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World roundup: November 4 2021
Stories from Lebanon, Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, and more
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Happy Diwali to those who are celebrating!
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
November 3, 644: The second Muslim caliph, Umar, is assassinated. Between the total conquest of the Persian Empire and the capture of most of the Byzantine Empire, Umar’s caliphate saw a massive expansion in the Arab empire that had been established by Muhammad. He was murdered by a slave, Piruz Nahavandi (or “Abu Lulu”), who had previously been a soldier in the Persian army. His motives are unclear, but revenge for the Arab conquest may have been among them.
November 3, 1903: Panama declares itself independent of Colombia, at the encouragement of a US government that wanted to deal with an independent and…oh, let’s say “persuadable” Panamanian government in constructing the Panama Canal. Commemorated as Panamanian Separation Day.
November 3, 1978: The United Kingdom grants Dominica independence.
November 3, 1986: The Federated States of Micronesia becomes independent of the United States.
November 4, 1979: The Iran Hostage Crisis begins
November 4, 1995: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated by a right-wing Israeli radical named Yigal Amir. Rabin’s murder is often seen as the reason for the failure of the Oslo peace process, which he’d begun a couple of years earlier with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Oslo’s internal flaws probably doomed it to failure anyway, but Rabin’s killing did hasten the shift of Israeli politics to the right and led indirectly to Benjamin Netanyahu’s first stint as prime minister.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
A new report from the United Nations Environment Program says that the international community should be spending roughly $500 billion per year on programs to help communities most vulnerable to climate change to adapt to its effects. That’s a tiny bit more than the roughly $46 billion currently being spent on such initiatives. Most of the inadequate amount of money humanity is currently devoting toward climate change has been directed toward prevention, under the increasingly fanciful notion that the average global temperature increase can be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The more fanciful that goal becomes the more the focus will need to shift toward adaptation.
On that note, another new report from the Global Carbon Project finds that last year’s COVID-related drop in global carbon emissions has already been all but erased. That humanity has gotten back to burning as much coal, oil, and gas as it did pre-COVID is not a surprise, but the speed with which we’ve done so appears to have caught many scientists off guard. China and India, both heavily dependent on coal-fired power plants, seem to be leading the way.
These dire climate stories come as the UN’s COP26 climate summit continues in Glasgow. The “Financial Alliance for Net Zero” announced during the summit on Wednesday that big banks and other institutions worth a collective $130 trillion have signed on to an agreement to fund (via loans and investments) programs to reduce carbon emissions around the world. Also on Wednesday a group of some 40 countries agreed to phase out their use of coal, while another group of some 20 countries agreed to stop financing overseas coal plant projects. Thursday was supposed to see a much larger group of 190 countries and organizations agree to phase out coal, but all of these pledges are unenforceable and most seem to be pegged to dates that are too far in the future to be taken seriously. The financial agreement sounds meaningful but that too is unenforceable and quite vague (at least as described in reporting). Michael Franczak may have more to say on the finance announcement in his third and final FX dispatch from the summit, which should be out tomorrow. In the meantime please read Wednesday’s report.
In contextualizing all the speeches and promises being made at COP26 it may be helpful to note that Joe Biden, who’s been trying very hard to project an image of US leadership on climate issues, has also been begging OPEC+ nations to pump more oil to bring down fuel prices because it might help him out politically. The cartel essentially told Biden to get bent during its virtual conference on Thursday, agreeing to stick to the gradual increase in oil production that it announced earlier this year. So I guess we could say that Biden may be a hypocrite, but at least he’s a hypocrite who doesn’t get results.
Turkey’s rebel proxies in Syria appear to be gearing up for a new attack on the Kurdish YPG militia, according to Reuters. Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan referred to an apparent YPG attack on Turkish police in northern Syria as “the final straw,” but there’s been no overt move toward a new Turkish offensive yet. Apparently the Turks have been sending supplies to their proxies and deploying them to potential target areas, but there doesn’t seem to be any large scale movement of Turkish forces that would indicate an imminent attack.
