The World Today for February 28, 2020

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State of Paranoia

Authorities in Tajikistan are reportedly rounding up Islamic clerics and scholars whom they suspect of harboring views that might undermine the government.

Some readers might approve of detaining potential jihadists who studied in schools in Egypt, Iran, and Pakistan where radicalization has occurred in the past. But the timing of the arrests in Tajikistan should give everyone pause.

As Eurasianet reported, the detentions coincide with the run-up to parliamentary elections on March 1 and presidential elections that are currently unscheduled but slated to occur this year. University professors, Sufi mullahs, Arabic language teachers and others were among those seized. One 72-year-old cleric might have died due to the crackdown.

Recently, authorities in the former Soviet republic also nabbed 113 suspected members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that critics describe as terrorists and defenders say is a peaceful political organization. Tajikistan banned the brotherhood in 2006. “The group’s goal is to forcibly overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state,” Tajikistan’s Prosecutor-General Yusuf Rahmon told New Europe, a Belgium-based newspaper.

The prosecutor’s fears stem from the civil war that gripped Tajikistan in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. More than 30,000 people perished as the ex-communist government fought Islamic rebels over the future of the mountainous Central Asian country.

The scars from that war remain. The United Arab Emirates recently extradited back to Tajikistan a commander who fought on the government’s side to face charges that include murder, torture, kidnapping and possessing illegal weapons, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty wrote.

Today, as the impoverished country struggles to grow its economy and even feed itself, as a recent World Food Programme report explained, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon wants to avoid falling into the chaos that has engulfed neighboring Afghanistan.

President Rahmon doesn’t appear interested in building civic institutions like a free press to help achieve his goals, however.

The Guardian reported that officials recently arrested independent journalist Daler Sharipov for his alleged connections with the Muslim Brotherhood and promoting extremism. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on prosecutors to drop the charges.

Radio Free Europe has also complained that Rahmon has sought to undermine its Tajik language service, Radio Ozodi, from operating.

It’s strange that President Rahmon is hell-bent on stifling all criticism. A few years ago he engineered a referendum to eliminate term limits, practically ensuring he’d be in charge for life. Opposition parties are not even making efforts to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections, wrote the Diplomat, because they know they don’t stand a chance in a climate where the president holds so much power.

Fear can stifle democracy.



House in Order

Tunisia’s Parliament on Thursday approved the new coalition government of Prime Minister-designate Elyes Fakhfakh, ending the deadlock that has delayed policies to revive the country’s sluggish economy, Al Jazeera reported.

The new government comes a month after lawmakers rejected an alternative line-up proposed by Fakhfakh’s predecessor, Habib Jemli, who was nominated by the conservative Ennahdha party.

Cash-strapped Tunisia needs a $3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to cover government expenditures in 2020.

Throughout the past decade, unemployment has remained at 15 percent in the fledgling democracy, following the ouster of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Analysts, however, are doubtful the new government will be able to secure a deal, since there are a lot of issues that they disagree on, such as the privatization of state-owned enterprises.

“This is so much so the case that I expect some members to vote against laws put forth by the government which they are supposed to be part of,” said Tunisian journalist Moez Zayoud.


No More

More than 60 people were injured, the majority of them riot police, during protests in the islands of Lesbos and Chios over plans to build new migrant camps, the BBC reported Thursday.

The new camps are part of the government’s effort to replace the overcrowded facilities on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos, which lie off the coast of Turkey. Greek authorities also vowed to reduce the number of migrants on the islands from 42,000 to 20,000.

Locals have opposed the construction of the new centers. The recent clashes began after the Greek government secretly shipped construction machinery and hundreds of riot police officers to Lesbos and Chios earlier this week.

Officials said that the tensions are no surprise and urged people to remain calm.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants from Syria headed toward Europe arrived on the Greek islands off Turkey in 2015 and 2016.

Although their numbers dropped following a deal between the European Union and Turkey, arrivals have again increased recently.


Ongoing Deadlock

Iraqi politicians failed on Thursday to approve Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi’s new government, further prolonging the political deadlock amid anti-government protests, Reuters reported.

Lawmakers opposed Allawi’s proposed cabinet and boycotted the parliamentary session to approve the prime minister-designate’s picks.

Iraqis have taken to the streets since October to protest the poor conditions in the country and to call for the removal of Iraq’s entire ruling elite.

Around 500 people have been killed, and the unrest forced Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi to step down two months later.

The demonstrators oppose Allawi, arguing that he is part of the system they are trying to bring down.

After his nomination last month, Allawi made several ambitious promises, including vows to hold early elections, to punish those responsible for killing protesters and to end foreign interference.

According to Iraq’s constitution, the prime minister-designate needs to get a cabinet approved through Parliament, otherwise President Barham Salih will be forced to appoint a new candidate for prime minister.


Something in the Water

People generally swim away to avoid touching a jellyfish, but there are some species that can deliver a sting without making contact, United Press International reported.

In a new study, scientists discovered that the Cassiopea xamachana, or upside-down jellyfish, can launch small venom grenades – known as cassiosomes – that can sting from afar.

The researchers observed groups of upside-down jellyfish shooting out blobs of mucus containing toxin-filled capsules that are generally found on jellyfish tentacles.

The blobs create a cloud of stinging water that can irritate a person’s skin – or paralyze other marine creatures.

The team had seen these clouds of mucus before, but were only recently able to determine where the stinging water came from.

“The answer was right under our noses,” said lead author Cheryl Ames.

The team speculated that this behavior was used as a defense against predators, but they added that it could also be used to catch prey.

They noted that this ability wasn’t exclusive to upside-down jellyfish, but was also seen in several closely related species belonging to the same group, Rhizostomeae.

Unlike their upside-down kin, these other species swim like other jellyfish.

This summer, beachgoers might want to pay more attention to what’s in the water.

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