The World Today for May 05, 2016

May 5, 2016


The Irrepressible Egyptians

Five years ago, most of the world was caught off-guard after hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets and deposed a longtime dictator.

Since then, Egypt has gone through tumultuous times marked by more protests, a de facto military coup, and a government hell-bent on repressing dissent at any costs.

If Egyptians weren't so worn down – by crackdowns, terror attacks and joblessness – they would be on the streets again.

But don't underestimate them.

The cracks are already appearing.

In late April, hundreds of protestors took to the streets in protest of leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's gift of two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia, calling it a “shameful” gift in exchange for billions in Saudi aid.

In Egypt, land is sacred and parting with it is considered a desperate measure.

On Wednesday, activists and journalists threatened to strike and take to the streets again after the government's press office accidently published internal guidelines on how to counter growing “vicious” criticism in local media.

The revelation followed the arrest of two journalists and a raid on a media outlet. Protests over the arrests as well as calls for the Interior Minister's resignation have been going on since the weekend.

What makes the latest turmoil so remarkable is that it is happening at all.

Since Sisi took over in June 2014, criticism has been in whispers. But in the past six months, Egypt's government has been lurching from crisis to crisis: especially over the economy; its crackdown on civic groups, including those documenting police and government abuses; and helping victims of torture.

Let's also not forget the crisis with Italy over the death of an Italian student in Egypt in February. He was found tortured. Many believe the government had something to do with the killing.

Still, some like human rights activist Sanaa Seif, who was sentenced on Wednesday to six months in prison for “insulting the judiciary” because she didn't make a court appearance, admit to being tired.

Pardoned in October after being imprisoned for a 2014 protest outside the presidential palace in Cairo, Seif was convicted this week for failing to appear for a summons on inciting protests related to the April demonstrations against the island gift.

“I simply do not have the energy to deal with their measures,” she wrote on Facebook, saying she would not appeal the verdict.

Activists and analysts say that the level of repression in Egypt these days – including political arrests and forced disappearances – surpasses anything they have seen in decades.

Countering that, Sisi told a U.S. congressional delegation Tuesday that human rights and civil liberties in Egypt should not be approached from a “Western perspective” due to the situation in the country.

Still, even though weariness is pervasive among activists and the general population, the Egyptian government should beware, say Egypt watchers.

Egyptians get tired of being worn down, too.


Cold War Redux

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a tit-for-tat military escalation that many feared would end in nuclear Armageddon.

A similar scenario appears to be forming today.

On Wednesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that his country would create and station three new divisions on Russia’s borders with Europe.

The move was explicitly designed to counter NATO ramping up its forces in the region. The organization recently sent more troops to Poland and three ex-Soviet Baltic countries because of Russian military exercises in the region, the buzzing of American naval ships and US support for separatist movements in eastern Ukraine.

Experts said the moves reflect how Russian President Vladimir Putin wants the United States and the rest of the world to give more credence to Moscow’s views in world affairs. But NATO leaders believe they need to stand up to Moscow’s aggression.

In July, NATO leaders are meeting in Warsaw to discuss whether they should add even more troops to the alliance’s eastern border.

Let’s hope that whatever they decide, they follow in the footsteps of the Cold War Warriors who often rattled sabers but never started World War III.

Gaza: New War?

Israel launched airstrikes against targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after Hamas, the terror-group-cum-political party that rules the tiny Palestinian territory, lobbed mortar rounds at Israeli defense forces excavating tunnels between Gaza and Israel.

The violence recalled the 50-day-war in 2014 when Israeli forces pulverized Gaza and Hamas launched numerous rockets into Israel.

Neither side wants to resume the war, which destroyed tens of thousands of homes and businesses in Gaza – ruining its already fragile economy – and embarrassed Israel for what many critics said was a disproportionate response against civilians for Hamas’ actions. Gaza is having trouble rebuilding the territory to this day because Israel has prevented Palestinian authorities from bringing construction materials into the region.

Hamas ferries weapons and illicit drugs through the tunnels, they say. But food and medicine come in also.

Israel might save itself a lot of trouble if it allows some of that contraband into Gaza aboveground so that it doesn’t get in by another route.

Kenya: Terrorists Compete

Kenyan authorities announced they foiled an Islamic State attack.

Saying the militants targeted various locations, police said Wednesday they arrested a medical student while Ugandan authorities arrested the student’s wife and her friend, and continue their search for more conspirators, too. The alleged terrorists planned to use anthrax in their attacks.

What’s notable about this is that it shows how terror is mutating in Kenya.

Islamic extremists Al Shabaab staged attacks on the Westgate Mall in 2013 and Garissa University last year, killing hundreds. The militant group is active in Somalia, too, where it controls vast swaths of territory.

But it’s also affiliated with al Qaeda. The Islamic State and al Qaeda are engaged in a struggle to win over supporters, territory and funding and have staged attacks in West and North Africa. Now it turns out the Islamic State is active in Kenya and East Africa, too.

If only they could target each other in their contest.


If The Mountain Won't Go to the City…

Dubai is seeking to add a man-made mountain to its list of artificial wonders.

The city in the United Arab Emirates has built the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, as well as the Palm Jumeirah, the artificial archipelago that is visible from space. Some might argue the whole city is like Astroturf — made spontaneously as a business and leisure center for Arab sheikhs.

The proposed artificial mountain is totally utilitarian, however. UAE officials hope the mountain might produce rain for the country. Mountains block moist air, leading to rainfall on their windward sides and dryness on their other halves. The country has pursued cloud seeding, desalination plants and other measures to promote rainfall. Why not a mountain?

Here’s one reason: It’s probably going to be wildly expensive. A proposal to build a hollow mountain in the Netherlands cost around $230 billion. That bill will even hit a rich Emir hard.

Maybe he should just move the city to the mountains. The UAE has a few in the east. 

Thu, 05/05/2016 – 06:06

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