Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, December 21, 2007

Solstice-New Years Hiatus

A pause in postings here will commence now.

A break in routine is good.

If you see something helpful for the teaching of comparative politics and government, please send it along. We'll get to it next year.

Outlining the line

There was a "training session" for members of the Party Central Committee in Beijing. Boy, did they get an earful.

Solid leadership of Party Central Committee stressed

"Hu Jintao, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, on Monday urged new CPC Central Committee members to well understand and carry out the Party's policies set at its 17th National Congress.

"Hu made the remarks at the beginning of a symposium for the newly elected CPC Central Committee members and alternate members...

"Hu underlined in his speech that the Central Committee plays a very important role in undertaking various works both for the Party and the country, and thus to build it into a solid leadership is of great significance.

"Leading all Chinese people to a development path of socialism with Chinese characteristics despite interference and fear is a "solemn responsibility" of all Central Committee members and alternate members, Hu said in his speech...

"The current 17th CPC Central Committee has 204 members and 167 alternate members who were elected on 21 October at the Party's 17th National Congress..."

Hu stresses full implementation of free religious policy

"Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday reiterated a policy of free religious belief while stressing law-abiding management on religious affairs and support to self-governance of religious groups.

"Hu, also the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, made the statement at a meeting of the members of the Political Bureau of the 17th CPC Central Committee in their study on religious issues at home and abroad..."

Chinese vice premier calls for bigger role of central SOEs in economy

"Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan said Tuesday that state-owned enterprises (SOEs) administered by the central government should grow more competitive to play a larger role in the economy.

"'Centrally administered SOEs are a main force in state-owned firms and a backbone in the national economy,' Zeng said. 'They should become bigger and stronger to contribute more to the economic and social development.'...

"China currently had 152 such SOEs, all under the supervision of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC)...."

Labels: , , ,

Theocratic democracy

I read about the following new book and thought it might be something we, who teach about Iranian government and politics, should read. It's been released in the UK, but is still pending in the US.

Islamic Democracy and Its Limits
The Iranian Experience Since 1979
by Tawfik Al-Saif.

The publisher describes the book this way:

"What is the difference between a democracy imposed by foreign powers and one developed locally, albeit within a political system dominated by religion? Tawfiq al-Saif explores Iran's ever-bumpy road to democracy, by analysing the political ideologies of both the conservative and reformist trends in Iranian politics and their distance from the traditional model of liberal democracy. The religion versus democracy debate has been remarkably enriched in Iran by new approaches of reformist thinkers to questions of rationality, secularism, constitutional rights and the state-religion relation. Iran's experiences provide readers with a better understanding of the potentials, difficulties, motives and limits pertaining to the process of democratisation in the modern Middle East."

If anyone has a review or knows more about the author, add a comment below.

Labels: ,

A new oligarchy

Now, here's a perspective to consider for the new year. The Guardian's (UK) Luke Harding wrote an analysis of Kremlin politics and finance.

Putin, the Kremlin power struggle and the $40bn fortune

"An unprecedented battle is taking place inside the Kremlin in advance of Vladimir Putin's departure from office, the Guardian has learned, with claims that the president presides over a secret multibillion-dollar fortune.

"Rival clans inside the Kremlin are embroiled in a struggle for the control of assets as Putin prepares to transfer power to his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev...

"At stake are billions of dollars in assets belonging to Russian state-run corporations. Additionally, details of Putin's own personal fortune, reportedly hidden in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, are being discussed for the first time.

"Asked how much Putin was worth, [Russian political expert Stanislav Belkovsky] said: 'At least $40bn. Maximum we cannot know. I suspect there are some businesses I know nothing about.' He added: 'It may be more. It may be much more...'...

"Discussion of Putin's wealth has previously been taboo. But the claims have leaked out against the backdrop of a fight inside the Kremlin between a group led by Igor Sechin, Putin's influential deputy chief of staff, and a 'liberal' clan that includes Medvedev.

"The Sechin group is made up of siloviki - Kremlin officials with security/military backgrounds...

"Insiders say the struggle has little to do with ideology. They characterise it as a war between business competitors. Putin's decision to endorse as president Medvedev - who has no links with the secret services - dealt a severe blow to the hardline Sechin clan, they add...

