The World Today for February 07, 2018



It’s the Economy, Stupid

In Iran, the new year brought tidings of insecurity for the nation’s theocratic elite, as thousands took to the streets in protests that lasted several days, killed dozens and presented the most significant threat to the country’s Islamic hierarchy in almost a decade.

But this newest wave of dissent isn’t like the violent protests that shook Iran in 2009. Then, the nation’s educated urbanites called for liberal political reforms after the re-election of hardliner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This time around, it’s all about the economy, the Atlantic wrote.

Despite promises by current President Hassan Rouhani – a moderate by Iranian standards – that the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States and other global powers would usher in an era of renewed prosperity, the Iranian economy is still in a severe slump, NBC News reported.

Consumer spending is tanking while inflation continues to rise. Meanwhile, overall unemployment remains at almost 13 percent. And the figure is almost 40 percent among the nation’s 15- to 24-year-olds, the Guardian reported.

Corruption in Iran remains rampant, with the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard controlling around a third of the economy, the Associated Press reported. And while income from Iran’s enviable oil reserves has made a comeback since the height of the nation’s recession in 2012, funds continue to flow to the Islamic clergy and are used to fund the nation’s many proxy wars around the region.

Normal Iranians, meanwhile, have been burdened by heightened living costs and now face the prospect of 50-percent increases in domestic fuel prices, Euronews reported.

Such problems have only exacerbated the divide between the haves and have-nots in a nation where 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, writes Shahram Khosravi in the New York Times. Citizens lament being out of work and ignored by the global community, while Maseratis and Porsches can be found lining the streets of Tehran’s upscale neighborhoods.

In that context, many are calling for Western nations to bolster their economic relationships with Iran.

Countries that already have healthy trade relationships with the Islamic republic – such as China, Germany, India, Japan and Turkey – could reap economic and political benefits from a healthier Iranian economy, especially considering that increased wealth among the Iranian people at large could beget a more secular regime, CNBC reports.

But don’t count on that anytime soon, the Atlantic reported.

While the New Year’s protests were a shock to the system, they failed to mobilize the nation’s middle class, the only benefactor of liberal economic practices that came with the 2015 nuclear deal.

Urban middle-class Iranians are largely thought to be the true catalyst of change in the Islamic republic. Rural Iranians, on the other hand, have normally supported theocratic rule.

Until the interests of young and old, rich and poor, unite, not much is expected to change.



Proceed Calmly Toward the Exit

The US has begun reducing troop levels in Iraq following Baghdad’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State. But not everybody is convinced that the withdrawal should be slow, orderly and partial.

Two major Iraqi Shiite groups backed by Iran are demanding all US forces leave Iraq, Gulf News reported.

The Badr Organization, a Shiite group that has a minister in Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s cabinet, said any remaining US troops would be cause for instability, the paper said. Meanwhile, the more militant Kataib Hezbollah, which has ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, reiterated threats that it would attack US troops if they remained in the country.

“We are serious about getting the Americans out, using the force of arms because the Americans don’t understand any other language,” a group spokesman said.

The US drawdown comes about three months ahead of Iraqi elections in which these Iran-backed groups are projected to play a major role, the Associated Press noted.


Talk It Out

Hopes were high that talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition would achieve some progress against the country’s long political and economic crisis on Tuesday. But the negotiations ended without a deal on how to hold fresh elections, even as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to ramp up pressure on President Nicolas Maduro.

“We haven’t signed, nor will we, any agreement that isn’t dignified and worthy of the Venezuelan people,” the opposition’s delegation head Julio Borges told journalists around midnight. “At the end, it will be history and the Venezuelan people who will judge our actions.”

Talks will resume Wednesday, but Borges appeared to hold out little hope of a breakthrough, according to the Associated Press. And Maduro could well press ahead with a vote despite concerns that the government-controlled National Electoral Council cannot ensure free and fair polls.

Traveling through the region to marshal opposition to Maduro, Tillerson suggested Sunday in Argentina that the US is still considering “in effect prohibiting [Venezuelan] oil to be sold in the United States.”


Trouble in Paradise

Following the arrest of two senior judges and the declaration of a state of emergency in the Maldives, exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed called for India to send in troops to free jailed opposition figures.

President Abdulla Yameen declared the state of emergency on Feb. 5 in the luxury holiday destination after he defied a Supreme Court ruling that quashed convictions ranging from terrorism to corruption against Nasheed and eight other opposition leaders, Reuters reported.

Yameen was elected president in 2013 after Nasheed was forced to resign amid a mutiny by police. But critics say he has since jailed political opponents, stifled free speech and attempted to undermine the judiciary.

Meanwhile, Nasheed aims to run for president again later this year, despite facing a 13-year prison sentence at home in connection with the charges quashed by the court.

India’s military remained on standby Tuesday, poised to evacuate tourists or intervene in the political crisis if New Delhi decides that is necessary, the Times of India reported. But the Indian Express quoted official sources as saying military action is off the table.


Goodbye, Dolly

Move over, Dolly – there are new clones in town.

Chinese researchers recently cloned two long-tailed macaque monkeys, a feat believed to be more difficult than cloning other mammals, such as horses or sheep.

“It’s a significant advance,” Arnold Kriegstein, director of the stem-cell center at the University of California at San Francisco, told USA Today. “Nobody has previously been able to create a cloned nonhuman primate.”

The two monkeys, Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, were created using techniques similar to those used to create Dolly the sheep over 20 years ago.

This latest stride in cloning primates begs the question of whether humans are next in line for the petri dish.

That’s likely still far off, said Hank Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University.

The Chinese researchers weren’t able to create clones from adult monkeys and had to resort to using fetuses. The tactic resulted in only two healthy clones out of over 100 embryos created.

“It’s very inefficient and unsafe – and if you tried that with humans you’d be criminally reckless,” Greely said.

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