The World Today for October 09, 2017



Dynamic or Desperate?

The recent attack by a lone gunman on Saudi Arabian King Salman’s summer palace in Jeddah was a reminder that the desert kingdom is a powder keg even as the king projects an image of rock-solid stability.

Royal guards quickly foiled the Oct. 6 attack, which Al Jazeera said came after a spate of Al Qaeda and Islamic State violence and police raids on those groups.

King Salman was never in danger because he was on a state visit to Russia. But the timing of the 28-year-old Saudi citizen’s attack suggested terrorists were signaling to the world that the king doesn’t enjoy as much support as his absolute power might suggest.

In that vein, while the Russian visit could be interpreted as King Salman wielding power, it could also be read as Saudi desperation.

The Guardian described the visit as heralding a potential “shift” in global politics and, notably, oil markets.

Saudi Arabia and Russia back different sides in the Syrian Civil War. Russia is allied with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s bitterest foe. Both countries’ economies are suffering amid low oil prices. A meeting of the minds between the king and Russian President Vladimir Putin could help bring peace to the Middle East and address their economic troubles.

King Salman announced billions of dollars in arms and trade deals with Moscow, too, EuroNews reported. That’s the sort of plum Putin needs to declare a foreign policy victory.

Of course, Putin could also crow that he pulled off a win against the United States, long Saudi Arabia’s most trusted ally. The US State Department recently approved $15 billion worth of missile sales to Riyadh, for example.

But Saudi Arabia’s hand is not necessarily so strong.

President Donald Trump’s reluctance to give the Saudis his “unambivalent support” in their dispute with Qatar was apparently a key factor in bringing King Salman and Putin together, the Guardian noted.

Trump is an iconoclast. But he might have thought twice before giving the Saudis a blank diplomatic check when Qatar is home to a vital American military base, and the United Nations has condemned Riyadh for killing children in Yemen, whose civil war has become a proxy conflict between the Saudis and Iranians.

Similarly, the Saudi decision to allow women to drive is also not only a victory for human rights.

It’s an admission that denying independence of movement to half the population is a dumb way to run an economy, the Los Angeles Times explained, especially when the country’s primary source of income has lost half its value compared to a few years ago.

The fact that many have asked why driving and not, say, freedom of expression, was permitted illustrates how lifting the ban on females behind the wheel was not as magnanimous as one might believe.

Saudi Arabia is changing. That is good. But it must change. And now there are serious questions about its future.



Different Strokes

Catalonia saw its largest protests against the push for independence from Spain on Sunday in the lead-up to Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont’s planned address to the regional parliament on Tuesday.

With the Spanish government fearing a unilateral formal declaration of independence, Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended a Catalan parliamentary session that had been planned for Monday. But the BBC reported an MP from Puigdemont’s party said the current plan was to stop short of an outright declaration of independence in favor of a “symbolic statement”.

At least 350,000 people gathered Sunday in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, for a rally against independence from Spain – contradicting the impression that the region is united in pushing for the separation. Organizers claimed as many as 950,000 protesters took to the streets.

In the earlier referendum, 90% of voters said they wanted independence. But only around 43 percent of the region’s 2.3 million people participated in the poll.


All in the Family

North Korea promoted dictator Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, making her an alternate member of the politburo and solidifying Kim’s familial grip on power.

Kim Yo Jong’s profile has been rising since 2014, when she was made deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers’ Party, CNN reported. As an alternate member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee, she will take part in debates and meetings, but only full members can vote.

The move comes amid rising tensions with the US, culminating most recently with a tweet from US President Donald Trump claiming “only one thing will work” to rein in North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs – hinting at a military response to Kim’s recent provocations.

In recent weeks, North Korea has launched two missiles over Japan and conducted its sixth nuclear test. Reuters also cited a Russian lawmaker returning from Pyongyang as saying a test of a missile capable of hitting the US mainland is imminent.


Tit for Tat

Washington and Ankara announced tit-for-tat travel restrictions on Sunday, canceling most visitor visas in reciprocal moves illustrating a further decline in bilateral relations.

The US embassy in Ankara announced the suspension of all non-immigrant visa services at diplomatic facilities across Turkey first in an apparent response to Turkey’s arrest of an employee of the US Consulate in Istanbul, the Washington Post reported. Within hours, the Turkish Embassy in Washington announced its own suspension of nonimmigrant visas for Americans.

The US-Turkey alliance spans military, intelligence and commercial ties. But it has been deeply damaged due to disputes over the war in Syria and the fate of Fethullah Gulen – a US-based Islamic cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup attempt against President Recep Erdogan last year.

Turkey has demanded Gulen’s extradition and objects to the US alliance with Kurdish fighters in Syria that Ankara views as a threat at home. Last week, Turkish authorities arrested US consulate employee Metin Topuz, accusing him of espionage and links to Gulen.


Think Canals, Not Aliens

For centuries, humans have posited various theories for how the Egyptians constructed their dazzling pyramids more than four millennia ago.

Thanks to an ancient scrap of papyrus, we now know that it wasn’t aliens that gave us the pyramids, but rather good old-fashioned human ingenuity.

Near the seaport of Wadi Al-Jarf, some 200 miles from the Great Pyramid in Giza, archaeologists discovered the diary of a witness to the colossal project, an overseer named Merer.

According to his descriptions, the ancient Egyptians used intricate, manmade canal systems and various boats joined together by ropes to utilize the Nile river to transport some 170,000 tons of limestone needed for construction from 500 miles away in Aswan, the International Business Times reported.

The estimated 2.3 million blocks were then hauled inland to a port just yards away from the base of the pyramid. Following the breadcrumbs, archaeologists stumbled upon waterways running underneath the Great Pyramid that were likely used for construction.

Archaeologists also uncovered a 2,500-year-old ceremonial boat woven together from loops of rope. Scientists speculate that such a technique was used for the boats used to transport the building materials for the pyramids, completing the puzzle.

Alien conspiracy theorists are likely bummed – but fans of the human condition rejoice.

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