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Bahrain Unrest; Border Issues

Aired February 17, 2011 - 16:00:00   ET


MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Gunshots on the streets of Bahrain as police get tough with protestors. The US condemns the violence. Why is it so concerned about the tiny gulf state?

Later, the Texan sheriff making a last stand against the war on his border.

And it's party time in Belgium as the nation set a new record for not having a government.

"Connect the World."

First, though, some breaking news just in to CNN. Egypt has arrested its former Interior Minister, Habib el-Adly. Three other former ministers have also been arrested following orders from the general prosecutor. The charges aren't clear yet. Much more coming up on the show for you. We'll go to live to Fionnuala Sweeney who's in Cairo and is chasing this one up for us.

For now, though, our focus turns to Bahrain. The country has tightened its grip. Tanks rolled into the streets of the capital after security forces stormed the protestors' camp. At least three people were killed, more than 200 wounded. Officers fired tear gas and their rubber bullets as they moved in on the mostly peaceful demonstrators early on Thursday morning. So far, protestors haven't regrouped.

We're seeing a big shift in what Bahrain's government is saying. A day ago, it was about - it was about the right to peaceful protest. Today, the foreign minister says the crackdown was necessary to provide security.


KHALID AL KAHLIFA, BAHRAIN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We have our army. The army is protecting the country and the army is trying to tell the people how to look at it from this view. So we tried to evacuate the Pearl Square. There was no confidence problem between the government and the people.


FOSTER: Well, international pleas for restraint are pouring in. Let's get the very latest on the ground in Bahrain with Nic Robertson. He's there in the capitol.

Nic, what of the demonstration today?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, there has been no demonstration today. The last demonstration we saw was at about 5:00 a.m. in the morning at the hospital when the casualties, the victims, were being brought in from Pearl roundabout after the police moved in for the roundabout. All the casualties are being brought in. And outside the hospital there, the people were chanting "We will overthrow the regime. The people will overthrow the regime."

There was an extreme amount of anger at the violence that has been used against them. But at that time, we hadn't heard from the government. Now, the government - the Ministry of Interior - has said that it had warned the protestors that they would have to move. The protestors told us that wasn't the case. The Ministry of Interior has also said that they discovered weapons - guns and daggers - in the camp. The camp, when we saw it a few hours before the incident took place, was relatively peaceful. There was people - some of them just picnicking in the - in the roundabout there, Max.

FOSTER: The security crackdown seems to be pretty severe. Do you get that perhaps the demonstrators are regrouping or just - how do you get that information?

ROBERTSON: Well, the protestors certainly aren't sharing publicly as far as we know what their plans are. They certainly took a beating last night. The members of the (INAUDIBLE) where they're camped there that we saw on the (INAUDIBLE) were looking pretty dejected and not particularly clear about what they're going to do.

Now, tomorrow is the funeral of at least one of those people - one of the three people killed in the protest overnight. Earlier in the week, when they - when the Shiite community here had collected together for a funeral of somebody killed in the protest - there was another violent incident with the police where another protester was killed. Will the police hold back or will they try to take a tough security line as they had did in the early hours of today?

So there is a potential for a confrontation tomorrow. Tomorrow's also a holy day, a rest day, where people would not be at work and therefore able to come out and protest in bigger numbers so there's a real potential for tomorrow for the possibility of violence. However, if the police stay away then the opportunity for a clash may not occur. Max?

FOSTER: OK, Nic in Manama, thank you very much indeed. We'd be back with you as any news unfold. Well, Bahrain does have a freer press than other parts of the gulf where the main tensions come from how the country is governed.

Here are some key facts for you. The Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain since 1783. The King holds supreme authority. Members of the Sunni Muslim family hold the country's key political and military posts. For the majority of Bahrain's population, it's Shiite Muslim and that causes tensions. A new constitution came into force in 2001 leading to an elected parliament but many Bahraini-Shiites say they face discrimination and there's been on-and-off unrest.

Well, CNN's Hala Gorani has traveled extensively in the region as she joins me now, live, for more on why so many Bahrainis are angry.

Hi Hala.

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you mentioned there are the Shiite majority and Bahrain is better known, really, internationally for its flashy downtown in Manama, Formula 1 racing - though now we're hearing the debut of the season might be cancelled there. It's better known for its banking sector, its petroleum revenues that contribute so much to GDP. But really, under the surface of that, I've traveled to that country over the last two years, I've found that there is real frustration from the majority Shiite community that say they are denied responsibility jobs within the government and the military.

Now, the foreign minister said a few hours ago that the crackdown on the Pearl roundabout was to save the country from sectarian strife but these tensions have been long simmering as I found just a few years ago when I traveled to a neighborhood just outside of Manama. Take a look.


GORANI (voice-over): Inside this house, I talked with the head of a Shiite family who says two of his sons are unemployed. The presence of our camera gets everyone going. The mother chimes in and then a young Shiite man, so candid in his tirade against the Sunni prime minister, I'm taken aback.

