World View Hot Topics in Pivotal Markets
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Having been relegated to the minor headlines in both the Arab and Western media, the anti-government protests in the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain finally had their moment this weekend.
With foreign journalists and other outsiders descending on the island country for Sunday's Grand Prix race, critics of the monarchy stepped up their activities to take advantage of the audience, while government forces responded as they have all along -- with a strong arm. One activist was found shot dead on a roof, raising suspicions he may have been targeted by security forces. More than 50 protestors and several policemen have been killed since anti-government protests started in February 2011 in Bahrain, which has a population of 1.2 million.READ MORE
They demanded new leadership at the facility, known as "Compajaf," and were incensed about overly aggressive guards and the treatment meted out to visitors -- especially women, whom they said were subjected to humiliating body searches.READ MORE
China's latest, notorious case of censorship has nothing to do with politics. Rather, it’s about actress Kate Winslet’s 15-year-old nude scene in the film "Titanic."
On April 10, the 3-D edition of the film was released in China minus the scene. What makes the government's decision to cut it particularly controversial is that officials did not tamper with the scene when the original, conventional version of the movie was released in China in 1998.READ MORE
Demoralized as the Russian capital's protest movement may be, there are still plenty of angry people out in the hinterlands. They have less to lose than well-fed Muscovites, and president-elect Vladimir Putin has yet to figure out how to handle them.
In the southern provincial capital of Astrakhan, population 520,000, a soft-spoken, bespectacled historian named Oleg Shein has emerged as the new hope of the opposition. As of this writing, he has been on hunger strike for more than a month, putting his life on the line to prove that the city's mayoral elections were stolen from him. Federal officials, including Putin, have been forced to take notice.READ MORE
States are granted the power to arrest or detain citizens. It follows that governments, which represent the state but are congregations of human actors, should exercise extreme self-restraint in depriving human beings of their liberty, and in particular never use the state's power to settle personal scores.
All these foundational axioms of democratic civility and integrity were thrown to the wind last week by the chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, and her party, the Trinamool Congress, when they swooped down upon and incarcerated a college professor for the earthshaking crime of circulating an e-mail that contained a cartoon mocking Banerjee and two members of her party.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Media financed by Gulf states have emphasized reports of shelling by the Syrian army in several cities, in apparent violation of the April 12 cessation of hostilities agreement negotiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and unanimously backed by the Security Council. Editor-in-Chief Tariq al-Homayed wrote in the London-based Saudi owned Asharq al-Awsat:READ MORE
There is such a thing as a free lunch, and it can be had at the cafeteria in China's Ministry of Transportation and Communications. According to an anonymous university professor who recently published an account of his meal there, diners can have their fill of 10 meat and vegetable dishes, a carton of yogurt and a piece of fruit for 1 yuan, or about 15 cents. The only catch: Diners have to be employees or guests of the ministry.
As Chinese government profligacy goes, this is small potatoes. But for middle-class Chinese buffeted by rising inflation and stagnating wages, the 1 yuan government lunch was a sharp reminder of the perks and privileges that Chinese government officials enjoy, and are denied to almost everyone else. Thus, it was no surprise when, early this week, "Department of Transportation and Communications cafeteria" quickly became a top search term at Baidu, China's leading search engine, and trended on Sina Weibo, China's top microblog.READ MORE
Russian President Vladimir Putin must be watching with a mixture of gloating and foreboding as neighboring Ukraine struggles with a daunting task: keeping its dignity as host of the European Cup 2012, the continent's main soccer event.
For the rulers of ex-Soviet nations, winning the right to host prestigious international tournaments is a matter of national pride, a way to put their countries on the map. Ukraine will be first when Euro 2012, which it is co-hosting with Poland, kicks off in two months. Then comes Russia, with the winter Olympics in 2014 and the soccer World Cup in 2018.READ MORE
"In Mumbai, property is destiny," the novelist Vikram Chandra, author of the huge fictional investigation into the city's hidden vortexes of power "Sacred Games," once said to me.
Of course, every one of the 20 million or so denizens of the space-starved Indian financial capital knows and feels (and dreams) this truth, but the city's extortionate real estate prices and lamentable urban planning mean that more than half of its industrious population lives and suffers in slums, while hundreds of thousands of middle-class people expend their energies on debilitating journeys on jam-packed trains and buses from homes in the distant suburbs.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Having built considerable goodwill among various Arab publics tired of state-run TV, Al-Jazeera is facing a slew of criticisms from commentators who argue the channel has gone off track.
