June 11, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

EGYPT

Writing Its Story

The coronavirus pandemic devastated Egypt’s most important industry, tourism.

In 2019, more than 13 million tourists visited the North African country, earning it $13 billion. It was a return to pre-2011 numbers – afterward, the street protests of the Arab Spring kept visitors away. Last year, however, due to Covid-19, 3.5 million foreign tourists came to the country.

“2019 was a fantastic year,” Mahmoud el-Rays, a tour guide at the recently opened National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, told the Associated Press. “But corona reversed everything. It is a massive blow.”

Now, however, as the pandemic recedes, Egyptian leaders hope the new museum and a host of bombshell archeological discoveries might lure back foreigners enthralled with the mysteries and the glory of the pharaohs and reignite the country’s economic engine in the process.

In an effort to drum up interest, Egyptian officials recently and with no small amount of pageantry transported 22 of the most prized mummies from central Cairo to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization along with flashy vehicles and military bands. The Times of Israel described the event as a “grand parade” designed to showcase Egypt’s rich heritage.

Shortly thereafter, archeologists found a 3,000-year-old buried city in southern Luxor that dates back to ancient Egypt’s golden age. The formerly lost city provides crucial clues into how Egyptians lived their daily lives when their civilization was at its wealthiest.

“The discovery of this lost city is the second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun,” Johns Hopkins University Egyptologist Betsy Brian said in an interview with the BBC.

These and other discoveries reflect how archeologists are digging away from some of the high-profile ancient sites like Luxor that have long drawn researchers, Smithsonian magazine wrote in a story that detailed how workers found 250 remarkable rock-cut tombs at a necropolis near Sohag on the east bank of the Nile, north of Luxor.

They are also showing how the story of ancient Egypt is still being written. As the Washington Post explained, the finding of an ancient temple in Saqqara revealed the name of Queen Neit, the previously unknown wife of a pharaoh who lived more than 4,300 years ago.

The same story mentions how archeologists recently found a 5,000-year-old brewery, potentially the world’s oldest, in Egypt. The facility could produce around 5,900 gallons of beer at a time for royal funerals and other official occasions, according to Deutsche Welle.

Nobody will ever fully solve these ancient mysteries. But archeologists have already succeeded in demonstrating how the ancient Egyptians were not so unlike us.

WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

Dangerous Labels

A Russian court labeled opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s political organization “extremist,” a move that would outlaw the movement’s activities and prevent its members from running for public office, Politico reported Thursday.

The designation means that Navalny and any member associated with his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) could be sentenced to 10 years in prison for “carrying out extremist (activities),” according to the Telegraph.

The ruling follows recent legislation that will ban those associated with extremist groups from running for office for three to five years. Russians are expected to hold legislative elections later this fall.

Navalny and his allies criticized the verdict and vowed to appeal. Meanwhile, the European Union and Britain condemned the ruling as “perverse” and called it the Kremlin’s latest effort to “suppress” Russia’s opposition.

The ruling comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s June 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

The Kremlin critic was arrested earlier this year and is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence following his return to Russia from Germany, where he was hospitalized after being poisoned with the nerve agent, Novichok, an attack he blames on the Russian state.

The government has denied involvement.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

New Day, Old Problems

The government of the Central African Republic resigned Thursday, setting the stage for a political reshuffle in an impoverished country plagued by a rebellion and fraying relations with its traditional ally France, Agence France-Presse reported.

Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada handed in his resignation to President Faustin-Archange Touadera. Touadera’s spokesman said, however, that the president might ask Ngrebada – his former chief of staff – to lead a new administration.

Ngrebada’s resignation comes months after Touadera was re-elected in a December poll hampered by armed groups that at the time controlled around two-thirds of the country.

Since December, CAR forces, backed by the 12,000-strong UN MINUSCA peacekeepers, Rwandan special forces and Russian paramilitaries, have wrested much of the territory from rebel control.

The presence of Russian forces has helped strengthen the poorly-equipped national army, but it has also strained relations with France.

