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Donald Trump and his advisers cannot agree on a Syria policy

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BASHAR AL-ASSAD’S chemical attack on the town of Douma on April 7th has been widely condemned. But punishing Syria’s dictator is simpler than devising a coherent Syria policy. If Donald Trump orders a limited bombing campaign on Mr Assad’s palaces and military assets, it will not alter the course of the Syrian war. Thanks to his Iranian and Russian protectors, nothing now can realistically prevent Mr Assad from, in some sense, winning. A retaliatory strike might at least change Mr Assad’s calculus about the use of chemicals as a way to terrorise the resistance. If he concluded, belatedly, that the price he will pay for using banned weapons again has become too high, Mr Trump would be justified in taking some credit. But, in other ways, Mr Trump is sowing confusion about America’s aims i

Emiratis plough millions into a country that no one recognises: Somaliland

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THE ancient port town of Berbera in Somaliland, a breakaway state in northern Somalia, is generally a sleepy place. The heat, which can reach 50 degrees Celsius in the summer, stifles even the dogs. Yet visitors will find it buzzing at the moment. Near the edge of town, sand and rubble fill the space where, until recently, there were 19th-century Ottoman traders’ houses. New buildings are springing up. A little out to sea, as half a dozen ships idle in the sun, a barge from Dubai hauls a colossal crane towards the shore. All of this activity relates to a new port being built by DP World, a company mostly owned by the government of Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). At the moment, Berbera’s port is small—used mostly for the export of livestock to the Persian Gulf, and the imp

With Zuma gone, South Africa’s opposition needs a new scapegoat

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CLOUDS of confetti and pyrotechnics marked Mmusi Maimane’s re-election as leader of South Africa’s main opposition party on April 8th. The conference of the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA) was well-organised, unlike those of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). Journalists were welcomed into the main hall, not held at a distance by metal fences and thuggish guards. But the DA’s dreams of trouncing the ANC in next year’s general election have faded since Jacob Zuma was forced to resign as president in February. Mr Zuma’s presidency was a disaster for South Africa. He undermined institutions and wrought havoc on the economy. On April 6th he appeared in a Durban court to face corruption charges. But his scandal-ridden tenure was a gift to the opposition. Support for the ANC, which

War-torn Libya plans an election

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SAIF AL-ISLAM QADDAFI is determined not to let a death sentence stop him from running for president. The son of Libya’s deposed dictator was captured after the revolution in 2011 and later condemned by the government in Tripoli (his father was killed by a mob). But the militia that held Saif ignored the sentence and released him. He has been out of sight for years and is wanted for war crimes. Still, if Libya goes ahead with a planned election this year, the man who once vowed to spill “rivers of blood” to protect his father hopes to stand as a candidate. The uprising shattered Libya into a collection of fiefs ruled by militias. Libyans and foreign diplomats have spent years trying to put the country back together. The new UN envoy, Ghassan Salamé, took office in August hoping to fix a

Muslims consider Queen Elizabeth’s ties to the Prophet Muhammad

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Elizabeth of the Al Windsor clan “QUEEN ELIZABETH must claim her right to rule Muslims.” So ran a recent headline on the Arab Atheist Network, a web forum. It was only partly in jest. According to reports from Casablanca to Karachi, the British monarch is descended from the Prophet Muhammad, making her a cousin of the kings of Morocco and Jordan, not to mention of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader. The claim, first made many years ago, is gathering renewed interest in the Middle East. Why is not clear, but in March a Moroccan newspaper called Al-Ousboue traced the queen’s lineage back 43 generations. Her bloodline runs through the Earl of Cambridge, in the 14th century, across medieval Muslim Spain, to Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter. Her link to Muhammad has previously been

How African cities can pay for their own upkeep

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“WE PAY our money and you see how it looks,” says Aggrey Batwala, leaning out of his minibus in Kampala’s muddy taxi park. Shared taxis used to pay city authorities 120,000 shillings ($32) a month for the right to ferry commuters into the Ugandan capital. But in September indignant drivers stopped coughing up. They later complained to the president, who ordered that the levy be halved. The city appealed against his decision and the drivers still aren’t paying. The stand-off could cost it 21bn shillings this year. Kampala shows why African cities struggle to raise revenues, squeezed as they are between poor citizens and overweening central governments. But it also proves that doing better is possible. In 2010-11 the city collected just 30bn shillings (see chart). Last year it raised 89bn

Donald Trump’s other trade war—with Rwanda—over used clothes

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Not another from Ivanka’s line THE second-hand clothes trade often starts with a gift: an old dress or unwanted shirt, passed on for another to use. Along the way it becomes a multi-billion-dollar industry spanning several continents. It ends at a market stall, usually in Africa. And now it is the cause of President Donald Trump’s unlikeliest trade war. Private companies in America and Europe buy up surplus donations from charities and export them to the developing world. In 2016 east African countries resolved to phase out the trade, complaining that cheap cast-offs hurt their own nascent garment industries. America responded by threatening to impose tariffs on east African goods. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania backed down. But Rwanda has stood fast. So on March 29th Mr Trump said he would

The Palestinians in Gaza are once more bidding to burst out

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Made you look THE skies above the eastern suburbs of Gaza City buzzed with drones on March 30th. The Israeli army was using them to monitor the tens of thousands of Palestinians marching to the border, and to drop tear-gas grenades on those getting too close. When some of the marchers began running closer, the troops opened fire, killing 17 and wounding hundreds. Three and a half years after the last Gaza war, when 2,300 Palestinians and 74 Israelis were killed, the beleaguered coastal strip was erupting again. There were no casualties on the Israeli side, but the mass protests pose a new challenge. The Palestinians are calling it the “Great Return March”, a salute to the homes their grandparents lived in, across the border, before they fled or were pushed out by the newborn Israel. The