The World Today for November 04, 2016


Falling Dominoes

In the early days of the Cold War, US President Dwight Eisenhower suggested that the loss of Vietnam would lead to the loss of another and another and another nation to communism, like falling dominos.

Now, it looks like the Domino Theory may be making a comeback.

Following in the wake of foul-mouthed Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, beleaguered Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak inked a new defense deal with China and pledged closer cooperation with Beijing in the thorny South China Sea dispute on Tuesday, Channel News Asia reported. Meanwhile, Thailand and Vietnam appear to be weighing lucrative trade relationships with China against the military threat posed by its regional expansion.

“Malaysia being a South China Sea claimant, and hot on the heels of Duterte, there is an obvious symbolism there,” the Washington Post quoted Australia-based security expert Euan Graham as saying. “In the maritime geopolitical aspect, it’s almost back to dominoes. The Philippines has caved, and Malaysia looks wobbly.”

Some analysts have interpreted the apparent defections as more proof that China’s star is rising and US President Barack Obama’s so-called “pivot to Asia” has been a failure. But others suggest Duterte, Najib and others are simply angling for better terms from the United States – as Cold War-era leaders like former Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito and Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser managed brilliantly.

Duterte, for instance, has been scathing in his attacks on Obama – whom he called a “son of a whore” – and announced in Beijing that he was officially switching sides. But since then he has not followed through on his promise, notes the New York Times.

Instead, he has grabbed at China’s offer of $9 billion in low-interest loans and convinced Beijing to allow Filipino fisherman to return to certain disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Moreover, his vacillating has quieted or at least tempered US objections to the widespread human rights violations of his ongoing war on drugs – in which extrajudicial killings have claimed more than 2,400 lives. And he’s scored points with the electorate for standing up to America.

Similarly, Najib is seemingly putting Malaysia in play at a time that he desperately needs political support in the US – if not from other quarters. Following the probe into the alleged embezzlement of billions of dollars from the notorious 1MDB fund, the US Justice Department in July seized more than a billion dollars in assets that it says were purchased by Najib relatives and associates using stolen 1MDB money.

His apparent openness to a realignment with China last year helped secure a quasi-bailout from the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corporation – which bought some US$2.3 billion worth of 1MDB assets in a purported “fire sale.”

Meanwhile, this week’s move to sign nine pacts with Beijing in defense, business and other areas could well win him some wiggle room where his legal problems with the US are concerned.

That suggests the game has more in common with Let’s Make a Deal than it does with dominos – but it could well be the new normal.

“This is the new regional norm. Now China is implementing the power and the US is in retreat,” said Southeast Asia politics analyst Bridget Welsh.


Exploding Dissent

A car bomb exploded early Friday in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, in the country’s mostly Kurdish southeast, killing one and injuring over 40 people, according to Turkish officials.

The bomb went off only hours after police detained leaders of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the second-biggest opposition party in the Turkish parliament, striking near the police station in Diyarbakir where the party leaders were held, reported Reuters.

The detention of the HDP’s leaders and ten other lawmakers from the party had drawn strong criticism from Western countries already concerned about what they see as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s deepening crackdown on dissent.

Over 110,000 officials in Turkey have been detained or suspended following the failed July coup against Erdogan, and journalists from a prominent opposition newspaper were rounded up earlier this week.

Erdogan for his part has accused the HDP of having links to the PKK, the militant Kurdistan Workers Party that has fought a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish independence.

Divorce Court

The British High Court ruled Thursday that Prime Minister Theresa May needs approval from the British parliament to begin Brexit negotiations, potentially derailing May’s plans for a swift divorce from the European Union.

May had previously said that parliamentary approval wasn’t needed to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which formally begins EU-exit negotiations, claiming that ministers have a “royal prerogative” to act on behalf of the monarch and carry out the process on their own.

But the High Court disagreed, and ruled that the British parliament, many whose lawmakers are opposed to Britain leaving the EU, should have a say as well.

May said she accepts the “logical conclusion” of the high court’s judgment that an act of parliament would have to be passed before the government could trigger Article 50, wrote the Guardian.

But May also plans to appeal the decision and take the case to Britain’s Supreme Court – even while maintaining that negotiations can still be kicked off before the end of March 2017 as planned.

Breaking the Silence

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State (IS) and one of the world’s most wanted men, ended nearly a yearlong silence to urge followers to defend IS strongholds like Mosul, dispelling rumors that he had been killed in an airstrike by the US-led coalition.

In a nearly 32-minute long recording which didn’t reveal his location, Baghdadi called for followers to carry out attacks, including suicide missions, against Iraqi military units as well as internationally.

The Sunni extremist group has increasingly relied on high-profile attacks abroad to compensate for losses in its territory in the Middle East, wrote the Wall Street Journal.

Baghdadi singled out Saudi Arabian and Turkish armed forces as targets for attacks by IS militants as a result of both countries’ participation in Western forces’ efforts to unseat the Islamic State in the region, even though both countries are majority Sunni.

“Unleash the fire of your anger on Turkish troops in Syria,” said Baghdadi. “Turkey today entered your range of action and the aim of your struggle.”


Cairene Screams

With over ten million inhabitants, miles of congested roads and a traffic situation that borders on complete anarchy, daily life in the Egyptian capital of Cairo can be stressful, to put it mildly.

But now, residents and visitors alike can blow off some steam in the so-called “scream room,” a soundproof, dark space tucked away in a Cairo bookshop.

The scream room allows people to vent their anguish and escape from everyday stresses in seclusion – and it’s even equipped with a full drum kit.

Abdel Rahman Saad, the owner of the bookshop “The World’s Door,” allows visitors ten minutes each inside the scream room, free of charge.

Some visitors compare their time in the scream room to being in another world, while others rave that yelling at the top of their lungs changed their lives for the better.

“I entered it at a time when I was really stressed and came out much more relaxed,” frequent visitor, Mohamed el-Debbaby, told Reuters.

“What’s even better is that I was able to find solutions to the problem I was facing, those realizations came as I was screaming.”

Check out a video of some Cairene screams here.

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