World View Hot Topics in Pivotal Markets
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Oct. 4 -- It's to be expected that commentators writing in Saudi-owned media will be friendly toward royal initiatives, especially those undertaken by King Abdullah.
But they went overboard last week, responding to the king's announcement that women would be allowed to vote and stand for election in 2015 municipal polls as well as serve on the Consultative Council whose members he alone appoints. Neither the consultative nor the municipal councils wield real power, since both are advisory bodies. Half the members of the 285 municipal councils are directly appointed by the king. And the rights of women remain seriously curtailed in the kingdom: for instance, a woman will have to secure permission from a male guardian to vote or stand as a candidate, and women still cannot legally drive or travel without permission of a male guardian. Yet the media acted as if Abdullah had ushered in a golden era of democracy and gender equality.READ MORE
The unsurprising role switch between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev did yield one surprise: the ouster of Alexei Kudrin, the Putin-allied finance minister beloved of foreign investors and esteemed for his fiscal conservancy, after he loudly voiced his reluctance to serve under future Prime Minister Medvedev.
Russian media immediately started speculating about who should become Kudrin's permanent replacement, and who should populate the rest of Medvedev's government, when the switcheroo happens next year. The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets termed the finance minister's defiance “political suicide,” and, sidestepping scuttlebutt about whether Kudrin himself had hoped to occupy the spot beside the throne, pointed out that “an unending stream of capital is fleeing, not entering Russia." To lure the money back, Russia “requires new managers. Not bureaucrats, not macroeconomists, not defenders of the state budget, but investment bankers who know not just how to save money but how to create it." Veterans of the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 might beg to differ.READ MORE
On Sept. 27, two trains in Shanghai's subway system collided, injuring more than 280 commuters. Shortly after the news began to circulate in the late afternoon, I received a text message from a Chinese friend that simply said: “Shanghai too.”
I went online to watch a live Internet telecast of the crash site and saw Chinese netizens' comments streaming alongside the video. Commentators quickly linked “Shanghai” with “Wenzhou,” the site of July’s deadly high-speed rail collision. As images of emergency vehicles and injured survivors of the Shanghai crash flashed across the computer screen, the commentators posited that this was yet another result of corruption and incompetence.READ MORE
Criolo, the 35-year-old Sao Paulo rapper, is ensconced on the cover of another fashionable magazine, this time, a glossy monthly called Trip that focuses on surf, street culture, music and scantily clad young women. The accompanying article sums up a good year for Criolo:
Author of the most praised album of the year, lionized by reviews and a devoted mass of fans, nominated for five Brazilian MTV Awards, crowded shows. Criolo is on top, there's no discussion.READ MORE
(Corrects 12th paragraph in article published Sept. 26 to say Khanfar not Haddad supported the Islamist role)
By Nicholas Noe & Walid RaadREAD MORE
How poor is very poor in India, home to a substantial percentage of the world's poorest people?
A quantitative statement on this subject last week in the Supreme Court by the Planning Commission of India, a government body involved with many aspects of the country's economic policy, was met with disbelief and derision by the media and the public.READ MORE
Is Russia catching up to the West in the realm of gender-equitable politics? Judging from the rise of former St. Petersburg governor Valentina Matvienko, it could be.
This week, senators unanimously elected Matvienko speaker of the Federation Council, putting her just a rung beneath Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the ladder of executive power. A member of Putin’s United Russia Party, Matvienko straightaway squelched any hopes that she might tamper with the country’s “managed democracy.”READ MORE
A reshuffled Cabinet in the first few months of a new administration isn't usually cause for alarm. But President Dilma Rousseff has lost her chief of staff, four other Cabinet ministers, and dozens of government staffers since taking office in January -- and the press is smelling blood.READ MORE
Lately, China’s media regulators have done a good job alienating China's microblogging youth. Now, authorities have suspended a popular reality show for a year for repeatedly overrunning its time slot.
This isn't the first time Hunan Satellite TV, China’s second most popular television network, has been in trouble because of Super Girl, an unabashedly low-brow, American Idol-like singing contest. Just a year after the show debuted in 2005, The Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) suspended it for three years.READ MORE
"God is great!" On the afternoon of Sept. 12, Narendra Modi, the energetic and controversial chief minister of the state of Gujarat and a prominent figure in the country's main opposition party, the BJP, posted this three-word message on his Twitter page, which has more than 350,000 followers.
Modi was responding to a fairly routine judgment, devoid of either validation or censure, by the Supreme Court of India. The case concerned an incident more than nine years past. During the gruesome communal violence that raged across Gujarat in 2002, while Modi was chief minister, a mob hacked and burned to death 69 residents of the Gulbarg Housing Society in Ahmadabad, including a former Congress Party lawmaker, Ehsan Jafri.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Sept. 20 -- It's no shock the U.S. and Israel oppose the Palestinian plan to ask the UN for recognition of a Palestinian state. More surprising is that the militant Palestinian group Hamas is also against it.
