The World Today for December 16, 2022

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White Noise


The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) recently attacked Tunisian President Kais Saied in the run-up to parliamentary elections on Dec. 17, raising the prospect of the union’s million-plus members going on strike and/or boycotting the polls.

Already over the weekend, hundreds took to the streets in Tunis demanding Saied’s resignation, and waving signs with “Degage,” the rallying cry of the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring and ousted former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after nearly 25 years in office.

As Reuters reported, UGTT leader Noureddine Taboubi accused President Saied of flouting democracy and consolidating power. “We no longer accept the current path because of its ambiguity and individual rule, and the unpleasant surprises it hides for the fate of the country and democracy,” said Taboubi. “We will not hesitate to defend rights and freedoms whatever the cost.”

Saied shuttered parliament last year and ruled by decree until voters approved a new constitution that he had drafted in a referendum marked by low turnout and support. He says his moves are necessary to save Tunisia after years of crisis.

“There are so many enemies of democracy in Tunisia who want to do everything they can to torpedo the country’s democratic and social life from within,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post this week.

He added that “fake news” is the cause of widespread Western criticism of his steps to strengthen his presidential powers, and denounced unidentified “foreign forces” stirring up opposition to his rule.

However, summing up how many Tunisians feel about the election and the form of government that Saied has installed, Taboubi said the election had “no color and taste,” noted Al Jazeera, adding that the union boss was annoyed that in October Saied proposed the restructuring of state-owned enterprises, including cutting their subsidies, as part of a $2 billion deal for an International Monetary Fund bailout.

Reached in November, the IMF deal helped Tunisia avert a financial crisis amid soaring energy prices, worldwide inflation and other economic instability. Basic supplies are now hard to come by in the country. But it also put pressure on Saied to implement difficult economic reforms and bolster the North African country’s democratic institutions, argued Middle East and North Africa regional director Patricia Karam of the International Republican Institute, a non-profit affiliated with the Republican Party, in The Hill.

In a sign of the lukewarm sentiments about the election, authorities recently extended the deadline to register as a parliamentary candidate, citing low levels of interest, Al-Monitor wrote. Nobody was nominated to fill seats designated for Tunisian citizens living as expatriates in Asia and Australia, for example. The process of registering, acquiring voter signatures and receiving permission from authorities is also complicated. Around 1,400 people filed to run for parliament but only around 1,060 were accepted, for example.

The situation illustrates how Saied is an autocrat who wants to retain control but will bend over backwards to create the illusion of a free vote, said the Arab Center Washington DC, a nonpartisan think tank. New election laws, for example, eliminated quotas adopted after the revolution that ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and gave women a much larger proportion of seats in the parliament, added the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Democracy requires buy-in. Without it, there is no legitimacy, just white noise.


The Suitor


Africa took center stage at a summit this week in the US capital with Washington announcing its backing for the African Union’s (AU) membership in the elite G20, Reuters reported.

The African Union is made up of 55 members and is one of the largest regional blocs in the world.

US President Joe Biden previously indicated that he would support its membership. At the summit, he told the 49 attending leaders that the US is “all in on Africa’s future,” emphasizing that the world’s crises today need African leadership, ideas and innovations.

Earlier in the week, the Japanese government also expressed its intention to support the AU’s admission to the G20, NHK World-Japan noted.

The US-Africa summit also comes as the US seeks to reestablish itself in the continent to counter the rising influence of China and Russia. At the summit, the US offered billions of dollars in support and investment, the BBC reported.

This includes a $500 million investment to reduce transport costs at a key port in Benin and $350 million to spend on developing Africa’s digital economy.

Analysts noted that the summit was integral to Washington’s efforts to win back influence on the continent, as Russia and China have been developing stronger ties with African nations.

Even so, they added that Biden’s message showed that the US sought a strategic relationship with Africa, which has become a key geopolitical player with some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Observers explained that Washington will need to prove it is a better partner than Beijing and Moscow.

Making Amends


Canada plans to stop the military from probing and prosecuting alleged sexual offenses within the country’s armed forces, a move aimed at promoting more transparency and a better response to problems identified in a scathing report on the issue earlier this year, Al Jazeera reported.

Defense Minister Anita Anand presented a report to lawmakers vowing to make changes in the way sexual misconduct accusations are handled in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Anand added that she will also act on the recommendations made by former Canadian Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour.

In May, Arbour released a report underscoring the “endemic” issue of misconduct in the armed forces. The former justice found “a deeply deficient culture fostered by a rigid and outdated structure” that did little to modernize.

Arbour noted that she saw “no basis for the Canadian Armed Forces to retain any jurisdiction over sexual offenses.” The May report provided 48 recommendations to tackle the issue.

