Month: June 2018

How a victorious Bashar al-Assad is changing Syria

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A NEW Syria is emerging from the rubble of war. In Homs, which Syrians once dubbed the “capital of the revolution” against President Bashar al-Assad, the Muslim quarter and commercial district still lie in ruins, but the Christian quarter is reviving. Churches have been lavishly restored; a large crucifix hangs over the main street. “Groom of Heaven”, proclaims a billboard featuring a photo of a Christian soldier killed in the seven-year conflict. In their sermons, Orthodox patriarchs praise Mr Assad for saving one of the world’s oldest Christian communities. Homs, like all of the cities recaptured by the government, now belongs mostly to Syria’s victorious minorities: Christians, Shias and Alawites (an esoteric offshoot of Shia Islam from which Mr Assad hails). These groups banded toge

Iran’s anaemic economy is pushing people over the edge

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SIX months after the last round of protests over their country’s anaemic economy, Iranians are at it again. But unlike the demonstrations in December, which began in the provinces, the latest unrest erupted in Tehran’s bazaar on June 25th and spread from there. Anger is growing over rising prices, the plunging value of the Iranian rial (see chart) and the cost of foreign adventurism. The regime looks worried. Security forces fired tear gas to disperse crowds that gathered at parliament’s gates. Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, the conservative head of the judicial system, threatened those “who disturb the Islamic economy” with execution. President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, seems stumped. Instead of the bountiful foreign investment he promised would come from compromising with America, he is

Can foreign observers keep Zimbabwe’s election clean?

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Hoping for victory, praying for peace ZIMBABWEANS shuddered when a bomb went off on June 23rd in Bulawayo, the country’s second city, a few yards from President Emmerson Mnangagwa as he left the podium at the end of an election rally. Would the explosion, which killed two security men, herald a wave of violence against the opposition, as it might well have done if the vengeful Robert Mugabe had still been president? In the event, Mr Mnangagwa (pictured), who displaced Mr Mugabe in a coup last November, called for calm rather than retribution. He implied that friends of Mr Mugabe’s ambitious wife, Grace, who had wanted the top job, were the likeliest culprits. The main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, called for calm, too. With parliamentary and presidential elections set for July 30th

A new approach to Somali pirates frees more hostages

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Off to file his expenses NO ONE seized by pirates can be considered lucky. But many of the seamen taken hostage by Somali pirates have at least been set free fast, once fat ransoms have been paid. At the height of the piracy scourge off the coast of Somalia almost a decade ago, the average ransom to free a crew and vessel was, by one tally, $3.5m. Some seamen, however, have languished in captivity for months or even years because their companies balked at coughing up—often because their ship was uninsured, or had run aground, or had been disabled by fire, or had sunk. Crew taken from them were sometimes tortured. “Hard as it may sound, these guys, they don’t have any value,” says John Steed, a former UN man in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. Pirates are still loth to cut their losses by