Egypt

  • Angela Merkel is taking her revenge on Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras by insisting there can be no more talks on the country’s debt crisis until after its referendum on the bailout on Sunday
  • After China’s main stock index fell by 5 per cent yesterday, investors are blaming the share collapse on the securities regulator and the shadowy world of margin lending
  • An Egyptian soap opera set in a neighbourhood in old Cairo circa 1948 offers an empthatic portrayal of the Jewish community – and casts Islamists as the bad guys
  • Yes? No? Greek Voters Are Perplexed by a Momentous Referendum (New York Times)
  • In Ramadi, the Islamic State settles in, fixing roads and restoring electricity (Washington Post)

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Despite a collective show of mourning for the assassinated opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, the prospects for Russia’s anti-Putin movement remain bleak

In one of his last interviews days before he was murdered, Boris Nemtsov told the FT that Russia had become a “country of war, of humiliated, hypnotised people” and that Putin had “brought Nazism into politics”

The egregious anomaly of the non-dom status, where the wealthiest enjoy the privilege of UK residency without paying their fair dues to the exchequer, should be scrapped, says the FT

Anatomy of a Killing: How Shaimaa al-Sabbagh Was Shot Dead at a Cairo Protest (Vice News)

‘Jihadi John’: a graduate of my radical London university, a place where extremism can fester and Islamist views were prevalent (Washington Post) Read more

Vladimir Putin with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban

In the West, Vladimir Putin is often viewed as something of an international pariah. Shift your perspective, however, and it is quite striking how many international friends, the Russian president has cultivated.

Mr Putin, who enjoys posing bare-chested, is particularly good at making friends with other “strongmen”. His roster of special friends include Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa. This week, Mr Putin has also been demonstrating that he is capable of finding pals even inside the “enemy camp” – the European Union. The EU may have imposed sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, but that has not stopped Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary – and another self-styled strongman – from rolling out the red carpet for Mr Putin. Read more

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  • Following the military coup and counter-revolution, Egypt’s main problem is the restoration of the security state, which is using the judiciary as one of its arms to stifle dissent and ringfence the army’s privileges
  • Russian president Vladimir Putin cancelled construction of a strategically important gas pipeline following opposition from the EU and sanctions, but Moscow will instead develop a gas hub to southern Europe via Turkey
  • Lines of frustrated shoppers have replaced socialist rallies and posters of Hugo Chavez as the most ubiquitous images of Venezuela, with the situation set to worsen after Opec resisted Caracas’s calls to boost the oil price
  • The booming trade in jade in Myanmar – like blood diamonds in Africa – is turning good fortune into misery, as the spoils remain in the hands of the military and Chinese financiers who collude to smuggle the gemstone (NYT)
  • Jihad isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, say disgruntled Isis recruits from France, who complain of iPods not working, being forced to do the dishes – and threats of execution if they attempt to flee (The Independent)

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  • Magnus Carlsen retained his crown as world chess champion without the aid of supercomputers or a huge team of assistants – reinforcing the view that he is the best player the game has ever seen
  • Foreign travellers are returning to the pyramids in Giza and Cairo’s ancient markets as Egypt’s tourist industry picks up, a sign that the country’s broader economic picture may be improving
  • “Lung washing tours” are the new thing in Chinese tourism, as smog drives mainland tourists into novel migration patterns to escape the worst days of autumn
  • As China increasingly uses its state-owned television network as an arm of the law, not only are its journalists embarrassed to wear its logo in public – they don’t even believe the things they report (Foreign Policy)
  • Mumbai gangsters have returned to targeting Bollywood celebrities in an effort to find a “new business model”, police in India’s commercial capital say (Guardian)

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Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (Getty)

Has Qatar’s luck run out? Just a year ago the small, rich Gulf state was at the top of its game, well on its way to establishing itself as a regional political and global financial force.

Splashing its gas-fuelled wealth across the globe it accumulated a multibillion-dollar portfolio of assets, and spread its influence in an Arab world in turmoil, setting itself as the champion of rising Islamist powers.

So confident was its emir of his own standing that in June 2013 he abdicated in favour of his son, in an attempt to demonstrate that Qatar is the most progressive among Gulf states stubbornly attached to the status quo.

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By Gideon Rachman

In America, they have Super Tuesday. Europe is about to have a Super Sunday, with elections for the European Parliament taking place across the 28-member EU, ending on May 25. That same Sunday, Ukraine will be holding a presidential election. The next day, Egypt will hold its own presidential vote. And then, towards the end of that week, on May 29, President Vladimir Putin’s pet project – the formation of a Eurasian Union – will receive the formal go-ahead with a signing ceremony between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

 

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks on on the Middle East in London on April 23, 2014. (Getty)

There are plenty of people who will simply refuse to listen to anything that Tony Blair has to say about the Middle East – on the grounds that he is an idiot or a war criminal, or some combination of the two. I am not one of them. On the contrary, I think that the speech that Blair has just given on the Middle East is worth reading. He is intelligent, passionate and well-informed. But I still think he is wrong or, at the least, unconvincing, on a number of crucial points. Read more

  • “When a man becomes a high official, even his chickens and dogs go to heaven”, but a Chinese corruption investigation means the route for Zhou Yongkang, his chickens and his dogs might well lead somewhere else.
  • Hollande’s drubbing is not a blank cheque for France’s mainstream right
  • Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s former premier and now a presidential candidate, urges the west to bolster the country’s military defences and impose “immensely strong” economic sanctions on Moscow.
  • Meanwhile a visit to Donetsk shows how private donations are helping Ukraine’s underfunded army with everything from food to funds to create a ‘Maginot line’ to halt Russia.
  • The Middle East Institute tracks the history of terrorism in Egypt’s Sinai with an interactive graphic.

