World roundup: August 26-27 2023
Stories from Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Mexico, and elsewhere
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THIS WEEKEND IN HISTORY
August 26, 1071: The Battle of Manzikert
August 26, 1922: The Turkish army begins what’s known as its “Great Offensive,” the final push to oust an occupying Greek army from Anatolia. The offensive was successful and brought the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish War, itself a theater of the larger Turkish War of Independence, to a victorious (from Turkey’s perspective) conclusion.
August 27, 1896: Shortly after 9 AM local time, British forces invade the Zanzibar Sultanate over a succession dispute. Around 40 minutes later the Anglo-Zanzibar War was over and Britain’s man was on the throne. This conflict, the shortest war in recorded history, marks the point at which Britain’s protectorate over Zanzibar really took hold and the sultanate—founded when Zanzibar and Oman split into separate kingdoms in 1856—ceased to be an independent political entity in any meaningful sense.
Fighters from an al-Qaeda linked Syrian militant group, Ansar al-Tawhid, killed at least 11 soldiers and wounded 20 others in an attack on an army position in northwestern Syria on Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Tit-for-tat violence in that region seems to have intensified a bit over the past couple of weeks though there’s no indication as to why.
Yemeni Houthi rebels reportedly attacked Southern Transitional Council-aligned fighters on Sunday somewhere along the border between southern Yemen’s al-Baydaʾ and Lahij provinces, killing at least ten people and wounding another 11. At least four rebels were also wounded, according to “military sources” who spoke to AFP. As far as I know there’s been no comment from rebel leadership about this attack, which could threaten to undermine Yemen’s ceasefire. STC-affiliated militias have engaged in relatively frequent clashes with al-Qaeda fighter in southern Yemen but there’s no obvious explanation for a new Houthi attack.
According to The New York Times, US officials knew “last fall” that Saudi border guards had been massacring Ethiopian migrants attempting to enter the kingdom from Yemen but decided not to say anything about it publicly aside from a vague reference to “alleged abuses against migrants” made during a United Nations Security Council session. That’s the kind of deep moral commitment that I think we can all agree is a hallmark of US foreign policy. According to the NYT’s anonymous sources, US diplomats did raise the issue privately with Saudi officials—how strenuously is anybody’s guess but I can’t imagine they made a particularly big deal out of it. Per the NYT, “it remains unclear whether those discussions have affected Saudi actions.”
Myanmar’s ruling junta has apparently expelled East Timor’s chargé d’affaires, or at least the East Timorese government thinks so because it released a statement condemning the expulsion on Saturday. East Timorese officials have frequently criticized the junta and have shown support to the “National Unity Government” established by Myanmar rebels.
China’s post-COVID economic recovery hit another bump in the road last month as industrial profits were 6.7 percent lower than they were in July 2022. That comes after an 8.3 percent year-on-year drop the previous month. These short-term hitches may not have any significant long-term implications for the Chinese economy but they might contribute to a global economic downturn in the short-term.
Speaking of recovering from COVID, the North Korean government announced on Sunday that it will allow citizens living abroad to return home for the first time since the country went into pandemic lockdown over three years ago. Anyone taking advantage of the relaxed policy—this group is expected mostly to include students and expat workers—will need to spend a week in quarantine upon arrival. In another sign that Pyongyang is finally emerging from said lockdown, North Korea’s Air Koryo carrier flew its first international flight since the start of the pandemic on Tuesday, a round-trip voyage to Beijing.
Artillery fire killed an 11 year old child in the Malian city of Timbuktu on Saturday. The Malian army attributed the attack to “armed terrorist groups,” which means Islamist militants and in this case fighters from Mali’s al-Qaeda affiliate, Jamaʿat Nusrat al-Islam wa’l-Muslimin. Last weekend reports emerged that JNIM had blockaded Timbuktu—the militant group had previously “declared war” in the Timbuktu region.
Meanwhile, Islamic State has, according to the UN, doubled the Malian territory under its control in under a year. I guess the combo of a military coup and support from the Wagner Group didn’t prove to be a panacea against jihadist violence after all. This rapid IS expansion appears to be strengthening JNIM’s position as it portrays itself as the only entity in Mali capable of countering its rival jihadist group.
Niger’s junta has reportedly put the country’s security forces on “maximum alert” over the threat of an incursion by the Economic Community of West African States. Junta leaders do not appear to believe an attack is imminent, and ECOWAS continues to insist it’s giving diplomacy a chance, but in its alert order the junta mentioned the need to prepare for invasion in order to “avoid a general surprise.” The junta organized large supportive protests in Niamey on Saturday to mark one month since their coup and to, I guess, show ECOWAS that the Nigerien people are behind it. It’s clear that a large number of people in the capital do back their new military government, though it’s impossible to know whether that support extends to other parts of Niger.
The SSC militia, which asserts loyalty to the Somali government, has reportedly seized a major military base and several checkpoints in the Sool region of the breakaway Somaliland republic. Back in February that militia engaged in fairly heavy fighting with Somaliland forces in and around Sool’s capital, Las Anod. SSC officials acknowledged “casualties on both sides” as a result of this latest fighting, but without going into specifics.
Zimbabwean election officials on Saturday declared President Emmerson Mnangagwa the winner of Wednesday’s election. According to their tally Mnangagwa took 52.6 percent of the vote while his main challenger, Nelson Chamisa, took around 44 percent. Chamisa and his allies are already rejecting the results, which were released more quickly than expected after an election in which several urban polling stations suffered major delays due to an alleged lack of ballots. Vote monitors have noted a number of irregularities, including the presence of members of a group called “Forever Associates of Zimbabwe” who seemed intent on collecting personal information about voters. A not insubstantial number of monitors wound up being arrested by Zimbabwean authorities, which drew international criticism from the US government among other sources. It’s unclear whether the opposition is planning to challenge the result and, if it does, how it intends to go about that.
The Russian military says it shot down two Ukrainian drones over Belgorod and Kursk oblasts on Sunday. A drone reportedly damaged an apartment building in the city of Kursk, which may have been the same drone that was shot down though that’s not entirely clear. A drone strike on Saturday killed one man in Belgorod.
Russian authorities say that they’ve confirmed the death of former Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin in Wednesday’s tragic and totally accidental we swear plane crash in Russia’s Tver oblast. Apparently “molecular-genetic examinations” were able to determine that all ten people listed on the plane’s passenger list, including Prigozhin and Wagner #2 Dmitry Utkin, were in fact on the plane.
Russian shelling reportedly killed at least two civilians in a suburb outside the eastern Ukrainian city of Kupiansk on Saturday. There are indications that the Russian military has targeted Kupiansk for a counter-counteroffensive, if you will, and they may make a move to recapture the city with the Ukrainian military’s attention and resources focused further south. Elsewhere, a cargo vessel left Odesa on Saturday, becoming the second ship to make use of the shipping corridor the Ukrainian military opened after Russia quashed the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The ship, the Primus, is heading for the Bulgarian port city of Varna.
While investigations into the bombing of the Nord Stream gas pipelines last September are still ongoing, the German outlet Der Spiegel reports that suspicions are increasingly centered on Ukraine:
But there are leads. DER SPIEGEL, together with German public broadcaster ZDF, assembled a team of more than two dozen journalists to track them down over a period of six months. Their reporting took them around the globe: from the Republic of Moldova to the United States; from Stockholm via Kyiv and Prague to Romania and France. Much of the information comes from sources who cannot be named. It comes from intelligence agencies, investigators, high ranking officials and politicians. And it comes from people who, in one way or another, are directly linked to suspects.
At some point in the reporting, it became clear that the Andromeda had played a critical role, which is why DER SPIEGEL and ZDF chartered the boat once the criminal technicians from the BKA had released it. Together, six reporters followed the paths of the saboteurs across the Baltic Sea to the site of one of the explosions in international waters.
This voyage on its own did not reveal the secrets of the attack, but it made it easier to understand what may have happened and how – what is plausible and what is not. And why investigators have become so convinced that the leads now point in just one single direction. Towards Ukraine.
I don’t think there’s any reason to expect any sort of official conclusion to this story, let alone a scenario in which the Ukrainian government is made to pay restitution or face some other sort of admonishment.
According to Jacobin’s Kurt Hackbarth, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s anti-poverty program is working:
On August 10, Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL), an independent federal agency, released its much-awaited poverty measurements for 2022. Its findings outstripped the most optimistic forecasts: the multidimensional poverty rate in Mexico — a measurement of income plus a series of social rights such as food, housing, and education — fell 5.6 percent from 2018 to 2022, translating to some 5.1 million people. When compared to the height of the pandemic, the numbers are even more dramatic, with 8.9 million being lifted out of poverty over the last two years.
Other statistics from the report, together with findings from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), were equally promising. The income gap between the top and lowest 10 percent of incomes is down from twenty-one times (2016) to fifteen times (2022), while the Gini coefficient has dropped from 0.448 to 0.402 over the same period.
The divide between the lowest- and highest-income states has been squeezed by 20 percent, an important indicator in a country with a historic north/south divide. Another crucial divide, rural/urban, has also been ameliorated by a 17 percent rise in household incomes in the countryside. What is more, the highest income gains have come among women and those in the most precarious employment, such as agriculture and the informal sector in general.
Deficiencies in food, housing, and “social security” (defined as the ability to cope with contingencies such as accidents, sickness, or old age) have also declined. In overall terms, the poverty level, now 36.3 percent, is at its lowest point in a generation. Despite years of industrial-strength scoffing from the usual suspects, domestic and international, Mexico’s Fourth Transformation is doing exactly what it said it would do: for the good of all, put the poor first.
Finally, at The New York Times Samuel Moyn wonders if the decrepit remnants of Cold War liberalism can be salvaged:
Liberalism is under siege. It is not just a problem for America’s Democratic Party, which once again may face either losing an election to Donald Trump or claiming victory with a bare majority. Around the world, the entire outlook of political liberalism — with its commitments to limited government, personal freedom and the rule of law — is widely seen to be in trouble.
It wasn’t long ago that liberals were proclaiming the “end of history” after their Cold War victory. But for years liberalism has felt perpetually on the brink: challenged by the rise of an authoritarian China, the success of far-right populists and a sense of blockage and stagnation.
Why do liberals find themselves in this position so routinely? Because they haven’t left the Cold War behind. It was in that era when liberals reinvented their ideology, which traces its roots to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution — and reinvented it for the worse. Cold War liberalism was preoccupied by the continuity of liberal government and the management of threats that might disrupt it, the same preoccupations liberals have today. To save themselves, they need to undo the Cold War mistakes that led them to their current impasse and rediscover the emancipatory potential in their creed.
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