The World Today for March 01, 2024

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Decisions, Decisions


On March 1, Iranian voters will take part in a legislative election that will be pivotal to the future of their country. On the ballot will be members of the Assembly of Experts, the chamber that will pick a successor to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 84 years old.

“The race for replacing Khamenei has already begun and is very heated, and whatever you’ve seen in Iran in the past two years, and onward, must be analyzed in the context of the struggle and fight over the chair of Khamenei,” an anonymous conservative Iranian official told Middle East Eye.

The fates of the Islamic Revolution and the Middle East are in the balance.

Forty-five years after the mullahs seized power in the capital of Tehran, murals of turban-wearing, bearded Shiite clerics and military heroes in fatigues are plastered everywhere, “a ubiquitous fusion of religion and nationalism, God and country,” wrote ABC News.

The mood in the country is tense, however. Firstly, the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody in 2022, as she faced charges of indecency for improperly wearing her head scarf, kicked off major, ongoing protests against the country’s theocrats, the Associated Press explained.

High inflation and other economic woes helped drive the demonstrations, added Al-Monitor. University College Dublin professor of international politics Scott Lucas noted in the Conversation that the country’s dismal economy was likely to decline further still.

Secondly, Iran is currently embroiled in foreign military activities either directly or through proxies in the Middle East and South Asia.

The country is supporting the Palestinian terror group Hamas in its fight against Israel, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. Iran and Pakistan also recently traded shots over their border in skirmishes related to Balochi separatists on either side. Lastly, Iran has deep ties to militants in Syria and Iraq, like those who recently fired missiles that killed American soldiers in Jordan.

The US has pushed back on these efforts, though American officials appear keen to deter more Iranian moves rather than start a wider war that could spread easily and cause catastrophe, CNN reported. These developments come as Iran’s allies – Hamas and Russia – fight US-backed opponents – Israel and Ukraine. Along with China, Iran and Russia have formed an alliance to upend the current US-led world order, according to Foreign Affairs.

In this context, the March 1 elections are more important than ever. Alexander Clarkson of King’s College London, argued in World Politics Review that Iranian leaders might be making bold moves internationally in order to quiet some of their critics at home, or at least divert them from the trouble they are stirring up and the challenges they face – at home and abroad.

It’s not that effective.

Clarkson wrote, “those efforts have done little to regain the support of a large swathe of the Iranian population whose visceral opposition to clerical rule became visible in mass protests in 2022.” Still, “Regime insiders worried that a softening of ideological rigor might play into the hands of rival factions are unwilling to push for the loosening of economic and social controls, even though doing so is necessary to rebuild support among young people increasingly at odds with a theocratic system established in the late 1970s.”


Not Compatible


A court in Northern Ireland delivered a major blow to the British government’s efforts to address the legacy of the territory’s “Troubles” period by ruling against a controversial law that sought to grant immunity for crimes committed during the decades-long conflict, Euronews reported this week.

The case was centered over the Westminster government’s Legacy and Reconciliation Bill that was passed in September. The new measures would halt prosecutions for killings by militant groups and British soldiers during the conflict, in which from the 1960s into the 1990s around 3,500 people were killed.

But the bill has faced fierce opposition since it was unveiled and more than 20 legal challenges from various groups, including victims’ families, human rights organizations, and political parties in Northern Ireland, according to Reuters.

In its verdict, the Belfast High Court ruled that the law’s provision for conditional immunity from prosecution breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ruling also underscored broader concerns about the British government’s approach to addressing the legacy of the Troubles and its implications for reconciliation efforts.

Critics noted that the law risked undermining the principles of justice and accountability, as well as the integrity of peace agreements, such as the Good Friday Agreement that ended the fighting.

Despite the court’s decision, the British government reaffirmed its commitment to implementing the law, citing its perceived role in bringing closure to the conflict.

However, opposition leaders called for a reevaluation of this approach, urging the government to prioritize human rights and reconciliation in its policies.

Of Appeasement and Postponement


Senegal’s government adopted an amnesty bill this week, a move aimed at resolving the country’s biggest political crisis in decades – sparked after President Macky Sall postponed elections that had been due to take place last Sunday, Agence France-Presse reported.

