Karachi: A City at War with Itself

In the streets of Karachi, Pakistan, mutilated corpses are common sight.  Over the past year, the city has descended into chaos as ethnic-based political warfare has claimed the lives of over 1,400 people.  The violence seems to only get worse—indiscriminate kidnappings, killings, and torturings occur everyday as the city’s political bosses, gangsters, and clan leaders vie for power.  Ambulances and hospitals are now ethnically segregated, and the city morgues are full.

With a fast-growing population of 18 million people, Karachi is one of the world’s most dynamic and dangerous cities.  The metropolis has been labeled “Pakistan’s New York,” the melting pot where people across the troubled country migrate to seek economic opportunity and social mobility.  The city “officially” generates approximately 25 percent of Pakistan’s GDP, 65 percent of government revenue, and 63 percent of its labor force; it is also the country’s largest port, financial, and manufacturing center[1].  Karachi is the engine of Pakistan’s economy, yet it is in danger of boiling over.

To understand Karachi’s current plight, one must examine its extraordinary growth and development over the past 60 years.  At the time of India’s partition in 1947, Karachi was a mid-sized port city of 450,000 people.  Religiously, the city was evenly split: 51% Hindu; 42% Muslim.  By 1951, however, the city ballooned to 1.1 million people, of whom 96% were Muslim.  Moreover, the city became majority Mohajir, the ethnic group composed of Muslim migrants from north and central India), adding to the already diverse mixture of Sindhis, Punjabis, and Balochis.

For the first 30 years after partition, Karachi prospered.  Karachi enjoyed a fast-growing economy and a diverse, secular, relatively tolerant atmosphere, even after the Pakistani capital moved to Islamabad in 1959.  Karachi was a model for developing cities across the world, as well as a popular tourist destination for young Americans traveling on the “hippie trail,” seeking alternative lifestyles and cultures.

However, Pakistan’s 1977 military coup transformed both the city and the nation.  The military dictatorship closed Karachi to tourists and put the brakes on its developing economy.  Tensions heightened between the Mohajir majority and Sindhi/Punjabi-dominated local, regional, and federal governments, leading to the formation of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Karachi’s first ethnic-based political party, in 1984.  MQM has since dominated Karachi politics, entangled in an ongoing power struggle with the regional and federal governments.

More recently the MQM’s hegemony in Karachi has been challenged.  Karachi’s demographics are rapidly changing—whereas Mohajirs were once a dominant majority, rapid urbanization over the last 30 years has attracted a diverse array of immigrants from across Pakistan and beyond.  These immigrants were lured to Karachi by the prospect of economic opportunity and in hope of escaping the instability brought by Soviet and American invasions of Afghanistan, as well as natural disasters such as drought, floods, and earthquakes.  Today Karachi has 13 million more residents than it did in 1981, and many of these new residents reside in ghettos and slums.  Mohajirs now only make up roughly 45% of the population.  The second largest—and fastest growing—group in Karachi is the Pashtuns (25%), migrants from Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan.  Punjabis (10%), Sindhis (5%), Baloch (5%) and numerous other groups further add to the ethnic complexity of the city.  The religious composition is similarly changing—many Pashtuns and Balochs follow the more fundamentalist Wahabi and Deobandi Sunni sects, while most of the Mohajirs, Sindhis, and Punjabis are part of the more moderate Barelvi Sunni sect (though a sizeable Shia minority exists as well).  These ethnic and religious changes have placed Karachi’s single-party political system under threat.

Due to the lack of political representation and economic equality, non-Mohajir groups have organized into two oppositional parties: the Awami National Party (ANP), supported by Pashtuns, and the Pakistani People’s Party (PPP), supported by the Punjabis, Sindhis, and Balochis.  Demographically, these parties should be able to obtain a substantial share of local and regional power, but the MQM has begun waging war on these dissident parties in order to preserve its political monopoly.  Claims of “Pashtunization” and “Wahabization” of Karachi are common MQM talking points, designed to spread fears of a Talibanesque takeover of Karachi politics.

Ethnic-based political violence has become the norm in Karachi.  Each party’s henchmen indiscriminately kill people based on their ethnicity, regardless of party affiliation.  Kidnappings and torture are also on the rise, even in the wealthier, westernized Defense and Clifton districts.  Political violence in Karachi has killed more people than terrorism in all of Pakistan this year.  With a highly politicized police force, criminal gangs, drug cartels, and Islamists groups such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda also in the mix, Karachi has become a warzone.

Killings in Karachi by district. Source: Dawn
An approximate map of ethnicity in Karachi

Presently, the fighting on Karachi’s streets shows little sign of abating.  Each party denies any involvement and decries its rivals for fueling the conflict.  Without a stabilizing force to address the violence, there has been a growing call for military intervention.  However, Pakistan’s military is already spread thin, and the army is not accustomed to urban warfare.  Moreover, previous military action in the city yielded only a temporary break in political and ethnic violence.  The resolution of the conflict will likely necessitate a political compromise, but given the present circumstances, it is difficult to envision anything soon.

The violence and instability in Karachi has far-reaching consequences.  Pakistan has relied on Karachi as its primary source of revenue, growth, and opportunity.  Continued unrest would further destabilize the nation’s fragile economy and government.  Karachi’s problems serve as a microcosm for the failures of Pakistan as a whole: government corruption, over-population, pollution, ethnic and sectarian divisions, weak law and order, and widespread poverty.  Addressing these problems in a megacity of 18 million people is extremely difficult, but warring political parties will make the task impossible.  For Pakistan to succeed as a state, it needs a safe, prosperous Karachi.

Further Reading: The Friday Times, Dawn

By Daniel Jacobson

[1] All statistics in this post should be taken with a grain of salt given Pakistan’s rapidly changing conditions and lack of government resources.


