Concept Caching: Cairo, Egypt

From our Concept Caching image cache that hopes to promote student spatial awareness by relating specific features on the Earth’s surface with their visual character and GPS coordinates. Through the site photographs and GPS coordinates demonstrate core concepts in geography.  Images are “cached” for viewing by core concept and by region.  Images are certainly useful for introducing visual content to students in all Geography classes.

"Central Cairo is full of the multi-story buildings, transportation arteries, and commercial signs that characterize most contemporary big cities. ..." Alexander B. Murphy

The cities of Egypt, and the larger Southwest Asia/Middle East and North Africa region, are seen as oases surrounded by a harsh environment, as bustling hubs of economic activity, as seats of political and cultural power, and as magnets for populations seeking anything from opportunity to refuge.  Of course, this is not unique to the region and the same can be said for cities the world over.  However, in the region, the urban context provides the stage by which other trends play out.  As discussed in the post, Investigating the Geographies of the Arab Spring, students are able to identify the interaction of climate, water, settlement, urbanization, population density, political-economic trends, cultural conventions, and global flows as they together contribute to the Arab uprisings in the spring of 2011.  Viewing the skyline of Cairo, Egypt would be a powerful visual of what was described by an Atlantic Monthly article as making “cities veritable cauldrons, in which political energy and activism are pressurized and brought to a boil.”  Further, that visual would be able to spark discussion over Egypt’s susceptibility to revolution and, perhaps, evaluations of its future.

The Ironies of Australian Immigration: Part Two

Continued from the post, “The Ironies of Australian Immigration: Part One.”

Economic growth is the second issue behind the “Big Australia” debate.  Economists argue in Business Week that reducing immigration may increase inflation (rise of prices) by reducing the supply of workers which would drive up wages.  This also has several scale implications.  Within the country, Western Australia would be particularly hard hit as the booming mining sector is in desperate need of workers.  Currently, this creates wage tensions between urban markets on either coast, as reported by The Australian.  Western Australia is forced to increase wages to get workers from the east to move out, thus draining the eastern urban areas of workers, which will then drive up wages there.  This will then lead to a “wage blowout” in Australia, if the country’s regions keep competing with one another.  Further, since that boom in mining is driven by global demands, especially by China.  Any increase in wages in mining would increase prices on those commodities and reduce Australia’s competitiveness, impacting its national economic growth.  Such a situation would have considerable economic costs as the mining sector in Australia is one of its largest export industries.

Another significant Australian export that is already being impacted by immigration issues is higher education, which is chosen by many international students.  A New York Times article reports on the current condition and future of Australia’s third-largest export industry.  Australian universities and education programs are impaired by the strong Australian dollar relative to other currencies that makes an Australian education more expensive.  There is also global competition for these international students that is pitting Australia against better known US and Canadian universities.  Ultimately, it is the tough visa requirements and long wait times of Australian immigration policy that have affected the export of foreign students.  This has led one institution to pursue legal action against the Governments’ current immigration policy.

In the end, the environmental restrictions and discourse on sustainability, combined with the demands of the globalized Australian economy, have led to some ironic socio-economic consequences.  Since population growth needs to be “sustainable” (i.e. limited) and immigration is necessary for economic growth, the compromise is to have immigration policy where not all migrants are created equal.  According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian government manages immigration numbers in two main flows: as permanent migrants or temporary migrants.  The permanent flows include skilled migrants, migrants joining Australian family members, and humanitarian migrants, including asylum-seekers and refugees.  In the terms of Australia’s immigration debate, these are the immigrant groups that are understood to account for population growth.  However, it is the short-term flows of student and business visa holders that are responsible for a significant number of people that end up staying permanently, by applying for residency and thus, adding to Australia’s population.

That situation makes the politics behind the debate more complex.  Officially, the compromise proposed by the government is to highlight the importance of skilled immigration.  Yet, despite that, recent immigration policy has actually made it more difficult to admit skilled immigrants, at least under visas.  The number of skilled professions eligible for visas has been significantly decreased and an updated test for incoming migrants has made English levels, skills qualifications and work experience requirements more stringent.  Both of these impact the numbers of skilled immigrants for business and higher education.  And yet, even those skilled migrants that do arrive with education and training matching or exceeding most native Australians, their skills are being wasted.  Social barriers, like lack of specifically Australian experience, lack of recognition for non-Australian qualifications, or language difficulties, force many “skilled” migrants into low- or medium-skilled occupations.

