israeli elections scheduled for 22nd January 2013, all of the Knesset’s 120 seats are up for grabs. Below, I attempt to navigate the obfuscated, irascible and often irrational nature of Israeli politics, by providing an outline of the ‘major’ parties vying for representation in the 19th Knesset.

Likud Squared

‘Likud’- Hebrew for ‘Consolidation’, constitutes a merger of a disparate band of right-wing parliamentary parties. The 2013 elections have wrought the ‘consolidation of the consolidation’ in the ‘nationalist camp’: the merging of Likud with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu. Shocked political commentators compensated for being caught off-guard by coining the new slur towards this government-in-waiting: ‘Bieberman’.

The ideological incongruity between these parties contextualises cross-party shock at the news. Yisrael Beitenu is a ‘special interest’ party of Israel’s Russian-born population. Branded ‘The Russians’, Lieberman supporters are unique for their espousing of both secularism (Yisrael Beitenu are often called ‘The Pork Party’) and right-wing ‘ultranationalism’.

By contrast, Likud rose to power in 1977 on the backs of ‘Mizrahim’: orthodox Jews from Arab countries alienated by the Europeanised, socialist secularism of the Labor-led administration. Whilst Lieberman’s pronouncements during his current tenure as Foreign Minister were crass and peppered with nationalist bombast, the American-educated Netanyahu represents the Western-media savvy, ‘silver tongue’ of the Israeli right, taking the Likud to its current 27 seats.

At a glance, one can discern the underlying fundamental precipitants of the merger. Representing but one section of Israeli society and holding only 15 Knesset seats, Lieberman’s lofty Prime Ministerial ambitions would indubitably be rendered unlikely. By co-opting the rising star of the right, Netanyahu neutralised a potential Prime Ministerial contender, positioning Lieberman as an heir, not an opponent. Both leaders have, naturally, denied that a power-sharing deal was cemented.

Though polls had previously been kind to both parties, snap post-merger polling has painted a less rosy picture. Likud may lose both Mizrahi voters put off by Lieberman’s secularism and centre-right voters who eschew Yisrael Beitenu’s apathy towards the international community. The merger has also engendered discomfort from Likudniks who considered themselves Prime Ministers in waiting. Whilst the happy couple are enjoying the honeymoon, inter-party acrimony is already fermenting. 

Yalla (Bye?) Kadima

Kadima is a name rooted in Israeli slang: ‘Yalla Kadima’- ‘let’s go: forward’- is ubiquitous during rush-hour traffic jams. Thus, it is ironic that ‘Yalla Kadima’, a centrist party founded in 2005, is at risk of becoming ‘Yalla Bye’- a streetwise idiom denoting decampment.

Since Ariel Sharon, Kadima’s founder, suffered a stroke in 2006, the party was led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and then by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The loss of government to Likud in the 2009 elections led to Livni being displaced as leader by her rival, Shaul Mofaz. The latter’s bumbling has not endeared the party to skeptical Israeli voters: despite joining Netanyahu’s coalition in May 2012, Mofaz backtracked, returning Kadima to opposition in mid-July. Polling has consistently shown the party plummeting from its current position of 28 Knesset seats to single-digit figures.

Despite being mired in sleaze and corruption, rumours abound about Olmert’s return to politics as head of a centre-left ‘mega-party’.  Livni is also the subject of speculation; will she found a centrist partyjoin Labor or ally with Olmert? Rather than stand as a testament to their survivability, the resurgence of previous washed-up leaders is demonstrative of a vacuum of electable talent on the centre-left.

The Redemption of Labor

Despite having led every Israeli government from 1948-1977, many pundits predicted the demise of the Labor Party throughout the 18th Knesset. The party enters the 2013 elections with its  lowest-ever mandate of eight Knesset seats, having been decimated by former Labor leader Ehud Barak’s decision to split from the party in 2011.

Barak, the highest-decorated soldier in Israeli history, was replaced by Shelly Yachimovich, a political neophyte with no security experience, often a necessity for Israeli electoral success. Unlike its European namesakes, Labor has failed to connect with working-class Israelis, many of whom are Russian or Mizrahi, due to the predominance of hawkish positions in these demographic groups vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

Starting from a low point, Labor is oddly well-placed to spin a lacklustre result as a positive gain. Buoyed by widespread societal dissatisfaction at the high cost of living, Labor strategists hope to broaden the party’s appeal by focusing on socio-economic issues, rather than the flaccid peace process: Yachimovich has successfully recruited the leaders of the cross-party social protest movement.  With Kadima faltering, opinion polls suggest Labor will supplant them as the official opposition.

Netanyahu’s government finally fell due to the unwillingness of his coalition to agree to a wide-ranging budget of austerity measures. When the cuts bite, Labor is banking upon the vindication of their social-democratic platform: if they under-perform electorally, expect them to play ‘the long game’ and sit out the next government in opposition.

This is the first of a two part series. You can read the second part here.

[hr]

 Photo credit: dmitrysumin