The World Today for December 08, 2023

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Empty Victories


Egypt’s economy is in shambles. Inflation is running at a record 38 percent. Youth unemployment is 17 percent.

The country’s human rights record is dismal. Police routinely arrest government critics on charges of misinformation, according to Amnesty International. Freedom of expression, the press, and assembly have given way to government-sanctioned activities.

Meanwhile, many Egyptians, struggling to survive, have become outraged that their government is doing little while Israeli forces pound Palestinians in Gaza, which abuts Egypt, wrote Foreign Affairs. The Palestinian group Hamas, meanwhile, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that the Egyptian government views as a terrorist organization, the Council of Foreign Relations added. The European Union and the US have designated Hamas as a terror organization – but not the Muslim Brotherhood.

This climate would normally be terminal for a politician like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who faces reelection on Dec. 10.

But, as the think tank the Arab Reform Initiative declared, there is little doubt that el-Sissi will emerge victorious when the polls close and the winner of the race is announced on Dec. 18.

The opposition in Egypt is moribund. A former military officer, el-Sissi ousted the North African country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi – a member of the Muslim Brotherhood – 10 years ago. Maybe because el-Sissi was nervous about the state of things worsening, he moved forward the vote from the spring of 2024 to the end of this year – a move that he claims is legal, so it is.

The economy is certainly growing worse, wrote Gillian Kennedy, a lecturer in politics and international relations at the University of Southampton, in the Conversation. She noted that, in exchange for financial aid, the International Monetary Fund has imposed a draconian austerity program on Egypt that will push many more Egyptians into poverty.

Former lawmaker Ahmed Altantawy had given heart to those who dreamed that the democratic process would yield new leadership. Altantawy earned fame by openly criticizing el-Sissi in parliament.

In October, however, he quit, reported Africa News, saying that he and his supporters had suffered weeks of harassment and arrests that prevented them from compiling the signatures of 20 lawmakers, or 25,000 citizens, that he’d need to have for his candidacy for the presidency officially registered.

“Those trying to submit endorsements for candidates other than el-Sissi had found public notary offices inaccessible and protected by pro-government activists or thugs,” wrote Reuters.

The war in Gaza shows no signs of stopping, either, as an Israel-Hamas ceasefire ended. El-Sissi recently called on the international community to recognize a Palestinian state, reported the Arab News. He has already said an independent Palestine should be demilitarized, noted Al Jazeera. Israel would almost certainly reject the former proposal while Hamas would almost certainly reject the latter.

Yet el-Sissi is a winner.


Willful Ignorance


The United Kingdom’s Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick resigned this week over disagreements related to the government’s bill that some say is an end run around a recent Supreme Court ruling that deemed the Rwanda asylum transfer scheme illegal, dealing another blow to the ruling Conservative Party’s efforts to curb illegal migration to the UK, CNN reported.

Jenrick quit because the latest attempt by lawmakers to move the scheme forward “does not go far enough.”

In April 2022, the British government unveiled a plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda in central Africa, where they would stay until a decision on their claim had been made. But that plan has since come under fire from opposition parties, human rights groups and the United Nations.

Last month, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the scheme was unlawful because Rwanda is not a safe country for refugees, the Associated Press added.

The verdict prompted the government to unveil a new bill attempting to deem Rwanda safe, even as Home Secretary James Cleverly said it wouldn’t guarantee compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – a treaty that the UK is party to.

Meanwhile, the new bill says that the government can “disapply” sections of the UK Human Rights Act, which incorporates the rights set out in the ECHR. Another clause stipulates that the draft legislation is sovereign and its validity is not affected by key international law instruments, including the ECHR and the Refugee Convention, more commonly known as the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951.

Still, the new proposal received criticism from hardline lawmakers of the Conservative Party, who have been lobbying to remove the UK from the ECHR treaty. The opposition Labour Party also condemned the draft, adding that the government was in “total chaos” over the contentious scheme.