The Korean Wave: Its Origin, Present Success and its Future

In 2008, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, in partnership with the East Asia Institute, published a groundbreaking report on soft power in East Asia based on public opinion surveys conducted in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and the US.[1] While the report focused on the rise of Chinese influence in the region, its finding draws attention to details about the contemporary power dynamics found among major East Asian countries, pushing forth a clear statement that economic power does not equate to cultural power. Even though China and Japan continue to be the dominant economic powers of the region, South Korea was ranked higher in terms of its perceived cultural and social influence, highlighting the unusual dynamics of soft power and its implications for geopolitical affairs in the region.

“Soft power,” a term coined by Harvard professor Joseph Nye in his now famous book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, comprises a variety of factors that together determine the degree of attractiveness of a country, accounted for by the popularity and influence of its culture, education, values or ideas. The cultural dynamics found in the survey are unusual in several regards, but particularly so in light of the historical direction of cultural influence in East Asia. For millennia, such influences generally originated in mainland China, passed through the Korean peninsula, and arrived in the Japanese archipelago. Comprehensive analyses of the recent trend and identification of the causes of this popular perception of Korea remains largely deficient; evidence for it, however, is abundant.

The explosive growth of Korean cultural exports around the world has led to the coinage of the term Hallyu, which translates into English as “Korean wave.” Hallyu, which genuinely took off in the mid-2000s, now caters to a broad audience in places as far from Korea as Central Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. Dae Jang Geum, one of the most popular Korean shows to be aired both domestically and internationally, has been translated and dubbed to over ten languages[2] and aired in over twenty countries,[3] including Egypt and Peru. The show gained a 57 percent viewer rate in Iran, and captured 9 percent of prime-time viewership in China, where top ranking series usually manage to rack up at most about 3 percent of the audience.

The popularity of Dae Jang Geum warrants attention, not only because it heralded the Korean Wave in dramatic serials, but more importantly because it embodies the uniqueness of popular Korean drama, nearly half of which are rooted in Korean history and heavily imbued with nationalistic sentiments. Dae Jang Geum, for instance, follows the life of a 15th century Korean royal kitchen apprentice who is expelled after having been accused on engaging in a conspiracy but patiently plans her comeback against her aristocrat enemies through her persistent hard work and subsequent recognition from the royal medical court. Given the culture-specific and perhaps even provincial content of Korean TV series, the question then arises: how do Korean cultural products manage to translate over borders, time, and language barriers?

The popularity of Korean cultural exports in regions mentioned seems to present a deviation from the gravity model, which the economists use to predict trade flows between a pair of countries based on geographical distance, relative land mass, market size, as well as cultural measures such as linguistic distance, religious affiliation, and colonial relations. Korea does export its largest volume of cultural goods to its immediate geographic neighbors, with whom it shares strong cultural and historical ties; out of 594 shows produced and exported by MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation: Korea’s leading television channel and producer of TV shows) between 2002 and 2005, nearly half went to Japan, followed by Taiwan and China.

Cultural dissimilarities among these countries, however, should not be glossed over. Even though Chinese, Korean and Japanese languages have at one point or another employed Chinese characters to transcribe their languages, Korean and Chinese grammar bear no relationship. The Korean language bears some grammatical similarity to Japanese, but sharply it differs in origins. Similarly, while a significant portion of the modern Korean population professes adherence to Christianity, religious affiliation in Japan and China paints a stark contrast.

Cultural connection grows even more tenuous as Hallyu travels further down the Pacific Rim and traverses deeper into the Eurasian continent. Other major importers of Korean TV series, such as Vietnam and Singapore, have little shared history with Korea, as is the case with Malaysia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The success of both historical series like Dae Jang Geum and modern series such as Winter Sonata, in spite of the high cultural discount[4] they face, attests to the need for reexamining the traditional boundaries of culture to understand the popularity of Hallyu. One study done by The Korea Contents Association found that critical examinations of the message embedded in Korean TV shows, can help explain the success of Korean cultural exports.[5]

This alternative interpretation focuses on the social norms and demographics of the audience in importing countries. For instance, a large portion of drama serials taking place in contemporary Korea follows a repertoire in which the poor triumph over the powerful through hard work and a pinch of luck—a scenario that fosters hope for social mobility and can appeal to the audiences in developing countries. Also central to the plots of Korean drama series is the portrayal of unconditional and selfless love, which often manifests itself in personal sacrifice in face of the impending death of a terminally-ill loved one, which can speak to the audience without using suggestive motifs which are often poorly received in countries with conservative social norms. In a similar manner, countries where multiple generations share a household (which is common in the developing world) and kinship networks remain strong, prime-time TV shows are likely to be viewed by family members of varying age, in which case age-specific content will not fare well.

As such, even though Islamic 20th century Iran and Confucian 15th century Korea may seem to share little in common, the two societies may resemble each other on the emphasis placed on the respect for the elderly, and the values attached to loyalty and scholarly pursuits. Such an interpretation helps us understand the appeal of the Korean Wave, and its ability to span traditional boundaries of culture, particularly since individuals no longer identify themselves strictly along the lines of language, ethnicity or religious affiliations.

