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World roundup: September 24-25 2022
Stories from Iran, Italy, Cuba, and elsewhere
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: I think my sore throat may be starting to clear up (fingers crossed) but I’m still not at the point where I can record a voiceover for tonight’s roundup.
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
September 23, 1803: A small British army defeats a Maratha army as much as six or seven times its size at the Battle of Assaye. The British victory helped establish military supremacy in the Deccan, the Maratha Empire’s home turf, and led to Britain’s victory in the Second Anglo-Maratha War. It also boosted the military career of the British commander, Major General Arthur Wellesley, who would later be made the first Duke of Wellington and become a major thorn in Napoleon’s side.
September 23, 1932: Abdulaziz “Ibn Saud” unites his two kingdoms, the Nejd and the Hejaz, into one, the new Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Commemorated annually as Saudi National Day.
September 24, 1877: The Japanese Army defeats a heavily outnumbered and even more heavily outgunned samurai force under the command of rebel leader Saigō Takamori, whose entire 500 man army was wiped out, in the Battle of Shiroyama. The battle ended the Satsuma Rebellion and the role of the samurai as Japan’s warrior class. The 2003 film The Last Samurai depicts a heavily fictionalized, and (arguably) quite ahistorical, version of this battle and the wider rebellion.
September 25, 1396: The Crusade of Nicopolis
September 25, 1513: Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a Spanish explorer and the governor of Veragua (a territory including the Caribbean coasts of modern Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama), leads a small detachment of men across Panama to what they knew as the “South Sea,” thereby becoming the first European in the New World to lay eyes on the Pacific Ocean. Balboa spent several years exploring his “South Sea” but eventually ran afoul of the governor of Panama, Pedrarias Dávila, and was executed in 1519.
September 25, 1962: The North Yemen Civil War begins
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Israeli occupation forces shot and killed a Palestinian motorist who allegedly attempted to ram them with his car near the West Bank city of Nablus on Saturday. The Palestinian Authority and the motorist’s family are disputing this version of events, accusing the Israelis of opening fire after a traffic accident rather than a deliberate attack. Also in Nablus, Israeli forces killed a man later identified as a Palestinian militant on Sunday while wounding two other people. Israeli authorities appear to be claiming that the three men were planning to attack Israeli visitors to the Joseph’s Tomb site outside of Nablus.
AP correspondent Aya Batrawy outlines what she calls a “week of triumphs” for a Saudi monarchy still trying to rebuild its pre-Khashoggi international brand:
Saudi Arabia appears to be leaving behind the stream of negative coverage that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi elicited since 2018. The kingdom is once again being enthusiastically welcomed back into polite and powerful society, and it is no longer as frowned upon to seek Saudi investments or accept their favor.
Saudi Arabia’s busy week of triumphs included brokering a prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia, holding a highbrow summit on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, marking the country’s national day with pomp and pageantry, hosting the German chancellor and discussing energy supply with top White House officials.
The kingdom is able to draw focus back to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious rebranding of Saudi Arabia and his goals to build both the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund and pull the kingdom up from the G-20 to the more exclusive G-7 nations representing the biggest economies.
It’s a mission that’s often characterized as waking up a sleeping giant. Except it’s happening even as human rights reforms remain off the agenda.
Iran has now experienced ten straight nights of protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, with demonstrators ignoring an escalating response by Iranian authorities to continue turning out. Officially at least 41 people have now been killed since Amini’s death, including a handful of Iranian security personnel, but unofficially the toll may be higher than that. The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights NGO says that at least 57 protesters have been killed, for example, though internet blackouts and the normally repressive Iranian media environment have combined to make it almost impossible to verify any claims with respect to casualties. The protests have spread internationally, and demonstrators targeting Iranian diplomatic facilities have run afoul of police in countries including France and the UK. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps reportedly shelled Kurdish militant bases in northern Iraq on Saturday, accusing them of fomenting the protests.
A group calling itself the “Inya Urban Force” has claimed responsibility for killing retired Myanmar general and former ambassador Ohn Thwin and his son in-law in Yangon on Saturday. The AP notes that he’s probably the highest-ranking current or former Myanmar military officer killed in the wake of last year’s coup. In addition to more overt forms of resistance in the countryside, a number of militant groups have emerged in Myanmar’s urban areas since the coup that are using tactics like targeted assassination and bombings against the ruling junta.
The North Korean military fired what its South Korean counterpart has characterized as a short-range ballistic missile into the ocean off of the country’s eastern coast on Sunday. This appears to have been a perfunctory statement ahead of a regional visit from US Vice President Kamala Harris, who’s heading first to Japan but will visit Seoul later in the week. Additionally, the US and South Korean militaries are scheduled to hold joint exercises this week and Pyongyang frequently marks those occasions with some sort of weapons demonstration.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is in a bit of political hot water after a hot mic appeared to catch him referring to members of the US Congress as “fuckers” during a conference for the Global Fund in New York on Wednesday. Yoon was referring to the possibility that the “fuckers” might not approve the $6 billion Biden pledged to the fund during the conference. Yoon and his administration have lashed out at South Korean broadcaster MBC (which caught the hot mic audio), variously insisting that the network misheard him (he was talking about his own legislature, not the US Congress) and that it’s deliberately trying to undermine his presidency.
