Monthly Archives: February 2013

The visit of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad to Cairo on Tuesday marked the first time an Iranian leader has been to Egypt since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979. At a press conference he said he hoped the trip would be “a new starting point in relations between us”.

But the Iranian president, who is a Shia Muslim, suffered two awkward moments during his visit. He was reprimanded by the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, who warned him against seeking the “extension of Shia reach”, pressed for Sunni Muslims in Iran to be given full rights, and told Ahmadi-Nejad to hold back from interfering in Gulf Arab states.

Then, as the Iranian president visited a mosque, a man tried to strike him with a shoe. Read more

Francois Hollande (R) and Mario Monti in Paris on February 3 (BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Mario Monti with Francois Hollande on February 3 (BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Italy’s foreign policy has long been founded on supporting its western allies in times of need.

Unlike the French, Italy backed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003; it has troops in Afghanistan and, unlike Germany, it supported – though with some foot-dragging – military intervention in Libya in 2011.

But electoral considerations have trumped solidarity with France over Mali, forcing an embarrassing u-turn.

Mario Monti’s foreign and defence ministers last month pledged logistical help in the form of transport planes and refuelling for the French. “We are beside you, Paris,” newspapers proclaimed. But on Sunday, in Paris, Italy’s technocrat prime minister had to explain to François Hollande that no such support would be forthcoming after all.

Franco Frattini, former foreign minister and member of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party, is particularly disappointed, having passed a resolution in parliament on January 22 – with support from members of the centre-left Democrats and the centrist UDC – that backed Italian logistical intervention.

“Because of the election campaign we run the risk of not fulfilling our European duties of solidarity,” Mr Frattini told the FT. Read more

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By Gideon Rachman

The flickering black and white films of men going “over the top” in the first world war seem impossibly distant. Yet the idea that the great powers of today could never again stumble into a war, as they did in 1914, is far too complacent. The rising tensions between China, Japan and the US have echoes of the terrible conflict that broke out almost a century ago.

(MICHAEL GOTTSCHALK/AFP/Getty Images)

Russians plus planes plus duty-free alcohol can be a dangerous mix (Getty)

Over the past year, the Kremlin has launched a relative successful crackdown on Russian alcohol consumption, restricting the hours when booze can be sold, raising prices and finally deciding to classify beer as an alcoholic beverage (rather than a soft drink).

Now, the government is stepping up to solve another, and perhaps bigger, alcohol-related problem: how do you stop airline passengers from becoming belligerently drunk in an enclosed space?

Over the past few weeks, two new videos have emerged confirming what most Moscow jetsetters could have told you already. Russians plus airplanes plus duty-free alcohol can – on occasion – be a horrible combination.

Take, for instance, the case of Vyacheslav Ismailov, a 28-year-old businessman from Podolsk, a sleepy Moscow suburb. Read more

“Today you can see that I’m alive. I can speak, I can see you, I can see everyone, and today I can speak. And I’m getting better day by day.”

A lot has been written about Malala Yousafzai since she was shot in the head by the Taliban in October. On Monday, we heard the 15-year-old speak, in her first video statement since the attack.

“This is a second life, this is a new life. And I want to serve, I want to serve the people. And I want every girl, every child to be educated.”

The quiet determination in her voice helps explain why the Taliban see her as such a threat. As Adam B. Ellick, the New York Times journalist who made a short documentary about Malala in 2009 put it: “Don’t be fooled by her gentle demeanor and soft voice. Malala is also fantastically stubborn and feisty.”

The Channel 4 reporter Fatima Manji notes that Malala also released statements in Urdu and Pashto on Monday. “One line in Urdu particularly stands out for me,” writes Manji. “Malala says she believes so strongly in education that she would be willing to ‘sacrifi Read more

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The announcement that talks with Iran over the country’s nuclear programme will resume later this month sounds potentially exciting – but perhaps only for those with short memories. There have been plenty of six-party talks with Iran before, and they have generally left the negotiators frustrated and angry. Read more

A few weeks ago I was in Oxford for the screening of Girlfriend in a Coma, the film on Italy’s decline written by Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist, and Annalisa Piras, an Italian journalist and filmmaker. The audience – consisting mainly of British Italophiles and young Italian researchers who had left the country’s decaying universities to find shelter in British academia – gave the documentary a warm reception. During the discussion I chaired after the screening, Emmott conceded that taking the movie to Italy would pose a far greater challenge. He joked that he and Piras would need bodyguards. Their movie is in fact a brutal exercise in truth-telling, aimed at holding to account those who have run Italy over the past two decades.

Italy’s first reaction has, indeed, proved rather unwelcoming. The Italian premiere of Girlfriend in a Coma, scheduled for February 13 at MAXXI, a museum of contemporary art in Rome, was suddenly cancelled on Friday. Read more

A post-Davos debrief on the state of the world economy

As US growth shrinks and fears of a catastrophic collapse in the eurozone recede, Gideon Rachman, FT editor Lionel Barber and economic editor Chris Giles discuss the strength of world economy in this week’s podcast (also available on video)

Two weeks ago a masked assailant threw acid in the face of the Bolshoi’s artistic director Sergei Filin. The attack has cast a shadow over the reputation of one of the world’s most celebrated ballet troupes, as Courtney Weaver explains in her fascinating report on the tensions and rivalries that have emerged at the Moscow ballet in recent months.

What’s it like to dance at the Bolshoi? Here are four videos, and four dancers (well, three dancers and one choreographer, to be precise) who made their mark there over the years. For the sake of brevity, we limited ourselves to four, so they can only gesture at the Bolshoi’s long and varied history; please share your thoughts – and recommendations – in the comments.

1) Galina Sergeyevna Ulánova In this video from the Bolshoi’s official youtube channel, you can watch one of its most famous ballerinas – and one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed – fluttering across the stage, pressing down her net skirts, and talking about her favourite role (Giselle). Joseph Stalin himself is said to have ordered the transfer of Ulánova to the Bolshoi from its rival, the Mariinsky Theatre in Leningrad, in 1944 (“Although Leningrad was where the revolution started, Stalin never cared for it. He saw it as a rebellious city,The Economist notes in its obituary of Ulánova). Read more

by Kate Allen and Keith Fray

Today’s encouraging US non-farm payrolls data presents a puzzle – it contradicts the quarterly GDP figures that were published earlier this week. Employment is up, but the economy has apparently shrunk. Britain has been facing a similar contradiction for some time now.

It’s important to remember that we shouldn’t place too much emphasis on a single set of monthly figures – as this blog has mentioned before. But non-farms are interesting because, as this chart shows, they have a track record of being closely associated with GDP – historically there has been a good fit.

US GDP and nonfarm payrolls

 

The discrepancy between this week’s surprising and depressing GDP number and the relatively optimistic non-farm payrolls bucks this trend.

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Police outside the premises of Pemex on January 31 (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

Police outside the premises of Pemex on January 31 (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

Accidents happen, and Latin America has suffered two major accidents this past week: the first, a night club fire in Brazil on Sunday morning, the second, an explosion at Pemex’s headquarters in Mexico City on Thursday afternoon.

Many innocent people died at both; those are the awful human consequences. But both accidents will have political consequences too. Although it may sound callous, these may help speed the reform programs of Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian president, and Enrique Peña Nieto, her Mexican counterpart.

Ms Rousseff, midway through her term, is seeking to root out corruption in Brazil and improve infrastructure before the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. To political opponents or vested interests, she can now say: just look at the 230 people who died in the Kiss Night Club in Santa Maria. Do you want a repeat? It’s time to call time on shoddy building regulations and civil service corruption that allows such infringements to go unheeded. Read more