Established in 1987 during the first Palestinian intifada as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas was founded to eliminate the state of Israel and create an Islamist state in the areas that are now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The group is a political rival of Fatah, the main faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization, from which it won political control of the Gaza Strip four years ago.READ MORE
Among the unimaginable changes Afghanistan and Pakistan have undergone in the decade since 9/11 have been the spectacular growth of their media. In Pakistan, there are now more than 40 television stations and hundreds of radio stations and newspapers; in Afghanistan, a country with no history of a free press, there are more than 20 television stations and over a hundred radio stations and newspapers.
Though Afghan and Pakistani journalists and commentators have been subjected to intimidation, including threats of violence, they have become increasingly vociferous.READ MORE
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's persistent grip on power in Russia might lead one to conclude that one of country's main problems is a lack of democracy. At least one veteran reformer, though, thinks the problem is more a lack of leadership.
In a thoughtful op-ed, Vladimir Mau, dean of the Russian Academy of National Economy and a top government advisor during the country's shock-therapy reforms of the early 1990s, examined the pre-revolutionary glory days ushered in by Pyotr Stolypin, the immensely popular tsarist-era reformer, statesman, and prime minister.READ MORE
Six years ago, shortly after I moved to Shanghai, I overheard a furious argument between the couple who lived next door to me. The couple screamed at each other and then came the unmistakable sound of an open palm slapping skin -- once, twice and a third time.
This continued for another 15 minutes. Neither my other neighbors nor I intervened or called the police.READ MORE
Alexandre Tombini makes an unlikely media star. The portly, bespectacled, 47-year-old head of Brazil's central bank speaks quietly, and chooses his words with care. So when the bank decided to cut its benchmark interest rate by half a percentage point on Aug. 31 -- to 12 percent, after raising it to 12.5 percent the previous month -- it threw analysts and the market off guard, and left many Brazilians questioning the bank's motives.
Tombini has been getting grilled by the Brazilian media ever since.READ MORE
On Sept. 7, many Indians awoke to find that their country had just become smaller -- by about 40 square kilometers (15.4 square miles). A long-neglected episode of postcolonial cartographic confusion, lasting several decades and affecting the lives of at least 50,000 "stateless citizens" of India and its eastern neighbor Bangladesh, had at long last been resolved by the prime ministers of the two countries.
For several decades, India and Bangladesh had shared not only a fairly porous 4,156 kilometer-long (2,582 miles) border stretching across forests, rivers, marshes and fields, but also, remarkably, borders within each other's territories in the form of little pockets of land called "enclaves." These neighborhoods (locally called "chitmahals") were, in the 18th and 19th centuries, part of princely states in the region previously known as Cooch Behar. When south Asia was parceled into nations in 1946-1947, the states were assimilated by India and what was then East Pakistan, leaving behind little dribbles and specks of their holdings on either side of the newly drawn border. For decades, the inhabitants of the chitmahals, which range in size from entire villages to small hamlets of a few dozen people, lived in a surreal world of two nations and no state. They sometimes transgressed a national border when they crossed the road or visited a neighbor, but were unable to access education and health care because they were ringed on all sides by a country that wasn't theirs, even as their own nation was helpless to reach them.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Sept. 12 -- A decade after 19 Arab men launched the 9/11 attacks, Arab commentators differed on the value of subsequent wars but tended to agree that revolts against tyranny offered an antidote to extremism.
In the Saudi-owned, London-based daily Al-Hayat, columnist Emil Amin posed the question:READ MORE
Russian investigators finally appear to be making progress in determining just who is responsible for the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskaya, the prominent human rights reporter for the opposition paper Novaya Gazeta.
A Moscow court has prolonged the detention of Rustam Makhmudov, the Chechen whom investigators fingered as the journalist’s murderer, according to the newspaper Kommersant. “The judge, in explaining her decision, agreed with the investigation that the accused, were he freed, could go into hiding, pressure witnesses, or destroy evidence." Makhmudov himself responded, declaring, “I haven’t killed anyone. Let them go and find the real killer.”READ MORE
On the morning of Sept. 4, in the riverside boomtown of Wuhan, Mr. Li, an 88-year-old man, fell in the street and injured his nose. People passed him by, but no one raised a hand to help as he lay on the ground, suffocating on his own blood.
This week, China’s netizens have expressed an outpouring of sympathy -- for the bystanders. This is nothing new here. In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases of elderly men and women who have collapsed or suffered accidents in public spaces who then sue the good Samaritans who have tried to help them. These cases have created a genuine and widespread fear that helping a person in need will lead to personal financial loss.READ MORE
In May, almost 10 years after he engineered the bloodbath of Sept. 11, Osama bin Laden was finally hunted down and executed by U.S. forces in his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The news had personal significance for many in India. More than 30 Indians were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center; some worked in the building, others were aboard the ill-fated airplanes that were flown into the towers.READ MORE