Monthly Archives: June 2014

  • The FT’s Richard McGregor reports on how detainees at Guantánamo Bay are growing old in limbo.
  • Algeria’s mostly French-bred football team highlights the failure of homegrown African football.
  • The Kurdish forces are unlikely to lose a war to Isis should it choose to launch a full-scale attack, but the fight could be costlier than its leaders let on.
  • In Jordan, officials fear that Isis is gaining support in poor communities such as Ma’an, or in the teeming northern refugee camps and border towns where many of those who have fled from Syria live.
  • The US State Department began investigating the security contractor Blackwater’s operations in Iraq in 2007, but the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq”. Weeks later, the firm’s guards killed 17 civilians.
  • One of Egypt’s leading novelists, Ahdaf Soueif, has accused Egypt’s military-backed authorities of “waging a war on the young”.
  • Buzzfeed looks into the Russian collective that calls itself the Anonymous International: “Completely unknown just months ago, the group has become the talk of Moscow political circles after posting leaked documents detailing elements of Russia’s annexation of Crimea; covert operations in eastern Ukraine; the inner workings.”
  • The flawed response in Saudi Arabia to an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome could have contributed to its spread.
  • In the Netherlands, sandcastles are being used to educate schoolchildren the dangers of rising sea levels.

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A fighter from the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (Isis) brandishes the Isis flag on the streets of Mosul (Getty)

At Baghdad airport, the creeping sense of dread is apparent. As harried passengers are ferried between multiple searches, drivers of the black SUVs chartered to take them into the ultra-secure facility from a boarding point outside the airport are nervous. Read more

In an effort to make sense of Britain’s European predicament, I decided that I needed to put some distance between myself and the inglorious events in Brussels. So I have travelled to Brazil, where there appears to be some sort of football tournament going on.

In fact, there are certain obvious parallels between what happened to David Cameron in Brussels and what happened to the England team in Brazil – ignominious defeat being the clear link. However, it seems to me that the England team at the World Cup were actually rather better prepared and more professional than the British government in Brussels and that was reflected in the margin of defeat: 2-1 rather than 26-2. Read more

It’s the fashion these days for outsiders to lecture France as if it’s a talented but obstinate schoolboy failing his grades. The idea seems to be that the more you tell the French off, the faster they’ll pull their socks up. This approach is wrong. We should, instead, smother France with love.

Like anyone, the French like to hear from time to time that they are clever, beautiful, funny, kind and successful. But for the past 10 years or so, the outside world has spoken fewer nice words about France than about any developed country.

It’s reached ridiculous proportions. Anyone would think, from all these foreign sermons, that French civilisation was falling apart. This is hardly the way to get the best out of any nation, not just the French. We need to stop finding fault and start smothering France with love. Read more

By Lucy Hornby

It was a vintage 1950s moment as foreign diplomats based in Beijing streamed into the Great Hall of the People this weekend for a ceremony designed to re-establish China’s international leadership as an advocate for poorer countries and an alternative to the US.

China’s growing commercial clout is giving it international sway that it has not enjoyed since the 1950s. At the time, Jawharlal Nehru of India allied with charismatic Chinese premier Zhou Enlai to promote the non-aligned movement of countries loyal to neither the US nor the Soviet Union, most of which had only recently broken free of the British Empire.

China is now putting forward a revived vision for how it can use its growing power — at the same time as tensions are flaring along its maritime borders. Read more

(Getty)

“There is a tide in the affairs of men

“Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

So said Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and the same thought was surely the cause of much rejoicing on Friday among the main political party groups in the European Parliament. Seize the moment, and victory will be yours.

The parties’ success in forcing the EU’s national governments to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president is one reason why Friday’s EU summit in Brussels will go down in history. The parties, using the European Parliament as their lever, have rebalanced the distribution of power among the EU institutions in their favour. Read more

Don’t mix football with politics, goes the old saying – and Belgians are learning the lesson well.

Often depicted (wrongly, in my view) as an artificial, politically divided country doomed to disintegration, Belgium is cheering with one voice as its football team delights fans at the World Cup in Brazil. The streets of Brussels and other cities are festooned with black-yellow-red national flags – symbols of unity under which, at least during a football match, most Belgians can gather. Read more

Who are the winners and losers in a Juncker presidency?
With Jean-Claude Juncker increasingly likely to be appointed as the next president of the European Commission, Gideon Rachman is joined by Tony Barber, Europe editor, and Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief, for an in-depth look at what this would mean for the UK and for Europe as a whole. Also on the agenda are the growing dominance of Germany in the EU decision-making process and this week’s European Council meeting in Ypres

Every World Cup needs a villain, and Uruguay’s Luis Suárez must have been the pre-tournament bookmakers’ favourite to fill the role. Now he has obliged, for the second World Cup running. In 2010 he did it by saving a last-minute Ghanaian shot with his hands. He was sent off, but Ghana missed the subsequent penalty, and Uruguay went on to the semifinal.

On Tuesday the apparent bite he took out of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini provided possibly the first iconic moment of this World Cup. Fifa’s disciplinary committee has yet to give its verdict, but the vast majority of global non-Uruguayan opinion seems to believe it was a bite. Jim Boyle, head of Fifa’s refereeing committee, told British TV: “Once again, his actions have left him open to severe criticism.” Once again Suárez’s personal dysfunction is being displayed before the world, and once again he has only his compatriots to defend him. Read more

After all the UK press has written about him over the past few weeks, it is good to see Jean-Claude Juncker still has a sense of humour.

The former Luxembourg prime minister has largely kept his head down since he emerged as the front-runner for the European Commission presidency – and came under fire from UK prime minister David Cameron and the pro-Conservative battalions of the British media.

On Tuesday Mr Juncker broke cover to deliver a speech at a Berlin security conference – he had, he said, accepted the invitation before becoming embroiled in the latest battle of Brussels.

Explaining that he was between jobs – having handed over the reins in Luxembourg in December and yet to be installed in a new post – he added with a smile: “I am a transgender person, in the political sense.” Read more

Leaked tapes of expletive-filled conversations involving senior Polish ministers are extremely embarrassing to the government in Warsaw and to some of its leading figures, such as Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister (above). And that, presumably, is exactly the intention.

Amidst all the uproar, relatively few people seem to be asking who would have the resources and expertise to expertly bug several Warsaw restaurants – over the course of a year – and then the motivation to release the tapes. The obvious answer, based entirely on circumstantial evidence, would be Russia’s intelligence service. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Discussing Britain’s Europe policy earlier this year, a senior adviser to the prime minister shrugged: “I know we’re accused of putting all our eggs in the Merkel basket. But, frankly, we don’t have another basket.”

By Vincent Boland in Dublin

It is tough being number one. Just ask the Irish. One of the things Ireland has had to get used to over the past decade is being ranked top (or near the top) in a range of global surveys for this, that and the other. The reaction is two-fold: a moment of pride followed by the question, “Surely they can’t mean us?”

A decade ago, Ireland was named the world’s best place to live, by the Economist. Now a new ranking has comes along declaring Ireland to be the country that contributes most “to the rest of humanity and the planet.” That sounds like the kind of award countries should be winning.

The Good Country Index, compiled by the international policy consultant Simon Anholt, is essentially an interpretation of the results of surveys carried out by international organisations such as the UN and the World Bank. The index measures the contribution of 125 countries to the world in seven categories of achievement relative to the size of their economy. Read more

The question went unanswered all weekend: who were the male members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly who jeered a female colleague, Ayaka Shiomura, as she tried to challenge senior city figures on their plans to support working women?

The heckling of Ms Shiomura, a 35 year-old member of the minority Your Party group, has drawn condemnation from across Japan’s political spectrum. The head of one rival faction in the assembly complained of “monstrous sexual harassment,” while another lamented that the hecklers – who appeared to be sitting within the section reserved for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) – had brought “shame” on the prefectural parliament.

“Why don’t you hurry up and get married?” one assembly member interrupted about eight minutes into Wednesday’s ten-minute presentation, causing Ms Shiomura to smile weakly before trying to soldier on. Another shouted: “Can’t you bear a child?” Read more

 

Croatia's economy is not so sunny

The slow, painful healing of the Greek economy after a catastrophic debt crisis raises an interesting question. Which country now holds the title of No.1 Economic Basket Case of the European Union?

The answer is surely Croatia. It is a small country (4.3m people, not even 1 per cent of the 28-nation EU’s 506m inhabitants) that did not join the EU until last July. It is not a eurozone member. It has gorgeous islands and beaches where life seems distinctly pleasant. So Croatia and its economic troubles often slip under everyone’s radar.

But Croatia is now in its sixth successive year of recession. During this time it has lost almost 13 per cent of its gross domestic product. Unemployment is about 17 per cent of the workforce, and among young people the rate is close to 50 per cent. Read more

Will David Cameron go down as the prime minister who turned Great Britain into Little England? If things go wrong for him, he could end up presiding over the departure of Scotland from the UK – swiftly followed by Britain’s own departure from the EU.

Many foreign observers are bemused. The Obama administration has made it clear that it would be appalled if Britain left the EU. The US also worries that Britain’s ability to play a global role is dwindling, as military capacity shrinks. A senior German politician sniffs that Mr Cameron has a knack of “organising his own defeats”. The Japanese, key investors in Britain, are alarmed at the prospect of UK withdrawal from the EU. And a Chinese official warns that the UK is becoming the “third power” in Europe. Read more

Brazilian players listen to their national anthem before a Group A football match between Brazil and Mexico in the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza during the 2014 FIFA World Cup

(Photograph: AFP)

By Thalita Carrico

One week after the start of the World Cup, there seems little doubt

about where Brazilians’ loyalty lies. On days when the Seleção – the national team – is playing, São Paulo comes alive with people wearing their yellow and green jerseys and the streets are filled with the noise of horns used by soccer supporters.

After Brazilians staged massive protests last year during the
Confederations Cup, the dress rehearsal event for the World Cup, the country put on hold any excitement over the 2014 tournament. As demonstrations this year against government spending on the World Cup allegedly at the expense of social services became more violent, people began to question whether Brazil was still the country of soccer. Read more

When the already opaque language of diplomacy turns to allegories, you know you are on even thornier ground than usual.

In this case, it is the UK trying desperately to convince Kenya they are after all the greatest of friends – if mistrusting, sparring ones.

Addressing a crowd in a televised speech, Christian Turner, the UK High Commissioner to Kenya, likened the pair – once former colony and colonial power – to a lion and buffalo “locked in combat”.

He went on: “On stopping to gather their strength for a final assault, they saw some vultures circling up above. They at once stopped their quarrel, saying: ‘It is better for us to work together than to become a meal for vultures.’” Read more

  • Fuel shortages and power outages are putting pressure on the Islamist insurgents who seized control of Mosul last week.
  • Their military offensive has been matched by a digital offensive of equal prowess.
  • Moderate Islamists are being eclipsed by their extremist counterparts, while jihadists are on the march, roving unchecked across broad sections of North Africa and the Middle East.
  • Hong Kong is undergoing deepening tensions over its political future as a self-governed territory under Chinese sovereignty.

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Just when it seemed that European politics could get no harder for Angela Merkel, a new complication has emerged in the tangled world of the EU.

The German chancellor is already involved in a head-splitting row over the probable appointment of Jean Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president. This week while Ms Merkel was in Brazil watching Germany’s opening victory of the World Cup, the first big split emerged in her ruling coalition.

Sigmar Gabriel, her deputy, pounced on Ms Merkel’s absence to challenge her eurozone economic policy, in an intervention that has the potential to sour relations long after the original dispute is forgotten. Read more