The World Today for May 11, 2018



A Different Song and Dance

As if geopolitical happenings in Iraq weren’t complex enough, Sunday’s parliamentary elections – the nation’s fourth since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein – pit some 6,990 candidates from 87 political parties against one another for the control of only 329 seats.

Much has changed since Iraqis last went to the polls in 2014.

The nation waged a furious – and ultimately successful – battle against Islamic State up until last year. Sectarian violence is no longer all-consuming across the nation. Campaigning has been vibrant as a result – even in war-torn cities like Mosul, where corpses still line the streets, evidence that much is left to be done to overcome the legacy of the militants.

However, there’s reason to remain pessimistic about the state of affairs in Iraq, wrote Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, in the Hill.

For one, the multiplicity of political parties in Iraq doesn’t necessarily spell out diversity in the political landscape: The parties are mostly small, local and focused on identity politics.

The pan-Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, which won a majority of seats in Iraq’s first post-war election, has fractured. Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who’s heading up the so-called Victory Alliance under the celebration of Islamic State’s defeat, is campaigning for the first time in majority Kurdish and Sunni areas. Women will also be guaranteed 25 percent of the seats in parliament, and minority groups are well-represented.

Even so, candidates are still looking to win votes by tapping into ethnosectarian identity networks, wrote research fellow Renad Mansour in the Washington Post. And 90 percent of the players took part in previous elections, according to Chatham House.

Meanwhile, though the median age of the country is around 20, electoral rules bar anyone younger than 30 from running for parliament, wrote PRI. Only 6 percent of the parliament is under the age of 40.

Female candidates have also been targeted, the Economist wrote, discouraging qualified women from running for office out of fear they could experience violence or stinging public defamation.

“I will not vote because the entire system is corrupt,” Yassir Adnan, 22, a medical student in Karbala, told PRI. “It contains many discriminating clauses based on religious and ethnic identity and age.”

Regional power brokers are also taking a toll in these elections.

Though effectively eradicated from Iraq last year, Islamic State has assassinated secular politicians on the campaign trail in brutal attacks, wrote USA Today.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Iran are also in the mix, wrote the Washington Times.

Prime Minister al-Abadi’s pan-Shiite coalition’s split has opened the door for Saudi-backed Sunni candidates to challenge those with ties to Iran, this time a proxy battle for the vote.

At the same time, Iranian-trained military commander Hadi al-Amiri, head of a Hezbollah-like militant group turned political party that fought against Islamic State, is pegging himself as a populist and a defender of Iraq, despite his problematic ties.

And although Washington is buzzing over a possible comeback for former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, it’s not likely.

A March poll put Prime Minister al-Abadi’s Victory Alliance at 15 percent of the vote, meaning he’ll likely have to join forces with al-Amiri and other minority parties to secure a majority, Al Jazeera reported.

There’s much for Iraqis to take pride in on Sunday – after all, this is the fourth democratic election in the nation since the 2003 invasion.

But with so many interests floating around in a region already mired in proxy conflicts and power-grabs, this vote is likely to be pivotal for the nation’s future.



New Giant in the Bazaar

Walmart will shell out $16 billion to acquire a 77 percent stake in one of India’s largest e-commerce companies, Flipkart, in a deal that will pit the US retail giant in a head-to-head battle against Amazon and China’s Alibaba.

The largest such deal in Indian history, the purchase will combine Walmart’s financial strength and deep supply chain network with the “made in India” firm that is still battling Amazon for leadership in e-commerce in the massive potential market, the Indian Express reported.

While Flipkart previously had to tap investors to compete in a market that’s often driven by deep discounts and free deliveries and returns, Amazon was able to fund its push with its huge internal war chest. CEO Jeff Bezos had effectively vowed to win India at all costs after losing out to Alibaba in China.

Walmart has long struggled to open up “multibrand retail” stores in India. But US investors dumped shares on worries about what it will cost to battle Amazon for online dominance. The deal is also not set in stone: The exit of top investors could change Walmart’s plans, the Economic Times reported.


Passing the Torch

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont proposed member of parliament Quim Torra to head the Catalan government on Thursday in an effort to end seven months of political turmoil.

Catalan legislators must pick a leader to form a government by May 22 to avoid a return to the polls, but so far the separatists have insisted on backing candidates whom Spanish courts ruled are ineligible because they are in jail or in exile abroad, Reuters reported.

Puigdemont, who led Catalonia to declare independence in 2017, fled to Belgium after the Spanish government removed him from office and dissolved the regional government. He is currently in Berlin waiting for German courts to rule on a Spanish request to extradite him on a charge of misuse of public funds.

Spain’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday accepted an appeal from Madrid that blocked Puigdemont from returning to his leadership position while he remains abroad. Torra, a lawyer and journalist known to be a firm supporter of Catalan independence, has no pending charges against him, noted the Financial Times.


Shining a Light

A court in Sudan sentenced a 19-year-old woman to death on Thursday for murdering her husband after he tried to rape her, a case that’s drawn attention to issues of forced marriage and marital rape in a nation where the legal age of marriage is only 10.

Human rights campaigners have called on the president to pardon her, as she was allegedly forced into a child marriage by her father and had been fighting against the union with her cousin (the man she killed) for the past three years, Reuters reported.

A Sharia court had previously found her guilty of premeditated murder. Neither marital rape nor child marriage is considered a crime in Sudan.

After taking refuge with relatives, Noura Hussein says she returned to the family home in April after her father said the marriage was canceled, only to find that she had been tricked and preparations for the wedding were underway.

She claims that she refused to have sex with her husband after the wedding. But days later he raped her as three of his male relatives held her down. The next day, she stabbed him when he attempted to rape her again.


The Good Samaritan

The cultural tenets of the Candomblé religion brought to Brazil by enslaved Africans remain an integral part of Afro-Brazilian identity.

But old prejudices against the religion and its practitioners have been hard to dispel. Many traditional evangelical groups consider the faith satanic, and at least eight temples were vandalized or destroyed last year in Rio de Janeiro alone, the BBC reported.

Some Candomblé leaders like priestess Conceição d’Lissá have even been shot at in their places of worship.

The historical enmity between the religious groups, however, isn’t stopping some from taking the initiative help rebuild the destroyed Candomblé temples.

“I thought to myself: ‘If in the name of Christ they destroy, then in the name of Christ we will rebuild,'” evangelical pastor Lusmarina Campos told the BBC.

The act of communal solidarity is changing perceptions about Candomblé being the devil’s religion, said Campos.

But not everyone’s happy about the act of good faith.

Many evangelicals oppose the move and encouraged attacks on those helping the Afro-Brazilians to rebuild. Last year in Rio de Janeiro, more than 70 percent of registered cases of religious intolerance were against Afro-Brazilians.

Still, Campos and others are working together to ensure that that demonization doesn’t spread.

“Most churches prefer respect instead of violence,” she said.

Click here to see the community rebuilding together.


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