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Ten members of a 50-member panel charged with writing a new constitution for Egypt walked out in protest on November 25 after the legislature approved a law banning public protests. In the streets of Cairo, demonstrators against the law were met with water cannons and tear gas from police. As Egypt still reels from ousting two leaders in less than three years, the goal of a democratic government remains out of reach.


“The starting point for this law is that the right to protest is a human right and must be given full care and attention,” Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi said in a television interview, according to The New York Times. “It is just that practicing this right must be met with a sense of responsibility...READ MORE


Russian officials were met with a warm welcome in Cairo on November 14. Some people even took to the streets with signs reading, “Thanks, Putin.” Love for Russia comes on the heels of reductions of U.S. military aid to Egypt in October. Since then, the post-Morsi regime has strengthened ties to Russia, causing some to worry that the United States is losing its foothold in the Middle East.


“A bilateral visit by the ministers of defense and foreign affairs, at the same time, this represents a very important political message to the world," Badr Abdel Atty, a spokesman for Egypt's Foreign Ministry, told Al Jazeera....READ MORE



While fighting in Syria and Iraq weaken central governments, a long-suffering minority group is quietly seizing territories and an opportunity to undo a century of subjugation. Calls are going out for the international community to diplomatically recognize the fledgling autonomous regions now controlled by the Kurdish people. As Kurds eye building a nation for themselves out of the rubble of civil wars and internal strife, political divisions threaten to unravel tentative gains.


“Independence is an aspiration in the heart of every Kurd,” said a high-level Kurdish Iraqi official, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Washington Post. “But we need to be strategic.” ...READ MORE


In Bangui, the capital of the landlocked country of Central African Republic, clashes between Muslim and Christian militias resulted in the deaths of 105 people — including women and children — on December 5. The international community responded quickly. The United Nations Security Council authorized the deployment of French and African peacekeepers in an attempt to contain the violence before more civilians are killed. Experts worry that the Central African Republic is on the path to greater sectarian violence and even genocide in the religiously divided nation.


“The United States is appalled by today’s reports of the murder of innocent women and children outside of Bangui,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement, according to ....READ MORE


Throughout history, arms races between opposing forces have led to significant technological breakthroughs. Battles of the Middle Ages led to the invention of the crossbow. Wars in the 19th century spurred the development of the machine gun. The world wars and the Cold War created the atomic bomb, intercontinental missiles and the Internet. The weapons of the 21st century’s arms race are more likely to be virtual, top U.S. counterterrorism officials told a Senate hearing on November 15. The rising tide of cyber-attacks by foreign governments, activists and non-state actors is expected to overtake the threat of terrorism in the coming years.


According to The Guardian, the heads of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center testified that the likelihood of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil is lower than at any time before 2001 and that the threat was migrating online.


“[A] cyber attack perpetrated by nation states and violent extremist groups could be as destructive as the terrorist attack of 9/11,” then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta predicted in 2012.


Countries are scrambling to develop cyber-warfare capabilities and defenses. Bloomberg Business Week reports that the Chinese government has invested heavily in building up an army of hackers to spy on the U.S. and others. The attacks are estimated to cost the U.S. economy $300 billion per year.


“[China wages] a large-scale cyber espionage campaign… [and] has successfully targeted the networks of U.S. government and private organizations,” says the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in a report released to Congress on November 20. The report also said that the commission believed China was using cloud technology to conduct spying.


“U.S. officials have estimated that foreign intruders have stolen terabytes of data from military and defense company computers over the past decade, with the loss of intellectual property and competitiveness valued at more than $1 trillion,” writes The Chicago Tribune...READ MORE


President Hamid Karzai is facing growing pressure on both sides of a national argument in Afghanistan over whether or not to enter into a security deal with the United States. Karzai refused to sign the accord in early December unless the U.S. agreed to more Afghan demands. The agreement would extend the American presence in the country past a 2014 withdrawal deadline.


“If he doesn’t sign, Afghanistan will go to civil war and Karzai will be responsible,” Moeen Marastial, a former member of parliament told The Washington Post criticizing the president. “Not only military commanders but ordinary people know, if this agreement is not signed, and there is no support and training for the military, the soldiers won’t be able to feed their families.”


The U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement, as the accord is known, would keep American troops in Afghanistan after the end of 2014. Negotiations over the terms of the agreement have been tense, with the U.S. stipulating immunity for its soldiers as a term of the pact and Karzai demanding guarantees that the U.S. will come to Afghanistan’s aid militarily.


At Karzai’s, the Loya Jirga, a council of thousands of Afghan tribal leaders, met to debate the security deal in November. According to a statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that while the Loya Jirga endorsed the measure, Karzai remarked at the end of the meeting that he wanted to delay signing until after the presidential elections in April. Kerry later told NATO officials that other top ministers in Kabul could sign the agreement in lieu of the president.


