The World Today for May 01, 2019

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The New Pharaoh

A man stood alone on a Cairo street corner in April holding a placard.

“No to amending the constitution,” said the sign.

Police quickly arrested him, the New York Times reported.

The man was protesting a referendum that asked voters whether they wanted to give President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi the opportunity to extend his term in office through 2030, Voice of America explained.

Election officials said 44 percent of voters turned out, and almost 90 percent of them said yes.

Critics lamented the results, which were, many say, a nullification of the country’s revolution.

In 2011, Egyptians inspired by the success of protests in Tunisia took to the streets and helped launch the Arab Spring, a movement for democratic reforms that swept through North Africa and the Middle East. The Egyptian protests, focused on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, succeeded in ousting President Hosni Mubarak, a corrupt, US-backed dictator who had ruled the country for 30 years. They pushed officials to hold true democratic elections for the first time.

Then things went sideways. Islamist candidate Mohamed Morsi won office and embarked on a series of reforms that rankled secular Egyptians. In 2013, Sissi and the military staged a coup. Morsi is now sitting in jail, and the White House said Tuesday that the Trump administration is mulling whether to declare his Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group.

Since then, Sissi has increasingly exerted control over Egyptian society. Human rights activists have called his rule oppressive. He’s jailed 60,000 people for political reasons, wrote Bahey eldin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, in the Washington Post.

But Sissi portrays himself as a messianic figure who is the country’s sole guardian against extremism and foreign threats, and the only leader who can revive its moribund economy. “God created me like a doctor who can make a diagnosis,” he said in 2015. “This is God’s blessing. I know the truth and I see it. … Now the world listens to me.”

For many, the referendum appeared to cement the country’s slide back into authoritarianism. “Eight years ago, Egypt was the beacon of hope for the Arab world,” wrote CNN in an analysis. “Now it is a cautionary tale.”

Few Egyptians believe the vote was free and fair, added British-Arab journalist Osama Gaweesh in a Guardian opinion piece.

Critics noted that the language of the referendum was finalized only 72 hours before voting began. Allegations of vote buying were widespread. A Reuters journalist saw authorities giving voters vouchers for cooking oil, pasta, sugar and tea as they left a polling station.

The reported turnout of 44 percent was suspiciously high for a referendum, analysts told Middle East Eye, a London-based news outlet. They questioned how officials could have processed 27 million voters in the three days polls were open, then counted the ballots so quickly.

Sissi will nonetheless claim he has the support of his people. That may or may not be true. But he’s still in charge.



False Start

Venezuela erupted in violence Tuesday after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared he was in the “final phase” of ending the rule of President Nicolas Maduro and asserted he had the support of the military – even as Maduro continued to cling onto power.

The fighting featured running clashes between Guaido’s supporters and armed military vehicles, with some Guaido supporters throwing stones and being hit by tear gas and water cannons in what was likely the most violent day of the political crisis so far, the BBC reported.

Venezuela’s health ministry said 69 people were injured across the country.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton said that three members of Maduro’s inner circle had agreed to his ouster but then backed out, helping him to hang on. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also claimed Maduro had been ready to flee to Cuba but had been convinced to stay by Russian officials.

Late Tuesday, Maduro denied those claims in a speech declaring that what he termed a coup had been defeated, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.


Suspect Justice

A woman who had accused the chief justice of India’s Supreme Court of sexual harassment said she would no longer participate in the proceedings of a panel of judges investigating her case.

The 35-year-old junior court assistant complained that she was not allowed to have her representative present despite her anxiety and impaired hearing, and claimed that no audio or video recording of the proceedings had been made, Reuters reported.

“I felt I was not likely to get justice from this committee and so I am no longer participating in the 3-Judge Committee proceedings,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has denied the woman’s allegations and asserted that her claims are part of a conspiracy to discredit the judiciary.

While the sexual harassment claims may be unrelated – it isn’t clear – there have been concerns cropping up over the independence and integrity of the judiciary, the Atlantic reported, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to bring the process of selecting judges under government control and corruption cases have surfaced allegedly involving two sitting Supreme Court justices.


The Young Gun

Algeria’s ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party has elected a 50-year-old businessman as its new leader a month after long-running protests forced former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign rather than seek a fifth term in office.

Considering that the resignation of the ailing, octogenarian leader had not silenced protesters’ demand for a complete overhaul of the political system and a harsh crackdown on corruption, the election of Mohamed Djemai could help convince voters the party is sincere about a true changing of the guard in the lead-up to presidential elections slated for July 4.

Meanwhile, the army chief of staff who helped push out Bouteflika said Tuesday that the judiciary had been freed up to vigorously pursue corruption cases against members of the former political elite like the finance minister, ex-prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia and several rich businessmen, Al Jazeera reported.

Fine sentiments aside, Amel Boubekeur, a research fellow at the Paris-based School for Advanced Studies, told the news channel that the army and secret service have long used anti-corruption drives to curb politicians’ power – without much impact on actual graft.


Hairy Problems

Researchers investigating whether it was safe for humans to use the same MRI scanner that dogs previously used instead discovered that the risk ran the opposite way.

Bearded men often carry biological weapons in their facial hair, says a recent study, according to Live Science.

After analyzing skin and saliva samples of 18 bearded men and the fur and saliva of 30 dogs of different breeds, researchers noted that human facial hair had more potentially infectious germs and left the scanners more contaminated.

Only four of the dogs tested positive for human-pathogenic bacteria – the type that makes people ill. For the men, that number was seven.

“As the MRI scanner used for both dogs and humans was routinely cleaned after animal scanning, there was substantially lower bacterial load compared with scanners used exclusively for humans,” the team wrote in their study.

Researchers aren’t trying to scare men into shaving, but rather to point out that humans can leave a lot of microbes in hospitals. “At any given time, about 1 in 25 inpatients have an infection related to hospital care,” according to the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Meanwhile, attention bearded blokes: a little more emphasis on grooming couldn’t hurt.

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