The World Today for January 08, 2018



A Desperate Choice

Since the demise of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya, the country the flamboyant leader once held together through a combination of charisma and military might, has descended into seemingly unending chaos.

Now, the people may well face a choice between democracy and chaos versus a return to stability alongside a new military dictatorship.

Since 2014, the country has had two rival governments – the UN-backed Government of National Accord headed by Fayez al-Sarraj and the so-called Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar, which controls a large part of eastern Libya and its oil fields, Al-Jazeera explained.

And for the past few years, various armed militias, both independent and allied with the two governments, have competed for power across the country, becoming “magnets for rogue groups and organized crime – where abuse, cruelty and extortion are common currencies,” noted CNN.

More recently, it came to light that hundreds of African refugees are being bought and sold in “slave markets” across the country every week, mostly migrants seeking passage with people smugglers through Libya across the Mediterranean to Europe, Al-Jazeera reported separately.

Amid that chaos, Haftar in December dismissed the UN-backed government as obsolete and UN-brokered peace talks between the two sides, presenting himself as a Gaddafi-style strongman who can bring order to the country and hinting he may seek the mandate of the people in elections expected in 2018, Reuters reported.

“The 17th of December has arrived and brought with it the end of the so-called Skhirat agreement,” Haftar said last month, referring to an agreement signed in Morocco’s Skhirat in 2015 that established Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) for a period of one year. Under that deal, the GNA could only be renewed once.

What Haftar is proposing to replace it is essentially military rule, Al-Jazeera quoted Anas El Gomati, founder of the Tripoli-based Sadeq Institute, as saying.

“Haftar today seeks to exploit the political vacuum and suggests the Libyan National Army – an amalgamation of largely tribal militia groups and Salafi groups – are able to take political control of the country,” El Gomati said. “Ultimately, Haftar offers a return to a military state.”

Given the ineffectiveness of the UN and the misery plaguing the country, his promise of order will no doubt sound good to many Libyans, some of whom are already trying to restore their cities and rebuild their lives. But his success or failure will more likely depend on his ability to carefully navigate the patronage system and exploit personal, tribal and political relationships. Similarly, he enjoys the backing of governments and other power brokers with an interest in maintaining the status quo in the region.

“A democratic or pluralistic Libya, with the ability to hold elected officials to account, is an existential threat to Egyptian and Emirati regime maintenance,” El Gomati said. “A military regime in Libya would sober expectations regionally and return it to (the) status quo.”



Burning Questions

As an Iranian oil tanker burst into flames following a collision with a Chinese cargo ship in the East China Sea, Tehran faces another burning question.

Following more than a week of anti-government protests, Iran could this week see US President Donald Trump make good on his threat to back out of the nuclear deal that freed it from most economic sanctions in 2015, noted the Jerusalem Post.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said over the weekend that Washington is working to “fix” the deal, Al-Jazeera reported. Meanwhile, legislators are angling for a simpler solution: removing the requirement that the president certify Iranian compliance.

As early as Jan. 12, Trump could again choose to waive sanctions associated with his decertification of the deal in October. Or he could use the Iranian crackdown on the recent protests as the “last straw” and reimpose sanctions.

Meanwhile, Iranian authorities arrested former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on charges of “inciting violence” after he allegedly criticized the current leadership at a December rally.


Taking Action

South Africa’s parliament will review its rules related to removing the president following a Dec. 29 ruling by the constitutional court that lawmakers had failed to hold President Jacob Zuma to account for a scandal relating to state-funded upgrades to his home.

The court gave parliament six months to put in place a mechanism for removing a president. A parliamentary subcommittee will meet this week to draft changes to that effect, which will then be debated in the house, Reuters quoted a statement by the National Assembly as saying.

Zuma, 75, has survived numerous no-confidence votes, mostly related to corruption allegations. He denies any wrongdoing.

The recent ruling relates to a 2016 decision, in which the court ordered Zuma to pay back some of the $15 million in state funds spent on “security upgrades” to his country home, which included a cattle pen, a chicken run and a swimming pool.


Can’t Turn Away

French President Emmanuel Macron will pitch for better access to the Chinese market in his first official visit to China this week.

Macron arrives in China on Monday, where he will push for Beijing to embrace French companies in spite of his own arguments that the European Union should bolster its defenses against US and Chinese competition, Bloomberg reported.

Macron called for a stronger Europe to “face China and the United States” in his new year message, the Guardian noted. Like Canada’s Justin Trudeau, who visited China last month on a similar mission, Macron is seeking to boost France’s international influence in the vacuum left by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, the paper said.

Meanwhile, Beijing is keen for Macron to add legitimacy to its ambitions to establish itself as an alternative to the US in a new world order, while Airbus is seeking to finalize the sale of at least 100 planes to Chinese carriers.


The Gift That Keeps on Giving

With the last drops of eggnog drained from the punch bowl and that stockpile of holiday leftovers running low, families across the United States will soon look to un-trim the Christmas tree and drag it to the curb.

But that used tree could be destined for something greater than the bed of a garbage truck: Around the US, some national parks use Christmas trees to revitalize lake ecosystems, the Verge reported.

During the Industrial Revolution, the Quarry Lakes in Fremont, Calif., were mined for their gravel deposits, effectively destroying the natural underwater vegetation.

To bring the barren underwater landscapes back from the brink, scientists began collecting Christmas trees. Tied together and fastened to weights or sandbags, the rows of trees created a makeshift reef hospitable for algae and small fish.

“You’re essentially creating a whole ecosystem there,” said Joseph Sullivan, the fisheries program manager at East Bay Regional Park District in Oakland, Calif.

After 20 years, the practice has completely revived the ecosystem’s underwater vegetation, said Sullivan.

That success has prompted other park services across the country to try their hand at this holiday gift that keeps on giving.

Click here to see the results of the practice.

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