The World Today for December 06, 2017



The Unlikeliest of Springs

With a young crown prince now at the helm of power, many believe the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is poised for a cultural and economic revolution unseen for eight decades.

Shortly after King Salman, 81, took the Saudi throne following the death of the prior monarch in 2015, he quickly appointed his favorite son, 32-year–old Mohammed bin Salman, to the coveted post of defense minister, a vantage point that the prince, referred to as MBS, quickly spun into a position that would allow him to succeed his father as king, Vox reported.

With his father largely incapacitated by various ailments, MBS was given the de facto mantle to the kingdom – and is putting that influence to good use.

MBS is on a mission to bring Saudi Arabia’s notoriously strict interpretation of Sunni Islam back to center, the New York Times reported in an exclusive interview with the prince.

“Do not write that we are ‘reinterpreting Islam – we are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins,” MBS told New York Times reporter Thomas L. Friedman, referring to the open, westernized society that the kingdom’s citizens enjoyed before the cultural revolution of 1979.

His plans have already taken root. The prince has diminished the authority of the brutal Saudi religious police, a move that has opened the door for women in Saudi Arabia to drive and relaxed the nation’s strict dress codes.

Plans are also in the works for western resort cities that would circumvent rules about alcohol consumption and dress, attracting tourists outside of the typical Muslim pilgrims en route to Mecca, Bloomberg reported.

The prince has even taken it upon himself to upend the Saudi economy.

He’s purged members of the royal family and other elites known for their corrupt practices that have siphoned an estimated $100 billion from the state, and is in the process of envisioning a large-scale economic reform known as “Vision 2030” that would bolster renewables and spark an estimated $500 billion in investment from the West. That would lend flexibility to an economy largely dependent on its oil exports, the Economist reported.

Still, beware the shine on the prince’s plans, the Atlantic writes.

While the crown prince’s domestic vision has made him a darling to the likes of President Trump and others, he has dark regional ambitions that could have far-reaching consequences.

His ascent to the post of defense minister coincided with Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war, a brutal conflict that’s killed 10,000 Yemenis and kicked off a cholera epidemic that’s affected 300,000.

He’s also led the charge on destabilizing the region through the blockade of Qatar earlier this year, the forced resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister last month, and increasingly more brash standoffs with Saudi Arabia’s enemy, Iran, Vox reported.

Some believe the Saudis’ increasingly aggressive stance may result in a war with Iran, which would further destabilize the region, the Rand Corporation, a think tank, writes in its blog.

For now, the big tremors caused by MBS are being felt at home. But probably not for long.




Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on Tuesday rescinded the controversial resignation he’d offered in a televised address from Riyadh, ending a political crisis that threatened to embroil Saudi Arabia and Iran.

His coalition government, which includes the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, reaffirmed that it would not interfere in conflicts in Arab states – a policy that it adopted in 2012, Reuters reported.

Hariri’s resignation from Riyadh came in close conjunction with a Saudi statement likening the participation of Hezbollah in the Lebanese government to an act of war. Soon thereafter, various players in Lebanese politics accused the Saudis of holding him against his will. Intervention from France helped facilitate his return to Lebanon, though both Hariri and Saudi Arabia have denied that he was detained.

As the war against Islamic State comes to a close, Hariri said in a cabinet speech, “Lebanon cannot be plunged into chaos on the finish line.”


Avoiding Arrest

Thanks to his supporters, former Georgian president and Ukrainian politician Mikheil Saakashvili avoided arrest Tuesday and led a march to the parliament to demand the resignation of President Petro Poroshenko.

Earlier, police arrested Saakashvili on the rooftop of his house, but protesters blocked the way of a police minivan meant to transport him to jail in an hours-long standoff, the Kyiv Post reported. Eventually, the protesters smashed the window of the van and freed him.

“The people of Ukraine must gather and oust from power a criminal organization with a traitor of Ukraine, Poroshenko, atop it,” Saakashvili told his supporters gathered outside the parliament.

Prosecutors have opened a criminal probe against Saakashvili for cooperating with a criminal organization – for which he may face up to five years in jail – in connection with allegations that he is colluding with runaway Ukrainian oligarch Serhiy Kurchenko, an ally of the ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych.

But Saakashvili’s supporters interpreted the attempt to arrest him as an effort to establish a dictatorship.


The Blacklist

The European Union blacklisted 17 tax havens Tuesday, but stopped short of levying financial penalties against the listed countries and omitted British territories such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the Channel Islands.

Blacklisted countries may no longer be used by EU institutions for international financial operations, and transactions involving them could be subject to closer scrutiny, Reuters reported. But skeptics say these penalties won’t convince the wealthiest tax havens to change their policies.

“Stronger countermeasures would have been preferable,” the agency quoted EU Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis as saying.

The EU in February began screening 92 jurisdictions seen as possible tax havens. The 17 countries and territories named Tuesday include American Samoa, Bahrain, Barbados, Grenada, Guam, South Korea, Macau, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Namibia, Palau, Panama, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates (UAE).

EU members have not been screened and will not be on the list. But critics said a genuine effort would have to name states such as like Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Ireland.


The Eye Barber of Sichuan

The newest health craze sweeping China is leaving many seeing the world through new eyes.

In Chengdu, in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, barber Xiong Gaowu, 62, offers a traditional Chinese medicinal treatment known as “blade wash eyes,” in which the barber uses a razor covered with medicinal liquid to gently scrape the inner eyelids.

“You should be gentle, very, very gentle,” Xiong, who has been practicing the technique since the 1980s, told Reuters. “It was difficult at the beginning, but it became a piece of cake afterwards.”

Qu Chao, a local ophthalmologist, told Euronews that the practice unblocks the sebaceous glands in the eyes, allowing for more moisture and less irritation.

Observers may wince, but many customers swear by it – and their numbers are growing.

“My eyes feel refreshed after shaving and I feel comfortable,” one customer told Reuters.

Chao warns that there’s a risk of infection if the blade isn’t properly sterilized – but Xiong’s customers are more than willing to take the gamble for a fresh “shave” at $12 a pop.

Click here to see the barber in action.

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