"Belkovsky adds that the west has misunderstood Putin and has been distracted by his "neo-Soviet" image. Putin, Belkovsky claims, is ultimately a 'classic' businessman who believes money can solve any problem, and whose psychology was shaped by his experiences working in the St Petersburg mayor's office in Russia's crime-ridden early 1990s..."

See also:

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The new PLA

The Brit who writes the blog, liuzhou laowai offered this photo of students recruited by the PLA in the city where he lives. He notes that he doesn't think that the student soldiers wear the flowers in combat.

Labels: , , ,

A new PLA

What's a modernizing country to do with a peasant army? Maureen Fan wrote in the Washington Post about efforts in China to recruit a new kind of soldier.

China Scouts Colleges to Fill Ranks of Modern Army

"The fliers circulating last month on the campuses of China's most prestigious universities showed three soldiers positioned against a Chinese flag and an appeal that read in part: "Carry Your Pen to the Army to Become More Accomplished."

"In ancient times, the phrase was 'Throw Away Your Pen and Join the Army,' a challenge to China's intellectuals to stop wasting time and help defend the country. Now, the People's Liberation Army is recruiting college students in an ambitious modernization program designed to attract smart soldiers who can handle sophisticated equipment and transform the 2.3 million-strong force into a high-tech adversary...

"Domestically, the army already has come a long way. A military that 18 years ago was most readily associated with the shooting of protesters in Tiananmen Square is increasingly helping in relief efforts after floods and other natural disasters. The army has also been the driving force behind recent achievements in space exploration...

"One of the most important aspects of the modernization is a huge effort to shed the impoverished farmhands who have traditionally signed on as a way to ensure three solid meals a day...

"Recruits are lured by financial incentives and programs that allow students to return to university after two years in the army with preferential standing for graduate school...

"Undergraduates from outside Beijing may be offered Beijing residency...

"In addition, with an increasingly competitive job market, a growing number of college graduates are finding it difficult to secure a stable job with a good salary. Many are beginning to think two years of army experience will give them advantages over other candidates...

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Supreme law in China?

Dan Harris, at China Law Blog, identifies the writer, Jerome A. Cohen, as someone "widely considered a leading figure in Chinese law." Harris also says the article is "well worth the read."

It certainly fits with the consideration most courses give to China's developing legal system.

A just legal system

"Over the past 30 years, the Chinese Communist Party has adopted - albeit haltingly - many of the norms and institutions required for a formal legal system...

"Reforming the system - ending political interference in the courts, uprooting the widespread corruption in the judiciary, overcoming local protectionism and, above all, eradicating the corrosive effects of "guanxi," the network of personal relations that is generally more influential than laws and rules - will be difficult.

"Yet Chinese experts have reached consensus about the steps that must be taken. What is lacking is the sort of strong support for legal reforms at the highest levels of the Party...

"Moreover, the rapid economic and social development of the country - which has brought better education, more mobility, more reporting about the law, more TV and radio shows featuring legal dramas - has created a huge demand for formal adjudication of disputes.

"But despite routine calls for strengthening the 'socialist rule of law' and the demands of rapid economic and social development, the Party has so far avoided the bold reforms that a genuine rule of law would require. Such reforms would, at a minimum, demand that the Party surrender its power to dictate decisions in individual court cases and place the Party and government under the law, not above it..."

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A bit of cultural awareness

In the U.S., especially in the second half of December, it's easy to miss the news of a couple million people gathering for a religious commemoration in the Saudi desert.

Muslim Pilgrims Prepare For Peak Of Haj East Of Mecca

"Muslim pilgrims poured onto the plain of Arafat east of Mecca on Tuesday as the sun rose over the rocky hills for the day marking the climax of the annual haj pilgrimage...

"Saudi authorities say more than 1.6 million people have entered Saudi Arabia for the event, the largest religious gathering in the world...

"A representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei managed to give a speech to a group of Iranian pilgrims at Arafat on Tuesday denouncing 'enemies of the Muslim nation.'...

"President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is performing haj this year at the invitation of Saudi Arabia..."

Labels: ,

I'd call it political culture

Hans Küng, president of the Foundation for a Global Ethic, writes about European and Asian potentials for integrating values, standards, and "attitudes of ethical-religious traditions." His main point is that while the bases for such political culture in Asia are different from those in Europe, they aren't all that different in some ways.