(on camera): How do you see your future?

YOUSSEF ALI HASSAN KHAMIS, SITRA RESIDENT: My future - it's like (inaudible). That's what I think.

GORANI: So not good?

KHAMIS: There is no future. Khalifa (inaudible) while he are in country, there is no future. Let them to listen. Let them to know what is this life? It's bad life, really, it's a bad life. We need something good for us.

GORANI: Now, are you afraid that if you say this and it appears on camera that-?

KHAMIS: I don't care about them. Let them see anything what they want to see. I have something good to do, I will good. I'm not afraid about that.

GORANI: Is it OK if we use this on TV?

KHAMIS: Yes, of course, you can. Put it in Bahrain channel also. No problem.

GORANI (voice-over): Bahrain has been ruled by a Sunni monarchy for more than 200 years - first, as a British protectorate, and since 1971, as an independent gulf state.

But these Shiites say the story is not about poverty but about systematic discrimination against them. Hanging on the walls of this house, pictures not of Bahrain's king but of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.


FOSTER: Well, Hala, there's the context of this. And as you said, it's been a long simmering. But have you any had any reaction or seen any reaction from Shiites to the crackdown overnight?

GORANI: Yes. We spoke just a little while ago to the head of the Shiite block in parliament. The Shiite block is withdrawing and he made an interesting point. He said that the crackdown on Lulu roundabout there in Manama has brought out the anger in some in the Sunni community. Despite the fact that the situation is different in Bahrain than in other gulf countries, different in Bahrain than, say, in Egypt, each country has its own particularities.

The fact that the government in Bahrain decided to move in on Pearl roundabout the way it did has - according to the head of the Shiite block in Parliament - sort of angered Sunnis as much as its angered Shiites and the protests have probably or might probably become a little bit more inclusive against the royal family there. But it's of course something we're going to have to look at because the crackdown was violent and the streets in some parts of Manama, in the streets, there is still a heavy military presence.


FOSTER: Yes. Absolutely. Hala, thank you very much indeed to that.

Well, so far, these protests that we're seeing across the Middle East and North Africa has not yet offended US military operations but they could if things ratchets up further in Bahrain. Why? Well, it's home to a key US military post.

For a start, take a look at where it is. You've got Iran to the east. You've got Saudi Arabia on the west. Bahrain is slap-bang in the middle there. Well, the country has hosted a U.S. navy base since 1947 and is now the headquarters for the Navy's Fifth Fleet which is viewed as a (INAUDIBLE) against Iran. Well, the fleet includes more than 20 warships and at least one aircraft carrier. It is one of four middle eastern countries where the U.S. has deployed Patriot missiles.

Earlier on, on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she's deeply concerned about what's going on in Bahrain.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: While all government have a responsibility to provide citizens with security and stability, we call on restraint. We call on restraint from the government to keep its commitment to hold accountable those who have utilized excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.


FOSTER: Well, CNN's Chris Lawrence joins us now live from Washington.

What do you make of today's events from a Washington perspective, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, right now, I know Pentagon officials are closely monitoring what's going on in Bahrain. In fact, the Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke this morning to Crown Prince Salman and also talked about the on-going security situation there with Bahrain's Deputy Supreme Commander of their security forces.

As you mentioned and as Hala mentioned, it is a key area in some ways even though Bahrain is much smaller, it is much bigger strategically in some ways even than Egypt when it comes U.S. military interest. Not only for what you mentioned about Iran, in constraining Iran's sort of regional ambitions, but also for oil.

I mean, you're talking about 40 percent of the world's oil coming to the Strait of Hormuz. You've also got the Suez Canal there. It is the U.S. presence, the Fifth Fleet presence that allows the U.S. to sort of a, put a check on things that Iran might do and also to secure some of those vital shipping lines that are really sort of the bread-and-butter for the US oil economy.


FOSTER: OK. Chris Lawrence in Washington. Thank you very much indeed.

And it's not just the U.S. keeping a close eye on Bahrain. Alarm bells are ringing in Saudi Arabia, to the west as well. For more on that, I'm joined by David Gordon. He has worked for the CIA and the State Department in the US. He is now the Head of Research at Eurasia Group. In fact, he's just come back from Saudi Arabia, haven't you?

Whilst you were in Saudi Arabia, did you get any sense of concern about what's happening across that region?

DAVID GORDON, HEAD OF RESEARCH, EURASIA GROUP: Well, there's a lot of concern in Saudi Arabia about the fallout from events in Tunisia and Egypt but I think the Saudis are particularly concerned about two countries that border them, Yemen and Bahrain. And I think Bahrain has a particular significance because of its majority Shiite population and the fear among the Saudis that unrest in Bahrain could easily spill over into the heavily- Shiite-populated eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia where a lot of the oil production in Saudi Arabia takes place.

FOSTER: Absolutely. Saudi has a real interest in this not becoming another Egypt, haven't they? So do you think and they will get involved somehow, which way could they get involved and could they work with the US even?

GORDON: Yes. I would not be surprised if the Saudis suggested to the Bahraini authorities that they really needed to step-up and get better control of this situation because I think you saw quite a sharp change in approach by the Bahraini authorities. This is the first time that we've seen a major repression in this round of unrest in the country other than Iran.

Iran is the only country so far that you had very, very widespread repression against protestors that didn't happen in Tunisia. It didn't happen in Egypt. And I think that it's quite possible that the Bahrainis are now saying to the protestors "Don't expect this to look like Egypt or Tunisia where the military and the security forces stood by on the sidelines while governments fell."

FOSTER: This is a bit of dramatic tightrope, isn't it, for so many countries. Could you give us some perspective on the Saudi-US angle on this because the Saudis would want to keep the monarchy in position, won't they, at all cost and the Americans would want to be seeing to be supporting democracy. So - there could be a real clash, couldn't there, between the Saudis and the Americans?

GORDON: Well, I think that the Americans are going to be walking a very fine line here. Bahrain is a close ally of the United States. I think that the United States clearly does not want to see violence or repression in Bahrain but nor do they really want to see the fall of the Bahraini monarchy.

This is a regime that's been very supportive of the United States. Regionally, we have a large naval presence there as other people have commented on. So I wouldn't overstate the differential interest here between the Saudis and the Americans but they will clearly, I think, be more of a willingness by the Saudis to use more forceful methods than are likely to be acceptable to Washington.

FOSTER: OK. David Gordon, thank you very much indeed for your perspective on that.

Well, the Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone says he'll wait `til next week to decide whether the Bahrain Grand Prix could go ahead. The deteriorating political situation has already forced cancellation of some races scheduled to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit this weekend.

Now, when we return, we'll continue to examine the unprecedented show of defiance in North Africa and the Middle East. Organized in cyberspace but carried out on the streets, Libyans take part in a day of rage. In Yemen, the anger grows and so do the crowds and Israel nervously eyes the Suez Canal as Iran prepares to send a pair of navy shifts northwards.


FOSTER: For this sheriff, it must feel like a David versus Goliath fight. The drug cartels are taking control of Mexican towns all along the US border. It's so bad, he's telling residents to take up arms.

What it's like to live when a war is going on in your backyard, that's coming up right here on "Connect the World."

I'm Max Foster. You're watching "Connect the World" and here's a look at some of the other stories we're following this hour.

This just in to CNN. Egypt has ordered the arrest of four former cabinet ministers. For more on this, we're going to go straight to Fionnuala who joins us now from Cairo.

What have you worked out, Fionnuala?

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (ON THE PHONE): Well, what we have heard there's been some significant development this evening, Max. The former interior minister, the former housing minister, and the former tourism minister plus a business tycoon who was very senior in Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party has been arrested for 15 days while an investigation is carried out into corruption.

Now this brings the total of former ministers who have been arrested to six including one former prime minister. It is an indication that the government here, the interim military government, is moving fast to try and hold accountable those accused of corruption. This is taking (INAUDIBLE), Max, against the backdrop of increasing protests and demonstrations by state workers and business worker and as a result, Egypt awake after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak is still losing millions of pounds every day in business and that is having a severe effect on the economy - one which cannot be sustained.

Now, there will be a big march tomorrow which will be exactly a week after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and after that, it is expected that the military will sit down and consider how best to deal with these continuing waves of strikes.

FOSTER: Fionnuala, thank you.

While Egypt's new military government finds itself in a very delicate spot, Iran has officially asked Cairo to allow two of its warships to use the Suez Canal as well. No Iranian combat vessels have used the Canal since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Egypt is expected to approve the request since the two nations are not at war with one another. Iran is sending the warships to the waters of Syria, off Syria, and Israel is monitoring the situation.

Last month, he was ousted by the people of Tunisia. Things may have gotten worse, though, for the former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. There are reports that Ben Ali has suffered a stroke. He's said to be hospitalized and in a coma in Saudi Arabia. CNN's not able to independently confirm that Ben Ali is in a coma and Saudi Arabia has, so far, not made any comment on it.

At least 20 people are reported to have been killed later Wednesday in Tanzania. A series of powerful explosions tore through a munitions depot at a military base in Dar es Salaam. Tanzania's prime minister says as many as 200 people were injured in the blast and 4,000 others have been displaced. The government official says it doesn't think the explosions were terror related.

Our sun is putting on a blazing show, solar eruptions this week has sent charged particles hurling into space. One flare was the size of Jupiter. (INAUDIBLE) has been hit and more plasma blasts are coming in the next day or so. The flares can disrupt electricity. China reported jammed short wave transmissions and they also trigger magnificent displays of northern lights further south than usual.