Meanwhile, Rwanda warned that it would walk out of the agreement if the UK did not adhere to international law.

Analysts explained that the bill would now face a tough battle in Parliament, noting that moderate factions within the Conservative Party will oppose any breach of Britain’s human rights obligations.

The Conservatives, said analysts, have also taken a beating this week after former Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized for his handling of the Covid-19 outbreak, saying he made mistakes, at a hearing of an official inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic.

The Soft Words of Harsh Mistakes


Nigerian President Bola Tinubu ordered an investigation into an accidental drone strike earlier this week that killed at least 85 people in northern Nigeria, an incident that prompted calls for accountability from the country’s military over errant bombings, NPR reported.

On Sunday, an armed drone hit villagers who had gathered in the rural town of Tudun Biri to celebrate the birthday of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. The fatalities included children and the elderly, with Amnesty International saying that the death toll topped 120 people, according to Voice of America.

The military acknowledged the incident, explaining that army officers incorrectly profiled the villagers as alleged militants and insurgents that have plagued much of northern and central Nigeria in recent years.

The head of the Nigerian army, Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja, called the strike “regrettable,” adding that the military will “do everything possible (to) prevent such an occurrence from happening again.”

Tinubu pledged a “thorough and full-fledged investigation into the incident,” which he described as a “bombing mishap.”

Even so, some Nigerians and human rights groups complained that the government has failed to hold anyone accountable for similar attacks in the past.

In January, an army airstrike killed 39 people in the central state of Nasarawa. The Nigerian air force acknowledged its responsibility five months later but has not elaborated on whether anyone has been held accountable.

In 2017, the air force bombed a refugee camp in the northeastern town of Rann in Borno state, killing more than 100 people, including aid workers.

The air force attributed the airstrike to incorrect coordinates, but has not ever said whether any officers were prosecuted.

Show Me the Money


Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida resigned as chief of his faction in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Thursday, following a political fundraising scandal that has further tarnished the prime minister’s already sinking popularity and prompted questions about his staying power, Kyodo News reported.

Kishida, who heads the fourth-largest faction within the LDP, announced he would step down, saying he “will take the lead in the party’s political responsibilities and efforts to restore public trust.”

He will continue to remain the country’s prime minister. Even so, there are doubts he will be able to remain in the top job despite a fractured opposition, Reuters reported. “I don’t think he can hold on to power for that much longer … and that is in part because this scandal is big and we haven’t seen the end of it yet,” Koichi Nakano, a professor specializing in Japanese politics at Tokyo’s Sophia University, told the newswire.

The move follows allegations that the LDP’s five factions have under-reported their revenue from political fundraising parties, with critics saying that the extra income may have been returned to some lawmakers as kickbacks.

The party’s factions traditionally offer election funding to their members and recommend the latter for ministerial roles – around 80 percent of LDP lawmakers belong to such groups.

But detractors noted that such functions of factions allow lawmakers to generate secret funds, as the money’s source and usage are difficult to trace.

The scandal has prompted the attorney general’s office in Tokyo to launch an investigation into dozens of LDP lawmakers and current ministers over more than $680,000 of fundraising proceeds that are not in official records, Reuters said.

Kishida, meanwhile, ordered LDP officials to stop hosting fundraising parties.

Still, the recent accusations come as Kishida and his cabinet are facing very low approval ratings as voters worry about the rising cost of living and looming tax increases.

The prime minister has also come under fire over his links with the controversial Unification Church, a religious group that has come under scrutiny over its aggressive fundraising methods and close ties with ruling party legislators.

Kishida has denied links with the Unification Church.

The LDP – which has held power for nearly all of Japan’s post-war era – is due to hold leadership elections next year with a general election due by October 2025.


This week, US authorities charged four Russian soldiers with war crimes for allegedly abducting and torturing an American citizen living in Ukraine, the BBC reported. The American, residing in Ukraine since 2021, was held for about 10 days in April 2022, enduring mock executions and beatings. This marks the first time the US has filed charges under its war crimes law. The accused soldiers remain free even as past cases have seen Russians facing charges be taken into custody abroad. The charges include conspiracy to commit war crimes, torture, inhuman treatment, and unlawful confinement, carrying a potential life sentence if convicted.

