World View Hot Topics in Pivotal Markets
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Jan. 31 -- How do the newly elected leaders of Egypt's Islamist Muslim Brotherhood embrace change and stay on the good side of the U.S. -- the country's major benefactor, yet stay true to their identity?
This is the question faced by the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, which took possession of 47 percent of the seats when the Lower House of parliament had its first session last week and whose member Saad el-Katatni was elected speaker with three-quarters of the vote.READ MORE
As many of the homemade videos posted on YouTube show, the invasion of the Pinheirinho favela by some 1,800 police in riot gear -- throwing tear-gas bombs and firing rubber bullets -- left residents frightened, furious and homeless.
But the raid shouldn't have been a surprise. The residents had been illegally squatting on the property in Sao Jose dos Campos, in Sao Paulo state, for about eight years. An order to evict them had been meandering through the courts -- and matters were clearly coming to a head.READ MORE
Russia's opposition, for all its efforts to remain peaceful, could be headed for a confrontation with authorities as the date of its next major demonstration draws near.
The Moscow municipal government rejected the opposition’s request to hold their protest march “For Honest Elections” as planned on Feb. 4, on the grounds that it would "disrupt the normal functioning of vital municipal services, create obstacles . . . for traffic, and violate the rights of citizens not taking part in the event,” according to a document published on an opposition Facebook page. The authorities proposed an alternative route starting at Luzhniki Stadium, far from the downtown venue the opposition announced weeks ago, and even suggested changing the day. More than 22,000 people have signed up on Facebook to attend the march, despite a forecast temperature of 5 degrees Fahrenheit.READ MORE
The novelist Salman Rushdie found himself last week oscillating yet again between being a human being and a symbol -- of both freedom and heresy. Only the venue of this spectacle was new: the city of Jaipur in India, the country of his birth.
Rushdie was one of more than 250 writers from around the world who had agreed to speak at the Jaipur Literary Festival, the largest such gathering in South Asia, and probably the most eagerly awaited. But a few days before the festival was to begin on Jan. 20, Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, a cleric at the Darul Uloom Deoband, a prominent Islamic seminary in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, caused a stir by declaring that the Indian government should have denied a visa to Rushdie, who, because of his depiction of the Prophet in his novel "The Satanic Verses," was "a person whom the Muslims of the world hate."READ MORE
Fifteen years after political reunification, a skirmish over spilled, instant noodles has shown how far the citizens of Hong Kong and mainland China have to go before they can unify socially.
Sometime last week, a mainland child, yet to be named, was traveling with her mother, also yet to be named, on a Hong Kong subway train. The child was eating dry noodles in the train car and spilled a few on the floor. Eating is prohibited in Hong Kong’s subway cars, and several Hong Kong locals, harboring a serious passion for subway protocol, scolded the little girl and her mother.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Once, in 2006, tensions between the Syrian and Gulf-state regimes reached a point where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called Saudis "half men." Some commentators said he'd crossed a red line then.
They'll have to redraw that marker after the back and forth of recent days. The vitriol followed a call by the Arab League, under pressure from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for Assad to step down. An estimated 5,000 Syrians have died in unrest since anti-regime protests began last March. The league urged the formation of a national unity government within two months, followed by presidential and parliamentary elections.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Embattled allies Iran and Syria count for backing on their powerful friends Russia and China. Some Arab commentators say their overconfidence in this support has lead them to overplay their hands.
Just before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf states last weekend, columnist Hasan Haidar, writing in the London-based, Saudi-owned newspaper Al-Hayat, argued that Iran -- which has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for about a fifth of the world's oil trade -- may be traveling the same road to isolation once confidently taken by Iraq under Saddam Hussein. He wrote that Saddam's ill-fated 1990 decision to invade Kuwait emerged from his belief that Iraq could fill the void in the Mideast created by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Similarly, Haidar said, Iran's leaders think they can fill the vacuum caused by the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Thus, they are “moving voluntarily to commit blunders of the same caliber” as Saddam's. Haidar asked:READ MORE
Vladimir Putin may be down, but don't count him out.
In the wake of Russia's largest anti-government demonstrations in two decades, the popularity of the country's prime minister and leading presidential candidate is, by some accounts, rising. As of January 14, Putin’s rating -- that is, the percentage of votes he would receive in immediate elections, according to the respected Russia Public Opinion Research Center -- stood at 52 percent, up from 45 percent in late December. Communist Leader Gennady Zyuganov, Putin's most formidable opponent, came in a distant second, at 11 percent. Veteran liberal Grigory Yavlinsky garnered only 1 percent.READ MORE
What began in early January as a heavy-handed police operation to clean up an area of downtown Sao Paulo has sparked an impassioned debate about drug policy and urban regeneration in South America's biggest city -- with some strange twists and turns.
Sao Paulo's ornate old city center was once one of its most desirable addresses. But in recent decades it became notorious for crime, drug addiction, homelessness and prostitution. Nowhere was the change more apparent than in the warren of narrow streets and alleys where for more than a decade crack has been openly sold and consumed: an area known as "Cracolandia," or Crackland.READ MORE
In the great Indian novelist Yashpal's magnum opus about Partition, Jhootha Sach ("The False Truth"), one character swears that he is telling the truth -- and if not, "may the curse of spilling a cow's blood fall on me."
