The Government of Ukraine

Protesters filled the streets in 2014, hoping to bring down President Viktor Yanukovych. The Ukrainian people longed for a favorable government. The pro-Russian Yanukovych had made several unpopular decisions. He imprisoned his political rivals, he harassed several independent journalists, he ordered military force upon peaceful protests, and what pushed most Ukrainians over the edge was his decision to not sign an agreement that would form an alliance between Ukraine and the European Union.

Ukraine’s only problems are by no means solely political as the state of its economy has plummeted. The hryvnia, Ukraine’s currency, trades at a rate of about 10:1 with the US dollar. Ukraine’s government has recently been confronted with short-term debts with interest rates that peaked at 15%. In 2014, Ukraine’s bonds were just as weak, if not weaker than Venezuela’s. Directly after the post-Soviet era in 1991, Ukraine became an extremely unproductive economy. Ukrainians experienced large amounts of hyperinflation, which frightened them. The Ukrainian central bank made the switch from their old currency of karbovanets to their current currency of hryvnias and pledged to keep it stable; this currency change took place in 1996. Ukraine’s government certainly has not been stable since this pledge. Numerous Ukrainian businesses refuse to pay taxes, and this of course deprives the Ukrainian government of revenues. The most recent prime minister of Ukraine has approximated that about $37 billion left the country’s possession during Viktor Yanukovych’s rule. According to the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Ukraine is ranked 130th out of 168 countries in terms of corruption, 11 spots behind Russia.

In early August of 2014, the US’s Democratic Party divided when deciding to send lethal weapons and gear to Ukraine. The Obama administration had given to Ukraine non-lethal equipment (i.e. night-vision goggles and armored vehicles). Many, alongside Committee Chairman Carl Levin asked President Obama to go even further and send Ukraine lethal weapons. The demand for US weapon support will increase as Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine and the risk of open warfare develops. Barack Obama hinted at the fact that weapons could very well be sent to Ukraine if Russia decides to invade Ukraine. John McCain has accused the Obama administration of showing a “cowardly” approach to the situation by not sending Ukraine the necessary weapons and equipment that Mr. McCain believes they need. Ukraine’s military force has previously shown signs of unprofessionalism, and they have lacked the preparation skills of other military forces. In the summer of 2014, 311 Ukrainian troops decided to leave their weapons behind and cross the Russian border. The government in Kiev claimed that the troops had just experienced a short supply of ammunition. There have been several cases of odd behavior from the Ukrainian military. The US should most likely hold off on sending Ukraine any means of lethal weapons until they show that they are capable of a larger degree of discipline and professionalism. Ukraine clearly has several issues, and their government seems to be far from closing in on solutions for these problems.

Ukraine’s government has several political worries. About 50% of Ukrainians back improving relations with Russia; while the remaining 50% of Ukraine’s population are entirely opposed. One major recent issue is that the Ukrainian government in the country’s capital, Kiev, has recently lacked authority its eastern territory territory. Investigative journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter gave an interview and stated, “we have to realize that in the eyes of those protesters, the government in Kiev is a sort of gang of oligarchs, of organized crime, of terrorists, and of course hooligans, and when we see who is right now governing in Kiev, they are not so wrong”, when asked about protesters in Kiev. The government in Kiev greatly desires the military and economic backing of the West, especially NATO and the European Union. The government wants to encourage Russia to take military action, according to Ochsenreiter.

Ukraine has the possibility of striving as a country if it can build and maintain a strong as well as an improved economic and political situation. It would be ideal for Ukraine to become a completely democratic country, but they first need to come across a solution that will hopefully unify the country and solve their problems with government corruption.

Saudi Arabia: A Gang?

Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 when King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman united the unruly Bedouin tribes that filled the dry Arabian Peninsula under his rule. Since then, the Al Saud Dynasty has ruled over Saudi Arabia. Early on, the royal family adopted the strict interpretation of Islam, known as Wahhabism, and the rest of the country quickly followed. The extremist teachings of Wahhabism and global terrorism are closely connected. Although the United States and Saudi Arabia have very different policies on human rights and religious tolerance, the countries were brought together over their shared interest in Saudi Arabia’s oil fields. A significant break in this friendship came in 1973, with the Yom-Kippur War. In a political stand, the Saudis cut the western world off from their oil resources; because of this action, the United States faced an energy crisis. After the event, Saudi Arabia realized the large demand for their oil and dramatically increased the price. They soon began to reap the benefits of their natural resources. Since then, the US has worked hard to remain close allies with Saudi Arabia because of its great oil reserves and wealth, and not because of any similarities in ideology.

