Archive for the ‘Geography’ Category

Egypt Closes Tunnels to Gaza Strip

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

The hundreds of tunnels (nearly 1,000) linking Gaza to Egypt have played a central role in Gaza’s economy for many years. When Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, causing Israel to blockade Gaza, the importance of the tunnels grew exponentially  With few items coming in from Israel, many Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip relied on the tunnels to provide them with items such as food, cigarettes, household goods, newspapers, and even cars. The problem is that Egypt stated it could not fully open its borders to Gaza, as that would mean recognizing Hamas as the official leader. What this means is that the majority of the goods coming through the tunnels are, though taxed by Hamas, unregulated. This allows for the transfer of weapons, which brings us to Egypt’s recent closing of many of the tunnels. On August 5th, gunmen broke into an Egyptian army base and killed 16 soldiers. Egypt suspects that some of the attackers entered Egypt through these smuggling tunnels which connect Egypt to Palestine. In an attempt to increase Egyptian security, the government has begun shutting down dozens of the tunnels. Recently Hamas delegates met with Egyptian leaders to discuss the fate of the tunnels; they have not yet reached any firm agreements.

Though Israel lets aid and other necessities into Gaza, the tunnels provide many Palestinians with decent-paying (albeit risky) jobs and with a fairly stable supply of necessary goods. Egypt has demolished up to one half of the 225 main tunnels and already the people of Gaza are feeling the affect of these closures. Many Hamas officials want a commercial trade border between Egypt and Gaza, but the fear is that this type of border would allow for more open violence and a mass exodus of Palestinians into Egypt. At the same time, to close the tunnels without providing an alternate means of transporting in goods could cause a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.


What does it mean that Egyptian leaders were willing to negotiate with Hamas leaders on this issue? Could their discussions cause any foreign policy conflicts? Where can Egyptian and Hamas officials go from here? (Keep in mind who has the upper hand in the negotiations  Also, does Israel have some responsibly in dealing with this issue, and if so, what should it do?



Nicholas Kristof in Iran

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Columnist Nicholas Kristof has been traveling across Iran.  See article and video at The New York Times.

UPDATE — June 25, 2012 — Click here for Kristof’s column of 6/23/12, written from Tehran.  Among other ironies about Iran, he points out that the nation which has provided most assistance to Iran in the last twelve years or so is the United States:

“But we need a dollop of humility and nuance, for Iran is a complex country where we’ve repeatedly stumbled badly. For starters, consider for a moment which nation assisted Iran the most in the last dozen years. Not Russia, not China, not India. No, it was the United States under President George W. Bush. First, we upended the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iran’s enemy to the east, and then removed the Saddam Hussein government from Iraq, Iran’s even deadlier threat to the west. Look at the Iraq-Iran relationship today, and it seems we fought a wrenching war in Iraq — and Iran won.”

Nicholas Kristof, “Not-so Crazy in Tehran,” New York Times Op-ed piece, June 23, 2012


Why the “Democratic Deficit” in the Arab World?

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

The Economist reviews a new book in its current issue:  Eric Chaney, Democratic Change in the Arab World, Past and Present, Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 2012.

Excerpts from the review:

“Mr Chaney speculates that conquest altered society, casting an autocratic shadow across the centuries. Rulers came to rely on slave armies, freeing them from dependence on civil institutions. Religious leaders co-operated with the army to design a system that proved enduringly hostile to alternative centres of power. Lands brought to Islam by conversion maintained some civil institutions. In unconquered Europe, meanwhile, monarchs relied on the nobility to raise manpower and money for war. That gave the nobles enough leverage to check absolutism. Across the conquered world civil society remains institutionally impoverished, says Mr Chaney: the share of government in GDP is seven percentage points higher in conquered states than in other Muslim states, for example…

Even if Mr Chaney is right, history is not destiny: the Arab world can escape its autocratic past. Education levels in Arab-conquered countries have nearly converged to those in the non-conquest Muslim world. This may drive popular dissatisfaction with limited economic opportunities and increase pressure for political change. But a long-standing poverty of civil institutions is nonetheless an obstacle to democratic transition. Change may be in the offing, but the past must be uprooted first.”

The Economist, “Free Exchange: Historysis,” April 7, 2012



Role of the Environment in Middle East Politics

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

For years in this course we have explored the role of such factors as water scarcity in Middle Eastern political turmoil.  The following article makes it clear that these problems are still very alive and well:

Thomas Friedman, “The Other Arab Spring,” New York Times Op-ed piece, April 8, 2012

 See also “Water Wars in the Middle East”

Iran death sentence for ‘CIA spy’ Amir Mirzai Hekmati

Monday, January 9th, 2012

     Amir M. Hekmati, a US man of Iranian descent, was convicted of spying for the CIA. Consequently, a court in Tehran has sentenced him to death. Mr. Hekmati, as a former US marine, received training at US bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before being sent to Iran for his alleged intelligence-gathering mission. Iranian agents spotted him at the US-run Bagram military air base in neighboring Afghanistan, blowing his cover even before he had arrived in the country. On December 18, Hekmati was shown on state television “confessing” to being a CIA spy. Later in December, during his trial, he admitted to having links to the CIA but never had intentions of harming Iran. He was quoted as saying, “I was deceived by the CIA… Although I was appointed to break into Iran’s intelligence systems and act as a new source for the CIA, I had no intention of undermining the country.” Hekmati’s family, current residents or Arizona, disagree with the charges and say he was in Iran visiting grandparents.

     The sentence has come at a time when tensions between Iran and the West are high over Tehran’s nuclear programme. The West believes Iran is in the process of developing nuclear weapons even though Tehran has always been adamant that its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes. The US said it would impose new sanctions on Iran’s central bank while the European Union plans to place an embargo on Iran’s oil exports. In response to the sanctions threat, Tehran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz – a key route for transportation of 20% of the world’s traded oil passes from the Gulf. US defense chiefs warned that they would take action if Iran closed the strait.



Charting an Independent Course in the Arabian Peninsula

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

An AP report in today’s New York Times describes some tough talk from Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faisal.  The prince is hinting that his nation may enter the nuclear arms race if Iran continues on its present path of nuclear development.  The backdrop is growing tensions between Iran and the nations of the Arabian Peninsula, and, consequently, the growing conviction in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states that they must begin to rely upon themselves more for defense against Iran and other potential adversaries and less upon the United States. 

“Prince Hints Saudi Arabia May Join Nuclear Arms Race,” New York Times, Dec. 7, 2011


Turkey: about to shake up Israel?

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

While Turkey is dealing with a terrible earthquake that struck last Sunday, Turkish NGO, Humanitarian Relief Foundation denies any recent plans on a new flotilla being sent although activists announce Sunday to be departure day. Last year a flotilla going to Gaza was intercepted by Israeli soldiers and killed Turkish activist creating tensions between the two countries. After that incident Turkish officials have been requesting formal apologies on Israels part that have yet to come. Before that incident, Turkey had been sending a total of $2m in aid to Gaza per year, after the flotilla attacks, that aid has been raised to $48m per year.


How will this huge raise in monetary aid to Gaza change the relations of Turkey and Israel?

Will Israel risk any other incident with the flotilla if it ever ignores the embargo on Gaza again?


Flotilla article here

Turkish funding towards Gaza article here

Tunisia, freedom in Post-Revolution?

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

On October 9th, 2011, about 200 Salafis attempted to invade and attack a private national television channel, Nessma in the capital city of Tunis. The cause of these violent actions against the channel was due to the broadcasting of a Franco-Iranian movie about the Iranian revolution and religious oppression. On the day before, riots of Islamists occurred at the Faculté de Sousse, a university in Tunis after a student was refused admissions for wearing the niqab. These events, occurring about 15 days before the first national elections after the revolution Tunisia lived through this Arab Spring.

Are these riots a preview of what might happen in the upcoming election?

Are the Tunisian Islamists gaining power?


Click here to see the trailer of the Persepolis movie.

Click here for news link.





Afghanistan and Opium

Friday, January 21st, 2011

It was Alexander the Great who introduced Afghanistan’s most famous crop into the land he failed to conquer:

Robert Draper, “Opium Wars,” National Geographic Magazine, Feb., 2011

Critical Referendum for Sudan Coming Up

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

On January 9, voters in southern Sudan will cast ballots in a referendum on whether the south should secede and form a new nation.  There is a lot at stake: oil, water, other natural resources, and religion.

Via ProQuest on the NMH Virtual Desktop see:  Andrew S. Natsios and Michael Abramowitz, “Sudan’s Secession Crisis,” Foreign Affairs, Jan-Feb, 2011

More on the Sudan

UPDATE — Jan. 6, 2011 — See a report from the BBC on the role oil plays in the relations between the Sudanese north and south.

UPDATE – Jan. 30, 2011 – Vote count not officially confirmed yet, but, seems to indicate secession. — see BBC.