The World Today for September 29, 2022

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IRAN

Big protests over little scarves are threatening to destabilize the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In mid-September, Iran’s morality police arrested Mahsa Amini, 22, for allowing a few strands of hair to escape her scarf, violating laws Iranian officials say are necessary under their orthodox Islamic views. Hours later, after she was put in a re-education center, she was admitted to the hospital “without any vital signs and brain-dead,” reported Time magazine.

Within hours of the public seeing images of Amini, dying in a hospital bed due to head trauma, protests were erupting across the country like wildfire. Led by women, the protesters carried pictures of Amini, burned their headscarves and shouted “woman, life, freedom.” They burned images of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iranian police clashed with the demonstrators, arresting at least 1,200 people, CNN wrote. At least 76 have died, the BBC reported.

Protests have swept Iran in recent years. But they have reflected discontent over economic issues and concerns about election rigging. These new protests are more serious because Iranians marching in the streets are challenging the theocratic social rules that govern Iranian society. That’s why they might leave a permanent mark on Iranian society, Foreign Policy magazine noted.

Iranian leaders have blamed American-based provocateurs for seeking to destabilize the country. “Washington is always trying to weaken Iran’s stability and security although it has been unsuccessful,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters.

They may have a point. According to the New Yorker magazine, a 46-year-old Iranian dissident journalist and mother, who works from an FBI safe house in New York City, has orchestrated a social media campaign that has helped spur and coordinate the protests.

Iran also targeted their Kurdish community – Amini was Kurdish – by conducting strikes across the border on the headquarters of three Iranian Kurdish opposition parties, killing 13 and wounding 58, including children, the Washington Post reported.

Analysts say the blame-game by Iranian officials is pure deflection, calling it an uprising “by the Iranians, inside Iran, against the Iranian regime.”

Hardline President Ebrahim Raisi helped trigger the protests with his recent crackdown on moral crimes like women failing to wear their headscarves properly, or at all, the New York Times reported. Under the previous president, moderate Hassan Rouhani, the police didn’t zealously enforce such laws.

But now, millions of women are harassed for “improper hijab,” according to human rights groups. Meanwhile, “numerous” women are serving more than a decade in prison for failing to wear a headscarf, reported Amnesty International.

Raisi has even used facial recognition technology to catch women flouting the law, the Washington Post added. Under his rule, officials beat a girl who was identified in a video as not wearing a scarf, then compelled her to apologize on public television.

Observers don’t think the republic will fall due to the protests. But if it does, they fear the chaos that would result, citing how civil war often followed when authoritarian governments in the Middle East fell during the Arab Spring, the Intercept wrote. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps might impose military law rather than allow a democratically elected leadership to replace the country’s current leaders.

Who would have thought a scarf would cause so many problems?

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Big Stall

MEXICO

The special prosecutor investigating the 2014 kidnapping and disappearance of 43 students in southern Mexico resigned this week, a move that raised concerns among the students’ families about the lagging pace of the long-running probe, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Tuesday that prosecutor Omar Gómez Trejo had stepped down following disagreements with Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office about procedures determining who should be arrested.

Gómez Trejo had been the special prosecutor of the case since 2019.

His resignation comes as the Attorney General’s Office faces intense scrutiny over the handling of the case.

On Sept. 26, 2014, the students vanished after commandeering buses to go to a protest rally. They were last seen in the custody of local police. The case sparked outrage in Mexico and abroad amid signs that authorities and local-drug trafficking gangs were involved, the Washington Post noted.

In August, Mexico’s Truth Commission released a report accusing Mexican security forces – including army officials – of being involved in the students’ disappearances.

Although Mexican authorities have recently detained former Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam and a retired army general, the Attorney General’s Office has voided about 21 arrest orders for suspects – including 16 members of the military – without explanation.

Before Gómez Trejo’s resignation, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights complained that the special prosecutor lacked proper police assistance to collect evidence, formalize new charges and continue with court proceedings.

Human rights groups, meanwhile, warned that the special prosecutor’s departure signaled unjustified interference by superiors in the Attorney General’s Office, including “rushed accusations and canceled arrest orders.”

On Monday, families of the missing students held a rally on the eighth anniversary of their disappearance and called for the resignation of Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero.

