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Lebanon’s political system leads to paralysis and corruption

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IT IS difficult to escape the grip of religion in Lebanon. The rules that govern marriage, property rights and inheritance are administered by religious courts. Well-to-do secular Lebanese can fly to Cyprus to marry in civil ceremonies. But once back home, if their relationship goes sour, Muslims still have to deal with religious judges, who rule on divorce, alimony and child custody. Lebanese are increasingly fed up with this way of doing things. The number of believers has steadily declined since 2011. Today almost a quarter of people say they are not devout, according to Arab Barometer, a pollster. Nearly half say they are only somewhat religious. Trust in clerics and the clergy has never been so low. This helps explain why more and more Lebanese want to overhaul the way the country...

Where Syria’s despot Bashar al-Assad is likely to strike next

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IF THE cruise missiles that slammed into Syria on April 14th rattled President Bashar al-Assad, he did his best not to show it. Hours after America, Britain and France struck three facilities connected to Mr Assad’s chemical-weapons programme, his office posted a video of him strolling confidently into work. Russian politicians who met him later in the day said he was in a good mood. Mr Assad may have feared a bigger response from the West. Donald Trump, America’s president, had vowed to make his regime pay a “big price” for gassing to death more than 40 people in the town of Douma on April 7th. But the missiles destroyed only a handful of buildings and probably failed to wipe out all of Mr Assad’s poisonous arsenal. Nor did they dent his ability to rout, with conventional weapons, what

Mullahs rig the price of moolah in Iran

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FOR the second time in as many months, Iran’s “dollar patrol” is on the streets. The country’s currency, the rial, has lost a third of its value on the black market since September. On April 9th it sank to a record low of 61,000 to the dollar (when the official rate was 37,850). The next day the government imposed a rate of 42,000 and vowed to arrest anyone who bought or sold rials for what they are actually worth—as it did during the previous currency crisis, which was only in February. Some are nonetheless flouting the rules, demanding 56,000 rials or so for a dollar. There were long lines and, surprise, surprise, dollar shortages at the handful of exchanges using the official rate. A lack of confidence in the rial reflects a lack of confidence in the economy. The housing market is st

Africa’s big carbon emitters admit they have a problem

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AN HOUR east of Johannesburg, on the rolling highveld plains, six massive cooling towers sit around two belching smokestacks. The Kendal power station (pictured) is among the world’s largest, producing 4.1 gigawatts (GW) from burning coal. A few kilometres down the road there is another coal-fired plant, Duvha, which is only slightly smaller. An even bigger one, Kusile, is under construction next door. When sub-Saharan Africa comes up in discussions of climate change, it is almost invariably in the context of adapting to the consequences, such as worsening droughts. That makes sense. The region is responsible for just 7.1% of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, despite being home to 14% of its people. Most African countries do not emit much carbon dioxide. Yet there are some notable e

How African governments try to control what is said online

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You have the right to remain silent IN THE West, when celebrities post revealing videos on Instagram, they may find themselves mocked by tabloids and gossip websites. In Tanzania they can be arrested. On April 16th Diamond Platnumz, a Swahili rapper (pictured), known for such ditties as “Bum Bum”, was arrested after posting a clip of himself kissing a woman. According to Tanzania’s information minister, Harrison Mwakyembe, Mr Platnumz’s “indecency” fell foul of a new law intended to regulate social media. It is part of a growing trend of African governments trying to control what is said online. Tanzania’s vaguely worded law, which came into effect last month, seems to require almost anyone who publishes content online in the country to buy a licence for 2.1m Tanzanian shillings (around

African governments are having doubts about their staple crop

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That’s not the way out “IT’S what our forefathers used to eat,” says Kennedy Kapami, a Zambian phone salesman, rolling a ball of stiff maize porridge in his fingers. Maize is the staple food in eastern and southern Africa, where in some countries it provides over half of calories consumed. But Mr Kapami is wrong about his forefathers, or at least, his distant ones. Until the 20th century they mostly ate sorghum and millet. Maize came to Africa with the colonists. Governments now fret about its dominance. Portuguese slavers were the first to bring it to Africa. Sometimes the crop took roundabout routes. Swahili-speakers know it as mahindi (of India). Bambara-speakers in Mali call it kaba, after the sacred site in Mecca, from where pilgrims returned with exotic foods. In southern Africa

Sierra Leone’s new president has made big promises

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JULIUS MAADA BIO wasted no time before being sworn in as president of Sierra Leone. Just an hour and a half after his narrow election victory was announced on April 4th, Mr Bio took the oath of office, forgoing the state house for a dimly lit room at the Radisson Blu hotel. The unusual circumstances were prompted by security concerns. During a long and tense campaign Mr Bio had accused the All People’s Congress (APC), the party of his opponent, Samura Kamara, of trying to assassinate him. Mr Kamara, for his part, said the vote was rigged. The election was Sierra Leone’s fourth since its civil war ended in 2002. Memories of the brutal 11-year conflict still linger. Tensions based on ethnic, political and regional divisions simmered throughout the campaign, then boiled over when the resul

Israel is determined to stop Iran from establishing bases in Syria

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Vlad, I’m disappointed in you IN THE early hours of April 9th Israeli fighter jets crossed into Lebanese airspace and fired a salvo of cruise missiles eastward. Their target was the T-4 military airbase in central Syria (see map on previous page), not far from the ancient city of Palmyra. More specifically, the missiles were aimed at a hangar in a secluded compound on the west side of the airfield. The building was used by Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force, the foreign wing of its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Russia and Syria both claimed that they detected the Israeli aircraft and the incoming missiles, and that at least some of them were intercepted. But enough of them got through to cause significant damage and kill at least seven Iranian officers, including a colonel. Th