For the night of 18 August 2013
North Korea-South Korea: The Korean Central Broadcasting Agency (KCNA) broadcast the terms of North Korea's agreement to South Korea's proposal to resume reunions for families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The North' Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Fatherland has proposed working-level talks on 22 August to resume tours to the Mount Kumgang resort in southeastern North Korea. It proposed on 23 August working-level talks to resume family reunions also at the Mount Kumgang resort. It proposed that the resumption of reunions take place on the Festival of the Harvest Moon, called Chusok, on 19 September.
It also proposed a separate round of indirect family reunions via video conference around 4 October -- the anniversary of the 2007 inter-Korean summit, according to the KCNA statement.
Comment: The North's agreement and statement responded to South Korean President Park Geun-Hye's proposal last Thursday that urged the North to "open its heart" and agree to hold the first family reunions since 2010.
The North's reply attempted to finesse two very different programs of engagement. The North tried to ensnare the South into agreeing to discuss resuming tours to Mount Kumgang ahead of the discussions about family reunions. That is because the Mount Kumgang tourist business from South Korea to North Korea, which flourished between 1998 and 2008, was much more profitable than family reunions, which used to take place at the Mount Kumgang resort facilities.
The result is that South Korea has counter-proposed that working level talks occur at Panmunjom and that the order of talks should be reunions followed by tours.
Assuming the North's need for hard currency is as great as it seems, the North will agree to the South's terms.
Iran: For the record. Press sources report that Iran faces a budget shortfall of one third in this year's budget because of lower than expected revenues, senior government officials said.
Oil exports have halved since 2011 as the result of sanctions on Iranian oil sales, shipping and banking imposed by Western nations over Iran's nuclear program. About one-third of the approximately $68 billion budget for March 2013-March 2014 will not be realized, according to Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, citing figures provided by the administration of former President Ahmadi-Nejad.
Jahangiri was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying on Sunday that officials told him that "more than one third of the budget is unrealistic" and it must be cut to about $45 billion. "We face a serious budget shortfall."
Comment: Assuming the Vice President's statement is accurate, the nuclear program should be affected by a 33% budget cut. President Rouhani said that Iran will not compromise on its principles but implement a "slogan-free" foreign policy, referring to Ahmadi-Nejad's bombastic style of government. This means, however, the style will change, but the substance will not. There will be continuity of substance between the administrations of Ahmadi-Nejad and Rouhani.
The contraction of the economy should delay, if not degrade, the nuclear program in the coming year, though the effects might not be easily detected for some time.
Egypt: Violence since last Wednesday's crackdown in Cairo total 929 killed, including 70 police officer and more than 4,500 injured. According to al Ahram more than 3,500 Muslim Brotherhood members have been arrested.
The tally follows according to official statements and pro-government Egyptian press.
15 August 638 killed and more than 4,000 injured
16 August 173 killed - in Cairo and in 11 other towns
17 August 79 killed and 549 injured - mostly in Cairo
18 August 36 killed - in an attempted jail break by Brothers under arrest.
On 18 August, the Brotherhood cancelled a large protest demonstration because it could not guarantee its security. The Army was ready for it and prepared to prevent it.
Comment: The Brotherhood's cancellation of the Sunday demonstration plus the decline in daily casualties are strong signs that government control is steadily improving. The numbers of killed and wounded indicate the Brotherhood has sacrificed thousands of its most dedicated activists in futile protests and attacks.
More protests have been called and are likely, but enthusiasm for them might be declining. These are not the signs of a failed state by any measure. The situation appears to be improving and might be best indicated by the resumption of normal operations by transnational companies, including GM.
Militias. The Interior Ministry said on Sunday it will ban groups of vigilantes who have set up self-styled "popular committees" in Cairo. "The interior ministry has decided to ban the creation of popular committees which are used by some to carry out illegal acts," the ministry said in a statement.
Comment: Late last week, Egyptian TV broadcast an appeal by the secular movement Tamarrud (Rebel) for residents of Cairo's neighborhoods to form self-defense militias to protect residents against violence by the Brotherhood. Apparently, the appeal was effective beyond the tolerance of the forces of order. The popular committees were responsible for many of the Brotherhood deaths.
On Sunday, Tamarrud started an online petition to call on the government to refuse to accept US aid and to replace the peace treaty with Israel with one the Egyptians negotiated with Israel without US involvement.
New constitution. In a press conference Sunday, interim President Mansour's legal advisor, Ali Awad, told parliamentary correspondents that the constitutional drafting committee will finish its work Monday,19 August, with the new draft constitution expected to be announced Wednesday.
The 10-member technical committee entrusted with amending the Mursi/Brotherhood's 2012 constitution has almost finished its task, according to a press report. The committee was formed under Article 28 of the constitutional declaration issued by Interim President Adly Mansour 8 July and is headed by Mansour's legal advisor, Ali Awad.
Ahram Online published on Sunday that after almost one month of thorough revision, the committee's members concluded that "fundamental changes must be introduced to 2012 Islamist-backed constitution."
"The 2012 constitution was drafted under the former regime of the Muslim Brotherhood to grant Islamists an upper hand and a final say in Egypt's political future, and this must be changed now," a committee source told Ahram Online. He said that "When the people revolted on 30 June, their main goals were not confined to removing Mohamed Mursi from power, but also changing the fundamental pillars of the religious tyranny the Muslim Brotherhood regime tried its best to impose on Egypt."
The technocrats judge that "the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, would be scrapped….Most political factions also press for the elimination of this council, which was exploited by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies over one year to impose their Islamist ideology on the country," the source said, adding: "Not to mention that this council cost the state budget too much money (more than $150 million per year) at a time of severe economic crisis."
Comment: Credible commentaries indicate the new constitution will keep one article that mentions Sharia as a legislative guide, but will drop the many references to Sharia, including its proper schools of interpretation, in the Mursi constitution. The draft will attempt to be carefully secular, meaning that it will attempt to not offend the fundamentalist groups who support the military-backed government and also hate the Brotherhood.
Morocco: Around 10,000 people took part in a demonstration in Rabat on Sunday in support of Islamists in Egypt.
Kuwait: The government deported nine Egyptians for demonstrating in support of Mursi.
Saudi Arabia: A prominent Kuwaiti Islamic motivational preacher, Tareq al-Suwaidan, who speaks on a Saudi TV station owned by a nephew of King Abdullah. He was outspokenly critical of the Egyptian military and identified himself as a leader of the Brotherhood. In a statement, the station owner, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, said that the preacher had been warned to keep his politics to himself but had ignored the warnings.
Comment: This action is a small, but important manifestation of a Saudi-encouraged backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood among Arabs.
End of NightWatch for 18 August.
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