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NightWatch 20110216


For the Night of 16 February 2011

North Korea: correction to the correction?: North Koreans and Chinese celebrated Kim's 70th birthday today, 16 February, counting the day of his birth as the 1st birthday, which is the Chinese style. Chinese Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu did present special birthday gifts from the people of China, during his short visit.

Comment: Official North Korean party documents sent out last month indicated today is Kim's 69th birthday. Subsequent reports indicate today is his 70th birthday, which is a cultural event of significance, requiring veneration and respect. A parade and other activities in honor of Kim were lavish for a country that cannot feed itself. Images of his public appearances today make him look pretty healthy, assuming they were not body doubles.

Pakistan: Update. The Lahore High Court will be informed by the U.S. Embassy that Raymond Davis, accused of murdering two Pakistanis, qualifies for diplomatic immunity by being a member of embassy administrative and technical staff, under the Vienna Convention, an official said, Dawn News reported.

The Pakistani government will inform the court that the domestic law and Foreign Ministry's regulations require Davis to be registered with authorities as a diplomat, which could not be done because of unresolved queries, an official said. The system of accreditation followed was not in accordance with international law nor prevalent in many countries, including the United States, and the matter should be left up to judicial interpretation, according to the official.

Comment: The Pakistani Taliban threatened reprisals in the event Davis is released. Davis might have a diplomatic passport, but his immunity might still be limited. This is arguably one of the worst times for such a stress-point to emerge. Large anti-American demonstrations are likely. If past is prologue, Pakistani authorities will not intervene, even if the demonstrators burn down the US Embassy in Islamabad.

Bahrain: Protests continued as thousands of Shiite demonstrators gathered in Manama, today to mourn the death of a second protester killed this week, Reuters reported. In central Manama, approximately 2,000 protesters spent the night in tents at Bahrain's Pearl Roundabout.

Comment: The King is a progressive, enlightened ruler. The problem is the demonstrators do not want a king, apparently.

Yemen: Clashes continued between anti-government protesters and supporters of President Saleh with at least four injured, according to Agence France-Presse.

The conflicts erupted near Sanaa University where two journalists were beaten by Saleh supporters as students demanded the ouster of Saleh and his ruling General People's Congress. The protest marched toward Al-Sabiine Square near the presidential palace, but Saleh supporters attacked the protesters with batons, stones and knives, causing clashes to spread across the university campus. Police attempted to disperse the crowds with warning shots.

Comment: Yemen is the most unstable of all the Arab states, not because of the protestors, per se, but because they aggravate underlying fissures in Yemeni society. The protestors' objective is to remove the head of state.

Hezbollah-Israel: Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address to be ready to invade northern Israel if ordered to do so, The Associated Press reported. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned the Israel Defense Forces Northern Command on 15 February that the border could explode into crisis. Nasrallah said Hezbollah should be ready to seize the Galilee area, which refers to part of northern Israel.

Comment: Well-informed and Brilliant Feedback reports that Galilee already is mostly Arab. It is only a matter of opportunity before Arabs attempt to seize it from Israel. A fight over Galilee promises to be a crisis this year, in which Arab forces and proxies fight on and for Israeli soil.

Israel-Iran: For the record. Two Iranian "warships" heading toward Syria from the Mediterranean Sea will transit the Suez Canal, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said today. Lieberman called the move "a provocation," saying it proved Iran's "nerve and self-esteem" were growing daily. He urged the international community to recognize that Israel could not ignore such provocations indefinitely.

Comment: Canal authorities reported they had no request for transit by Iranian warships. If the ships do transit the canal, that is the definition of a break out.

Egypt: Some organizers of the anti-government protests in Egypt said they formed a "Council of Trustees," representative of the groups and coalitions behind the uprising, to discuss steps toward democracy with Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Committee members reportedly worry about the uncertainty surrounding the transitional period and want to ensure a broader group of public figures has a say.

The 19-member council included former army brigadier Magdy Aaty; university professor Abdullah Al-Ashaal; political scientist Hassan Nafaa; Judge Zakaria Abdel-Aziz; Mohamed el-Beltagi of the Muslim Brotherhood; Khaled Abdel-Qader Ouda, an academic; author Alaa el-Aswany and veteran television presenter Mahmoud Saad, among others. Members of the April 6 Movement were initially concerned about Egypt's Constitutional Committee chief Tareq al-Bishri's Islamic sympathies but were satisfied by his reputation for independence, The New York Times reported.

A lawyer and member of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) said the coalition of young leaders encouraged the military leaders to move quickly on certain amendments so that Egypt could hold credible elections. Parliament should revisit the constitution, but it is wise not to let a new constitution come out during a military period, the MB leader said, adding that it would be "somehow fascist."

Comment: As long as the political discussion focuses on amendments to the existing constitution, nothing substantive has transpired. Some groups are slowly coming to this realization.

Security. Hundreds of airport employees protested at Cairo International Airport for better wages and health coverage, but flights were not disrupted. In Mahallah al-Koubra, employees of Egypt's largest textile factory were striking over pay and alleged corruption. Some 1,000 people protested in Port Said, calling for the closure of a chemical factory due to waste dumped in a nearby lake.

Nationwide, the date for the reopening of schools and universities has been pushed back another week. Some 200 demonstrators were dispersed by the military outside a welding factory between Cairo and Alexandria, according to state media, CNN reported. Protesters blocked traffic for 30 minutes.

Comment: But for the few workers' job actions and suspicious, hard core protestors, Egypt has returned to normal conditions. A workers' movement has not yet developed.

Libya: Libya's privately-owned Quryna newspaper reported anti-government protesters outside a local government office in Benghazi, demanding the release of a human rights activist. The crowd, reportedly armed with Molotov cocktails and throwing stones, marched to the city's Shajara square, where it clashed with police and government supporters.

Libyan state television reported pro-government rallies across Libya in support of leader Moammar Qadhafi, adding that the rioting in Benghazi was over and the pro-government side held Shajara square.

Comment: The ability to organize demonstrations has begun to have diminishing returns. Regimes are ready for the youths. Reformers interested in more than a good party and a change of leader will have a tougher time nurturing revolutionary change next time, if there is a next time.

End of NightWatch for 16 February.

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