The World Today for September 13, 2019

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The Art of Listening

The Tunisian presidential election is heating up.

That’s important because voters are deciding more than who will lead the Mediterranean country when they go to the polls on Sunday, Al Jazeera wrote.

The future of democracy in the Arab world is also at stake.

“The upcoming presidential election presents a test for the willingness of political actors to once again accept an electoral process that none of them can entirely control or predict,” wrote scholars Max Gallien and Isabelle Werenfels in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in late 2010 when people took to the streets in protests that eventually ended the corrupt, harsh rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. That freedom movement spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

The Arab Spring failed to live up to many of its promises. Still, democracy took root in Tunisia. In 2014, the country held its first free and fair democratic polls since independence from France in the 1950s, putting President Beji Caid Essebsi into office.

But Essebsi passed away in July, triggering a political reordering.

Essebsi, 92, had already announced that he would not run again in elections previously scheduled for November. But the Tunisian constitution states that voters must elect a new president 90 days after the office becomes vacant so officials moved the vote up to Sept. 15.

Coincidentally, parliamentary elections were already scheduled for October. Suddenly, the presidential elections would precede the parliamentary ones, potentially giving legislative candidates in the president’s party a big leg up on competitors, explained the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Also, in his last days, Essebsi refused to sign a law that would have prohibited controversial but popular presidential candidates from running if they received money from charities, NGOs or foreign organizations.

The measure was clearly meant to ban media magnate Nabil Karoui from running, Reuters reported. Karoui is now sitting in jail on charges of money laundering and tax evasion, but because the law was never enacted, he’s still eligible to run for president.

Twenty-five other candidates are also running, including an Islamist with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood – the now-toppled Islamist group that rose to power in Egypt during the Arab Spring – and openly gay candidates, France 24 reported.

They’re addressing the calls of Tunisians for a better economy, progress against corruption and other improvements, wrote Chatham House, a British think tank.

Those demands aren’t new. But at least now the people in power are listening. Because they have to.



Blood for Blood

Thousands of Sudanese protesters gathered near the presidential palace in Khartoum Thursday, demanding justice for those slain during pro-democracy demonstrations earlier this year.

“Blood for blood, we won’t accept blood money,” the crowd chanted.

It was the first major protest since the country’s military and civilian groups signed a power-sharing agreement last month to install a three-year transitional government that will end in elections.

Protesters demanded the appointment of a new head of the judiciary and a new public prosecutor to prosecute members of the security forces responsible for deaths during demonstrations against Omar al-Bashir and against the military council that initially replaced him, Reuters reported.

Bashir was ousted in April.

In June, the military council sacked public prosecutor Awaleed Sayed Ahmed Mahmoud after he announced he would investigate the killings of dozens of people during a sit-in on June 3.

Authorities claimed that casualties amounted to 87 that day, but protest groups have put the toll at nearly 130.

Justice for slain protesters has been one of the key demands of the civilian parties in the power-sharing deal.


Trojan Horse

Filipino opposition lawmakers on Thursday criticized a military agreement to allow a local telecommunication consortium involved with a Chinese firm to install telecommunications equipment on army bases.

“The planned installation of electronic communications inside our military camps raises fears of electronic espionage and interference given the record of some Chinese firms for engaging in this illegal activity,” said lawmaker Francis Pangilian, according to local broadcaster, ABS-CBN.

The Mislatel consortium, which includes Chinese state-run China Telecom, will construct several towers intended to solve communication issues plaguing the country.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Wednesday that Mislatel “guarantees that the devices, equipment, and/or structures installed at the site provided by the AFP shall not be used to obtain classified information,” Reuters reported.

Philippine lawmakers, however, have asked for closer scrutiny of the agreement, worrying that China Telecom’s involvement could be a “trojan horse” with the ability to access state secrets.

The agreement comes at a time of heightened cyber security fears involving China’s largest telecommunication company, Huawei Technologies.

In May, the United States blacklisted Huawei products and urged its allies, including the Philippines where it has bases, to refrain from using Huawei gear that Beijing could use for espionage.


Final Moments

Turkey’s pro-government newspaper this week published a transcript detailing the final moments of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in October.

The Daily Sabah said that the transcript hailed from a recording taken inside the consulate and was later obtained by Turkish intelligence, the BBC reported.

The transcript details how Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a team sent from Saudi Arabia, including an alleged comment by a perpetrator describing the journalist as an “animal to be sacrificed” prior to his arrival.

Turkish officials have publicly confirmed the authenticity of the audio recordings, but it’s unclear how the newspaper obtained them.

Based in the US, Khashoggi wrote a column for the Washington Post. His disappearance and murder caused an international furor. His body has not been recovered.

Saudi Arabia has denied involvement in his death, arguing that his murder was a “rogue” operation. It put 11 men on trial for the murder.


It’s Catfish, It’s a Shark, No It’s…

Stories about the Loch Ness monster date back to the 6th century AD when Irish missionary St. Columba was said to have encountered the giant creature in the River Ness, in Scotland.

The first modern sighting of the beast was made in the 1930s, with scientists and Nessie hunters still speculating if the creature was a large catfish, a Greenland shark or a prehistoric plesiosaur.

A new analysis of environmental DNA in the water, however, suggests that the “monster” might actually be an oversized eel, the Telegraph reported.

Researchers from New Zealand extracted genetic samples from different depths all over the loch and found a “very significant amount” of eel DNA.

Juvenile European eels, known as elvers, swim up the Scottish rivers and lochs after migrating more than 3,000 miles from the Sargasso Sea, near Bermuda, in order to develop.

As for ancient aquatic dinosaurs, “We can’t find any evidence of a creature that’s remotely related to that in our environmental-DNA sequence data,” said professor Neil Gemmell, who led the study. “So, sorry, I don’t think the pleisosaur idea holds up based on the data that we have obtained.”

Still, Gary Campbell, who monitors sightings of the beast, said that the new study won’t affect the tourism that has formed around the myth.

“The Loch Ness Monster has evolved into a worldwide icon,” he said.

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