“President Karzai wants an absolute end to the military operations on Afghan homes and a meaningful start to the peace process, and we are certain that the Americans can practically do that within days or weeks,” government spokesman Aimal Faizi told Reuters. “As long as these demands are not accepted, President Karzai will not authorize any minister to sign it.” ....READ MORE


Two massive American B-52 bombers sailed calmly through the skies above the East China Sea. Below, three islands sit in the waters between Japan and China and which side of the border they lie on is hotly disputed. On November 23, China announced that it had annexed the airspace above the islands and would require all planes flying through it to file a flight plan with Beijing. Three days later, the unarmed U.S. planes passed through the airspace without incident as tensions continue to ratchet up.


“We view this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in response to the Chinese statement, reports Bloomberg. “This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.”


China’s extension of its sovereign airspace over the disputed islands is merely the latest development in a series of escalating incidents between the two Asian powers. The currently uninhabited islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, lie northeast of Taiwan in a region where the exclusive economic zones of each country overlap. According to the BBC, the surrounding seafloor is home to extensive oil and gas reserves.


The United States’ ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, criticized China’s move as unnecessarily aggressive.


“Unilateral actions like those taken by China with their announcement of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone undermine security and constitute an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” Kennedy told ABC News. “This only serves to increase tension in the region.”


Tensions in Asia have already been high as China seeks to build up its military might. In recent years, China has invested heavily in bulking up its defenses, especially its coast guard and navy. According to The Guardian, the nascent coast guard confronted Japanese patrol ships that control the archipelago in June. No shots were fired, but the ships came within loudspeaker range....READ MORE


The American public is losing faith in the United States’ role on the global stage, according to a new survey published by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The survey saw public support for U.S. intervention in foreign affairs fall to a 40-year low. A full 52 percent of those polled said the United States should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” The shift in public opinion reflects ongoing speculation that America is entering a period of reduced influence abroad.


The survey, released on December 3, also finds that — for the first time in the poll’s four-decade history — a majority of Americans (53%) believe the United States plays a less important role in the world. The belief that America is less powerful today increased 12 points from results gathered in 2009.


When asked to explain the depressed outlook, researchers with the Council on Foreign Relations cited the public’s “war fatigue” from extended military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 10 years as well as the state of the U.S. economy for the downturn.... READ MORE



Massive cntainer ships sail lazily through one of the world’s most economically important waterways, the Suez Canal. Shipping companies and Egyptian authorities here are on edge. Militants attacked a vessel making the passage in late August and there have been new threats against ships using the canal. An attack on the Suez Canal could have a drastic effect on international trade. No one is taking chances.


On August 31, militants on the shore launched two rocket-propelled grenades at the Panamanian ship Cosco Asia, according to the BBC. The ship escaped without significant damage, but it was a wake-up call to the Suez Canal Authority, the organization that administers the day-to-day operations of the canal.


“One of the terrorist elements has carried out a failed attempt to affect the movement of ships in the Suez Canal by targeting one of the passing ships, Cosco Asia,” the head of the Suez Canal Authority Mohab Memish told Al Jazeera. “The attempt failed completely and there was no damage to the ship or the containers it carried. The situation was dealt with strictly by the armed forces.”


The Egyptian army has an increased presence along the length of the canal. At one point, it blocked a bridge that it suspected terrorists were using to scope out the weaknesses and unguarded sections of the 120-mile long waterway. They also stepped up their efforts on November 4 in response to threats coming in ahead of ousted President Mohammed Morsi’s first court appearance in Cairo. Egypt has been battling militants in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders the canal, since it overthrew the Morsi government in July. They are particularly concerned about the security of the Suez Canal.


The disruption and chaos that would result from disabling a large commercial vessel crossing the canal would be a significant propaganda victory for the perpetrators,” writes the Soufan Group, a security consultation agency, in recent report that warned of the increased likelihood of terrorist attacks on shipping.


The Suez Canal is one of the busiest waterways in the world, with 3 percent of the world’s oil, 13 percent of natural gas and 8 percent of all global trade passing....READ MORE


For the first time in 20 months, the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo flew over the town of Chanzu on November 6. With resources dwindling, the rebel group calling itself M23 surrendered to the Congolese army. Now, the war-stricken nation is taking up the work of rebuilding, disarming rebel soldiers and negotiating a sustainable peace.


“This is a hopeful first step toward peace and prosperity in this region," Russ Feingold, the U.S. special envoy to the Congo, told reporters after news of the surrender broke.


BBC News reports that M23 is made up of army deserters, mainly ethnic Tutsis, who accused the government of failing to abide by a March 23, 2009 peace agreement (the date of the agreement being the source of the group’s name). Fighting broke out in March 2012 and has since displaced more than 800,000 people in eastern Congo, a volatile region that borders Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.