Given the idea that the emergence of the Korean Wave nevertheless relies on some sort of cultural affinity, why is the Korean Wave happening now and not earlier? Undoubtedly at the center of this sudden peak is the improvement in the overall quality of Korean TV shows, as manifested in the greater degree of sophistication and variation in plots and investment in costumes and sets, which has been made possible by a booming economy that has allowed for increased in investment in the entertainment industry; spending here rose from $8.5 billion in 1999 to $43.5 billion in 2003.[6] This surge helps explain recent successes, but can also suggest future challenges: With sustained economic growth both of itself and other countries, Korean cultural products can hope to capture a larger audience, but so can the products of its neighbors, some of which are growing at a faster rate. The development and advancement of the entertainment industry in less developed parts of Asia, the Middle East and Latin America may pose a challenge for future Korean cultural exports, especially since the popularity of Korean dramas and other cultural products so far have not been based on a carefully calculated consideration of the taste of its global audience. As countries develop and become capable of producing their own TV series, Korean TV series will be met with the challenge of customizing its shows to cater to its target audience.

If these concerns focus on uncertain future contingencies, imminent and tangible issues already face policymakers in Korea. The aggressive expansion of Korean TV series abroad have not gone unnoticed by foreign governments, which have their own set of objectives and often feel the need to protect the local culture. The Chinese government, for instance, has already taken the step to limit the number of showings of Korean dramas, and its Ministry of Propaganda has accused Korea for advancing “imperialistic designs” on China, both actions reflecting the growing concerns over the impact that Korean cultural imports have on Chinese culture. Also, should the Korean Wave continue to attract a larger audience in different countries, foreign governments might demand imports by the Korean market, which has a long tradition of restricting foreign goods of any kind.[7]

If the success of Korean cultural export goods were viewed predominantly as an opportunity to exercise greater cultural and social influence and as a means to benefit from foreign revenues, it is also having unintended internal consequences. The popular reception of Korean culture abroad has contributed to the steady increase of tourists who visit Korea to see the drama sets, eat Korean food featured in the shows, and experience the culture first-hand. Similarly, a positive image created abroad is also encouraging long-term immigration—and with a burgeoning economy in need of labor, Korea is faced not only with the reality of, but also the necessity for, immigration. While much of labor migration is attributed to the economic opportunities created through Korea’s rapid growth, the positive portrayal of Korean society on TV can only help in instilling a favorable perception of, and a sense of familiarity with, a country where one can hope to study, find work, or to even find a husband (through broker agencies).

Hallyu is thus perhaps contributing to the influx of foreigners that is reshaping not only the demographic pattern, but is also challenging Korean people’s traditionally held beliefs about and attitude towards race relations. Both subtle and outright inhumane discrimination against people of color are routinely reported in South Korea, and the Bath House Case in October of 2011, in which a recently naturalized ethnic Uzbek woman was denied entrance to a bath house on the grounds of the danger of spreading AIDS, serves to show that Korea has a long way to go to cope with its prejudice and stereotypes. For a country that has maintained one of the most homogeneous populations in the world, the changes brought about by the Korean Wave and economic development will undoubtedly spell serious social, economic and quite conceivably, political consequences in the years to come.

[1] David Shambaugh and Christopher B. Whitney. Whitney, Soft Power in Asia: Results of a 2008 Multinational Survey of Public Opinion. Asia Soft Power Survey 2008 The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

[2] Arabic, Cambodian, Chinese, Hindi, Hungarian, Japanese, Laotian, Persian, Thai, Turkish etc.

[3] Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Peru, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, the United States, Vietnam etc.

[4] Cultural discount refers to the idea that products strongly imbued with culture-specific content are more difficult to sell over cultural boundaries.

[5] Moon-Haeng Lee, “Study on Characteristics of Korean Drama Exports to 8 Asian Countries,” Suwon University, 2007.

[6] Norimitsu Onishi, “South Korea Adds Culture to its Export Power” The New York Times 29 June 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/28/world/asia/28iht-korea.html

[7] Since the outset of its encounters with the West, which took place under the de facto rule of Heungseon Daewongun, Korea has persistently exhibited protective trade policies, and the cultural industry is not an exception. This trend continues to date.

Monetary Union and Its Malcontents

            In world news publications, reporting on government finance is once again reaching a fever pitch.  During the past few years, Ireland, Portugal, the United States, and several other countries have experienced economic recessions and expanding public deficits.  The last months of 2011 have seen some of the most severe developments, in southern Europe. In early November, fiscal problems in Greece dealt a crippling blow to former Prime Minister George Papandreou’s leftist PASOK administration.  Papandreou resigned amid criticism at home and enormous pressure from other Eurozone member states abroad—altogether, not the smoothest of exits.  Papandreou leaves a government fighting to control inflation in an economy that has spooked private lenders, many of whom hold Greek government bonds that could prove worthless in the aftermath of current shifts.  Yet, depending on the events of the coming year, the dumping of these bonds may be only the beginning of a full-fledged banking panic.

            The recent resignations are part of a new arc in a complex story often given the “Euro Zone Debt Crisis” moniker.  This term highlights the dramatic aspect of the situation, especially as employed in news media during upheavals among political leadership.  Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi dominated the most recent headlines, stepping down in a storm of political dissent and a stagnant national economy.  In Rome and other Italian cities, thousands of demonstrators turned out to celebrate his resignation and to protest his personal scandals as well as his administrative policies.  Changes in the executive leadership of Italy, Greece, and Portugal (in early March 2011) reflect the frustration that runs throughout the European Union and the global financial industry.  In some ways, examining the geographic and historical context of this “debt crisis” is akin to the efforts of institutions such as the European Banking Authority (EBA) toward a partial audit of the European financial industry—a task requiring unprecedented banking transparency and the collection of massive datasets.  While the EBA has made significant progress in this direction, larger questions remain.  What caused economic downturns in Euro Area countries such as Greece and Italy, while other member countries have enjoyed steadier growth?  Who will shoulder the fearsome debt burden?  Most importantly, can political action prevent the buildup of such dangerous crediting structures in a regional monetary union?

