Ed: 36: December/2011
Only days before parliamentary elections, Egypt was in a huge crisis whose outcome will determine the future of almost 80 million people and perhaps the Arabic-speaking world's fate for decades to come.
Will the army go ahead with elections that will be won by the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Salafist groups, thus producing an Islamist regime?
Or will it cancel elections, declare martial law in some form, and set off a passionate civil conflict?
Or will it find some compromise that quiets the disorder but doesn't solve the problems?
For those of a certain a generation, they are names from the past that cause equal measure of dread and derision.
They are the Australian cheer squad that relentlessly extolled Colonel Gaddafi's virtues in full view of his tyrannical excesses. Australians from both the extreme left and far right were not exempt from seeking his assistance, guidance and resources and proclaiming his virtues.
Speaking to CNN recently, Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak posed a terrifying scenario:
"Who would have come to rescue Kuwait when it was taken by Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, if Saddam could have said credibly enough that he has three or four crude nuclear devices?"
The answer of course, is that no one would have acted. In all likelihood, Iraq would still be in control of Kuwait and all its oil wealth today and Saddam would still likely be in power.
Historically, following many of the revolutions in the Arab and Muslim world, previous traditions hindering women's rights and limiting their role in politics and society have been reinstated.
The deterioration in women's rights after the revolution in Algeria ended in 1962, and the Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979 created frightening precedents for many women.
Is this recurring in the recent "Arab Spring" revolutions in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt? Women have played a key part in these revolutions, yet some of the new regimes have been quick to reinforce laws and norms that limit women's rights, justifying it as a return to values undermined or damaged by the previous regime.
Watching the debate, both in Israel and elsewhere, surrounding the proposed new NGO (Non-Government Organisation) laws in the Knesset, it is hard not to be struck by the hyperbole being employed. Some Israelis, primarily from the political left, are railing about "threats to the very foundation of Israel's democracy" whereas others, mainly on the right, are decrying the "diplomatic warfare being waged by foreign governments against Israel". Looking past this rhetoric, however, the two proposed laws as discussed below are neither revolutionary nor unreasonable. In fact, they are in many ways following the example of other democratic countries, Australia included.
Between 1 October 1989 and 30 September 2011, I have logged incidents of "racist violence" against Jewish Australians and Jewish Australian institutions, including 566 of physical assaults or property damage, and 1,180 incidents of direct harassment and intimidation (mainly of families walking to or from synagogue).
Also recorded were: 679 incidents of telephone abuse and threats; 1,290 individual mailings of anti-Jewish material; 877 incidents of anti-Jewish graffiti; 3,168 examples of unique emails with anti-Jewish content and/or threats; and 664 incidents of other types, including faxes, leaflets, stickers, text messages and posters.
Europe is peering into the abyss.
And the crisis is far from over. Indeed, it is likely to intensify in 2012 as financial contagion spreads from Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy to France, which holds large quantities of Italian debt, and then to Britain, which is exposed to substantial French debt. Italy, whose debt approaches A$3 trillion, has pushed realistic hopes of rescue beyond reach.
Just as dangerous, the financial crisis is accompanied by social and political upheaval. Already, two European governments - Papandreou's Greece and Berlusconi's Italy - have been swept away on tides of unsustainable debt. Their places have been taken by unelected technocrats. More heads may roll. More unelected governments may be on the way.
The long awaited and much overdue Annex of the November 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report was presented to the IAEA Board of Governors and the UN Security Council on November 8, 2011. Although the Annex contains much interesting and fresh information, its basic message that Iran is actively engaged in the development of nuclear weapons should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the developments reported in the IAEA periodic reports.
"Something like this might really happen," warned the narrator of the 1959 comedy "The Mouse that Roared" while a nuclear explosion was displayed in the background. And then, before proceeding to the story about a remote duchy that saves itself from bankruptcy by stealing a doomsday bomb, the narrator explained: "We thought we should put you in the proper mood."
Faced with a steadily maturing Iranian nuclear program, Israel has long been in the proper mood, but its consequent efforts to convince the world that "something like this might happen" have so far registered partial success at best.
Rioting in Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011 unleashed a tidal wave of unrest across the Arab world that was soon designated the "Arab Spring." Enthusiasts in the West hailed a new birth of freedom for a giant slice of humanity that has been living in despotic darkness for centuries. But historians in 50 or a hundred years may well point to the 1979 events in Teheran - the Islamist revolution that toppled the Shah - as the real trigger of this so-called "spring" (which is looking more and more like a deep, forbidding winter). And the Islamist Hamas victory in the Palestinian general elections of 2006 and that organisation's armed takeover of the Gaza Strip the following year probably signified further milestones on the same path.