The World Today for October 11, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Disappointment in Plain Sight

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI asked Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane to form a new government on Monday after Benkirane’s Justice and Development Party, or PJD, won the largest share of votes in parliamentary elections last Friday.

Benkirane’s victory is an opportunity to pause and take note of how the North African country has weathered the Arab Spring’s winds of change.

The so-called February 20 Movement compelled King Mohammed to introduce democratic reforms at the height of the Arab Spring in 2011, including first-ever elections that put the Justice and Development Party, or PJD, into power.

But Agence France-Presse reported that a close advisor to the king backed the PJD’s main rival, the Authenticity and Modernity Party, or PAM, in a bid to undermine the Islamist PJD, suggesting the almost-all-powerful monarch is only half-heartedly supporting the franchise.

Politics isn’t the only facet of Moroccan life that has fallen into the one-step-forward, one-step-back dynamic.

The PJD has focused on economic development as its path to legitimacy, a laudable strategy to be sure.

The kingdom has built modern highways, developed tourist resorts, invested in manufacturing and sought foreign investment in advanced sectors like aeronautics, a new port, a free trade zone near Tangier and a massive solar plant in the country’s sunny and remote southern desert, reported Al Jazeera.

But those developments aren’t generating sufficient jobs, reported the Qatar-based news agency, citing World Bank figures. Youth unemployment hovers around 20 percent, creating what Al Jazeera called a “two-speed Morocco.”

Corruption, poor healthcare and education and weak growth in agriculture, a major employer, bedevil the country. A third of Moroccans are illiterate, for example, AFP reported, so parties were marked on the ballot with symbols like tractors and camels.

Innovation doesn’t thrive in such conditions.

But it’s not clear if the king, whose Alawite dynasty has ruled Morocco relatively peaceably for 350 years, wants innovation.

He has remained silent as the government has banned films like “Much Loved,” which won awards in France for its dramatic depiction of prostitution in Marrakesh. Officials have also cracked down on journalists and human rights activists, imprisoning some for years on charges like adultery.

Amnesty International last year also claimed that security forces allegedly tortured activists in the Arab Spring to coerce confessions for more serious crimes, saying Morocco’s image as a liberal, human rights-friendly country was a “mirage.”

Duke University political scientist Abdeslam Maghraoui echoed Amnesty International in an interview with Al Jazeera. The king devolved powers to a parliament in 2011 to release the social pressures that were building up in the country, said Maghraoui. Now that the uprisings have subsided, he believes the king might try to further undermine Benkirane’s authority.

Like in Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, the Arab Spring in Morocco was arguably a disappointment. But it’s a disappointment the king can’t hide, no matter how hard he tries.

WANT TO KNOW

Square One

A week after Taliban forces captured the northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz, thousands of people fleeing the battle to dislodge them have been forced to seek shelter with families that are already living in poverty, aid workers say.

Meanwhile, the Taliban announced a large-scale attack on the capital of Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province on Monday, Al-Jazeera reported.

A suicide car bombing killed 14 people, including 10 Afghan police officers, in Lashkar Gar, the provincial capital, the Qatar-based news agency said. At least 15 others were wounded.

The Taliban now control as much as 85 percent of Helmand – of vital importance because it accounts for most of the country’s $4 billion opium output. Last year, the Afghan government controlled 80 percent of the province.

And in the north, government forces are still battling to drive Taliban fighters out of Kunduz, even as some 10,000 refugees have streamed into Kabul and other northern cities. Afghanistan already has more than 1.2 million internal refugees, with some 260,000 forced to flee their homes across the country this year.

Text Books and Protests

South African students have taken to the streets once more.

Demanding free tuition, students at one of the nation’s largest universities clashed with police on Monday, forcing the closure of several campuses, Bloomberg reported.

Protesters burned a bus outside the University of the Witwatersrand and pelted police with rocks as security personnel tried to clear the campus, the news agency said.

The clashes resulted after the university administration reopened classes in an attempt to complete the academic year. Earlier, similar protests had forced a complete shutdown when police used stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds.

After student riots in 2015, the government barred fee increases this year and limited 2017 tuition increases to no more than 8 percent – promising subsidies for poor and middle class students. But the students are demanding that tuition be abolished altogether – a move that might narrow the gap between rich and poor but would also further stretch finances at South African universities.

Long Live the King

The health of Thailand’s king may be failing – adding to the risks facing the country’s current military government.

King Bhumibol, 88, has been known to be growing weaker for some time, prompting the Royal Household Bureau to issue more frequent updates about his health. But on Monday a statement from the palace said his health was “not stable” following a medical procedure performed over the weekend, NPR reported.

Given his age, the end of his 70-year reign has long been expected. But that doesn’t make the prospect any less daunting. Because of the respect he enjoys, King Bhumibol has been able to encourage Thailand’s squabbling political factions and its coup-happy military to work out their differences and keep the country bumping along. But his son and heir, 64-year-old crown prince Vajiralongkorn, is “spoilt and demanding, and – to put it mildly – widely loathed,” the Economist wrote.

DISCOVERIES

Immortal Faces

Every culture has rituals for ensuring the deceased is not forgotten. But not every culture does so via slow-roasting.

The Anga tribe indigenous to Papua New Guinea still practices an ancient type of mummification in which the dead are cooked over an open flame and immortalized in near-perfect form in preparation for their passage into the afterlife.

Over the course of nearly a decade, German photographer Ulla Lohmann documented the ritual, providing a complete journey of one tribe member she met – from man to mummy.

Unlike the Egyptians, the Anga suspend their deceased over an open fire, gradually allowing the flames and smoke to mummify the body.

The mummification is a family affair: Relatives must remain with the deceased at all times during the process, to mourn and to help with the logistical aspects of the ritual – as the body mummifies, no fluids or body parts are allowed to fall to the earth.

But the most important aspect of the ritual is the preservation of memories.

Gatherers share stories in the presence of the mummifying body, making sure that the face is fully preserved in blackened stillness. In a place without photography, the mummies provide a way to remember the dead.

“We have pictures, they have mummies,” said photographer Ulla Lohmann.

Find Lohmann’s complete photo-series on the Anga here.

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