The World Today for December 17, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

TUNISIA

Hope’s Anniversary

On Dec. 17, 2010, fruit and vegetable vendor Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the central non-descript town of Sidi Bouzid after police seized his produce cart.

It was the kind of petty harassment that many Tunisians dealt with every single day.

But this time, the needless oppression of a young destitute street vendor sent a wave of disgust among Tunisians struggling amid widespread corruption, poverty, government incompetence and petty bullying.

It was one last affront in a series of small assaults on dignity and it ignited a revolution.

Tunisians hit the streets in mass. And in a month, they forced Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country after ruling it for 23 years. And they celebrated their new-found freedoms – in squares, on the radio, in coffee houses, in newspapers and in parliament. “We can say what we want!” went the common and joyful refrain a decade ago.

Arabs around the region took notice. One by one, Libyans, Bahrainis, Egyptians, Syrians and Yemenis began hitting the streets in protest in what became the “Arab Spring.” And dictators in power for decades like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi followed Ben Ali out the door.

In the decade since, many countries involved in this mass movement have seen military coups, civil wars and a backlash among authoritarian leaders in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere in the MENA region, wrote the Washington Post earlier this year in a book review of Harvard University Law Professor Noah Feldman’s “The Arab Winter: A Tragedy.”

Tunisia is the exception – and it is exceptional: On the decennial anniversary of its revolution, it is the sole country of the Arab Spring to have retained democracy.

That doesn’t mean everything has gone smoothly.

Today in Tunisia, the dominant narrative of the Arab Spring includes broken dreams, dashed ideals and wistful memories of activists blindly marching into the future.

Some curse Bouazizi’s act, as a Guardian story detailed.

“We won a little freedom,” Aisha Quraishi, 60, who struggles to make ends meet near the desert city of Kairouan, says of Ben Ali’s overthrow. “Under him, we couldn’t speak. But does this affect my life? I want freedom and dignity. Can’t I have both?”

The Tunisian economy is still struggling and failing to provide jobs or an adequate income. The coronavirus is challenging the government and healthcare system, the Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Corruption is still a huge problem while politics is a messy and bitter affair, marked by gridlock, polarization and disarray, noted Voice of America. And that’s after Tunisians kicked out their ruling elite, choosing an outsider with little experience as president last year.

“People thought that Ben Ali’s departure would fix things but that will take 20, 30 years,” lawyer Houeida Anouar told Agence France-Presse. “I’m not sure that within my lifetime, I’ll see a Tunisia with a political scene worthy of the name – but I’m optimistic.”

The moderate Muslim nation has not been immune to radicalism either – Tunisia is still a major exporter of jihadists who fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and elsewhere. The Interpreter, a publication of the Australia-based Lowy Institute, a think tank, traced the origins of terrorist attacks in France to Tunisian militants. The piece speculated that disappointment with the results of the Arab Spring might be driving some young Tunisians to violence. Others say the problem is that for young, educated Tunisians, there are few opportunities.

Still, Tunisia can celebrate its victories, and they are not small.

For example, Tunisia’s constitution written soon after the revolution has “perhaps the most progressive constitutional article regarding equal gender representation in the world,” says Duncan Pickard, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center.

It promises full rights for women and minorities, something even the celebrated US constitution doesn’t explicitly do.

And in 2014, the Islamist party, Ennahda, and others stepped down in the face of political instability and societal turmoil in favor of a caretaker technocratic government. In other words, politicians put the country first over their own interests, an act rare in any long-established democracy.

Before Saudi agents murdered him in Istanbul in 2018, Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi delivered a speech where he said the Arab Spring showed that democracy was consistent with Islam – and Arab, North African and Middle Eastern culture.

He held Tunisia up as a special example.

“People are losing hope in democracy because of the failure of the Arab Spring revolts – they’re afraid of ending up like Syria,” he said. “(But) news channels that are supportive of freedom and political change in the Middle East should spend a considerable amount of time covering even municipal elections in Tunisia. Every Saudi, every Egyptian and every Syrian should see what the Tunisians are enjoying.”

Revolutions are a sprint. The change they can ignite is a long marathon, full of disillusion, impatience and frustration. It is run on the legs of hope.

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WANT TO KNOW

FRANCE

Terror and Its Aftermath

A French court found 14 people guilty of involvement in the terror attacks in Paris in 2015, including one on the staff of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Sky News reported Wednesday.

