The World Today for March 01, 2023

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Nintendo and Synagogues


The Arab nations of the Persian Gulf are normalizing relations with Israel, loosening some of their harsh Islamic orthodoxies, and gradually transitioning their oil-dependent economies to a post-carbon future.

These changes could herald a new era of openness and prosperity. Or they could turn out to be ill-conceived experiments that further undermine the stability of the Middle East.

The United Arab Emirates, for example, has inaugurated a religious center that includes an Islamic mosque, a Christian church, and a Jewish synagogue – the first in the oil-rich kingdom – in one location. As Agence France-Presse reported, the UAE opened diplomatic and trade relations with Israel three years ago. Today, its small Jewish community prays privately.

Dubai, a major city in the UAE, also recently suspended a 30 percent alcohol tax and ended other curbs on buying alcohol, which is prohibited under Islam, in an attempt to boost the tourist industry, and which also includes welcoming Israeli visitors, wrote Reuters.

Saudi Arabia has also launched an effort to bring more tourists to the desert kingdom, even though alcohol is banned, unmarried couples can easily run afoul of the law, and the country’s leadership under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman regularly abuses human rights, according to the Financial Times. Officials have loosened the enforcement of laws for tourists, too, added Foreign Policy magazine.

Those effects dovetail with other reforms, including granting more careers to females, like the first-ever Saudi astronaut, the Telegraph noted, adding that Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on women driving cars in 2018.

The question is whether these efforts will yield real democratic changes. Otherwise, the Economist argued, they’re empty gestures that are the equivalent of bread and circuses designed to divert the attention of citizens who play little or no role in their country’s political systems.

Qatari society opened up significantly to the world in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup last year, for example, noted CNN. Observers are now wondering whether those new perspectives will take root and expand civil society or simply wither on the vine.

These Arab states appear to be more successful in shifting away from oil-based economies, the International Monetary Fund found recently, reported Bloomberg. A Saudi sovereign wealth fund recently became the largest outside investor in Nintendo, the Washington Post noted. Meanwhile, the Gulf governments are spending lavishly on education, transportation, renewable energy and other programs while building up their tax-collecting capabilities, which will be a crucial move if their domestic economies, rather than oil exports, are going to fund government services someday.

Arab leaders really only have themselves to blame if they fail.




Ruling party candidate Bola Tinubu was declared winner of Nigeria’s hotly-contested presidential election early Wednesday, against rivals who are already demanding a revote in Africa’s most populous nation, the Associated Press reported.

Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress party (APC) received about 37 percent of the vote, while Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party came second with 29 percent of the vote, followed by Peter Obi of the smaller Labour Party with 25 percent. Tinubu also received over 25 percent of the vote in over two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the capital, Abuja, thus meeting both requirements to win Nigeria’s presidency, according to the Washington Post.

The announcement by election officials overnight is likely to lead to a court challenge by Obi and Abubakar. The latter also finished second in the last vote in 2019, then appealed those results before his lawsuit ultimately was dismissed.

On Tuesday, they issued a statement saying that the results announced by Nigeria’s electoral body – the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – are “heavily doctored and manipulated,” CNN noted.

The highly anticipated elections have been dogged by controversy and violence. International election observers, including those from the European Union, said the polls fell short of expectations and “lacked transparency.”

Analysts worry that the current disputes and frustrations over the electoral process could boil over into large-scale violence.

The parties now have three weeks to appeal results, but an election can be invalidated only if it’s proven the national electoral body largely didn’t follow the law and acted in ways that could have changed the result.

The Shunning


Canada banned TikTok from government-issued devices this week, following the lead of both the United States and the executive branch of the European Union amid concerns that the social media app poses security risks, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Mona Fortier, Canada’s minister responsible for the public service, said the decision came following a review which determined that the app “presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security.” She added that there were also concerns about the legal framework under which information is collected from mobile devices.

Even so, TikTok representatives countered that Canada issued the ban “without any specific security concern or contacting us with questions.”