Moreover, a Telegraph article mentions how most Australians are inundated with news reports about illegal immigrants, “boat people” and detention centers.  This contributes to a belief that illegal immigration is responsible for “overcrowding.”  Although clearly a contentions aspect of Australian immigration, it does not actually have any significant bearing on population growth.  The permanent flow of humanitarian migrants only amounts to 14,000 people, compared to 114,000 for skilled permanent migrants.  Moreover, only 3,000 of those humanitarian migrants are admitted as refugees or asylum-seekers once they reach Australian shores.  Most “boat people” await deportation in detention centers throughout Australia and the Oceania region.

All of this is beyond the concern of many Australians who are worried over the increased the pressures on the existing urban centers with rising housing costs and congestion.  It is these average Australians that pressure the government by polling their opposition to population growth (i.e. immigration).  Since most Australians are located in the densely urbanized East, they form a significant bloc of voters that oppose immigration because of their experience or perception of its ills.  It is eastern Australians that want sustainable population growth and resultantly stifle economic growth for western mining and the international education sector.  The ironies of Australian immigration are found at the intersection of economic growth and environmental sustainability; and they offer no path to please all sides.

Geography Directions: East Side Gallery and the Contested Geographies of Graffiti

From our Geography Directions site reviewing Wiley-Blackwell’s Geography Compass review journal covering the entire discipline.  Keep up with cutting edge academic geography.  These articles may be useful for introducing students to the discipline or may be appropriate for upper division Geography classes.

Following on from Fiona’s entry today (below) about a flâneur’s encounter with graffiti in Toulouse, I was struck by one of this week’s news stories [Guardian May 3, 2011 and May 4, 2011].  Tensions over the East Side Gallery – a series of graffiti based images on a particular stretch of the Berlin Wall – have triggered long-standing debates about the role of graffiti/public art in cities.  The Gallery was originally created after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to bring together (unpaid) artists from East and West Germany in a creative project.  Controversially, a number of pieces have been whitewashed and overlaid with copied images in a recent renovation, described by one commentator as a “faked-up’ pastiche of itself…a Disneyesque, postmodern reconstruction of the art of the Wall designed to please tourists”.  A number of the original artists are now suing the city council over issues of copyright and the reproduction of images without the artists’ permission.

These ethical and legal issues over the display and ownership of graffiti, in this case embroiled with political symbolism and significance, highlights a broader set of complex geographies that interweave ideas of creativity, art, public space, urbanism and place-making.  In the context of this news story, McAuliffe and Iveson’s article in Geography Compass (see Fiona’s entry) also offers valuable insight into the tensions surrounding graffiti, which they describe as “a modern touchstone of urban discontent, a global popular culture phenomena that drives urban managers to distraction” (2011: 128).  In providing a critical review of the literature, they aim to uncover the complexity of graffiti’s dynamic and contested geographies and explore the tensions surrounding public graffiti, which are so clearly demonstrated in the ongoing debates surrounding the East Side Gallery.

By Sarah Mills

To view the original article please visit the Geography Directions Blog.


Geography Directions: Urban Geography: a flâneur’s encounter with Graffiti in Toulouse

From our Geography Directions site reviewing Wiley-Blackwell’s Geography Compass review journal covering the entire discipline.  Keep up with cutting edge academic geography.  These articles may be useful for introducing students to the discipline or may be appropriate for upper division Geography classes.

Strolling through Toulouse at the weekend, I was seeking to observe and understand the city through the eyes of a flâneur.  Baudelaire describes a flâneur as “a person who walks the city in order to experience it”; a concept not dissimilar from the methodological practice of participant observation.  Flâneur comes from the French verb flâner meaning “to stroll”, so it seemed an appropriate means of engaging with Toulouse on a Sunday afternoon.