It's a philosophical consideration of one step in the formation of political culture. If you'd like your students to consider these ideas, this essay is a good place to begin.

The Globalization of Ethics

"Many Europeans doubt that Asia can catch up with Europe in terms of regional integration. But Asia not only has the type of stable common ethical foundations that were so important to European integration; it also has a well developed set of moral principles, some of which were an established part of Asian culture long before similar principles were adopted in Europe...

"Of course, Asia does not yet have a cohesive core culture comparable to that of Europe, which is founded on the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Enlightenment. But Europeans ought not to be too arrogant, because, in recent years, that common European culture has itself proven to be fragile...

"Although Asia seems to lack Europe’s cultural core, there are core ethical constants that have long governed Asian societies and indicate common ethical foundations. Indeed, in some respect, Asia has more experience with intercultural relations than Europe..."

Labels: ,

Monday, December 17, 2007

Variety in the presentation of the basics

It's always good to have some quality variety when it comes to presenting basic information. Lectures and textbooks only go so far. Well, how about student-produced material?

James Harrison is a young man who is now a fresher at uni in Glasgow. He grew up in London and Scotland. Harrison has posted over 140 videos on YouTube, a few of them about British politics. The self-avowed Liberal Democrat is a political junkie and quite knowledgeable.

If you'd like a short, illustrated lecture titled (British politics basics) about the main political parties in the UK, he posted one last April that might be a good introduction for your students. It comes directly from James Harrison's bedroom.

He featured Gordon Brown in a 7-minute video update after Blair's resignation. He also did an update in October when Campbell resigned as LibDem party leader.

His 3-minute video, What the hell is the UK? is aimed directly at Americans who don't know the difference between England, Britain, Great Britain, the UK, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. From my experience, most American students could benefit from this little lecture.

If you like Harrison's work on British politics, last September he did a 7-minute lecture on American politics, presumably aimed at a British audience. An American responded, "I wish more American kids knew as much as you do about American politics. Nice job!."

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Nigeria, drug conduit

There's a good reason you cannot fly directly from Nigeria to the US and it has nothing to do with distances or airport capacities.

Can a country plagued by corruption and lack of transparency, deal with a problem that thrives behind the scenes and depends upon payoffs.

Nigeria's drug trade: That's all they needed

"A FAIRLY typical recent morning at Murtala Mohammed, Lagos's main airport, saw four traffickers carrying cocaine, heroin or marijuana caught, arrested and X-rayed before noon...

"West Africa is the newest centre for trafficking drugs into Europe...

"[A]s the economic hub of west Africa, Nigeria has, inevitably, also become its drug-trafficking hub. Last year 44% of the west African drug-traffickers arrested in Europe were Nigerian...

"Nigeria's history of fighting the scourge is not the sort to discourage dealers. Its drug agency, founded in 1990, was immediately immersed in scandal when its own top people were themselves found to be involved in trafficking...

"The network of gangs and dealers means that drugs are increasingly available on Nigeria's streets..."

Labels: ,

Friday, December 14, 2007

The politics of reform in Mexico

The International Herald Tribune reports that judicial reform is likely in Mexico this week.

And why has the reform effort been successful, when Fox unsuccessfully pushed many of the same reforms for six years? Forbes published a report by Oxford Analytica, an independent strategic-consulting firm, that offers a political explanation.

Mexican judicial reforms draw praise for oral trials, criticism for new police powers

"Mexican lawmakers are likely to approve the most significant overhaul of the nation's justice system in 100 years — constitutional changes that increase transparency by creating oral trials but also give police the right to enter homes and look at private records without warrants.

"The measure is evoking both praise and alarm among legal experts and human rights organizations, who for years have been clamoring for profound reforms in a system that is widely considered outdated, dysfunctional and unfair.

"The lower house of Congress passed the measure by a broad margin Wednesday night, and the Senate is expected to approve it no later than Saturday, when lawmakers go into holiday recess...

"The result: For the first time in history, the presumption of innocence will be guaranteed in Mexico's constitution. Oral public trials, already in place in some states, will replace corruption-tainted, closed-door proceedings nationwide. Suspects will be represented by qualified public defenders instead of "advocates" who often lack law degrees. And the government will increase financing for defenders' offices..."

