AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 MINUTES | 19 JULY 2013

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WAR ON TERROR

THE DRONE THAT KILLED MY GRANDSON

Nassar al-Awlawki | The New York Times

My grandson was killed by his own government. The Obama administration must answer for its actions and be held accountable. On Friday, I will petition a federal court in Washington to require the government to do just that.

Abdulrahman was born in Denver. He lived in America until he was 7, then came to live with me in Yemen. He was a typical teenager — he watched “The Simpsons,” listened to Snoop Dogg, read “Harry Potter” and had a Facebook page with many friends. He had a mop of curly hair, glasses like me and a wide, goofy smile.

In 2010, the Obama administration put Abdulrahman’s father, my son Anwar, on C.I.A. and Pentagon “kill lists” of suspected terrorists targeted for death. A drone took his life on Sept. 30, 2011.

The government repeatedly made accusations of terrorism against Anwar — who was also an American citizen — but never charged him with a crime. No court ever reviewed the government’s claims nor was any evidence of criminal wrongdoing ever presented to a court. He did not deserve to be deprived of his constitutional rights as an American citizen and killed.

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AFGHANISTAN

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A BRAND NEW US MILITARY HEADQUARTERS IN AFGHANISTAN AND NOBODY TO USE IT

Rajiv Chandrasekaran | The Washington Post

The U.S. military has erected a 64,000-square-foot headquarters building on the dusty moonscape of southwestern Afghanistan that comes with all the tools to wage a modern war. A vast operations center with tiered seating. A briefing theater. Spacious offices. Fancy chairs. Powerful air conditioning.

Everything, that is, except troops.

The windowless, two-story structure, which is larger than a football field, was completed this year at a cost of $34 million. But the military has no plans to ever use it. Commanders in the area, who insisted three years ago that they did not need the building, now are in the process of withdrawing forces and see no reason to move into the new facility.

. . . The military, which has opened a formal investigation into the decisions that led to the contract, is considering two options for the building: demolishing it or giving it to the Afghan army. Although the handoff sounds appealing, U.S. officials doubt the Afghans will be able to sustain the structure. It has complex heating and air-conditioning systems that demand significant amounts of electricity, which, in turn, require costly fuel purchases for generators. The building is wired for 110-volt appliances, not the 220-volt equipment used by Afghans. And, the officials note, the U.S. military recently built a new headquarters building on the Afghan base that adjoins Leatherneck.

“Both alternatives for how to resolve this issue are troubling,” Sopko said.

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EGYPT

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THE RISE OF EGYPT’S TECHNOCRATS

Avi Asher-Schapiro | Jacobin

Not surprisingly, technocrat-led governments have long managed the interests of Egypt’s political elite. The rise of technocracy can be traced to the days of Mohammad Ali. The scion of an Albanian tobacco and shipping family, Ali was part of the contingent of Albanian solders sent by the Ottomans to secure Egypt after the French withdrew in 1801. He married into a wealthy Mamluk family, allied himself with Cairo’s clergy, and convinced the Ottomans to name him governor of Egypt. He then liquidated his political opponents, the Mamuluks, at the famed Massacre of the Citadel, formed a standing professional army and constructed Egypt’s first civil service. The technocrats that rose to prominence under Mohammad Ali helped him secure a hereditary monarchy that governed Egypt until 1952.

More recently, Hosni Mubarak relied on technocrats to deflect attention away from the machination of his police state and the kleptocratic economic agenda of his National Democrat Party. When faced with an economic contraction, or publicized incompetence, Hosni Mubarak would sack his cabinet and make a big show of replacing the ministers with technocrats. In fact, the Ahmed Nazef cabinet, in place during the 2011 Egyptian revolution, was a technocratic wet dream, staffed with non-ideological economists, engineers, and business leaders.

The Nazef cabinet was widely lauded by international observers as a model government, delivering steady economic growth and attracting foreign investment. Nazef was an IMF superhero and he often spoke at international conferences preaching neoliberal economics to the developing world.

