The World Today for November 07, 2017



A Game of Thrones

Saudi police apprehended more than 30 princes, tycoons, clerics and other elites in the past few days, putting some in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh where they are still confined in “opulent digs,” the Guardian reported.

King Salman also banned members of the royal family from leaving the country in what the Economist called a shake-up of the traditional Saudi system of patronage for aristocrats.

The arrests on corruption allegations were part of a campaign by the king’s favorite son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to centralize power in the desert kingdom. Now Mohammed controls the Saudi Arabian military, internal security services and national guard.

“Over the past two years he has taken over most of the key economic and security posts and has clearly emerged as the most important operator in the government,” wrote the New York Times, comparing the drama to the popular fantasy show Game of Thrones.

It’s a remarkable turn for a conservative Muslim regime that has been dedicated to stability for decades.

“The kingdom is at a crossroads: Its economy has flat-lined with low oil prices; the war in Yemen is a quagmire; the blockade of Qatar is a failure; Iranian influence is rampant in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq; and the succession is a question mark,” ex-CIA official Bruce Riedel told Reuters. “It is the most volatile period in Saudi history in over a half-century.”

Accordingly, the crackdown has triggered a backlash – at least from outside the country.

“He is imposing very selective justice,” wrote respected Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in a Washington Post column, referring to the crown prince. “The crackdown on even the most constructive criticism – the demand for complete loyalty with a significant ‘or else’ – remains a serious challenge to the crown prince’s desire to be seen as a modern, enlightened leader.”

Coincidentally, Saudi Arabia’s cold war with Iran is also heating up. A recent missile launched from Yemen went further into Saudi territory than ever before. Nobody got hurt, but the Saudis are blaming Tehran and rattling their sabers.

“Arab coalition affirms Saudi Arabia’s right to respond to Iran’s ‘act of war,’” was the headline in the state-controlled Al Arabiya newspaper.

As he dismantles the power structure of recent decades under the previous monarch, King Abdullah, the crown prince better hope his internal policies don’t weaken him as he stands his ground against Iran.

He might even ask some of his prisoners in the Ritz Carlton how they might serve their country.



Keep Calm and Carry On

The leader of Hezbollah called for “patience and calm” in Lebanon on Sunday, following the surprise resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. But that may not be so easy.

A Saudi ally, Hariri lashed out at Hezbollah and Iran in his resignation speech, which was televised in Lebanon from Riyadh. His decision to step down – widely seen as orchestrated by the Saudis – could undermine Lebanon’s hard-won stability of the past year, the Christian Science Monitor reported. And on Monday, Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon of a de facto declaration of war.

Blaming Hariri’s government for failing to stop Hezbollah aggression, Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan said the Lebanese government would “be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia,” Reuters reported.

It’s not clear what happens next. But the New York Times quoted an economist at St. Joseph University in Beirut as saying the resignation could strip Hezbollah of “legal and political cover” and make the Lebanese government more vulnerable to sanctions against the group – which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.


Back On Track

Scandal-tainted former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appears poised for yet another comeback, as the center-right coalition he’s backing triumphed in Sicily’s regional elections.

Berlusconi’s center-right candidate for governor of Sicily, Nello Musumeci, won the post with 39 percent of the vote, while the Five Star Movement’s Giancarlo Cancelleri took nearly 35 percent, the New York Times reported. The rival coalition that included former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi managed to win only 18.5 percent of the vote.

Berlusconi wasn’t on the ballot and won’t be on the ticket in national elections next year – he’s barred from public office due to a 2013 conviction for tax fraud. But he engineered the coalition of center-right and right-leaning parties that won the poll, and he hopes to be the man pulling the strings after the national elections, too.

Dissatisfaction with all political parties, none of which was able to swing a majority, could act in his favor – likely to Italy’s detriment, say experts. “Berlusconi is a great builder of electoral cartels,” political analyst Stefano Folli told the Times. But “governing effectively is something else.”


Deja Vu All Over Again

Kenya’s presidential election continues to drag on, with the country’s Supreme Court now set to decide whether or not to validate the results of the repeat poll held Oct. 26.

As in the first election held Aug. 8, incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta won reelection for another five-year term last month after the court granted opposition leader Raila Odinga’s request for fresh polls. But a new petition from a former member of parliament calling for this result to be discarded as well will delay Kenyatta’s swearing-in for at least 14 days, Kenya’s Standard newspaper reported.

If the judges again nullify the vote, it will be January before another one can be held.

Former MP Harun Mwau claimed the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission failed to follow the correct procedure in conducting the fresh presidential election, adding that the outcome was unconstitutional.

The prolonged standoff has undermined Kenya’s reputation as one of Africa’s top investment destinations contributed to election-related violence that human rights groups say has killed as many as 80 people, Bloomberg noted.


Work Hard

Smokers in Japan now have more incentive to call it quits – an extra week of vacation.

Piala, a marketing firm based in Tokyo, is extending the deal – a week of extra vacation for non-smokers – to its employees in order to promote a healthier lifestyle and increase productivity, CNN Money reported.

The decision came on the heels of non-smoking employees complaining that their smoking colleagues were working less due to their occasional cigarette breaks. Hirotaka Matsushima, the firm’s spokesman, claimed that his average employee spends almost 40 minutes away from his or her desk during the work day just blowing smoke.

That’s why the cessation tactic is a “win-win,” he said: Workers become more productive, while getting a bit more down time in return.

So far, only four of 42 smokers have kicked the habit, but putting out that cigarette butt once and for all is catching on in Japan. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics approaching, the government is taking initiatives to curb public smoking.

With 20 percent of the population of Japan hooked on cigarettes, that’s a daunting task, which is why innovative cessation techniques are grabbing attention.

“We don’t give punishment for smoking,” said Matsushima. “Instead, we offer a benefit for not smoking.”

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