This line may be taken as emblematic of one of the most special man-animal relationships in the world, that of Indian Hindus with the cow. Not only is the cow central to the Indian agricultural system -- supplying milk for family nutrition and for sale, and dung for manure and fuel -- it also has many sacred associations in Hindu mythology and everyday life. On street corners one can find a cow tethered by its owner to a tree or post, being fed grass paid for by passers-by, who consider the gift a small act of kindness and empathy for the day. Even the languages of India are rich with cow proverbs and metaphors. Cows, whether as living animals or symbols, are always within the field of vision.READ MORE
The details of the most famous judicial verdict in recent Chinese history are well known to most educated Chinese adults. Or, rather, they were until Monday, with the shocking disclosure of previously confidential documents in Nanjing.
The ensuing reaction, which is really just getting underway, touches on many of the most sensitive and pressing issues in China today, including the role of the press, the possibility of a politically independent judiciary and the ever-precarious state of the Chinese self-image.READ MORE
An eerie calm has descended over Russia's political scene as the ruling elite and the newly enlivened opposition gird for their next confrontation.
Even as the opposition announced via Facebook that the next mass protest meeting will be held on Feb. 4, opinions on the success of the last one in December diverged. In his Live Journal blog, diehard nationalist Eduard Limonov, the leader of the Other Russia party, wrote the "the protest forces did not manage to successfully dispute the results of the parliamentary elections," which are widely regarded as fraudulent. The new State Duma "has begun to function.”READ MORE
On Jan. 10, the reality show "Big Brother Brasil" kicked off its 12th season on the Globo network. The show -- part of the worldwide TV franchise in which contestants are confined to a house, filmed 24 hours a day and voted out (and sometimes back in) by the public -- dominates Internet and Twitter chat. It has everything Brazil likes: sex, gossip, flirting, glamour, socializing, sex and showing off.
But this year, "Big Brother" has competition. "Rich Women," which began airing a week before on the rival Band network, follows five rich, glamorous women through their day-to-day lives of staggering luxury.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
As Western commentators discuss the potential for military conflict with Iran, those in the Middle East worry about another devastating possibility: sectarian war in the region.
This past week saw a wave of deadly suicide bombings in Iraq that increased tension between Sunnis and Shiites, continued sectarian violence in Syria, and Sunni-Shiite unrest in both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Though he has championed anti-regime revolts in the Arab world, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was moved to caution, “The structure that has emerged is leading to a religious, sectarian and racist civil war. This has to be prevented.”READ MORE
The New Year's Eve holiday ended in Brazil not with a bang, but with a combination of floods and transport chaos that exposed the cracks in the country's creaking infrastructure.
In heavy rain on one of the busiest travel days of the year, Rio de Janeiro's Santos Dumont Airport closed three times. Just 12 of its 332 flights left on time, and 119 were canceled. At the international Tom Jobim airport, 46 percent of flights were delayed.READ MORE
Since China’s so-called “one child” policy began in 1979, cheap, easy and anonymous birth control has been tantamount to a government-guaranteed right. Chinese pharmacies have long made birth control pills and emergency contraceptives -- also known as the “morning after pill" -- available without a prescription.
But on Dec. 21, in a move that shocked Chinese citizens, the local Food and Drug Administration of Fuzhou, the capitol city of Fujian Province, abruptly issued an order requiring its pharmacies to acquire "real name registration" -- the names, phone numbers and government identification numbers -- of women seeking emergency contraceptives.READ MORE
If the largest anti-government demonstrations since the fall of the Soviet Union have had any meaningful effect on Russia's leadership, you would hardly have guessed it from the president's traditional New Year's Eve address to the nation.
Standing rigidly in front of a nocturnal backdrop of illuminated Kremlin towers and gilt onion domes, Dmitri Medvedev said that a “completely special atmosphere” reigns in every home, and that “how the coming year turns out will be up to us.”READ MORE
Four days ago, like many of you, I entered 2012 in a sentimental haze induced partly by alcohol, and partly by reflecting on the narrative threads that suddenly emerged from the events of the long, life-changing year gone by. The idea of a calendar is one of the most durable, global fictions of our lives, a common set of hooks on which to hang our days and years, and to mark endings and beginnings.
But in India the hegemony of a universal calendar is persistently subverted. To look at a calendar here is to see that one is living in a multitude of months, years and indeed eras; Indians are potentially always at some kind of end, middle or beginning -- a strangely warming and mind-expanding sensation. Our calendars probably have more text on them than any other in the world: They use the modern Gregorian calendar, the calendar of civil life, to map the different calendric systems used by Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
For decades, the Arab League had few admirers among Mideast commentators, and probably fewer still among the average citizens of the 22 mostly autocratic states that comprise its governing body.
But a week after dozens of league observers entered Syria to monitor a December peace agreement between the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and the league, its popularity may finally be nearing rock bottom.READ MORE
Two years ago, as I waited for an appointment in Beijing, I watched a secretary place an apron over her enlarged belly. I asked if she was cold and she replied, “No, I’m pregnant.” She then explained that the apron concealed a metal mesh that protected her unborn child from the electromagnetic radiation coming from her computer.
That sounded bonkers to me. But when I mentioned this curious encounter to Chinese friends, I learned that an entire industry of “protective” maternity clothing has thrived in China for almost 20 years. Anti-electromagnetic radiation jumpers are just as necessary for a modern Chinese pregnancy as folic acid supplements. This is despite any scientific evidence proving that electromagnetic radiation harms fetuses -- some Chinese families simply believe that it does.READ MORE