The World Today for February 13, 2024

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The Delicate Dance


Jordanian lawmakers enacted a repressive cybercrimes law last year, to the alarm of human rights advocates who forecast that officials in the Middle Eastern kingdom could use it to subdue dissent. Now, those very same advocates say that Jordanian authorities have harassed, arrested, and detained scores of people who participated in pro-Palestine demonstrations in the country.

These demonstrations were generally in support of the rulers of Gaza, Hamas, who attacked Israel in October 2023, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 240 people hostage, eliciting a devastating Israeli response that critics of Israel have compared to genocide.

“Jordanian authorities are trampling the right to free expression and assembly in an effort to tamp down Gaza-related activism,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in a press release. “Recent government assurances that the new cybercrimes law would not be used to infringe on rights crumbled in less than two months as the authorities deployed it against Jordanians to stifle their activism.”

The repression is a sign of the forces that have put Jordan, a near-landlocked nation bordering the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, under enormous pressure in recent months.

Jordanian fighter jets, for instance, flew with American warplanes that recently attacked Iranian-backed militias in Syria after the militia attacked US forces within Jordanian territory, killing three American soldiers. The question is whether this move would deter Iran and its proxies – or push them to escalate, debated analysts at the Atlantic Council. The kingdom might have also participated in joint airstrikes with the US in Iraq, Middle East Monitor added.

Also, Jordan was the second country to diplomatically recognize Israel, in 1994.

Still, Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh has also felt impelled to demand that Israel refrains from displacing the millions of Palestinians who are now cowering in the southern part of Gaza, as Israel forces pound the north and central Gaza and move toward Rafah, the Times of Israel wrote. Jordan was supporting South Africa’s ongoing case in the International Court of Justice that accuses Israel of genocide in Gaza.

Khasawneh and his boss, King Abdulla II, are especially familiar with the Palestinian diaspora, comprised of the millions of Palestinians who fled their homeland in the wake of the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent wars that Israel won. Today, 20 percent of the people living in Jordan, or 2.3 million people, are registered refugees, reported the New York Times. That’s more than the population of the Gaza Strip. At the same time, millions more Palestinians are now Jordanian citizens, Human Rights Watch noted.

As the Middle East Research and Information Project noted, the king and Khasawneh must walk a line between quieting the pro-Palestinian voices in their midst, while also showing everyone who is in control – or risk losing it.


A Hard ‘Nee’


A court in the Netherlands on Monday ruled that the government block all exports of F-35 parts to Israel, arguing their use could be in violation of international law, Reuters reported.

“It is undeniable that there is a clear risk the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the Dutch appeal court concluded in the case, brought by activist organizations including the Dutch branch of Oxfam.

The court ordered the government to comply with the ruling within seven days. However, The Hague said it would appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing that the verdict overstepped the state’s jurisdiction on foreign affairs.

Monday’s verdict was a “surprising” one in which the claimants “won on all points,” Dutch broadcaster RTL reported. Though they are aware the ruling won’t provide any immediate change in the conflict, the activists told the outlet they hope it will serve as an example for other countries.

The Netherlands is part of a consortium of nations that store US-owned parts of F-35 fighter jets, and can distribute them to allied countries. Israel has received at least one shipment since the Oct. 7 attack carried out by Hamas in which 1,200 civilians were killed and 240 were taken hostage.

The subsequent war between Israel and Hamas has seen more than 28,000 Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks in the densely populated Gaza Strip. According to Hamas-run Health Ministry numbers, 43 percent of the victims have been children or young teens, the Associated Press wrote.

The court’s decision came after Israeli special forces raided the Gazan southwestern city of Rafah on Monday morning to free two hostages held by Hamas. The rescue operation was carried out as Israel’s air force conducted strikes on Rafah, killing 67.

The city is currently home to half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population, fleeing fighting in other parts of the enclave. Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu said it was Hamas’ last remaining stronghold in Gaza and ordered an evacuation plan ahead of a ground offensive.

In response, Egypt threatened to nullify a peace treaty, signed after the 1978 Camp David Accords, that limits the number of troops on the Israel-Egypt border. Such a move would challenge the Israeli military, jeopardize US funding to Egypt, and lead to further escalation in the region.

Not Quite Forever


Former right-leaning Prime Minister Alexander Stubb won a closely fought presidential election run-off on Sunday, the first election held since the country joined the NATO alliance last year, the BBC reported.