In many regards, the royal family of Saudi Arabia functions like a large institutionalized gang, with a shared identity, a strong level of permanence and organization, and an involvement in illegal activities. The Saudi royal family has amassed 1.4 trillion-dollar fortune, one of the biggest family fortunes in recent history. Released documents from WikiLeaks have made clear the misuse of wealth by the royal family. A Forbes article citing a Reuters report states that “revenues from as much as 1 million barrels per day of Saudi oil production were skimmed off by just a handful of princes.”  The royal family numbers in the thousands and the profit cuts of a few princes can only be a small part of the greater problem. The irony of Saudi Arabia is too much; in a country where twenty percent of the population is living in severe poverty, the great-great-grand-children of the late king receive an $8,000 a month stipend just for being royal. Like the wealth of most gangs, the prosperity of Saudi Arabia has not been evenly distributed, and has aggravated an already large income inequality problem. The absence of trustworthy numerical data about the economic state of the country sends up red flags. If nothing is wrong, why hide it? On the World Bank website, the poverty statistics graph is blank as “No data is available for the specified location.” Why is there no data for this particular graph? While the official results state that the unemployment rate is a rather low 11.7% of men, experts suspect it to be much closer to 29%. This stark discrepancy shows the Saudi government covering up their clear failing on behalf of their people. There is no reason that a country with a GDP in the top 20 worldwide cannot provide for 20% of its population.

The royal family is enormous. With the popular practice of polygamy and easy divorce for males, the first king of Saudi Arabia had over a hundred children, and these children had children. The thousands of Saudi princesses and princes make up a very wealthy upper-class, not because of what they have done, but because of the family into which they were born. The family even has a website! Although Saudi Arabia masquerades as a wealthy, powerful, and oil rich country, they are unwilling to provide basic necessities to millions of their citizens. The incredible fortune of the Saudi royal family and the drastic income inequality of their country illustrates the family’s gang-like nature.

Egypt: A Pyramid Scheme

In early 2011, anti-government protests, known as the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East and North Africa. It started in Tunisia, and spread within weeks to Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Libya. These protests were supposed to bring to power new governments that would bring social justice and political reform. The main result has brought these countries war. In Egypt, the military has taken control over the government, with broken promises of democracy now long forgotten.
The President of Egypt in 2011 was the authoritarian leader, Hosni Mubarak. He was in power for 30 years until he resigned in February of that year amid corruption and abuse of power allegations. When he stepped down from power, he gave the presidency to the military’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which only convenes in times of war or great internal emergencies.
The Council’s first order of business was to establish an open democratic election for the presidency and parliament. It suspended the Constitution of Egypt, and planned to eliminate the emergency laws put in place nearly three decades before. Eventually there was to be a peaceful transition of power to civilians that had been demanded during the protests. The Supreme Council did none of the things they promised would occur. The head of the Council, Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, “elected” 15 new governors, most of whom were military figures, and/or members of the old regime. Many citizens complained the governors were appointed, not elected, which was not democratic of the acting government. Additionally, over 16,000 people, many of whom were journalists, protesters, and bloggers, were put on trial for expressing their opinions. One member of the Council called for “some kind of insurance” so the Council would not have to operate under the whim of a president. After the burning of a church in October of 2011, Coptic Christians, members of the Orthodox Church of Egypt, protested. The Council, in retribution, killed twenty protesters. The SCAF attempted to put the blame on the protesters, saying that they were the ones who became violent first, but released footage indicated otherwise. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces remained in power for over a year until elected president Mohamed Morsi took office.
Morsi, however, was removed from office in 2013 after a coup by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces led by the chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Al-Sisi forced Morsi to step down or he would be arrested. Morsi refused, saying he could fix Egypt’s problems politically, and al-Sisi ordered his arrest. Morsi went on trial for espionage, and was sentenced to death, but it was commuted. The military, as represented by President al-Sisi, is once again in power. This began an error of mass murders, with the government ordering the deaths of thousands of citizens.
Additionally, al-SiSi has now started to crack down on citizens who speak their mind. He has classified them as “terrorists,” claiming they are a threat to Egypt. Recently he has placed retired soccer icon Mohamed Aboutrika on the rapidly growing terrorism watch list. He has also banned dissent of his regime, and accusations of unfair trials, kidnapping, and torture regularly come up on the news, and the disappearances of bloggers, activists, and journalists is now a norm. A retired security official stated that the government keeps activists in check by making sure they don’t meet with other activists, give them no breathing room, and arrest some to scare the rest.
The instability in the leadership of Egypt has been difficult on the people. The people fear expressing their own opinions, and do as the government dictates. Under the military, the government’s abuse of citizens and power has caused many organizations to claim that Egypt has a growing human rights crisis, which will only worsen the longer that the military is in charge.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

The civil war in Yemen, which began in 2011, has resulted in extreme chaos. This conflict occurred because the presidency was handed over to Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi by the former authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Hadi was unable to handle many of the issues that arose, including food shortages, corruption, unemployment, al-Qaeda’s control of the south, and the populace remaining loyal to Saleh. The Houthis, a Shiite tribe in northeastern Yemen, who had previously fought against Saleh, decided to exploit the government’s weakness and took control of the northern province and Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, and the areas surrounding it. Many ordinary Yemeni citizens joined the Houthis as well. With their growing power, the Houthis were able to put Hadi and many government officials under house arrest. They might have succeeded, but their endeavors finally caught the attention of Saudi Arabia and other states, due to the Shia Houthis’ intention to take control of the entire country. Pro-Hadi forces backed by the Saudi government were able to push back the Houthis from Sana’a and its other provinces after four months.