Significant Reforms Ahead For Mexico

"Next year may bring political consolidation for the administration of President Felipe Calderon.

"Contrary to expectations, the president has governed effectively and secured approval of important reforms on taxation and public expenditure, public sector pensions and electoral issues. The first was a particular triumph, as the previous Fox administration unsuccessfully attempted it twice.

"The government has been able to work with a divided Congress, particularly the center-left Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and probably will continue to do so...

"Divisions within the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution will benefit the government.

"De facto PRD leader, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador... is likely to be ignored. A new leader will be elected in March 2008, probably Jesus Ortega, rather than Lopez Obrador's candidate, Alejandro Encinas.

"During 2008, divisions between those willing to work with the government (including all PRD governors outside Mexico City), and those that follow Lopez Obrador, will continue to widen, possibly causing the party to fragment. Calderon will do his best to isolate Lopez Obrador further..."

Labels: , ,

Encouragement for the Mexican ruling party

Standard and Poor's suggests that political reform is necessary for Mexico. President Calderon's PAN colleagues have probably been saying this for a long time. Is S&P speaking for them and adding weight to their arguments?

How would PRI leaders react to these assertions? How would PRD leaders respond?

Mexico's political system restraining economic growth

"Standard & Poor's...Ratings Services said strengthening institutions and overcoming the legacy of corporatism is perhaps the biggest political problem facing the United Mexican States...

"Mexico's political system remains part of the unfinished business of the transition in recent decades from one-party rule toward greater pluralism...

"Dismantling the... the old corporatist system [touches]... upon deeply entrenched political networks that connect millions of ordinary people to the political system...

"Recent political trends permit cautious optimism... but, any progress will likely be gradual... S&P said."

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 13, 2007

EU treaty signing

EU leaders sign landmark treaty

"EU leaders have signed a treaty in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, that is expected to greatly alter the way members govern themselves.

"The treaty creates an EU president and a vastly more powerful foreign policy chief for the Union's 27 nations.

"At the same time the document scraps veto powers in many policy areas...

"The treaty is a slimmed-down version of the European constitution, with a more modest name and without any reference to EU symbols such as the flag and anthem..."

See also:

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Moving a mountain

A new program in Nigeria is a tiny start to the establishment of a social welfare system.

Welfare deal for Nigeria's poor

"The Nigerian government is launching a welfare scheme to help poor families.

"They will get monthly payments for one year on condition that they send their children to school and get them immunised against childhood illnesses...

"Provided they satisfy the conditions, at the end of the year they will receive a further one-off grant to help them start up a small business.

"The BBC's Chris Ewokor in Abuja says previous anti-poverty schemes have failed because of corruption.

" Despite Nigeria's oil wealth, most of its 140 million people live in poverty...

"Initially the scheme will help some 12,000 households and will be limited to 12 states and the federal capital, Abuja..."

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

One more go at civil society

There's a fine little op-ed piece in The Economist which tries to explain why transparency, rule of law, and civil society are essential for a democratic political system. It's something that should remind your students that oversimplification is dangerous.

Down with democracy

"A democratic vote is necessary, but not sufficient...

"Democracy is a slippery concept. It has become a hooray-word, with lots of loosely defined positive associations, but it is worth remembering that it used to be a boo-word, with lots of negative ones.

"For most of the 19th century it was a synonym for mob rule (for which the lovely but little-used “ochlocracy” would be an even more precise term). Democracy as a term came into fashion during the 1930s, as a counterpoint to the then fashionable autocratic regimes in most of continental Europe. Since then it has become stretched and debased, almost to the point of uselessness.

"The trouble with democracy is that the vote in itself means so little...

"In guaranteeing good government, “democracy” is the wrong tool... The unpleasant paradox is that the countries that most need strong institutions and a law-based state are the ones least likely to have them..."

See also

Labels: , ,

Returning the favor

Putin to Be Named Next Prime Minister of Russia

"A day after President Vladimir V. Putin endorsed a loyal protégé, Dmitri A. Medvedev, as his successor, Mr. Medvedev went before the nation today and declared that he in turn would name Mr. Putin as his prime minister...

"Mr. Medvedev has no background in the state security services and virtually no power base in the Kremlin, and he is seen here as a relatively weak figure beholden to Mr. Putin. With Mr. Putin as prime minister, it would appear that little will change in who controls Russia...

"In his speech today, Mr. Medvedev said that Russia had to continue on the path set by Mr. Putin since he took office in 2000...

"While Mr. Medvedev is clearly a Putin loyalist, Russia has never had leaders who have wielded decisive authority from the background. Power has traditionally emanated from the office — be that of the czar, the Communist Party general secretary or the Russian president. Whether Mr. Putin would be able to keep control over the government even as Mr. Medvedev retained legal control over its levers is an open question..."

Labels: , , ,

Monday, December 10, 2007

Medvedev for president

The headline today in many places parallels that of the New York Times below.

Putin Supports First Deputy as Successor

"President Vladimir V. Putin said today that he would back one of his closest confidants, Dmitri A. Medvedev, to be the next Russian president when he steps down next spring..."

This should not be a surprise to anyone. See the list of references to the speculation about a successor to the Russian president that have appeared here.

See also:

Labels: , , ,

Civil Society in Russia

Learning to Give, is an educational project of The League. It's designed to teach people about civic action and philanthropy. (The League is very shy about identifying itself and its sponsors.)

In any case, there is a not-well-written little essay, Russia—Civil Society? that describes the beginnings of civil society and offers a number of links to more information.

"To understand if Russia is or isn't a civil society, a definition of civil society must be determined. But first, an understanding that the creation of civil society underpins democracy must be acknowledged (Hudson 2003). James Richter writes civil society refers to an overlapping network of civic associations that binds a population into a society autonomous of the state (Richter 1998, 1). He also states that the third sector is an integral part of civil society but is not identical to it. Whereas civil society encompasses all formal and informal associations, the third sector refers more specifically to the formal, functionally differentiated and frequently professional non-profit organizations that interact with state and market actors (Richter 1998, 1).

"Historically, Russia has never had a working civil society..."

YaleGlobal Online offers this essay, Russian Civil Society Will Find It Harder to Breathe

"Despite rising foreign criticism of its plan to muzzle civil society organizations, fear is growing that the Putin government may be returning to the authoritarianism of the past...

"The bill will have three primary effects. First, it will limit Russian citizens’ constitutional right to create unregistered but formalized civil society groups...

"Secondly, the bill will tighten controls over all existing Russian NGOs...

"Thirdly, particularly tough measures will be applied to foreign NGOs operating in Russia..."

See also:

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Civil society in the UK

Want your students to investigate civil society in the UK? Here's a place to begin.

The People and Politics web site says "The term Civil Society refers to organisations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organisations, community groups, women's organisations, faith-based organisations, professional associations, trades unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups.

"These organisations are independent from Government. They are characterised by their resourcefulness, community links, specialist knowledge and the passion that they have for their agenda, whether social, cultural or environmental.

"The UK Government recently recognised the growing influence of this section of society by naming Ed Miliband as the new Minister for the Third Sector. He will be primarily responsible for representing the range of institutions that occupy the space between the private sector and the State in the UK."

The site has links to a dozen British civil society groups, including Charity Commission for England & Wales, The National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and the Commission for Racial Equality.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 08, 2007

How about uncivil society?

If the activity is illegal, does that make it part of "uncivil" society?

Chinese police stage huge gang crackdown

"Hundreds of police with semi-automatic weapons raided a hotpot restaurant and rounded up dozens of gangsters in one of the biggest crackdowns on crime syndicates seen in mainland China...

"The alleged gang boss, Lin Guoqin, a local politician and senior figure in the local business community, was among those arrested...

"Such were the concerns about mob collusion with local police that senior officers were replaced or sent on holiday before the raid... Even those who took part were told it was a training exercise...

"Lin was reportedly a member of the local People's Congress... as well as being vice-chairman of the chamber of commerce, a travel association and a group of leading entrepreneurs...

"China does not disclose statistics on organised crime, although public security officials have acknowledged that this is a "huge-occurrence period". Since the opening up of the economy there has been a rise in drug use, prostitution, counterfeiting, smuggling and intimidation. Many gangs are in league with officials. With no independent judiciary or media in this one-party state, there are few channels to expose their activities..."

