Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.
Bahrain hosted the Formula 1 Grand Prix yesterday amid clashes between government forces and protesters. Extremists on all sides have outflanked the moderate middle ground with recent bomb attacks on the security services and instances of loyalist vigilantism indicating that a dangerous radicalization is taking place. This suggests a bleak future for Bahrainis caught between a ruling family seemingly unable to reform, and a significant segment of the population that no longer believes the ruling Al-Khalifa family has the legitimacy to rule.
This year's Grand Prix was supposed to signal a return to normality after the race was cancelled following the outbreak of the uprising in 2011. The authorities had exerted significant pressure on motor sport's governing body to ensure it went ahead this year. They were keen to demonstrate to their international partners that meaningful reforms were underway in the wake of last November's recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). FULL POST
Editor’s note: Jolyon Ford PhD is senior Africa analyst at the consultancy Oxford Analytica, and a senior consultant to the Institute for Security Studies, South Africa.
By Jolyon Ford - Special to CNN
This month marks the anniversaries of the first free general elections in South Africa (April 27, 1994) and independence from white minority rule in neighboring Zimbabwe (April 18, 1980). In coming months, the sun could set in each country on the lives of two major African leaders whom history will remember very differently.
Nelson Mandela is 93 years old. The anti-apartheid icon retired over a decade ago after serving as post-apartheid South Africa’s first democratically-elected president. The contribution his leadership and example have made to that country’s longer-term prospects for racial harmony and social cohesion is generally seen as incalculable. The anxiety following his brief hospitalization in February signalled the levels of respect and affection in which he is held in South Africa and around the world: his death and funeral will undoubtedly be significant global events.
Zimbabwe’s current president Robert Mugabe has been in office, in effect, since 1980. Last week he walked unaided off a flight from Singapore. Reactions to reports in early April that the 88-year old was dying in a foreign hospital provide further proof - if more were needed - of the considerable political uncertainty prevailing in contemporary Zimbabwe. FULL POST
Compared with the judiciary in any other advanced democracy, the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court are uniquely influential in the country’s politics. With a ruling expected in June on the constitutionality of President Obama’s landmark healthcare legislation, some parallels can be drawn between this Court and the Court under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In the extremely difficult economic circumstances of the 1930s, Roosevelt launched innovative and unprecedented ‘New Deal’ schemes to help stimulate economic growth and job creation. After initially upholding some new laws that expanded federal involvement in economic activity, the Supreme Court turned dramatically against the Roosevelt agenda in May 1935. It unanimously struck down his signature legislation on industrial recovery and agriculture as unconstitutional extensions of federal power not justified by the extraordinary economic conditions facing the country. FULL POST
Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population and a critical swing vote in national elections. There are now more Hispanic U.S. residents than African-Americans, and this group's projected growth rate greatly exceeds native-born blacks and non-Hispanic whites. Although both political parties will make substantial outreach efforts to Hispanics, the latest data show that a significant political advantage resides with the Democrats.
The Hispanic community has accounted for over one-half of U.S. population growth over the past decade. In 2008, there were 19.5 million adult Hispanics who were eligible to vote; this year, there will be 21.5 million. FULL POST
Rebel forces and government troops clashed in Damascus yesterday, in what opposition sources described as the heaviest round of fighting in the capital since the start of the uprising. The authoritarian regime established in 1970 by Hafez al-Assad and inherited by his son Bashar in 2000 is highly likely to end in its current form, but not imminently: It could last well into 2013.
The regime seems likely to collapse following a prolonged conflict that exacerbates sectarian divisions. This could lead to a period of instability much worse than in Libya as groups of Sunni Arab rebels vie for power with each other and with militias dominated by the al-Assad family's Alawi sect, and possibly other minorities. Eventually, a weak government is likely to emerge, which is guided by a secular constitutional framework, but deeply divided internally along communal lines. FULL POST
Editor's note: Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of the new book"The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."
As a Brit living in America, I remember the Blair/Bush "special relationship" of the early 2000s with great fondness. It seemed that our two countries might remake the world. With Britain providing the vision and America the military muscle, a liberal axis would flex its way through the War on Terror. The U.K. hadn't had such a sense of purpose since the Second World War.
