The World Today for September 13, 2017



The Second Battle

The Arab Spring of 2011 saw entrenched authoritarian regimes across North Africa buckle under the pressure of popular uprisings.

Six years later, only in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, is there a functioning representative democracy after decades of dictatorship, Stratfor comments.

But reforms are still needed to usher this developing nation over the finish line.

Tunisia is the Maghreb region’s most secular state and most ardent proponent of women’s rights, writes the BBC. Both were ideologies spearheaded by the nation’s founding father, Habib Bourguiba.

But progressive social politics come with a brutal authoritarian streak in Tunisia, writes Al-Fanar. Bourguiba often jailed and tortured political opponents, a tactic continued by his successor, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a perceived-reformer turned corrupt autocrat.

Ben Ali was forced to resign in 2011 during the nation’s bloodless Jasmine Revolution, and political elites set about piecing together a democracy where none had existed before.

Political Islam became – and remains – a delicate and divisive issue. Tunisia’s arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ennahda, banned under prior regimes, drew support from fringes of society and grew in prominence. The party quickly secured a plurality in the nation’s first free elections.

But in secular Tunisia, the party and its hardline Islamic platform soon faced public condemnation, writes Haaretz.

Rather than digging in its feet and holding on to power, Ennahda learned from the mistakes of other failed Islamic uprisings: It split its religious and political wings. Ennahda now declares itself a party of Muslim Democrats and shares power with secularists, the Economist writes.

Such concessions serve as an example for other Arab states going through democratic transitions. But democratic political parties alone don’t make a successful state.

Tunisia’s economy was left in tatters after the uprising, and the government, preoccupied by constitutional reforms, has been slow to act. Official unemployment rates hover around 15 percent, but analysts say the real amount is far higher. In rural areas, where citizens frequently demand better representation and more opportunity from the nation’s energy companies, unemployment is double the national average, writes Stratfor.

In need of outside loans to stay afloat, Tunis recently pushed through a package of austerity measures at the demand of the International Monetary Fund. It will prove to be a tough battle given Tunisia’s strong unions and social welfare state, as well as mass protests against benefit cuts.

After establishing democracy, now the real battle will begin to keep it running.

“This government would be like a war cabinet, in a war against the corruption, against rampant unemployment and a war to save the economy,” said Prime Minister Youssef Chahed recently.

Like the beacon that inspired millions across the region to take to the streets six years ago, many hope Tunisia will be a trailblazer once again and win this war. Observers say at the very least the nation has a fighting chance.

[siteshare]The Second Battle[/siteshare]



Diversity Dilemma

Singapore will get its first woman president on Wednesday when 63-year-old Halimah Yacob is sworn in. She’s the first ethnic Malay to hold the office in five decades.

However, the diversity milestone has prompted criticism – Halimah won office without a popular vote on account of eligibility rules that eliminated all other potential candidates, the New York Times reported.

The most important political office in Singapore is prime minister, a post currently held by Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, who died in 2015. Still, the president has the power to authorize investigations into corruption. The largely ceremonial post also has symbolic importance.

The government restricted the contest to ethnic Malays this year in a bid to ensure political representation for the minority group. But it subsequently issued further restrictions on candidates from the private sector, ruling that only senior executives from companies with at least 500 million Singapore dollars in equity, or about $371 million, could run.

Critics say the public increasingly sees the shepherding in of Halimah as disenfranchising.

[siteshare]Diversity Dilemma[/siteshare]


Standing Ground

Prosecutors in Catalonia ordered police Tuesday to seize ballot boxes, election flyers or any item that could be used in a banned independence referendum scheduled Oct. 1, the BBC reported.

The action followed Monday’s National Day of Catalonia celebrations, when more than a million people took to the streets of Barcelona in a sea of Estelada flags, the Guardian reported.

It was the sixth consecutive year that supporters used Catalonia’s national day – which commemorates the fall of Barcelona in the War of Spanish Succession in 1714 – to lobby for independence.

Spain’s government has vowed to block the referendum and the Catalans have vowed to press ahead. A recent survey found that 49.4% of Catalans were against independence and 41.1% supported it.

Despite having their own language and distinct history dating back to the Middle Ages, Catalonia has been part of Spain since the 15th century. Demands for independence increased after the 2008 financial crisis, as many Catalans believe the wealthy region pays too much to the central government in Madrid.

[siteshare]Standing Ground[/siteshare]


Tis the Season

It’s the season for succession, it seems.

The head of the Iraqi Kurdistan region vowed Wednesday to press ahead with an independence referendum on September 25, following a vote by the Iraqi parliament to reject the plan, Al Arabiya reported.

Iraqi Kurdistan leader Massoud Barzani said he considers the parliamentary vote non-binding, though Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi argued such a referendum would be unconstitutional.

The Kurdistan region enjoys some autonomy under the Iraqi constitution. But Kurds have sought an independent state since at least the end of World War One, when colonial powers divided up the Middle East, Reuters noted.

The West opposes the referendum as a potential distraction from the war against Islamic State, while Turkey, Iran and Syria fear it could stoke separatist movements among their own Kurdish populations.

Notably, the role of Kurdish forces in Syria has been a major source of conflict between the US and Turkey, which has been battling Kurdish separatists since 1978.

[siteshare]Tis the Season[/siteshare]


Wrong Turn

For humans, a broken navigation system is an inconvenience.

But for a whale, it can be a matter of life and death.

That seems to be what happened to 29 sperm whales that washed ashore in the North Sea between January and February of last year. Scientists posit that the whales were thrown off by changes in the Earth’s magnetic field, according to research published recently in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

At the time, the new deaths shocked scientists: Only 82 sperm whales had washed ashore since the 1990s. Weirder still, the 29 new casualties all appeared to be in good health before beaching, the BBC reports.

According to Klaus Heinrich Vanselow, a marine biologist with the University of Kiel in Germany who led the team of researchers, there’s likely a connection to a pair of solar storms that occurred in December 2015.

The storms, which also create the Northern Lights, could have shifted the world’s magnetic field by as much as 286 miles. That would have disoriented the whales, which likely use Earth’s magnetic field to navigate, and led them into the treacherous, shallow waters of the North Sea, says Reuters.

“Their navigation system showed them a map that does not exist,” said Vanselow.

Click here for an explainer of the situation.

[siteshare]Wrong Turn[/siteshare]

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