In the late 1980s, the Saleh government had been reinstating many Yemeni soldiers. One of these soldiers was Osama bin Laden, who had fought against the Soviet Union in the Afghan War. These soldiers – including bin Laden – were brought back to fight against the Marxist government that was implemented in southern Yemen. Bin Laden later began training a group that advocated for the domination of global jihad. That group of militants formed the group Islamic Jihad in Yemen, which lasted from 1990 to 1994, one of the groups that would eventually become Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Other groups formed were the Army of Aden Abyan, and al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQY). AQY was responsible for many attacks directed toward Western powers, including a bombing on the USS Cole which killed seventeen US soldiers, and the suicide bombing of French oil tanker M/V Limburg which killed one of the crew members. After 9/11, the Bush administration pushed the Saleh government to begin counterterrorism operations against AQY. A US drone strike conducted in 2002 killed the leader of AQY, Abu Ali al-Harithi. After his death, there was a large decline in membership in the organization. Around this time, the current AQAP started to form.

AQAP was able to benefit from the fractured political system by creating an insurgency in southern Yemen. Because the civil war had caused Western forces to withdraw from the area, as well as simultaneously focusing the Saudi government’s attention onto the Houthi rebels, AQAP was able to successfully take control of the southern provinces. By providing basic needs and integrating itself into the population, AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) has been able to control the provinces it seized. It has withstood arrests and attacks by implementing a “hierarchical, decentralized, and compartmentalized system.” In the regions it controls, it acts as a local government, collecting taxes from locals and providing protection from outside forces. A man living in the port city of Mukalla, an area controlled by AQAP, stated, “I prefer that Al-Qaeda stay here, not for Mukalla to be liberated. The situation is stable, more than any ‘free’ part of Yemen. The alternative to Al-Qaeda is much worse.” Along with governing the provinces it has seized, the organization also extorts money from international ships and imposes fees on their ports.

AQAP was formed after the remaining members of AQY (Al-Qaeda in Yemen) merged with 23 escaped terrorists from Sana’a Prison in 2006. Based on intelligence from 2014, there are an estimated 100,000 members of the organization. AQAP has carried out many attacks on others since 2006, including the assassination attempt of the Saudi prince Mohammed bin Nayef, suicide bombings aimed toward Japanese and Belgian tourists, and attacks on Italian and British embassies. The organization’s goal is to rid the world of Western influences and replace secular governments with Islamic regimes that implement Sharia law. To achieve this goal, AQAP aims toward overthrowing the government regime in Sana’a, assassinating members of the Saudi royal family and Western nationals, while also attacking the US homeland and embassies. For these reasons, many believe that AQAP is one of the more dangerous branches of Al-Qaeda.

ISIS…soon to be…WASWAS

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is a militant group that follow a doctrine of Sunni Islam “Wahhabi.” The group started to gain traction after they participated in the Iraqi insurgency that followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq by Western forces. The Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi aligned his militant group, Jama’at al-Tawhis w’al-Jihad, with al-Qaeda, which turned into al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Islamic State proclaimed itself as a caliphate in 2014, in parts of eastern Syria and northern Iraq. A caliphate is a political body whose political ambitions and “laws” are modeled after the original ruling order established by Muhammad. According to Islam, the caliphate is the only acceptable form of government, as well as having political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide.

When the Islamic State first started out, it was functioning solely as a terrorist organization. ISIS uses terror in order to frighten enemies as well as to force obedience. By doing so they have been able to seize land, that territory builds up a population to govern, which allows them to transform into a functioning state that uses extreme violence (terror) as its main tool. ISIS also has a lot of similarities to a functioning government, policing streets, collecting taxes, pumping oil, and it is even planning to issue its own currency. Mosul, Iraq is the largest city under ISIS control, they are setting tariffs for waste disposal and banning litter, as well as revising school curriculums.

ISIS has tried to use propaganda in order to paint a false picture of Mosul, trying to make it look like a peaceful and prosperous city with busy restaurants and markets, and streets filled with traffic. They have also tried to limit news from the outside world, by putting a ban on satellite dishes and have confiscated the ones already there. The Islamic State only operates in the interests of its members; for the average person life is not so easy. If a person doesn’t already have money they will probably find themselves eating eggplant and rice, because ISIS provides no services or help. The Islamic State acts like a government, as well as an institutional gang, taking care of its own members.

The Islamic State has been able to use modern technology to its advantage, by try to influence people in many parts of the world. In Paris, France in 2015 there was a series of attacks that resulted in the death of 130 people, 368 injured, 100 of whom were seriously injured. In San Bernardino, California 14 people were shot and killed, and another 22 were seriously injured. In Orlando, Florida in 2016 Omar Mateen walked into a nightclub and shot and killed 49 people. On January 1st 2017, 39 people were shot and killed and another 70 were injured in Istanbul, Turkey. The Islamic State still has the attention of new U.S. President Donald Trump, it can be seen that they are losing grip on the caliphate, but it might be hard to eliminate them completely. These events go hand in hand with their main tools, fear and hatred. The Islamic State has been able to combine terror, forced obedience, along with the internet in order to have a wide spread influence on many different countries outside of their caliphate.