arab spring

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Turkish actors Kivanc Tatlitug (L) and Songul Oden (R) (Getty)

It looks like the unkindest cut of all. After years in which the march of Turkish soap operas across the Middle East has been hailed as proof of Ankara’s soft power in the Arab world, someone wants to pull the plug.

The post-coup government in Egypt, which is barely on talking terms with Turkey, appears to be encouraging a boycott of Turkish soaps, a move that not only hits a showpiece cultural export but comes at a time when Ankara is confronting a host of problems in the Middle East.

The glory days of August 2011, when prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was greeted by thousands of sympathisers at Cairo airport, seem very far away. Indeed the upheaval in the Arab world, which once seemed set to bolster Turkey’s influence, is turning into a serious headache on issues ranging from soap operas to shootings. Read more

A student prepares a barbecue protest against the rise in bus fares (Getty)

Protests in Brazil are running in to their fifth night, a sign that Brazil’s previously polite manner of protesting has done little to bring about change.

After more than three centuries of colonial rule followed by intermittent dictatorships, confrontation isn’t the preferred style of protest for Brazilians. Samantha Pearson, the FT’s São Paulo correspondent, spoke to so-called BBQ activists - people who organise public barbecues to protest anything from police aggression to homophobia.

The idea of protesting via the medium of a grilled sausage may seem rather unusual, but food and social activism have a long history together. Read more

Fighting on: rebels on a training exercise in Syria's northern Latakia province (Getty)

The international diplomacy to try and resolve the crisis in Syria is entering a new and complex phase. Over the next few weeks, the main focus will be on attempts by the US and Russia to convene a peace conference in early June that brings together representatives of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, president, and the Syrian opposition. Whether this conference can achieve anything – indeed, whether it will even take place – is hard to tell. As President Obama said when meeting David Cameron, British prime minister, this week: “I’m not promising that [the peace conference] is going to be successful. It’s going to be challenging, but it’s worth the effort.”

Despite that effort, the UK and France are not giving up on an altogether different diplomatic push. Both want to open the way for the transfer of weapons by EU states to the moderate rebels fighting the Syrian regime. Britain has committed itself to providing the opposition with armoured vehicles, body armour and power generators. But Mr Cameron said this week that he now wants “more flexibility” to support the rebels.

The UK and France are therefore committed to trying to get the EU arms embargo on Syria amended at the end of this month so that weapons can at some later stage be transferred to the Syrian opposition. The difficulty is the huge opposition within the EU to any amendment that allows weapons to be transferred to Assad’s opponents. Read more

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Friday’s events from the World Economic Forum feature an address by Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, and sessions looking at the challenges faced by, and presented by, the fast-changing Arab world. Reports from FT writers in Davos and by Ben Fenton, Lina Saigol and Lindsay Whipp in London

17.03: The Davos Live Blog is closing down now but for more reading and insight on today’s events, please visit the FT’s in depth page on the World Economic Forum.

16.41: Gideon Rachman, titular proprietor of this blog, has written his surmise from the earlier session on Syria.

16.16: Asked by the Amercian moderator of his panel session about corruption and banking regulation, Nigeria’s central bank governor Sanusi displays a little frustration:

He said: “We are the only country which has taken people out of banks and put them in jail. No bankers in your countries have gone to jail.”

16.12: Martin Wolf has recorded his view on the politics and economics at play in a “low-intensity” Davos this year:

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Missing: Jihad Makdissi (Getty)

Every defection, or assumed defection, from the Syrian regime heartens its opponents and gives fresh impetus to the “this is a big blow to Bashar al-Assad” comments from western capitals desperate for a collapse of the government – and desperate not to be forced into military intervention to get rid of it.

But defections often come with a measure of disinformation, which is designed to protect the official or general until he or she is in safe hands and properly debriefed by whichever intelligence service assisted him. Families back home also have to be protected because there is no limit to the cruelty that could be inflicted on relatives of a defector.

So it is no surprise that the whereabouts of Jihad Makdissi, the suave, English-speaking mouthpiece of the foreign ministry, are still a mystery two days after the first report of his departure from Damascus emerged. Read more

Welcome to a new round-up of US coverage of the 2012 presidential election.

With just 41 days of campaigning left – and no new national polls to set the campaigns into nail-biting mode – foreign policy is set to make an impact on the campaign on Tuesday as President Barack Obama addresses the UN general assembly on the Middle East and Mitt Romney is expected to hit back with accusations that the incumbent has failed in his policies there.