The Associated Press, citing “security officials from both sides,” reported Thursday that some 200 combatants had been killed and “hundreds” wounded in clashes around Maʾrib over the past two days. As usual most of the casualties have been Houthi fighters killed and wounded in Saudi airstrikes. Nevertheless, the Houthis appear to have moved closer to the city and are now in the Sirwah district, less than 50 kilometers to the west.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and President Michel Aoun have reportedly agreed on a “roadmap” to escape their current diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia. It’s unclear what that “roadmap” entails but presumably one of its first steps would be the removal, by whatever means, of Information Minister George Kordahi. It was Kordahi’s criticism of the Yemen war, made before he joined the cabinet but only made public in recent days, that spurred the Saudis to cut diplomatic ties with Beirut. Mikati has been calling on Kordahi to resign but so far he’s refused, and because of the delicate sectarian balance of the Lebanese cabinet Mikati can’t really just sack him without clearing such a move with the relevant parties. Getting Aoun’s agreement would be a start, assuming that’s what has happened.
The Israeli Knesset passed a budget on Thursday. This relatively mundane act of government is in fact a significant achievement for the Israeli government, which hasn’t managed to achieve it since 2018. Since then Israeli politics have been mired in an extended crisis that necessitated a whopping four elections between April 2019 and this past March. The coalition government that emerged from that last election is an unstable collection of ideologically disparate parties whose only commonality is a desire to prevent former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from ascending to that post once again. Since its formation the big question hanging over Israeli politics has been whether such a coalition could possibly hold together for any length of time. The passage of a budget isn’t proof that it will, but failure to pass a budget probably would have been fatal.
The Biden administration Held Saudi Arabia Accountable for its human rights abuses on Thursday by approving a brand new arms sale to the kingdom. The State Department has decided to let the Saudis spend a cool $650 million to purchase a number of swanky air-to-air missiles. This should come as a great relief to Raytheon executives who, as you know, have been struggling to make rent payments and put food on the table since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The chief finance officer for Mytel Telecommunications, Thein Aung, was murdered by unknown gunmen in Yangon on Thursday morning. Mytel is tied to Myanmar’s military and so it’s a fair bet whoever killed him did so because they’re opposed to the junta that’s been ruling Myanmar since February’s coup. The company’s cell towers have been a frequent target for saboteurs but obviously this would be orders of magnitude more serious if that’s indeed what happened.
Earlier this week a group of 127 countries attending COP26 signed on to a pledge to end deforestation by 2030. Although that pledge was unenforceable and therefore non-binding, the Indonesian government has already backed out of it. Indonesian Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar characterized the pledge as “clearly inappropriate and unfair” in a Wednesday tweet. Apparently the pledge would get in the way of opening new nickel mines. Indonesia is so heavily forested that if it’s not planning to participate then the pledge is already effectively meaningless.
The director of Taiwan’s national security bureau, Chen Ming-tong, told parliament on Thursday that the Chinese government has deliberated the idea of attacking the Pratas Islands, which lie southwest of Taiwan and are Taiwanese territory—to the extent that “Taiwanese territory” can be distinguished from “Chinese territory,” which is a distinction Beijing does not recognize. According to him, Chinese leaders decided not to do so at least until the end of current Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s term, in 2024. It’s unclear how Chen knows any of this.
UN Sudan envoy Volker Perthes said again on Thursday that the “contours” of an agreement on restoring Sudan’s civilian transitional government are in place, but details must be hashed out soon lest negotiations lose momentum. One of those “contours” is apparently the restoration of interim Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was ousted from that position in last week’s military coup. He would lead a new technocratic cabinet, though the extent to which it would be brand new vs. a rehash of his previous cabinet is unclear. Additionally, the military would agree to release the prisoners it’s taken since the coup. Perhaps toward that end, it freed four jailed ex-ministers on Thursday and there are reports that it is planning to appoint a new joint civilian-military Sovereign Council to replace the one that it dissolved in the coup.
An apparent jihadist attack in southwestern Niger’s Tillabéri region on Tuesday left at least 69 people dead, including the mayor of the town of Banibangou. The attack has the hallmarks of an Islamic State operation, though as far as I can tell there’s been no claim of responsibility.
With the Tigray People’s Liberation Front advancing on Addis Ababa, international calls for a ceasefire are mounting. Among those making such calls are the United States, European Union, African Union, and the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development. TPLF forces are currently around 200 miles away from the Ethiopian capital, close enough for the US embassy to allow staff and family members to leave the country if they so choose, while the Ethiopian government insists, contrary to all available evidence, that it has the rebels right where it wants them. As Addis Ababa prepares for a potential TPLF attack, reports are emerging of a crackdown on ethnic Tigrayans in the city. Over the year since Ethiopian forces entered the Tigray region and began this conflict there have been several claims of arbitrary mistreatment of Tigrayan civilians, but under the circumstances these reports could be the first signs of something more serious.
