The Middle Eastern Quagmire

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Nowadays, the Middle East is, with great difference, the most troublesome region and the source of the most significant geopolitical risk for the entire world.

With overlapping civil wars in Syria and Iraq, a new flare-up of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, the Islamic State expanding and tense nuclear talks with Iran, Middle Eastern politics are more volatile than ever and longtime alliances are shifting.

The next diagram,  just published by The Economist, tries to sort friends and foes in this chaotic and increasingly beligerant region.

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The truth of the matter is that, given the high level of complexity,  the chart at the top of this post (in which Israel and Palestine were discounted for the sake of simplicity) is probably a more faithful representation of reality: beligerant chaos.

The relationship mosaic rises to insane levels of complexity if we move beyond sovreign states and include in the chart political groups and militant organizations in the Middle East. The rise of Islamic State has upended geopolitics in the Middle East and has drawn America’s military back to the region. Though ISIS is popular among militants, the group has no allies on the political stage, making it even more isolated than the official al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.

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It provides a quick glimpse of who is friends with whom (albeit a simplified depiction of relationships; the “neutral” category, for instance, embraces a large number of possibilities). The Syrian government is disliked by many countries but supported by Iran and Russia. The Iraqi Kurds count numerous friends and no sworn enemies among the entities listed.

And the chart shows the degree to which America and Europe need to play a delicate diplomatic game in holding together allies that may not always be friends with each other, groups and militant organizations in the Middle East.

The People’s Front of Judea hates the Judean People’s Front

To end on a happy note, you can watch this hilarious clip from Mounty Python’s movie Life of Bryan.

Brian: Excuse me. Are you the Judean People’s Front?
Reg: Bug off! ‘Judean People’s Front’. We’re the People’s Front of Judea! ‘Judean People’s Front’.
Francis: Splitters! The only people we hate more than the Romans are the Judean People’s Front and the Popular Front of Judea.

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These Countries Block Social Media

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In 2014, Reporters Without Borders designated 19 countries as “enemies of the internet” for actions ranging from Britain’s distributed denial of service attack against Anonymous to North Korea having building its own internal internet and walling its citizens off from the global web.

However, despite the “enemies of the internet” moniker, only six countries actively block social media networks around the world, as shown by the graphic.

Of the six countries, Turkey is the largest exception. Opposed to the other five countries, Turkey is both a NATO member and a hopeful applicant to the European Union. Turkey is also a functioning democracy, a fact which makes its total blockage of social media all the more concerning.

However, also unlike the other countries, Turkey’s banning of social media is not a constantly enforced law. Instead, Turkey selectively enforces bans of social media based upon the current environment. The latest social media ban, which is starting to be lifted, was put in place after a Marxist terrorist organization that held hostage a state prosecutor started to distribute images of the crisis online.

The hostage situation ended with the death of the prosecutor. Turkey‘s government said that the republishing of the image was akin to supporting terrorism and that, as social media did not limit the distribution of the image, the sites had to be shuttered.

In March 2014, Turkey previously banned Twitter in the face of government corruption scandals. Ankara had also blocked YouTube for 30 months after a video insulting the founder of modern Turkey was uploaded to the site.

However, despite the bans, North Korea is the only country listed that is entirely closed off from social media. Although the other countries have bans in place, users can use VPNs to reroute their internet traffic and access websites that have been blocked.

North Korea, however, has effectively created their own internal internet that does that not connect to the wider worldwide web.

Via Business Insider