Labels: ,

Friday, December 07, 2007

Civil society in Nigeria

And while we're considering the nature of civil society, let's look at another example. Is this a description (from This Day in Lagos) of civil society in Nigeria?

Groups Seeks Lesser Violence Against Women

"ActionAid Nigeria, an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) working on poverty issues, has commenced sixteen days of activism on violence against women and girls in the country.

"The 16 days of activism, according to Tunde Aremu, the group's communications officer, are expected to run from November 28 till December 10; in a yearly global campaign designed to raise awareness on gender based violence and highlights its effects on women globally...

"Other government and non-governmental organisations collaborating with ActionAid Nigeria in this year's campaign include the Women Won't Wait Campaign Coalition Nigeria, Federal Ministries of Women Affairs and Social Development, Health, and Justice, Feminist Movement In Nigeria, Association of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, Forum for African Women Educationalist, National Union of Teachers, Secondary Schools and National Agency on the Control of AIDS (NACA) UNIFEM UNAIDS, UNDP and the Media..."

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Civil Society in China

China's propaganda pros have offered a bit of PR via Xinhua.

Here's the question for students: Does what is described in this article qualify as civil society? Let's have a debate.

Over 25 mln Chinese registered as volunteers

"About 25.11 million people have registered as volunteers since China issued a regulation on volunteer registration management last year, the Chinese Communist Youth League (CCYL) said here on Wednesday.

"With today being International Volunteers Day, CCYL sources said China issued a regulation last year that aimed to better manage volunteer registration and to coordinate volunteers and the services they can offer.

"Registered volunteers in provinces and cities, including Beijing, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong and Sichuan, have each exceeded one million.

"A volunteer network was formed by 35 volunteer associations at the provincial level, in two-thirds of China's volunteers associations at the county level, among 2,000 volunteer associations in universities and at 19 volunteer service centers, CCYL said.

"About 268 million volunteers have offered six billion hours of services since the CCYL encouraged Chinese youth to act as volunteers in 1993."

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cell phones and governance

Most textbooks comment on the political ramifications of the growing telephone network in countries like Nigeria. How well could your students explain the connection? And what would they say about the report from This Day (Lagos) about the continuing growth of phone usage in Nigeria.

Phone Subscribers Now 46.2m

"The phenomenal growth in Nigerian telecoms sector continues as subscriber base peaked at 46.2 million at the end of third quarter of the year. The nation's teledensity, considered the number of phone to 100 people, is 27.42, according to statistics released weekend by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) at the weekend.

"According to the official statistics, total connected lines at the end of Q3 2007 stands at 46,228,173 lines with GSM users dominating with 43,593,310 lines (94%). On the other hand, fixed wired/wireless services follow with 2,235,257 (5%) of total connected lines while mobile CDMA accounts for 399,606 lines (1%) during the same period..."

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Shariah in Nigeria

Lydia Polgreen, writer for the New York Times, has been in Kano and reported on the use of Islamic law in northern Nigeria. Her account is short on historic events that your students should be able to add, and then to evaluate her contentions.

Nigeria Turns From Harsher Side of Islamic Law

"Just last year, the morality police roamed these streets in dusky blue uniforms and black berets, brandishing cudgels at prayer shirkers and dragging fornicators into Islamic courts to face sentences like death by public stoning.

"But these days, the fearsome police officers, known as the Hisbah, are little more than glorified crossing guards. They have largely been confined to their barracks and assigned anodyne tasks like directing traffic and helping fans to their seats at soccer games.

"The Islamic revolution that seemed so destined to transform northern Nigeria in recent years appears to have come and gone — or at least gone in a direction few here would have expected.

"When Muslim-dominated states like Kano adopted Islamic law after the fall of military rule in 1999, radical clerics from the Arabian peninsula arrived in droves to preach a draconian brand of fundamentalism...

"But since then, much of the furor has died down, and the practice of Islamic law, or Shariah, which had gone on for centuries in the private sphere before becoming enshrined in public law, has settled into a distinctively Nigerian compromise between the dictates of faith and the chaotic realities of modern life in an impoverished, developing nation...

