The World Today for June 24, 2022
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NEED TO KNOW
Commerce and public services ground to a halt in Tunisia recently as the country’s massive Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) went on strike to protest President Kais Saied’s economic plan.
Saied has proposed wage freezes, subsidy cuts and other steps that the International Monetary Fund requires in order for the North African country to receive a $4 billion loan to avert a financial crisis, Reuters reported. Tunisia is in danger of defaulting on its debt, the Washington Post noted.
Saied assumed office in 2019 on an anti-corruption and reform platform that appealed to younger voters. Tunisia, remember, was the birthplace of the Arab Spring of 2011. The UGTT was co-recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for its role in rebuilding the country as a democracy after the Arab Spring. But a year ago, Saied froze parliament, sacked the cabinet and assumed direct control of the country.
Critics said he had pulled off a coup. As Al Jazeera wrote, Saied claimed he had to rule by decree in order to root out corruption and enact real reforms. At around the same time, he sacked 57 judges over corruption allegations. Meanwhile, Saied is writing new election laws and has slated new elections for December. In September, he also appointed Najla Bouden Romdhane as Tunisia’s first female prime minister.
And on July 25, he will oversee a referendum on a new constitution.
The new constitution would mix a presidential and parliamentary system, explained France 24. The text of the new document has yet to be released to the public, however, leading many Tunisians to think that the president’s referendum and other proposals will simply ensure that his autocratic rule continues.
This summer will be “critical for determining whether President Kais Saied consolidates power or yields to a renewed democracy,” wrote Sharan Grewal, a nonresident foreign policy fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Grewal believed that Saied would unveil a draft constitution that would serve his needs and his needs alone. He has been writing it himself, after all, with little help from respected law professors or similar advisors.
At African Arguments, Ben Maaouia, the co-founder of Tunisia’s Social Accountability Association, argued that the country’s democracy was slipping away. Ordinary Tunisians initially welcomed the president’s power consolidation. They were disillusioned with the government that they established after 2011. Now, however, they don’t envision the president ever leaving office.
It’s hard to say what might happen if Saied wins politically but fails to receive sufficient IMF assistance to govern. It’s possible Tunisians remember back to 2011’s ouster of their longtime dictator and think, ‘If we did it before, we can do it again.’
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Broken and Betrayed
A years-long judicial reckoning of corruption during the tenure of former South African President Jacob Zuma ended this week, prompting questions over whether the government will prosecute individuals who stole more than $31 billion from state coffers, Bloomberg reported.
The 5,000-page report showed a web of graft that stretched from the national power and rail utilities to Zuma and his cabinet. Chief Justice Raymond Zondo – who headed the inquiry – recommended the prosecutions of numerous officials starting from former heads of state companies to government ministers.
Still, since it began four years ago, the “Zondo commission” – as it’s colloquially known in the country – has only made a handful of arrests with many individuals accused of wrongdoing continuing to hold senior government positions.
Zondo said that President Cyril Rampahosa and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party have done little to tackle corruption, both during Zuma’s rule and following his resignation in 2018 amid corruption allegations. The judge held the party responsible for keeping Zuma in power and looting billions from taxpayers.
Analysts said that Zondo’s findings highlight how the South African government has become “a broken institution in itself.”
The findings have portrayed the ANC and President Cyril Ramaphosa in a negative light. Elections are still two years away, however.
The ruling party responded that Zondo’s report will help “enhance the process of fundamental renewal and rebuilding within our movement.” Even so, political observers and the public remain skeptical that authorities will take any action or fix the damage wrought to the country during the Zuma years.
The Violence of Symbols
The state of Victoria passed a bill this week to ban the display of swastikas, the first Australian state to do so amid an increase in cases of violent nationalist and racist extremism, CBS News reported.
Under the new legislation, anyone who intentionally shows the symbol – long associated with the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler – could face a year in jail or a $22,000 fine. Also, violators will be only prosecuted if they deny a request to remove the symbol.
It will take effect in six months.
State officials said the legislation “sends the strongest possible message that this vile behavior won’t be tolerated.”
While Victoria has anti-hate speech laws, critics say there are a lot of “gaps” in the legislation. The local community began to advocate for stricter rules in 2020 when a couple erected a swastika flag over their home.
Worldwide, antisemitism has been on the rise, according to The Anti-Semitism Worldwide Report 2021 by the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry.
