Monthly Archives: April 2011

Rather to my surprise, I felt sad this morning that I was not in London to watch the royal wedding. By the time I turned on the TV at 6.30am Washington time, the vows had already been taken. I got the Archbishop’s homily, the singing of Jerusalem (always a highlight) and the carriage ride back to Buckingham Palace. I chose to watch the coverage on Fox, but it is difficult to discern conservative bias in the coverage of British royalty. The funniest bit of commentary was when a baffled American studio guest asked to have the concept of a Royal “tea towel” explained to him. Well, it was explained, British people don’t have washing machines – so tea towels are particularly important to them, since all dishes are dried by hand. Read more

Sitting in the departure lounge at Heathrow, waiting for my flight to Washington yesterday, I noticed a familiar figure – David Miliband. It was strange to see a man I’d known as foreign secretary as just a normal traveller – passport in hand, clad in jeans and a white shirt. Once we arrived in Washington, I vaguely expected someone from protocol to sweep Miliband away. But no – he queued up to be finger-printed at immigration with the rest of us. Read more

The announcement that General David Petraeus is going to run the CIA is interesting for lots of reasons. Some political pundits reckon that it is a clever way for President Obama to sideline a potential rivalry for the presidency. It is also a sign of the increasingly militarised nature of the CIA. By tradition the Agency is headed by a civilian. But in recent years, it has taken the lead in running the lethal drone strikes, targetting al-Qaeda and other militants based inside Pakistan. The CIA also has its own paramilitaries and special forces who were very much in evidence in the initial invasion of Afghanistan.

I think the biggest concern about Petraeus must be whether he will be capable of making impartial intelligence judgements about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – given that he played such a big role in designing the strategies there. Read more

I have had lots of responses to my piece for the newspaper yesterday, arguing that liberals in Egypt are losing ground to Islamists. One common response, is – “Yes, but what would the Muslim Brothers actually do once in power?” Good question, and one I should have addressed more directly in the article itself. Read more

All sorts of contending forces rub shoulders in Egypt these days. Last week, I found myself in the lobby of a Cairo hotel, chatting to a square-bearded, pot-bellied, fundamentalist preacher who is eager to see all women in Egypt wear the niqab – the all-encompassing veil that leaves only a slit for the eyes. Just behind him, French tourists ambled around in bathing suits. Then the hotel crooner began belting out “My Way”. I suggested we move to a quieter spot and the preacher agreed, pointing out that, as a Salafi, he objected to all forms of music – and not just Frank Sinatra.

This morning’s papers in Cairo contain the news that – “The Cairo Emergency Court has ordered the removal of the names of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his wife Suzanne Mubarak from all squares, streets and institutions nationwide.” This will be a big job, affecting hundreds of schools, streets and public buildings across Egypt – including a major metro station here in Cairo. Read more

If you find the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt confusing, I suspect that is entirely intentional. The Brotherhood is now the largest organised political force in Egypt, but it currently operates from ramshackle offices in a Cairo suburb. It has sweeping ambitions and a grand vision for the entire Middle East. But it has promised not to seek a majority of seats in the coming parliamentary elections in Egypt or to run a candidate for president.

Essam el-Erian, the brotherhood’s spokesman, embodies the contradiction. He is smiling and welcoming to foreign visitors and he speaks about conciliation and pluralism in Egypt. But get him on international affairs and something much darker and angrier emerges. The Obama administration may hope that it gained credit by urging President Mubarak to step down. But not in the eyes of El-Erian. He insists that America is actively working to overturn the Egyptian revolution and adds – “The Americans always lie. They say one thing and do the opposite.” Read more

What do the following stories have in common?

1. France has started to block trains from Italy to intercept illegal migrants from North Africa.

2. A Eurosceptic party has made big gains in the Finnish general election.

3. Political squabbling in Portugal is raising doubt about the country’s ability to negotiate a bail-out.

4. There are growing demands in Greece for the country to default on its debts.

Answer: These are all symptoms of the same problem. The political understandings that underpin the EU are beginning to unravel. Read more

In this week’s podcast: Anger in the eurozone after Portugal requests bail-out; Ivory Coast’s president is captured; and, potential civil unrest in India following a telecoms scandal. Read more

In Las Vegas they call the really big gamblers – the ones whose fortunes can make or break a casino – the “whales”. For the European Union, Italy is the whale – the country whose economy and debts are so large that the fate of the single currency and the EU itself hang on its future.

I am about to go on holiday for a week. This blog will largely fall silent unless a) Something amazing happens, b) It is once again hijacked by the FT foreign desk or c) I have too much time on my hands.

Italy has a huge national debt of something like 120% of GDP. But last week, I was told by a former top official in the Italian government that Italy has done an audit of all its possessions and found that the state’s assets still outweigh its liabilities. The difficulty is that many of the state’s possessions are difficult to realise. How do you cash in on the Colosseum, for example? Read more

In this week’s podcast: The threat to Yemen’s president; refugees and the Libyan crisis; and, shutting down the government in Washington Read more

In this week’s podcast: Oil prices hit $120 a barrel; UK government tax hike causes Norwegian group Statoil to reconsider projects in the North Sea; Statoil makes a significant oil discovery in Norway; and your comments on Energy Source Read more

Life in much of Europe is still pretty sweet. Yesterday, the Duomo in Milan shimmered in the sunshine. The atmosphere of serenity was disrupted only by the thousands of drunk, chanting German football fans who had gathered in the piazza, ahead of Schalke’s game that night against Inter Milan, the champions of Europe. But I was inclined to put a positive spin on this scene. What a tribute to the prosperity of the old continent that thousands of ordinary German oafs have the time and money to buzz off to Milan in the middle of the week, to watch a football match. Read more

For the western world, the “Arab spring” threatens to be a classic case of good news and bad news. The good news is that this is the Arab 1989. The bad news is that we are the Soviet Union.

I was amused to see the “breaking news” ticker on the FT website announcing that Barack Obama will run for a second term. What a surprise! If he had announced that he would not seek re-election, that really would have been news. Read more

How many civil wars and massacres can the world deal with, at one time? The situation in Ivory Coast now threatens to rival Libya for bloodshed, mayhem and human-rights abuses. Descriptions of the situation in Abidjan, once one of Africa’s most cosmopolitan cities, sound desperate. There are also reports of massacres and mass atrocities in fighting outside the capital. All this raises the obvious question. If the UN and western military forces are prepared to intervene so forcefully in Libya, why has the response to Ivory Coast been so relatively feeble? Read more

In this week’s podcast: Middle East unrest spreads to Syria; American politics and the Libyan intervention; and, Japan struggles to deal with the devastation and tragedy of the tsunami. Read more