Canada’s decision comes as the popular video-sharing app – owned by the China-based ByteDance Ltd. – is facing intense scrutiny from European and US officials over national security concerns.

Security officials worry that TikTok could be used to promote pro-Beijing views or sweep up users’ information.

The US federal government and a majority of states have issued similar bans stopping public employees from using TikTok on government-owned devices. Last month, the European Commission ordered staff to remove the app from work-issued devices.

Elsewhere, the Danish parliament urged lawmakers and parliamentary staff against having the app on their work devices, citing “a risk of espionage,” the Associated Press added.

In 2022, TikTok became the most downloaded app in the world and in the US for the third year in a row, according to analytics firm Apptopia.

The Lapland Conundrum


Contentious legislation that would reform Finland’s law governing rights for its Indigenous Sámi people failed to get past the final committee stage in parliament, shattering the hopes of Sámi activists who had seen the bill as a major step toward self-determination, Euronews reported.

The Sámi Parliament Act was to set out how the Finnish government interacted with the Indigenous people’s legislative assembly on matters that affect their communities. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin had described the bill as an important human rights milestone for the European Union’s only Indigenous group.

But the country’s Constitutional Law Committee failed to move the bill forward for a vote, amid internal opposition within Marin’s ruling coalition, including the rural-backed Centre Party which objected to the draft legislation.

The bill’s failure caused disappointment among its supporters and Sámi activists, the latter describing its failure as “utterly shameful.” Marin called the decision “unfortunate and regrettable.”

Even so, the proposed law has sparked anger and controversy since it was introduced in November 2022, according to Canada’s CBC.

Analysts noted that one of the key issues of the bill was the matter of Sámi identity.

The new reforms would have redefined who is eligible to vote in Sámi elections even as critics countered that hundreds of would-be voters would be halted from participating in the country’s Indigenous politics.

According to the original Sámi Parliament Act enacted in 1996, a person is deemed eligible to vote in Sámi elections if they meet one of two criteria: Either a great-grandparent or a more recent relative spoke Sámi, or an ancestor was listed on tax documents dating back to the 16th century as a “Laplander” – a phrase meaning hunters, fishermen, foresters, or herders.

Sámi leaders have long claimed that the Laplander criteria are too broad and expose the community to fraudulent claims based on distant heritage.

As a result, the Sámi Parliament has consistently dismissed applicants who claim Sámi rights on these grounds. However, the Finnish Supreme Court overruled those decisions in a series of judgments since 2011, adding hundreds of new voters to the rolls.

There are around 10,700 Sámi in Finland, with one-third of them still living on ancestral Sámi lands, known as Sápmi, in Finnish Lapland.


The Queen’s Gambit!

Royal usurpation can be a nasty business. Bee kingdoms are no exception.

Scientists have discovered that wild, nest-searching bumblebee queens face immediate death once they try to claim commercial hives as their own kingdom, Live Science reported.

In their paper, a research team initially set up a number of commercial-style hives to study how the common eastern bumblebees – or Bombus impatiens – pollinate crops.

Coincidentally, they noticed a number of dead wild queen bees at the entrance of each hive, including members of the closely related “confusing bumblebee” – or B. perplexus.

The team explained that the foreign queens were attracted to the hives because of their bright colors and would then attempt to oust the ruling monarchs. They noted that wild B. impatiens queens engaged in usurpation, a natural behavior in which a queen without a nest takes over the domain of another royal for a potential advantage, according to the Cornell Chronicle.

But once they got in, the invading queens were swarmed by workers that showed no mercy.

While this sounds like a royal drama, the continuous regicide shows another instance of how human activity can impact bees: The researchers worry that the loss of wild queens could lead to an overall decline in local bee populations in areas around commercial hives.

To prevent this, they created a device that physically blocks wild queens from entering these hives and getting massacred by their would-be subjects.

The researchers said that these “queen excluders” were 100 percent effective at keeping wild queens out but without compromising the hive’s efficiency. The team believes that these devices should be rolled out to commercial growers who invest in the bees to help pollinate their crops.

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