The Egyptian army has only one card left to play. Western journalists and other true believers in the promise of the Arab Spring may be shocked by the suggestion that Egypt may be headed to war with Israel in the not-too-distant future. But as the country implodes, war has become the easy way out. It doesn’t matter that the Egyptian army doesn’t want another catastrophic contest with Israel—neither did Anwar Sadat 40 years ago when he saved Egypt by going to war with Israel, which in turn helped him acquire the superpower patronage of the United States.
So, what’s left? A short war today—precipitated by a border incident in Sinai, or a missile gone awry in the Gaza Strip, and concluded before the military runs out of the ammunition that Washington will surely not resupply—will reunify the country and earn Egypt money from an international community eager to broker peace. Taking up arms against Israel will also return Egypt to its former place of prominence in an Arab world that is adrift in a sea of blood. But even more important is the fact that there is no other plausible way out: Sacrificing thousands of her sons on the altar of war is the only way to save Mother Egypt from herself.
The current situation in Venezuela — under the Chavez-designated heir and proclaimed winner of a tainted election Nicolás Maduro — is similar to, and no less untenable than, that of the Soviet Union at the time of Chernenko.
The misallocation of resources brought about by price and foreign exchange controls, the wasting of oil revenue in the funding of domestic patronage and regional alliances, as well as the paralysis of private investment due to the government’s hostility against the entrepreneurial class, have taken a heavy toll on the Venezuelan economy. Rampant inflation, multiple devaluations and chronic shortages of essential goods form just part of the hardships enjoyed by the Venezuelan population.
Gone are the days when Hugo Chávez boasted about being able to cut oil exports to the “Empire” (i.e. America). More than ever before, the Venezuelan regime badly needs the foreign exchange generated by such exports.
* Defence minister ousted after corruption scandal
* Serdyukov broke codes of honour and patronage
* Kremlin rivalries and web of patronage persist
“The number of violations, and we are talking about violations everywhere, was so great that his presence was no longer acceptable,” former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on the sidelines of a conference, making clear the corruption investigation was not the only cause of Serdyukov’s downfall.
His main mistake, in Putin’s and Zubkov’s eyes, probably lay elsewhere.
“Serdyukov’s real mistake was that he broke the golden rule of loyalty to the family, his political family,” said a source close to the government.
WEB OF INTRIGUE
China’s leaders are not happy with the state of their armed forces. The critics include many irate generals and admirals. These complaints tend to be made in private meetings. But so many people attend these meetings that details do eventually get out to the general public. Since these leaks do not represent official policy, they do not get repeated in the Chinese media, and foreign media tend to ignore it as well. It’s more profitable for the foreign media to portray the Chinese military as scary. The truth, as Chinese leaders describe it, is more depressing. It’s all about corruption among the military leadership and low standards for training and discipline. In short, Chinese military power is more fraud than fact.
It’s not for want of trying to improve. For the last two decades China has been undergoing yet another military buildup and upgrade. There have been several of these over the last fifty years. All have failed. Why should the current one be any different? The earlier efforts failed because of growing corruption and loss of military spirit. Most people can understand the role of corruption. Military spirit is another matter, but as successful generals and military historians have noted for centuries, the warlike attitudes of an army makes more difference than the quality of their weapons.
Rotting From Within
Judging from a recent series of scathing speeches by one of the PLA’s top generals, details of which were obtained by Foreign Policy, it can’t: The institution is riddled with corruption and professional decay, compromised by ties of patronage, and asphyxiated by the ever-greater effort required to impose political control. The speeches, one in late December and the other in mid-February, were given by Gen. Liu Yuan, the son of a former president of China and one of the PLA’s rising stars; the speeches and Liu’s actions suggest that the PLA might be the site of the next major struggle for control of the Communist Party, of the type that recently brought down former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai. Liu is the political commissar and the most powerful official of the PLA’s General Logistics Department, which handles enormous contracts in land, housing, food, finance, and services for China’s 2.3 million-strong military.
Neither view is entirely accurate. The real hero of Russia’s rescue was oil. The dramatic rise in the average Russian’s income has been a consequence not of Putin’s policies but of oil prices. The price of oil when Putin came to office was $27 a barrel. From that point, it began an almost unbroken rise and is now at $116 a barrel. And oil is the lifeblood of Russia’s economy. It provides two-thirds of its exports, half of the federal government’s revenues.
The Russian state has used these revenues to dole out patronage across the country. It is widely believed in the West that Putin stays in power through repression. Actually, he does so in larger measure through bribery.
In the short run, Putin will be able to win the March election and consolidate power through a mixture of repression and patronage. His problems are more long-term. His government has ramped up its revenues to the point that it now needs oil to approach $125 a barrel simply to balance the budget.
Russia’s demographics are terrible. …
Throughout China’s dynastic history, keeping mistresses was not only tolerated, but actually had the official seal of approval from the men at the top. The country’s emperors maintained legendary harems of concubines, as did noblemen, wealthy merchants and anyone seeking to enhance their social status. Indeed, the country’s most famous classic novel, Dream of the Red Chamber, relates the story of an imperial concubine in the Qing dynasty who supports her entire family, including its own numerous concubines, thanks to the emperor’s patronage.
The resource curse has gone global.
For years, oil wealth was mostly a danger to those, paradoxically, who possessed it. Resource-rich Middle Eastern countries, and their labor-exporting neighbors, failed for decades to invest adequately in their people or to diversify their economies. A massive influx of oil receipts and worker remittances discouraged investment in sectors conducive to steady long-term growth, fostered corruption and patronage, inflated regional real estate and stock markets, and provided irresistible incentives for governments to spend with wasteful, shortsighted abandon.
But today, the Middle East’s resource curse is spilling over into the international financial system.
South Africa is following the path of Zimbabwe. The future does not look bright.
My current supervisor in the actuarial department of an insurance company in the pacific northwest is from South Africa.
Why did he leave?
The crime is getting so out of hand that it is intolerable to many people.
From the article:
It emerged from apartheid a bright young democracy, but Mandela’s South Africa is today a fading miracle. As voters go to the polls on April 22, the country’s most trying days may yet be ahead.
During the last 15 years, South Africa’s politics have increasingly fallen into an elite system more intent on patronage than provision of services. As convicted criminals and fraudsters populate party lists with little public outcry, leading figures of integrity have all but given up, eschewing public service and leaving the door open to those who view politics as an opportunity for personal enrichment. Mandela’s vision — to build a democracy based on “one people with a common destiny in [its] rich variety of culture, race, and tradition” — appears to have been lost on successive generations of South African politicians across the ideological spectrum.