Despite intense criticism, López Obrador voiced his support for Gertz Manero and said nothing would impede the investigation.

Loaded Labels

INDIA

The Indian government banned a prominent local Islamic organization Wednesday, accusing it of being a threat to the country’s security, a move that comes amid rising communal tensions in the world’s second most populous nation, Voice of America reported.

The ban targets the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its affiliates and will remain in place for five years. The decision came days after the government launched a nationwide crackdown against the organization and arrested more than 250 of its members.

Officials said that the PFI and its associates have been involved in “serious offenses,” including terrorism, links to global terrorist groups and “pursuing a secret agenda to radicalize a particular section of the society.”

The PFI’s political arm, the Social Democratic Party of India, denied the allegations and called the government’s action a “witch hunt.”

The PFI formed around 15 years ago and has remained mostly confined to the southern states of India. It first gained notoriety when some members were convicted for cutting off the hand of a college professor accused by some Muslim groups of asking derogatory questions about the Islamic Prophet Muhammad on an exam.

However, the organization has gained more prominence since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government came to power eight years ago.

The PFI has been prominent in stoking anti-government protests in recent years, particularly its support for demonstrations against a citizenship law imposed by India in 2019 that critics say discriminates against Muslims.

While many officials welcomed the move, the new ban on the PFI comes as Modi’s government faces allegations of discrimination against Muslims, who make up about 13 percent of the country’s population.

The prime minister and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have been accused of promoting a Hindu nationalist identity and empowering hardline groups at the expense of the Muslim community, the Financial Times wrote.

Sovereign Immunity

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabian King Salman appointed his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as the kingdom’s prime minister, a move that formalizes the young royal’s role as the country’s de facto ruler, Al Jazeera reported.

No explanation was provided for the crown prince’s appointment, even though the position of prime minister is typically held by the Saudi king. State-run media said King Salman – who remains head of state – will continue to chair the cabinet meetings he attends.

The decision marks another instance of the slow but steady transfer of power in the oil-rich kingdom.

The crown prince – known by his initials MBS – previously served as deputy prime minister and defense minister, but already held a number of portfolios even before Tuesday’s appointment, including oil and the economy.

MBS has presented himself as a reform-minded leader, who aims to turn Saudi Arabia into an investment powerhouse and is attempting to diversify the country’s economy to make it less reliant on oil. He has also curbed the power of the country’s religious clerics and lifted certain restrictions on women, including allowing them to drive.

However, despite his projected image, the 37-year-old crown prince has come under criticism for his crackdown on dissent, including allegations that he ordered the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey in 2018.

MBS has denied ordering the journalist’s murder but said in a 2019 interview that he took responsibility for it, according to CBS News.

Meanwhile, analysts told the Guardian that MBS is facing a potentially damaging lawsuit by Khashoggi’s fiancée in the US over the crown prince’s role in the murder.

A US judge had requested the Biden administration to rule on whether the crown prince should be granted sovereign immunity. A world leader, such as a prime minister or a monarch, is normally afforded such protection.

DISCOVERIES

The Earth’s Army

How many ants live on Earth?

Researcher Mark Wong and his colleagues set out to find out.

They started by thoroughly analyzing almost 500 studies on ants spanning every continent.

Their final conclusion? A whopping 20 quadrillion ants – that’s 16 zeros – roam the planet to help disperse seeds, pollinate plants and annoy homeowners.

That number easily surpasses birds and mammals on Earth in terms of both numbers and biomass, CNET reported.

Meanwhile, the researchers also wanted to measure the volume of the world’s ants. In a new paper, they explained that the total biomass of the ants is about 12 megatons of dry carbon.

“Impressively, this exceeds the biomass of all the world’s wild birds and mammals combined,” Wong said.

More amazing still: This number is likely a conservative estimate. Wong said there is not enough information about ants living in trees and underground.

Meanwhile, these industrious bugs play a vital role in maintaining the planet’s ecosystem. But they are threatened by the changing climate and could become victims of “dark extinction” – or anonymous extinction – where they may disappear under the radar.

“We need people to rigorously and repeatedly survey and describe the ecological communities of different habitats before they are lost,” Wong noted.

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