"The federal government cracked down on the Hisbah last year, enforcing a national ban on religious and ethnic militias, and the secular, federally controlled police force has little interest in enforcing the harshest strictures of Shariah. Violence between Muslims and Christians has also begun to subside in the north...

"The change has little to do with religious attitudes — northern Nigeria remains one of the most pious Muslim regions in Africa, as it has been since the camel caravans across the Sahara first brought Islam here centuries ago...

"The shift reflects the fact that religious law did not transform society. Indeed, some of the most ardent Shariah-promoting politicians now find themselves under investigation for embezzling millions of dollars. Many early proponents of Shariah feel duped by politicians who rode its popular wave but failed to live by its tenets, enriching themselves and neglecting to improve the lives of ordinary people..."

Labels: ,

Monday, December 03, 2007

Politics in Iran

The article in the 24 November Economist begins like a tale of two opposing cultures. It quickly becomes an analysis of Iranian politics centering on the president. It might add a dimension to what's available for your students.

They think they have right on their side

"IT IS not hard to find examples of the peculiar divergence between how the world looks from Tehran, Iran's capital, and how it looks in... Washington, DC...

"But in many ways, the sparring capitals look more like mirror images than polar opposites. On different scales, both Iranians and Americans tend to take an imperial view. Both governments demonise the other..."

"Iran has the world's second-largest reserves of natural gas and third largest of oil. This president's tenure has coincided with surging prices that have pushed Iran's oil income above $50 billion a year...

"But to the dismay of Iranian economists, Mr Ahmadinejad has used this windfall to build immediate political capital rather than invest in the future. He has tirelessly toured the provinces, promising massive spending on local projects while maintaining subsidies that, by some estimates, devour a third of the government's budget and account for some 15% of GNP... [T]he gap between rich and poor yawns as widely as under the hated shah whom the ayatollahs ousted...

"Government officials try hard to project confidence. They point, for instance, to a boom in house construction and to Iran's success at gaining self-sufficiency in such things as wheat, steel and cement... The country seems mildly prosperous compared with its neighbours, with tidy parks, clean streets and impressive figures for schooling and health care...

"Iranian analysts debate whether Mr Ahmadinejad's free-spending ways have bolstered or diminished his base of support. Some argue that the rural poor, long disregarded by the urban elite, have directly benefited from state handouts and still warm to his rhetoric of class retribution. Even the middle class, they say, can see for itself the improvements in infrastructure, such as the underground train systems being built in four provincial cities...

"Iranians grumble openly about the economy. They tend to be less vocal but more worried about Mr Ahmadinejad's other policies...

"Yet such criticism has tended to be muted. Iran is no longer as brutal a police state as in the revolution's early years nor even as oppressive as many of its neighbours...

"But under Mr Ahmadinejad, selective repression has intensified just enough to signal that open dissent has again grown dangerous...

"Their efforts have proved quite effective. Most Iranians probably resist the idea of returning to the supposed Islamic purity of the early revolution, yet most are far too preoccupied with getting by to protest...

"Besides, Mr Ahmadinejad has had powerful allies. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has directly blessed the fierce morality campaign... though a newspaper close to Mr Khamenei this week accused the president of treating his opponents 'immorally'.

"Surprisingly to outsiders, who tend to view Iran through the lens of its articulate dissidents, Mr Khamenei remains a revered figure; his office still basks in the shadow of the republic's founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini...

"Mr Ahmadinejad... is likely to pay a high price in domestic politics for his lack of tact. Assuming there is no American attack on Iran to provoke a nationalist backlash, his radical fundamentalists may well get drubbed in the parliamentary elections in March. In the poll that brought him to power in 2005, some 20m Iranians refrained from voting. Many are itching to get in a word this time..."

Labels: , ,

Russian election, again

Putin party secures huge victory

"The United Russia party of President Vladimir Putin has secured more than 60% of the vote in Sunday's election, preliminary official results indicate.

"Only two other pro-Kremlin parties and the opposition Communists appear to have got sufficient votes to pass the threshold needed for seats in the Duma...

"United Russia has admitted there were some irregularities on Sunday, but said they were not significant enough to affect the result...

"With nearly 98% of ballots counted, the Central Election Commission announced on Monday morning that United Russia was leading with 64.1%, while the opposition Communists trailed with 11.6%.

