This roundup covers news summaries across six regions: Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America. Wherever possible I draw links to Singapore, but I think it is more important to understand geopolitical developments around the world, to draw attention to meaningful news stories, and to highlight both positive and negative events.
Around the world, I rely primarily on the email newsletters from “The Economist“, “Foreign Policy“, “Muck Rack“, “The New York Times“, “The Wall Street Journal“, and “The World Post“. In Singapore, the weekly digests from the European Union Centre and the Middle East Institute are handy. Do send me recommendations of news outlets or articles too, to jinyao.guan.yin.miao[a]gmail.com!
November 6 to 11, 2017
The ongoing struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for regional and sectarian influence in the Middle East is heating up. This week, prime minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri abruptly resigned before meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, while citing the influence of the Iran-backed Shi’ite movement Hezbollah in his country. Then, after the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a ballistic missile at Saudi Arabia, the kingdom temporarily shut off access to all air, land, and sea ports to the country. The attempted attack has been characterised by Saudi Arabia as an “act of war”. These developments have also unfolded against a background of domestic developments in Saudi Arabia, with the arrest of 11 princes in a perceived move to consolidate the power of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“The New York Times” argues that this proxy conflict is going to get significantly worse, precisely because of this destabilising power transfer. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are not just forcing middle powers in the region to pick side, but also “turning entire societies against one another, often, though not always, by exploiting religious divides“.
- The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Union’s longest-serving human rights body, has had its accomplishments, yet a controversy over the granting of observer status to the non-governmental Coalition of African Lesbians raises questions of prejudice against LGBT people in Africa and of interpretation of the African Charter.
- 77 per cent of the population in Ethiopia has no access to electricity, and the recent discovery of geothermal power – through geophysical surveys of volcanoes – could “transform the power sector and help lift people out of poverty“.
- The spread of a pneumonic plague outbreak in Madagascar has killed at least 127 of the 1,800 people infected, but the outbreak “appears to be waning“, thanks to the rapid and effective response of the health authorities.
- Former vice president of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa fled the country, after his removal. President Robert Mugabe is accusing Mr. Mnangagwa “of using witchcraft as part of his plot against him“, as the country’s political turmoil continues.
- Toxic air pollution in New Delhi, India has affected flights and trains, caused health problems, and closed 4,000 schools. Last year, levels of PM 2.5 soared to over 16 times the limit in this capital city.
- Six soldiers in Marawi, the Philippines were killed by pro-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants. The militant group Abu Sayyaf had held parts of the city since May this year, though its leader was killed last month, as Marawi City was liberated.
- Typhoon Damrey struck Vietnam, leaving at least 27 people dead. The country has been hit by major storms throughout the year.
- The death toll later rose to over 106.
- The Visegrád countries of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia have been united against the refugee relocation scheme of the European Union, though its “relevance and unity” is now tested over labour reform and the recent election in the Czech Republic won by billionaire populist Andrej Babiš’s party, which has given little indication of its foreign policy.
- The constitutional court in Germany ruled that a third gender category must be created “for people who do not identify as either male or female or were born with ambiguous sexual traits“. Lawmakers must now allow for such a category.
- Off the coast of Greece, at least three people drowned when a wooden boat carrying migrants sank.
- International Development Secretary of the United Kingdom Priti Patel resigned over undeclared meetings with members of the Israeli government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
- Her resignation also came after the resignation of Defence Secretary Michael Fallon – following “a series of sleaze and sexual harassment allegations in Parliament” – last week.
The Middle East
- At least two people were killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, when gunmen stormed a television station. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility for the three-hour assault.
- Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri abruptly resigned, citing “the ‘grip’ of the Iran-backed Shi’ite movement Hezbollah on Lebanon“. Following his resignation, he met with King Salman of Saudi Arabia.
- 11 princes – including prominent billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal – were arrested in Saudi Arabia. The arrests appear to consolidate the power of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has previously detained or arrested preachers and scholars.
- By seeking to concentrate power in his own hands, “The Economist” argues, Prince Muhammad risks weakening the stability of the Saudi monarchy, which has “hitherto rested on three pillars: consensus and a balance of power across the sprawling royal family; the blessing of Wahhabi clerics; and a cradle-to-grave system of benefits for citizens”.
- The Syrian army said the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) lost its final urban stronghold in Syria, the city of Deir Ezzor. This follows a string of defeats for ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.
- In Syria too, at least 75 people were killed and at least 140 were wounded by a car bombing orchestrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The bombing comes after ISIS lost ground in both Iraq and Syria.
- A month after Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas signed a landmark reconciliation deal, Hamas “has handed over administrative control of five border crossings in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority“.
- Five security force members were killed in Yemen, after two suicide attacks at security buildings.
- In Yemen too, Houthi rebels – a Iran-backed militant group – fired a ballistic missile at Saudi Arabia, which was intercepted and brought down. Saudi Arabia, in response, temporarily shut off access to “all air, land, and sea ports to Yemen“.
- President Donald Trump is on a five-country, 12-day diplomatic tour of Asia.
- 26 people in Texas were massacred by a gunman, who opened fire in a church. This comes just weeks after the Las Vegas shootings.
- President of Ecuador Lenín Moreno has been kicked out of his party, “after months of internal dissent and public feuding“. He was the vice-president of his predecessor Rafael Correa, and this political turnaround is bringing about uncertainty.
- President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro has an approval rating of just 23 per cent. Internationally, even though the opposition coalition has received recognition, domestically President Maduro has exploited its lack of unity and coordination.