The World Today for October 21, 2021

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Revolution Redux

TUNISIA

Tunisian Najla Bouden Ramadhane recently became the Arab world’s first female prime minister. That’s a historic feat in the region and the greater Arab world, National Public Radio noted.

But the path Ramadhane, a professor and ministry of higher education official, took to power is shrouded in controversy. Her character is not being questioned. Rather, it’s how Tunisian President Kais Saied appointed her that is the issue.

As the National explained, Saied appointed Hichem Mechichi as prime minister after the previous occupant of the office resigned amid a corruption scandal. Saied and Mechichi’s relationship “soured,” however, and Saied ignited a constitutional crisis when he refused to recognize Mechichi’s cabinet nominees. Saied then suspended parliament and fired Mechichi in late July. Afterward, he chose Ramadhane.

“Tunisia: president appoints new government 11 weeks after power grab,” was the headline in the Agence France-Presse.

Saied insists his moves were necessary because of “imminent peril” citing both Tunisia’s health and economic emergencies. Now, however, as the pandemic has receded, parliament remains suspended and he is running the country without any checks, critics say.

Basically, Saied’s critics charge him with orchestrating a coup. Recently, the Tunisian president declared that he would bypass the North African country’s constitution and rule by decree, reported the New York Times. His actions have led many to question the future of the only country that became a democracy as a result of the Arab Spring, which ignited there in late 2010.

The president, for example, withdrew former president Moncef Marzouki’s diplomatic passport after Marzouki called on France to cease supporting Saied administration, Reuters wrote. Saied requested investigators to open a probe into allegations that Marzouki “conspired against state security.”

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who has also been criticized for consolidating power and riding roughshod over the rule of law after deposing the country’s elected president following its revolution, is also supporting Saied, according to Al-Monitor. Saied will bring stability to Tunisia, said el-Sissi.

The problem is Saeid’s version of stability. Rather than using his seized powers to enact reforms to the economy and judiciary, he’s fostered corruption. “We have a crony-led economy, fueled by a complicit government that shuts out young entrepreneurs,” opined Tunisian journalist and human rights activist Sihem Bensedrine in the Washington Post. “The majority of corruption cases end up in the financial courts, where mafia networks have influence and suspects walk free.”

Meanwhile, thousands have taken to the streets to protest the president’s power grab, countering demonstrations in support of Saeid, Al Jazeera reported. The anti-Saeid demonstrators yelled, “the revolution is not dead.”

Give people a taste of freedom and it becomes hard to go back to autocracy.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Open Doors

RUSSIA

Russian and Taliban officials met Wednesday during a major conference in Moscow, the most significant international meeting since the armed group seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August, Al Jazeera reported.

The meeting primarily focused on the security situation in Afghanistan and the formation of an inclusive government. Officials and representatives of 10 countries attended the conference, including those from China, India and Pakistan. The United States did not attend due to technical reasons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged the Taliban to form a government that includes all ethnic groups and political forces in the country. He added that the Russian government acknowledges the Taliban’s “efforts” to try and stabilize the situation. However, Lavrov emphasized that Russia will not recognize the Taliban government until it fulfills the promises it made when it took power, including the creation of a more inclusive administration.

The armed group seized control after the US and its allies withdrew from the country following 20 years of war. While it promised to be more inclusive and respect women’s rights, critics said that the Taliban has been backtracking on its pledges.

Many Russian officials said the conference might not result in any breakthroughs but the talks underscore how the Kremlin is attempting to assert its role in the region and fill the vacuum left by the American withdrawal.

Russia has been trying to lead diplomatic efforts in order to avoid instability that could damage its interests in Central Asia. Even so, Afghanistan has seen numerous attacks by Islamic State and other groups since its takeover.

The conference comes a day after Russia, China and Pakistan pledged to provide aid to Afghanistan amid a looming humanitarian and economic crisis.

J’accuse

BRAZIL

Brazilian senators are recommending that far-right President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with crimes against humanity over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a draft report presented to the Senate on Wednesday, CNN reported.

The nearly 1,200-page document accused the president of crimes against humanity, incitement to commit crimes and “charlatanism” over his handling of the pandemic.

Senators had previously tried to charge Bolsonaro with “mass homicide” and “genocide” against Brazil’s Indigenous people but later dropped those after failing to reach a consensus.

The report follows a six-month probe that has revealed scandals and corruption in the government, according to the BBC.

The document blames the populist leader’s policies for the death of more than 600,000 Brazilians during the pandemic – the second-highest death toll after the United States.

The draft report will be voted on by the Senate next week but it remains unclear what this means for Bolsonaro or whether it will lead to criminal charges.

Bolsonaro has previously dismissed the inquiry as politically motivated. He has continued to speak out against lockdowns, masks and vaccinations.

Even so, his popularity has slipped because of the pandemic and the recent report could further impact his chances at securing a second term in Brazil’s 2022 elections.

Lending a Hand

AUSTRALIA

Australia will offer money to victims of domestic abuse to leave their partners in an effort to fight domestic violence, which has surged in the country during the coronavirus pandemic, Complex Magazine reported.

The one-time payment of about $3,700 is open to all genders and can be given in cash or through direct payments for expenses, such as school fees.

The financial aid, known as the “Escaping the Violence Payment,” is part of a broader package worth $820 million to tackle domestic abuse. According to government data, a woman is killed by her partner every nine days, a figure that underscores the scope of domestic violence in the country.

Domestic violence worsened during the pandemic, with many victims saying the lockdowns were a key contributor. Even with the restrictions easing, surging rents have made it difficult for women to leave their partners.

Mary Crooks of the Victorian Women’s Trust welcomed the initiative but noted that the payments do not actually address the root causes of domestic violence. “There is a big moral and ethical and policy issue here,” she told CNN.

DISCOVERIES

Waste Not…

Governments and environmental groups around the world have been trying to raise awareness about the plastic pollution problem with mixed results.

Recently, environmentalists in Indonesia created a museum made entirely out of disposed plastics to send a warning about the dangers of pollution, Reuters reported.

The outdoor exhibition opened last month in the town of Gresik, in East Java and is made up of more than 10,000 plastic waste items – including bottles, bags and straws – collected from polluted rivers and beaches. One of the museum’s centerpieces is a statue of the Javanese goddess Dewi Sri wearing a long skirt made from single-use sachets of household items.

“We want to send information to the people to stop the use of single-use plastic,” said the museum’s founder Prigi Arisandi.

Plastic pollution remains a big problem in Indonesia, a nation ranked as the second in the world – behind China – for its volume of plastics that end up in the oceans.

Together with Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, the five countries are responsible for more than 50 percent of the plastic waste flowing into the oceans every year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The exhibition has received more than 400 visitors since its opening. It has also left an impression.

“I will have to buy reusable things such as drinking bottles instead of buying plastic bottles,” said student Ayu Chandra Wulan. “By looking at how much waste there is here, I feel sad.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 242,061,009

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,922,676

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 6,704,535,267

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

  1. US: 45,219,067 (+0.18%)
  2. India: 34,127,450 (+0.05%)
  3. Brazil: 21,680,488 (+0.07%)
  4. UK: 8,630,076 (+0.57%)
  5. Russia: 7,969,960 (+0.42%)
  6. Turkey: 7,744,109 (+0.39%)
  7. France: 7,202,932 (+0.09%)
  8. Iran: 5,821,737 (+0.20%)
  9. Argentina: 5,275,984 (+0.02%)
  10. Spain: 4,993,295 (+0.05%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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