Stubb, from the ruling National Coalition Party (NCP), earned 51.6 percent of the vote, defeating former Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto from the Green Party in an election closely monitored by transatlantic allies and Europe. Finland’s long eastern border also serves as the European Union’s and NATO’s frontier with Russia.

The president-elect previously served as foreign minister from 2008 to 2011, then prime minister in 2014. His term was marked by his high-energy approach to governing, and hasty comments that drew criticism. Having lost the 2015 general election, he quit politics two years later, saying he was done forever.

The launch of Russia’s war on Ukraine in February 2022, however, motivated Stubb to make a surprise comeback, Politico wrote. He entered the race for the presidency with a softened demeanor, though he stood out by his hardline approach toward Moscow.

Recognizing he didn’t envisage any dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he added, “We all want to find a pathway toward peace, but it seems to me that that pathway happens only through the battlefield at the moment.”

Analysts warned that Stubb’s inauguration could be marred by intimidation attempts from the Kremlin, including airspace incursions or cyberattacks.

On March 1, he will officially succeed incumbent Sauli Niinistö as head of state, a position that brings the foreign affairs and security briefs as well as the title of commander-in-chief.

Niinistö, also from the NCP, gained domestic and international popularity after leading Finland into NATO in April last year, navigating through tricky negotiations with Turkey and Hungary, which were initially opposed to opening the doors to Finland and Sweden.

Stubb said that he wanted to bring together Finnish society, following a series of government scandals and strikes in the public sector.

Bedroom Politics


An Indian state led by the Hindu-nationalist party introduced a new uniform civil code on private matters including marriage, banning polygamy for Muslims, and forcing unmarried couples to register before moving in together, the Washington Post reported.

India’s 1.4-billion population comprises 80 percent Hindus and 14 percent Muslims. So far, each religion has had its own rules on marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance. Under customary law, Muslim men can marry up to four wives simultaneously and demand instant divorce by saying “talaq” three times.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has long argued that these different laws should be replaced with a uniform civil code applicable to all Indians. The northern state of Uttarakhand, governed by the BJP, became the first state to pass such a code. Two other states are preparing similar legislation, and the BJP is expected to propose a federal version after this spring’s national election, the Associated Press wrote.

The new code bans polygamy and sets the same minimal age for marriage across all faiths – 21 for men and 18 for women.

Many Indians, regardless of their politics, have upheld the need for a progressive, egalitarian code. Some Muslim women welcomed the ban on polygamy, Reuters reported. Nonetheless, Uttarakhand’s uniform code was described as an attempt by Modi and his party to further crack down on the rights of minorities. It was criticized for its targeting of Muslims, as some other minority communities were allowed to preserve their customs.

One element of the new code forces unmarried couples to register for a certificate before moving in together, one that officials can deny. So-called “live-in couples” failing to comply with the law face a six-month jail sentence or a $300 fine.

This measure has created a furor with analysts and activists denouncing the law’s provision that neighbors can tell on couples they suspect of living together without a certificate. Researcher Mary E. John told the Post, “Women are the first to get affected” by the increased surveillance.

Uniform civil codes have been central to the BJP’s Hindu-nationalist agenda. After Uttarakhand’s chief minister introduced it in the state legislature amid chants to the glory of the Hindu god Rama, one veteran columnist likened the bill to Afghanistan’s Taliban.


Beak Power

Rosy-faced lovebirds, known for their intelligence, have surprised researchers with their problem-solving abilities, particularly while navigating tricky situations by literally using their heads, according to the New York Times.

In a new study, biomechanist Edwin Dickinson and his team observed how the small parrot moved along small perches in a lab environment. As the perches progressively narrowed, the birds resorted to hanging from their beaks while swinging their bodies, akin to monkeys traversing trees.

This behavior – termed “beakiation” – involves using the head as a third limb and allows the birds to support their entire body weight solely with their beaks.

“In a limb loading sense, they are – on their head itself – able to hold their entire body weight just with their head, which is pretty remarkable,” said co-author Melody Young.

The researchers compared this behavior to the swinging motion of primates on monkey bars, with lovebirds falling in the middle ground between the energetic swings of gibbons and the inverted walking of sloths.

While it’s uncommon for other birds to use their heads for locomotion, the parrot species have previously exhibited coordination between their beaks and legs, the team reported in a previous study.

Although it’s unclear how prevalent beak-swinging is among wild birds, researchers hope to observe this behavior in parrots worldwide.

“It’s likely that parrots all around the world have been doing or are capable of doing something similar for time immemorial,” noted Dickinson.

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