The World Today for November 16, 2017



Cautious Starts

Syrian government forces shook the Islamic State from their last urban foothold in Syria this month – the eastern provincial capital of Deir al-Zour – calling into question what’s next for this besieged nation.

Some would like to believe Islamic State is on the brink of eradication. Their confinement to a small swatch of desert straddling the border between Iraq and Syria is a far cry from their height of power in the summer of 2015. Then the so-called Islamic caliphate occupied a contiguous region roughly the size of the United Kingdom, from Raqqa, Syria to Mosul, once Iraq’s second largest city.

But while Islamic State may be stripped of their power bases, they won’t disappear just yet, the Associated Press reports. They’re likely to regroup in the rural areas they still control, lie low with the exception of an occasional lone-wolf attack, and wait for the opportunity to make a grab at vulnerable territories.

Much of Syria is bound to remain vulnerable as Islamic State retreats, Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told the BBC. The group’s territorial defeat “will throw an awful lot of potential sources of hostility up into the air and nobody really knows right now how they’ll land,” he said.

Much of that hostility is directed at President Bashar al-Assad, who acts as if he has won the six-year long civil war that’s killed upwards of 500,000 Syrians, according to the United Nations. He’s bound to try and quash the last outposts of rebels that opposed him throughout the conflict, now that he’s coming out on top.

In light of the situation, Russia and Iran are brokering for an Assad-led solution in Syria as quickly as possible, wrote Malak Chabkoun for Al-Jazeera. Assad is the surest bet to push the countries’ respective agendas in the region.

Meanwhile, the nation’s beleaguered citizens are starting to rebuild, the Washington Times reports.

Violence continues, but de-escalation agreements brokered by international players are allowing people to see the extent of the war’s damage: entire communities reduced to rubble, factories destroyed and land left barren by repeated bombings.

But those on the ground remain hopeful.

“The situation is better now after the cease-fire — at least we don’t have airstrikes on the city,” said Sara Al-Horani, a coordinator for the White Helmets, a civilian defense group. “Instead of pulling out dead and wounded from buildings, we are opening roads, removing debris and have begun a campaign to remove unexploded cluster bombs.”

In light of all that has happened in the past six years, that’s something.



Makeover Maneuver

Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party could well become the second-largest player in parliament in elections next April on the strength of a transition to milder rhetoric from its former bashing of “Gypsy crime” and “Israeli conquerors.”

Party leader Gabor Vona now says that the party wants to build a social consensus around higher wages and economic growth, which leaves no room for anti-Semitism or racism against Roma people, the Economist reported.

Amid a rise of the far-right across Europe, the softer tone is easier on the ears than the racist slogans chanted at a nationalist march in Poland that attracted some 60,000 supporters on Saturday. But it’s more likely part of a strategy to win votes than a genuine change of heart, the Economist writes, quoting a local expert as saying Jobbik is emulating Marine Le Pen in France.

Jobbik won 21% percent of the vote in the 2014 elections to become the third-largest party in parliament. To break that ceiling, Vona is downplaying extreme nationalism and pushing a plan to equalize pay rates across Europe and thereby stop a mass exodus of young Hungarians.


Future Friends

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri will arrive in France in a few days, after an invite from French President Emmanuel Macron. But France is not offering Hariri a life in political exile, Macron said.

On Wednesday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun publicly accused Saudi Arabia of detaining Hariri, who resigned unexpectedly during a visit to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4, the BBC reported.

The Saudi government has denied holding him against his will or pressing him to resign. But it also said Lebanon’s inclusion of Hezbollah in its government was tantamount to an act of war – raising fears of an escalation of the regional conflict between the Saudis and Iran, now being waged through proxies on opposite sides of the civil war in Yemen.

For his part, Hariri said via Twitter that he is doing “really, really well and he will return to his beloved Lebanon soon, as he had promised,” the Arab News reported. On Sunday, he’d said in a televised interview the main reason behind his resignation was that “Iran and Hezbollah seized control of the Lebanese state.”


It’s Not You, It’s Me

Breaking up is hard to do, US and Mexican trade negotiators are finding.

In the latest salvo in the battle over revising the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said Wednesday that the US is trying to use the negotiations to strengthen the position of a single American company, AT&T, Reuters reported.

At issue is a landmark Mexican telecommunications reform aimed at breaking the dominance of Carlos Slim’s America Movil, which enticed AT&T into the market in 2014 – when it shelled out $4.4 billion to buy Mexico’s No. 3 and No. 4 carriers.

This August, Mexico’s Supreme Court undercut a key part of the reform by ruling that America Movil should not be barred by law from charging its rivals for calls to its network. But now US negotiators are angling to get the reform included in the NAFTA deal.

“There is the principle that we are negotiating as three countries,” said Mexico Senator Gerardo Flores. “And suddenly the United States puts on the table a proposal that demands commitments specifically from Mexico.”


Traditions and Twists

Once a breathtaking sight, the pristine beach on Kenya’s Lamu Island has become a trash receptacle that endangers the island’s fauna.

But where the Kenyan government failed to get rid of the trash, locals found a solution: Making dhows, or traditional boats.

One of the island’s residents, Ben Morrison, fashioned the idea out of his love for the beach. He also wanted to find a substitute for the felled trees normally used to construct the traditional rafts.

“It is getting harder and harder for boat builders to find wood. I hope that this project will allow the ancient skills of boat building to live on, by shifting from ever-scarce wood to plastic,” he told Reuters.

Locals now melt down discarded bottles into planks for the vessel. It’s a tedious process, as the materials aren’t always reliable. Builders sometimes have to scrap their constructions and start from scratch.

Even so, the islanders are set on completing one of these ships, which they’ll race in South Africa after its completion.

Now that’s tradition with a twist.

Click here to see the making of the boat.

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