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
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
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
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
Not many letters to the FT go viral. But KN Al-Sabah’s pithy explanation of the intricacies of Middle East politics, deservedly garnered a wide audience. It read as follows:
Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad. Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi. But Gulf states are pro Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood! Read more
Remember the neocons? They were the powerful and controversial group of thinkers who argued that the promotion of democracy in the Middle East was the key to winning the “war on terror”. The influence of the neocons peaked during the Bush administration, when they became vocal advocates for the invasion of Iraq.
Many of the critics of the neocons always argued that all this talk of “democracy” was simply a hypocritical mask for the promotion of US or Israeli interests. So I was interested to see how leading neocon thinkers have reacted to the coup in Egypt and the assault on the Muslim Brotherhood. Have they kept the democratic faith, or have they gone along with the military? Read more