April 23 - April 29
Hello, and welcome to the Dispatch for April 23 - 29!
This has been an extremely busy week for me, and because of that, this is going to be an extremely short dispatch.
The Salafis, a broad group of ultra-conservative Islamists, endorsed a liberal Islamist for president in a surprise move this week.
The Islamists move is a sign of dissatisfaction with the Military Council and the Muslim Brotherhood, the two current political powers in Egypt. The Brotherhood already has control of Parliament, and after initially promised not to field a candidate, the group reneged when they couldn’t find anyone to endorse. The Salafis’ endorsement makes Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood member and very liberal Islamist, close to the front-runner in the race.
My sense is the Brotherhood is concerned first and foremost with making sure the military abdicates power. It’s entirely possible they will wind up backing Fotouh, even over their own candidate, if it looks like he could win the election.
Prime Minister Gilani was found guilty of Contempt of Court for failing to re-open a corruption case against Pakistani President Zardari. His punishment was imprisonment until court adjourned a few minutes later.
While the sentence seems ridiculous, Contempt of Court is a felony charge sufficient to bar someone from holding office in Pakistan. Effectively, the Contempt charge ends Gilani’s political career. He’s appealing, but the message from the Court’s short sentence was pretty clear, and it’s unlikely his conviction will be overturned. As NightWatch noted, it looks like Gilani took one for the team: Any appeal trial will take time, and then elections will have to be held, a new prime minister picked, and the entire court charade will need to start again. Gilani’s sacrifice just bought his party a good year’s grace from a hostile court.
Charles Taylor, warlord and former Liberian president, was found guilty of war crimes by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Charles Taylor’s war in Sierra Leone became the archetype of African conflicts. The child soldiers, the mutilations, the blood diamonds: this the vocabulary by which we know African civil wars. The effects of his rule are still being felt in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. It’s hard to imagine what true justice would look like in this case; some events cut so deeply the only thing left to do is move on.
A blind dissident escaped house arrest and apparently made his way to the US Embassy. While the story remains officially unconfirmed by either the US or China, a senior US diplomat has apparently been dispatched to handle the situation before high-profile meetings between the two countries this week.
A couple months ago, the vice mayor of a Chinese city showed up at an American embassy and attempted to defect. He was eventually rebuffed and left the embassy, sparking the downfall of a prominent Chinese politician, ripples of which are still being felt. It’s going to be much harder for the US to turn away a blind advocate for democracy who has spent the better part of a year and a half under unofficial house arrest and who has been praised by Hillary Clinton. So far the Obama administration has done a good job of skirting the line between constituents in the US and partners in China, but returning Mr. Chen to China would be a severe black eye for an administration which has vocally promoted democracy and democratic movements around the world.
Vladimir Putin handed control of United Russia, his political party, over to outgoing president (and incoming prime minister) Dmitri Medvedev.
United Russia’s image has been tarred by electoral scandals, including the Parliamentary vote which sparked protests across Russia this year. Putin is trying to distance himself from the party and its scandals, but United Russia has been crafted in his image: it’s Putin’s party, and nobody’s likely to forget it – especially not with Dmitri Medvedev, widely regarded as Putin’s lapdog, at the helm.
Thanks for reading, and sorry for the brevity - next week I’ll be back to full length.
My best for the week ahead,