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What is it about the last week of May and elections? I already have the elections to the European Parliament marked in my diary. They are scheduled to take place in 28 EU nations between May 22 and May 25, and the European Parliament has modestly billed them as the “second biggest democratic exercise in the world”. The biggest, obviously, is the Indian elections – the results of which will have been declared just a week earlier. The Indian and European elections were scheduled some time ago. But we now also have the Ukrainian presidential election - an event that has taken on global significance – scheduled to take place on May 25. Meanwhile, Egypt has just announced that it too will hold a presidential election on May 26-27. Read more

 

Egyptian policemen standing guard outside the courthouse in Minya during the trial of some 683 Islamists on March 25, 2014. AFP/Getty Images

That Egypt’s judiciary is politicised is nothing new. Usually, though, at least it goes through the motions of a trial, allowing some form of defence and taking its time in issuing controversial verdicts.

A court in the southern city of Minya, however, has dispensed with all formality, opting instead for an absurd and outrageous miscarriage of justice. On Monday, it delivered the biggest mass death penalty in the country’s modern history, sentencing 529 Muslim Brotherhood followers to death for an August attack on a police station, in which the deputy police chief was killed. The defendants’ lawyers were not allowed into the proceedings – which lasted a mere two days. Read more

♦ In the new cold war, Russia could hit the US where it hurts – in Iran.

Vladimir Putin has confounded three US presidents as they tried to figure him out.

♦ The decision in Egypt to hand the death sentence to 528 Muslim Brotherhood members was widely condemned, but Egyptian TV told a different story.

♦ The US is losing its edge as an employment powerhouse after its labour participation rate fell behind the UK’s.

♦ Russia’s actions in Crimea have sent a chill through its former Soviet neighbours in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

♦ American economist Hyman Minsky is back in vogue as his ideas offer a plausible account of why the 2007-08 financial crisis happened.

♦ A report on how former Tunisian president Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali changed the rules of business underlines the challenges still facing the country. Read more

♦ Many Iranians see basij– the ideologically-driven volunteer forces of the Revolutionary Guards – as stick-wielding thugs, but they show a softer side as they sip cappuccino and discuss art at Café Kerase.

♦ Although demographic and other factors are against the US Republicans, the Grand Old Party is seeing a strange revival.

♦ It’s not a good time for Japan to put its tax rates up, which is why the government is allowing retailers to act like they haven’t.

♦ Much has changed in Sarajevo since the day in 1914 when Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, providing the spark that lit the flames of the first world war, yet much has remained the same.

♦ The Egyptian army’s gift of land for homes has prompted speculation over a closely guarded secret: the size of the army’s stake in the economy.

♦ A property boom across Germany‘s biggest cities has been dubbed a betongold – literally concrete gold – rush. Read more

♦ As the Ukraine crisis escalates with Russian troops taking hold of Crimea, Barack Obama faces his sternest challenge – or as Edward Luce puts it, his chicken Kiev moment.

♦ Western military experts suspect Russia of plotting its action in Crimea for weeks.

♦ Politico suggests that Russia no longer fears the west , and outlines why.

♦ The New Yorker reports on the strange world of the Muslim Brotherhood court cases in Egypt. Read more

Getty Images

The terrorist killing of tourists in the Sinai peninsula is a bad blow for Egypt. If the Egyptian economy is to revive, it is crucial that holidaymakers start coming back to the country. Political instability in Egypt has led to a sharp fall in tourist arrivals, ever since the revolution of 2011. Yet, despite the political violence on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere, tourists had not hitherto been targeted by terror groups. That has now changed, with the first major attacks on tourists since 2009. Read more

By Toby Luckhurst
Al-Qaeda: On the march Terror affiliates are active in more countries than ever, write Sam Jones, Borzou Daragahi and Simeon Kerr.
The rise of a new US federalism. Edward Luce says with federal government largely paralysed, the future is being shaped in the cities.
♦ The Economist looks at the effect a new era of automation will have on jobs. Previous technological innovation has delivered more long-term employment, not less. But, it notes, things can change.
♦ The New York Times reveals how Iraq’s government is paying and arming tribal militias to fight as its proxies in the battle against militants.
Rewriting the revolution. H.A. Hellyer in Al Arabiya News looks at the historical revisionism in play in Egypt.
♦ An infographic in the New York Times shows the cost per person of the US federal budget passed last week. Read more

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