We apologize. We apparently showed an inaccurate picture of the former Tunisian president, Ben Ali. We apologized for that. And we'll try to correct it, of course.

Just ahead on "Connect the World," make sure your guns are loaded. That from a sheriff in Texas as residents along the U.S.-Mexican border come under siege from drug cartel to full story, up next.

Plus, (INAUDIBLE) anti-government demonstrations gather steam in Libya. We'll bring you the very latest on those.


FOSTER: A burned out car in the Mexican border city, Ciudad Juarez, a grim scene with another (INAUDIBLE) tale of violence. A man and his eight- year-old son were inside when they were shot, the car was then set alight. The local newspaper suggests that they were shot 32 times.

In separate attacks, state prosecutors say two women were found dead on Tuesday night inside the car at a mall parking lot. The city has seen a spike in violence early this month, at least 14 people were killed. These attacks highlight just how violent the U.S.-Mexico border is. Thelma Gutierrez reported on Wednesday, the Juarez Valley is prime real estate for the warring drug cartels. Many towns are under siege. And residents are fleeing. This man was told he'd be killed unless he left his home.

And part two of our series on "Border Violence," Thelma brings us the story of one sheriff who despite all of that is taking a stand. We must warn you though that some of the picture in this report are graphic.



THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sheriff Arvin West says there is a war going on just a few miles from his back door. A place he called Mayberry. He's warning residents to take up arms.

WEST: I don't care what the rest of the country thinks, I couldn't care less. Mayberry is my citizens in this county.

GUTIERREZ: Sheriff West says several Mexican towns in the Juarez Valley that runs along the border of Hudspeth County are now under siege by cartels who try to control smuggling routes into the U.S.

WEST: They will protect their load of drugs at all cost.

GUTIERREZ: U.S. interstate 10 is a quick dash to the border. In this high speed pursuit, deputies chase SUVs packed with drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're loading the dope.

GUTIERREZ: One gets stuck in the Rio Grande on the Mexican side. The drug haul is unloaded right in front of U.S. officials who can do nothing but watch.

The sheriff says the cat and mouse chase to the border a few years ago were the good old days. Now entire towns have fallen to the cartel and they have unleashed a campaign of terror where hundreds of families have been chased out of places like (INAUDIBLE), their home set on fire and a much more grizzly end for cartel enemies, some of whom have been beheaded and dismembered and left in plain view.

See this little village right here. You see the house, rooftops way over there.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): Yes.

WEST: I think there's banderas, drug cartel run people off.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Sheriff West showed us what he's up against.


GUTIERREZ: The locals call this Jurassic Park fence because it looks like it can keep dinosaurs out but the sheriff calls this a joke.

(on camera): This is part of the international barrier between Tijuana, Mexico and Texas. It's a 13-foot tall steel gate but take a look at what happens right here. It ends. And all you see are post and some barb wire.

(voice-over): In the last two years, there chiefs of police have been murdered in the Juarez Valley. The sheriff says it'd be suicide if he crossed over the border.

(on camera): You have no law enforcement counterpart on that side.

WEST: No. Not anymore. The last one I had contact with, they cut his head off and put in the (INAUDIBLE). There hasn't any vice deputy (ph) to appoint since then.

GUTIERREZ: Sheriff West says there's only seven miles of fence along the border, 91 miles are wide open even though 300 extra border patrol agents have been sent here. He says the county road crew was recently shot at.

Farmer Gale Carr land runs right up to the border and so (INAUDIBLE).

CARR: This is our home. This is our little piece of the American dream. I'm third generation on this farm. Grew up here. My whole childhood I have memories of going back and forth going to the little town on the other side of the rive.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): But now they say they can hear and see evidence of the violence against innocent families for themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could see the fires from here (INAUDIBLE) just a mile from us maybe.

CARR: One night I sat on the balcony of my house and I listened. I counted up to 120 and finally stopped. It wasn't like pop, pop, pop. It was like pop-pop-pop, pop-pop-pop.

GUTIERREZ: Carr (ph) says he worries about family and friends who are there and says the exodus from the town continue. More than 2,500 Mexican troops have been sent in to the Juarez Valley, even so we saw smoke billowing from home burning right across the border.

CARR: It's to the point to where I wonder why we're spending millions of dollars in Afghanistan when our next door neighbor is a foreign government basically.

GUTIERREZ: Carr said he's not a vigilante and he doesn't believe in militias.

CARR: That's my right.

GUTIERREZ: But says if the violence spills over he and the farmers are ready to be the first line of defense.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Fort Hancock, Texas.


FOSTER: Well, still to come in "Connect the World," Libya's on-line revolution protesters rally against the regime and used the internet to get their message to the masses.


FOSTER: You're back with CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Max Foster in London. Coming up, Libyans heed the call. They turn out to mark a Day of Rage.

