The bad quick fix in Thailand

Thailand has so many military coups that the Wikipedia entry for each one should have a “Next” and “Previous” button like on pages for national elections.

This coup was so poorly thought out that the Royal Thai Army instinctively suspended all but one article of the 2007 constitution, which was written by…drumroll please…the Royal Thai Army after the 2006 coup. You’d think if these coups solved anything they wouldn’t be needing another one so soon against their own constitution.

Of course, that assumes that the coup is a means to an end rather than an end itself. And judging by what we’ve heard from the opposition protesters for six months, it’s probably more a goal than a tool, to them. Unlike many mass protests around the world, it’s not that they want more democratic opportunities, it’s that they don’t want democracy at all. In that light, a coup is the destination itself, not the path to get there.

Thai military: Haha, just kidding, it’s a coup.

So much for insisting earlier this week that they were just imposing martial law and not overthrowing the government. It’s officially now a coup:

Thailand’s military has announced it is taking control of the government and has suspended the constitution.

In a TV statement, army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha vowed to restore order and enact political reforms.

The cabinet has been told to report to the military, TV broadcasting is suspended and political gatherings are banned. A nationwide curfew will operate from 22:00 to 05:00 local time.
On Tuesday the army imposed martial law. Talks were then held between the main political factions, but the army announced the coup on Thursday.

Political party leaders, including opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban, were taken away from the talks venue after troops sealed off the area.

Foreign media are reporting very rapid consolidation of power and the army focusing on breaking up protest camps in support of the government, even though the opposition protesters have been obstructing everything for six months.

The military is traditionally aligned with the faction currently in the opposition and last overthrew the ruling coalition during the 2006 coup. By some reckonings, this makes military coup number 19 since absolute monarchy ended in 1932.

The military leadership claims the coup was a necessary step because the elected government did not want to step down as part of crisis talks. All the political representatives were detained and carried off to barracks when talks failed to make progress, before the coup was announced.

Thailand: When is a coup not a coup?

thailand-flag-200After six months of anti-democracy protesters trying to prevent elections, Thailand’s military has stepped in — but insists they are just preventing chaos, not overthrowing the government.

So: Where is the Thai military is going with their martial law announcement? They’re repeatedly saying (in domestic and Western media) that it’s not a coup, they’re declining to remove the leadership (for the moment), and they’re telling the opposition protesters to leave the streets.

But they could be telling them to leave because they got the coup they wanted. And they could be keeping the civilian leadership in place because they don’t need to remove them if they control everything anyway — especially since the elected prime minister has already been removed by the courts. And is martial law without civilian authorization a coup by definition?

Moreover, the military has seized power, according to the BBC, “at least” 11 times since 1932, which implies there have been a lot of these halfway coups. (The last official coup was in 2006 against the again-now ruling coalition.)

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post says there have been 18 coups in eight decades, though they didn’t elaborate on how they counted. Even their experts seem a bit mystified as to what exactly is happening.

We’ll probably see more developments shake out in the coming hours and days that clarify what the plan is. But I’m not counting on the opposition protesters to leave the streets even with a partially friendly military also in the streets, because their goal is the indefinite suspension of democracy.

They probably won’t leave the streets unless the military either a) goes all the way and clearly takes power itself or b) is actually willing to fire on their own biggest civilian supporters and lose mass approval.

Update at 10:40 AM ET: A slight clarification on Tuesday from the military leadership — re-emphasizing that government workers should continue normally, that they want a political solution to be negotiated among the politicians, that there is no curfew, and that martial law will continue indefinitely until no longer needed (however that is determined). However, they also took control of television stations, shut down several satellite broadcasts on both sides of the political fracas, and restricted entry into the capital. The military also cited economic concerns, such as investor confidence, as a key reason for the coup. (Thailand’s tourism-heavy economy has struggled in the face of persistent unrest.)

Renegade ex-general again attempts Libya coup

general-khalifa-haftarVirginia’s finest rogue foreign officer is at it again in Tripoli, Libya this week, as he tries a second time this year to seize power in the country from which he was exiled from 1987-2011. This time he actually remembered to bring troops.

About three months ago, Gen. Khalifa Hifter tried to overthrow the government of Libya without much success:

Former longtime Virginia resident and past/present Libyan military general Khalifa Hifter attempted to seize power in Libya on Friday, claiming he had suspended parliament and initiated a military takeover to put the country back on the right path. Then what happened?