His cabinet also looted public companies, decimated unions, and oversaw a massive transfer of wealth away from the public sectors. After the revolution, he was one of the few Mubarak cronies thrown in jail for blatant mismanagement of public funds.

AL JAZEERA’S AWFUL WEEK

Sultan Al Qassemi | Foreign Policy

let’s back up to what prompted Egypt’s wholesale rebuke of the network that rose to global prominence covering the Arab revolts of 2011. As Arabs rose against their governments in those heady, hopeful days, Al Jazeera provided nonstop coverage — often against the will of dictators — of the unfolding revolutions. But once the dust settled, the network was accused of taking the side of Islamists. “Many of the editors and anchors in Al Jazeera Arabic are de facto Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers,” said Fadi Salem, a Dubai-based researcher specializing in Arab media. “This has been reflected in the channel’s pro-Islamist coverage over the past two years, relying heavily on a combination of incitement, bloody scenes, and Islamic preachers and media commentators.”

Al Jazeera’s slow descent began with the advent of the Syrian civil war, when it blatantly abandoned journalistic standards in favor of a specific narrative. Since then, I have recorded various instances of Al Jazeera’s biased coverage, some of which have veered into the comical — like when live reporters in man-on-the-street interviews hastily snatch their microphones back from Egyptians who dare to criticize Morsy or praise Mubarak on camera.

morsi supporters
THE GUARDIAN:Supporters of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi conduct evening prayers in their sit-in area around Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo. Photograph: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

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ISRAEL

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ECHOES OF SOUTH AFRICA’S ‘DISTRICT 6’ IN THE NEGEV

Amjad Iraqi | +972 | via Juan Cole

In apartheid-era South Africa, in addition to the “Bantustans” that divided communities across the country, major cities were divided into municipal districts designated for particular races. In Cape Town, “District Six” gained particular infamy over a government plan to forcibly remove 60,000 non-white residents in order to develop the area solely for white South Africans (watch this clip).

The process began in 1966 when the state declared District Six a “White Group Area,” automatically rendering its black, Coloured and Indian inhabitants as “illegal” residents under South African law. From then until the late 1970s, the government demolished thousands of homes in the District and expelled all non-white residents. The displaced residents – a cosmopolitan community of different ethnicities and religions – were relocated elsewhere according to their race. The areas they were forced into, such as the Cape Flats, became known as the city’s “dumping ground” for non-whites, with thousands trapped in deep poverty and marginalization as a result of their displacement.

Though comparing apartheid-South Africa with Israel-Palestine is heavily debated, the parallels between each country’s policies of dispossession, especially when comparing District Six and the Naqab (Negev), are hard to miss. Israel’s Prawer-Begin Plan will oversee the destruction of dozens of Arab Bedouin villages and the forced relocation of up to 70,000 Bedouin citizens to government-planned “townships.” Like District Six in the 1960s, the Prawer Plan is rooted in the premise that the Bedouins’ presence is “illegal” (despite many of their villages existing before the state’s establishment), and is accompanied by decades of de-legitimization of the Bedouin community, whom the state and much of the public view as trespassers, criminals and malicious people.


Border crossing restrictions eased for Ramadan Friday prayers
THE GUARDIAN: Muslim Palestinians use a ladder to climb over the separation wall to reach al-Aqsa mosque in the old city of Jerusalem. Israel has relaxed age restrictions at crossing points to allow more Palestinians to reach mosques in Israel for Friday prayers during the holy month of Ramadan. Women are being allowed to enter Israel without age restriction. Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

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EUROPE

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THE DANGER OF EUROPE’S TECHNOCRATIC BUSYBODIES

Wolfgang Münchau | The Financial Times

One problem here is what optical engineers would describe as perspective distortion. If you work in Brussels, you get obsessed with those inter-institutional dogfights – the European Commission versus the European Council versus the European parliament. In the policy circles of Brussels, the economic depression is not near the top of your to-do-list. You are more likely to be obsessed with the question of who is going to be the next president of the commission, and whether it can make up the political ground it has lost under its current head, José Manuel Barroso.

In addition to seeing the world from a distorted perspective, officials also care little about deep causes, and focus mostly on technical, legal and institutional aspects. When they defend austerity, they do so from a framework of the European treaties, which tell them in great detail how fiscal adjustment must take place and what happens if it does not. It is not so much that they are in denial over the effect of fiscal austerity on unemployment. Some are, some are not. But it is outside their frame of reference. It is no surprise therefore that the system prescribes the wrong medicine. Instead of rebooting monetary and fiscal policy, everybody is wasting precious time with cynical programmes to deal with youth unemployment – notwithstanding that all the empirical and theoretical evidence tells us that such programmes are a waste of time and money if not supported by macroeconomic policy.

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SYRIA

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ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP

Mandel Ngan | Reuters
refugee camp
An aerial view shows the Zaatari refugee camp, near the Jordanian city of Mafraq July 18, 2013. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent about 40 minutes with half a dozen refugees who vented their frustration at the international community’s failure to end Syria’s more than two-year-old civil war, while visiting the camp that holds roughly 115,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan about 12 km (eight miles) from the Syrian border.
REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool

COMPETITION AMONGST ISLAMISTS

The Economist

Politically Ahrar al-Sham has been clever. It sees the war in Syria as a battle between Sunnis and Shias and wants a Sunni-led Islamic state, but emphasises that its campaign is for Syria, not for a global jihad. It has retained a Syrian leadership, saving the group from suspicions laid against others that are led by foreign fighters or include a lot of them. Ahrar al-Sham does not go in for suicide-bombings, preferring to use remote-controlled car bombs. It also carries out public works, mending roads and providing food, in contrast to other groups, whose predations upset the locals.

Also, by remaining independent of other groups—it refuses, for instance, to come under the umbrella of the West’s favourite commander, the Free Syrian Army’s Selim Idriss—it has avoided being labelled in the West as a terrorist group, as has happened to Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate.

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MEXICO

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ZETA ZEROED

The Economist

FOR a government that has promised to reduce violent crime, there can have been little better news than the arrest of Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales on July 15th. The head of the Zetas, a drug, kidnapping and extortion gang so notorious many Mexicans only whisper its name in public, Mr Treviño is allegedly responsible for orchestrating some of the country’s most sickening acts of violence in recent years. They include many beheadings, and the massacre of 265 migrants in 2010-11.

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CUBA

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MONEY STARTS TO TALK

The Economist

The government has handed over, on ten-year renewable leases, nearly 1.5m hectares (3.7m acres) of land to private farmers or co-operatives, who now occupy 70% of farmland. Farmers can sell almost half their output to the highest bidder, rather than handing all of it over to the state as in the past. About 400,000 Cubans work in the budding private sector of small business and self-employment, up from 150,000 three years ago. Cubans can now buy and sell houses and cars freely and travel abroad. From last month, they can surf the internet at what will soon be a network of 118 telecoms centres, though the price of $4.50 an hour is about a quarter of the average monthly wage for a state worker.

The tempo of reform is accelerating. Over the next 18 months, Mr Murillo said, the government will loosen two of the economy’s most crippling shackles. Starting next year, state enterprises will be allowed to keep half their post-tax profits, to reinvest or distribute to their workers. Their managers will be given much more autonomy. Companies that post persistent losses will, in theory, be liquidated.

Mr Murillo is also preparing to unify Cuba’s twin currencies, the source of convoluted distortions and hidden subsidies. Most wages and prices are set in Cuban pesos (CUPs), 25 of which buy a dollar. The tourist economy operates with “convertible” pesos (or CUCs), set at par to the dollar. In fact, CUCs are not freely convertible, because state companies are allowed to pretend that each of their CUPs is worth one CUC. The upshot is that ordinary Cubans are paid a pittance (the average monthly wage of 466 CUPs is worth just $19). Income inequality is rising sharply as more Cubans obtain CUCs, either as remittances from relatives abroad or because they work in tourism or the growing private sector. And since scarce foreign exchange is assigned by government fiat, companies have had no incentive to export or substitute imports.

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