In Belgium, it's another day without a government, but it's setting a record. What's taking so long?

And the Afghan singing sensation who's become a controversial TV show host. Connector of the Day Mozhdah Jamalzadah talks about taboos, death threats, and those comparisons to Oprah.

All those stories ahead in the show for you but, first, we're going to check the headlines this hour.

Just coming into CNN this hour, Egypt has arrested its former interior minister Habib el-Adly. Three other former ministers have also been arrested following orders from the general prosecutor. The chargers are not yet clear but are believed to be linked to corruption investigations. Six other officials have been banned from traveling and had their assets frozen.

In other news, Bahrain's foreign minister is defending the use of force in a crackdown on protesters. Security forces moved in with rubber bullets and teargas overnight. Injured protesters overwhelmed hospitals. At least three people have been killed. The UN secretary-general says violence against peaceful demonstrators must stop.

Tunisia's ousted president is said to be in gave condition at a hospital in Saudi Arabia. There are reports that Zine al Abidine Ben Ali suffered a massive stroke and is now in a coma. CNN isn't able to independently confirm that Ben Ali is in a coma, and Saudi Arabia has, so far, not made any comments.

US president Barack Obama will make his first state visit to a European country when he visits Britain on May the 24th. Queen Elizabeth extended the invitation for the three-day trip just before the G-8 summit in France.

We've seen this in Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt. Now, anti-government protesters in Libya are stepping up their rallies against the Gadhafi regime. Demonstrators declared on Thursday a Day of Rage across the country and are using the internet to organize.

It's because of YouTube that we're able to show you this video of protesters. It was taken on Thursday in Libya's third-largest city, Al Bayda in the country's north.

And also on Thursday, this video was posted on Facebook. The demonstrators are heard chanting "Boo, boo, Gadhafi! Zaltan, do not be afraid." Zaltan is another of Libya's cities, southwest of the capital, Tripoli. This is how protesters make their voices heard in the country dominated by state television.

There were reports that Libyan security officials killed a number of demonstrators but, given the government's grip on the media, there's no way of knowing for sure.

The anti-government uprising in Yemen is also getting more violent. Twenty people were injured in the latest round of clashes, in which protesters and loyalists hurled stones at one another in the capital, Sanaa. For the latest, let's speak to our correspondent Mohammed Jamjoom, who's there. Mohammed?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, late Thursday morning in Sanaa, hundreds of anti-government demonstrators tried to gather for an anti-government demonstration at the gates of Sanaa University. When they got there, pro-government demonstrators were already there. They were keeping the anti-government demonstrators away from the scene.

The pro-government demonstrators were carrying signs and banners showing the picture of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen. They were chanting slogans like, "With our hearts and with our blood, we will sacrifice for Yemen."

The anti-government demonstrators then tried to rally at a different place in the capital. About 90 minutes later, they met in western Sanaa, but they were met, also, by pro-government demonstrators, who started hurling rocks at them.

The scene got very violent. Clashes ensued. The groups were hurling rocks at each other. Fires broke out. When we got there, we saw, actually, a Red Crescent vehicle there with medical personnel trying to give aid to people that were injured. The rock-throwing lasted for a while.

Finally, the crowd dispersed. There were police on the scene, but they weren't intervening. A very ugly scene today in Sanaa, showing that there still is anger out there in the streets. And now, we're hearing that there is a Day of Anger being called for tomorrow, as well, here in Yemen. Max?

FOSTER: Yes, and how, Mohammed, would you judge where we are in this series events? Are things escalating, or are they tapering out a bit?

JAMJOOM: Well, Max, they seem to be escalating, because now, not only are protests going on in Sanaa, there's actually protests going on across the country. There's a protest going on this evening in the city of Taiz. There's about 10,000 people the last time we heard from eyewitnesses, in Freedom Square in Taiz for a sit-in there.

And in Aden, we're hearing very disturbing reports. The last two days, there have been clashes. There have been confrontations. Thousands of anti-government demonstrators, some with the separatist movement, some just anti-government, this is in the southern port city of Aden.

We've been told by eyewitnesses there that police have fired into the crowd. And as of now, we've heard this since yesterday, two people have been killed in Aden, several more, at least 12, injured.

So, definitely the mood of anger seems to be escalating. More cities across Yemen seeing anti-government demonstrations, and what we're seeing online, now, and hearing from activists is that there are a lot more protests being planned for tomorrow, as well. Max?

FOSTER: OK, Mohammed, thank you, very much. We'll be back with you tomorrow, then.

Well, coming up next, a world record for Belgium, but it's not something Belgians are necessarily celebrating. We'll explain just ahead.








