The World Today for March 21, 2023

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A Hatchet in the Ground


It’s hard to say which is more remarkable about the recent peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran – the reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite Muslim powers who have been at odds over the future of the Middle East since at least the late 1980s, or the fact that China, not the United States, brokered the landmark accord.

The resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi officials in Riyadh and Iranian leaders in Tehran does not necessarily herald a golden era of close ties between the countries, wrote Foreign Policy magazine. But the deal shows how American influence in the region has waned, China has gained power, and the normal antagonisms and alliances in the unstable region might be shifting.

For example, with this agreement Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could be throwing his erstwhile allies in the internationally recognized government of Yemen under the bus, Al Jazeera reported. Saudi support has been helping the Yemeni government fight Iran-backed Houthi rebels who took the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in 2014. Now the government’s fate is uncertain.

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The deal also illustrates how the US has little or no leverage over Iran. Because the US has offered and rescinded offers related to Iran’s nuclear program, American diplomats simply couldn’t be honest brokers with Iranian leaders, said former Saudi intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal in an interview with Agence France-Presse.

While the deal also suggests a rift between the US and Saudi Arabia – two historic allies – it might not be one, reasoned Peter Krause, a political scientist at Boston College. “I don’t think it’s a strategic snub because I think the Saudis still need the Americans more than any other major power in the region,” Krause told The Hill.

Furthermore, the Chinese appear to be helping to bring peace to the two sides for the same reasons that Americans have been meddling in the Middle East for years: They want to ensure the free flow of oil to international, especially Chinese, markets, a Barron’s op-ed opined.

Saudi Arabia and Iran came together in part because both want to focus on domestic economic reforms, with particular regard as to how each will prosper in the future when oil consumption declines due to wider use of renewable energy sources, wrote Lancaster University International Relations professor Simon Mabon in the Conversation.

It’s not yet clear how the Saudi-Iranian deal could impact a proposal for the US to help Saudi Arabia develop a nuclear energy program in exchange for normalizing relations with Israel, the New Yorker added.

Still, the normalization could mean peace in Yemen, and who knows, maybe much more.


A Little Give, a Little Take


The Israeli government plans to soften its judicial overhaul proposal following months of mass protests and international criticism over a controversial reform that critics say threatens the country’s democratic foundations, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that the government would amend a contentious bill that aims to change Israel’s system for selecting judges.

Originally, the bill proposed an 11-strong panel to select judges that would include three cabinet ministers, two coalition lawmakers and two public figures selected by the government – delivering a 7-4 vote majority for the government.

But the amended proposal now envisages the panel as being made up of three cabinet ministers, three coalition lawmakers, three judges and two opposition lawmakers – making for a slimmer and less assured 6-5 majority for the government.

The amended bill also states that in any given parliamentary session, no more than two Supreme Court justices may be selected by a panel vote. Any appointments beyond that would require a majority vote from the selection panel, which would include at least one judge and one opposition lawmaker.

Netanyahu described the revised overhaul as “extending a hand to anyone who genuinely cares about national unity and the desire to reach an agreed accord.”

The amendments came following a phone call between Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden, who expressed “concern” about the original plan, and urged a compromise on the planned reform.

The US president, on behalf of Israel’s closest ally, told the Israeli leader that “democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the US-Israel relationship, that democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and that fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”

Meanwhile, protest groups dismissed the move to soften the legislation and called the latter a “declaration of war,” while opposition lawmakers said they would challenge it in the Supreme Court, according to the Middle East Eye.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have demonstrated against the bill since it was proposed earlier this year, calling it undemocratic. The prime minister and his right-wing allies have countered that the reform seeks to restore the balance of power between the branches of government.

Netanyahu is currently on trial for corruption charges and some critics say the overhaul could allow him to evade a trial, or even see his case dismissed.

The Laundry List


Thousands of Kenyans took part in opposition-led demonstrations Monday to protest the government of President William Ruto over skyrocketing prices of basic goods and other economic woes, the Associated Press reported.

Police arrested dozens of people, including at least three lawmakers, in the capital Nairobi. Police fired tear gas at demonstrators, while protesters hurled rocks at officers.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga said he called for the demonstrations to protest the rising cost of living: Kenyans are grappling with soaring costs for basic necessities, a depreciating local currency and a historic drought that has left millions hungry.

Odinga and other opposition leaders added that the protests are also aimed at last year’s “stolen” presidential elections, Agence France-Presse wrote, a poll which Odinga lost to Ruto and which Odinga has called fraudulent.

Kenya’s Supreme Court upheld the election results, saying there was no evidence backing up Odinga’s accusations.

Ruto, meanwhile, countered that he would not be intimidated by the opposition-led protests and called on Odinga to act in a “legal and constitutional manner.”

The Kill Switch


Indian officials shut down the Internet across the state of Punjab for a second day this week, cutting off access to around 27 million people as authorities search for a prominent Sikh separatist, the Washington Post reported.

The state government said the ban came as security forces launched operations to arrest Amritpal Singh, a preacher with a separatist movement that wants to establish a sovereign state called Khalistan in Punjab for followers of the Sikh religion.

Officials added that the move was also aimed at curbing potential unrest and “fake news.”

While the ban was initially implemented for only 24 hours, the state government extended it Sunday as authorities continued their search.

The blackout prompted complaints from Punjabi residents and businesses, as only essential text messages, such as bank transfer confirmation codes, were able to get through.

Analysts called it one of the broadest shutdowns in recent years in India, a country where authorities frequently shut down Internet access.

In 2022, government officials worldwide cut off their citizens’ Internet access 187 times. India accounted for nearly half of those shutdowns, according to Access Now.

Yet earlier this year, as G-20 delegates were welcomed to India as the group’s summit host, officials launched an extensive marketing campaign to promote their country, “Digital India,” as a global technological force.

Indian officials have frequently held up the country’s online payment and personal identity systems as a model for developing countries and even advanced economies.


Father + Father

Scientists created mice from two fathers in a breakthrough that could lead to radical developments in human reproduction, the Telegraph reported.

Achieving this required turning male-sex XY chromosomes into female-sex XX chromosomes, according to project biologist Katsuhiko Hayashi, who presented his findings – which need to be peer-reviewed – to the International Summit on Human Genome Editing in London, United Kingdom.

To do this, the project team used a technique that involved taking a skin cell from a male mouse and then converting it into a stem cell. Because stem cells can turn into any type of cell, the research team deleted the Y chromosomes, duplicated the X ones and then stuck the two Xs together, according to the BBC.

This method allowed the stem cell to be programmed to become an egg.

But Hayashi noted that only seven mice were born from 600 embryos they created. He added, however, that the pups were healthy and lived on to have offspring on their own.

The world-renowned biologist explained that this technique could be applied to humans in the future, such as by providing fertility treatments for males, females, and same-sex couples.

Still, he and other scientists cautioned that more research is needed to ensure that the method is safe. Moreover, there will be a lot of ethical debates about the procedure’s use.

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