The World Today for June 19, 2018

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A Little Help From Friends

Few believe the $2.5 billion in aid that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait recently pledged to Jordan will change much in the debt-burdened kingdom.

But the country nonetheless needs the funds as Jordanian leaders struggle to fulfill austerity measures that are part of debt negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. Jordan’s spending has led to debt standing at 95 percent of gross domestic product, CNBC explained.

Protests over tax hikes, higher electricity prices and other austerity measures led to the recent resignation of Jordanian Prime Minister Hani Mulki, the BBC reported. But the British news service said King Abdullah was still firmly in control and quickly tapped Omar al-Razzaz, an ex-education minister and a former World Bank economist, to form a new government.

Some financial analysts said the aid money will help Jordan’s economy grow in the future but won’t help the government deal with its $1 billion budget shortfall and the need for higher taxes.

“Jordan’s budget deficit is huge,” Eyad Bani-Melham, a lawyer in Amman, told Al Jazeera. “This new money is not going to make a difference.”

Foreign Policy reminded readers that similar protests have occurred throughout Jordan’s history. Financial troubles have bedeviled the country for generations, also because the country’s leaders like to act like Gulf kingdoms but lack the oil, insiders say.

“This kingdom is built not to thrive but merely to survive, and periodic protests due to financial falloffs are inevitable given its economic and political structure,” wrote the magazine. “This is not revolution, but repetition.”

Jordan lacks natural resources and hosts more than 740,000 refugees, mostly from neighboring Syria and Iraq – a massive economic challenge.

But Jordan, which also borders Israel and Palestine, has long capitalized on its central location in the Middle East and its relatively stable government to attract aid from the US, Europe and Saudi Arabia. The West wants to fund humanitarian efforts in the country. Other Sunni kingdoms want to keep a fellow monarch on his throne lest he fall and set an example for revolutionaries elsewhere.

“Surrounded by civil wars, occupation and terror, keeping Jordan afloat is a vital interest of the Saudis and the Americans,” wrote news site Al-Monitor.

The kingdom’s stability was on full view in the protests. While some injuries were reported, the police have not launched the sort of crackdown one might have seen elsewhere in the region.

“Jordan, the Only Democracy in the Middle East,” was the headline on an opinion piece in the leftist Israeli newspaper Haaretz that noted the Jordanian authorities’ measured response to the unrest.

Jordan’s future might be precarious. It will likely survive this rough patch, though, with a little help from its friends.



Fly on the Wall

Israel charged Gonen Segev, a medical doctor who served as energy minister in the 1990s, with spying for Iran.

The 62-year-old was jailed for five years in 2005 for smuggling drugs and forging a diplomatic passport, the BBC reported. Though his medical license was also revoked, Nigeria allowed him to work as a physician there following his release from prison in 2007.

He was detained during a visit to Equatorial Guinea in May and extradited following a request by Israeli police, the news channel cited Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service as saying. Shin Bet said Segev was recruited by Iranian agents in Nigeria and alleged that he had provided Iran with information relating to Israel’s energy sector, security sites in Israel and officials in political and security institutions. They also accused him of helping Iranian spies posing as businessmen to make contact with Israeli security personnel.

He faces charges of  “assisting an enemy during a time of war and espionage against the State of Israel” and “handing over information to the enemy”.


Politically Incorrect

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s far-right interior minister, said he plans to look into “the Roma question” – a phrase with uncomfortable historical echoes – following his recent rejection of a rescue vessel loaded with 630 migrants.

Salvini told a Lombardy television station Monday that he wants to conduct a census or “registry” of Roma in Italy, the Associated Press reported. Notably, the itinerant ethnic group, once known as gypsies, faces discrimination across Europe.

Center-left politicians immediately denounced Salvini for the remark, noting that Italy had a “terrible” history with its Fascist-era census of Jews. Salvini attempted to distance himself from that memory, saying there was no plan to fingerprint Roma residents or produce identity cards to keep tabs on them. But his apology wasn’t exactly politically correct, either.

“We are aiming primarily to care for the children who aren’t allowed to go to school regularly because they prefer to introduce them to a life of crime. We also want to check how millions of euro that come from European funds are spent,” he said in a statement.


No More Games

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrived Tuesday in Beijing for a likely meeting with President Xi Jinping about the recently concluded summit with US President Donald Trump.

Amid news that Washington and Seoul have suspended joint military exercises, as Trump vowed to do in Singapore, Chinese state media announced Kim’s visit and revealed that he would likely remain in China for two days. That’s a deviation from the usual practice of not announcing government meetings with the North Korean leader until after they’ve concluded and Kim has left the country, Reuters reported.

That change could stem from China’s satisfaction with the decision to halt military exercises, as Beijing has long lobbied for so-called “dual suspension” under which North Korea stops weapons tests and the United States and South Korea stop military drills to allow for peace talks.

In contrast, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday there would be no changes to joint drill plans between the United States and Japan, though it’s not clear if he’d received such a commitment from Trump.


Turquoise and Travels

For more than a century, historians and archaeologists theorized that turquoise used in the ornaments and mosaics of the Aztec and other Mesoamerican civilizations in Central America was actually brought to the region from the American Southwest.

But a recent geochemical analysis of Aztec and Mixtec turquoise published in the journal Science Advances found that the gemstone used by the Aztecs and Mixtecs was likely to have originated in Mesoamerica, the New York Times reported.

By analyzing isotopic signatures, geochemist Alyson Thibodeau of Dickinson College in Pennsylvania discovered that the isotopic fingerprints of Mesoamerican turquoise samples did not resemble those of samples from the American Southwest.

“Not only do they have isotopic signatures that are absolutely consistent with the geology of Mesoamerica, but they are completely different from the isotopic signatures of the Southwestern turquoise deposits and artifacts that we have seen so far,” she told the Times.

The finding brings into doubt the theory that there was significant contact between early Mesoamericans and the Native American cultures of the American Southwest before the Spanish arrived in the 1500s.

Archaeologists have yet to discover the remnants of any actual turquoise mines in Mesoamerica, but Thibodeau says that doesn’t mean there weren’t any. Turquoise is associated with the weathering of copper deposits, and the abundance of copper mines in Mesoamerica suggests the presence of turquoise as well, she said.

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