World update, part 2: March 27 2019

Hello and welcome to our next-to-last week here at WordPress! I’m packing things up and moving to Substack starting next week, when I’ll be posting in both places by way of transitioning to the new site.



The Libyan and Egyptian governments have reached a preliminary agreement on a mechanism for processing Egyptian workers’ applications to cross the border into Libya once again. Egypt closed its Libyan border in 2015, but with the security situation there improving and the need for labor to rebuild the country high–not to mention the need many Egyptians have for employment–it seems like a good time to reevaluate things.


The list of major Algerian power players who have turned on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika may have reached critical mass on Wednesday. Since army chief of staff Gaid Salah suggested invoking the Algerian constitution to declare Bouteflika unfit to hold office, the ruling FLN party, its National Rally for Democracy coalition partner, and the General Union of Algerian Workers, the country’s largest labor union, have all expressed support for the idea. It is supremely difficult to see how Bouteflika could remain in office without their support, particularly with respect to the army. But it’s equally difficult to see who could replace him without alienating some faction or factions within the country’s ruling clique. Salah is a possibility, as is Bouteflika’s brother Said, but both are potentially divisive figures. Diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi could be a compromise figure, but he’s even older than Bouteflika so he’d have to lead a very short-term transition to some more permanent situation. And of course there’s no guarantee any of these potential replacements would satisfy protesters, whose demands seem to have expanded from simply ousting Bouteflika to more fundamental changes in Algerian politics.


The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project says that former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh looted the country of a cool $1 billion during his 22 year stint in power. That’s over twice The Gambia’s national debt, which is somewhere around $489 million. Jammeh fled the country in early 2017 after losing the 2016 election but then refusing to step aside, and he’s now in exile in Equatorial Guinea. Previous estimates of his thievery have put it in the tens of millions of dollars, far lower than this new figure.


At least six people were killed overnight Monday-Tuesday in an attack on the Dogon village of Ouadou in central Mali. The attack may have been a retaliation for a suspected Dogon attack over the weekend on a Fulani village, the death toll from which now stands at around 160.


One South Sudanese parliamentarian and two security personnel were killed late Tuesday when a group they were with was attacked, allegedly by a rebel militia called the “White Army.” They were part of a delegation of political leaders sent to Latjor state to explain the peace agreement between the South Sudanese government and the rebel SPLA-IO. Rebel leaders deny that the White Army was involved.



It hasn’t gotten much attention, but a no deal Brexit would apparently impact Cyprus too. There are about 11,000 people on Cyprus living in “Sovereign Base Areas” left over from when the island was a British colony. Those areas remain under British control. In the event of a no deal British departure from the European Union, which seems pretty likely at this point (see below), those places would all have to be subject to the same customs checks as the rest of the United Kingdom. Sounds like a real fun logistical nightmare.


New polling has comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy at 24.6 percent going into the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election this weekend, well ahead of incumbent Petro Poroshenko at 14.8 percent but not even within shouting distance of the 50 percent plus one he’d need to avoid a runoff. At this point it may be fair to say Zelenskiy is a slim favorite to win the runoff, but no more than that.


The man who attacked several mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this month apparently donated money to an Austrian white nationalist group called the “Identitarian Movement.” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz confirmed the donations on Wednesday and said his government may move to dissolve the group. At some point we should maybe start talking about the global network of white nationalist terrorists and radicalizing movements in some of the same terms we reserve for Islamist groups.


The German government decided after the Jamal Khashoggi murder last year to halt its arms sales to Saudi Arabia. It was the only Western country to take that step, but its decision has effectively cut almost all European arms sales to Saudi Arabia because the European arms business is a group project and so even weapons made in, say, France often include significant German components. And so, what can only be described as an act of political courage, the German government is standing firm about to cave to pressure from the rest of Europe and soften the ban. It’s a loss from a human rights perspective but a huge win from a “let’s make as much money as we can helping the Saudis eradicate Yemen” perspective.


Well we won’t have Theresa May to kick around for very much longer. Probably. May played her final card on Wednesday, offering to step down in May, assuming parliament approved her Brexit arrangement. She won’t be missed, except insofar as she’s likely to be replaced by somebody even less competent, if you can imagine such a thing. The only uncertainty about her departure is that she made it conditional on getting the Brexit deal passed, and it looks like she’s still not going to be able to do that. The Democratic Unionist Party, as well as most members of the Conservative Party’s hardline Brexit-backing European Research Group (ERG), look set to reject May’s agreement for a third time, should she bring it up for another vote on Friday as expected.

Although parliament has already rejected a “no deal” Brexit, it looks increasingly like that’s what’s going to happen anyway because parliament won’t back any other Brexit arrangement either. Having wrested control of the process away from May earlier this week, the House of Commons voted on no fewer than eight different Brexit scenarios on Wednesday, and none of them were able to pass. This created the opening for May to reintroduce her plan, though as noted above that’s not likely to pass either. Assuming parliament can’t agree on any way forward, May will likely go back to the EU to ask for another extension to the Brexit deadline, which now stands at April 12. But there’s not much reason to expect the EU to approve another extension unless there’s some sign that the UK has figured out what it wants to do before then.



It’s probably no big deal, but just FYI the fascist president of Brazil wants the country’s military to “commemorate” the 55th anniversary of the 1964 military coup that left the country under military rule until 1985. Coups are not usually the kind of thing one commemorates, especially not when they lead to the imposition of regimes that murder hundreds of people and disappear/torture thousands, but Bolsonaro argues that the coup prevented Brazil from going communist and I suppose “better dead than red” would be the standard he’s using here.


Donald Trump on Wednesday demanded that Russia remove its soldiers from Venezuela and said that “all options are open” in terms of getting them to do so. Of course all options are not on the table because nobody’s going to start World War III over a hundred or so Russians in Caracas. But this does once again highlight the US view that we’re the only country that’s allowed to meddle in other countries’ affairs.

Trump made his comments to reporters while meeting with Fabiana Rosales, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s wife. Guaidó himself is in Venezuela, where he’s calling for new protests against Nicolás Maduro’s government in the wake of the country’s latest large-scale blackout, the second one it’s suffered this month. The outage stretched into its third day on Wednesday after power briefly came back on in about half the country’s states late Tuesday. The United Nations, meanwhile, is calling on both Maduro and Guaidó to deconflict their positions on humanitarian aid in order to allow (potentially) food and medicine into the country. Maduro has rejected that aid, arguing that Venezuela doesn’t need it and it’s being offered in an attempt to delegitimize his government. Guaidó hasn’t helped matters by casting humanitarian aid as a tool to, well, delegitimize Maduro’s government. Nobody asked me, but I’d argue that Guaidó would be well served to back off on this issue and let Maduro, assuming he refuses to budge, take all the blame for blocking aid from getting into the country.


Earlier I mentioned the US belief that we’re simply above international law. At TomDispatch earlier this week, Rebecca Gordon highlighted another example of this belief in the Trump administration’s threats against the International Criminal Court:

Under the circumstances, it wouldn’t be surprising if you had missed the Associated Press report about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing that the United States “will revoke or deny visas to International Criminal Court personnel seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere.” In fact, said Pompeo, some visas may already have been denied or revoked, but he refused to “provide details as to who has been affected and who will be affected” (supposedly to protect the confidentiality of visa applicants).

National Security Advisor John Bolton had already signaled such a move last September in a speech to the Federalist Society. In what the Guardian called an “excoriating attack” on the International Criminal Court, or ICC, Bolton said, “The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”

By “unjust prosecution,” he clearly meant any attempt to hold Americans accountable for possible war crimes. An exception even among exceptional nations, the United States simply cannot commit such crimes. Hence, by the logic of Bolton or Pompeo, any prosecution for such a crime must, by definition, be unjust.

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