Monthly Archives: December 2013

At the end of every year, I attempt a first draft of history by listing what seem to me to be the five most significant events of the past twelve months. Some of my picks for 2013 also featured in 2012. I hope this is not because of intellectual laziness, but simply because the war in Syria, and the turmoil in Egypt remain defining events of our era. I probably should also once again include the tensions between China and Japan – but they are still simmering and have not yet boiled over. So I’ll give the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands a rest this year.

So let me start the list for 2013 with a genuinely new event that has global significance: Read more

Scene of the huge car bomb explosion that rocked central Beirut, killing Mohamed Chatah and at least four others on December 27, 2013 (Getty)

The bombing in the heart of Beirut on Friday morning, which killed leading Sunni politician Mohammed Chatah, was no random terror attack or communal reprisal. It was a targeted assassination, which would have required careful reconnaissance, detailed intelligence, and complex logistics.

The blast that destroyed Chatah’s car, leaving little but shredded metal and a torn vehicle license that identified its owner, took place not very far from where Rafik Hariri, former prime minister and the towering figure of modern Lebanon, was assassinated by a vast bomb in February 2005Read more

An elderly woman walks through a wintry Spanish city, sadly bemoaning her country’s fate. “All the studies show we always come last in the rankings,” she exclaims, shuffling past a placard highlighting Spain’s poor performance in international education tests.

She bumps into old friends, all of whom tell her of their plans to leave the country and “become foreigners”. At a nearby market, stalls advertise the benefits of becoming German, Scandinavian or British. She meets a tousle-haired man clutching his German certificate: “I want to know what it feels like when everyone owes you money – not the other way around.” Read more

By Gideon Rachman
I executed a personal pivot to Asia this year, with separate trips to South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and China (twice). There was certainly plenty to write about – new leadership in China, Abenomics in Japan, Sino-Japanese confrontation, nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula. Yet, on more than one occasion, I found myself sitting in a hotel room in East Asia – but writing about the Middle East.

Judging from our list of the most-read stories of the year, it was a year of personalities, the taper, technology – and increasing turmoil in Syria and Egypt.

This interactive, compiled from the most read stories of the year, gives a picture of what the FT audience was interested in each month.

It’s broken down into four sections, overview, world, companies and markets so you can drill down into the most popular stories in each section. Read more

Mikhail Khodorkovsky (Getty)

As Mikhail Khodorkovsky enters a fourth day of freedom in Berlin after his stunning release from a remote prison colony last Friday, some conclusions can now start to be drawn. All suggest it is premature to get too excited about the implications of the liberation of Russia’s most famous political prisoner.

First, though it may be true – as Mr Khodorkovsky claims – that no formal conditions were attached to his pardon by president Vladimir Putin, the former Yukos oil company chief is in de facto exile. He says he will not return to Russia while a $500m legal claim related to his first conviction on fraud and tax evasion charges in 2005 still hangs over him. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled this claim illegal. But unless Russia’s supreme court strikes it out, Mr Khodorkovsky fears it could be used, at the very least, to prevent him from leaving Russia again if he did go back. Read more

The manoeuvre was vintage Putin. After answering journalists’ questions for four hours and five minutes in an annual press conference – which had already included a question about Mikhail Khodorkovsky – the Russian president chose to slip the main news into a casual comment to a group of journalists afterwards. Russia’s most famous political prisoner, and arguably one of the most famous in the world, will be pardoned after ten years in jail “in the shortest time”.

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♦ In Turkey, Gulenists have burnt their bridges with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party, while Mr Erdogan makes no bones about his desire to purge the bureacracy of his former allies. It is, according to one of Turkey’s old secular elite, “like Alien vs Predator.
♦ Edward Luce points out that the Indian politicians expressing outrage over the strip search of diplomat Devyani Khobragade are suffering from a hypocrisy problem: “So far, no Indian leader has expressed a scintilla of concern about the rights of the Indian domestic servant whom Ms Khobragade had allegedly mistreated.”
♦ Ben Bernanke announced the taper, but minimised market discomfort.
♦ David Pilling considers which events shook Asia in 2013.
♦ James Carroll, a former priest, looks back at the first year of a radical pope.
♦ B.R. Myers, an expert on north Korea, explains exactly what happened to Kim Jong Un’s uncle and why Kim doesn’t look smart taking his wife around with him. Read more

Ronnie Biggs poses with a 'Wanted' poster: Getty images

Like most Britons raised in the 1960s, I grew up thinking that the human species consisted, in essence, of three types of people: fun-loving musicians like the Beatles, harmless screwballs like Johnny Morris (of BBC television’s Animal Magic series) and unspeakable villains like the Great Train Robbers.

And now the greatest train robber of them all, Ronnie Biggs, has passed away. RIP Ronnie. Read more

Chequebook diplomacy: With the US becoming an absentee superpower in the Caribbean, the Chinese are moving in.

♦ A corruption investigation has shaken Turkish political and business life with the detention of prominent executives and people close to the government amid a deepening feud within the ranks of a country’s religious conservatives.

♦ In The New Statesman Paul Conroy asks when will people start taking notice of Syria again.

