The World Today for May 04, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

SAUDI ARABIA

Cognitive Dissonance

It’s hard to hold two opposing ideas in one’s mind simultaneously.

Yet that is what Saudi Arabian leaders are hoping their citizens will embrace in the coming years.

The desert kingdom is an absolute monarchy that follows ultra-orthodox Islamic law.

But recently Saudi King Salman’s 32-year-old reformer son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been loosening some of the country’s religious strictures to cultivate a more diverse economy amid low oil prices.

In September 2017, for example, Saudi officials permitted women to drive for the first time, starting in June. The move was an attempt to burnish the kingdom’s image among human-rights advocates. But it’s also supposed to make it easier for women to work, another of the crown prince’s goals.

But as CNN reported, even as more Saudis enter the workforce and foreign workers who were long the backbone of the economy go home, it’s still not clear how men and women can be employed together legally in Saudi Arabia today.

Similarly, Bloomberg recently reported that Saudi Arabia held a fashion show that only women could attend.

Saudi officials claimed they would allow limited mixing between men and women in the new movie theaters that will be opening in the kingdom since the king lifted a 35-year-old prohibition on cinemas last year. But Marketplace said that could mean only family and bachelor movie nights, or women chaperoned by men and groups of guys – not single ladies.

One would expect similar restrictions for the 207-square-mile Disney-like “entertainment” city near the capital Riyadh described in a recent CNBC article.

Will these moves improve the Saudi economy in the long run? Maybe. One has to wonder, though: If these social and economic changes take hold, will political changes be so far behind? Why would Saudi women, once they’re working and driving, not then demand to be able to, say, go to the movies with female friends? Might Saudi citizens come under the spell of Hollywood and Mickey Mouse and demand more democracy as their lives improve?

The king and the crown prince have avoided those questions. But they are still sending messages.

Late last year, Saudi authorities detained hundreds of wealthy business executives, government officials and royals on corruption charges in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh. The government secured around $107 billion in settlements from the dragnet, Al Jazeera wrote. Since then, prosecutors have provided little information about those charges, which ranged from money laundering to supporting terrorism.

The king and the crown prince can accept limited freedom. Let’s see if their people can feel liberated under their unquestioned rule.

WANT TO KNOW

CHINA

Buck Rogers in the 21st Century

Last seen on TV sci-fi in the 1980s, lasers made a comeback in Djibouti this week, with the US accusing China of training the blinding beams on American military pilots.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said Thursday that Washington has requested China investigate incidents in recent weeks in which US aircraft in Djibouti have been affected by unauthorized Chinese laser activity, the Washington Post reported.

The US has formally complained to Beijing that two airmen were injured by lasers, the paper said. White said the Pentagon was confident that Chinese nationals were responsible for between two and 10 such incidents in recent weeks.

Both the US and China have military bases in Djibouti. The tiny East African nation on the Gulf of Aden also hosts French, Italian and Japanese bases. For the US, a force of around 4,000 American service members participates in American counterterrorism activities in nearby countries and runs drone operations.

SYRIA

The Cost of Selflessness

The US State Department has frozen funding for Syria’s “White Helmets” – the 3,000-odd volunteer rescuers who have saved thousands of lives since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.

Less than two months after the State Department feted members of the group, which is officially known as the Syrian Civil Defense, in Washington, its support for the first responders is “under active review,” CBS News reported. The State Department has in the past accounted for about a third of the group’s total funding.

Lauded as “selfless men” by State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, volunteers from the White Helmets are known for running into collapsing buildings to save people trapped inside. They say they have received no formal notice from the US about an end to their funding, but representatives on the ground in Syria say they have stopped receiving aid in recent weeks.

The State Department needed the approval to disperse more funds by April 15th or else initiate “shut-down procedures on a rolling basis,” CBS quoted an internal document as saying.

VENEZUELA

Seizing Assets

Venezuela arrested 11 banking executives and announced it would temporarily take control of the country’s leading private bank on Thursday, echoing last month’s sudden arrests of two Venezuelan executives working in the country for US oil major Chevron Corp.

The arrests of the Banesco executives and seizure of the bank’s operations are intended to stop “attacks” against the country’s plunging currency, the bolivar, Reuters cited the government as saying.

President Nicolas Maduro has blamed an “economic war” marshaled by his enemies for hyperinflation and the collapse of the bolivar, but his critics say the problems stem from his incompetence and failed socialist policies.

“We have determined the (executives’) presumed responsibility for a series of irregularities, for aiding and concealing attacks against the Venezuelan currency with the aim of demolishing the Venezuelan currency,” Chief Prosecutor Tarek Saab said in a televised press conference where he announced the arrests.

Banesco’s President Juan Carlos Escotet, who lives in Spain, called the arrests “disproportionate,” while Maduro’s political opponents said they were another sign of his turn to authoritarianism.

DISCOVERIES

Open Carry

With heavy regulations and high barriers to get a permit, Chinese citizens are quite limited in their ability to purchase a weapon.

But for the ethnic Lisu, a predominantly Christian minority living on the southwestern border of China, the crossbow is an integral part of their culture dating back to 200 BC.

Due to their sacred hunting traditions, the Lisu are able to carry their weapons openly in public with a license – a strange sight in a country where the purchase of kitchen knives is sometimes banned during political summits, Reuters reported.

But despite the special freedoms that the Lisu have been granted, crossbow culture has been slowly dying out as more and more young people move to urban areas for work.

In a bid to preserve the culture, local government organizations have been organizing crossbow tournaments with cash prizes, hoping to boost interest in the sport.

“Our people’s crossbow culture must enter the National Games of China. It must enter the Asian Games. It must enter the Olympic Games! So that people all over the world will understand our people’s culture,” Cha Hairong, head of the Liuku Township Crossbow Association of Lushui city, told Reuters.

Click here to see the Lisu in their daily lives.

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