"Only two other parties - the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and A Fair Russia, which are allied to United Russia - are on track to clear the 7% threshold required to qualify for seats..."

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Russian election

New York Times report:

Putin’s Party Wins in Russia, but Leadership Is Still Clouded

"President Vladimir V. Putin’s party secured a landslide in parliamentary elections on Sunday after a campaign in which the Kremlin persistently hobbled the opposition. Yet while the results represent a triumph for Mr. Putin, they also usher in a new era of political instability for Russia.

"Even as Mr. Putin has been accumulating power, he has been stirring deep uncertainty about his intentions, making it all but impossible to answer a fundamental question about Russia’s future: come the middle of next year, who will be in charge?..."

Reuters: Canada report:

Kremlin hails Putin win in Russia elections

"President Vladimir Putin's party won a large majority in Russia's election on Sunday, but opposition parties cried foul and vowed to contest results which the Kremlin hailed as a big endorsement for Putin.

"First official results showed United Russia winning over 60 percent of the vote -- an outcome likely to be seen by the Kremlin as a strong mandate for Putin to maintain a position of influence after his second presidential term ends next May..."

Deutsche Welle report:

Putin's Party Wins Russia Elections

"Vladimir Putin's United Russia party has taken a landslide majority in parliamentary elections, according to first results. Opposition parties have called the poll a "farce" and threatened to challenge the results.

"President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party dominated as expected in parliamentary elections Dec. 2, which were marred by opposition allegations of manipulation at the polls.

"Immediately after polling stations closed in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad at 1800 GMT, Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov began announcing the results. United Russia, whose top candidate is Putin, took some 63 percent of the vote.

"Following United Russia was the Communist party with roughly 11 percent. The ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party and pro-Kremlin party A Just Russia barely passed the seven percent threshold needed to enter the lower house of parliament, the Duma. Results are expected to file in through the night.

"Turnout was high among the country's 109 million registered voters, with more than 60 percent casting their ballots. The Dec. 2 vote was the fifth parliamentary election since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But it is the first since introducing new rules raising the representational threshold for entering the Duma from 5 to 7 percent..."

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Why are the pigs walking on their hind feet?

Michael Kimmelman, writing in the New York Times is convinced that the heart of "Putinism" is totalitarianism. His argument is pretty strong. Is he naive about the ease of establishing control of everything? What would your students say?

Is it time once again to assign Animal Farm in political science classes as well as in literature classes? Maybe we should also make sure our students read 1984.

Putin’s Last Realm to Conquer: Russian Culture

"The fight is long over here for authority over the security services, the oil business, mass media and pretty much all the levers of government. Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, notwithstanding some recent anti-government protests, has won those wars, hands down, and promises to consolidate its position in parliamentary elections. But now there is concern that the Kremlin is setting its sights on Russian culture.

"Just a few weeks ago, the Russian culture minister censored a state-sponsored show of Russian contemporary art in Paris. Criminal charges have been pressed during the last couple of years against at least half a dozen cultural nonconformists. A gallery owner, a rabble-rouser specializing in art that tweaks the increasingly powerful Orthodox Church and also the Kremlin, was severely beaten by thugs last year. Authorities haven’t charged anyone...

"These are not Soviet times, it’s worth remembering, and artists, actors, filmmakers and writers here can do and say nearly whatever they want without fear of being shipped off to a gulag...

"Even so, some prominent artists and writers, cognizant of a long, dark history of repression that Russians know only too well, and especially wary of the grip the church is gaining on the state, have been expressing deep anxiety about the government’s starting to encroach on artistic freedom the way it has taken on other aspects of society...

"'Our future is becoming our past,' the well-known novelist Vladimir Sorokin told me...

"Artists are perfectly free, [Nikita Mikhalkov, a once-pampered filmmaker of Soviet days and today a big promoter of Mr. Putin] said. “My view is simply that the modus operandi of Russia is enlightened conservatism,” meaning hierarchical, religion-soaked, tradition-loving...

"Russia needs authority, he said. 'Maybe for the so-called civilized world this sounds like nonsense. But chaos in Russia is a catastrophe for everyone. Even if Putin isn’t always the most democratic, he should nevertheless remain in power because we don’t know that the new president won’t begin by undoing what Putin has done.'..."

Labels: , , ,