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Societies in Transition


Here are some stories about societies that are transitioning -- or attempting to do so -- from one form of government to another, from a cultural norm to the modern world, from repression to more open expression.

A Primer on Syria

Inspired by other Arab Spring movements, protests began against the brutal rule of Bashar al-Assad on Jan. 26. 2011. The ongoing protests escalated to an uprising in March 2011, with thousands taking to the streets in numerous cities to demand the ouster of Assad. The protests have been met with brutal government force, including tanks and sniper fire, with thousands killed. Here is a primer behind the headlines in Syria.

North Korea Transition

Kim Jong-un may have found special favor with his father for eschewing Western influences, even when sent abroad to the English-language International School of Bern, Switzerland, until 1998. He attended under the psuedonym "Pak Un" but reportedly told at least one student he was Kim Jong-il's son (to disbelief). He would return home when school was not in session, and remained close with and mentored by the North Korean ambassador when away.

Understanding Iran

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
The Supreme Leader position was created by the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the first to hold this title was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. There has only been one other supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who took power the day after Khomeini died and has been ruling ever since. But the ruling structure doesn't stop there.

Results of the Arab Spring

(Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
The peaceful protests began on Jan. 25, 2011, and, though they would spread across the country, centered mainly on Cairo's Tahrir Square ("Liberation Square"). The grievances were many: crackdowns on free speech that included jail time for insulting President Hosni Mubarak, police brutality that had been captured on film by a grass-roots generation of Egyptian social-media activists for years, economic woes including high unemployment and food prices, a lack of political freedom and more. The millions protesters represented all walks of Egyptian life, and ranged from secularists to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Political Parties in Russia

In its post-Soviet Union days, Russia has drawn criticism for a tightly controlled political process in which there's little room for opposition parties. In addition to many smaller parties than the main ones listed here, dozens more are rejected for official registration, including the People's Freedom Party attempt in 2011 by former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov. Vague reasons are often given for denials, raising accusations of political motivations behind the decision; the reason given for denying registration to Nemtsov's party was "the inconsistency in the party's charter and other documents filed for the official registration."

Is it Burma or Myanmar?

Everyone can agree that it was Burma up until 1989, when the military junta enacted the Adaptation of Expression Law. This decreed English transliteration changes of geographic locations, including Burma becoming Myanmar and the capital Rangoon becoming Yangon.

South Sudan's Declaration of Independence

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement that brokered an end to the Second Sudanese Civil War in 2005 set a timetable by which southerners would be able to vote on their independence from Sudan. In January 2011 that time came, and 98.83 percent voted for independence. Though territorial disputes remain in Abyei and South Kordofan, questions remain about shared oil revenue from the mineral-rich south, and various tribal factions are in a tug-of-war over representation, South Sudan formally declared independence on July 9, 2011.

Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia

(Photo by Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images)
Much attention has been drawn to the plight of women in Saudi Arabia thanks to both social media campaigns waged in order to attain greater rights and by King Abdullah's efforts to buck the more conservative religious elements by incrementally allowing women more rights. But what is women's place in Saudi society as deemed by law and custom?
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