            Silvio Berlusconi blames the rules of the Euro Area itself for the Italian government’s inability to check its debt-to-GDP ratio.  “[Italians] must be united to confront a crisis that was not born in Italy,” he said according to a Bloomberg report.  “It wasn’t born because of our debt, or because of our banks.  It wasn’t even born in Europe.  It’s a crisis that became a crisis because our common currency doesn’t have the support that a real currency must have.”  Speculation on Berlusconi’s trustworthiness and integrity aside, his claims touch upon issues central to the history of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).  A small dose of the Euro’s much-needed support might be seen in bailout loans furnished to Ireland, Portugal, and most recently Greece.  Italy will probably be next in line for emergency debt restructuring and loan extensions from the European Central Bank.  With billions of Euros in debt forgiveness and new loans moving around—including a bailout package for Greece to the order of 109 billion Euros—what more will be required before the EMU will have what Berlusconi calls a “real currency?”

            Under the original terms of the EMU charter and the requirements of the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, Euro Area countries retained centralized administration of monetary policy; in 1998, these policies were built into the massive European Central Bank (ECB), an institution that has proven crucial in keeping governments afloat during recent years.  However, the ECB was established to control inflation in Euro Area countries, not to restructure their budgets.  Even the monolithic ECB would be powerless to hedge a panic in Italian money markets, where a densely traded mass of government and corporate equity could crash explosively.  For this reason, the ECB relies upon a regional network of corporate lenders and national banks whose combined capital ratios might survive such a default.  The sheer size of the Italian accounts reduces this chance of survival, but to dismiss the possibility now goes beyond speculation.  Above all, it is important to keep in mind the crucial pieces of private-public directionality in the bailout loans and debt plans, as these exchanges will dictate the eventual calling—or default—of billions of Euros.

            Examining the geography of debt in the Euro Area brings a telling dynamic to the fore: the greatest differences are found between the “core” Euro countries of France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, and the “periphery,” mainly composed of Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland.  The peripheral economies have experienced wild swings since they joined the Euro Area, thanks to a veritable “capital flow bonanza” of investment that has by now come to an abrupt halt.  These periods of intense growth during the 2000s allowed some peripheral countries to attempt a difficult balancing act, torn between financing budget deficits and implementing the anti-inflationary measures of the 1997 EMU Stability and Growth Pact.  Just as German bankers and finance officials voiced support for the Stability and Growth Pact during the 1990s, national banks and private lenders in Germany demand that the governments of today’s indebted Euro economies impose fiscal austerity to fix their budgets.  Protests against such strict policies have flared up in these countries, reaching turbulent peaks in Spain and Greece during the summer of 2011.  In describing the geography of debt exposure, anti-austerity protests, or government ousters in the Euro Area, a sharp dichotomy emerges between creditors in the core and borrowers in the periphery. Social unrest continues alongside what appears to be a large-scale economic panic, and most analysts now insist that the EMU must take more drastic measures in order to protect the value of the Euro.

            If the EMU and its member governments can avoid the massive credit defaults that appear to threaten Greece and Italy, the Euro may survive in a more or less unchanged form—although newer, country-specific monetary controls will likely be necessary.  In this case, most of the troublesome public debt held by lenders must eventually be repaid, although a useful projection of this possibility suffers from a striking lack of banking transparency.  Unsurprisingly, estimates of the core financial sector’s exposure to debt from peripheral governments indicate that the largest French, German, and Belgian banks carry billions of Euros in bad assets.  Last summer, “stress tests” by the European Banking Authority partially revealed the mess of shaky government bonds that could cause painful bank runs in otherwise stable economies.  Clearly, many possible outcomes could arise in such an enormous process; perhaps the safest assumption is that financial institutions in the core will extend enough credit to prevent peripheral countries from leaving the Euro in favor of cheaper currencies.

            How compelling, then, are the differences between the EMU core and its periphery?  In most predictive scenarios, the core Euro Area countries seem to bear responsibility for the debts of peripheral governments.  However, even if the largest core banks experienced panics, such events would pale in comparison to huge capital losses resulting from rising interest rates in peripheral countries.  Already, stark geographic differences in the costs of the current crisis can be found between the two zones.  These disparities are not likely to shrink as the sovereign debt crisis unfolds.  Thanks to the rules of the EMU, states with large deficits will probably find few options outside continuing membership in the Euro Area, further debt restructuring and austerity, and (perhaps) higher long-term interest rates.  The terms of such developments seem to lead countries such as Greece and Italy into a bitter macroeconomic Catch-22.  The more stable core economies may be able to sustain growth during a regional slowdown, but peripheral countries will be left in dire economic straits: dependent upon monetary regulation, solvency guarantees, and emergency backing from the very institutions pushing for even more strict unification of the EMU.


By Daniel Towns


The Parallel Between Occupy Wall St. and the Arab Spring

All across the world people are rising up against their government, unwilling to accept inequalities and injustices. In mid-September 2011, a group of concerned citizens took to Zuccotti Park, a pedestrian plaza in the middle of New York’s financial district, to hold what has been dubbed Occupy Wall Street (OWS). The aim of the protesters is to hold Wall Street, regarded as the driver of an increasingly plutocratic and oligarchic system, accountable for it’s fiscal recklessness. They believe this recklessness is the cause of our country’s lopsided wealth distribution, where 1% of Americans control 40% of the nation’s wealth.[1] The rich operate independently of others, owning the biggest homes, receiving the best healthcare, and getting the best educations. For those most harshly effected by the decisions of the 1%, job opportunities are scarce, healthcare and education are inferior, and many of people feel alienated by the police rather than protected. Demonstrators in Zuccotti Park refuse to remain silent as disparities between the rich and the rest continue to grow.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is defined by, “direct action and leaderless, consensus-based decision-making,” as Dan Barrett describes.[2] This is a model for the type of democracy that the demonstrators want, a true participatory one in which each person’s opinion counts. Protestors have accomplished this goal on a small scale through their “call out” system of speaking to each other during group deliberations. Those occupying Zuccotti Park call votes for even the smallest decisions, such as how they will keep warm at night. The demonstration serves as a vision of how they believe things should be in the United States. Unfortunately, our current political system is heavily influenced by big business and the dollars of the wealthiest Americans.

