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The World Today for February 17, 2022

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Guns and Butter


Last week, an explosion rocked Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Many in the financial and tourism hub immediately jumped to the conclusion that the blast was a rocket fired from Yemen, where the UAE is part of a Saudi Arabian-led force fighting Houthi rebels backed by Iran.

Missile and drone strikes have become more prevalent recently in the UAE, “shattering” the Gulf country’s reputation as an “oasis” of calm in an otherwise “turbulent” region, noted Haaretz. UAE forces have managed to intercept some of those attacks.

But the Feb. 9 explosion was just a gas cylinder exploding – an industrial accident that was certainly dangerous but not an act of war, reported the Jerusalem Post.

The incident was a metaphor for UAE’s place in the Middle East. Its leaders are implicated in the bloody civil war in Yemen while also working hard to develop their economy and make connections with other countries that could smooth the way for less excitement in the region.

On one hand, this split national personality is a difficult balancing act.

“Leaders in Abu Dhabi…seem caught between their active – even aggressive – foreign and defense policies of the past decade, and their current efforts to turn inward and focus on domestic development,” wrote Foreign Policy magazine.

Rocket attacks as well as Covid-19 fears could make a dent in the UAE’s tourism industry, for instance, argued Forbes.

On the other hand, though, the UAE’s domestic development has been coupled with international cooperation, especially with Israel and the US. In 2020, the UAE sealed a deal with Israel to establish ties between the two countries despite antipathy toward the Jewish state among many Arabs in the region. Economic growth and social liberalization have occurred as a result.

Everything isn’t rosy, explained Reuters. The two countries recently engaged in a public spat over security at Dubai International Airport because of Israeli flights to the country, for example. The spat wasn’t necessarily a sign of that agreement breaking down. But it was a sign of how the two sides had stitched themselves together close enough to have a spat about commercial air travel.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the United Arab Emirates Monday, a trip signaling a further thaw in strained relations over the two nations’ different views of Islamists in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring: Turkey backs them while the UAE sees them as a top security threat, ABC News reported. Erdogan said he hoped his visit would push the “big potential” of trade between the countries, one of the few subjects the two agree on.

Meanwhile, the US also recently dispatched a warship and a squadron of fighter jets to the UAE to help fend off Houthi rebels’ attacks, too, wrote Bloomberg. American military commanders were also meeting with UAE leaders to coordinate on other defense measures, added the Washington Post.

At the same time, the UAE is investing heavily in American, French, Israeli and South Korean weapons in order to bolster its defenses on its own, Al Jazeera reported.

One day the UAE might need to choose between guns and butter. For now, it chooses both.


Truth and Consequences


The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the bloc can slash funds to countries violating the rule-of-law, the latest salvo in a long legal battle that pits the EU against its members, Poland and Hungary, Politico reported Wednesday.

The landmark ruling follows a legal dispute that began in 2020 when the EU implemented a new mechanism to reduce funding to nations where rule-of-law violations impact EU taxpayers’ money.

The mechanism would have hugely impacted Hungary and Poland: Both have clashed with bloc officials in recent years over a range of issues from LGBTQ+ rights to the judiciary. The two countries challenged the mechanism in court, saying the regulation violated EU treaties and did not guarantee legal certainty to other member states.

But the top court rejected the challenges, saying the regulation is intended to protect the EU budget. It added that compliance with European values is a prerequisite for enjoying rights under the treaties.

Hungary and Poland criticized the decision as biased and warned that the mechanism was aimed “to financially blackmail member countries.” Officials from both nations emphasized that they were being punished over cultural and legal disagreements, adding that the ruling foreshadowed a larger power grab by the EU.

EU officials and lawmakers said the verdict will set the bloc on a firmer legal footing when withholding critical funds to countries with rule-of-law issues. The ruling was also viewed as a milestone in the bloc’s attempts to enforce democratic standards upon its members.



Nepalese protesters clashed with police in the capital of Kathmandu on Wednesday over a $500-million United States grant that has divided the governing coalition in the Himalayan country, Agence France-Presse reported.

Authorities detained at least 70 demonstrators protesting outside the country’s parliament where the grant was in the process of being approved.

Nepal signed the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) pact in 2017, which would fund infrastructure projects in the country, and provide large-scale grants to support economic growth and reduce poverty.

But lawmakers have been struggling to ratify the agreement before the Feb. 28 deadline. The chief opponents are Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s coalition partners, including Maoist lawmakers – seen as historically loyal to China – who argued that the grant compromises Nepal’s sovereignty.

Local media reported that Chinese officials have strongly lobbied against the grant, which they see as a covert attempt by the US to increase its influence in Nepal.

US officials, meanwhile, accuse China of instigating a disinformation campaign against the pact.

Spokesperson of the ruling Nepali Congress party, Prakash Sharan Mahat, said that the grant will “help spur the economic growth,” but warned that backtracking from the commitment will only erode Nepal’s credibility.

Rinse, Repeat


Portugal’s Constitutional Court ordered a partial rerun of last month’s general elections, a verdict that embarrassed the country’s political class and delayed the swearing-in of the new Socialist government, the Associated Press reported.

The court found that around 80 percent of the mail-in votes cast by Portuguese living abroad were invalid because they did not include an official identification document along with their postal ballot.

Before the Jan. 30 elections, political parties agreed to scrap the requirement for voters abroad to provide an ID with their mail-in ballot. But the high court called the move “grossly illegal.”

The decision prompted Prime Minister António Costa to apologize to voters, saying that the matter should “serve as a lesson” for politicians to write better laws.

Costa’s government was expected to take office next week but the snafu will delay the swearing-in until mid-March.

The incident will also delay the 2022 state budget until June.

Even so, the recount will not affect the victory of the ruling center-left Socialists, who secured 117 seats in the 230-seat parliament through votes cast in Portugal.


A Squirrel’s Rest

Animals that hibernate experience very little muscle atrophy and recently scientists figured out why that is, Inside Science reported.

Researchers recently studied how the thirteen-lined ground squirrel is able to maintain muscle mass and wake up full of energy after a months-long sleep.

In their paper, they explained that long periods of fasting and resting cause mammals to break down muscle proteins for energy, which results in the formation of nitrogen-loaded urea. Too much urea can be toxic so it normally gets excreted via urine.

But the team discovered that squirrels find a way to use urea thanks to the bacteria in their guts.

Scientists injected four dozen rodents with urea synthesized with heavier isotopes of nitrogen and carbon. They then tracked how this urea was processed during periods of activity and hibernation.

Their findings showed that when the urea was excreted, it was sent to the guts where it was broken down into nitrogen – an integral component for proteins. This recycled nitrogen would then be incorporated into amino acids which would later be used to build proteins in the liver and muscles.

Co-author Hannah Carey said this ability allows the squirrel “to survive … [and] be ready to begin the energy-intensive breeding season soon after emergence aboveground in the spring.”

Carey noted that the study could one day help find treatments for muscle loss in humans, as well as develop hibernation states in human astronauts when conducting deep space missions in the future.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 417,767,644

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,850,757

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,257,109,696

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

  1. US: 78,172,926 (+0.17%)
  2. India: 42,754,315 (+0.07%)
  3. Brazil: 27,819,996 (+0.51%)
  4. France: 22,131,431 (+0.47%)
  5. UK: 18,575,733 (+0.29%)
  6. Russia: 14,445,698 (+1.25%)
  7. Turkey: 13,173,859 (+0.72%)
  8. Germany: 13,093,881 (+1.88%)
  9. Italy: 12,265,343 (+0.49%)
  10. Spain: 10,744,394 (+0.35%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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