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North Korea keeping mum about Egypt

Experts say resistance by N.K. military to father-son succession more likely than popular revolt


If there is one thing the ironfisted North Korean regime fears, it’s outside information ― and what that can do to its people.

As the world is paying close attention to the antigovernment protests in Egypt, the reclusive North has so far not made any comments regarding the weeks-long situation in the Northern African state.

Angry Egyptians have been taking to the streets, demanding the ousting of their long-reigning President Hosni Mubarak.
An Egyptian boy holds a national flag and a sign asking President Hosni Mubarak to “let the people live” in Cairo on Monday. (AP-Yonhap News)
An Egyptian boy holds a national flag and a sign asking President Hosni Mubarak to “let the people live” in Cairo on Monday. (AP-Yonhap News)

Mubarak was faced with public resistance as he was attempting to hand over the administration to his son in a similar manner to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il.

Kim, who suffered a stroke in 2008 and has not fully recovered his strength, made official his plan to make his youngest and apparently inexperienced son the next head of state. While North Koreans approve of the plan on the surface, insiders say many remain skeptical about the 20-something successfully ruling the impoverished, isolated nation.

“Mubarak’s unsuccessful attempt to pass over the government to his son will inevitably remind North Koreans about the situation their own country is going through,” said an official at Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which handles affairs with North Korea, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. “The last thing Kim Jong-il would want is to provoke his people, especially amid the ongoing food shortages.”

But despite the best efforts of the regime, many North Koreans are aware of the situation in Egypt through information they receive via mobile phones and the Internet, U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia reported.

Other reports also indicate the growing difficulty the Kim regime is facing keeping its people isolated from outside information.

Seoul-based online media outlet the Daily NK recently reported the popularity of South Korean pop culture among North Koreans who watch pirated DVDs smuggled from China. As long as China remains Pyongyang’s main trade partner and financial supporter, South Korean culture and news will continue to enter the reclusive state, the online newspaper said.

The Daily NK also released earlier this month a video clip purportedly recorded by a North Korean against the Kim Jong-il regime.

The four minute-long clip shows a burning portrait of the North Korean dictator and scribbles of swear words about him and heir apparent Jong-un.

Without elaborating on how it obtained the video clip, the newspaper cited a North Korean defector who said such portraits were handed out only to high-ranking officials.

Most experts here, however, say there is little possibility of an immediate mass uprising or democratic movement taking place in Pyongyang, citing the prolonged dictatorship, isolation and the heavy punishment awaiting “betrayers.”

The North Korean regime has survived the collapse of the Soviet Union, death of its founder Kim Il-sung and persistent poverty by successfully controlling its people, they say. 
North Koreans pay tribute to the statue of Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang on Feb. 3. (Yonhap News)
North Koreans pay tribute to the statue of Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang on Feb. 3. (Yonhap News)

They do, however, take note of the possibility of resistance by the North Korean military.

“Kim Jong-il is apparently striving to secure the military’s support for the heir apparent. This, in other words, indicates his concern about the military’s possible opposition toward the young leader,” Nam Sung-wook, head of the state-run Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul, said.

The North’s Korean People’s Army currently has Kim Jong-il as its supreme commander, a position his young son must successfully take over to rule the nation.

As the world’s most militarized country, North Korea has the fourth largest army in the world with at least $6 billion spent on it each year.

Kim Jong-un appears to be on the fast-track for succession due to the reportedly flagging health of the incumbent leader. Analysts speculate the heir apparent could take on powerful military posts this year including head of the Korean People’s Army in the run-up to 2012, the year the North has pledged to become a powerful nation.

The political instability as Pyongyang goes through the power transition could bring about various changes with the spreading democratic movements in Northern African and Middle East states affecting the reclusive state in the long run, Seoul’s state-run Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security said in a recent report.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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