FOSTER: It has become the longest-running country without a government, 250 days, would you believe? The national elections in June were inconclusive, and there's been a deadlock ever since. Atika Shubert is in Brussels.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One country deals with bombings and armed attacks on a daily basis. And the other is best known for its dainty chocolates and expansive selection of fine beers. But both are contenders for a world record of sorts.

On Thursday, Belgium will have gone 250 days without forming a government, beating out current world champion, Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not proud about our politicians. Really not proud.

SHUBERT (on camera): So what, exactly, is the hold up in Belgium? Well, I have brought a map out to the park, here, to explain the problem.

Basically, Belgium's a country of about ten million people, but it's divided along linguistic lines. Literally, there is a line that draws almost right across the middle of the country.

Now, 57 percent of the people, up in the north in an area called Flanders, speak Dutch. But about 40-something percent in the south, in an area called Wallonia, speak French. And everything in the country is divided along these linguistic lines. Hospitals, schools, but especially political parties. And as you can imagine, that means for a lot of political haggling.

But what makes the situation even worse is that the north of the country brings in much of the country's money, but unemployment is twice as high in the south. There is one exception to all of this, however, and that is the capital city of Brussels, a city of French speakers smack in the middle of Dutch-speaking Flanders.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Politicians have compared it to a loveless marriage, stumbling towards divorce, held together by Brussels.

DANNY PIETERS, PRESIDENT, BELIGIUM SENATE, N-VA: This is not a good situation. This is not excellent, it's not that we are very proud of this whatsoever.

But to be honest, I cannot be ashamed of it. We are heading for a constitutional reform in a peaceful way. The whole country is continuing to work, but it's not a question that this country is falling apart and that nobody knows how to end the chaos.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Indeed, Belgians are celebrating their new world record with nationwide parties. This "chips revolution" appeals for a united Belgium with free fries and beers, internationally recognized symbols of Belgium.

Others are refusing to shave until a new government is formed, and one senator is calling for a sex strike on all parliament members until a solution is found. All a humorous way to make a serious point.

MARLEEN TEMMERMAN, BELGIAN SENATOR: People are frustrated, and they come out, now, to come in the streets with a sense of humor actions, but they are very frustrated, and it's really time to do something about it, because we are losing out, and it's now one of the Guinness Book of Records that you cannot really be proud of.

SHUBERT (voice-over): But with as many political differences as it has beers, is Belgium in danger of splitting up for good?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we make a big story out of nothing. No, it's true, it's true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you like beer, then you're a real Belgian.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Not, perhaps, if the country holds on to its unique sense of humor.


FOSTER: Well, Atika joins us, now. A truly civilized demonstration they seem to be having there in what, in most countries, would be seen as a crisis situation. I'm just wondering, Atika, how are they coping without a government?

SHUBERT: Well, coping very well. As you can see behind me, this is the highlight of the day's event to celebrate the new world championship. And in fact, at midnight, they're going to have a countdown, here, where an Iraqi delegation is going to hand over the World Cup for the country that has gone longest without a government over to Belgium.

So, it's all part of this great tongue-in-cheek way of, basically, humoring the country but pressuring the politicians into coming up with a government, because they're saying, yes, we're getting along fine, everything is working on a day-to-day basis, but we need a government, and 250 days is simply too long, Max.

FOSTER: Atika, thank you very much, indeed. We'll let you celebrate the lack of government, bizarrely.

Well, Belgium might have the record, but it's certainly not the only country to deal with this issue. Somalia has gone longer with a national government but, by many definitions, the struggling African nation is not even a functioning state.

As Atika mentioned, Belgium took the record from Iraq. Last year, it took Iraq 249 days to agree on a coalition government.

And Belgium has also beaten the previous European record. The Netherlands went 208 days without a government back in 1977.

Clearly, Somalia and the Netherlands have very different political landscapes. So, what causes a country to get in that situation, and can it be sustained? Well, earlier, I spoke to Chatham House director, Robin Niblett, and asked him what he makes of the situation.


ROBIN NIBLETT, DIRECTOR, CHATHAM HOUSE: A lot of people think, does it matter? But not because it doesn't matter whether Belgium has a government? Does Belgium matter?

And I think there's a sense because it's the heart of Europe, the heart of the European Union, Brussels, in a way, has become all of Europe's capital. The fact that it doesn't have its own national government is really -- it doesn't matter. They've got the European parliament in there, and things like that.

FOSTER: And the fact that it doesn't seem to have had any effect or any impact.

NIBLETT: Well, it's a funny thing. I think when states are well enough off, when people and citizens are vested in the system, in making sure that anarchy doesn't take over, and that criminal gangs don't start roaming the streets. When you've got strong local government, as well.

And let's not forget Belgium also has a monarch, who is not part of the government. So, there's a sense that the state is still in existence, even if the government is in flux.

FOSTER: There's stability there, somewhere --

NIBLETT: Absolutely.

FOSTER: In the form of the monarchy, and the organization is there, because of the strong local governments. So, it's OK.