The structure and vision of Occupy Wall Street has spread throughout the country and across college campuses (see map 1). Participants include college-aged students and older, both men and women, the employed and unemployed, and members of all political parties.[3] Even those who reside in the 1% have become involved in protests. Amongst OWS protestors, however, African Americans are in the minority. This stems from the fact that the problems OWS protesters are expressing dissatisfactions with have existed in African American communities long before OWS protests began. Yet, it has only been until recently that these issues have received media attention. The OWS movement has garnered attention and received widespread support across the country. In all cases, people are no longer willing to remain silent while inequalities and injustices persist.

The OWS movement was inspired by the events in North Africa and central Asia, where millions of people have taken to the streets in their own societies to protest oppressive political, economic and social conditions. In January 2011, thousands of anti-government demonstrators poured into the streets of Cairo, demanding the end of the political corruption, police brutality, poverty and unemployment that has caused thousands of suicides across the country.[4] Demonstrators also called for an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years of power, holding him accountable for these oppressive conditions. As reported by the Associated Press, and witnessed by hundreds of Youtube videos, protesters were met with “blasts from water cannons . . . batons and acrid clouds of tear gas.”[5] On February 11th, after 18 days of protest, President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, responding to his own peoples desire for change.

Encouraged by demonstrations in surrounding countries (see map 2), protestors in Libya took on the country’s government in February 2011.  Col. Muammar Gaddafi was appointed as Prime Minister following a 1969 coup, in which the resource-grubbing King Idris was removed from power. During his 42-year rule, Libya experienced substantial development and Gaddafi earned the respect of other world leaders. At the same time, he was a ruthless autocrat who punished his opponents, forbade the private press, and banned political parties. As stated in the Economist, “If his enemies fled abroad, his hired assassins found these ‘scum’ and killed them.”[6] In a speech given during the February demonstrations, Gaddafi claimed that protesters were “serving the devil,” and urged his supporters to attack those rallying against him. Demonstrations started in Benghazi, then spread across the country following a series of vicious killings. Gaddafi said he would “fight and die a martyr,” which (in his own eyes) he did after being killed on October 23, 2011 in an uprising aided by NATO intervention.[7] Now, under the National Transitional Council, people in Libya may have an opportunity to decide their own future. President Obama and many other political leaders have applauded the Arab Spring, praising the death of Gaddafi and the fact that Egypt’s Mubarak has stepped down from power. Still, according the many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, oppressive systems are allowed to continue here in the United States.

At home and abroad, the demonstrators of both the OWS movement and the Arab Spring have similar concerns. In both cases, protesters want to change systems that they believe allows a rich minority to make decisions that adversely affect the rest of society, leaving many people poor and without job opportunities. In these countries and our own, as Joseph Stiglitz writes, “a minuscule fraction of the population—less than 1 percent—controls the lion’s share of the wealth; wealth is a main determinant of power . . . the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.”[8] In each case, there is somebody to be held accountable for the creation of vast inequalities. In the case of America, the decisions of those on Wall Street, coupled with the irresponsibility of politicians who refuse to confront the 1%, are driving our increasingly undemocratic system. In the case of the Arab Spring, corrupt political leaders are being held accountable and called to step down. Conclusion

While the aspirations of OWS and the Arab Spring have similarities, it is important to note that there are ways in which the two are incomparable. In the United States, people have a voice that can be expressed through the country’s own brand of democracy. This has not been the case in many North African and Central Asian countries. In Libya in particular, dissention against the government has been punishable by death. Across other countries, a blatant disregard for human life has been common. Death tolls in both Libya and Egypt sharply increased after uprisings began. Protesters in the Arab Spring have been willing to go to great extremes to get their point across.  The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are generally far from extreme, as many participants seemingly sit around complaining while others go to work. If protests in America were met with death, as is the case in many countries abroad, the burden of the protesters may be taken more seriously.

Protesters in the Arab Spring have been willing to go to extremes in order to get their point across. These extremes include burning themselves, taking bullets, and getting hit by cars. This has proven to be productive in Libya and in Egypt, as their political leaders no longer hold power. All this while it seems like the OWS movement has had limited progress. While the awareness of issues of inequality and injustice has grown across the country, there has been little governmental change. Perhaps real change to government requires more drastic circumstances, as seen in the Arab Spring.




The Unexpected Ramifications of the Dodd-Frank Act

By Carolyn Prioleau

“Wide as the gulf often is between a country’s economic potential and its citizens’ prosperity, it is rarely as gaping as in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many thousands of Congolese die every year as a result of political violence, disease, and poverty, yet the ground below them is brimming with enough minerals to fill the world’s smelters and metal stores—if only they could be extracted and sold in a legitimate market”.[1]

In November of 1996, the First Congo War broke out in what was then known as the country of Zaire.  Ethnic tension spillover from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda resulted in the destabilization of an already failing state, while the Mobutu government’s inability to control the eastern provinces prompted action by other African countries. In August of 1998, due to the new government’s inability to enact change, the Second Congo War broke out. Despite an official agreement to end hostilities in 2003, the conflict continues to this day.  By 2008, as many as 5.4 million people had been killed, making the Second Congo War the deadliest war since World War II.[2] Now, what seems like the Congo’s only saving grace is also what is causing it such instability: its mineral trade.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s tumultuous present stems from its abusive and bloody past.  After the Conference of Berlin in 1885, King Leopold II of Belgium formally acquired the Congo as his personal territory. Under the reign of the king, the Belgians exploited the local Congolese population to extract rubber. In 1908 the Congo became the Belgian Congo, under the direct rule of the Belgian government. Brutal practices such as amputations remained common, continuing until the Congo received its independence in 1960. Immediately following independence, secessionist movements broke out, refusing to cool until military strongman Mobutu Sésé Seko, supported financially by the United States for his anti-Communist beliefs, took over.  Mobutu would rule the Congo, or Zaire, is it became in 1971 until the First Congolese War replaced him.

