The World Today for March 06, 2024

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EGYPT

Germany’s left-wing Rosa Luxemburg Foundation recently described Egypt as a “regional hegemon in decline,” an important, potentially vital actor in the region that has fewer and increasingly worse tools to succeed.

The country is an autocracy whose leader, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, seized power from a democratically elected Islamist president in 2013. Before the Palestinian terrorist organization, Hamas, attacked Israel on Oct.7, el-Sissi was devoting his attention to an internal financial crisis.

Now the devastating war in the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt, and slowdowns in shipping due to Houthi militants in Yemen interrupting global shipping, have worsened the financial crisis and created a new strategic, international challenge for el-Sissi to address.

The Egyptian president’s credibility – and therefore his legitimacy and authority – are at stake. El-Sissi has to take bolder action, argued World Politics Review, or events will take over and dictate his and his country’s futures.

Egyptian leaders have been outspoken in their criticism of Israel. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry implored Israeli forces not to invade the city of Rafah in southern Gaza on the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinian civilians have fled to escape Israeli attacks in the north.

“The world is witnessing the most heinous crimes and violations against the Palestinian people,” Shoukry said, according to Agence France-Presse.

In anticipation of a massive influx of Palestinians fleeing Rafah, Egyptian officials have erected walls in a cleared, 6-square-mile area of land in the northern Sinai peninsula that could be used as a temporary safe space for Palestinians, added Foreign Policy magazine.

Egypt, joining Qatar, has also pledged to help a new technocratic Palestinian government assume power in the Gaza Strip once a ceasefire with Israel is eventually finalized, the Guardian reported.

These aren’t Egypt’s only challenges. Ethiopia’s influence to the south is growing, wrote the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, for example, challenges Egyptian power in the region. To the west, Egyptian business leaders are trying to benefit from a more secure climate in war-torn Libya.

El-Sissi has secured some good news in recent days, however, indicating that the hegemon might have some strength left to remain relevant.

The president recently announced a $35 billion deal to develop a “prime stretch” of its Mediterranean coast with an eye to attracting luxury tourists, Reuters noted. Egypt also signed deals to develop $40 billion of green hydrogen and renewable energy near the Suez Canal, added Egypt Today. Construction of a new, $50-billion capital city is also underway.

This funding, say analysts, will go a long way to stabilize the regime, for the moment.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Me, Too

INDIA

Police in eastern India on Tuesday said they arrested seven men for allegedly gang-raping a foreign tourist, an incident that set off renewed fury in the country over a “rape culture” that it has been attempting to defeat for more than a decade, CNN reported.

Two travel bloggers traveling by motorcycle from West Bengal to Nepal said in an Instagram post that they were attacked by a group of seven men while camping in a forest on Friday night. The attackers, holding knives to the couple’s throats, sexually abused the woman, a Brazilian national, and beat her male partner, who is Spanish.

Sexual violence is a widespread problem in India: National statistics indicated 31,516 rape cases in 2022, an average of 86 per day. Nonetheless, since most cases involve women from lower castes or indigenous tribes, they do not receive much public attention, the Washington Post wrote.

Writer Karanjeet Kaur told the Post that this case stood out because it victimized foreigners who have access to huge audiences, especially as they decided to speak out in a country where rapes usually go unreported.

The gang rape on Friday caused an uproar in the national media, among the public, politicians, Bollywood actors, and activists, and triggered renewed conversation on the issue of sexual violence nationwide.

Despite a crackdown and tougher laws and sentences – including the death penalty – that followed the 2012 gang rape and murder of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh, rapes have risen in India by more than 50 percent.

That’s even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the 2014 general election on a platform promising greater safety for women.

Meanwhile, the BJP-led government of the Hindu-majority state of Gujarat last year freed 11 men convicted of gang-raping a Muslim woman, Bilkis Bano, in 2002, causing a furor. The move was quashed in January by the Supreme Court, the BBC wrote.

Analysts attribute the lack of progress on the issue to India’s patriarchal culture, which downplays sexual harassment and violence, as well as its caste system.

Shunned

ZIMBABWE

The US government this week imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe’s newly reelected president, his vice president and other senior officials, based on their alleged involvement in corruption and human rights abuses in the southern African country, Al Jazeera reported.

