The World Today for September 20, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

A Bright Spot

Jordan has taken a stride in distancing itself from the political and humanitarian tumult of its neighbors in the region.

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On Tuesday, the kingdom is slated to hold parliamentary elections under new rules that expand representation to parties outside of ruler King Abdullah II’s circle of political power.

Jordan has done away with “one man, one vote” in favor of a two-vote reform: Voters cast one ballot for a party slate and one ballot for individual candidates.

The move is a “step forward” for full-fledged democracy in the kingdom, reports the Associated Press. It also gives smaller parties a leg up, prompting at least one eyebrow raiser: Taking part this year is the vaunted Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood’s political arm in Jordan, the Islamic Action Front, or IAF, is campaigning for seats after having boycotted parliamentary elections in the Hashemite Kingdom for almost a decade.

The Brotherhood expects to win as much as a third of the chamber, and if it does, the party  would push for economic and educational reforms and hold the government’s feet to the fire on the economy, says IAF spokesman Murad Adayleh.

The elections could also help the party’s image in the region: The Brotherhood has experienced both major victories and setbacks since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.

The group installed Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi in 2012. But his harsh rule led the military to rise up and throw him in jail a year later.

The party’s affiliates have been banned in Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

But in Jordan, the IAF remains legal.

“We welcome all Jordanian people to participate in the elections…whether the Muslim Brotherhood or other groups, to ensure objectivity and fairness in the registration of candidates,” said Jihad Momani, the official spokesman for the Jordanian Independent Election Commission.

Frustrated and apathetic voters will likely lead to a low turnout on Tuesday. Results of the election are unlikely to upset King Abdullah II’s status quo.

Regardless, the two-vote-per-person system and other election reforms illustrate that the Hashemite Kingdom is at least paying lip service to democracy in a region in which repression and war are the norm.

Make no mistake, Jordan is troubled. With skyrocketing unemployment, and deep pockets of radicalism in some of its seething poorer communities, as well as external threats from radicals, it has struggled. But it has not seen the violence pervasive in Yemen or Syria, nor has it experienced the internal political upheavals of Egypt or Lebanon. And along with Egypt, Jordan is one of two Arab nations to have formally declared peace with Israel.

Jordan also remains a player in the international coalition against the Islamic State despite its limited economic means, and hosts some 600,000 Syrian refugees from that country’s ongoing civil war.

Some voters and observers say the elections won’t change much. But the very fact of their existence – and that Jordan has committed itself to institutional reform in spite of everything going on around it – is already a step forward.

WANT TO KNOW

Out of Bounds

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is known for dropping barrel bombs on his own civilians, and nobody had too much optimism about the latest fragile ceasefire engineered by the US and Russia. But the way it looks to be ending is particularly depressing.

Following a burst of tit-for-tat shelling over the weekend sparked by US airstrikes that accidentally hit Syrian government troops, bombs rained down on a UN humanitarian aid convoy as the Syrian military declared that the ceasefire had failed, according to the New York Times.

At least 18 out of 31 trucks of an aid convoy bound for the town of Uram al-Kubra, west of Aleppo city, were hit, and at least 12 people were killed in the attack. Nobody knows who was responsible. Russia blamed rebel groups. But the US said the attack will prompt it to “reassess the future prospects for cooperation with Russia.”

Fresh airstrikes on rebel-held parts of Aleppo and government positions elsewhere in the city killed at least 20 civilians.

Many fear the repeated violations will result in a “full-scale onslaught – either by the rebels, the government, or both — and that [Aleppo] will once again become a bloodbath,” reports NBC News.

Bloody Delay

The Congo erupted in violence on Monday over fears President Joseph Kabila aims to circumvent the constitution to prolong his rule.

Clashes between security forces and protesters left at least 17 dead in the capital of Kinshasa, the Associated Press reported. Three police officers, including one who was burned alive, were among those killed as protesters threw stones and set tires and vehicles on fire.

The spark for the unrest was an official request by the country’s electoral commission asking that the presidential vote scheduled for Nov. 27 be delayed. Skeptics saw this as an attempt by Kabila – who cannot seek a third term under the country’s current laws – to retain power longer than the constitution allows.

A speedy vote contested under the accepted rules is the obvious antidote. But Kabila’s party has instead proposed a unity government that would include opposition parties until legitimate polls can be arranged.

UN Irresolution

Amid an anti-migrant backlash in Europe, the United Nations paid lip service to the global refugee crisis on Monday. But the declaration they adopted was so short on details that many remain skeptical it will truly make much difference.

After a provision asking members to accept 10 percent of the world’s refugees annually was scrapped, Human Rights Watch called the watered down version “a missed opportunity,” the Voice of America reported.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid al-Hussein blasted countries for allowing “race-baiting bigots” to gain mileage from the crisis. US President Barack Obama is expected to emphasize a stronger response in a Leaders’ Summit he’s chairing on the sidelines of the General Assembly Tuesday. And the International Organization for Migration officially joined the UN system in an effort to make its response to the crisis more effective.

“Let’s not be fooled by what we heard at the United Nations today, focus on what we did not hear,” Nobel laureate and youth advocate Malala Yousafzai said in a statement. “The declaration does not include any new, substantive commitments for refugees.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that billionaire George Soros, owner of the $25 billion family office Soros Fund Management, has pledged to invest as much as $500 million to help refugees and migrants globally.

DISCOVERIES

Of Dogs and Loneliness

The latest doggy video to go viral in China – adapted from American footage of a rescue dog named Benny and his joy at being adopted – has the nation waxing eloquent about the pain of rejection and loneliness, reports the BBC.

Until this week, nobody in China could see the original, since Facebook and YouTube are blocked there. But then Zha Shushu, a social media user with four million followers, posted an edited version with Chinese captions of what he thought the dog might say on his popular microblog.

The added speech bubbles say stuff like “What is happening? I don’t want to die” and “I didn’t believe anyone could love me.” When his cage is opened to introduce him to his new owner, then, of course, once he realizes he’s actually getting some love instead of a lethal injection, Benny goes ballistic.

Chinese people did, too. Some 5 million viewers checked out the video on Miaopai. And when it was posted on Weibo – a local hybrid of Facebook and Twitter – the resulting discussion “spilled over into shared experiences of pain, rejection and feeling like an outsider,” says the BBC.

Check out photos and comments here.

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