During my exploration, I stopped to observe displays of graffiti across the city’s fabric, some of which are testimony to Toulouse’s thriving contemporary art scene.  The walls, ceilings and transport thoroughfares of the city have provided the canvas for famous graffiti artists, such as Miss Van who also exhibits her work internationally in galleries (see, Miss Van).  Her career has influenced many other Toulousians and the city hosts a range of galleries to showcase the latest work (Fatcap, 2011).

Urban graffiti is the subject of McAuliffe and Iveson’s (2011) article in Geography Compass.  They acknowledge diverse perspectives on graffiti, between expressions of art and forms of crime, and argue that this complex terrain provides a lens through which to understand contested urban geographies.  Their paper argues that the presence (and absence) of graffiti might be understood through multiple analytical frameworks, partly seeking to capture multiple subjectivities inherent in these displays.

Subsequently, in attempting to conceptualise myself as a flâneur, McAuliffe and Iveson persuade me that I may learn a lot about Toulouse and some of its inhabitants just through looking more closely at its rich geography of graffiti.

By Fiona Ferbrache

To view the original article please visit the Geography Directions Blog.


The Ironies of Australian Immigration: Part One

Australia is very well known for its history as a nation of immigrants, from its start as a British penal colony to its contemporary diverse immigrant society.  As with much of the developed world, Australia is a significant destination for immigrants.  Its arrivals come from the regions of Oceania, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Southwest Asia.  The demands of an immigrant destination are particularly acute for Australia.  The island continent’s predominantly arid climate has placed somewhat of a limit on population and settlement.  Its citizens are unevenly distribution over its vast land mass, and they are concentrated in the cities of its temperate coastal areas.  Any growth in its population certainly means further stresses on the fragile environment.  However, population growth, including immigration, has long been a driver of economic growth, in Australia and elsewhere.  Many have argued that immigration is necessary to sustain the growth required in a developed world society.  For Australia, it is this quandary between environment and economy, that immigration policy is currently being debated.  Focused on a proposed policy called “Big Australia,” the question is whether to increase or decrease current immigration flows.  The debate over this policy is especially relevant to geographers because of its spatial considerations:  the human-environment aspect and the discourse of sustainability; the socio-economic consequences of an immigration policy where not all migrants are created equal; and the politics behind Australian decision-making on immigration that stems from existing geographies.

First it is important to understand Australia’s current demographic situation.  According to an article in the Economist, Australia’s population will grow almost two-thirds to 36 million by 2050.  An article from the Sydney Morning Herald explains how most of this growth has not come from natural increase, but from immigration, accounting for 65% of population growth in the last 10 years.  Australia’s fertility rate, providing the births as one half of the natural increase rate, is a modestly high 1.9 births per woman; yet, it is still below the replacement level of 2.1 births.  So, as with other developed countries, Australia’s native population is also getting older.  The Economist article states that the number of Australians between the ages of 65 and 84 will double and those over 85 will quadruple, also in the next 40 years.  This will increase the country’s dependency ratio, which is the number of persons not of working age for each person of working age.  The dependency ratio has significant social and economic implications for a society.  Ultimately, Australia’s current population growth is already faster than most developed countries, due to immigration.  And, it will also be facing a difficult future with an ageing population that will disproportionately consume social services without contributing to the tax base that pays for them.

The first issue, however, behind “Big Australia” is that of environmental sustainability.  This vast landmass is dominated by an arid climate, where rainfall and vegetation is scarce.  Such a landscape has a limited carrying capacity and simply cannot support agriculture or settlement on the scale of Australia’s population growth.  Fresh water supplies are being exhausted and biodiversity is under threat. Already, Australian population is over 80 percent urban and densely clustered along the temperate eastern coastlines.  Allowing more migrants would mean adding more people to a landscape that is at its settlement threshold.  Suburban sprawl is already creeping out of eastern Australia’s urban centers. This even adds to climate change concerns, as these urban “heat islands” are also congested with people and cars.  It is this line of reasoning behind the current Prime Minister’s slowing of immigration in the interest of sustainability.

The biggest critic of the limiting immigration in favor of sustainability is the business sector, in particular the property development industry.  A lobbyist for the property sector interviewed in a BBC report points to the “Big” in “Big Australia,” with spatial rhetoric: the size of Australia versus the size of Australian cities; using space more efficiently; and there being “room for growth.” Ultimately, he argues that growth, historically and today, has a direct relationship with immigration: the larger the immigration, the faster the economic growth.  However, it must be said that it is property corporations that would stand to gain the most if there were more people and business demanding “room” in a growing Australia.

