The World Today for November 17, 2022

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Rock, Meet Hard Place


Nepali soldiers were recently searching for survivors after an earthquake struck the western region of Doti. At least six people died in the 5.6-magnitude quake, a tragedy but nonetheless relatively good news in a country where nearly 9,000 perished in a 7.8-magnitude tremor in 2015, wrote CNN. A Reuters video showing the soldiers shoveling the rubble of collapsed mud and brick houses, however, gave a sense of how Nepali citizens are struggling in a harsh country.

“Nepal is one of the least developed nations of the world,” the Britannica website noted. Around 20 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

When Nepali voters go to the polls on Nov. 20 for scheduled parliamentary and local elections, they’ll decide how their government will rebuild from the devastating quake, continue their remarkable success in areas like reforestation, as the New Times reported, and how their economy will respond to the economic shockwaves that are also currently rocking their world.

The moderate Nepali Congress Party, the lead member of the current government coalition, is squaring off against “a loose alliance of communist opposition and royalists,” explained the Indian Express, referring to lawmakers who want to bring back the monarchy that was ousted after almost 240 years and replaced in 2008 with a republican form of government. Foremost in voters’ minds is inflation surging almost to nine percent, reflecting skyrocketing food and energy price hikes, in addition to lost growth and the toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

Both sides have pledged to increase spending, create more jobs and lower the cost of utilities, the Diplomat wrote. But it’s not clear how they will achieve these lofty goals. Without much evidence to back up their plans, many candidates have taken to “slinging mud” at their rivals, focusing on alleged issues of character, something that hasn’t been the norm in past elections.

As a result, many Nepali voters are growing more cynical about whether their leaders can or will change anything. “Politicians care only about winning the election and not the plight of poor voters like us bitten by rising prices of essentials like rice, sugar, fruits, vegetables and cooking oil,” housewife Shobha Pathak, 50, told Reuters in an interview in the capital of Kathmandu.

China, meanwhile, has been insinuating itself in Nepali politics through its support for the Nepal Communist Party as well as investment and other financial ties, Foreign Policy magazine noted, moves that are in line with China’s more aggressive push to expand its sphere of influence in Asia and beyond. Nepal is also a crucial ally for India, though, argued Delhi-based senior journalist Parul Chandra in the Deccan Herald, an Indian newspaper.

Whether Nepal comes under the thumb of one of these powers or can prosper by playing them off against each other is one question that will determine the county’s future success.


Keeping Friends Close


The United Arab Emirates, a close ally of the United States, has been engaged in extensive efforts to influence US policy, according to a new classified intelligence report, The Hill reported.

According to the report, the Gulf nation used legal and illegal measures to try to influence US foreign policy in ways that would benefit the country, by exploiting vulnerabilities in the US government, as the Washington Post noted.

These vulnerabilities include reliance on campaign contributions, lobbying firms and lax enforcement of disclosure laws that are designed precisely to prevent foreign interference in US affairs.

Since 2016, the UAE has spent more than $150 million on lobbying and hundreds of millions more on donations to US universities and think tanks, many of which produce papers that support the Emirates’ goals.

Another example of the UAE’s influence includes hiring three former US intelligence and military officials to help the resource-rich nation conduct surveillance on dissidents, politicians, journalists, and even American companies. The three agreed to surrender their security clearances and pay about $1.7 million to resolve criminal charges, the Associated Press reported.

Previous intelligence reports examined – and found – election and political interference from the US’ rivals, Russia and China, not friendly nations.

Since 2012, the UAE has been the third-largest importer of US weapons and has fought alongside American forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Responding to the allegations, the UAE’s ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, said that he was “proud of the UAE’s influence and good standing in the US,” adding that the Emirates’ standing has been “hard earned and well deserved.”

The Lethal Song


Hong Kong called for an investigation after a song associated with the mass protest movement that gripped the semiautonomous city three years ago was played before a rugby game instead of China’s national anthem, the New York Times reported.

The incident occurred earlier this week during a rugby tournament in Incheon, South Korea, which had Hong Kong players competing against the South Korean team. Match organizers were supposed to have played the national anthems of both teams’ countries before the game began.

Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory, shares China’s national anthem, “March of the Volunteers.” But instead, the protest song “Glory to Hong Kong” blared through stadium speakers.

Asia Rugby and the Korea Rugby Union apologized to the governments of Hong Kong and China, saying that incident was a result of “simple human error.”

The Hong Kong Rugby Union addressed the issue and the Chinese anthem was played after Hong Kong won the match.

“Glory to Hong Kong” was composed by a Hong Kong musician – who has remained anonymous – during the pro-democracy movement that paralyzed the city in 2019.

It became the unofficial anthem of the protests and was played live by bands and orchestras during demonstrations.

However, the song disappeared from public events after China passed a controversial national security law in 2020.

The song was banned from schools that year and school administrators were charged with preventing children from playing or singing it.

That year, Hong Kong also approved legislation that made it illegal to disrespect the Chinese anthem and flag. Previously, when the Chinese anthem was sung at sporting events in the city, spectators occasionally booed, turned their backs, or made rude gestures.

The Show Won’t Go On


Israel is bowing out of the Miss Universe contest after canceling the Miss Israel competition that has been held for 70 years because it has been deemed irrelevant, the Times of Israel reported.

The competition had come under fierce criticism in recent years for objectifying women.

The cancellation also drew mixed responses from past winners, many of whom launched careers as a result of the competition.

Sella Sharlin, Miss Israel 2019, said the contest provides “a platform and a place for women to lead, to initiate, and not necessarily to talk about beauty.” She added that following her win she was able to found a group of associations that assist youth with financial education.

Still, she admitted that changes could have been made in the competition, such as removing the swimwear section of the contest and placing more emphasis on “standing in front of an audience, speaking, leading things, giving space to female power.”

Sivan Klein, the 2003 winner, backed the cancelation, saying that competition was outdated and “shallow.”

“It asks smart questions of smart women, in a bikini,” she added. “It places a crown on the head and at the same time, a ceiling.”


Thou Shalt Be Clean

Archaeologists recently discovered that the oldest sentence ever written in the earliest alphabet known to man was about personal hygiene, the Guardian reported.

In 2017, an archaeological team discovered a double-sided ivory comb in the ancient Canaanite city of Lachish in south-central Israel. The team believes the comb was made around 1700 BCE.

Although simple, the small relic had a number of engravings on it, which researchers only discovered in December.

In a new study, they determined that the markings were 17 tiny letters of Canaanite script, which is believed to be the earliest alphabet.

The research team explained that the script was invented about 3,800 years ago by Semitic-speaking people who were familiar with the ancient Egyptian writing system. Though it does not resemble today’s alphabet in any way, the Canaanite script was used for hundreds of years in the Levant region and later standardized by the Phoenicians in ancient Lebanon.

So what do the engravings say?

“May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard,” according to the translations.

Further study of the artifact found evidence of outer membranes of half-millimeter-long nymph stages of head lice.

Co-author Yosef Garfinkel and his colleagues said the findings also show the ordinary lives of ancient people, as well as how endemic lice were in those periods. Because the comb was made from ivory – a very expensive material at the time – even the wealthy were not spared.

“The inscription is very human,” said Garfinkel. “You have a comb and on the comb you have a wish to destroy lice on the hair and beard.”


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