What happened was that nobody showed up. So that coup went poorly. At least no one got killed in that effort.

But the ex-general (or current general, depending on whom you ask), who may have been a longtime CIA asset, bided his time and continued building up his personal army in the country’s major cities. In the last couple days, his forces stole military aircraft and launched a combined air-ground assault on an Islamist fighter base in Benghazi. Then, actual units of the Libyan military joined in for the hell of it, leaving the government in Tripoli to sputter in impotent rage about how he had not been authorized to conduct military actions (which is, of course, also true of every warlord’s personal army in the country at the moment, but that hasn’t stopped anyone). At least 70 people were killed in the unauthorized raid and 140 more were injured.

Finally today, after several recent weeks of unrelated internal upheaval in the transitional national government and a new prime minister (or three), this weekend former General Hifter has rolled back into town — literally — with a lot more mobile firepower and people. After some fighting near the largely empty buildings, he announced he was replacing the national parliament with his own emergency cabinet.

Gunfire rang out in streets surrounding the General National Congress complex in the capital, Tripoli, witnesses said, and the official LANA news agency said routes leading to it had been blocked by armed men with truck-mounted heavy weapons.

Frightened residents took to social media to report rocket fire in at least one area of the capital, and the road to the city’s international airport was closed. The Associated Press cited hospital officials saying the attack killed one person and wounded nine.

It was not clear whether any lawmakers were inside the parliament building at the time of the assault. LANA quoted one as saying most had left earlier after a session was adjourned, and other reports said the building had been nearly emptied after warnings of the coming attack. However, the website of the Libya Herald, an English-language newspaper, said seven lawmakers apparently had been captured by the assailants.

A spokesman for Khalifa Haftar, the former general, later appeared on television to say the assailants had assigned a 60-member constituent’s assembly to take over for parliament and that the current government would act on an emergency basis, the Associated Press reported.

It remains to be seen if the national parliament and cabinet will be able to fend off the armed insubordination — or if anyone even notices. Because as I noted in his last coup attempt, would anyone really even notice if he “seized power”?

In reality, it’s kind of absurd on its face that a general would try to stage a “coup” in Libya. Right now there barely is a Libya.

Did Egypt’s military organize the protests leading to the coup?

egypt-coat-of-armsOne man is alleging in an in-depth report by Buzzfeed that his much-cited populist organization, Tamarod, which paved the way for the Egyptian military coup in July 2013 and demanded intervention on behalf of millions of protesters, was actually just five guys in an office whose name and social media popularity was co-opted (or at least force-multiplied) by the military and Interior Ministry as a front group to legitimize the coup. The original organization leaders would send talking points to state television and the Army would rewrite them and then put them out over the air under the Tamarod name anyway. But, then again, he also suspects three of his co-founders may actually have been Army plants all along.

By the end of June, he asserts they were effectively no longer in control of the group as Interior staff began using its offices to stage and organize protesters to rally against the president — down to the logistical level of how many little flags and water bottles were needed. In other words, more like a highly choreographed U.S. presidential convention audience with pre-printed signs than a spontaneous mass demonstration of affection for the military and disgust with the president.

The June 2013 protests always seemed way too well organized (or rather, unusually well supplied) to me, but I tend to hesitate to jump on board with suggestions that may prove to be conspiracy theories. These allegations aren’t necessarily true either — the Buzzfeed reporters had trouble finding anyone who could corroborate his account and he sometimes hinted he had been less ignorant of the situation at the time than he lets on — but it would certainly fit with a suspicious pattern that resulted in a very rapid emergence of a mass produced Cult of Personality surrounding (soon-to-be-president) General Sisi within a week or so of the coup.

Then again, maybe I’m just looking for even more reasons to be disgusted with the idea of millions of people rallying enthusiastically for the replacement of transitional democracy with military dictatorship — and with their Western cheerleaders who, to this day (despite all the terrible things the new government has done or endorsed), can’t contain their excitement for military rule, in their haste to quash Islamic participation in government.

Egypt propagandists announce military has cured AIDS

egypt-coat-of-armsIn all the Ukraine crisis news, I missed this stellar example of increasingly implausible Egyptian military propaganda. They announced to their citizens last month that they had cured AIDS and Hepatitis C.

The so-called “Complete Cure Device” draws blood from a patient, breaks down the disease and returns the purified blood back to the body, according to Dr. Ihsan Hanfy Hussein, a member of Abdel-Atti’s research team.