Stay tuned for the next Part of “The Ironies of Australian Immigration”, which will discuss more issues in Australian immigration policy.

Geography Directions: Eyjafjallajökull: Geography’s Harsh Reminder

From our Geography Directions site reviewing Wiley-Blackwell’s Geography Compass review journal covering the entire discipline.  Keep up with cutting edge academic geography.  These articles may be useful for introducing students to the discipline or may be appropriate for upper division Geography classes.

The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull on 20 March 2010 caught Europe dangerously off-guard. For two months, waves of ash closed some of the world’s busiest airspace. An estimated ten million passengers were left stranded, international train services collapsed under the heightened strain of people seeking alternate transportation, and governments were left to deal with angered airlines seeking to regain some portion of lost revenue. In total, over one hundred thousand flights were cancelled. The legal and political fallout of Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption continues today. A fundamental questions lies at the heart of this debate: why wasn’t Europe better warned or prepared? Amy R Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer (University of Cambridge) highlighted this problem in their March 2011 Geographical Journal commentary. The danger such natural events as Eyjafjallajökull pose, as Donovan and Oppenheimer argue, is that they lie outside the traditional realm of managerial governance.

Many natural events, however dangerous, lend governments two favours: first, relatively ample warning; second, comparatively localised impact. Hurricanes are an excellent case-in-point. Every summer NOAA, the United States’s oceanographic and atmospheric monitoring agency, continuously tracks existing storms and recalculates their future projectories. Excepting such hurricanes as Andrew and Katrina–most hurricanes cause damage across a limited geographic expanse before weakening significantly in strength. The snowstorms that rack the American northeast are similarly tracked in advance so that appropriate precautions can be taken (even if, in the event, those precautions prove inadequate).

The Eyjafjallajökull eruption, much like the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, presents a very different scenario. Such events are difficult to forecast, even more difficult to contain, and–like other natural events–impossible to prevent. But, as The Geographical Journal commentary noted, preventative steps could have been taken. Although the Met Office’sVolcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC), clearly noted the airspace risks posed by Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull volcanoes, this information was not included in the annual National Risk Register, nor did it predicate the implementation of ‘sophisticated, integrated UK or EU policy in advance of the recent volcanic activity’ (p. 2). One hopes that the Eyjafjallajökull airspace fiasco will serve as a reminder of our inability to tame the extremes of physical geography.

By Benjamin Sacks

To view the original article please visit the Geography Directions Blog.

Regional Politics in East Asia: the Koreas, China and Beyond

East Asia is a region of contrasts: political, economic, social, and cultural.  Today such contrasts weave a complicated web of linkages and alliances between states in the region and beyond.  Within the region, competition and cooperation are balanced alongside periodic conflict and contention.  Nowhere is this more evident than on the Korean Peninsula, with its long history as an East Asian crossroads between Chinese and Japanese influence, but also as a pivot point between global geopolitical maneuvers.  The story begins in the post-World War II period that deteriorated into the bipolar Cold War world that specifically shaped the Koreas.  Today, the Korean Peninsula is just as affected by global powers as ever.  The events of 2010 provide a case in point.  In March, a South Korean warship was sunk allegedly by the North, although they denied responsibility.  In November, the disputed South Korean island of Yeonpyeong was shelled by the North.  Reviewing the diplomatic interactions between the Koreas and their allies following that latest incident reveals the touchy nature of current global and regional politics.

political geography perspective investigates the spatiality of political activities and can be applied to the background of the peninsula.  Following the end of World War II, the peninsula was administratively divided between the United States in the South and the Soviet Union in the North.   The division lasted into the Cold War and effectively split Korea into a communist North and non-communist South.  War broke out when the communist North sought to unify the peninsula by invading the South in 1950.  After three years of war the agreed cease-fire line, known on land as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and over the ocean as the Northern Limit Line (NLL) both near the 38th parallel, has continued to mark the current political boundaries between North and South Korea.  Both of these boundaries have been disputed by the North and served as a pretext for military action, especially the NLL recently. The NLL as maritime boundary was set by the United Nations, a supranational organization, in 1953 and gave control of several offshore islands to South Korea despite their being dangerously adjacent to the North Korean mainland.  The North was forced to relinquish the islands during the war because it lacked capable naval power to retain them.