In 1994, the Rwandan genocide began. Upon the victory of the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), Hutu militants fled Rwanda for eastern Zaire, seeking refuge. Roughly 1.5 million Rwandan refugees settled in eastern Zaire, including both Tutsi who fled Hutu oppression during the period of genocide and Hutus who fled after their government was overthrown.  The transferring of the Rwandan tension into Zaire eventually lead to the First Congo War, as Tutsi Banyamulenge, supported by both the Tutsi RPF government in Rwanda and the Ugandan army, began attacking Hutu militias. Thanks to general dislike for Mobutu and his government in Kinshasa, the Banyamulenge Rebellion soon spread to non-Tutsi groups, who joined forces as the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberations of Congo (AFDL) under the leadership of Laurent-Desire Kabila. Laurent-Desire Kabila replaced President Mobutu Sésé Seko in May 1997, ending the First Congo War.

The Second Congo War began for many of the same reasons as the First Congo War. As a result, it is often assumed that the two wars are one in the same.  First, President Kabila’s regime mirrored that of Mobutu in ineffectiveness, and according to some actually exceeded it in corruption.  Second, ethnic tension remained high in the eastern Kiva regions of the DR Congo, as the area remained largely uncontrolled by the government. In August of 1998, the Congolese army rebelled against the Kabila government.

The Second Congo War is also known as both the Coltan War and, due to the involvement of eight Africa nations and 25 armed groups, Africa’s World War. On August 1998 the Banyamulenge, responsible for initiating the First Congo War, began rebelling against the government. Again, as in the First Congo War, Rwanda and Uganda backed this militia, which came to call itself the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD). Dominating the eastern part of the country, the RCD based its operating in Goma and began to take over other cities in the Kivu region. In an attempt to save his country from foreign occupiers and from disaster, President Kabila began employing Hutu militants in the eastern Congo. Anti-Tutsi and anti-foreigner sentiment spread throughout the government and eastern Hutu regions, mirroring what had occurred during and prior to the Rwandan genocide. The Tutsis became viewed as Rwandan Tutsis, representatives of the outside, occupying forces rather than citizens. Such anti-Tutsi sentiment, of course, further fueled Rwanda and the RCD, which justified their violence by claiming that another Tutsi genocide was about to occur in the Kivu region. Uganda, again on the side of Rwanda and the Tutsis, created and supported the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). Later, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Libya, and Sudan all joined the fight on the side of the Kabila government. Violence and bloodshed lasted until 2003, when all warring parties signed the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement, prompting withdrawal for foreign forces. Despite the signing of the peace accord, three areas especially remain in conflict: the north and south Kivu regions, pitting Tutsi against Hutu; Ituri, locked in an ethnic struggle between local Lendu and Hema tribes; and northern Katanga, where the local Mai-Mai population continues to rebel against the government.

Currently, President Joseph Kabila, son of Laurent-Desire, “wants to turn Congo into an economic powerhouse on the back of vast industrial mining.”[3] Despite his good intentions, “his ability to effect change is limited. The national army is little ore than a collection of militias and obeys no central command. The Congolese state exists only on paper.”[4] Despite progress in the southern Katanga province, “North and South Kivu, studded with gold and other valuable metals, are in turmoil”.[5]  Successful implementation of Kabila’s vision, and the hope for economic development in the DR Congo, lie in  “winning over foreign investors and governments, as Congo lacks the skills and capital to develop alone”.[6]

The irony of the situation stems from the ramifications of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.  In an effort to curtail the illegal mineral trade and the use of its profits to finance war, Congress included a special provision in the Dodd-Frank Act that “forces companies listed in America to disclose the exact source of metals procured from Congo.”[7]  While the intention and purpose behind the provision was good, the unexpected ramifications have contributed to undermining the situation of the Congo.  While “the law tries to shame big buyers, such as Apple and Motorola, who use Congolese coltan, into dealing only with bona fide suppliers. But the effect has been to frighten them away from Congo altogether.”[8]  Goma, North Kivu’s capital, is a microcosm of this effect: ““metals dealerships dominated the city’s economy until last year but are mostly padlocked now. Repair shops and bars that relied on mining business are empty. So are most public offices. Local government, financed by mining taxes, is insolvent; salaries have not been paid in full for months.”.[9]  Moreover, “in the past year Goma has suffered a miserable decline. Hundreds of mines in the surrounding countryside have cut output by as much as 95% […] Most stopped coming because they could no longer find buyers for their nuggets of coltan, a metal used in electronic gadgets. They blame what they call ‘The American law.’”

There is no doubt that the previous Congolese situation needed to be changed. Congolese militias and army units used mining and extortion to finance mass killings and campaigns of rape against civilians.  There is also no doubt of the importance of the mining industry to Congo’s economy.  Without being able to capitalize upon the rich resources it possesses, DR Congo has little hope for development and peace. Thus, the question remains of what the world should do now. How does one distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate miners? Whatever the answer may be, it needs to be discovered fast. If the DR Congo wants any chance at a future, Apple and Motorola need to start buying minerals again.

