Five & One: January 31, 2011
5. Middle East protests spread to Yemen
Last week, Yemen became the third Middle Eastern country to see protests like those which began in Tunisia and have escalated in Egypt. While the Yemeni protests have not been as violent or widespread, protesters are making similar demands, complaining about dwindling oil revenues, high income inequality, and rampant unemployment. In response, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has promised salary increases for civil servants and military personnel, as well as constitutional amendments to impose term limits on the presidency.
While these new protests in Yemen are significant in that they represent growing, widespread unrest in the Middle East, they also have important ramifications for American influence in the region. Should the outcry Yemen escalate it could put pressure on US counterterrorism operations in the region. Al-Qaeda is believed to have established a growing foothold in the country and U.S. military forces have been cooperating with the Yemenis to combat it. The United States has the support and cooperation of the current Yemeni government but it is unclear whether governmental changes brought on by these protests could jeopardize American interests and operations.
4. After student outcry, Evanston decides not to enforce housing law
The Northwestern University student body was united in outrage against Evanston’s proposed enforcement of the “three-unrelated ordinance” last week. The prohibits three unrelated people from living in the same residence. The anger was short lived, however; one day later the city announced that it does not, in fact, plan to more strictly enforce the ordinance. The reasons behind the city’s change of heart remain unclear, but the situation raises interesting questions about the dynamics of power between Evanston officials, the Northwestern administration, and students.
At a town hall meeting on campus Tuesday, both city officials and NU administrators appeared to hold their ground on enforcement of the ordinance. The following day, after a meeting with President Shapiro, Evanston officials renounced their plans. It appears that while students were largely united and passionate about the issue, they may have ultimately needed the intervention and support of the University administration to change city policy.
3. Airport bombing destabilizes Russia
Uncertainty beset the Russian people when a suicide bombing killed at least 35 people at Domodedeovo Airport in Moscow January 24. A suspect was recently identified as a 20-year-old man from North Caucasus, possibly pointing to the work of Chechen terrorists, a constant source of in violence in Russia. However, Russian officials report that the bombing, which occurred in the airport’s international arrivals hall, was directed “ first and foremost” at foreign visitors. This would have been a marked shift in strategy for almost all Chechen groups. In addition, no organization has taken credit for this bombing, which has been notably different than similar recent attacks.
Islamist Chechen separatists claimed responsibility for both the March 2010 Moscow Metro bombing and the 2006 Moscow market bombing, which killed a combined 48 people. The frequency of these attacks, combined with reports that police knew about the latest attack at least a week before it occurred, have created fears about gaps throughout Russia’s security apparatus. This latest attack may be the last straw for the Russian government, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promising that “retribution is inevitable.” If the government does decide to retaliate, it could further escalate violence in the Northern Caucasus, making this bombing more than just a random outbreak of violence.
2. Al-Jazeera reveals deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian discussion
Al-Jazeera’s new Transparency Unit, a bureau inspired by Wikileaks, recently released leaked documents from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The leak originated from a Palestinian source and reveals just how deadlocked negotiations are between the two parties. These documents show that in 2008, negotiators from the Palestinian Authority were offering concessions that included ceding large amounts of Eastern Jerusalem to Israel, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and the return of a very limited number of Palestinian refugees; what amounted to a historically unprecedented offer. The offer would have likely been seen as too generous in Palestine and the wider Arab world. Israeli negotiators immediately rejected these terms because three Jewish settlements in the West Bank would become part of a Palestinian state. These offer shows that Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) may be increasingly desperate for some sort of progress to offset the hardline Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. This leak may further weaken Fatah and could result in political upheaval in the West Bank. Israel’s reputation has also been marred, as they have traditionally accused the P.A. of being uncooperative in negotiations.
This incident also shows the effect leaks will continue to have on the media and politics. There is debate over whether this leak will help transparency in the Mideast or if it has killed the peace process. It also shows that traditional media outlets are beginning to embrace the Wikileaks’ model. Al-Jazeera may be the first to develop a Transparency Unit, but there are reports that other media institutions, such as the New York Times, are looking to set up their own Wikileaks style operations as well.
1. President Obama takes fine line in wake of Egyptian protests
Violent protests have continued to escalate in Egypt for the past week, weakening President Hosni Mubarak’s longeheld grip on power. Protesters continue to defy curfews and army patrols, and there have been numerous reports of individuals killed by Egyptian police. Internet and phone service in the country has been shut down and the U.S. embassy has issued a travel warning and on Friday. The arrival of Mohamed ElBaradei (a 2005 Nobel Prize laureate who is widely admired in the country) gave protesters a prominent leader to advocate their cause.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has tiptoed around the issue, advocating respect for human rights and restraint from violence from all parties. This middle-of-the-road stance enables the United States to maintain its relationship with Egypt, a major U.S. ally in the Middle East while not appearing unsympathetic to protesters. Although his regime is autocratic, Mubarak has provided regional leadership of value to American interests. If President Obama blatantly advocates for Mubarak not to step down, he risks alienating Egyptians. On the other hand, if Obama advocates for regime change, he may lose a critical ally in the Middle East. What will happen next in Egypt is unknown, but the administration is preparing itself either way.
0. Rahm Emanuel taken off, then put back on ballot for mayor
Last Monday, Rahm Emanuel was ruled ineligible to run for Mayor of Chicago by the Illinois Appellate Court. Emanuel, a former Congressman from the North Side of Chicago, had not lived in Chicago since he was appointed President Obama’s Chief of Staff. He resigned that position in September to run for mayor after current Mayor Richard M. Daley’s announcement that he would not seek re-election. However, mayoral candidates are required to have lived in Chicago for one year prior to the election. While in Washington, D.C., Emanuel had rented out his home to a friend.
Just a few days later, the decision of the Appellate Court was unanimously overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court, a move that came at little surprise. Emanuel had only rented out his home and was still paying property taxes on it. There is also a provision in the guidelines for mayor waiving the residency requirement if the candidate had been serving the United States of America.
The entire episode has done little, if anything, to change the landscape of the election. Emanuel was the clear front-runner before the appellate court’s decision and will likely remain to be now that the decision has been overturned.