The World Today for January 27, 2017


Muddling Along

Given the chaos engulfing the Arab world, Morocco is remarkably stable.

But now the North African kingdom is struggling to overcome political turbulence.

The Islamist but moderate Justice and Development Party (PJD) won elections in October but has yet to form a government – a depressing situation that Moroccans call the “blockage,” the Economist wrote Thursday.

The result is the Moroccan government’s worst crisis since the 2011 Arab Spring.

Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane’s PJD won the most seats in the elections. But the party broke off coalition talks with potential partners earlier this month after rounds of agonizing negotiations.

Benkirane’s difficulties stem from an ongoing power struggle between the PJD and more secular parties connected to King Mohammed VI, whose family has ruled the country for four centuries, according to Agence France-Presse. Those secular parties are reluctant to diminish the monarch’s power to funnel business contracts and other wealth their way, added AFP.

Unfortunately for Morocco, the infighting is delaying much-needed reforms.

A program designed to revamp the Moroccan system of subsidies and government spending will not get off the ground unless a new parliament convenes, for example, wrote Reuters.

Still, it’s unlikely this political gridlock – or even new elections – will cause Morocco to descend into the internal turmoil gripping the likes of Libya.

A few factors help Moroccans work out their differences less violently than their neighbors.

As Stratfor pointed out in a recent paper, Morocco’s competent security forces have made it difficult for jihadist groups – including the Islamic State – to establish successful operations and carry out attacks there.

Unfortunately, those security forces have also been accused of serious human rights violations, including allegedly torturing government critics at CIA black sites in the country.

But even though Morocco is a leading source of fighters for jihadist groups in the Middle East, most of these fighters don’t come back – meaning Morocco has rarely had to deal with returning jihadists who have trained in Iraq or Syria, added Stratfor.

The Moroccan government – including the Islamist PJD – has made a point of trying to promote a more moderate version of Islam than other countries in the region.

Earlier this month, the New York Times wrote, the government effectively banned the burqa – the full-body veil worn by women under more conservative versions of Islam – by telling merchants they could no longer sell or manufacture the religious dress.

Those measures irked some Moroccans. But more irksome to many would be the declining state of Moroccan democracy if political infighting results in the country muddling along rather than moving forward.


A Family Affair

Corruption charges may derail French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon after prosecutors launched a preliminary investigation into claims that his British wife received public money improperly.

Fillon, who won the nomination from Les Republicains and is presently the frontrunner in the race, said Thursday he would withdraw if prosecutors bring preliminary charges against his wife, the Associated Press reported.

Fillon promised to hit back fast with the facts that show his British wife Penelope is above suspicion, the BBC said. But if he’s not able to quash the speculation soon, prosecutors could take weeks examining the evidence – doing serious harm to his campaign.

Fillon’s lawyers said documents being sent to the prosecutors’ office will refute the central charge – which alleges that for more than eight years Penelope Fillon was paid for non-existent work as his parliamentary assistant.

Nonetheless, the BBC notes, even if Fillon does prove that his wife’s job was real, voters may not be happy she earned as much as 500,000 euros ($534,000) “feeding from the public trough.”

Holding the Cards

Greece has received tens of thousands of refugees fleeing wars in Africa and the Middle East. But it’s some unusual guests from Turkey that are now making waves.

The Greek Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the government cannot extradite eight military officers who fled Turkey after a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July, saying turning them over would result in “the curtailment of their fundamental human rights,” the New York Times reported.

The Turkish government, which demanded their extradition, immediately protested the decision, but it is irreversible under Greek law.

Turkey’s foreign ministry warned that it might withhold cooperation with Greece on countering terrorism and on other issues to try to make that happen. But there could be broader repercussions. Last year, Erdogan threatened to stop honoring an agreement with the European Union to help prevent illegal immigration across the Aegean Sea if the bloc did not “keep its promises” and move forward on admitting Turkey to the EU.

Greek officials are concerned that Turkey will respond to the extradition decision by allowing a new wave of migrants to leave for Greek shores.

Bad Poodle, Bad

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was decried for becoming “America’s poodle” in the interest of maintaining the so-called “special relationship” between the two nations. Current Prime Minister Theresa May – slated to meet US President Donald Trump on Friday – appears to be aware of the risk that she’ll acquire the same moniker.

On her first visit to the US as prime minister, May on Thursday called the start of Trump’s term “a new era of American renewal,” the Associated Press reported. But she rejected Trump’s suggestion that torture is sometimes acceptable and some of his other foreign-policy views.

In one major respect, May’s visit will put her right into the self-professed dealmaker’s wheelhouse. With Britain’s exit from the European Union on the cards soon, she’s desperate to forge a free trade pact with the US to compensate for the likely loss of unfettered access to the European common market.

Perhaps that’s why she reserved her strongest rejection – “We absolutely condemn the use of torture” – for reporters aboard her Royal Air Force plane, rather than including it in her speech.


Monkeys, Spies and Mourning

A new documentary series is taking hidden cameras to a whole new level.

The BBC Spy in the Wild takes animatronic versions of certain animals and embeds them into the real-life pack.

While scientists had their doubts at first, producers insisted the strategy would allow them to analyze and experience animal behaviors like never before.

But even they were shocked by the project’s success.

When a spy monkey was placed within a colony of langurs, for example, the robot’s movements were so lifelike that a mother langur cradled and nursed it like one of her own.

But tragedy suddenly befell the group: The mother accidentally let the robot slip from her grasp and fall to what she apparently believed was the infant’s death.

The colony’s response was remarkable. Mourning the loss of what they took to be one of their own, the group gathered around the robot corpse to pay their respects.

The monkeys even embraced one another in consolation, validation that traditional documentary filmmaking isn’t truly capturing animal complexity.

“You were having that connection between the spy creature and the animal that you never get with any kind of filming,” said John Downer, the show’s executive producer. “Things would develop that you didn’t expect.”

Check out the langur’s response for yourself here.

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