NIBLETT: Yes, and I think the institutions, the judiciary, the police, all know how to operate on automatic pilot. So, as long as there isn't a crisis, an external economic shock, some time of need to respond urgently, then, you're fine.

Of course, Belgium's problem is its debt's getting out of control, unemployment is rising. And at some point, it will be a problem.

FOSTER: OK. And let's talk about other countries, then, where a government collapses and there's chaos.


FOSTER: I presume that's -- economic, is it?

NIBLETT: It's not just economic. Clearly, I think, those countries that are economically weak, where people are poor, the state tends to be weaker. It has to be strong if it's going to survive. Maybe you need an army in control or a very strong form of government at the top. And that's probably fine.

But you also have nationalist pressures. Most states are artificial constructs. They're not real. They're the kind of -- the best way we thought of organizing ourselves, because in many cases, we've got different instincts.

And if you have separate nationalisms -- you think of former Yugoslavia, you think of Somalia, think of ethnic differences in a country like Lebanon, there things can really start to split apart. Badly, in some cases. Or, as in the Czech and Slovak, now separate republics, maybe you can have a velvet revolution.

FOSTER: And the monarchy question is quite interesting, isn't it? Because monarchies are seen as largely irrelevant in many countries. But actually, in these types of situations, as in Belgium, as in Thailand, for example, it keeps things going, ticking over, whilst there is no government.

NIBLETT: Actually, I think one should not underestimate the importance, in a way, of having a kind of separation of powers of government. And a monarchy has been something that's above government, and you can then fall back on if the government isn't working well.

That means, of course, monarchs have to spend all their time making sure their reputation remains strong, that they don't become an irrelevancy. And almost the trappings and the tradition of it actually serve a purpose of attaching the people to that separate entity of the monarchy.

FOSTER: Finally, why do we even need government? Surely, these examples do show, a bit, that actually, there must be an alternative system to not having -- to having a government.

NIBLETT: Well, I think at some level, we shouldn't underestimate the extent to which anarchy resides underneath society. The strong, ultimately at some point, will try to dominate the weak. And so, organized crime, the mafia groups, whatever, could start to take over the operations of society, and we would all be less safe, more vulnerable, and worse off.

Plus, we're in an international world. We're big. Climate change, proliferation, international terrorism. The ability to negotiate amongst each other to make sure we keep our citizens safe is probably more important now than before. Who's going to represent us? We need some group to stand up on the international stage and help us deal with these problems.


FOSTER: Robin Niblett, an international affairs expert, speaking to me a little earlier on.

Well, we have seen uprising after uprising across the Middle East in recent weeks, challenges to authority, calls for social change. Well, next, we're going to connect you with a young woman making waves in Afghanistan. Speaking outspoken with talk show host Mozhdah, right after this.


FOSTER: Well, she fled Afghanistan with her family as a five-year-old and has returned two decades later as a superstar. But not everyone is a fan of the woman dubbed the Afghan Oprah. Becky gets us connected.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): A singing sensation and a model, Mozhdah Jamalzadah is no stranger to an audience. She's even sung for American president Barack Obama at the White House. But it's with her latest performance that this young star is hoping to leave her loudest echo.

MOZHDAH JAMALZADAH, AFGHAN TALK SHOW HOST: When I was growing up, my parents were like, "Don't ever forget where you're from, and don't ever forget your people, because you're one of the lucky ones."

ANDERSON (voice-over): After growing up as a refugee in Canada, where she launched her music career, Mozhdah has returned to Afghanistan to host her very own television talk show. And it's proving controversial.

Using and American-style format, Mozhdah tackles sensitive cultural issues that generally aren't talked about openly in her conservative Islamic homeland. Divorce, domestic violence, and disrespect for women among the topics sparking backlash from traditionalists who oppose her liberal views and Western-inspired clothing.

Your Connector of the Day, Mozhdah Jamalzadah, dubbed the Afghan Oprah. Let's find out what she thinks of that title.

JAMALZADAH: I would never compare myself to Oprah. I've mentioned this before. I don't know why people compare me to her. She's my idol. I've looked up to her, I've watched her show since I was 16, I never missed an episode. And I've learned so much from her, just like everybody else has.

ANDERSON (on camera): Listen, you grew up in Canada and went back to Afghanistan.


ANDERSON: Why was that?

JAMALZADAH: I always knew in my heart that I would end up back in Afghanistan, because I -- growing up, I never forgot Afghans. I never forgot Afghanistan, and I always wanted to do something for Afghan people.

ANDERSON: You're in the media, now. How do you feel that you are helping the people of Afghanistan at this point?

JAMALZADAH: The most important thing right now is "The Mozhdah Show," it aired twice a week, and we actually discuss very, very serious topics. Very sensitive issues that are not even discussed within households. And we bring up these sensitive subjects and we try to find a solution for these problems.