Most papers report that the White House is presenting this as a “real moment for the US to assert its values and leadership in this period of transition”.

But CBS News queries why, after making the trip to New York, the president is spending little time at UN headquarters. Unlike last year, he has scheduled no bilateral meetings with world leaders.

Simply put, the White House is prioritizing the president’s reelection effort. Most heads of state will be here all week, but the president will be in New York less than 24 hours, and even then will spend most of his time away from this conference.

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US embassies stormed, American flags burnt, diplomats assassinated. These images have played on our television screens over the past week, giving the impression of a region in deep turmoil, its rage targeted violently at the US.

Predictably, the unrest has damaged Barack Obama, the American president who has made outreach to the Muslim world a cornerstone of his foreign policy. Worse, the fury exploded in the midst of a heated presidential campaign, giving Mr Obama’s opponents fresh ammunition to portray him as a weak leader. The president had already been under fire for supposedly being too soft on Islamists rising to power in north Africa and not tough enough on Iran and its dogged pursuit of a nuclear programme.

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Our selection of interesting articles from around the world today:

Something is changing in the way the US and its allies are analysing the conflict in Syria. For the last sixteen months, it has largely been seen as an appalling and escalating civil war, one which sees the country’s various ethnic factions lining up against one another, and with some 18,000 people now killed.

But after the events of the last week – above all the assassination of four of President Bashar al-Assad’s top aides –  things are different. This is not only a civil war but a conflict that increasingly threatens the stability of Syria’s neighbours and therefore has serious security implications for western states. Read more

Can the army and the politicians stop a second revolution in Egypt? The images from Tahrir square suggest we are back to February, except this time the protestors’ demand is to get rid of the ruling military council which, despite having the run the country with shocking incompetence this year, has been negotiating a role for itself after it hands over power to civilians. Read more

Here’s the problem with the Arab League. A ministerial delegation is due in Syria today to convince Bashar al-Assad’s regime to stop killing protestors demanding the president’s ouster, and agree to an Arab reconciliation plan.

Qatar, the exceedingly wealthy autocracy which has emerged as the unlikely champion of the oppressed across the Arab world, is leading the delegation, despite initial grumbles from Damascus. But the six-member mission also includes Egypt, Oman, Algeria and Yemen. Right, Yemen, where the government has been denounced by many of its fellow Arab states for rejecting a Gulf plan to transfer power away from the president, Ali Abdallah Saleh. Read more

By Lina Saigol

Steve Jobs: Hero of the Arab spring. Or so say the tweeting foot soldiers of the unrest sweeping the region.

Their (somewhat tenuous) accolade is thanks to the biological father of the visionary co-founder and former chief executive of Apple who died on Wednesday, aged 56, being Syrian.

Abdel-Fattah Jandali, 81, was born in Homs, Syria’s third largest city and epicentre of the seven-month uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

A former professor of political science, Mr Jandali put Mr Jobs up for adoption because his girlfriend’s father was extremely conservative and would not let him marry her. Read more

It is a testament to the sorry condition of Saudi women that any step towards empowerment, however small or marginal, is greeted with joy. Women reacted warmly to King Abdallah’s pledge to include them on the advisory shoura council and allow them to vote and stand in municipal elections. Read more

The crisis in Israel’s relations with Turkey and Egypt - combined with the anniversary of 9/11 - casts an interesting light on the question of Israel’s relations with the neocons in America. If you remember, at the time of the invasion of Iraq,  one of the most popular conspiracy theories was that US policy was being driven by a cabal of neoconservative thinkers – many of them Jewish – who were accused of acting at the behest of Israel.

There is no doubt that many of the neocons were and are strong supporters of Israel. But there were actually always philosophical differences between important neocon thinkers like Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol, and the Netanyahu government. Above all, they differed on the desireability of democracy in the Arab world. Read more

Where lies the world’s biggest source of instability? For many, it is the “clash of civilizations”, an idea popularised by Samuel Huntington, whereby people’s cultural and religious identities will remain the main source of conflict in the post-Cold War World. “The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future,” the political scientist wrote in 1993.

Certainly, Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, the rise of China and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to confirm this notion. Yet, as Moises Naim, the former editor of Foreign Policy Magazine points out in a recent article , most conflicts have lately been within civilizations than between them. Islamic terrorists have killed more innocent Moslems than anybody else. Ditto the fight between Shiites and Sunnis. And the source of the “Arab Spring” is homegrown. Indeed, the main source of global conflict, Mr Naim suggests, stems not from a clash between civilisations but  rather the changing fortunes of the world’s middle classes inside them. Read more