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Syria’s regime is stealing land from its opponents

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YOUSOF AKASHEH, a rebel fighter, was astonished to find out that the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria was planning to seize his wife’s property. For one thing, she is dead, killed three years ago when a warplane bombed her apartment block. For another, she never owned property. Such is the arbitrariness of the regime’s counter-terrorism court, which has branded tens of thousands of opponents of Mr Assad enemies of the state and sent them to the country’s hellish prisons. Those lucky enough to escape arrest are tried in absentia. As punishment, the court routinely seizes their property. The civil war in Syria has driven more than 12m people from their homes, contributing to the largest refugee crisis in recent history. But in his typically appalling way, Mr Assad has spied opportunity

Uhuru Kenyatta’s hollow victory

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KENYA, according to its deputy president, William Ruto, “is not the type of country where you find a president getting 99% of the vote”. That statement, made on October 16th, was tested just a week later when Kenyans went to the polls for a re-run of the election on August 8th, which the country’s supreme court annulled. When the final results were announced by the electoral commission on October 30th, Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent, had won (again) with 98.3% of the vote. Yet the sweeping victory seems unlikely to bring to an end Kenya’s political and emerging economic crises. The reason for Mr Kenyatta’s huge victory was that his main opponent, Raila Odinga, an opposition stalwart and perennial candidate, withdrew from the race and called on his supporters to refuse to vote. Turnout co

Zimbabwe’s deepening crisis

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Do you take electronic dollars? A MONEY-CHANGER deftly flicks through a brick of bills, her fingernails a sparkly purple that matches her eye-shadow. She keeps the stack of “bond notes” (Zimbabwe’s ersatz money) bundled inside a sock in a plastic carrier bag. Real American dollars are hidden in her bra. Although bond notes are officially worth the same as American dollars, here on a pavement in Harare, the capital, greenbacks trade at a premium of 20-30% to the bills printed by Mr Mugabe’s government. Those wanting to buy dollar bills with mobile money, which is also supposedly denominated in the American currency, must pay a further premium of 30%. Such a range of values for Zimbabwe’s money ought not to be possible since, officially at least, it does not have a currency. The country a

Despots are pushing the Arab world to become more secular

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DURING Friday prayers the congregation of Muhammad Yousef, a young puritanical preacher in the Egyptian town of Mansoura, once spilled out into the alleys surrounding his mosque. Now Sheikh Muhammad counts it a good week if he fills half the place. In Cairo, 110km (68 miles) to the south, unveiled women sit in street cafés, traditionally a male preserve, smoking water-pipes. Some of the establishments serve alcohol, which Islam prohibits. “We’re in religious decline,” moans Sheikh Muhammad, whose despair is shared by clerics in many parts of the Arab world. According to Arab Barometer, a pollster, much of the region is growing less religious. Voters who backed Islamists after the upheaval of the Arab spring in 2011 have grown disillusioned with their performance and changed their minds

Morocco’s little idyll of Jewish-Muslim coexistence

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Striking a harmonious note ONCE a year the little seaside town of Essaouira, in Morocco, reclaims its lost Jewish community. Sephardic trills echo from its whitewashed synagogues. The medieval souks fill with Jewish skullcaps. Rabbis and cantors wish Muslims “Shabbat Shalom” and regale them with Hebrew incantations. “It’s our culture,” says a merchant from Marrakech, who travelled 200km (124 miles) to hear them this year. The revival is the initiative of André Azoulay, a 76-year-old Jew from Essaouira (one of just three) and a former counsellor to Morocco’s kings. Each autumn he stages a colourful festival of Andalusian music aimed at bringing hundreds of Jews and Muslims together for a weekend of concerts and dialogue. Locals pack the small stadium to watch Hebrew cantors and Koran-rec