Month: August 2018

Lebanon’s economy has long been sluggish. Now a crisis looms

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THE main feature of Beirut’s skyline is not minarets or church steeples, but construction cranes. From the roof of a posh downtown hotel you can see 17 of them, throwing up luxury apartments that cost up to $1m each. Wealthy Lebanese sip wine on their terraces and discuss investment opportunities. They rub shoulders with Gulf tourists drawn by Beirut’s libertine nightlife. Lebanon’s economy relies on tourism, construction and finance for growth. All three seem to be thriving. That, however, is an illusion. The country is tipping into a property slump—and perhaps a banking crisis that threatens its currency. An economic crash could destabilise a country already swamped with refugees and plagued by sectarian divides. Trouble in the banking sector, which draws investors from around the reg

Shias are doing better in Saudi Arabia

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That was so last year LAST year Saudi Arabia’s young and powerful crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, pulverised Awamiyah, a rebellious Shia town near the eastern coast. Throughout the summer Saudi forces shelled its 400-year-old neighbourhoods and erected siege walls to trap some 200 gunmen. But in February, when the rebels stopped shooting, he sent in his engineers, diggers and cranes to clear up the damage. Six months on, new roads, shopping centres and a small hospital are rising from the ruins of the levelled town. A new highway, stretching across Eastern Province, runs past Awamiyah, which had been largely isolated. By next March the $64m facelift will be complete. Prince Muhammad hopes the reconstruction will send multiple messages. In exchange for absolute loyalty, he is offering

Battling Ebola in a war zone in Congo

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A ROW of health workers in blue gowns and face masks sit at tables outside the tin-roofed bungalow that was home to Kambale Vincent, one of 75 people who have died from Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo this month. His widow, a hunched, 60-year-old in a black cardigan, pulls her arm out of her sleeve and winces as a needle pierces her skin. She is receiving an experimental Ebola vaccine, fresh from trials in west Africa, that is being offered to anyone who may have touched her late husband. Getting vaccines to the centre of this outbreak, the scrubby village of Mangina in the North Kivu province of Eastern Congo, is no easy task. The area is in infested with about 40 armed militias, most of which have been hiding in the forests since the end of a war in 2003 that claimed the liv...

The revival of Ponte is a potent symbol of Johannesburg’s renewal

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Hello, anybody home? IN 1976 Africa’s most glamorous residence opened in downtown Johannesburg. Ponte City, a cylindrical brutalist skyscraper stretching 54 storeys, was built for yuppies who had flocked to the city, often from Europe. It was reserved for the wealthy—three-storey penthouses had wine cellars, saunas and jacuzzis— and for whites. The only black residents were servants, in whose quarters windows had to be at least six feet off the ground, lest they see into whites’ rooms. Almost as soon as it opened, however, Ponte City began its decline. In 1976 the suppression of an uprising in Soweto, a black township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, ushered in sanctions and boycotts, crimping South Africa’s economy. Whites fled inner cities for the suburbs because of rising crime in t