Dictators Die

[George Frederic Watts’ painting Hope.] I’ve never felt a particularly strong connection with Barack Obama in the way that virtually all my American friends have. As a white Brit, albeit one with enough exposure to the US for people to assume I have an American passport, I understand and admire the intense significance of his status as the first black president, his ability to continue to behave like a normal person sometimes rather than always acting the politician (these two things are probably related), and the 21st-century miracle of an eight-year scandal-free presidency. I just don’t feel these things at … Continue reading Dictators Die

You Cannot Kill An Idea

[This post has been updated as of 5:30 on Monday, November 3rd.  See the bottom of the article.] A week ago, on Tuesday, the Parliament of Burkina Faso announced it was going to discuss an amendment to the constitution to allow President Compaoré to run for a fifth term next year. This move met with major protests. On Thursday, before Parliament could even attempt to hold the vote, protesters stormed the Parliament building and the ruling party headquarters and set them both on fire. The President disappeared. On Friday, the military announced it was taking charge. Blaise Compaoré, 27 years … Continue reading You Cannot Kill An Idea

Lukashenka’s Second Chance

The Ukrainian crisis is still unfurling like some hideous blood-soaked flag, but as Poroshenko switches from chocolates to international diplomacy and the Union of New Russia lays claim to half of Ukraine’s territory, discussion rages about the lessons for other Eastern European nations.  Mikheil Saakashvili’s efforts to remain relevant after losing the Georgian presidency by haranguing Western leaders smack a bit too much of ‘I told you so’ to be appealing.  Viktor Orbán, who rose to prominence standing in front of Soviet tanks and telling them to get out of Hungary in 1989, has in the past few months changed … Continue reading Lukashenka’s Second Chance

Syria’s Urban Warfare

A few weeks ago I noticed an odd trope turning up in discussion of the Syrian Civil War: an assertion, without much context, that the country is highly urbanised.  I’ve certainly come across this idea before, and given the imbalance between the virtually uninhabited badiya (the Syrian desert out towards Iraq) and the Aleppo-Hama-Homs-Damascus line of cities in the country’s greener portions, it seems plausible.  But if you examine the facts, it turns out that Syria’s rural-urban split is remarkably tilted towards the rural side. (All of these data come from before the civil war, of course; I’m not even … Continue reading Syria’s Urban Warfare

In Defence of Arizona

I have lived in Arizona, on and off, for 13 years now.  I went to high school here, my mother lives here, the house I’ve lived in the longest is here, I have friends here, and –despite its rapid and dizzying development– I know Phoenix better than perhaps anywhere else in the world.  I see no contradiction between calling myself Arizonan and not calling myself American, in the same way that I don’t really like being English but I identify strongly with Oxford.  As you’d expect, I rather like Arizona.  I have consequently spent 13 years defending it to other … Continue reading In Defence of Arizona

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Syria?

(This week’s post is a day late, for which I apologise.  It will unfortunately also be shorter than usual as the work builds to a screaming fury.  Normal service resumes next week.) I’ve been taking a class in Conflict Resolution (as an academic discipline rather than from a practical perspective as a mediator), and rather foolishly chose Syria as the subject for my various papers.  I say this was foolish because our final paper assignment is essentially to solve the conflict, and if I managed to achieve that within a 10-page paper I would send it to the United Nations … Continue reading How Do You Solve A Problem Like Syria?

Palestine vs. The Palestinians

(This week’s post will unfortunately be shorter than usual as work is kicking into a higher gear with the approaching end of the semester.) One of the bigger stories of the past week has been the (tentative) reconciliation suddenly achieved between Fatah and Hamas with the prospect of a unity government on the horizon for the first time since the Palestinian elections in 2006.  The announcement was almost immediately overtaken by Israel’s reaction and the United States reaction to the reaction, and at present the media coverage is focussed on the presumed death of the peace process (although how you … Continue reading Palestine vs. The Palestinians