[1] “Digging for Victory”, The Economist, 24 Sept. 2011, 1.

[2] Joe Baviar, “Congo war-driven crisis kills 45,000 a month: study”, Reuters, 22 Jan 2008 <http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/01/22/us-congo-democratic-death-idUSL2280201220080122&gt;.

[3] “Digging for Victory”, The Economist, 24 Sept. 2011, 1.

[4] “Digging for Victory”, The Economist, 24 Sept. 2011, 1.

[5] “Digging for Victory”, The Economist, 24 Sept. 2011, 1.

[6] “Digging for Victory”, The Economist, 24 Sept. 2011, 1.

[7] “Digging for Victory”, The Economist, 24 Sept. 2011, 1.

[8] “Digging for Victory”, The Economist, 24 Sept. 2011, 1.

[9] “Digging for Victory”, The Economist, 24 Sept. 2011, 1.

Internet Freedom: Human Rights in the 21st Century

When the recently formed United Nations adopted a declaration of universal rights in 1948, it included the freedom “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.”  This declaration predated the creation of the Internet by several decades.  The speed by which information and ideas travel, as well as the types of information being disseminated, have been transformed by the creation and expansion of the internet.  According to a June 2011 article from the United Nations website, the UN believes that in the 21st century this definition of freedom of ideas must expand to include freedom on the Internet — a freedom it says many countries are increasingly failing to honor.  The author of the report on Internet freedom, Frank La Rue, argues that the Internet has become “one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies.”

The Internet was created largely independent of governments, without the notion of governmental control in mind.  It is a tool of the people with the power to unify nations with instant access to communication and endless information.  In recent years, many governments have taken steps to reduce the freedom that the Internet grants its users.  As La Rue writes, “many governments are setting up increasingly strenuous efforts to block Internet content, track its users and punish them for what they say.” He further states that “governments go far beyond the internationally accepted standards for restricting Internet freedom — such as to protect national security from imminent threats and to protect individuals, as in child pornography — and they impose restrictions without following the rule of law.” (“U.N. Expert Calls Internet Freedom Fundamental but Often Violated”)

Many governments choose to impose these restrictions as a form of protection.  They fear the freedom that the Internet grants its users to disseminate information, especially at pivotal national moments, such as anniversaries of historically significant events and times of social or political unrest.  A government fearing that the Internet will be used as a tool to stoke unrest will likely preempt these attempts by limiting Internet access.  The United Nations is calling for governments to provide “full details regarding the necessity and justification for blocking each individual website,” in order to limit unlawful censorship of the Internet. (“U.N. Expert Calls Internet Freedom Fundamental but Often Violated”)  According to the 17th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, it is a government’s responsibility to provide Internet access to its citizens as a key tool for enabling their human rights.

With Internet freedom still such a relatively new concept, the definition of “unlawful censorship” is currently ambiguous.  In recent years there has been a rise in use of the Internet as a political tool for change.  Open and anonymous online discourse was essential in the aftermath of Iran’s election protests, the WikiLeaks scandals, and the Egyptian revolutions, where blogs and tweets were utilized as tools for social justice.

Freedomhouse.org classifies three topical categories for Internet freedom: Obstacles to Access, Limitations on Content, and Violations of User Rights.  Somewhat surprisingly, one country that shows high levels of freedom in all three areas, is Estonia, a nation in which the government uses the internet to encourage its citizens participation in the political process.  Countries that scored very poorly include Iran, China, and Tunisia, which reflects their governments’ multilayered and comprehensive approach to controlling Internet and mobile phone usage.

Countries with poor access to Internet, not surprisingly included developing countries and those with low levels of per capita GDP such as India, Kenya, Cuba and South Africa.   Countries with the highest degree of violations of user rights, as of this 2008 study, included Russia, Egypt, and Malaysia, where “government-encouraged improvements in access to ICTs and relatively little censorship are offset by harsh legal environments, state monitoring, and a rise in criminal prosecutions.” (“A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media”) Other countries that fit this description included such democratic states as the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Turkey, all of which have high threat of prosecution or restrictions associated with civil lawsuits for libel and defamation.

With regards to specific forms of censorship, the Freedomhouse study found that seven countries had blocked so-called Web 2.0 applications—“advanced services such as the social-networking site Facebook, the video-sharing site YouTube, and the blog-hosting site Blogspot—either temporarily or permanently during the 2007–08 coverage period.” (“A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media”)  Another significant means of restricting Internet freedom is preventing users from accessing content that is deemed undesirable by the government.  Technical filtering of specific content or broad swaths of information at the ISP level, targeting keywords, entire domain names, or particular web addresses are all used in this type of censorship. Of the 15 countries in the study, only three—China, Iran, and Tunisia—filtered political content using technical means.

The United Nations has not merely declared Internet Freedom to be a human right, but it has also pledged to take steps to ensure that this right is protected.  Whether or not it has any hopes of enacting real change, the UN’s report calls states to promote online freedoms in five key ways:

–       “Protect citizen’s rights to speak anonymously on the Internet.

–       Refrain from building, using, or enforcing real-name databases that link online activity to user identity (even those used by popular companies like Facebook).

–       Acknowledge that national security and anti-terrorism concerns can’t be used to restrict freedom of expression except in the direst circumstances where there is an imminent and legitimate threat.

–       Take meaningful steps to ensure the privacy of personal data.

