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NightWatch 20121014

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NightWatch

For the night of 14 October 2012

Cambodia-China: Cambodia's former king Norodom Sihanouk died in Beijing on Monday, 15 October, Chinese state media and close aides said. He would have been 90 on 31 October.

"Our former King died at 2:00 a.m. early Monday in Beijing due to natural causes," Cambodian deputy prime minister Nhek Bunchhay told Xinhua by phone.

"This is a great loss for Cambodia. We feel very sad. The former king was a great king that we all respect and love him." Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen will fly to Beijing Monday morning to receive Sihanouk's body for a traditional funeral in Cambodia.

Comment: Sihanouk had been a frequent visitor to China because he was seriously ill and could receive free medical treatment. He had been staying at his Beijing residence since January.

The location of his death speaks loudly about his political incompetence. Sihanouk was a chameleon who tried ineptly to balance competing and conflicting forces to preserve Cambodian independence.

He failed, leading to the military government of Lon Nol, which was replaced by the reign of terror instituted by Saloth Sar (Pol Pot) and the Khmer Rouge in 1975. This led to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978 that ultimately ended the Khmer Rouge regime. The French-educated Khmer communists whom Sihanouk supported were too monstrous even for the Vietnamese communists.

Sihanouk was restored as king in 1993 but without political power. He abdicated in favor of his son in 2004 because of cancer and other health issues.

His death is one of many that mark the passing of one savage epoch in Southeast Asian history. In trying to protect Cambodian independence, Sihanouk always chose the wrong side.

Syria-Turkey: The diplomatic crisis between Syria and Turkey escalated again over the weekend. The two countries banned each other from using their airspace for even civilian flights.

On Sunday, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, accused the Syrian government of "abusing" civilian flights by transporting military equipment. Syria responded by announcing the closure of its own air space, in "accordance with the principle of reciprocity", SANA state news agency said.

Comment: Syria is ready to start direct talks to ease tensions with Turkey, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 13 October.

Further escalation of the tension serves the interests of neither country. There will be talks.

Egypt: Comment: On Friday, opposing groups of protestors demonstrated in Tahrir Square in Cairo and in several other large cities. The antagonists were supporters or President Mursi and others who claimed he did not keep his campaign promises plus secular youths who opposed the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood.

What some commentators like to call the Egyptian Revolution is not yet a revolution. Egypt has had a presidential election which elected a compromise candidate that no party preferred. Mursi is sometimes labeled the accidental president.

The existing, Mubarak-era  constitution provides for an authoritarian president. The new draft constitution is out for comment, but appears to establish an authoritarian Islamist parliament as a substitute for an authoritarian president.

Underlying issues are unsolved. Mursi travels a lot. He injects himself, on behalf of Egypt, in issues, such as Syria,  for which he has no skill or experience and which have no importance to Egyptians, compared to prices and the availability of goods, services, fuels and jobs.

On Sunday, the Oil Minister announced universal limit on energy subsidies for every household in Egypt.

Comment: The Egyptian government appears to be falling into the phenomenological trap of authoritarian governments. Manipulation of energy prices and other subsidies is one of the government economic actions that always contributes to the downfall of a government. The implication is the Mursi government is desperate and has selected a solution that can lead to its downfall.

Note to analyst: The foregoing judgment does not imply that the Mursi government is doing anything not in Egypt's interest, as Western bankers define it. Its actions, in fact, are responsive to the International Monetary Fund requirement that Egypt lower entitlements before it can receive assistance.

Rather it is an observation about the phenomenology of internal instability. The lesson is that governments are the agents of their own downfall because they manipulate critical subsidies improvidently. One of the most important subsidies in Egypt affected by the new rationing plan is fuel - gasoline, heating fuel and cooking fuel.

Expect more and worsening demonstrations and clashes, especially on Fridays, unless economic conditions improve. Poor economic conditions started the unrest and, thus far, they portend that Mursi will be not only accidental but temporary president.

Mali: For the record. The UN Security Council asked African regional organizations and the United Nations on 12 October to present within 45 days a military intervention plan to help the Malian government reclaim the north of the country from Islamist militants.

Comment: The UN Security Council finally is seized of the need to rout the Islamists in northern Mali, whom Secretary Clinton blamed for the murder of the US Ambassador to Libya and three other US officials. Nevertheless the pace of UN and West African action is glacial.

Mauritania: For the record. President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz was shot and wounded 13 October and was flown to France for treatment on 14 October.

Mauritanian officials said the shooting was accidental and occurred because a security patrol on the road did not recognize the president's convoy, while some local reports claim the president was targeted by militants.

End of NightWatch for 14 October.

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