May 07, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

JORDAN

The Middle Child

Angry Jordanians regularly call into Rainbow Street, a talk radio show, to gripe about unemployment and lack of economic opportunities. In recent weeks, however, the tone has changed. Callers are blaming King Abdullah II, an ally of the West and a moderate Middle Eastern leader who has been in power for 22 years.

“People are now saying that the king is to blame for all the nepotism, the corruption – they are now saying that out loud, on the radio, in demonstrations,” show host Mohammed Ersan told the Financial Times.

King Abdullah’s popularity appears to have taken a hit after he accused his half-brother, Prince Hamzah, of attempting sedition. Hamzah remains in detention but was allegedly working with a former finance minister affiliated with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to undermine the country in a vague plot that allegedly planned to unseat King Abdullah in early April.

Hamzah was known to express views similar to those of listeners who call into Rainbow Street. He had also held the coveted title of crown prince, or heir to the throne, for four years until 2004 when King Abdullah transferred the honor to his eldest son.

Jordan officials announced they would release 16 people affiliated with the unspecified plot, the Washington Post reported. Saudi officials, incidentally, lobbied hard for the release of the former finance minister.

The rare intrafamilial conflict in Jordan – a country that largely escaped the upheavals of the past decade of its neighbors – reflects the intense pressure that King Abdullah is feeling to improve the flagging economy.

Jordan’s debt of $40 billion is 95 percent of its gross domestic product. That’s becoming unsustainable in the wake of a plunge in tourism and foreign investment due to the coronavirus pandemic in addition to high military spending to maintain security in an unstable region, decades of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees and mismanagement, according to Public Radio International’s The World.

Protests have been breaking out in the streets of the capital Amman as citizens have sought to vent their frustrations. During the Arab Spring and also the early days of Covid-19, the government used a “combination of changes in economic tactics and giveaway programs, repression, and government reshuffles” to calm people down, wrote Foreign Policy magazine. But those tactics won’t work so easily now.

The problem for the Middle East is that Jordan traditionally has been a cornerstone of the region. It recognized Israel three decades ago. It assimilated many Palestinians who left their homes during conflicts with Israel. The country exerts a moderating influence, Bloomberg argued.

If the center cannot hold, who knows what comes next.

WANT TO KNOW

UNITED KINGDOM

Alba’s Moment

British voters went to the polls Thursday in local, regional and mayoral elections across the country, a vote that could have far-reaching implications for Scotland’s status in the United Kingdom, Reuters reported.

Opinion polls suggest that the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) which currently governs Scotland will win the most seats in the Scottish Parliament, although not an outright majority.

Scottish first minister and party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, said that she will aim to hold a referendum on Scottish independence by the end of 2023 if her party wins a majority in the 129-seat legislature.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would turn down any requests for a referendum, adding that the issue was settled in a 2014 referendum: Then, 55 percent of Scots voted to stay in the 300-year old union.

However, Britain’s exit from the European Union and antipathy toward Johnson and the current government have bolstered calls for independence.

Analysts said that a victory for the SNP will put increasing pressure on Johnson.

Meanwhile, the elections – dubbed “Super Thursday” – could also affect the performance of the British Labour Party, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is seeking re-election against a backdrop of economic decline in the capital city due to the pandemic and Brexit, Euronews reported.

UGANDA

Two Sides of a Coin

The International Criminal Court in the Netherlands sentenced a former child soldier-turned-rebel commander from Uganda to 25 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Uganda, Al Jazeera reported Thursday.

Dominic Ongwen was a top commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army led by fugitive Joseph Kony. In February, the court found him guilty of 61 counts of murder, rape and sexual enslavement committed during a reign of terror in the early 2000s by the LRA.

Judges said that the verdict had to weigh the defendant’s brutality against his own tortured past as a child who was abducted by the armed rebels: Ongwen said in his defense that he was “the first victim of child abduction.”

“What happened to me I do not even believe happened to Jesus Christ,” he added.

Legal analysts said the case is one of the most momentous in the ICC’s 18-year history and also raises difficult questions about responsibility, according to the Guardian.

Since it was founded 30 years ago, the LRA launched a bloody rebellion in northern Uganda against President Yoweri Museveni. More than 100,000 died and 60,000 children were abducted, according to the United Nations.

The group has been largely wiped out but Kony’s whereabouts remain unknown.

BELGIUM

Fertile Borders

A farmer recently made history by changing the Franco-Belgian border after 200 years of stability, reported the Washington Post.

The Belgian farmer moved a stone on the border divide to allow his tractor to pass through, inadvertently giving Belgium 7.5 additional feet of land.

The change came to light after a historian walking along the path noticed the demarcation had shifted slightly.

The stone marker is part of the 390-mile border created in 1820 following the Treaty of Kortrijk after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, which separates the village of Erquelinnes in Belgium and France’s Bousignies-sur-Roc.

Meanwhile, residents of the region have taken the move in stride: “I was happy my town grew,” David Lavaux, the mayor of Erquelinnes, told French TV channel TF1, reported the BBC. “But the mayor of Bousignies-sur-Roc didn’t agree.”

The mayor of Bousignies-sur-Roc, Aurélie Welonek, retorted: “We should be able to avoid a new border war.”

Local authorities plan on simply asking the farmer to return the stone to where it was. If he does not comply, the Franco-Belgian border commission might be summoned for the first time since 1930. He could also face criminal charges.

DISCOVERIES

Apocalypse Now

In Norse mythology, Ragnarök marks an end-of-days event when the gods will be killed and the entire world is engulfed in flames.

More than 1,000 years ago, Viking settlers in Iceland tried to prevent that catastrophe and appease the gods by offering gifts and sacrifices.

Recently, archaeologists discovered a boat-shaped structure made of rocks in an Icelandic cave filled with all sorts of rare artifacts and animal bones, which they believe was associated with Ragnarök, Live Science reported.

A new study finds that the cave was located close to a volcano that erupted 1,100 years ago when the Vikings had colonized the island.

They found a treasure trove of decorative beads and minerals, including goods from Iraq and eastern Turkey. The team speculates that these arrived in Iceland through trade routes.

The presence of the treasures and animal bones suggest that the area served as a shrine to Freyr, the god of fertility, who would go toe-to-toe against the fire giant Surtr.

In the myth, Freyr dies by Surtr’s hand, which then leads to the end of the world. The authors believe that the ancient people were trying to strengthen Freyr so he could defeat Surtr and prevent Ragnarök.

But even though the Icelandic population later converted to Christianity, the cave was still associated with the apocalypse: One Icelandic tradition considers the cave to be “the place where Satan would emerge on Judgment Day.”

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: 32,605,019 (+0.15%)
  2. India: 21,491,598 (+1.97%)
  3. Brazil: 15,003,563 (+0.49%)
  4. France: 5,789,283 (+0.38%)
  5. Turkey: 4,977,982 (+0.45%)
  6. Russia: 4,799,872 (+0.16%)
  7. UK: 4,444,262 (+0.06%)
  8. Italy: 4,082,198 (+0.29%)
  9. Spain: 3,559,222 (+0.22%)
  10. Germany: 3,502,672 (+0.51%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours