October 01, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

Baby Steps

QATAR

For the first time in history, Qatari voters will go to the polls to pick two-thirds of the Shura Council, the legislative body that advises the Persian Gulf nation’s leader, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The emir will appoint the other third, Reuters reported.

“The principle in these elections (on Oct. 2) is the complete conviction that Qataris are equal in rights and duties,” Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdul Aziz Al Thani told Al Jazeera, an international news agency that the Qatari government funds.

The natural gas-rich emirate is hardly engaging in actual democracy, however. The Shura Council can propose laws, fire ministers and approve the annual budget but the emir can veto its decisions. Analysts told Deutsche Welle that the council could improve policy on economic and social issues but foreign policy and defense issues would likely be unaffected.

Freedom House rated Qatar as “not free” last year, noting that while Qataris are among the wealthiest in the world, many residents of the emirate are impoverished.

As the Kuwait Times explained, political parties are banned, stirring up strife between groups is illegal, the Interior Ministry reserves the right to strike candidates off the ballot and voters have to be the descendants of Qataris who were citizens before 1930. Anyone naturalized after then or their descendants are ineligible to vote.

As a result, while Qatar should be celebrating the elections as a milestone, the strict, bizarre rules will tarnish them, argued Human Rights Watch.

Members of the Al-Murra tribe, a Bedouin group excluded from voting, have staged protests demanding the franchise. A global network of non-governmental organizations, Ifex, wrote that security forces broke up the protests, “stormed” the homes of tribe members and arrested dozens.

Activists have called for the international community to punish Qatar for its human rights violations by threatening to ban their athletes from participating in the 2022 FIFA World Cup scheduled to take place in the country, according to the Jerusalem Post.

At present, Qatar is flush with revenue due to skyrocketing gas prices, wrote Reuters. As Llewellyn King argued in Forbes, the emirate has used its carbon riches to expand its diplomatic heft worldwide. The US and Taliban conducted peace negotiations in Qatar. The country has accepted many Afghan refugees while the emir has advocated for engagement with the Taliban.

The Shura Council election is a baby step toward giving ordinary Qataris a sense of the rights they enjoy and the duties they’re expected to discharge. Many more steps are necessary.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Double Whammy

FRANCE

A court sentenced former French President Nicolas Sarkozy to one year of house arrest Thursday after finding him guilty of illegal campaign financing during his unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign, CBS News reported.

The verdict is related to the infamous Bygmalion case, named after the company that organized Sarkozy’s reelection campaign in 2012, which included lavish rallies and stadium gigs in front of thousands of supporters, according to the Guardian.

Prosecutors alleged that the former president spent almost twice the maximum legal amount of $27.5 million on the reelection bid that he lost to Socialist Francois Hollande.

On Thursday, the court found that Sarkozy “knew” that he went above the allowed limit and “voluntarily” failed to control the additional expenses.

The ruling is the second against Sarkozy, who was convicted in a separate corruption and influence-peddling case in March. The judge in that trial gave him one year in prison and a two-year suspended sentence but the former leader has remained free pending an appeal on those charges.

Sarkozy has denied wrongdoing and vowed to appeal the recent ruling. If the appeals fail, he could face a sentence of four years.

Despite the verdicts, the conservative leader continues to play a role in French politics. French media reported that he is involved in the process of choosing a conservative candidate for next year’s presidential elections.

Goliath Versus Goliath

RUSSIA

Russia threatened to ban YouTube this week after the platform deleted two German-language channels belonging to government broadcaster Russia Today for violating Covid-19 misinformation guidelines, Axios reported.

Officials accused the company of engaging in “unprecedented information aggression” and breaking Russian law. The Russian foreign ministry said that they are working on a set of “retaliatory measures against the YouTube hosting service and the German media,” according to Reuters.

On Tuesday, YouTube said that the RT DE channel initially received a strike “for uploading content that violated our Covid misinformation policy.” RT then tried to circumvent the policy by using another channel, which then resulted in the banning of both channels.

The move came a day after the site, owned by Google, announced that it will take down any videos that claim that approved coronavirus vaccines cause cancer or infertility.

Russia has also accused the German media of supporting the ban. The German government denied the accusations.

The recent spat underscores another attempt by the Kremlin to control the internet and use misinformation for its own benefit, Axios said.

On Wednesday, Russian authorities slapped Google with a fine of $89,000 for failing to delete content the Kremlin deems illegal. Last month, Google and Apple complied with the government’s demand to remove a voting app connected to opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The app helped promote opposition candidates during last month’s parliamentary elections.

Extreme Measures

INDIA

The Indian state of Rajasthan shut down internet access this week in an effort to prevent cheating in a highly contested teacher recruitment exam, a move denounced by local businesses and rights advocates, Quartz reported.

For almost 12 hours, people couldn’t access platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, pay for goods online or search with Google.

State officials explained that the decision was necessary to “enforce law and order” and prevent fraud during the Rajasthan Eligibility Exam for Teachers (REET) – an important exam for securing a highly sought position at government-operated schools, according to the Washington Post.

Cheating in exams is a significant problem in India, which has prompted authorities to step up anti-cheating measures such as surveillance cameras at testing centers. Before the exam, authorities arrested 10 people for allegedly trying to smuggle Bluetooth devices in their flip-flops that would transmit calls to hidden earpieces.

Even so, many businesses and citizens complained that the shutdown affected their work and earnings. A local trade federation said that 90,000 businesses had to close during the blackout in the Jaipur district, which has a population of about 6.6 million people.

Internet shutdowns have also been used in past examinations but civil rights organizations have denounced the move as “disproportionate.”

In a letter, the Software Freedom Law Center said the cutoffs are “bound to cause economic loss, (and have an) impact on education, healthcare and other welfare schemes.” It also argued that temporarily banning internet services to prevent cheating was a violation of law, since it does not count as a “public emergency” or a “public safety” measure.

DISCOVERIES

The Big Southern Bird

In 2006, schoolchildren in New Zealand uncovered the fossilized remains of a strange long-legged giant penguin in the country’s Waikato region.

About a decade later, scientists found that the remains belonged to a previously unknown species that lived in the area more than 27 million years ago, the Independent reported.

“It’s sort of surreal to know that a discovery we made as kids so many years ago is contributing to academia today,” said Steffan Safey, who was there for both discoveries. “And it’s a new species, even!”

In a new paper, researchers created a 3D-printed replica after analyzing the bones of the new Kairuku waewaeroa – which means “long-legged” in the Maori language.

The extinct animal was about 4.5 feet tall, making it taller than the current emperor penguin – which at 3.9 feet in height is the tallest among the species.

The research team noted that the ancient penguin resembled other Kairuku giant penguins that have been found elsewhere in New Zealand.

“These longer legs would have made the penguin much taller than other Kairuku while it was walking on land … and may have influenced how fast it could swim or how deep it could dive,” said co-author Daniel Thomas.

Penguin fossils go back almost as far as the dinosaurs, and many of the oldest specimens are from New Zealand.

Weekly World Quiz

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 233,744,983

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,782,996

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 6,233,226,322

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 43,459,843 (+0.25%)
  2. India: 33,766,707 (+0.08%)
  3. Brazil: 21,427,073 (+0.13%)
  4. UK: 7,843,887 (+0.46%)
  5. Russia: 7,401,104 (+0.32%)
  6. Turkey: 7,124,654 (+0.41%)
  7. France: 7,106,028 (+0.08%)
  8. Iran: 5,587,040 (+0.25%)
  9. Argentina: 5,256,902 (+0.03%)
  10. Spain: 4,959,091 (+0.05%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours