The World Today for June 27, 2024

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Passing the Bar

IRAN

Iran’s mullahs approved six candidates to run for president on June 28, the date for a potentially tectonic election that comes as the West Asian country could face more political instability than ever.

The winner will replace Ebrahim Raisi, the late conservative president who died in a helicopter crash in May. In Iran, the unelected Shiite Muslim supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the undisputed head of state who controls the government, Al Jazeera explained. But the role of president is considered to be the number two in power. Raisi, furthermore, was a close Ali Khamenei ally. He was even widely suspected as the frontrunner to become the next ayatollah.

Now, whoever succeeds Raisi appears to have two options with Khamenei – either happily continue the supreme leader’s repressive policies against ethnic minorities, non-Muslims, secular institutions, universal human rights, women, and political dissidents, or butt heads with the mullahs and face removal.

They will also have to choose whether to continue Iran’s recently muscular foreign policy and support for Russia and its Ukraine war, noted Nikkei Asia.

That’s why most of the six candidates are hardliners, the BBC reported. Khamenei’s favorite might be Saeed Jalili, who led Iran’s efforts to stonewall at previous nuclear talks with the US and others. Another top contender, the Associated Press wrote, is Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the former mayor of the capital Tehran who is linked to the Revolutionary Guard, an elite fighting force, intelligence agency and industrial empire tasked with protecting the Islamic Republic’s sanctity.

Other developments might inspire a new president to confront the supreme leader, however.

Since 2022, civil unrest has rocked Iran as citizens have taken to the streets to protest the killing of a young woman in police custody, after arresting her on charges of violating the country’s dress code for women. Displeasure with the government is widely blamed for the turnout in legislative elections in March hitting record lows, according to CNN. Voters younger than 35 comprise around a third of the electorate. Many are among the most disaffected.

Under these circumstances, the Western press has written much about Masoud Pezeshkian, a parliamentarian who has staked out pro-Western positions and more tolerant social policies. Analysts at the Atlantic Council were surprised that the mullahs approved his candidacy.

Pezeshkian has floated the idea of rejoining US-led international talks to end its nuclear weapons program, and questioned if the Koran deems hijabs to be compulsory, for example, wrote the Financial Times. He has also appealed directly to youths, reported the Nation, releasing a documentary called “Gen Z: A View Into the Demands of a New Generation” that features him talking about young people’s concerns.

But Pezeshkian’s candidacy might also be a ploy to create “the illusion of political competition” in Iran’s authoritarian system for both foreign and domestic critics, concluded War on the Rocks.

Regardless, winning would only be his first battle.

“If the challenge of winning the election seems large,” Eurasia Group Iran expert Gregory Brew told Gzero, “the even greater challenge would be governing effectively as a reformist president – a challenge previous Iranian presidents, such as Mohammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani, have largely failed to overcome.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Biting the Dust

KENYA

Protesters set parts of Kenya’s parliament ablaze on Tuesday amid mass demonstrations against tax hikes in which more than 20 people were killed and led to President William Ruto scrapping the controversial bill, Reuters reported.

“I concede,” the president said in a televised address on Wednesday as he announced he would not sign the 2024 finance bill. The package of contested measures was approved by lawmakers the day before and sparked protests across Kenya, in the worst crisis since Ruto came to power nearly two years ago.

Violence culminated on Tuesday as police fired live rounds and tear gas at protesters. Medics and human rights advocates said at least 22 people were killed.

Amid police shots, protesters stormed the nation’s parliament in the capital Nairobi and set a part of the building on fire. It was the biggest assault on Kenya’s governing institutions in decades, the Associated Press wrote.

Buildings and vehicles were also set ablaze in Ruto’s stronghold Eldoret, Kenya’s Daily Nation reported.

In an initial address, the president called the protests “treasonous” and a threat to “national security.”

Meanwhile, protesters online vowed to continue their demonstrations, voicing plans to invade the State House – the presidential office and residence – on Thursday, as well as local offices of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Friday.

As he caved to pressure by withdrawing the finance bill Wednesday, Ruto said he would launch a conversation with the nation’s youth.

Though a welcome victory for protesters, the withdrawal was received with some bitterness following the dozens of deaths seen Tuesday, with one activist calling the president’s decision a public relations move.

Meanwhile, human rights organizations said they were investigating the alleged abductions of over a dozen people, including influential online content creators, by security forces.

The protest movement began online as citizens expressed frustration at proposed tax raises on items including bread and diapers. Though lawmakers took bread and cooking oil off the list before passing the bill, the amendments did not suffice to tame the angry mobs.

Ruto, who some protesters called on to step down, now has to juggle between Kenyans’ outcry against rising living costs and IMF demands for deficit cuts.

Against the Wind

DENMARK

Denmark will introduce the world’s first carbon tax on agriculture, as the European Union country is seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, the Independent reported.

Starting in 2030, Danish livestock farmers will face a tax of $43 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent, increasing to around $108 by 2035. However, an income tax break of 60 percent will only charge farmers roughly $17 per ton of livestock emissions per year from 2030, rising to $43 in 2035.

The agreement also includes incentives for farmers to adopt emission-reducing technologies.

The proposal is set to be approved by Denmark’s parliament later this year and follows months of negotiations between the governing coalition and various groups, including trade bodies and environmental organizations.

Officials said the initiative aims to cut Danish greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, and move towards climate neutrality by 2045.

The tax – which will affect cattle and pig farmers – also follows the global challenge of reducing emissions from food production, a sector responsible for nearly a quarter of global emissions.

Ruminant animals produce methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – through digestion, while synthetic fertilizers also contribute to emissions. An average Danish cow produces nearly seven tons of CO2 equivalent per year.

The agreement has faced criticism from farmers’ organizations, who warned that it could stifle technological investments and impact farmers already implementing sustainable practices.

Meanwhile, some green groups believe the tax deductions are too generous.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Climate Minister Lars Aagaard have emphasized the importance of agriculture contributing to the green transition.

The tax will also serve as a model for potential EU-wide agricultural emissions trading systems, the Financial Times noted.

The European Commission is exploring similar measures to incentivize farmers across the bloc to reduce their emissions, aiming to integrate agriculture into broader climate policies.

Dernmark’s proposal comes a few months after widespread protests by farmers across Europe against stringent climate change regulations, which they argue threaten their livelihoods and could lead to bankruptcy.

The new levy also mirrors New Zealand’s now-scrapped “burp tax” on sheep and cow emissions.

Initially set to take effect in 2025, the legislation was scrapped following strong opposition from farmers and a change in government after the 2023 election, which saw a shift from a center-left to a center-right ruling bloc.

New Zealand’s new government announced plans to explore alternative methods to reduce agricultural methane emissions, excluding agriculture from its emissions trading scheme.

How Much is Too Much?

BRAZIL

Brazil’s supreme court voted this week to decriminalize the possession of marijuana for personal use, a decision aimed at resolving vague provisions in the current drug laws and to help reduce the South American nation’s large prison population, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

On Tuesday, eight of 11 judges voted to make the possession of small amounts of cannabis an “illicit act,” but not to be punished by criminal proceedings. The selling of the narcotic will still remain illegal.

The top court decreed Wednesday that the maximum amount for personal use would be 40 grams – around 1.4 ounces.

The verdict comes after years of deliberations by the supreme court after it heard the case of a prisoner who received an additional term for hiding three grams of cannabis in his cell. The trial first began in 2015 but has been interrupted on various occasions, according to Agence France-Presse.

Currently, Brazil’s drug laws, dating from 2006, stipulate that individuals carrying small amounts of narcotics should be punished with alternative penalties, such as community service. However, the legislation does not determine the specific amount for alternative punishments and leaves that interpretation to authorities.

Supreme Court Judge Alexandre de Moraes previously said existing laws punish above all “young people, especially Black people, who are treated as drug traffickers for possessing small amounts.”

As of December 2023, Brazil had 852,000 individuals in custody, with nearly 25 percent arrested for drug possession or trafficking. Overcrowded jails disproportionately house Black citizens, who make up over two-thirds of the prison population.

A recent study by Insper, a Brazil-based research institute, analyzed more than 3.5 million records from São Paulo between 2010 and 2020, and found that Black individuals caught with drugs were slightly more likely to be indicted as traffickers than white individuals.

While human rights groups welcomed the vote, the court’s decision is expected to clash with the legislature.

Brazil’s congress is advancing a proposal to tighten drug laws: In April, the upper chamber approved a constitutional amendment criminalizing possession of any illicit substance.

The lower house’s constitutional committee approved it on June 12, and it must pass another committee before a floor vote. If passed, this legislation would take precedence over the court’s ruling but could still face constitutional challenges.

DISCOVERIES

The Color Purple

Dyes were an important trading commodity in the ancient Mediterranean, especially when that pigment was a peculiar shade of purple called “Tyrian purple.”

During the Roman period, the dye was worth around three times its weight in gold and emperors coveted it so much that they imposed capital punishments on anyone else wearing it.

Recently, an archeological team discovered an ancient workshop that was producing the royal color on the Greek island of Aegina some 3,600 years ago.

Excavations found the remnants of two buildings in the ancient settlement of Kolonna that had collapsed on top of each other. Investigations showed the site was packed with artifacts and objects used for dye making, such as grinding stones and pottery fragments with purple pigments.

Among them were also the remains of crushed shells of marine snails used to produce the luxurious color.

In their study, the team wrote that the ancient workers mainly relied on the banded dye-murex snail species to get their purple shade. The dye was made from the mucous secretions of the snails’ hypobranchial gland, mixed with salt water and left to steep in containers for a few days.

But it was very arduous and resource-heavy: Approximately 12,000 mollusks were required to produce about one gram of Tyrian purple – or less than 0.04 of an ounce.

Co-author Lydia Berger told Popular Science that the dye was used in various applications, including coloring textiles and wall paintings.

Its production costs did give it some additional value, but back in the Bronze Age, it had yet to reach its royal status, she added.

“There is no indication in the Bronze Age that purple was a symbol of power and that purple-colored textiles were only reserved for the elite or leaders, as in Roman or Byzantine times,” said Berger.

The findings provide insights into the culture, trade, and technology of the time. Kolonna was a well-connected settlement in the Aegean trade network, leveraging its location by the sea for transport, trade, and access to raw materials.

As for the Tyrian purple, the dye’s production method was lost after the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century.

Still, today’s artisans are painstakingly working to revive the royal shade, according to the BBC.

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