But the minister’s new report did not offer a timeline for implementing its key recommendations, with Anand saying that it could take years.

The proposed plans also pledge to review military colleges and their culture.

The CAF has been plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault in past years, including accusations against high-ranking officers. Previous efforts to reform have not been successful.

Last year, Anand apologized for the government’s failure to address the problem. The apology was part of a settlement of a class-action lawsuit by thousands of serving and retired members of the military and civilian defense workers.

Green Walls


European Union policymakers have agreed to impose a border tax on imports of highly polluting products with a heavy carbon footprint, a deal that seeks to protect the bloc’s own climate ambitions while pressuring polluting nations to become greener, the Washington Post reported.

The agreement – which still needs final approval – would affect products such as steel, cement, and fertilizer. The tax would raise the price of those products to account for the high cost of carbon emissions in Europe, where firms pay almost $94 per metric ton of carbon released into the atmosphere.

The aim is to apply the same carbon dioxide emissions tax that European manufacturers pay when they manufacture within the EU’s borders.

Beginning in October 2023, importers would be required to account for the carbon emissions emitted throughout manufacturing processes. They will then have to start paying the tariff from 2026.

The deal came more than a week after the US invited the EU to create a trade group that would give like-minded countries an advantage in producing cleanly produced steel and aluminum. Members would levy taxes on metals produced in less environmentally friendly ways from other nations.

The agreement and trade group are particularly aimed at pressuring high polluters, such as China and India, to limit their emissions and invest in environmentally friendly industries.

But analysts said policymakers will still have to iron out some details, including questions on whether the new tariffs violate World Trade Organization rules.

Critics also feared that taxes could instigate a wider trade war, especially if the US and EU were to unite against China.


This week, Russia said that the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine by the end of the year is “out of the question,” according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who added that any peace deal with Kyiv is “impossible,” the Washington Post wrote. Peskov told reporters that Kyiv needed to recognize the “new realities” that had emerged since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, including Moscow’s illegal takeover of four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine. His comments came a few days after former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was stepping up the manufacturing of next-generation weaponry to defend itself against foes in Europe, the US, and Australia, Agence France-Presse added. At the same time, British intelligence officials warned that Moscow is trying to obtain “hundreds of ballistic missiles” from Iran, The Hill noted.

Also this week:

  • The United States is finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine, CNN reported. Kyiv has been calling for weeks for weapons to intercept the barrage of Russian missiles and drone strikes that have destroyed key infrastructure across the country. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is expanding the training provided to Ukrainian troops, with plans to more than double the number of men being instructed at a German base, according to the New York Times. Also, the EU agreed to add an extra $2.13 billion to a fund intended to pay for military assistance to Ukraine, Euronews wrote.
  • Elsewhere, Russia’s close ally Belarus appointed a new foreign minister and air force chief while announcing a snap military inspection, the latest in a series of drills that has alarmed neighboring Ukraine, Reuters noted. Belarus has said that it will not enter the conflict, yet President Alexander Lukashenko enabled Russia to invade northern Ukraine from Belarusian territory on Feb. 24 and ordered troops to deploy near the Ukrainian border in October.
  • Ukrainian officials in Kharkiv are collecting the remnants of Russian munitions and missiles fired at the city, saying they are keeping them as evidence against Moscow, according to the BBC. Kharkiv has suffered from heavy Russian shelling and air strikes since the start of the war in February.


A Monkey Peace

A new study on a spider monkey’s skeleton is shining new light on the intricate relations and geopolitics between ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

In 2018, an archaeological team discovered the monkey’s remains in the ancient city of Teotihuacán, located in central Mexico. The finding perplexed the team because Teotihuacán is a dry region and spider monkeys live in forested areas, which were located in the Maya territory roughly 800 miles to the east.

A recent analysis of its remains showed that the animal was female and between the ages of five and eight years old at the time of its death. Researchers suggested that humans captured the monkey and kept it in captivity for about two years before later sacrificing it around 300 CE.

While the poor creature’s story shows the earliest evidence of primate captivity and relocation in the Americas, it also offers some insight into relations between Teotihuacán and the Maya.

The authors theorize that the Maya captured the monkey and offered it to Teotihuacán as a gift during a period of friendly relations about which scientists know very little.

Previous findings have also shown that the two cultures interacted and traded with each other.

However, an alternative scenario proposes that the Teotihuacán captured the primate during their conquest of Maya cities. Historians said that relations between the two civilizations frayed from 350 to 400 CE, when evidence of a Teotihuacán military presence in Maya lands appears.

Even so, the authors noted that the findings help piece together how “powerful, advanced societies dealt with social and political stressors that very much reflect today’s world.”

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