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

Schrödinger’s Election

April 2014 seems to be election month: presidential elections in Afghanistan and parliamentary elections in Hungary have already taken place, and the staggeringly vast Indian elections are in progress (and will be for the next month).  Yesterday, Guinea-Bissau went to the polls (finally), as did Macedonia.  Finally, on the 30th of April, to everyone’s trepidation, Nouri al-Maliki will probably manage to wring another term as Prime Minister from the Iraqi people.  All of these votes have received or will receive a lot of publicity, but there is another country whose election process this month has been resolutely out of the … Continue reading Schrödinger’s Election

Albania, Bahrain, and Autocratic Popular Geography

The Black Hole of Tirana The Albanian capital of Tirana will never be able to fully purge itself of totalitarian urban planning.  The city centre was designed by the Fascists during the Italian occupation of Albania in the 1930s, and they installed wide streets and open squares, perfect venues for holding military parades.  After the war, during the Communist period, this design was augmented with angular Stalinist constructions (the Palace of Culture and the National Museum) in the centre and high-rise concrete residence blocks in the outskirts.  Enver Hoxha [pronuncation] was a man who understood the propagandist potential of space: … Continue reading Albania, Bahrain, and Autocratic Popular Geography

Government in Graphs

In February there are a lot of Spring-related anniversaries: it’s two years since Mubarak resigned, one year since the Port Said massacre, two years since the beginning of protests in Libya, and one year since Saleh resigned in Yemen.  Plus, with the political guignol going on in Tunisia (still unresolved as of this writing, and perhaps I’ll have something to say about that next week) it’s not surprising that a lot of people are going  into a reflective ‘what did the Arab Spring ever do for us’ mode. It’s a fair question: in the last two years Egypt’s economy has … Continue reading Government in Graphs


As you may know, I find the psychology of autocracy totally fascinating.  Last week, I spoke about Lisa Wedeen’s book The Ambiguities of Domination, which raised the question: “What is the point of a cult of personality which nobody believes?” In other words, how is it that a government with an ideology that most people know is false can use that same ideology to control people? Here are four explorations of what that sort of situation does to someone and why that makes it effective. (1) It makes people very aware of their own situation and their role.  For a … Continue reading Meta-Domination

The Pageant of Death

So Gaddafi is, apparently, dead, taking with him all the answers to the innumerable questions that we should have wanted to ask him.  I hardly think this bodes well for anyone.  Nevertheless, he was a malicious, violent, cruel despot whose people overwhelmingly deserve and demand far better.  After all, I felt nothing but glee when Mubarak and Ben Ali fell (although they were not murdered).  I even felt excited for the prospect of Gaddafi’s death back in April.  So, now that it’s happened, why the depression? Admittedly, it is somewhat hard to maintain the idea that Gaddafi’s death is exactly … Continue reading The Pageant of Death