World View: Egypt Continues to Become More Unstable and Violent

This morning's key headlines from

  • Russian politician blames meteorite on the United States
  • Chinese-Americans call for U.S. break with Japan
  • Wal-Mart's 'total disaster' in sales blamed on rise in payroll tax
  • Venezuela publishes photos of Chávez using breathing tube
  • Islamists rally for Egypt's president Morsi in Cairo
  • Egypt continues to become more unstable and violent

Russian politician blames meteorite on the United States

The trail of a meteorite is seen above a residential apartment block (Reuters)
The trail of a meteorite is seen above a residential apartment block (Reuters)

A once-in-a-lifetime event occurred on Friday when two astronomical events caught worldwide attention on the same day. The second event had been predicted: a large asteroid that flew by the earth, with its closest approach above Indonesia, but not causing any damage. But several hours before that asteroid, everyone was surprised when a totally unrelated meteorite flew into the earth's atmosphere, raining down on central Russia and injuring hundreds of people. 

One Russian politician says that there was no accidental coincidence at all. Russian Nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky explained that the meteorite could not possibly have come from outer space, because there's no gravity in outer space, and so nothing ever falls: 

Those aren’t meteors falling, it’s the Americans testing new weapons. 

Nothing will ever fall out there [from outer space]. If [something] falls, it’s people doing that. People are the instigators of wars, the provocateurs.

He also said US Secretary of State John Kerry had tried to warn Russia about the weapons test, but had been unable to reach the right person by phone. Ria Novosti (Moscow)

Chinese-Americans call for U.S. break with Japan

A group of Chinese-Americans, calling itself the "Concerned Citizens on U.S. Policy towards Japan," wrote a letter to the Obama administration calling on the U.S. to repudiate its policy supporting Japan. The letter was written by Wenji V. Chang, a professor from the University of Southern California. 

The letter, which was sent on the eve of a scheduled visit by Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe to Washington later this month, calls on Obama to reject any support for Japan's claim to the Senkaku/Diayou Islands, and also calls on Obama to oppose Japan's attempt to modify the anti-war provisions of its constitution. 

Saying that Japanese society is turning rapidly nationalistic and militaristic, like Japan prior to World War II, the letter reads: 

We strongly urge you to reject both attempts, because they are against the fundamental and long-term interests of our country. 

The ultra-conservative wing of the Japanese political spectrum, of which Abe is the leader, will not be our long-term friend...

The US should not become a tool of Japanese ultra-conservatives.


Wal-Mart's 'total disaster' in sales blamed on rise in payroll tax

An internal email message sent on February 12 by Wal-Mart's VP of finance and logistics to other executives reads:

In case you haven’t seen a sales report these days, February MTD [month-to-date] sales are a total disaster. The worst start to a month I have seen in my ~7 years with the company.

Economists had expected a strong start to February because of the Super Bowl and milder weather. The poor sales are blamed on the 2% increase in payroll taxes and an IRS delay in issuing income tax refunds.


Venezuela publishes photos of Chávez using breathing tube

Hugo Chávez and his two daughters in Havana on Friday (AFP)
Hugo Chávez and his two daughters in Havana on Friday (AFP)

Supporters of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez were cheered on Friday when the government released photos of a smiling Chávez in bed in Havana, Cuba, with his two daughters. Many people had speculated that Chávez was close to death after his December 11 cancer operation and subsequent respiratory complications, but the photos appear to show him recovering. 

A statement accompanying the photos says that he has been fitted with a breathing tube in his throat, making it hard for him to speak: 

After two months of a complicated post-operatory process, the patient (Chávez) is conscious, with the integrity of his intellectual functions, in close communication with his governmental team and at the head of the fundamental tasks inherent to his position. 

As was opportunely informed, the respiratory infection which emerged in the course of the post-operatory treatment was controlled, although a certain grade of (respiratory) insufficiency persists. 

Given this circumstance, that is being duly treated, President Chávez is currently breathing through a tracheal tube, which temporarily makes it difficult for him to speak. 

The medical team is applying an energetic treatment for the base illness (cancer), which is not exempt from complications. 

The patient is cooperating with the treatment and rehabilitation in close coordination with his medical team.

Islamists rally for Egypt's president Morsi in Cairo

Thousands of Islamists rallied in Cairo on Friday in support of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president who has been the target of protester rage in weeks of violent demonstrations. The protest devolved into violence as night fell. 

State media reported that “troublemakers” had thrown rocks and petrol bombs. Security forces unleashed tear gas and water cannon, it said. 

The Muslim Brotherhood backed Friday's rally in a symbolic way, but did not mobilize its members for the event. Instead, the pro-Morsi rally was principally supported by a hardline Salafist Islamist group, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya. 

Indeed, Morsi's principal Islamist supporters, the Salafist al-Nour party, have been launching scathing political attacks on Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood this week. Referring to Egypt's prime minister Hisham Kandil, an al-Nour politician said: 

The Morsi-appointed government of Hisham Kandil has run out of steam and lost all credibility. Under this government the lives of Egyptian citizens are deemed worthless. 

It has become clear that Kandil has little control over his government and lacks any economic or political vision for the country’s future. His government has to go, and go quickly, to be replaced by a national salvation government capable of organising free and democratic parliamentary elections."

Other parties are becoming equally contemptuous of Morsi, complaining that the only thing he cares about are the political interests of the Muslim Brother. According to a member of the liberal Geel (Generation) party: 

"Kandil has repeatedly refused to come to the Shura Council to explain his unsuccessful strategies,” complained Nagi Al-Shehabi, chairman of the liberal Geel (Generation) Party. “He has done nothing to contain the repressive practices of the Interior Ministry, including the torture of opposition activists while being detained in Central Security Force camps. His government refuses to answer the council’s questions about the deaths of a number of political protesters."

Reuters and Al-Ahram (Cairo)

Egypt continues to become more unstable and violent

It's now been two years since the January 25th Revolution that deposed Hosni Mubarak. Protests and demonstrations were routine in Cairo's Tahrir Square during those two years and usually peaceful. But things have changed after the protests that occurred on the second anniversary of the revolution. (See "27-Jan-13 World View -- Egypt in crisis after two days of violent clashes"

Tahrir Square has been abandoned for other locations, and the protests have become increasingly violent. About 60 people, including three police officers, and been killed in just the last three weeks, and over 2,000 people have been injured. At least 35 government buildings and 15 private institutions have been attacked. 

We've previously described how Port Said and other cities along the Suez Canal are becoming increasingly contemptuous of Morsi and Cairo in general. That's because these cities make a lot of money for Cairo, but it all goes into the pockets of the wealthy élite, with little returning to Port Said. This contempt is worsening with the faltering economy, police brutality, and mass detentions. The contempt is turning into seething anger, according to rights activists. However, as activists point out: 

Nobody in the opposition has a comprehensive alternative. They simply envision replacing Morsi with someone else while retaining the same system... 

Many voters will think twice before voting for the Brotherhood again but then there is no convincing alternative that can fill the vacuum. And elections in Egypt, in the end, are a matter of mobilization and business, not politics.

Al-Ahram (Cairo) and Jerusalem Post

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Indonesia, John Kerry, Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, China, Japan, Senkaku, Diaoyu, Wal-Mart, Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, al-Nour party, Hisham Kandil, Geel (Generation) Party, 25 January Revolution, Hosni Mubarak, Cairo, Port Said, Tahrir Square, Suez Canal  

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