These boundaries continue to represent global ideological and political divisions, as today’s regional alliances link up North Korea with its contemporary communist ally, China, and South Korea with the democratic, capitalist United States, outside the region, as well as Japan in East Asia.  Beginning in 2003, these players together with Russia convened the Six Party Talks to address concerns over the threat of North Korea’s nuclear program.  Although the talks led to little agreement, the Six Party format became the de facto forum for East Asian stability in 2010.  However, the six parties did not actually sit down to talk, instead they were making public statements and symbolic acts without actually sitting down together.  First, hostile rhetoric was exchanged between North and South and many feared that war was inevitable.  Then, in support of South Korea, a “tri-lateral” meeting in Washington was convened between the United States and South Korea, symbolizing their “mutual defense” alliance from the end of the Korean War, but also with Japan.  They also demonstrated the strength of the alliance as the US-South Korean “war games” and the US-Japanese military drills that were observed by South Korea.  On the side of North Korea, however, the strength of the alliance with China was not so clear.  Their support was gleaned more from what its diplomats chose not to say: the Chinese government preferred not to publicly denounce the shelling.  Some understood this as China effort to maintain the façade of support for its ally because of the strategic importance of North Korea as a buffer state protecting China from the democratic, American-leaning South.  Lately, however, Wikileak documents revealed that their alliance has been tested as China is unhappy with North Korea’s actions and has considered the possible reunification of the Koreas, which would likely manifest as a larger South Korea.

Regardless, much of the diplomatic international community, led by US influence in the United Nations, was unsatisfied with China’s lackluster response.  Many have called for the Chinese to act more like the rising regional and international power that it is.  In particular, this reflects the 21st century world system and the subtle tensions between two of its powers, United States and China.  China’s strongest symbolic statement following the shelling of Yeonpyeong was to caution the US against participating in the South Korean military drills.  From China’s perspective they clearly took place within its sovereignty sphere.  Regardless of the various boundaries of that sphere, being its territorial waters or the wider exclusive economic zone (EEZ).  Ultimately, beyond the rising tensions between the Koreas, the recent diplomatic events reveal a possible degradation of US-Chinese relations.

geopolitical perspective examines the relationships of geography, global politics and actors, and helps to understand some of the political motivations behind the six party diplomatic interactions.  Back at the regional scale, North Korea has consistently kept the international community guessing.  Whether it is about its nuclear program, succession or just about its society, the North has been consistently secretive and its motives elusive.  For example, the North had made threats that if the South carried out its planned military drills that it would retaliate with “brutal consequences beyond imagination.”  And yet, when the South went ahead, the North answered that it was “not worth reacting.” An interesting possible reason behind North Korean military flexing over disputed borders or nuclear programs is their desperate need for foreign aid and investment.  There are drastic differences in the levels of economic and social development between North Korea and its East Asian neighbors.  The North Korean society is characterized by inequality, isolation, famine and general economic backwardness.  It is completely reliant on China for aid and investmentThe military provocation could also be seen as a strategic ploy to get the US and South Korea into talks where they might make concessions, like easing sanctions or providing food aid. On New Year’s Eve, the North requested “dialogue” with the South “as soon as possible”. Although being rejected by South Korea, the US did seem to come around to making the talks happen.

The regional politics in East Asia reveal much about global geopolitics and diplomacy today.  The Cold War history of the two Koreas shaped the contemporary world system, in which diplomatic actions take place.  Expected proximity geographies of regional neighbors are expanded beyond the East Asia realm with mutual defense alliances and ideological allies.  Diplomacy in today’s post-Cold War system, which is more about rhetorical combat than armed battles, is still as careful and coded as it was in the days of spies and the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Concept Caching: El Salvador Pan American Highway Virtual Field Trip

From our Concept Caching image cache that hopes to promote student spatial awareness by relating specific features on the Earth’s surface with their visual character and GPS coordinates. Through the site photographs and GPS coordinates demonstrate core concepts in geography.  Images are “cached” for viewing by core concept and by region.  Images are certainly useful for introducing visual content to students in all Geography classes.

