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What We're Watching: Qatar-Saudi embrace, Jack Ma's whereabouts, Egyptian incompetence

Qatar blockade lifted: A bitter dispute between Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar has begun to ease after Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani flew to Saudi Arabia for the Gulf Cooperation Council summit and was warmly embraced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS. The immediate cause of the détente was Riyadh's decision to lift a years-long land and air blockade that significantly disrupted Qatar's economic activity and led to a bitter standoff in the Gulf. (The Saudis, along with Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE launched a joint blockade against Qatar in 2017, citing its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and regional foes Iran and Turkey.) It's unclear what concessions Qatar made in exchange for beginning the normalization process, though President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, a close friend of MBS, has been lobbying for the move for some time. Qatar has long denied claims that it supports Islamic extremist groups and rebuffed demands like terminating Turkey's military presence within its borders. As for the timing for the rapprochement, it could reflect a feeling that increased GCC cooperation is needed as the incoming Biden administration in the US is expected to promptly re-engage in talks with Iran.

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Arab Winter

At the age of 10, Mohamed Bouazizi became the primary breadwinner for his family, and at age 26 he was earning his money by selling fruit and vegetables off a cart in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid.

On December 17, 2010, local police confiscated his produce for the umpteenth time, but this time they also beat and humiliated him. Bouazizi walked to the town hall to try to get his vegetables back, but no one there would talk to him. He then walked outside, doused himself in gasoline, and lit himself on fire.

Satellite television and social media began beaming his story across the Middle East. By the time he died on January 4, 2011, protesters who understood the hopelessness and desperation that drove Bouazizi to suicide had filled Tunisian streets demanding change. Ten days later, strongman President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in power for 23 years, was forced to resign. The protests spread to Egypt and then across the region.

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What We're Watching: New US Supreme Court justice, Morales can go back to Bolivia, Nile dam talks resume

SCOTUS battle rages on: In a major victory for US President Donald Trump just a week out from the presidential election, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, who was then swiftly sworn into office at a nighttime ceremony at the White House. Barrett, a conservative who was tapped to replace deceased Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just 46 days out from the presidential election, is the first Supreme Court justice to be confirmed in over 150 years without the support of a single member of the minority party. Democrats are furious, saying that Republicans — who blocked Obama from filling a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016, arguing at the time that the seat should only be filled after the next US president was elected some nine months later — have cynically backtracked on their own assertions. Democrats have also called the rushed confirmation process "illegitimate." Pressure is now mounting on Joe Biden (specifically, from the progressive wing of his party) to expand the size of the Supreme Court should he win in November, so Democrats can install liberal justices to offset the crucial court's hard-right shift.

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US election seen from Egypt: Only the tone will change

Hisham Kassem is an independent journalist, former chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and was the founding publisher of the Cairo Times and Al Masry Al Youm.

Alex Kliment: What are some ways the outcome of the election in the United States could affect Egypt?

HK: The Trump administration basically is very pragmatic about the relationship with Egypt. They're not interested in whether [Egyptian President] Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is abiding by values related to human rights or democracy, which at least previous administrations claimed they did.

This is making Abdel Fattah al-Sisi quite confident and is giving him internal leeway to continue with human rights abuses and to further concentrate power in his hands.

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What We're Watching: UK exam fiasco, Thai protests grow, GERD negotiations resume

The UK's exam fiasco: The UK Department of Education has landed Prime Minister Boris Johnson in hot water over a national scandal involving computer-generated "mock" test scores assigned to hundreds of thousands of high school students. A wave of "A-level" standardized exams (taken at the end of high school) were recently cancelled because of the coronavirus. But in order to assign students the scores that they would likely have gotten if they had taken the test, the UK's exam regulator, known as Ofqual, used an algorithm. (Algorithms in 2020, what could possibly go wrong?) The algorithm's reliance on two unsound key indicators — a school's past performance and students' results from primary school — placed high-achieving students at poorly-performing public schools at a massive disadvantage. Some 40 percent of students say the algorithm "downgraded" their results from teachers' assessments (teachers submitted their own assessed grades but they were not supposed to be taken into consideration). After hundreds of students took to the streets over the weekend, decrying Ofqual's mishandling, which they say messed up their university placements, authorities scrapped plans to use the algorithm and will now use a different system to determine final grades. Still, it's up to students to get in touch with universities to see if they still have a place. The situation is still extremely....messy.

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