Night Watch

China-Philippines: For the record. China said yesterday it had rejected a proposal by the Philippines for international mediation to resolve their maritime dispute in the South China Sea. The Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs head Deng Zhonghua issued a protest note to the Philippine embassy in China on Saturday, the ministry said.

Comment: China is consistent in rejecting all outside mediation because it considers the South China Sea to be its territorial waters. All national maps of China purchased in Beijing clearly demarcate the extent of China's claims of ownership. China will reject all efforts to internationalize this dispute.

China-North Korea: Update. New information from last week's high level meetings tends to confirm the NightWatch judgment that the North Korean delegation was taken to the woodshed. The North reportedly demanded that China repatriate Kim Jong-nam, the elder brother of Kim Jong-un. Jong-nam resides in Macao. The Chinese summarily rejected this North Korean demand.

Other belated reporting indicates that behind the smiles in the photo ops, the Chinese senior leadership berated the North Koreans for attempting the missile launch and directed them to not detonate a nuclear device or take other action that would disrupt regional stability and economic development.

Comment: The 100th birthday celebrations for Kim Il-sung were a bust in almost every respect.

Egypt: The official campaign period for the presidential election began today and will last until 21 May. However, candidates have broken a campaign ban imposed by the Presidential Election Commission for months.

The al-Wasat Party decided to support Abdul Muniem Aboul Fotouh in the looming presidential race. Al-Wasat is openly Islamist, but tolerant towards Christian and women. Its leaders believe Sharia is consistent with a pluralist society and modern liberal views.

The first round of presidential elections will take place on 23 and 24 May. The president will be named on 21 June after a runoff-voting round, if needed, on 16 and 17 June.

Comment: In the past two weeks, Islamist parties have become the standard bearers of tolerance and modern government views, against the Muslim Brotherhood who are presented as part of the old system. At least one respected analyst commented that the Saudis are behind this dramatic political shift so as to prevent a revival of the Brotherhood in other Arab states which would be encouraged by a Brotherhood presidency in Cairo.

Another consequence of the shifting positions is that the Islamist vote is being split. That increases the electoral prospects for Amr Moussa, a former Foreign Minister for the Mubarak government, who is a secular liberal democrat, in the Egyptian understanding of the terms.

Egyptian polls, which are questionable at best, find that Amr Moussa is the frontrunner in the urban areas. However, those polls are suspect because they are so broadly inconsistent with the parliamentary election results only four months ago. An expensive and extensive media disinformation program appears to be at work, as well as other forms of political manipulation.

NightWatch continues to judge that the sudden twists and turns are signs of manipulation and a rigged election. The voting trends manifest in the parliamentary elections last year and in January 2012 should overwhelmingly favor an Islamist presidential candidate as the front runner, barring manipulation. The parliamentary election results in none of the three geographic voting regions favored a liberal democrat.

The danger is that the final result of the presidential election will not be credible and that could worsen the political demonstrations in June that are already probably unavoidable.

Tunisia: Two young unemployed Tunisians attempted suicide on Monday outside the jobs ministry as hundreds of unemployed people marched on a main street in Tunis demanding government action. Protesters from the southwestern mining region have been camped outside the jobs ministry for two weeks, criticizing the moderate Islamist government for not reversing the conditions that existed under ousted dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, according to Tunisian press.

Comment: The so-called revolution has come full circle in that southerners are again leading the demands for jobs, bread and lower prices. These were the initial rallying cries of the first suicide protestor in southern Tunisia more than a year ago. The Islamists are doing no better in satisfying the needs and wants of the working people than did the Ben Ali government.

The so-called revolution has lost its way in so far as it has failed popular expectations for an improved economy. The political results are benefitting a longstanding Islamist political elite.

Mali: Late on 30 April, the presidential guard loyal to ousted President Toure attempted a counter-coup against the governing junta. Junta spokes people said the attempt failed.

"Elements from abroad, supported by some obscure forces within the country, carried out these attacks. Some of them have been arrested," a junta officer said in the television message.

Minutes earlier the junta issued a scrolling message over state television claiming it remained in control of the state broadcaster building, the airport, and a major military base in Kati, just outside Bamako.

Comment: The broadcast failed to mention which group controls the presidential palace and key government buildings, such as the Ministry of Interior and the police. The situation is not clear.

The junta rejected the African Union plan to send in 3,000 peacekeepers. That number is almost half the official strength of the Mali Army and higher than its combat effective strength.

Special note: Readers should be aware that in the past year parts of northern and Sahelian Africa, at least five Arab states and parts of eastern and southern Europe have become much less stable.

Spain: For the record. Tens of thousands of Spaniards demonstrated in Madrid on a rainy Sunday, 29 April, against new austerity measures targeting spending on education and health care. The government on 20 April approved reforms to scrap free medicine for pensioners and charge students higher fees, aiming to save an extra 10 billion euros ($13 billion) a year in order to comply with European Central Bank and European Union goals for Spain.

Comment: The turnouts for the occasional Sunday demonstration are increasing, but the demonstrations are not frequent, violent or random enough to exert significant pressure on the government.

Romania: Afterthought. The fall of the Romanian government marks the fourth European government - Greece, Italy, Spain, Romania -- to fall in the past half year because of austerity measures directed by the European banking bureaucracies. If Sarkozy loses the French Presidential election, France would be the fifth.

End of NightWatch

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