In Australia, more than 440 incidents were recorded in 2021, marking a 35 percent increase from the previous year: Abuse, harassment, vandalism and the appearance of antisemitic posters have all increased. In May 2021, 88 incidents were recorded during the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The Loaded Swimsuit
France’s top administrative court ruled against the wearing of full-body swimwear, including the burkini, in public pools this week, amid an intense national debate about the country’s principle of secularism and the respect for fundamental rights, Reuters reported.
The case began when the city of Grenoble voted in favor of allowing the use of burkinis in public pools in May. The full-body swimwear – which leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed – is often worn by Muslim women who wish to preserve their modesty in accordance with their beliefs.
But the move sparked outrage from conservative and far-right politicians, who said the swimwear would undermine France’s principle of secularism.
The French government challenged Grenoble’s move and a lower administrative court suspended the measure. The recent verdict by the Conseil d’Etat upheld the lower court’s order: It said the new rule affects “the proper functioning of the public service, and undermines the equal treatment of users so that the neutrality of public service is compromised.”
The municipality, however, said that it regrets the top court’s decision, adding that the goal of the new rule was to guarantee equal treatment for all users.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called the decision a win for “secularism and above all for the Republic.” Still, Muslim rights advocates cautioned that bans on burkinis restrict fundamental liberties and discriminate against Muslim women.
The burkini debate has been heating up in France since 2016 when a city in the south tried to ban the swimwear from public beaches. But the Conseil d’Etat overturned the ban, saying it infringed fundamental freedoms.
Although there is no countrywide restriction, burkinis are restricted at many public pools around the country.
- Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia were unanimously accepted as EU candidates by the European Parliament on Thursday, the Independent wrote. The vote comes about four months after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. Although it demonstrates popular support for the nations’ applications to join the EU waiting list, the final decision lies with European leaders and could take years.
- German officials ordered families to cut back on their use of energy and issued a warning that industrial output will also take a hit as a result of Russia’s dramatic drop in gas supplies, Politico reported. Meanwhile, Russian gas supply cuts to Europe are being justified by technical faults with turbines rather than political motives, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who added that there is “no hidden agenda,” CNN added.
- More than eight million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, according to the United Nations, according to ABC News. The UN reported estimates that about half have taken refuge in Poland. Hungary, the second most popular choice, reported slightly more than 800,000 crossings.
Weekly World Quiz
The early human ancestors in Africa were sharing knowledge and communicating across vast distances more than 60,000 years ago, according to a recent study.
A research team discovered that the early Homo sapiens made a 65,000-year-old stone tool in exactly the same shape and using the same template across various sites in southern Africa, the Guardian reported.
Known as a “stone Swiss Army knife,” the multipurpose tool was used for a variety of things, including cutting, drilling and skinning.
Lead author Amy Way explained that because the tools look identical across different sites, it shows that ancient humans had strong communications networks and shared knowledge with each other.
She noted that these artifacts were found on sites that are 1,200 kilometers apart – more than 700 miles.
“One hundred kilometers takes five days to walk, so it’s probably a whole network of groups that (were) mostly in contact with the neighboring group,” Way said.
Way and her team added that the findings also suggest that these long-distance networks existed just before our ancestors decided to migrate in large numbers out of Africa some 60,000 to 70,000 years ago.
“The main theory is that social networks were stronger at this time,” she added. “This analysis shows for the first time that these social connections were in place in southern Africa just before the big exodus.”
Covid Update, Editor’s Note
It was at this time last year that we asked our subscribers whether we should continue the daily COVID-19 Update. Overwhelmingly, you told us you valued the information and asked that we keep publishing it. As we enter the third summer in the “era” of the coronavirus, we now feel more certain that it’s time to cease publishing the Update. Although the pandemic has not ended, the increase in the daily caseloads has slowed greatly around the world and especially in the Top 10 countries; and it looks as if COVID could be part of our lives indefinitely. Before we end publication, we’re giving our readers another opportunity to express your thoughts. Please write to us at [email protected].
COVID-19 Global Update
Total Cases Worldwide: 542,130,868
Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,326,038
Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,635,142,121
Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*
- US: 86,757,771 (+0.14%)
- India: 43,362,294 (+0.04%)
- Brazil: 31,962,782 (+0.23%)
- France: 30,634,890 (+0.26%)
- Germany: 27,681,775 (+0.39%)
- UK: 22,769,958 (+0.08%)
- South Korea: 18,312,993 (+0.04%)
- Russia: 18,140,893 (+0.02%)
- Italy: 18,071,634 (+0.32%)
- Turkey: 15,085,742 (+0.00%)
*Numbers change over 24 hours