The bill would see the release of hundreds of people arrested during the anti-government protests that first erupted in 2021.

The draft law must first pass through the country’s parliament, but if approved, it could see the release of popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.

Sonko has been imprisoned since last year following a series of legal cases against him, including “corrupting youth” and “disturbing public order.”

Government officials explained the draft law is aimed at bringing “appeasement in the political space, reconciliation and moving on.”

The proposal comes after Sall postponed the presidential election scheduled for Feb. 25, sparking widespread unrest.

The president, whose term in office ends this year, said he called off the vote because of disputes over the disqualification of potential candidates and concerns over potentially deadly unrest in the West African country.

The original list of 19 candidates lacked a few prominent figures – including Sonko – who had been barred from standing.

But the political crisis became further complicated when the Constitutional Council vetoed the postponement, prompting Sall to call for a “national dialogue” to resolve the matter.

Earlier this week, hundreds of civil society members, political leaders and religious figures attended the two-day meeting, where they reached a “broad consensus” on various points.

Among the discussed points were proposals for elections to be held either in June or July, Sall staying in office his term until a new president is sworn in and reviewing the list of candidates.

But following the meeting, Sall opted to seek input from the Constitutional Council regarding the proposals, instead of announcing a new election date.

Opposition candidate Thierno Alassane Sall criticized the dialogue process, alleging that it merely served Sall’s agenda without addressing the fundamental concerns of the opposition and civil society.

Senegal is known as a beacon of stability in West Africa, a region that has been plagued by military coups.

Setting In Stone


France’s upper house passed a bill this week to embed a woman’s right to abortion in the country’s constitution, marking a significant step toward legislation pledged by President Emmanuel Macron in response to the rollback in abortion rights across the world, the Guardian reported.

The bill’s passage comes a month after the lower house overwhelmingly approved the proposal. The draft legislation will now go to a joint session of parliament for its expected approval by a three-fifths majority next week.

Following the vote, Macron affirmed the government’s commitment to solidifying “women’s right to have an abortion irreversible by enshrining it in the constitution.”

Specifically, the government wants to amend Article 34 of the constitution to specify that “the law determines the conditions by which is exercised the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed,” the Associated Press noted.

French lawmakers and politicians hailed the bill as a “historic” moment and “a victory for women across the world.”

Abortion has been decriminalized in France since 1975. Two years ago, the French parliament voted to extend the legal limit for ending a pregnancy from 12 to 14 weeks, following public anger that thousands of women were traveling abroad to have abortions.

The proposal to enshrine abortion into the constitution follows concerns among French leaders that abortion rights globally are at risk of being revoked or increasingly restricted.

The legislation’s introduction referenced challenges to abortion access in Europe, particularly in Poland, where a controversial tightening of abortion laws sparked widespread protests.


Planting Intentions

A new study found that those altruistic tree-planting projects might be having negative consequences for the local ecosystems, New Scientist reported.

Scientists recently analyzed data from the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), a project in which 34 countries in the continent pledged to reforest 133.6 million hectares of land.

The AFR100 is part of the wider Bonn Challenge, a global initiative that seeks to restore 350 million hectares of degraded or deforested land around the world by 2030.

But researcher Katy Parr and her team discovered a concerning pattern when they compared the size of the areas committed for forest restoration in each AFR100 country with the areas that are naturally forest habitats.

In 18 countries, more than 50 percent of the pledged regions included non-forested ecosystems, which included grasslands and savannahs.

“That’s the size of France, it’s enormous,” said Parr.

She explained that mass planting trees in these areas can negatively impact the local flora, such as blocking sunlight for smaller plants to grow. This will then have a knock-on effect on the animals, such as zebras that feed on the plants.

The team noted that many of the countries involved receive funding to carry out reforestation projects, so there is a financial incentive to not be picky about the type of land.

They hope that individuals responsible for these initiatives work with local communities to protect ecosystems and ensure people’s livelihoods aren’t affected.

An AFR100 spokesperson countered the study’s findings, saying the initiative has made it clear that grasslands should not be converted into forests.

“The authors of this article mistakenly equate restoration with reforestation and assume that AFR100 focuses solely on the latter, which is untrue,” they added.

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