She said it cures the ailments in as little as 16 hours.

“I will take the AIDS from the patient and I will nourish the patient on the AIDS treatment. I will give it to him like a skewer of Kofta to nourish him,” Abdel-Atti said, referring to a dish made of ground meat.

“I will take it away from him as a disease and give it back to him in the form of a cure,” he said. “This is the greatest form of scientific breakthrough.”

He paid tribute to the military chief and unofficial presidential hopeful, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who attended the unveiling of the “miracle” device registered under the armed forces and approved by the country’s Ministry of Health.

The wild fabrication, endorsed by the country’s incoming leader-for-life, General Sisi, immediately drew very harsh criticism from medical researchers both in Egypt and around the world. Because it’s flat-out crazy nonsense.

It is yet another attempt to convince the population of Egypt, via flat-out alternate reality creation, that the military is the one true source of all that is good and necessary in society.

Accordingly, despite the obvious fiction and the government’s own science adviser calling it junk, there was a full-court press by state media to praise the “breakthrough” and the glory of Egypt’s military in having “solved” a problem that has eluded the entire rest of the world.

“The interim president should fire the scientific adviser, Essam Heggy, after his offensive comments to Egypt and the army,” Mohammed Abu Hamed, an Egyptian politician and vice chairman of the Free Egyptians Party, tweeted Wednesday.

Pro-military journalists and media outlets urged Egyptians to rejoice after the army announced the invention will be available in June.

“Has the level of doubt reached such a high level on an international breakthrough? This will benefit all of humanity and solve a crisis that the medical community has not been able to fix for years. This is something we should celebrate,” Maha Salim, a state media reporter, said on private network Tahrir TV.

Such delusions have very dangerous consequences for both Egypt and the region. North Africa is currently experiencing a rising tide of new AIDS infections. Egypt is also one of the world’s most Hep C-prevalent countries; the CDC says 10% of the population has it. As we’ve seen in other countries where leaders claimed to have magically developed cures for AIDS and other infectious diseases, infection rates will almost certainly climb.

Cairo University assault illustrates Egypt’s violence against women

As I’ve discussed previously, Egypt has a pretty big violence against women problem, backed by both the society and the power of the state, which has worsened dramatically under military rule (both in 2011 and in 2013-present).

Here’s a noteworthy stat from Egypt News Daily:

According to a UN report issued last year an overwhelming majority of Egyptian women (99.3%) have experienced some sort of sexual harassment, and 96.5% of women had been sexually assaulted in some way.

In the latest high-profile incident — as opposed to the daily struggle for basic safety many of Egypt’s women face quietly — a female Cairo University Law student was sexually assaulted in plain sight by a dozen men on campus, who brazenly filmed their attack. She only escaped worse because some individual members of the campus security had the decency to intervene (something that can’t be said of much of Egypt’s local and national security forces).

The appropriate response would be: “Wait, we have a horrific problem where some of our male students feel secure in sexually assaulting our female students right out in the open on campus in front of security cameras and their own! What are we doing wrong? What can be done to change the culture and behavior of our male students?”

Instead, Cairo University’s president helpfully called her attire a “mistake” that was “out of the ordinary” for the dress code. He added that campus security should have removed her from campus or told her to change her clothes, before she was assaulted, rather than after. Sure he also said they would look into it, or whatever, and maybe think about some prosecutions because they shouldn’t have done it, but really he seemed to feel it was fundamentally attire-related.

Media treatment

Egyptian news media, closely aligned with the military government, extensively blamed the victim and gave her what might here be dubbed the full Rush Limbaugh treatment (with eerie parallels to his Sandra Fluke rant), calling her a “hooker” who should be in the “red light district” instead of at law school. At least one channel also obtained video footage — probably from one of the attackers — showing her walking around campus so the audience could see how she had been dressed. (Perfectly normal or even conservative campus attire, of course, by U.S. standards… not that it in any way matters.)

Egyptian pundits also wrote off the Cairo University assault using the tried-and-true method of rape apologism that dehumanizes everyone involved including fellow men, by suggesting that no man could possibly not try to rape a woman who crossed his field of vision. Below is newscaster Tamer Amin, mid-rant, on that line of attack:
Statements like that always raise more questions than they answer.

Questions like “Tamer Amin, since you clearly believe every man lacks all self-control and is a rapist at heart, is that belief from personal experience?”

Or, “Tamer Amin, how many women have you yourself raped and assaulted? Too many to remember?”
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