The World Today for January 10, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Perception is Key

EGYPT

French automaker Citroën recently apologized for airing a television commercial in Egypt that featured the popular Egyptian performer Amr Diab driving a C4 crossover sport utility vehicle. In the commercial, Diab uses a built-in camera in the car to snap a picture of a woman crossing the street. The woman seems to enjoy the unsolicited attention. Later in the commercial, she and Diab appear as if they are on a date.

In a country where sexual harassment and gender-based violence are rampant, the advertisement stirred controversy, the Associated Press reported.

Public criticism rarely engenders much change in other areas of human rights in Egypt, however.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi recently issued a national strategy for human rights, for example. “It is a practical path to enhance the rights of the Egyptian people, integration with the national development path of Egypt, which establishes the principles of the new republic,” the president wrote on social media, according to the Daily News Egypt. “This comes in response to the aspirations of the present and future generations.”

But critics on the Washington Post’s editorial board and elsewhere claimed that el-Sissi’s real strategy appears to be designed to trample on human rights, not protect them.

An Egyptian court recently sentenced an activist, a human rights lawyer and a blogger to prison terms ranging from four to five years on charges of spreading false news that harmed national security, wrote the New York Times. Others face similar charges.

The verdict was delivered under emergency measures undertaken in the wake of el-Sissi’s rise to power in a 2013 coup that toppled the late President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist with links to the extremist Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, explained Middle East Eye. Morsi was elected president after the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak, a dictator who was in office for 30 years until the Arab Spring of 2011.

Some Egyptian human rights groups have praised el-Sissi for installing women in government positions, pardoning political prisoners and other moves, reported Ahram Online, a division of the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.

Human Rights Watch and other groups blasted the president’s prosecutions of activists and others, though. El-Sissi has technically lifted the emergency measures. But authorities filed charges against at least 48 activists before his decision, dooming them to a judicial process where they can’t appeal the court decisions. The Egyptian government has also released deceptive videos that make its prisons look clean and orderly while in reality they are squalid and rife with torture and other abuses, Human Rights Watch stated.

Whether being targeted by car companies or politicians, Egyptians must be aware of the differences between images and reality.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Let’s Parley

ETHIOPIA

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed freed a number of opposition figures and pledged to open dialogue with opponents, amid an ongoing conflict that risks tearing apart Africa’s second-most populous country, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Ethiopian federal forces have been fighting against rebels of the northern Tigray region for 14 months. The conflict has resulted in the deaths of thousands, the displacement of millions and reports of atrocities from both sides.

Abiy announced that those freed included Sebhat Nega, the founder of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and Abay Weldu, the former president of Tigray. The prime minister added that his government aims to achieve national reconciliation and promote unity.

However, he made no mention of negotiating with TPLF rebels, who have expressed willingness to hold talks with the government in recent weeks.

The amnesty is a significant milestone in a war that has threatened to fracture one of the United States’ most important allies in the region’s anti-terrorism efforts. Fighting has raged across the country since the prime minister authorized an operation in response to a TPLF raid on a government military site in November 2020.

The freeing of opposition figures follows international pressure against Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending a three-decade conflict with neighboring Eritrea. It also follows a meeting between Abiy and departing US envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman, who urged for an end to the conflict.

In November, the US removed Ethiopia from its trade program, citing the ongoing fighting.

The Right to Die

COLOMBIA

A Colombian man became the first person in the South American country with a nonterminal illness to die by legally regulated euthanasia, Reuters reported.

Victor Escobar, 60, died over the weekend following a two-year battle for his right to euthanasia amid opposition from doctors, clinics and courts. Escobar suffered from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other conditions that greatly reduced his quality of life.

His right to physician-assisted suicide came after Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled last year that the procedure should also be available to nonterminally ill people.

A day after Escobar’s passing, another Colombian, Martha Sepulveda, became the second person to be euthanized. Sepulveda had been suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Sepulveda was initially scheduled to be euthanized in October, but her procedure was halted after a medical committee said that she did not meet the conditions for assisted suicide, according to the Washington Post.

Her case drew international attention, and a judge later cleared the way for Sepulveda to undergo the procedure.

In 1997, Colombia’s Constitutional Court abolished sanctions for euthanasia under specific conditions, and it directed that the technique be regulated in 2014. In 2015, the first individual in Colombia with a terminal disease died under such criteria.

Since 2015, more than 170 people with terminal illnesses have been legally euthanized, according to the Colombian legal rights advocacy group DescLAB.

Collateral Damage

IRAN

Iran imposed sanctions on 51 United States officials over the weekend for their role in the 2020 assassination of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, a move that comes as the two countries are engaged in intense nuclear weapons negotiations, Al Jazeera reported.

The blacklisted people include many military officials, including US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Central Command chief Kenneth McKenzie and many commanders at multiple US bases across the region.

Iranian officials called Soleimani’s assassination in a US drone strike in Iraq a “terrorist act,” citing his killing and other alleged human rights violations as reason for the sanctions.

This is the second time Iran has imposed sanctions on US officials: Last year, they blacklisted former US President Donald Trump, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and eight others for their role in assassinating Soleimani. They also called for their arrest through Interpol, the international police organization.

The sanctions are largely symbolic as the named individuals are not believed to have any assets that Iran could seize.

The decision comes amid intense negotiations between Iran and various world powers to restore the 2015 agreement under which Tehran agreed to strict limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions against the country. In 2018, the Trump administration withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Since then, Iran has slowly violated parts of the agreement, prompting other signatories – France, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and Germany – to engage in intense negotiations in Austria to try to restore the accord.

US representatives are taking part in the talks indirectly.

Iran has demanded that most of the US sanctions be lifted before it scales back its nuclear program again.

DISCOVERIES

Mass Panic

A new study proposed that there are alternative ways to handle invasive species that don’t involve mass culling, Science News reported.

A research team recently developed a robotic fish to curb the spread of the mosquito fish, considered one of the world’s most destructive invasive species.

Originally introduced to control mosquito populations around the world, the freshwater fish has negatively affected ecosystems from Europe to Australia.

Lead author Giovanni Polverino said that present efforts to combat mosquito fish involve mass killings that can impact other species.

He and his team suggested that fear can help keep the creature’s population in check, so they developed a robot that mimics the mosquito fish’s natural predator: The largemouth bass.

In their experiments, they set up 12 tanks, installing in each of them six mosquito fish and six Australian tadpoles – which are commonly harassed by the invasive species. In half of the tanks, they introduced their robotic predator.

The device had a huge impact. The mosquito fish became less active and more anxious and harassed the tadpoles less than their counterparts in the predator-free tanks.

The stress caused by the fake predator also altered their bodies: They became smaller and less fertile.

Polverino said those results indicate that fear could replace older brutal methods to control some invasive species.

“These are not invincible animals,” he said. “They have weaknesses that we can take advantage of that don’t involve killing animals one by one.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 307,225,744

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,489,806

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,423,876,836

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

  1. US: 60,090,328 (+0.54%)
  2. India: 35,707,727 (+0.51%)
  3. Brazil: 22,529,183 (+0.90%)
  4. UK: 14,563,773 (+0.98%)
  5. France: 12,218,067 (+2.48%)
  6. Russia: 10,485,705 (+0.15%)
  7. Turkey: 9,980,422 (+0.62%)
  8. Germany: 7,553,745 (+0.29%)
  9. Italy: 7,436,939 (+2.14%)
  10. Spain: 7,164,906 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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