On Monday, France froze financial aid and suspended military cooperation after CAR authorities arrested a French citizen in the capital, Bangui, on allegations of espionage and conspiracy.

French officials are also accusing CAR authorities of complicity in a Russian-organized disinformation campaign against France.

Russia’s relations with the central African nation have strengthened in recent years: In 2018, the Kremlin sent weapons and a large contingent of “instructors” to train the CAR’s armed forces.

Moscow has also stepped up investment in the country’s mining sector, which includes diamond, gold and copper, a direct threat to China which has long been involved in the country’s industry.

MYANMAR

A Long, Fake Rap Sheet

Authorities in Myanmar charged Aung San Suu Kyi with corruption, the latest allegation against the civilian leader, who was ousted earlier this year following a military coup that returned the Southeast Asian country to authoritarian rule, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Government-controlled media said that the ousted leader is accused of illegally obtaining land and for accepting $600,000 in cash along with roughly 25 pounds of gold from another former official.

The new charges add to the other raft of allegations against her, including illegally importing walkie-talkies and violating pandemic-related restrictions. Some of the accusations carry lengthy prison sentences that could potentially end her decades-long career in public life.

Suu Kyi and many of her officials were detained following the Feb. 1 coup. She had been Myanmar’s de facto civilian ruler since 2016 when the country undertook a transition from military rule to democracy.

Following the coup, tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets to demand her release and the end of military rule.

Myanmar’s armed forces, meanwhile, have responded with a violent crackdown, killing at least 850 people and arresting more than 4,780 others.

DISCOVERIES

e-CSI

eDNA may be the solution to wildlife trafficking.

Environmental DNA or eDNA refers to the detectable traces of genetic material – hair, skin, feces, blood, semen, urine, viruses and bacteria – from wildlife found in water, soil or even air samples, according to the Washington Post.

Aaron Henning, a fisheries biologist, and his team were trying to detect Didymosphenia geminata, an alga nicknamed rock snot or didymo that spreads between waterways.

Early detection and monitoring of species like didymo is important because it’s an invasive species that “can choke a streambed and kill other aquatic life.”

Traditional methods of tracking elusive species usually involve months or years of fieldwork. However, eDNA samples can cut that time down significantly even when sampling is done in large areas.

“We did the eDNA survey in two days,” says Henning. “If we were doing it traditionally (with electroshocking equipment and fishing nets), it would have taken two months.”

And eDNA is proving useful in more ways than one.

For example, when Kelly Carim, an aquatic research biologist was surveying a stream for the endangered bull trout species, she used a plastic cup fitted with a water filter to collect samples and test for the presence of the trout. Her lab has been collecting snow samples recently to detect the presence of bobcats, lynx and wolverines from snow tracks found on the forest ground.

Scientists were also able to find traces of a Brazilian frog believed to be extinct for more than 50 years after analyzing eDNA samples from a site where it was last spotted.

This form of sampling also has broader implications in criminal investigation. eDNA can act as an investigative tool for law enforcement agents to investigate wildlife crimes.

For example, researchers at the Hong Kong University Conservation Forensics laboratory in Hong Kong, a major hub for illegal wildlife trading, recently tested eDNA samples from seafood markets where protected fish species have been sold illegally. The scientists were able to find three internationally protected species: two sharks and a close shark relative, the blackchin guitarfish.

Although the study was successful, it took about a month to complete. Still, even though the technique needs more refinement before employing in large-scale investigations, it’s a promising tool.

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: 33,426,426 (+0.04%)
  2. India: 29,274,823 (+0.64%)
  3. Brazil: 17,210,969 (+0.51%)
  4. France: 5,791,608 (+0.08%)
  5. Turkey: 5,313,098 (+0.12%)
  6. Russia: 5,108,217 (+0.23%)
  7. UK: 4,558,933 (+0.16%)
  8. Italy: 4,239,868 (+0.05%)
  9. Argentina: 4,066,156 (+0.68%)
  10. Spain: 3,729,458 (+0.38%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours