November 10, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

JORDAN

Oases and Mirages

Voters in Jordan will head to the polls on Nov. 10 to elect a new parliament. On the day after they cast ballots, the Middle Eastern kingdom will go into lockdown, with a curfew, shuttered businesses and police enforcing rules mandating masks, reported Xinhua, China’s official state-run press agency.

A democratic exercise followed by a paternalist monarchical government curtailing citizen’s liberties is a metaphor for the state of Jordanian politics today, observers say.

Since the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, as the BBC explained, protests have been erupting in Jordan over the sad state of the economy as well as the accountability of officials in a country where King Abdullah wields total power but has allowed some democratic accountability to satisfy his critics.

The coronavirus pandemic has not improved things. With the virus spreading fast in Jordan, the economy is expected to shrink by 6 percent this year, aggravating already-high unemployment and poverty – and the ballooning public debt that has failed to address either challenge adequately, Reuters wrote. Unlike many of its neighbors, Jordan lacks oil and is heavily dependent on foreign aid that helps the country host hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and elsewhere, noted Voice of America.

At the same time, Jordan’s election laws marginalize Islamist and independent political parties, making victory more likely for pro-government groups.

In the run-up to the vote, wealthy sheiks usually throw bashes for relatives, neighbors and others to induce them to support certain candidates. Voters cast their ballots according to “blood ties, vote-buying, and tribal peer pressure,” wrote the Christian Science Monitor.

Before the pandemic, nobody had any reason to think this election would be different. Speaking to the Arab News this summer, pro-democracy activist Samar Muhareb cited the government’s crackdown on the country’s 100,000-member-strong teachers’ union as a sign of how quickly the king and his allies were prepared to push aside civil rights.

The teachers went on strike in July after the government froze their wages, reported the Guardian. Officials responded with a crackdown that included arrests on charges that were kept secret, detentions based on rules designed to stop the spread of Covid-19 and a gag rule that prevented the press from covering the government’s moves.

The pandemic, however, has forced politicking to migrate online. Some activists hope younger, more independently minded candidates will win as a result. More female candidates and politicians younger than 40 are running, potentially giving a push to those who are calling for the most changes.

No matter who wins, they won’t wield much authority. But small steps today often lead to big steps later.

WANT TO KNOW

EUROPEAN UNION

Tit For Tat

The European Union will impose tariffs on up to $4 billion worth of American goods in the wake of a long-running trade dispute over aircraft subsidies, CNBC reported Monday.

The United States and the EU have been bickering over the subsidies since 2006: Last year, the US imposed tariffs on $7.5 billion worth of imported goods from the bloc after the World Trade Organization agreed that the EU did not follow the best trade practices when granting aid to aircraft giant Airbus.

Last month, the WTO found that the US failed to abide by international rules when providing subsidies for Boeing, prompting the EU to follow suit with the tariffs.

The move will include a 15 percent tariff on imports from all Boeing models as well as duties on some agricultural and industrial products, the Wall Street Journal reported.

EU trade chief, Valdis Dombrovkis, said the bloc wants to overcome the dispute as soon as possible, adding that the EU will remove duties if the United States does the same.

The decision comes a few days after the results of the US elections project that Democratic nominee Joe Biden will become the next president: The EU considers Biden’s victory as a positive development in resolving the long-standing aircraft dispute.

MYANMAR

Of Hollow Victories

The ruling National League for Democracy declared victory in Myanmar’s elections Monday, guaranteeing the party of Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi another five years in power, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The results of Myanmar’s second free elections after decades of military rule come amid worsening economic conditions, a pandemic and rising ethnic tensions in the Southeast Asian nation.

Party officials said they secured the 322 seats needed to form a government but their powers will be kept in check: Under the constitution, the military is guaranteed a quarter of all seats in parliament.

Despite her popularity at home, Suu Kyi has been condemned internationally for defending the army’s massacres against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine state. In 2017, the military launched a brutal campaign against the group, with UN investigators warning that the army was committing war crimes in the region.

More than 1.6 million members of ethnic minority groups were prevented from voting in an election that international observers said was neither free nor fair.

Analysts cautioned that the mass disenfranchisement of these voters could exacerbate tensions and the ongoing civil conflict.

LIBYA

Hopeful Prospects

Libya’s rival factions met Monday for the start of UN-brokered talks aimed at ending the long-running conflict in the country and preparing for elections, Al Jazeera reported.

Representatives of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar met in neighboring Tunisia, following months of relative calm and a major ceasefire deal in October.

This week’s talks will focus on unifying the country under a single executive and paving the way for national elections. The United Nations-led talks are part of a multi-track process that also includes military and economic negotiations.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the talks were an opportunity to “end a tragic conflict” that has gripped Libya since the ouster and death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Since then, Libya has been divided between the GNA based in Tripoli and Haftar’s forces in the east, each supported by various foreign powers.

Last year, Haftar’s forces launched an offensive on Tripoli but were beaten back in June by the GNA with military support from Turkey, forcing the commander’s troops to retreat to the central coastal city of Sirte.

DISCOVERIES

Chew On This

The Japanese city of Nara is a popular destination for tourists and home to more than 1,000 Sika deer, considered a national treasure, which hang out at its national park.

But by doing so, these animals have fallen victim to plastic pollution, CNN reported.

In 2019, a local welfare group found nine dead deer with plastic bags in their stomachs. They cautioned visitors to refrain from littering plastic when vising the park.

Local entrepreneur Hidetoshi Matsukawa, however, decided to take the effort up a notch: Banding together with a local paper manufacturer, he has developed a novel paper bag that is safe to eat.

Named “Shikagami,” (deer paper), the product is made from recycled milk cartons and rice bran – an ingredient also used in crackers fed to deer.

The developer said that he has tested the bags and confirmed that they are safe for human consumption, according to Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

“The paper bags can protect deer, as well as the…image of Nara with deer,” Matsukawa told CNN.

The only problem is the bags’ steep price of 100 Yen (around $0.95) per piece. Ordinary plastic bags are much cheaper.

Still, banks and the local Todaiji temple have purchased almost 5,000 bags as part of a pilot project. Matsukawa hopes that the price will fall as more businesses sign up to use the bags.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 10,110,552 (+1.39%)
  2. India: 8,591,730 (+0.45%)
  3. Brazil: 5,675,032 (+0.19%)
  4. France: 1,856,292 (+1.15%)
  5. Russia: 1,781,997 (+0.00%)**
  6. Spain: 1,381,218 (+3.94%)
  7. Argentina: 1,250,499 (+0.67%)
  8. UK: 1,216,747 (+1.79%)
  9. Colombia: 1,149,064 (+0.45%)
  10. Mexico: 967,825 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country