Personally I don’t have an issue here—we’re talking about a group of people who get called far worse every day by countless numbers of their own fellow citizens. But this is not really something that the leader of a US client state can get away with saying. Yoon has had a series of foreign policy-related gaffes, including his refusal to meet with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she was in Seoul last month and his failure to view Queen Elizabeth’s body while it was lying in state last week even though he was in London. For a guy who didn’t have much relevant experience when running for the office he now holds, those are the sorts of gaffes that can feed a narrative. Nor I imagine does the response of people in his government, who are variously insisting they couldn’t hear what he said (they could) or that the context of his remarks is a mystery (it isn’t), inspire much confidence in their competence.
An apparent jihadist militant attack in Burkina Faso’s Est region left at least four people dead on Saturday. The attackers ambushed a military patrol, killing at least two (possibly four) Burkinabé soldiers and at least two volunteer police auxiliaries. As far as I’m aware there’s been no indication as to responsibility.
At least 14 people were killed on Friday when unspecified attackers identified as “bandits” struck a mosque in northern Nigeria’s Zamfara state. Residents of the town of Ruwan Jema, where the attack took place, say they’ve been paying bandits to leave them alone, but clearly that program has broken down somehow.
An al-Shabab suicide bombing outside a military base in Mogadishu killed at least seven people and wounded nine others on Sunday, according to AFP. The bomber was apparently targeting new recruits who were lined up to enter the base.
Elsewhere, the secessionist Somaliland regional government’s electoral commission announced this weekend that it’s postponing a scheduled presidential election from November to July, citing financial and logistical considerations. Rumors of a postponement fueled deadly protests in Somaliland last month, amid claims that the unrecognized country’s president, Muse Bihi Abdi, was seeking an unlawful extension of his term. This confirmation of those rumors could spark new demonstrations.
Russians are continuing to react to Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization announcement by protesting and making a break for it. According to the independent monitoring site OVD-Info, Russian authorities have arrested some 750 people during protests held around the country since Putin made his announcement on Wednesday. In several cases police seem to be moving to break up demonstrations almost before they begin. Meanwhile, there are still reports of long lines at Russian land borders, including at the Russian-Mongolian border, which is a phenomenon that also (coincidentally or not) seemed to coincide with the mobilization speech. A new complication emerged over the weekend in the form of reports that a number of men who are legally ineligible for the mobilization have nevertheless been receiving call-up papers. That’s drawn some criticism from Russian politicians who are otherwise more or less aligned with Putin.
In an interview on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reportedly said that Ukraine has received a National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) from the United States. NASAMS was first developed by Norway’s Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace firm in the 1990s and is a short- to medium-range air defense platform that can, among other things, target drones. I mention drones because the Russian military seems increasingly to be turning to Iranian drones as a central part of its war effort. The Russians have made heavy use of the Shahed-136 kamikaze drone, and Ukrainian officials are claiming that their forces shot down a more advanced Mohajer-6 drone as well. Kyiv expelled the Iranian ambassador and ordered the downsizing of Iran’s diplomatic staff on Friday and also withdrew its ambassador from Tehran in response to Iranian drone sales. Iranian officials say they intend to retaliate in kind.
Italy’s Democratic Party has conceded defeat in Sunday’s parliamentary election, all but ensuring a conservative coalition victory. There are no official results to talk about yet (that may change by the time you read this), but exit polling indicated that the vote went as expected. The three-party right-wing bloc consisting of the Brothers of Italy, the League, and Forza Italia looks to have won a collective 41-45 percent of the vote according to state outlet RAI’s survey. That’s enough to win majorities in both houses of the Italian parliament. Within that group, the post-fascist Brothers are on track to emerge as the largest of the three parties (and the largest single party in parliament), which would put party leader Giorgia Meloni in line to be Italy’s next prime minister.
Cuban voters headed to the polls on Sunday to decide whether or not to adopt a proposed government-drafted “family code” that would, among other things, legalize same-sex marriage and adoption. There does not appear to be any consensus as to how the vote will go (and I haven’t seen any results as yet), with some speculation that people who would otherwise support the code’s contents could vote against it out of a desire to embarrass the government. Some critics have emerged challenging the government’s decision to leave the issue of LGBT rights up to the outcome of a popular vote. In addition to its LGBT elements, the code also seeks to bolster the rights of women, children, and the elderly in a domestic context.
Finally, writing for Responsible Statecraft, Akhil Ramesh argues that the Biden administration’s “democracies vs. autocracies” foreign policy framework is pushing countries in the developing world away:
The perennial challenge with international relations theories in the United States is the linear view of foreign affairs and as a consequence, unilateral decision making. Analysts, think tankers, and policymakers in Washington and New York tend to formulate policies based on their understanding or assumption of the needs of the global populace, that is, if they choose to include the needs of the global populace in their decision making at all.
A concoction through that line of thinking is the Biden administration’s fracturing of the world into two camps of democracies and autocracies. There cannot be a more disconnected framing of the world than that dichotomy. The privileges that come with a fully functioning democracy such as freedom of speech, expression, and thought are not necessarily the needs of societies of the Global South as much as they are a desire.
This could be news to many in Washington, but even today, many in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and even Eastern Europe struggle to meet the basic necessities at the bottom of Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” pyramid — physiological needs (air, water, food, shelter, clothing) and safety needs (employment, resources, health, property). Leaders of the G-7, meanwhile, promote esteem [for] needs near the top, such as freedom and self-respect.
A Kenyan official summed it up well, saying, “when a British leader visits we get a lecture; when a Chinese leader visits we get a hospital.”
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