For those used to a democratic system with an established political dynamic – Democrats v Republicans in the US, or Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats in Britain – Italy can seem strange. Some of the parties and alliances running in this year’s general election did not even exist in previous contests.
Italians will be asked to vote in February for one of 169 parties, movements and groups that made it onto the ballot. Many have unfamiliar names, such as the newly formed alliance of Italy, Common Good (which combines the Democratic party, the socialists and others), the Five Star Movement party created by the former comedian Beppe Grillo, or the even newer Monti movement, formed around the agenda of the ex-prime minister.
Data collated by the FT
How could the Italian political system have worked for so long with such a fragmented composition? The answer is that, for most of the time, it hasn’t.
Israeli soldiers stand guard at an army post in the annexed Golan Heights on January 31 (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Reports that Wednesday’s Israeli air strike somewhere near Syria’s border with Lebanon was on an arms convoy destined for Hizbollah have been denied – sort of – by the Syrian regime and its paramilitary Lebanese ally.
Throughout Wednesday, Hizbollah, normally prodigious in its denunciations of any and all Israeli aggression on its al-Manar television station, maintained the stoniest of silences. Today, al-Manar moved swiftly to endorse the account given by Syria’s state news agency: that Israeli warplanes had hit a military research facility in Jamraya, near Damascus.
There is no cast-iron corroboration of anything at this stage. Israel is saying nothing. But beyond fuelling fears that Syria’s civil war will spread, Israel’s actions have led to some interesting statements. Read more
The former Republican senator can expect a bumpy ride as he answers questions on how he would play the role of President Obama’s new defence secretary. Hagel needs to persuade at least five of his former colleagues to support him to avoid a filibuster that would torpedo his appointment.
Ben Fenton, from the FT’s Live News Desk, and Johanna Kassel follow the hearing.
Facing a grilling: Chuck Hagel (Getty)
Chuck Hagel’s keenly awaited confirmation hearing on Thursday to be the next US defence secretary is likely to be dominated by the hot-button issues that have already got him into trouble with some of his fellow Republicans (and a few Democrats) – his position on Israel, his opposition to Iran sanctions, his criticism of the Iraq war and his views on gays.
If so, that will be a shame, because it would be both interesting and important to hear him explain what his brand of “principled realism” actually means for US foreign policy. The hearing could provide a seminal debate on America’s global role. Here are ten questions he should be asked.
1) Defence budget. You said in September 2011 that the defence budget was “bloated”. That was before the Pentagon announced $485bn in cuts over the next decade. Is the budget still bloated? Are more cuts possible or necessary?
2) Pentagon cuts. To meet the cuts that have already been announced, will the Pentagon need to axe some important capabilities? Can the US still afford all of its aircraft carrier groups? Is the F-35 jet fighter too expensive to support? Does the US need such a large presence in Europe? Read more
Residents welcome Malian soldiers as they enter Timbuktu on January 28, 2013 (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
French and Malian troops this week took control of the historic city of Timbuktu from the jihadist militants that had taken over the city in April 2012. The adjective often used to describe the desert city is “fabled” – but what is the fable of Timbuktu?
In the 19th century, the city was considered so hard to get to that the Société de Géographie offered a 10,000 franc reward for the first person to reach the city and make it back. By the time the young Frenchman René Caillié arrived there, disguised as an Arab, the centuries-old reports of riches and splendour that had lured so many explorers had disappeared into myth. Caillié described his arrival in a book published in 1830:
Timbuktu circa 1950
“I now saw this capital of the Sudan, to reach which had so long been the object of my wishes…
I looked around and found that the sight before me, did not answer my expectations. I had formed a totally different idea of the grandeur and wealth of Timbuctoo. The city presented, at first view, nothing but a mass of ill-looking houses, built of earth.”
• Timbuktu’s golden age One definition of the word ‘fable’ is ‘an untruth; falsehood’. But Timbuktu did experience a golden age – Caillié was just a few centuries too late to see it. As E.J.Kahn, Jr. wrote of Timbuktu, “for a while, it was a shining city of the Empire of Mali, which early in the thirteenth century succeeded the Empire of Ghana as West Africa’s paramount nation.” The root of the city’s prosperity was its geographical location at the crossroads of a caravan route between Africa’s Arab northern regions and west Africa. Situated between the Sahara desert and the fertile banks of the Niger river, Timbuktu became a busy trading hub for merchants exchanging west African goods including gold, ivory, and salt, for Mediterranean products such as glass, ceramics, and precious stones. Read more
Presidents Raul Castro of Cuba (L) and Sebastian Piñera of Chile during a summit of Latin American states on Monday (Reuters).
It all went surprisingly well. Latin America, in sentiment if not in deed, presented a united front to its European guests at the summit of EU and Latin American leaders in Santiago, which wound up on Monday. With customary politesse, local differences were mostly swept under the carpet.
Nobody in Chile kicked up a fuss that communist Cuba will now head the 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (Celac) – even though democracy is one of Celac’s core goals. The region’s free-trading Pacific countries –Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile – agreed to drop tariffs to speed the creation of their “Pacific Alliance”, a “free-trade” block. (By contrast, Mercosur, a rival regional trade pact led by more protectionist Brazil and Argentina has been negotiating an EU trade deal for over a decade.) A handful of business deals were signed. And a long and flowery letter, supposedly written by Hugo Chávez from his sickbed in Cuba and that called for Latin American unity, was read out, which lent some colour to the last day. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
The “reasonable person” is usually to be found in legal textbooks. If you want to meet the “reasonable person” in the flesh, however, I would suggest a trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Egyptian mourners march in Port Said on January 28, 2013 during the funeral of six people killed in clashes the day before (AFP/Getty Images)
On Sunday, President Mohamed Morsi declared a state of emergency in three of Egypt’s troubled provinces, following a weekend of violence in which 48 people were killed in clashes with police. In doing so, he resorted to a tool that had defined the rule of his predecessor, the autocratic Hosni Mubarak, who kept emergency law in force for thirty years as a way to clamp down on dissent. While Morsi’s state of emergency applies only to three cities so far – Port Said, Ismailia and Suez – and is limited to a month’s duration, it has fuelled opposition fears that the president is straying ever further from the ideals of the revolution that brought him to power.
- On Friday – the second anniversary of the uprising in Egypt – clashes erupted in Cairo, and six Egyptians were killed during confrontations in Suez between anti-government protesters and security forces. “The dividing line between the nation’s secular and Islamist camps and the difference in their perceptions of the political moment that defined the country’s recent history could not be starker”, wrote Borzou Daragahi.
French army troopers arrive at base camp in Sevare on January 25, 2013 (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
French and Malian forces have made rapid advances in recent days in their efforts to defeat Islamist militants in Mali. On Saturday they captured Gao, which has been under control of the Islamists since last April.
Xan Rice, the FT’s west Africa correspondent, spoke to a teacher from Gao, who did not want his name to be used, about the liberation of the town.
Here is a transcript of the teacher’s account:
“We had a big celebration when the French and Malian army arrived on Saturday. On all the main streets people were out welcoming them.
“It was ‘Long live France, long live Hollande, long live Mali’s army’. The town is secured. We also have soldiers from Niger and Chad here. We are all very happy because nobody liked the Islamists. They were strong but they lost a lot of equipment and vehicles when they attacked Konna [a central town, where the conflict started in January]. We knew that when the army came here, the Islamists would fly away.
Relativies wait to identify victims killed in the Kiss night club fire, at the municipal gymnasium on January 27, 2013 in Santa Maria (JEFFERSON BERNARDES/AFP/Getty Images)
What was to have been just a funky Saturday night out instead became a tragedy.
As many as 232 people died after a fire swept through the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, a relatively prosperous student town in southern Brazil.
Shortly before the blaze, one club DJ posted a photograph on Facebook, according to Globo, saying: “KISSS is pumping”. A few hours later, videos posted on social media networks instead showed Brazilians frantically trying to remove bodies from the charred building. Read more
Here’s our reading to take you through to the weekend Read more
By Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children
There are two sessions on the future of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals beyond 2015 at Davos this year – the same number of sessions given to meditation and art walks. The word ‘growth’ features in 11 of the agenda’s headings, ‘human’ in four, but ‘poverty’ gets no airtime at all. Yet, if the World Economic Forum is ‘committed to improving the state of the world’, what happens after 2015 is a critical debate for every government that signed up to the MDGs in the first place, and for every business with supply chains or future customers in emerging and developing countries. Read more
Hugo Chávez is in Havana. Venezuela’s cancer-ridden president may be alive in the elite CIMEQ hospital, or he may simply be being kept alive on a life support system as rumours suggest, or he may be getting better, as the Venezuelan government insists. Although he remains, officially, the country’s head of state, nobody really knows the current state of his health – except for the Castro brothers and a handful of close family and government associates. Indeed, since Chávez underwent his fourth round of cancer surgery on December 11, there has been no video of the usually loquacious socialist leader smiling from a hospital bed, no record of him cheering on loyal supporters, no photograph, no tweet even from a president much given to social media (he has 4m followers on Twitter). The only evidence presented that Chávez is still alive, so far, has been a scanned photograph of Chávez’s signature underneath an official decree. But the signature was datelined Caracas, although even the government admits Chávez remains in Havana. Read more
Friday’s events from the World Economic Forum feature an address by Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, and sessions looking at the challenges faced by, and presented by, the fast-changing Arab world. Reports from FT writers in Davos and by Ben Fenton, Lina Saigol and Lindsay Whipp in London
17.03: The Davos Live Blog is closing down now but for more reading and insight on today’s events, please visit the FT’s in depth page on the World Economic Forum.
16.41: Gideon Rachman, titular proprietor of this blog, has written his surmise from the earlier session on Syria.
16.16: Asked by the Amercian moderator of his panel session about corruption and banking regulation, Nigeria’s central bank governor Sanusi displays a little frustration:
He said: “We are the only country which has taken people out of banks and put them in jail. No bankers in your countries have gone to jail.”
16.12: Martin Wolf has recorded his view on the politics and economics at play in a “low-intensity” Davos this year:
Lord Paul Boateng, former chief secretary to the treasury and the former UK high commissioner to South Africa, answers questions about his first trip to Davos.
1. Is this your first trip to Davos?
I have to confess that it is. I’ve reached a fairly advanced age without ever having felt Davos was for me. I have been an active participant, however, both as a cabinet minister and a diplomat at the spin offs in Mumbai and Cape Town where the WEF reaches out to the rest of the world.
2. What’s the best thing about going to Davos?
If you’ve got an idea or a product to sell then this is a quite unique market place. There are lots of serious people on the lookout for the next big idea or opportunity. A voracious media circus with the promise of global coverage also helps. Read more
Two days is apparently not enough for all the talking that needs to be done, so here we are entering Davos Day Three. But as our morning reading shows, there are some worries that delegates are not ready yet to discuss.
Gillian Tett in her column this week highlights cyber attacks. She compares the “whispers in the corridors” with that of 2007, when there was a similar fear of articulating the credit bubble.
Here’s more from the WEF (you can find the FT stories on our in-depth page and many blog posts, including our live coverage on our World blog):
David Cameron, UK prime minister, had more to say on the country’s relationship with the EU and sought common ground with German chancellor Angela Merkel among others.
The FT’s Martin Wolf takes Cameron to task when he blogs that the prime minister may have set the UK on the path to an exit although he really wants to remain within the EU. Read more