The defendants were convicted of helping to arrange, fund and support the three attackers, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, and Amedy Coulibaly. All three pledged loyalty to Islamic State and all were killed by police.

In January 2015, the Kouachi brothers attacked the offices of the magazine, which had published a series of cartoons depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad – which is prohibited in Islam. They killed 12 people, including editor-in-chief Stephane Charbonnier.

Two days later, Coulibaly killed a police officer and four hostages during a siege at a Jewish supermarket.

The attacks marked a particularly grim chapter in France’s history and was followed by other deadly attacks across the country.

Many now hope that the convictions will bring a sense of closure even as France continues to grapple with accommodating its largest minority groups, who are mainly Muslim.

Last week, the French government unveiled a bill aimed at fighting Islamist radicalism and “separatism” which it says undermines the nation, according to the Associated Press. The bill has been heavily criticized for targeting and stigmatizing Muslims in the country.

CHILE

A Seat At The Table

Chilean lawmakers approved a bill this week to reserve 17 out of 155 seats for representatives of its Indigenous communities in its upcoming constitutional convention, a move many say has been a long time coming, Reuters reported.

In October, Chileans voted overwhelmingly in favor of rewriting the country’s dictatorship-era constitution to include more equality in health, pensions and education following mass protests over inequality in late 2019.

The convention will be elected in April and will have up to a year to approve a draft text. Chileans will then vote on whether they accept the text or want to go back to the previous charter.

Chile’s 2017 census reported that about 13 percent of the country’s 17 million population identified as Indigenous.

Social Development Minister Karla Rubilar hailed the move as a “historical milestone in recognition of Indigenous peoples, and for taking another step toward repaying our historical debt (to them).”

TURKEY

Better Late Than Never

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday accused the United States of trying to obstruct the country’s rising defense industry after Washington imposed sanctions on Turkey for purchasing and testing a Russian-made S-400 air defense system, the Associated Press reported.

The US government imposed sanctions on its NATO ally earlier this week, a move that could inflame tensions between the two nations even as the two had been at odds over other issues over the past few years even as Turkey is being wooed by Russia, NBC News reported.

Turkey originally purchased the missile defense system in 2017 from the Russian company Rosoboronexport, which is also under sanctions by the US for alleged violations of nonproliferation and missile technology control regimes. It received its first delivery in July and tested the system in October. The US then removed Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program.

The United States had threatened sanctions as part of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act even before the purchase but had refrained from taking action.

The sanctions could pose a new dilemma for President-elect Joe Biden, although the latter has said that he is opposed to Turkey’s use of the Russian surface-to-air defense system, the AP reported separately.

DISCOVERIES

No Order

For years, people believed that the birth order of a child determined their future career choice but new research has debunked that assumption.

Instead, scientists found that being a first-born doesn’t impact a person’s future profession – which is a relief for those with multiple siblings, Science Alert reported.

An analysis of a longitudinal study monitored more than 3,700 Americans across five decades and found no evidence that first-borns want to become presidents and last-borns artists.

The findings, instead, showed that first-borns were slightly more likely to go in the creative fields.

“In practical terms, there is little-to-no evidence here to suggest that first- vs. later-borns are destined for specific careers, so parents should not be surprised if their firstborn wants to become an artist,” said lead author Rodica Damian.

The study also challenged previous hypotheses about birth order, which suggested that first-borns were smarter and that later-borns would seek out niches that weren’t taken by their eldest sibling.

While there was no evidence on “niche-finding,” Damian and her colleague found very little proof about first-born intelligence – with a lot of question marks.

She noted that past studies would use different measurements, experiments and groups of children, which might explain why the results always differed.

“Our findings suggest that the role of birth order on career types, occupational creativity and status attainment might have been overestimated in previous research,” she said.

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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: 16,979,777 (+1.52%)
  2. India: 9,956,557 (+0.24%)
  3. Brazil: 7,040,608 (+1.01%)
  4. Russia: 2,736,727 (+2.01%)
  5. France: 2,465,126 (+0.72%)
  6. Turkey: 1,928,165 (+1.57%)
  7. UK: 1,918,736 (+1.34%)
  8. Italy: 1,888,144 (+0.94%)
  9. Spain: 1,773,290 (+0.63%)
  10. Argentina: 1,517,046 (+0.45%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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