"Environmental problems resulting from massive deforestation and over-exploitation of agricultural land are highly evident in El Salvador. Long dependent on coffee, which was produced on large landholdings owned by a few families, this small, densely populated country suffered a devastating civil war between 1980 and 1992. A familiar soft drink sign on the outskirts of El Salvador's capital of San Salvador is suggestive of the continuing influence of North America on the republics of Central America. Money remitted from the United States by people who fled there as refugees from the civil war has helped rebuild the Salvadoran economy. Urban industries include textiles, footwear, and food processing. However, the problems of overpopulated agricultural areas, rural poverty, and a highly unequal distribution of resources and wealth remain." Barbara Weightman

The link between food and land has been a crux of human-environment interaction.  Today that relationship is increasingly complex and abstract with many modern humans having no direct experience or conception of the land from which their food came.  The post Geography Directions: Eat to be healthy and save the planet provides an example of that disconnect.  Increasingly, the food we eat (recognizably that “we” is not an even, inclusive global “we”) is affecting many diverse environments across the globe, which aggregates into a significant scale global environmental problem.  Also in the post is the world’s development divide.  Increasingly, it is the diets of the developed world that ruin the environments in developing world or in emerging economies.  This image of the El Salvador environment reveals such an example as the legacy of global coffee demand among other globalized connections is evident on the landscape.  However, with the rise of truly global-scale environmental problems, like climate change, the world’s affluent are eating away (yes, pun intended) at their own future.  For starters, we should reconsider the phrase, “You are what you eat,” accounting for the indirect environmental consequences.

Geography Directions: Brave New World for Egypt

From our Geography Directions site reviewing Wiley-Blackwell’s Geography Compass review journal covering the entire discipline.  Keep up with cutting edge academic geography.  These articles may be useful for introducing students to the discipline or may be appropriate for upper division Geography classes.

As the dust begins to settle in Cairo the people of Egypt are jubilant at the success of their 18 day revolution in effecting regime change and toppling the government led by Hosni Mubarak for 3 decades.   Now, as they prepare to play the long game waiting for free elections in September, the people, the revolutionary council and the ruling military must walk the tightrope of civic peace. Throughout the peaceful protests, distinctly multicultural and bursting with references to gender equality, poverty, religion, state-led violence and political freedom the activists displayed visual representations of the state through the lens of the working classes.  Why do I mention this? Amidst the macro-scale geopolitik at play and the roar of the oppressed and unheard there is also subtle resistance at work here. The use of imagery on banners and placards and voices on facebook became the ‘weapons of the weak’ (Hammett 2010:6) , weapons that became available in the face of unequal access to public resources, corrupted state-owned t.v./radio/newspapers. The script and symbolism in the banners, facebook pages and tweets began the process of self-assertion of nation and in the interim, this meant a disconnect with the previous regime. It is a media that can reach beyond borders and through societal strata, one that the ageing clunky oppressor was ill-equipped to outrun. Increasingly there is a call for a more critical reading of the role of visual metaphors in the construction of ‘nation’ and the sentiment behind national identities (Dittmer 2005:628). In the image below, the use of comic book imagery is clearly anything but innocent or child-like, indeed it is a powerful and effective political tool in it’s cause of freedom from tyranny.

Throughout the protests, the activists have repeatedly expressed their unity, Christians protecting Muslims as they prayed from pro-Mubarak forces and clearly chanting ‘Egypt for the Egyptians’.  There are many accounts of people watching events unfold around the world on T.V.’s, computers and listening to radios choked by the solidarity of this multicultural society overcoming everyday, that which so often divides and disables cohesion in the western world.

Indeed there is no doubt that these events have been an outstanding victory for the people of Egypt, for human dignity in the Arab world and for freedom of expression more widely. However, in time the ousting of the autocratic leader may prove to have been the easy part. The vision of Egypt as portrayed by the government was one of submission and secularism, there was no room for dissent or protest and public displays of religiosity were banned, all under the state of emergency since 1981 (but periodically dating back to 1967). With two thirds of the nation under the age of 30 for many this is the only Egypt in living memory, an Egypt ruled by a military government whose hand reaches into every area of governance, commerce (from petroleum to bakeries), media and education. It is difficult therefore to imagine the magnitude of the economic and political loss in status to the military if it is replaced by a civic democratic system of governance based on merit and a public mandate. Whilst these concerns are bound to dominate in future months, we will remember for some time, the courage of the Egyptian people, oppressed and thwarted for too long, circling in squares and squaring the circle.