On Monday, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced a series of sanctions targeting three companies and 11 people, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, aimed at “Mnangagwa’s criminal network of government officials and businesspeople.”

Mnangagwa and his officials are accused of protecting gold and diamond smugglers operating in Zimbabwe, taking bribes and aiding smugglers in the sale of those precious resources on illegal markets.

Gold is the country’s biggest export.

The government is also suspected of committing various human rights abuses, including abductions, physical abuse and unlawful killings, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The new measures follow a review by the US Treasury of a previous sanctions program that had been in place since 2003. Those sanctions were imposed after the appropriation of land from white farmers by Mnangagwa’s predecessor, Robert Mugabe.

Only those on Monday’s list will be sanctioned.

Following the US move, Zimbabwean government spokesperson Nick Mangwana welcomed the removal of the 2003 sanctions, calling them “a great vindication” of Mnangagwa’s foreign policy.

However, he described the new measures as “illegal,” adding that as long as the president and others are under sanctions, “we are all under sanctions.”

Still, Zimbabwe’s neighbor, Zambia, also welcomed the lifting of the 2003 sanctions, with President Hakainde Hichilema describing the decision as “further evidence that (President Joe) Biden listens to his African partners.”

First Blood

ARGENTINA

The Argentine government suspended the Telam state news agency this week, part of a plan by libertarian President Javier Milei to shutter the 80-year-old agency that he deems to be a mouthpiece of “propaganda” for prior leftist administrations, Agence France-Presse reported.

Officials said Monday they were finalizing plans for the closure of the agency – but denied that the decision had to do with “freedom of expression or press freedom.” They added that the agency had suffered losses of up to $23 million in 2024, without giving details.

Milei told the Argentinian congress last week that Telam has been “used for decades as an agency of Kirchnerist propaganda” – referring to the leftist political ideology of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and her husband Nestor, also a former president.

Telam journalists said the government had fenced off two of the agency’s buildings and surrounded them with police over the weekend. On Monday, hundreds of people protested the closure outside Telam’s headquarters in the capital Buenos Aires.

The agency – created in 1945 by then Labor Secretary Juan Domingo Peron, who later became Argentina’s president – employs more than 700 people.

It published hundreds of news articles and photos daily, as well as content for video and radio clients.

Telam supporters said the agency was “the only one” to report on events in remote provinces, such as Santiago del Estero or Tierra del Fuego.

Its closure comes after the government said it would “modify” the structure of all state media, as part of Milei’s efforts to shake up or shut state institutions since taking office in December.

Milei, a self-described “anarcho-capitalist,” won a resounding victory in last year’s elections fueled by public anger over Argentina’s prolonged economic crisis.

His agenda includes drastic cuts in state spending, economic deregulation, and the closure of government-funded organizations he deems unnecessary.

DISCOVERIES

The Healing Juice

The Matebele ants of sub-Saharan Africa have a fearsome reputation.

Named after a southern African tribe, the ants hunt termites with military-like precision and they can go on up to five hunts a day.

Death and injury are guaranteed, but the industrious insects are also very skilled and methodical at healing their wounded comrades, the Washington Post reported.

Researcher Erik Frank and his team recently studied how the species – officially known as Megaponera – produces special antimicrobial compounds to cure the wounds of infected fellow ants.

Their paper focused on ants infected with the Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a harmful and often drug-resistant bacterium. The research team noticed that the precision hunters would bring in their injured comrades and apply an antibiotic substance to the wounds.

They produced these secretions from the metapleural gland, located on the side of their thorax. Frank explained that this healing juice had around 100 chemical compounds and 41 proteins to treat infections, which “allows them to have a multifaceted approach, like a broad-spectrum antibiotic.”

This cocktail also included a never-before-seen protein, which the team hopes to study more in the future.

Frank noted that what’s also unique about the Megaponera is their behavior when taking care of their wounded.

“To my surprise, they left behind the ants that were too heavily injured,” said Frank. “They were performing a type of triage.”

The authors hope to conduct more research on the sub-Saharan ants, as well as observe how other insect species in the world care for their injured.

They added that the findings could assist scientists in finding ways to fight drug-resistant bacteria, a growing threat that has made it difficult to treat certain infections.

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