The World Today for February 15, 2018



Paint by Numbers

It’s been a year and a half since Britons delivered a shock to the world by narrowly voting to leave the European Union.

Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister Theresa May picked up the Brexit baton and set off to paint the future of the United Kingdom in rosy hues, a contrast to the tones of insecurity favored by economists, business leaders and politicians in the European Union.

But at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, a clearer picture of the United Kingdom’s future emerged: Once a powerful empire, the United Kingdom has lost prominence on the world stage and its economy is wilting, thanks in large part to the Brexit referendum, the New York Times reported.

While every major economy around the world has shaken off the frost of last decade’s global economic crisis, Britain is showing a weak performance, having only expanded 1.7 percent last year, a figure that’s estimated to drop to 1.5 percent in 2018, according to the International Monetary Fund.

And even though the UK recently reached a transition agreement with the European Union for the period of time after its March 2019 exit, industry leaders still feel left in the dark about the details of the United Kingdom’s divorce with the European Union.

A new poll by social research institute Ipsos Mori revealed that 69 percent of the UK’s 500 largest companies say they’re unsure about the prime minister’s ability to negotiate a Brexit deal favorable to Britain, the Financial Times reported.

Progress was made in December on the crucial issues of open borders, payouts and citizens’ rights, the Guardian reported.

But nitty-gritty issues like trade remain a high priority that could disrupt the entire process with only a little over a year before the UK’s departure, wrote the Independent.

The darkening mood on Brexit is also settling in on the other side of the English Channel.

Though they haven’t exactly embraced it, many in Brussels might come to see the UK’s departure as “the amputation of an infected limb” that can staunch Euroskepticism from spreading on the continent, the Guardian’s editorial board recently opined.

But the UK’s departure leaves Europe to determine how to deal with other unruly members, like Poland and Hungary, without isolating them and instigating more departures from the bloc, the editors wrote.

Others worry about the economic consequences of Brexit on the EU.

In light of Brexit, many firms are already planning to move their operations to Europe from the UK, Bloomberg reported. And members of the Eurozone ended 2017 with a healthy collective growth rate of 2.4 percent, according to figures from the IMF.

But with the big players in the private sector more readily embracing market-friendly environments in the US and Asia, they may not stay on the Continent for long.

“What Brexit is doing – and if we’re not careful, what Brexit will merely accelerate – is a move out of Europe as a whole,” Miles Celic, CEO of TheCityUK, an industry lobby, told Bloomberg.

Forging a deal on Brexit is definitely no game of paint by numbers – but the final outcome may not be what either side had envisioned, or wanted.



Chasing the Snakes

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously chastised Pakistan for nurturing terrorist “snakes” in its backyard. But it’s President Donald Trump who may be making headway in convincing Islamabad to root them out.

On Wednesday, Pakistan banned two charities linked to alleged terrorist Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba and the man India and the US have accused of masterminding the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Reuters reported. Previously, Pakistan has placed Saeed under house arrest but insisted there is not enough evidence to prosecute him.

US officials remain wary that the latest moves, too, may wind up being cosmetic. But Pakistani authorities have begun seizing control of offices and financial assets of the two charities, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), according to a Pakistani official.

The apparent crackdown comes in the leadup to a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) where the money-laundering watchdog will consider a US-sponsored motion to place Pakistan on a list of countries failing to prevent terrorism financing.


Turfed Out

African National Congress leader Cyril Ramaphosa is set to replace South African President Jacob Zuma, following his belated resignation on Wednesday.

The ANC-controlled parliament is expected to officially appoint Ramaphosa as Zuma’s successor Thursday, Bloomberg reported.

Long under fire for alleged corruption, Zuma has resisted calls for him to step down since Ramaphosa was chosen to replace him as ANC leader two months ago. But finally turfing him out is only the first step in a long battle for the party that has led the country since the end of Apartheid, the agency noted.

Stopping the country’s endemic corruption will be an uphill struggle. Cronyism has left South Africa’s state-owned companies in chaos. Planners say the ANC must boost growth to 5.4 percent from a projected 1.4 percent to make good on its promise to slash unemployment. And Moody’s Investors Service may join Standard & Poor’s and Fitch in downgrading the country’s debt to junk in March.


You’re Under Arrest

Guatemala arrested a former president and nine of his ex-ministers as part of a crackdown on corruption in the Central American country.

Former President Alvaro Colom and members of his former cabinet are accused of embezzling funds and committing fraud during the setup of a public bus system in Guatemala City in 2010, Al-Jazeera reported.

Prosecutors said there are questions around how the government auctioned off concessions and granted subsidies for the buses.

Among those arrested was current chairman of Oxfam International Juan Alberto Fuentes, a former Guatemalan finance minister. The arrest adds to the woes of the prominent charity, which is currently embroiled in a sex abuse scandal in Haiti and Chad – where staff members are accused of paying prostitutes for sex.

Noting that another former Guatemalan president is already facing trial and current President Jimmy Morales himself faces corruption allegations, Al-Jazeera quoted experts as saying the political arrests are far from over – though they could easily be hijacked for political ends by the elite.


Land of Plenty

With tourism in sharp decline since the Arab Spring, Egypt is trying to boost visitors’ interest by showcasing recent archaeological discoveries – of which there are plenty.

Archaeologists recently discovered, for example, the 4,400-year-old tomb of a priestess in Giza, home to the pyramids, NPR reported.

It belonged to Hetpet, a priestess to the fertility goddess Hathor. Hetpet lived during Egypt’s prosperous Fifth Dynasty, which lasted from about 2465 BC to 2323 BC – the era in which pyramids were built.

Female priests were uncommon, but a number of them were in service to Hathor.

Hetpet’s tomb was excavated in an area known for having large cemeteries that archaeologists have been uncovering for nearly two centuries, according to Live Science.

Inside, archaeologists found engravings of Hetpet’s titles, as well as a mix of biographical and whimsical paintings about ancient Egyptian life and beliefs.

“There are colored depictions of traditional scenes: animals grazing, fishing, bird-catching, offerings, sacrifice, soldiers and fruit-gathering,” Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, told Agence France-Presse.

The tomb is just one of many finds made in the area since the beginning of 2017, NPR reported.

“This is a very promising area,” Waziri added. “We expect to find more.”

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