By Michelle Brooks

To view the original article please visit the Geography Directions Blog.

Yemeni Geographies and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

Yemen has emerged as a significant node in global terrorist networks since its connection to the 2009 “underwear bomber” and the 2010 printer bomb plots.  However, it has long been a terrorist hotbed, as the bombing of a U.S. warship in 2000 and subsequent attacks would attest.  Yemen is the center for the group known as “al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula.” This offshoot group has a surprising level of cunning shown in the printer bomb plot and organizational sophistication and egregiousness, as evidence in their newsletter Inspire and the.  Understanding why this little known country has become such a focal point in world security discourse is to the task of Geography.  Yemen has all the unfortunate qualities of a terrorist breeding ground.  A Time Magazine video report reveals some of geographic context for this during a road trip from North to South Yemen.  The Time video, along with BBC and Reuters articles, provide some evidence for Yemen’s historical and present-day social, economic and political geographies as necessary background for analyzing this Southwest Asian country’s long propensity for terrorist activity.

As the poorest country in the Arab world, just about 45% of Yemenis live on less than $2 a day.  Not only does that widespread poverty sow discontent, but Yemenis are also nearly equally divided among Shi’ites and Sunnis; itself a troublesome rift that is seen elsewhere in the region.  As a result, the country has been struggling for political stability.  Yemen was once two separate countries, the Yemen Arab Republic or North Yemen and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen or South Yemen.  Both were united into the present state of Yemen in 1990.  The current government is widely seen to be ineffective by many Yemenis.  Some see it as corrupt and useless; unable to provide basic services for its citizens or support its flailing economy.  Some even see it as an illegitimate Western sell out, taking money and orders from outside interests.  The governments’ authority is also weakened by the continuing centrifugal forces that act within the country: the Shi’ite rebellion being waged in the North; the secessionist movement in the South; and the ongoing arms market and terrorism activities among fundamentalist and disaffected Yemenis.  In this context, political instability begets economic stagnation and collapse of authority.  Northern Yemenis have little to nothing in the way of development or an actual economy to provide jobs or services.  Southern Yemenis have some promise that comes from oil fields, tourism, and global shipping networks; however, this limited prosperity is what fuels their calls for secession.  In addition to all this is Yemen’s location as a well positioned country for terrorist activity.  It is located on the edge of Saudi Arabia – al Qaeda’s Arab enemy.  It controls half of one of the world’s most important geographic choke points, the Bab-el-Mandeb connecting the Red and Arabian Seas.  And, it is adjacent to another terrorist haven and failed state, Somalia.

A confluence of site and situation, Yemen has now captured the world’s attention as the latest terrorist stronghold.  What has magnified this further is the release of US diplomatic cables, or communications, on the site Wikileaks.  Without getting into the Wikileaks story on its own, the release of these relatively secret documents has revealed a surprisingly detailed underside of global diplomacy.  Not many places in the world were left unaffected by this event.  For Yemen, the Wikileaks cables revealed the strategies, alliances and troubles of the “war” against al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula.  Available for all to see are the connections between the Yemeni government and the United States and the role of the Saudis in fighting al Qaeda at the expense of the Yemeni government.  What is more is the unfortunate side effect of also exposing these connections for al Qaeda operatives, themselves, who may take the information as a propaganda opportunity to further delegitimize the government and enlist more recruits, in Yemen and beyond.

Yemen’s designation as a source of terrorism can certainly be explained by its regional geographic context.  However, it is merely one spoke in a global network of terrorism groups.  Like the other terrorism hotbeds in the world, globalization itself provides the tools and the targets for such extremist activities.  Terrorist groups rely on the same networks of global communications and transportation that they seek to disrupt with bomb plots.  And now, courtesy of Julian Assange, the globalization of political transparency in Wikileaks provides another tool for terrorists to potentially exploit.

Next Page »