In October, the Congolese army — with help from UN peacekeeping forces — had the rebels on the ropes and was pushing M23 back into the mountains and away from major population centers.


“We're going to pursue M23 and push them into a corner, wherever they hide, because they are criminals," army spokesman Colonel Olivier Hamuli said of the offensive, according to Reuters. “They have martyred the Congolese people for too long. Now is the time to bring peace.”


At its peak, M23 seized control of the city of Goma in November 2012. The capture of Goma, the major eastern city in Congo with a population of one million, prompted the UN to step up efforts to contain the conflict. Human rights abuse allegations also arose, prompting a reorganization of the army. Using a combination of air and ground attacks, the peacekeeping forces and the Congolese army were able to force M23 into retreat, reports News Hour.


The M23 rebellion is just the newest wave in more than two....READ MORE


Syrian refugees living on the Lebanese side of the border can see the fighting from their new homes. By day, the children climb up into an unfinished house and watch rockets explode in the outskirts of the city of Homs. They stare in awe at the columns of smoke left by the civil war in their homeland. Nearly a quarter of Lebanon’s population is now made up of refugees. With more than two million Syrians living abroad, neighboring countries struggle to support the influx of people as winter approaches.


On October 31, BBC News reported that hundreds of Syrian refugees were turned back at the border with Jordan. Officials in Jordan deny the reports, but there is no doubt pressure is building in the region surrounding Syria as the civil war rages on.


“People fleeing Syria to Jordan and other countries in the region are being hampered by tightening border restrictions. Many of them have already lost everything,” Philip Luther of Amnesty International told the BBC.


The civil war has already claimed 100,000 casualties, but the greatest number of deaths may not come as the result of bullets or poisonous chemicals. According to Der Spiegel, most humanitarian aid has been cut off from reaching Syria. Children who survived the sarin gas attacks in August are now dying of hunger and disease. Outbreaks of polio, measles and hepatitis are spreading through the...READ MORE


The vehicle carrying Hakimullah Mehsud, his driver, uncle and two guards had just left the small mosque in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region when it was hit three or four missiles in rapid succession. The missiles were fired by a U.S. drone flying high above. Mehsud was the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan and the most wanted man in the country. The strike dealt a significant blow to the Taliban and was criticized by the Pakistani government as hindering its efforts to broker a peace settlement with militants.


The United States has had a $5 million bounty on Mehsud since he became the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan in 2009. U.S. intelligence links him to a suicide bombing in Afghanistan in 2009 that killed seven CIA employees. That same year, Mehsud rose to the leadership after American drones killed the previous leader (and his mentor), Baitullah Mehsud.


“We confirm with great sorrow that our esteemed leader was martyred in a drone attack,” a top Taliban commander told Reuters. Mehsud spent years on the run in an effort to evade being targeted by drones. According to Al Jazeera, he had been reported killed several times before the November 1 strike.


The killing of Mehsud comes on the heels of the capture of a Pakistani Taliban lieutenant last month in Afghanistan and a drone strike that killed Mehsud’s second in command in May....READ MORE


By the time the last combat operations are shut down in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, America will have been at war for 13 years. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 63 percent of the American public wants the U.S. to be less involved in Middle East leadership changes going forward. Three years ago, the Obama Administration initiated a “pivot to Asia” that was intended to shift its military might to the continent of Asia. However, with the Afghanistan deadline looming, competing influence from China and continued instability in the region, the U.S. is having a difficult time tying up its loose ends in the Middle East.


“The decision to pursue the pivot was based on the premise that a newly emboldened China was challenging U.S. interests and undermining regional stability simply because it could — that is, because its growing military power made aggressive diplomacy easier and more attractive than in the past,” reports Foreign Affairs. “The truth, however, is that the United States has greatly overestimated China’s military capabilities.”


To prepare for the pivot, the U.S. military increased its naval presence in the waters between China and Japan in anticipation of a struggle for the control of disputed islands. The U.S. also sold weapons to the Philippines and entered into an agreement to station Marines in Australia. The goal was to exert economic influence in a region set to explode in importance in the 21st century before China could.


Another factor leading to the U.S. decision to extricate itself from the Middle East was increased domestic oil production. Forty years after the OPEC-induced oil crisis, the United States has taken great strides toward energy independence, thanks to a surge in production from hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as ‘fracking’ — that allows for the extraction of previously unavailable shale oil. According to Christian Science Monitor, U.S. oil imports have been steadily dropping for years. In 2005, the U.S. imported 13.7 million barrels per day to meet its voracious demand. Fast forward to 2013, and the U.S. is only importing 10.6 million barrels.


The boom is leading many to wonder if a 1970s ban on crude exports should be lifted. For foreign policy experts, it means the U.S. has less interest in the turbulent Middle East. Still, some urge that the U.S. cannot safely step down from the world state...READ MORE

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