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NightWatch 20110215


For the Night of 15 February 2011

North Korea: 16 February 2011 is the 69th birthday of the Dear Leader, vice the 70th. Regrets for any inconvenience.

As for the birthday celebration, this year the central government did not distribute five to ten days of rice or corn to every household as is it's the custom on Kim's birthday. There is insufficient food, according to the DailyNK. Party cadre also did receive special rations of liquor, meat and other foods, but munitions plant workers received ten days of corn.

Comment: One measure of how far North Korea has fallen is that the late Kim Ilk-sung never failed to distribute birthday gifts to the whole nation when he was alive. That North Korea no longer exists, primarily because of chronic economic mismanagement by the Kim family. It is hard to imagine a leadership clan so inept at government for so long.

China-Sudan: A state-owned Chinese company has signed a $1.2bn (£750m) contract to build a new airport in Khartoum. The new airport will have a runway long enough for the giant Airbus A380, says the China Communications Construction Company. The company says the new airport will strengthen Sudan's international ties, which have suffered due to sanctions and a poor aviation safety record.

Comment: The BBC writer reminded readers that China is Sudan' biggest investor. Most of its investment is in the oil sector. The new airport will suit Chinese needs for moving workers and materials to Africa. It seems that Khartoum is destined to become a Chinese air hub.

Malaysia: For the record. The morality police arrested more than 80 Muslims for celebrating Valentine's Day. Islam is Malaysia's state religion and it has vice and virtue cops just like Saudi Arabia.

Iran: Note. In another exercise by young elitists in using social media to arrange get-togethers, young people gathered in Tehran, protested and more than 1,500 were arrested. One died. Others are likely to be executed.

Comment: Iran is following the Algerian approach to anti-government protests, which shows that use of the police power of the state is non-sectarian. One difference is that Iranian authorities blame the demonstrations on foreign intelligence services. This is a study in democracy.

Pakistan: On 16 February, the police in Lahore Province, Pakistan, submitted a 25-page charge sheet against the American Consulate worker who has been held illegally in custody for murdering two Pakistanis who tried to rob him. The Lahore police argued to the sessions judge that their investigation proved the man did not act in self-defense.

Comment: Senator John Kerry, who fancies himself a statesman-diplomat, is in Pakistan to settle this dispute and free the American official. One news source said Kerry apologized for the deaths. The BBC reported Kerry was bargaining with Pakistan for it to follow its own international obligations.

Fortunately, President Obama, an attorney as is Kerry, made a statement that the US citizen must be released under international diplomatic conventions to which Pakistan is a signatory.

The facts of the case are less important than the hostility of the vast majority of ordinary Pakistanis to Americans. Even police and judicial authorities will ignore Pakistan's laws to punish Americans. The government is content to permit this because for a time it diverts and vents public hostility over its incompetence.

Bahrain: The King of Bahrain appeared on television to announce an investigation into the deaths of two protesters killed in clashes with security forces, during the past two days of demonstrations. King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa said, "There have sadly been two deaths. I express my deep condolences to their families." He also promised that political reform will continue.

Soon after, thousands of protesters gathered in Manama's main square without interference by security forces. The demonstrators said they want political prisoners to be released; more jobs and housing; the creation of a more representative and empowered parliament; a new constitution written by the people, and a new cabinet that does not include Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who has been in office for 40 years.

Comment: Feedback from extremely well-informed and Brilliant Readers indicates the situation is not as tense as depicted in international news coverage. More importantly, it is not a Shiite uprising at all. Rather it is a mix of Sunnis and Shiites plus religious conservatives and secular progressives. It appears to be another elitist gathering, exercising the ability of social media to bring people together in yet another country. The two deaths are reminders that political protest is serious business.

Yemen: Security forces in, Sanaa used tear gas and batons to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters who called for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down. The police acted after pro-government activists clashed with the protesters.

This was the fifth consecutive day of protests. President Saleh, who has been in power for almost 32 years, has said already that he does not intend to continue beyond 2013.

Comment: Without support from the tribes in the countryside, the urban elite stand no chance of causing the government to fall. Saleh apparently has bribed the tribes to remain on the sidelines, thus far.

Egypt: The military's Supreme Council announced that work on reforming the constitution is to be completed in 10 days. The amended constitution will be submitted to a national referendum.

The eight-member committee is mostly made up of experts in constitutional law but it includes a senior figure from the opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. It is headed by Tariq el-Bishri, considered one of Egypt's top legal minds. Today the group held its opening meeting with Defense Minister Field Marshal Tantawi. The committee is instructed to "amend all articles as it sees fit to guarantee democracy and the integrity of presidential and parliamentary elections".

Comment: More than anything else the military council has directed, today's announcement highlights the shallowness of the political reform. Before departing, Vice President Suleiman indicated that six or seven articles would be rewritten. The directions to the constitutional committee suggest a task of similarly limited scope.

The Egyptian constitution's institutionalization of authoritarian government is so pervasive that it cannot be eliminated in ten days of effort that produces a handful of amendments. It must be rewritten, if the transition government is serious, which does not seem to be the case. Nothing can be done to the constitution in ten days that promotes democracy.

Tunisia: Update. Tunisian authorities announced that "the state of emergency will continue until further notice," Tunisian TV quoted the Interior Ministry as saying on 15 February. However, the Ministry of Interior said that the midnight-0400 curfew which was declared at the height of protests that swept President Ben Ali from power last month had been lifted.

End of NightWatch for 15 February.

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