The strength of the regional station, founded in 1996 and based in Qatar, had been that it offered an alternative to broadcasters controlled by national governments, whose coverage invariably reflected narrow regime interests rather than a popular understanding of events. Now, Al-Jazeera is being accused of the same sin as those state-run enterprises -- of being a vehicle for a regime, in this case that of Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.READ MORE
Brazil may be the world's soccer capital, but as the country gears up to host the World Cup in 2014, a war of words between the government and FIFA, soccer's ruling body, just keeps intensifying.
The hostilities have followed a predictable pattern: FIFA criticizes Brazil for being behind with preparations; Brazil gets in a huff; FIFA apologizes. Then it starts all over again.READ MORE
On March 20, China’s microbloggers couldn’t resist spreading rumors that an overnight coup had happened in Beijing. Nothing came of those rumors, of course, and by the end of the day, online censors had deleted them. Ordinarily, that would have been the end of it.
But on March 31, in a move that outraged a large swath of Chinese netizens, China’s two leading microblogging sites, Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, announced a 72-hour suspension of the comment function that makes the microblogs such rich and dynamic forums. While the handful of state media news stories did not blame the moratorium on China’s Internet regulators, nobody was fooled: China’s microblogs operate at the whim of Chinese Communist Party authorities.READ MORE
A top government official reaps millions in profits with the help of the nation's wealthiest businessmen. That definitely sounds illegal. So when the international media last week reported such dealings by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, one might have expected a public outcry.
In Russia, however, things are much more complicated. Plenty of commentators, including President-elect Vladimir Putin's spokesman, have defended Shuvalov, and it appears that he truly has not broken any Russian laws, such as they are.READ MORE
In a related set of developments in the Indian capital of New Delhi last week, major roads were cordoned off or clogged for hours (a dangerous thing given the red-blooded Delhi driver's reputation for road rage), Tibetan residents (and others mistaken for Tibetans) were rounded up and detained -- and economists, foreign-policy analysts and naysayers came crawling out of the woodwork (or its cyberspace equivalent).READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
The turnaround comes as relations between the Brotherhood and Egypt's ruling military leaders have soured publicly and a range of political groups, led by liberals and secularists, have withdrawn from the Islamist-dominated committee charged with writing a new constitution.READ MORE
Last Friday afternoon, Wang Hao, a young internist at the First Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University in northeast China, was brutally murdered by a disgruntled patient. It was a spectacular crime, but it was not an unusual one: Violence against doctors, including murder, is commonplace and reportedly increasing. In 2006, the last year for which detailed records on patient-doctor violence was reported publicly (including violence perpetrated by patient family members and friends), the Chinese Ministry of Health stated that 5,519 medical personnel had been “injured” in disputes -- a substantial increase over previous years. And on March 29, the China Daily cited an “official source” who said that in 2010, 17,000 violent incidents took place, affecting roughly 70 percent of all public hospitals in China.
Why so much violence against one of the caring professions? Chinese media, and microblogs, are filled with theories.READ MORE
The meeting between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and 28 business leaders on March 22 was a heavyweight encounter.
The president faced off with Brazil's most powerful retailers, bankers and industrialists -- who between them represented 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported.READ MORE
In February, news television cameramen covering the legislative assembly of the south Indian state of Karnataka caught and filmed three ministers of the local government watching pornography on a mobile phone while the House was in session.
The public was outraged at this astounding lack of judgment and the desecration of the sanctity of the House (although it was not clear that the politicians were guilty in any legal sense), and also amused at the explanation proffered by the culprits: that they were engaged in "research" about rave parties. The three ministers -- Cooperation Minister Laxman Savadi, Environment Minister J. Krishna Palemar and Women and Child Welfare Minister CC Patil -- were forced by their party to resign, and the speaker of the House promised an inquiry.READ MORE
It took slightly more than a month for Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, to react to the “punk service” held on Feb. 21 in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior by a group calling itself Pussy Riot.
Members of the radical feminist band choose all sorts of unlikely locations to play shrill protest songs with a hardcore punk sound: A subway station, a posh boutique, Red Square, the roof of a detention center. The performances are filmed, edited, overlaid with a studio-recorded soundtrack and published on YouTube.READ MORE