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As Islamic State withers, the alliance against it is fraying

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DOWN the Euphrates river, halfway between Deir ez-Zor and Syria’s border with Iraq, lies Dura Europos, an ancient metropolis where the Parthians of Persia sparred with the Roman Empire for control of the Middle East. History, it seems, is repeating itself. As Islamic State (IS) withers, America’s coalition is racing to secure the same stretch of river, before Iran and its allies. Never have America and its allies had such a hold on Syrian territory. In the north, America has worked with the Kurds to carve out a self-governing region. From there it provides support for Kurdish and Arab forces pushing down the northern bank of the river. Its Syrian proxies have fanned out in pockets around the border with Jordan, from Deraa to north of al-Tanf, a coalition base. But like their Parthian f

Oman is benefiting from the standoff over Qatar, for now

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THE Omani port of Sohar usually slows down during the summer. But this year it is buzzing. According to a government official, cargo volumes are up by 30% in the past few months, as more ships arrive carrying goods bound for Qatar. Such is the level of traffic that the Qatari ambassador to Oman hails the sultanate’s ports as the new gateway to his country, supplanting the port of Jebel Ali in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Oman sits at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, but beyond the Strait of Hormuz there is discord. On the western and southern shores lie Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have cut diplomatic and commercial ties to Qatar, their neighbour, over its alleged support for extremists and ties to Iran. Oman has stayed out of the dispute. It is h

The jihadists of Islamic State are fighting for their survival

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IT IS less a chaotic rout than a tactical retreat, but suddenly Islamic State (IS) is losing ground quite fast. At both ends of its self-proclaimed caliphate, the jihadist group is ceding territory. It quietly withdrew from Tal Afar, the largest Iraqi city still under its control, on August 27th. Simultaneously, hundreds of IS fighters and their families emerged from their caves in the Qalamoun mountains, astride Lebanon’s border with Syria, and boarded buses heading east. Trapped between Syrian and Lebanese forces on the ground, and Russian bombardment from the air, they gave up after a weeklong battle. Increasingly, the jihadists are being squeezed into a ribbon along the Euphrates valley. Having lost the Iraqi city of Mosul, and on the retreat in the Syrian city of Raqqa, their last

Zimbabwe’s first lady is accused of assault, again

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GRACE MUGABE, the first lady of Zimbabwe and an accomplished shopper, is no stranger to controversy, at home or abroad. The most recent revolves around allegations that she flogged a young woman, Gabriella Engels, whom she found when she stormed into her sons’ swanky apartment in Johannesburg. Photos released on social media after the incident showed Ms Engels with gashes on her head that required 14 stitches. Charges were laid and the South African police asked Mrs Mugabe to come into a station to make a statement. But within days she had been whisked out of the country after being granted diplomatic immunity. Having to skip a country on a diplomatic passport once might be regarded as a misfortune. But to do so twice begins to look like careless disregard for the law. In 2009 Mrs Mugab

Closing African orphanages may be less heartless than it seems

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Thinkin’ about tomorrow ARLENE BROWN is worried about her children. “I have 52,” she says. The former nurse from Pennsylvania founded Urukundo Village, an orphanage, in the Rwandan hillside town of Muhanga in 2006. Half of the children live with her permanently. The rest are at boarding school or university. “I don’t want any of my children taken away,” says Ms Brown. But they may be. More than half of Rwanda’s orphanages have closed since 2012, when the government decided they were doing more harm than good. There are 14 left, says Hope and Homes for Children (HHC), a British charity that is helping the government. A decade ago there were some 400. Orphanages have proliferated in Africa in recent decades in response to war, disease and natural disasters. In Uganda the number of childr

The high cost of red tape in Nigeria

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MANY Nigerians may see building a hotel as an easy way to launder money. For legitimate entrepreneurs, however, running a hotel is far from cheap or simple. In Abuja, the capital, it is rather like erecting a sign that says: “Tax me”. In fact, erecting such a sign would result in city and local taxes of about 80,000 naira ($221) a year. One Abuja hotelier recorded no fewer than 20 bills for various annual fees, taxes and licences. They range from a 5m-naira charge from the city council for having a car park, to demands from two different agencies for putting a logo on a company car. The hotelier has also been issued with bills for four different types of property tax and a bicycle/cart licence, despite having neither a bicycle nor a cart. Although he is challenging some of the notices i

It has been a summer of progress for women in the Arab world

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Protesting marriages made in hell THE Koran devotes whole verses to inheritance, and Muslim scholars have spent centuries ruling on what they mean. Beji Caid Essebsi, the Tunisian president, is not happy with their conclusions. Under his country’s law, derived from Islamic jurisprudence, a daughter receives half of what a son inherits. Mr Essebsi has asked parliament to equalise it. Not content with one controversy, he also wants to let Muslim women marry non-Muslim men—a forbidden act in every school of Islam. His announcements drew a furious reaction from many clerics, not just in Tunisia but across the region. The proposals will probably face months, if not years, of debate. Still, even putting them on the agenda was another in a summer of victories for Arab women. On August 16th Leb

Egypt’s surprising friendship with Hamas

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TIME was when Egypt balked at involvement in Gaza. In 2005, when Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers, Egypt fretted that it would become responsible for the territory, which it saw as a liability. More recently, the enclave’s rule by Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of Egypt’s own Islamist bugbear, the Muslim Brotherhood, made engagement toxic. Egypt has even matched Israel’s restrictions on the flow of goods and people across Gaza’s frontiers, destroying smuggling tunnels and leaving the enclave under a gruelling siege. It is strange, then, that Egypt is now riding to Gaza’s rescue. It is revamping the border crossing at Rafah and easing the restrictions. Palestinian pilgrims bound for Mecca crossed into Egypt last week, along with a Hamas delegation. Fuel is flowing the other way and m

Binyamin Netanyahu is soft on anti-Semitism when it suits him

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Just alt-friends ISRAEL has long seen itself as the protector of Jews everywhere and a bulwark against anti-Semitism globally. It has brought Nazis such as Adolf Eichmann to justice; it rescued Ethiopian Jews threatened by war and famine in the 1980s and 1990s. Just last week it denounced a notice in a Swiss hotel telling “Jewish guests” to shower before entering the swimming pool. So Israel’s government could reasonably have been expected to condemn the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, which featured neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us”, and to criticise the mealy-mouthed response by President Donald Trump, who has energised the white-supremacist movement in America. Instead, the anti-Semitic rallies, which descended into violence, and Mr Trump’s tepid early comments wer

War in the Arab world has devastated the region’s heritage

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THE Middle East is used to ruins. A millennium ago the “mad caliph” of Cairo, Hakim, ordered the levelling of all churches, including the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Jesus’s burial site. The Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258, causing the Tigris to flow black from the ink of discarded books. Tamerlane spared nothing but hospitals and mosques as he went on what a contemporary chronicler called a “pilgrimage of destruction” across the region’s great cities. “She is empty, and void, and waste,” wailed Nahum, the biblical prophet, foreseeing the ruin of Nineveh at the hands of the Babylonians. Still, the desolation of the past three years is probably the worst on record. According to the UN, half of the old city of Mosul, in Iraq, and a third of the old city of Aleppo, in Syria, are rubble. Hu