World roundup: May 22-23 2021
Stories from Nepal, Samoa, Morocco, and more
This is the web version of Foreign Exchanges, but did you know you can get it delivered right to your inbox? Sign up today:
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
May 21 878: The Aghlabid Emirate captures the Sicilian city of Syracuse after a roughly nine month siege.
May 21, 1799: Napoleon lifts his failed siege of Acre and withdraws to Egypt (and, not long after that, to France).
May 21, 2006: Montenegro holds a referendum on leaving what remained of Yugoslavia and becoming an independent state. Amid allegations of irregularities, 55.5 percent voted in favor of independence, which was just over the 55 percent needed to pass the referendum. May 21 is now annually commemorated as Independence Day in Montenegro.
May 22, 853: A Byzantine army/fleet attacks and sacks the Egyptian port city of Damietta.
May 22, 1990: The Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) are united as the Republic of Yemen. After the formation of a unified government that tended to favor northern Yemen, southern Yemen attempted to secede in 1994, touching off a short (May-July) Yemeni civil war. A lingering southern secessionist movement has once again become prominent amid the current Yemeni civil war.
May 23, 1618: Two Catholic Bohemian nobles, Jaroslav Bořita of Martinice and Vilém Slavata of Chlum, are thrown out of the top floor window of the Bohemian Chancellery in Prague by a group of Protestant nobles angered over the religious policies of the Bohemian king, the future Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II. Both somehow survived the 70 foot drop, but this “Defenestration of Prague” (one of three such incidents but the one most people likely mean when they talk about the Defenestration of Prague) helped trigger the Thirty Years’ War.
Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for May 23:
167,516,375 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (+478,004 since yesterday)
3,478,187 reported fatalities (+9865 since yesterday)
For vaccine data the New York Times has created a tracker here
1,167,940 confirmed coronavirus cases (+3791)
16,190 reported fatalities (+32)
In the course of introducing a new piece of anti-corruption legislation to the Iraqi parliament, President Barham Saleh on Sunday revealed that some $150 billion in oil revenue has been smuggled out of Iraq since the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in 2003. I’m no expert but that seems like a lot of money to me. Saleh’s legislation would strengthen reviews of large financial transactions and accounts and is almost certain to be voted down by a legislature that is steeped in corruption and has shown no interest in doing anything to counter it.
839,319 confirmed cases (+11) in Israel, 305,201 confirmed cases (+0) in Palestine
6404 reported fatalities (+7) in Israel, 3459 reported fatalities (+0) in Palestine
In case you thought anything about the Israeli occupation had changed after the events of the past two weeks, police reportedly escorted a group of over 250 far right Israelis on to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on Sunday, imposing restrictions on Palestinian entry to the area at the same time. At least five Palestinians were arrested but otherwise the situation remained calm, this time at least.
In Gaza, meanwhile, the ceasefire continues to hold. Egyptian diplomats met with Israeli and Palestinian officials on Saturday to try to keep it that way, while Hamas held a rally in Gaza City to celebrate its victory, or at least its declaration of victory. The group’s senior leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, even made a rare public appearance. Attention is starting to turn toward a rebuilding process, with the consensus being that it’s going to take a very long time. The physical damage in Gaza is extensive and the Israeli blockade will remain a huge obstacle to bringing in the necessary materials to repair it. Another huge obstacle will be the apparent Israeli insistence, backed by the US and Europe, that any reconstruction aid must be run through the Palestinian Authority, which has no presence in Gaza and almost no credibility left with the Palestinian people.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
556,107 confirmed cases (+1591)
1651 reported fatalities (+3)
An image recently uploaded to Instagram appears to show Dubai Princess Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum alive and out in public in Dubai. She was last seen in February in a video released through her lawyer in which she said she was living under house arrest in a villa. Latifa was caught while attempting to feel the emirate back in 2018 and her whereabouts have been the subject of considerably speculation ever since, speculation that was understandably heightened after that video was broadcast by the BBC. The details surrounding the photo are pretty murky but details in the photo suggest it was taken recently, so this might be the “proof of life” that the United Nations has been requesting from Emirati authorities.
2,832,518 confirmed cases (+8631)
78,597 reported fatalities (+216)
There’s apparently been an explosion at a military drone-making facility in Isfahan in which at least nine people were injured. Coming on the heels of the Gaza war and the Israeli accusation that Iran has been supplying drones to Hamas, there’s an understandable reason to suspect a deliberate Israeli attack of some kind, but at this point there’s no indication one way or the other.