ANDERSON: Do you feel censored in the material that you want to provide?

JAMALZADAH: I feel very restricted in a lot of things. I wanted to discuss -- one of the episodes, we wanted to discuss divorce. And we had a hard time with that. But with the TV station that I work with, they're very open to a lot of new things, and they're willing to take the risk and allow me to speak about those things.

ANDERSON: PJ van der Walt asks, "What did it feel like transitioning from a free society like that which you grew up in Canada to the strict confines of Afghanistan?"

JAMALZADAH: It's one of the most difficult challenges I've ever had to face. I'm pretty much under house arrest. And -- willingly under house arrest, because it's the safest thing for me. The most I do is go to meetings, and I try to avoid going out.

I never go out to parties. I never go out to see family. I just don't want to take the risk, because I'm there to help people, and I don't want me doing something -- going out too much and risking my life, and then, I wouldn't be able to help anybody.

ANDERSON: MS says he's inspired by your courage and asks what it's like living under a constant threat?

JAMALZADAH: I have to be honest, it's very scary. I'm actually scared 24/7. It's not something that you can become comfortable with ever. You know that you're a target, you know that there are many threats, and you know that living in Afghanistan, there's no rules, there's no laws. If there are laws, women are not -- they kind of -- there's not enough justice mechanisms.

ANDERSON: I want to talk about the show for a moment. Natalie from North Carolina says, "What specific goals do you hope to reach with the popularity of your show?" And it is extremely popular.

JAMALZADAH: I'm hoping to reach households, but mainly, the men in the households. And I know that I've mentioned women's rights and children's rights, and I'm focusing on women and children. But I think the main -- the people I have to really reach are the men. Because unless I reach the men, the women can only fight so much. It's the men who need to change the way they think.

ANDERSON: We've had some fascinating questions from viewers tonight. Mohdwassim brings up a particularly interesting point. He says, "But you don't wear the traditional Afghan female dress. Do you think this impacts your influence there?" he asks.

JAMALZADAH: Yes, definitely. Actually, now that I live in Kabul, I've noticed that hardly anybody wears the Afghan traditional dress. They do try to be as Western as possible in Kabul itself. I'm not aware of what's going on outside.

I've been to Mazar, I've heard of the situation in Herat, and they do try to dress modern. So the way that I dress isn't too out of the ordinary over there.

But I do try to make it a little bit more risky, I guess you could say. I try to wear the higher heels and the belts around my dress, and kind of bring out the shape of the body a little bit more than other people. So, I do push the limit a little bit, and I definitely think that's influential, yes.


FOSTER: Becky, there, with controversial Afghan talk show host Mozhdah Jamalzadah.

Well, next week, we'll be going inside the world of fashion. The models, the designers, the buyers, the celebrities, they'll all be in London for Fashion Week, and we'll be connecting you with some of the industry greats.

To find out more, head to our website, And if there's something you'd like to ask one of our upcoming Connectors, do send us your question. Don't forget to let us know where you're writing form.

The Academy Awards is just ten days away, would you believe? And there's plenty of buzz about Golden Globe winner -- Golden Globe winner? BAFTA winner, Oscar-nominee, "The King's Speech." In a long-awaited interview, Colin Firth and the cast of the film speak with CNN's Piers Morgan. It's a red carpet edition of "Piers Morgan Tonight." Viewers in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East can see it tomorrow right before CONNEC THE WORLD.

A pair of very smart humans teamed up against one extremely intelligent computer and lost. On Wednesday, an IBM computer named Watson won a three-day contest on the US game show "Jeopardy!" would you believe? For those unfamiliar with the show, the answers are given, then it's up to the contestants to supply the correct question.

Towards the end of the contest, Watson was so far ahead, he couldn't be caught. Borrowing a line from "The Simpsons" animated series, Ken Jennings showcased the humorous side of the human race.


ALEX TREBEK, HOST, "JEOPARDY!": Over to Ken Jennings, now, 18,200 going in. Bram Stoker is what we're looking for, and we find "Who is Stoker? I for one welcome our new computer overlord."




FOSTER: Amazing computer. We saw the inventor just a couple of days ago on CONNECT THE WORLD, and IBM hopes to sell Watson's question-answering skills to hospitals, we hear, and call center help desks.

Watson's performance drew quite a number of responses on Some were impressed. "From every comment I've read, those who are completely unimpressed are computer illiterate. What is impressive about this is the ability to process plain English, find answers, and evaluate whether they are appropriate to the question as if it understands."

Others were a bit jaded. "I could be wrong, but I don't think most people will have a use for Watson. The major domain IBM is thinking about right now is the medical domain."

And some saw it coming. "As if it were ever in doubt."

Well, get your voice heard on CNN. Do head to our website, and make your comments.

I'm Max Foster, that is your world connected. Thank you very much for watching. World headlines and "BackStory" will follow this short break.