Gun country: The New York Times examines the complicated relationship between the US and firearms, told through the personal stories of Americans. Read more

The death of Abbas Khan in Syria reminds me of Stalin’s infamous quote that – “A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.” As the war in Syria has dragged on, the world has become almost inured to the horrors there. Back in June, the UN reported that the death toll in the conflict was nearing 100,000 – it has certainly risen above that since then. Millions have been turned into refugees. Yet, sometimes, it takes a single story to remind one of the horrors that are taking place. The death of Abbas Khan is one such story. Read more

♦ While many previously buoyant island states across the Caribbean are struggling, Jamaica’s crisis is the deepest. Robin Wigglesworth profiles a country teetering on the edge of an economic precipice.

♦ The FT interviews Haruhiko Kuroda, the central bank outsider who this year took over the Bank of Japan.

♦ Israelis see many positive economic, strategic and diplomatic developments despite Benjamin Netanyahu’s dark public statements on Iran that present an image of an embattled, paranoid state, says Gideon Rachman.

♦ The Washington Post spoke to refugees from all walks of life in its report: Stories from the Syrian exodus.

♦ When veteran Egyptian politician Amr Moussa unveiled Egypt’s new draft constitution on Sunday, he did so in front of a vast banner that proclaimed the text represented “all Egyptians”. Unfortunately for Moussa, three of the five models used to depict “all Egyptians” turned out to be westerners.

♦Veronique Greenwood in Aeon explains why Swiss farmers take such good care of their cowsRead more

By Gideon Rachman
In recent years, Benjamin Netanyahu has specialised in playing the role of prophet-in-the-wilderness. While much of the world cheered last month’s interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, the Israeli prime minister denounced it as a “very bad deal”. In a recent speech, Mr Netanyahu warned again that the Iranian government remained a “regime committed to our destruction” and had a “genocidal policy” towards Israel.

A suburb of Damascus after it was recaptured by regime forces (Getty)

On a recent trip to Damascus, an acquaintance surprised me by announcing his plans to leave the country. Concerned friends have been trying to get him to move to Lebanon for the past two years, but he always refused. Like many Syrians, he felt that even with a civil war raging, Damascus had a soulfulness and integrity that Beirut lacks. Now he’s had enough.

“Its not the shelling,” he explained. “It’s the greed.” Read more

How We Invented Freedom and Why It Matters, by Daniel Hannan, Head of Zeus, RRP£20, 400 pages

Old Links and New Ties: Power and Persuasion in an Age of Networks, by David Howell, IB Taurus, RRP£12.99/RRP$29.99, 256 pages

Influencing Tomorrow: Future Challenges for British Foreign Policy, edited by Douglas Alexander and Ian Kearns, Guardian Books, RRP£12.99, 224 pages

‘Britannia’ (c.1915) by Sydney Kendrick©Bridgeman

‘Britannia’ (c.1915) by Sydney Kendrick

Across the back of Daniel Hannan’s How We Invented Freedom and Why It Matters is a curious endorsement from Boris Johnson. The blurb starts conventionally enough, hailing the book as a “magnificent achievement”, before adding that Daniel Hannan “bestrides the Atlantic like a majestic combination of Winston Churchill and Piers Morgan”. Reading that, one might almost conclude that the mayor of London was taking the piss.

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♦ Cronyism is being blamed for the slow pace of reform in Ireland.
♦ An AP investigation reveals that a US citizen who went missing on a private business trip to Iran actually had ties to the CIA and was on an unapproved mission.
♦ Bill Keller at the New York Times mulls over negotiations with Iran: “For the moment, our hard-liners pose a greater problem than Iran’s.”
♦ Egyptians are outraged that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was not Time’s person of the yearRead more

Protests continue in Ukraine
Mass protests continue in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, against the government of President Viktor Yanukovych. The government had refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union, apparently in favor of closer ties to Russia. Neil Buckley, east Europe editor, and Roman Olearchyk, Kiev correspondent, join Gideon Rachman to discuss the still-volatile situation.

(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Thousands gathered in Soweto’s enormous stadium for a lively memorial service celebrating Nelson Mandela’s life yesterday but much of the news focused on the behaviour of the attendees rather than on Madiba’s legacy.

The memorial event was overshadowed by the crowd’s hostile reaction to South African president Jacob Zuma, a historic handshake between US and Cuban leaders and shameless selfies as western leaders hogged the limelight. In a surreal turn of events, it emerged that the man interpreting the proceedings live on television for deaf viewers was a hoax.

Here are some reports and analysis on the significance of the day and the high jinks in the audience. Read more

♦ The Volcker rule is contentious, but it is not the knockout blow some people had expected.
♦ The economically sensible wing of the US Republican party doesn’t exist, says Paul Krugman.
♦ Iran and Israel have paid tribute to Mandela, while choosing to remain a safe distance from the memorial.
♦ Marc Lynch explains why nobody in the Middle East deserves to be on the Foreign Policy Leading Global Thinker list this year.
♦ After cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s interior ministry has turned its attention to the activist community of journalists, non-Islamists and students.
♦ The Australian speaks to a mother in Iraq who is waiting for her son’s execution to be announced after a “hanging day”. Read more

Barack Obama shakes hands with Raul Castro during the official memorial service for Nelson Mandela (Getty)It is not often that a handshake has such power to titillate. But then it depends on who is doing the shaking. Barack Obama and Raúl Castro briefly greeted each other when they met on Tuesday at the memorial service of former South African president Nelson Mandela – only the second time that leaders of the two countries are known to have shaken hands since 1960, when the two countries broke off diplomatic relations. Yet it is hard to read too much into this. In fact, it would have been awkward for the two leaders to have avoided it. Read more