–       Decriminalize defamation.” (“A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media”)

Global Internet usage is expected to quadruple in the next four years.  Given this forecast, the notion of Internet Freedom and access as a human right will only become more prevalent.  Given the advent of Internet use globally, it is important to continue to question its role as a basic right. If we don’t provide affordable Internet access to everyone, are we blocking democracy and political power? Should Internet access be subsidized? How should the global community respond to nations who limit Internet freedom? Online speech is one of the defining elements of enfranchisement in the 21st century, and like freedom of the press in the 20th century, maintaining freedom of the Internet will be integral to preventing states from oppressing their citizens in the current day.

Iran and Liberation Technologies

Whether tracing back to the origins of the printing press and tape machine or focusing on current day social networks and cellular devices, technology has served as a vital instrument in mass communication and mobilization. Democratic movements throughout the Muslim World have been facilitated by tools of communication that have widened and pluralized flows of information, and empowered society with a sense of hope and citizenship. No matter how restrictive the regulations or how severe the repercussions, communities around the world have exhibited enormous creativity in sidestepping political constraints on technology in order to exercise their freedoms. For the Green Movement in Iran, it was Twitter; for the Saffron Revolution in Burma, it was YouTube; for the “color revolutions” of the former Soviet Union, it was mobile phones.  By puncturing the informational monopoly many regimes have in place, Muslim Countries have been able to take steps towards democratization and freedom more effectively.

To shed positive light on another Muslim country, I would like to focus on Iran since it is often times forgotten in American media as pro-democratic. Although now under the shadow of it’s rebellious neighbors, Iran has been home to many democratic movements prior to the revolutionary Islamic world we have seen over the past year. However, its democratic Green Movement has been relatively stagnant due to the counter-policies the regime has imposed to block efforts since 2009. Nevertheless, Iran’s location and relation to the tumultuous and revolutionary Muslim world has had a great impact in galvanizing the Green Movement out of hibernation.  Precedent countries, such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, have set the tone for outburst in Muslim countries that suffer under their respective regimes. The use of video, social networking, and blogging has allowed these voices to travel beyond their borders, and has sparked awareness in neighboring countries.  The toppled governments of Tunisia and Egypt have had a ripple effect, shaking the region as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan and Iran have all been experiencing protest. There is a palpable solidarity between the protesters of the different states as their goals are essentially the same.

In Iran, the use of social networking has not only enlightened the outside world to controversy within the country, but also brought about awareness for Iranian people themselves. In a society where dissent is not tolerated, voices are silenced and no communication is private, Iranians have created a network that challenges the regime and its values. A new side of Iran is thus portrayed as individual Iranians are able to voice their true opinions and outlook of the Modern World, as opposed to that of its repressive government. 33,200,000 Internet users have been calculated in Iran out of the 76,923,300 total population.  Iran leads the Middle Eastern region in Internet user growth over the past decade and accounts for just under 50% of Internet users in the entire region. However, the question of why the Iranian government has not fallen, like others in the region such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, beckons. As seen in the 1905 Constitutional Revolution, the 1954 Mossadegh Scandal, the 1979 Islamic Revolution and 2009 Green Revolution, Iran is a country with great resilience and determination. Why have they fallen more silent now in the wake of some of the most colossal Muslim revolutions of all time?

The shockwave around the globe of inspired opposition has also set off concern amongst authoritarian leaders themselves.  Just as activists are learning lessons from revolution elsewhere, leaders are also drawing conclusions on how to avoid these situations.  In the case of Iran, hardliners have tightened their grip in order to eliminate turbulence in society.  The regime has dug in its heels and resorted to violence, as it has since post-election protests broke out in 2009. If there is a lesson to be taken away from the fall of Mubarak and Ben Ali, it is that demonstrations are only emboldened by compromise.  Brute force, unfortunately, can be much more effective.  At the same time, suppression can hold down a people for only so long, as the countless upheavals throughout the region show.  If the Iranians are able to mobilize in the numbers as they did in 2009, then the regime has reason for concern.  Despite what the movement’s leaders are forced to say publicly, this is no longer a struggle merely aimed at reforming the existing system. Those days are over, and Iran’s rulers are likely to recognize this in private.

The Iranian Regime has taken the use of technology into its own hands by conducting its Cyber Jihad to battle the average Internet user and manipulate ideas towards their goals. Realizing that social networking and Internet usage is its Achilles heel, the regime has the Islamic Revolutionary Guards dedicated to dominating chat rooms and shaping discourse on the Internet.  In a desperate move to control this ‘cyberspace,’ the Iranian state is slowing down program downloading to brutally slow paces, and blocking more sites with display pages referencing state-approved sites.  In fact, one can view the list of ‘proper’ sites in a state-run website. Whether involved with the Green Movement or not, these actions by the government has angered many Internet users in Iran who are forced to connect to the Internet through these Big Brother methods.

The regime has proactively purchased and sought increasingly advanced technology to aid their monitoring and blocking efforts. As sharing online images and messages through social-networking sites has become easy and popular, repressive regimes are turning to technologies that allow them to scan such content from their own citizens, message by message.  The government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes.  This monitoring capability was provided in part by a joint venture of Siemens AG and Nokia Corp. Users in the country have reported the Internet having slowed to less than a tenth of normal speeds. Deep packet inspection delays the transmission of online data, unless it is offset by a huge increase in processing power, which not only discourages users, but intimidates some to stop using it entirely out of fear.  The Regime has reportedly bought over 700 million dollars worth of software that allows them to control and monitor any activity, and has blocked more than five million sites in recent years.

The Iranian regime has adopted the same methods utilized by its people in order to stifle growth and democratic movement. Technologies are complex and continuously evolving manifestations of social forces and cause persistent tension between those who see them as technologies of liberation, and those who see them as technologies of control.  This tug of war between the uses of technology as a positive tool versus a negative tool will ultimately be won based on better tactics, craft, and organization.