Also this week:

  • A former pro-Kremlin Ukrainian lawmaker was shot dead in a Moscow suburb Wednesday, in what observers described as an attack carried out by Ukrainian intelligence, the Guardian wrote. Illia Kyva, 46, was a member of parliament until he fled to Russia a month before the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. There, he became a vocal critic of Kyiv on Russian state television. Ukrainian authorities considered him a “traitor” to the nation and sentenced him in absentia to 14 years for treason. Soon after the assassination, anonymous sources speaking to Reuters and local media alleged that the Ukrainian secret service was behind it. Ukraine’s military intelligence spokesperson Andriy Yusov did not confirm the claims, but did welcome the fact that Kyiv was “done,” and warned that a similar fate awaits other Ukrainian traitors and supporters of President Vladimir Putin. On the same day, pro-Russian Luhansk lawmaker Oleg Popov died in a car bomb attack. The government of Ukraine has not commented on it to date.
  • Polish truckers protesting on the border with Ukraine have severely impacted military aid supplies donated by charities in Poland, Reuters reported. The truckers have been blockading the border crossings for a month to denounce Ukrainian drivers’ permit-free access to European Union territory, which they consider unfair competition. The protesters claimed they had let military aid pass through. However, civilian and commercial trucks transporting supplies have been forced to join a slow line attempting to cross the border, imperiling critical supplies such as drones, body armor, and vehicles. The Poland crossing is vital because of the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. The preeminent charity, Come Back Alive, said they were in talks with Polish authorities to solve the gridlock.
  • EU leaders have been trying to salvage a plan to launch EU membership talks with Ukraine after Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban threatened to veto it, the Guardian reported. Orban, who has stood out as a pro-Russian figure in Eastern Europe, told the European Council to remove Ukraine’s prospective EU membership from the agenda of a Council meeting to be held next week. Analysts in Budapest believe that Orban will stay the course in opposing Ukraine’s membership in the bloc. Meanwhile, EU officials hope that Ukraine can join the bloc by the end of the decade.
  • The number of Ukrainian children deported to Russia by occupying forces has reached almost 20,000, Ukraine’s human rights commissioner Dmytro Lubinets told a conference in Kyiv, with Russia “continuing to deport more and more groups of Ukrainian children from our state every day”, the Guardian reported. In March, the international criminal court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for Putin and Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, in relation to the forced deportation of children.


Six-Pack of Mystery

Scientists discovered a peculiar planetary system not too far away from the Solar system, a finding that could provide new insights about how planets form and why the Milky Way galaxy favors a specific type of world, the Washington Post reported.

In their paper, an international team of researchers wrote the discovery of six planets orbiting the star HD 110067, which is only 100 light-years away.

They categorized these planets as “sub-Neptunes,” which range between the sizes of Earth and Neptune. They described them as hot and gassy worlds that probably cannot sustain life.

Still, the team explained that the planetary system is unique because the planets’ orbits are locked into a resonance with one another as they course around their parent star.

Close analysis also showed that the HD 110067 system has remained stable since its formation four billion years ago, having experienced no cataclysmic impacts or the close passage of another star in all that time.

The researchers suspect that, judging by their density, these worlds have atmospheres, but further study is needed.

The main mystery that the authors are trying to solve is why are these planets sub-Neptunes – a very common type of world found across the Milky Way.

It remains uncertain if the prevalence of planets in this size range is due to a universal trend, or is influenced by our detection methods.

Finding small, rocky planets similar to Earth, especially those orbiting a stable, mature star like the Sun, is challenging.

“HD 110067 is an immediate astronomical Rosetta stone – offering a key system to help unlock some mysteries of planet formation and evolution,” said co-author Sara Seager.

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