Negotiations between Iranian officials and the International Atomic Energy Agency apparently did not produce an agreement on extending Iran’s (modified) participation in the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol” program by Friday’s deadline. This has left the state of Iran’s compliance with the AP, as well as the state of talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, in limbo. The IAEA was planning to announce a one month extension of the deadline at a press conference on Sunday but has postponed that event until at least Monday. Iranian parliament speaker Mohammad Ghalibaf provocatively suggested in an interview on Sunday that Tehran’s deal with the IAEA is over, a proclamation that would probably carry more weight if it were in any way within Ghalibaf’s purview to determine Iranian foreign policy.
900,552 confirmed cases (+3084)
20,251 reported fatalities (+74
One Pakistani soldier was reportedly killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province late Saturday in a cross-border shootout with unspecified “militants” in Afghanistan. The “militants” in question were probably Pakistani Taliban fighters but that’s not certain.
513,241 confirmed cases (+7598)
6346 reported fatalities (+193)
Nepali President Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolved parliament on Saturday and set a snap election for November. She apparently did so at the request of Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli, who survived losing a no-confidence vote earlier this month but had no clear path toward winning another confidence vote that would have taken place next month. Opposition leaders accused Oli of prioritizing his political future over the need for some temporary stability to manage Nepal’s massive recent spike in COVID cases.
143,234 confirmed cases (+6)
3216 reported fatalities (+0)
There have been several reports of fighting between the Myanmar military and various militias across the country this weekend, but the fighting has been particularly heavy in the eastern states of Shan and Kayah. At least 20 police officers were reportedly killed on Sunday when militia fighters attacked a police station in the town of Mobye in Shan state, while at least 13 Myanmar soldiers were reportedly killed in the Kayah state town of Demoso. It’s difficult to tell from reporting, and may be difficult to tell even on the ground, whether these clashes have involved established ethnic militias, the “People’s Defense Forces” groups that have cropped up to oppose the ruling junta since February’s coup, or some combination of the two. There are also reports of fighting between Myanmar security forces and fighters from the “Northern Alliance”—a loose union of ethnic militant groups—in the town of Muse in northern Shan state, along the Chinese border.
On Saturday, fighters from the Kachin Independence Army attacked a security outpost in Myanmar’s Sagaing region, not far from the Indian border. At least three police officers were wounded but details beyond that are sparse.
3 confirmed cases (+0)
No reported fatalities
Samoa’s political crisis got even crisisier (leave me alone, it should be a word) on Saturday evening when the country’s head of state, Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, abruptly suspended parliament for reasons didn’t bother to explain. Presumably the real reason is that Tuimalealiifano doesn’t want opposition leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa to take over as prime minister, as she should following the Samoan Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday overturning Tuimalealiifano’s decision to annul last month’s election and schedule a do-over. But he couldn’t just come out and say that.
The Supreme Court stepped in on Sunday and once again overruled Sualauvi, ordering parliament to hold its Monday morning session as planned. This seems to have brought the situation to a new level of dysfunction. In a still developing story, it appears that Fiame has physically been locked out of the legislature and incumbent PM Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, whose Human Rights Protection Party lost the election, is insisting that he’s somehow still in charge.
35,189 confirmed cases (+118)
2568 reported fatalities (+0)
Aisha Musa, one of the civilian members of Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council—and one of only two women serving on that body—resigned on Saturday after a crackdown on protesters earlier this month. Sudanese soldiers assaulted a group of demonstrators outside Sudanese military headquarters in Khartoum on May 11, killing two of them and wounding dozens more. That demonstration was held to demand justice for the killing of dozens of protesters by Sudanese security forces back in 2019 during the movement that eventually forced the ouster of ex-President Omar al-Bashir. Musa amplified that call for prosecutions and warned that the civilian members of the council are being shut out of power by the Sudanese military.
517,023 confirmed cases (+211) in Morocco, 10 confirmed cases (+0) in Western Sahara
9122 reported fatalities (+3) in Morocco, 1 reported fatality (+0) in Western Sahara
Polisario Front leader and president of the mostly-unrecognized “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic” Brahim Ghali may wind up facing prosecution in Spain after all. Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said in an interview on Sunday that Ghali, who was allowed into Spain last month to seek treatment for COVID, should be subject to at least a hearing before the Spanish High Court before he’s permitted to leave the country. The court ruled on Thursday that Spanish authorities could not summarily arrest Ghali without such a hearing. Ghali could be subject to war crimes charges stemming from his leadership of the Western Saharan rebel movement.
269,194 confirmed cases (+293)
4076 reported fatalities (+8)
The Biden administration announced on Sunday that it’s placing “restrictions” on US economic and security aid to Ethiopia over the continuing humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region. It’s not clear from the reporting exactly what these restrictions entail, but the administration is apparently considering travel bans for Ethiopian and Eritrean personnel, as well as Amhara regional officials and members of the outlawed Tigray People’s Liberation Front, who are deemed culpable for the situation in Tigray.
386,025 confirmed cases (+1252)
2771 reported fatalities (+10)
A Ryanair flight from Athens was on its way to Vilnius on Sunday when it was diverted to Minsk due to an ostensible bomb threat. It presumably wasn’t until the aircraft had landed that the passengers and crew learned that there was no bomb on board. Rather, the flight was carrying a Belarusian journalist and opposition figure named Raman Pratasevich, who was quickly placed under arrest and may now be facing execution. Belarusian authorities apparently concocted the bomb scare as an excuse to divert the plane. Classy. Six people, including Pratasevich, his girlfriend, and four other unknown passengers didn’t return to the aircraft when it was reboarded. This incident has unsurprisingly generated a fair amount of outrage across Europe, where Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was already not really the most popular guy.
1,925,289 confirmed cases (+4438)
68,053 reported fatalities (+246)
Sunday brought more good polling news for leftist presidential contender Pedro Castillo. A new survey from the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP) put Castillo at 44.8 percent support, more than 10 points ahead of rival Keiko Fujimori at 34.4 percent heading in their June 6 runoff. The previous IEP poll had Castillo ahead 36.5-29.6. It’s possible that Fujimori’s uptick in the polls over the past several weeks has generated a backlash as people associate her with her father, ex-President Alberto Fujimori. The elder Fujimori is in prison until 2032 on human rights and corruption charges stemming from his 1990-2000 stint in office.
13,906 confirmed cases (+171)
288 reported fatalities (+8)
The Biden administration is set to extend Temporary Protected Status to all Haitian nationals living in the United States as of May 21, according to a Department of Homeland Security announcement on Saturday. Under TPS, applied in situations where it’s deemed too unsafe to return migrants to their home country, those Haitians will be protected from deportation for at least 18 months and provided with work permits. The ruling will allow more than 100,000 Haitians to apply for TPS and extend its protections for the 50,000 Haitians in the US who have already been covered under the program.
33,896,660 confirmed cases (+13,541)
604,087 reported fatalities (+228)
Finally, TomDispatch’s Andrea Mazzarino questions the existence of a separate legal system for US military personnel:
Given the more than 60 Democratic and Republican votes lined up, the Senate is poised to move forward with a new bill that would change the way the military handles sexual assault and other felony crimes by service members. Sponsored by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), the new law would assign decision-making on sexual-assault cases and a host of other felonies, including some hate crimes, to a specially trained team of uniformed prosecutors. While the bill will indeed inch the military away from its antiquated practice of allowing commanders to decide whether to prosecute their own officers and soldiers on sexual-assault allegations, if baffles me that it’s still allowed to handle its own violent crimes rather than having them dealt with through our criminal justice system.
Why should our troops enjoy such protected status, as though they exist in a separate reality from the rest of society? Arguably, in these years, the face of America has indeed been militarized, whether we like it or not. After all, we’ve just lived through two decades of endless war, American-style, in the process wasting significantly more than $6.4 trillion dollars, more than 7,000 uniformed lives, and scores of health- and safety-related opportunity costs.
Meanwhile, it’s taken years for the public and members of Congress to begin to recognize that it matters how the military treats its own — and the civilians with whom they interact. (After all, many felonies committed by such personnel against civilians, at home and abroad, are prosecuted within the military-justice system.) That Congress has taken so long to support even such a timid bill in a bipartisan fashion and that few think to question whether felonies committed by American soldiers should be prosecuted within the military, suggests one thing: that we’re a long, long way from taking responsibility for those who kill, maim, and rape in all our names.