The World Today for September 06, 2017



Desert Bloom

During monsoon season in Oman, the nation’s normally arid desert terrain transforms into a lush oasis that extends all the way to the Arabian Sea.

It’s cause for celebration every year. Cities across the country swell with visitors as the desert blooms.

But while flora flourishes year after year, Oman itself is stalling. If it’s to survive the geopolitical chess game playing out in the Middle East, it has to rethink its strategy, says the Economist.

After seizing power in a bloodless coup against his father in 1970, Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said was initially seen as reformer, the magazine says. He promised a renaissance and set about abolishing slavery, bolstering transportation and education infrastructure, and envisioning plans to decrease reliance on oil revenues.

Oman did modernize under Sultan Qaboos. But decades later, the ailing, 76-year-old ruler has consolidated power and stifled dissent – much to the dismay of Omanis. The sultan’s centuries-long dynasty only survived the Arab Spring in 2011 – there was no groundswell of opposition in Oman to the rulers – by boosting public expenditures by 70 percent.

Coffers lined with decades of oil profits buoyed those programs, increasing dependency on black gold. Oil exports now comprise some 80 percent of government revenue.

That’s spelled economic trouble for Oman in an era of sinking oil prices, Reuters reports. Debt has surged to 21 percent of GDP and the sultan is furiously selling off junk bonds for cash.

Loans from wealthy regional partners like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have kept Oman afloat in the past. Muscat often cashes in on its regional neutrality and status as a backdoor negotiator in the region. The sultan helped to broker the Iran nuclear deal, currying him favor with the US. He also routinely fields demands between factions in neighboring Yemen’s proxy war.

But keeping up the role of negotiator is becoming taxing.

Muscat’s regional benefactors recently issued a hard boycott against Qatar. Though Oman chose officially to remain neutral, it’s allowing Doha to trade through its sea and airports. The sultan’s economic portfolio is finally diversifying as a result.

Oman is clearly benefiting from Doha’s instability, even though it doesn’t want to: It doesn’t want to risk ruffling the feathers of its regional benefactors for fear they might do to Oman what they did to Qatar, the Washington Post opines.

Oman needs to start finding new strategic partners – especially since maintaining US support may be difficult with a new administration at the helm.

Infrastructure deals with China are already in the works, writes the Economist. But if Oman doesn’t move more quickly to reinvent its role in the region, like its deserts in the monsoon, eventually its green shoots will wither away.

[siteshare] Desert Bloom[/siteshare]



Beaten to the Punch

The Syrian army liberated a garrison besieged by the Islamic State for three years, scoring a symbolic victory that positions President Bashar al-Assad to take responsibility for driving the militants out of the rest of the country.

“This is a strategic turning point in the war on terror,” the Washington Post quoted a Syrian army statement as saying. “It shows the world that the Syrian Arab Army and its allies are capable of destroying the last of the strongholds of Daesh and ending all conspiracies to divide the country.”

Assad’s push to relieve the besieged eastern city of Deir al-Zour, which began this year, stems in part from fears that the US military would beat his soldiers to the punch – threatening his future claims to the territory. A global race is now underway to control the rest of the desert province.

But while any victory over Islamic State is welcome, it increases the chances that a ruler known for dropping barrel bombs on his own people will retain power after the dust settles.

[siteshare]Beaten to the Punch[/siteshare]


Right-wing Riptide

Police arrested four British Army soldiers suspected of membership in a neo-Nazi group on suspicion of being involved “in the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism,” British authorities said.

The police did not provide any further details about the alleged terrorist plot, but said the men are believed to be members of the far-right group National Action, which the UK banned last year, the New York Times reported.

The ban makes membership a criminal offense punishable by up to 10 years in jail. National Action was the first group to be banned under the UK’s terrorism laws.

British authorities fear such far-right groups are attracting a wider audience since Brexit, which spurred anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia. Along with organizing “White Man’s Marches” and posting stickers declaring parts of Liverpool a “Nazi-controlled zone,” the group is known for praising Thomas Mair – the rightwing terrorist convicted of murdering parliamentarian Jo Cox in 2016.

[siteshare]Right-wing Riptide[/siteshare]


Mounting Offences

Brazil’s attorney general charged former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor Dilma Rousseff with running a “criminal organization” that collected some $450 million in bribes during their Workers’ Party’s nearly 14 years at the helm.

The charge marks the first time that Rousseff has been accused of partaking in the ubiquitous kickback schemes that have tarred all of Brazil’s major political parties, the New York Times reported. It also cast a pall over Lula’s bid to return to the presidency despite the recent conviction against him in the long-running corruption scandal involving the state-owned Petrobras oil company.

Though he faces 10 years in prison for his earlier conviction, Lula was wrapping up a 25-city campaign trip when the charges were unveiled. The populist leader appeared to be nonplussed to be facing another court case.

“I’ll say one thing: we’re going to govern this country again,” he said via Twitter. “And when I say we, it’s not me. It’s you.”

[siteshare]Mounting Offences[/siteshare]


The Game of Life

For most, a board game is a great way to pass time on a rainy day.

But for Pakistan-born graphic designer Nashra Balagamwala, it’s the perfect medium to discuss the practice of arranged marriages in Southeast Asia.

“It’s something that’s always shoved off and nobody ever wants to talk about it; however, everybody always wants to play a game,” Balagamwala told the BBC.

Much like traditional board games, Balagamwala’s brainchild Arranged has players draw cards that dictate the moves of their token on the board.

But in Arranged, the game token is a would-be bride looking to escape the clutches of a well-meaning auntie trying to marry her off. The challenges a player must overcome correspond with the struggles women face when pressured into arranged marriages.

Balagamwala, who previously worked at a games company in New York City, is currently crowdfunding the project to mass-produce the prototype she’s already developed.

“I’m hoping that the game will generally empower women to not be afraid to pursue whatever they want in life,” she said. “By speaking up, although it’s been very scary for me, I hope that my friends back home see that they don’t have to follow these norms.”

[siteshare]The Game of Life[/siteshare]

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