Reports emerged late Thursday that the TPLF and several other ethnic-based Ethiopian rebel groups are forming a broad alliance in opposition to the Ethiopian government under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. This alliance includes the Oromo Liberation Army, which was already allied with the TPLF, along with Afar, Benishangul, Somali, and other militias. It’s unclear whether these other militias plan to contribute to the TPLF’s war effort, but the alliance does seem to be planning for a transition, peaceful or otherwise, from Abiy to a new government. Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is the revelation that the group is planning a “signing ceremony” to be held in Washington DC. The Biden administration has been heavily critical of Abiy’s government over the course of this conflict but to my knowledge it hasn’t outright expressed support for the TPLF and has even included TPLF forces in its blanket condemnations of the conflict and its related human rights abuses. But public statements aside, if the TPLF and its pals hold their gala coming out party in Washington it’s going to at least look like they have American backing. Do they?
According to the Polish Defense Ministry, Belarusian soldiers “threatened to open fire” on a group of their Polish counterparts in an incident along the Polish-Belarusian border on Wednesday. The ministry claims that the Polish soldiers, patrolling the border, happened upon a large group of migrants crossing into Poland from Belarus while being “guarded” by the Belarusian forces. The implication is that the Belarusians were shepherding the migrants over the border, as the Polish government continues to accuse Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of “weaponizing” immigration in his extended spat with the EU. Fortunately Wednesday’s situation didn’t escalate.
The Swedish Social Democratic Party elected Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson as its new leader on Thursday, clearing another hurdle on her road toward becoming the first woman to serve as Swedish prime minister. Current PM Stefan Löfven is stepping down, and as the new leader of his party Andersson will get first crack at replacing him. To do that, however, she’ll need to maintain the party’s coalition with the Swedish Green Party as well as the support of the Centre and Left parties. Those three smaller parties all have their own demands, some of which directly conflict with one another, so Andersson may have her work cut out for her.
Czech media is reporting that President Miloš Zeman has been moved out of intensive care, where he’s been since suffering some sort of health episode last month. His condition may, then, be improved enough that he could approve the new five party governing coalition that emerged from last month’s election and fully coalesced earlier this week. Legally Zeman is required to designate the new prime minister, expected to be Petr Fiala of the conservative Civic Democratic Party.
Portugal’s snap election has been scheduled for January 30. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa dissolved parliament and called for a new election on Wednesday, after the legislature had rejected Prime Minister Prime Minister António Costa’s proposed 2022 budget. Mark your calendars!
The UK on Thursday became the first country in the world to approve a new antiviral medication intended to treat COVID patients. Regulators have cleared the drug, molnupiravir, for use in people with “mild to moderate” COVID symptoms who have at least one related risk factor. Unlike existing treatments like remdesivir, this drug is meant to be prescribed before a patient’s condition worsens to the point of hospitalization. Health officials in the US are expected to consider approving the drug later this month. If it proves effective in this initial target population it could be approved for wider use.
At least two members of Chile’s Mapuche community were killed on Wednesday in some sort of incident involving Chilean security forces in Arauco province. According to Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Delgado, masked individuals attacked a roadblock in Arauco, sparking a clash in which these two people were shot and killed. It’s unclear from the reporting I’ve seen whether either or both of them were among the masked attackers. Last month, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera declared a state of emergency in the Biobío region, which includes Arauco, due to repeated clashes between security forces and the Mapuche over demands for the restoration of indigenous land.
As the Pentagon absolves itself of this crime, the Biden administration is pushing ahead with its persecution of whistleblowers who exposed this system of killing innocents. Daniel Hale, a military veteran who pleaded guilty to disclosing classified documents that exposed lethal weaknesses in the drone program, is serving four years in prison. (Prosecutors said those documents formed the basis for The Drone Papers, a series of investigative articles published by The Intercept.) Among other revelations, Hale’s documents exposed how as many as nine out of 10 victims of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan were not the intended targets. In Biden’s recent drone strike, 10 of 10 were innocent civilians.