This week, Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in the United States with the express ambition of reviving what he and President Barack Obama now call "an essential relationship." So far the meeting has been cordial. Aside from agreeing to the need to draw down Western forces in Afghanistan, Cameron did his best to look interested in a basketball game in Ohio. He admitted afterward that he didn't have a clue what was going on and promised to explain cricket to Obama. Actually, cricket is very simple: Whoever doesn't fall asleep wins.
Nonetheless, there is an air of anxiety about the visit. While Britain is still broadly committed to the neoconservative vision of George Bush and Tony Blair, Obama is not. The tensions between the two countries have been exacerbated by a British suspicion that Obama simply doesn't like us, that his coolness betrays a mild contempt for us and our utopian visions. FULL POST
Moscow blames the United States and NATO for failing to stem the flow of Afghan narcotics into Central Asia and Russia. Washington has been trying to strengthen anti-narcotics efforts in the region while not undermining counter-insurgency operations. However, Russia still considers this region its ‘sphere of influence’ and has blocked an attempt to expand U.S. law enforcement presence there. Hence, the pickle.
For the past decade, Afghanistan has manufactured and exported more heroin than any other country. The United Nations estimates that about 10% of Afghanistan's gross economic output derives from opium poppy cultivation. The country produced about 6,000 tonnes of opium in 2011, valued at 1.4 billion dollars. Moreover, Afghan growers’ gross income from opium poppy doubled between 2010 and 2011 (to $10,700 per hectare). FULL POST
From the ‘Occupy’ phenomenon to last year’s ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings, young people have been at the forefront of recent social protest trends. There is nothing new in youth-led protest; but since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, youth unemployment levels have remained persistently high across the world. Especially in countries facing budget austerity, high youth unemployment levels could stoke significant social unrest.
In addition to stability questions, there’s the obvious economic impact: Young workers facing prolonged unemployment are at risk of years of low compensation once they eventually re-join the workforce. They are even at risk of permanent exclusion from job markets. FULL POST
Since the 1980s, Republican dominance in the South has given the party a substantial advantage in presidential elections. Southern states had been transforming into a Republican-leaning region since the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
For years, conventional wisdom said that only a Democratic ticket that was Southern and more conservative than the national-level party could win the presidency. It was thought that a Democratic Party candidate had no chance of winning the presidency without holding down losses in the South, as the all-Southern ticket of Bill Clinton (Arkansas) and Al Gore (Tennessee) did in the 1990s.
As widely expected, Vladimir Putin secured a majority (63.7%) on preliminary results from yesterday’s presidential election. A first round win will provide a mandate to govern - but it has come at some cost to Putin’s standing and image. Putin may be able to ride out the large demonstrations expected this evening in Moscow, but will have a much harder time avoiding stagnation of his own power and authority.
The main question of contemporary Russian politics is whether Putin has the will and capacity to rebuild the so-called 'power vertical' that he established during his first two terms as president. The large network of cadres and officials who run this unique system of power are committed to it, but it becomes more difficult to manage without the momentum of a popular authoritarianism that previously marked it. FULL POST
Russian media reported this week that two Chechens were arrested in Ukraine for allegedly preparing an assassination attempt against Vladimir Putin. The assassination was to occur after the Russian presidential election this coming weekend. Unquestionably, Chechen insurgents want to attack Putin. The notion of a plot is entirely plausible, even if the operation looked bound to fail. However, both Moscow and Kiev are using the news for political purposes.
Various arrests took place in early January and early February, but information about the alleged plot did not emerge until this week. There was probably little threat to Putin, partly reflecting the current limited capacity of the Chechen insurgency. FULL POST
Brent oil today traded near $125.50 per barrel. Slightly down from Friday, this is still almost 15% above the already-high levels recorded a year ago. World average oil prices in euro and pound sterling terms have reached a new all-time high. With the global economy still fragile and OECD monetary policy extremely loose, the consequences for inflation and growth could tip the world back into recession by late 2012. FULL POST
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