What We're Watching: Prague Protests, Violence in Ethiopia, Cash for Peace

Czech protests – When protesters flooded Prague's Wenceslas Square three weeks ago, Prime Minister Andrej Babis dismissed the size of the crowd as the natural result of the day's beautiful weather. Apparently, the skies were even bluer last Saturday as an estimated 250,000 gathered to again demand Babis' resignation. The demonstrators are angered by fraud charges against the prime minister, and by his decision to appoint a close political ally as justice minister right when prosecutors are considering an indictment against him. This is another example of a country where protests erupt not because of economic grievances—Czech growth has been quite strong in recent years—but because of a political leader who appears to hold himself above the law.

Assassinations and ethnic tensions in Ethiopia – Over the weekend, Ethiopia's Army Chief of Staff and top officials in the country's large Amhara region were killed in what authorities described as a coup attempt. The alleged leader of the coup, a general who had called for Amharas (Ethiopia's second largest ethnic group) to take up arms for more autonomy, was also killed. The episode underscores the political challenges for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a transformative leader who has sought to liberalize Ethiopia's fast growing economy and politics since taking power last year. His reforms threaten powerful interests among the old guard (Mr Abiy himself survived an apparent assassination attempt last year that was blamed on rogue generals), and tensions among the country's dozens of ethnic groups are volatile.


Cash for Middle East Peace? – Today marks the opening of a two-day "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Manama, Bahrain, a part of US presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. We're watching mainly to see who even shows up for it. The plan aims to raise some $50bn worth of investment into the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries to get the Palestinians to agree to… well, it's not clear what: the plan has no details yet on critical questions about land, borders, or security. No high-ranking Palestinians have agreed to attend this event, in part because they reject Washington's decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017. But given the lack of clarity on what the broader plan is, top ranking Israeli officials may not show up either. Anybody? Bueller?

What We Are Ignoring:

Attempts to silence an annoying French rooster- Summer vacationers in an island town off the Western coast of France are suing to shut up a large and loud local rooster named Maurice, according to this superb New York Times feature. The battle has become a symbol of the rural /urban divide in French society, and it carries strong nationalistic overtones too since the rooster (in general, not Maurice specifically) has long been a symbol of France. We are ignoring these peevish city slickers' attempts to silence majestic Maurice. Let the cock crow! (On a great side note, we learned that the rooster became a French symbol only because the Latin words for "rooster" and "Gauls" are the same: gallus.)

The Business and Market Fair that recently took place in Sanzule, Ghana featured local crops, livestock and manufactured goods, thanks in part to the Livelihood Restoration Plan (LRP), one of Eni's initiatives to diversify the local economy. The LRP program provided training and support to start new businesses to approximately 1,400 people from 205 households, invigorating entrepreneurship in the community.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

It's been two months since President Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, paving the way for a bloody Turkish offensive in that region. (See our earlier coverage here.) What's happened since? A guide for the puzzled:

No "end date" for US troops in Syria – US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said this week that the United States has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria. Back in October, President Trump pledged to withdraw the roughly 1,000 American troops deployed there. Since then, some American troops have left Syria altogether, while others were redeployed to defend nearby oil fields from ISIS, as well as from Syrian government troops and Russia. Now, there are roughly 600 American troops dispersed around Syria, and the remainder have been deployed in Iraq to stave off a potential ISIS resurgence. It's not clear if any troops have returned to the US. When asked about the chaotic comings and goings of US troops in Syria in recent months, the commander of US Central Command said frankly: there's no "end date" for American troops stationed there.

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Turkey's government has captured many thousands of ISIS fighters as a result of its operations in northern Syria. Many of these prisoners have already been deported to some of the more than 100 countries they come from, and Ankara says it intends to send more. There are also more than 10,000 women and children – family members of ISIS fighters – still living in camps inside Syria.

These facts create a dilemma for the governments of countries where the ISIS detainees are still citizens: Should these terrorist fighters and their families be allowed to return, in many cases to face trial back home? Or should countries refuse to allow them back?

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What's the difference between Alphabet and Google?

Well, Google is the search engine, YouTube, all the stuff you probably think of as Google. Alphabet is the parent company that was created four or five years ago. And it contains a whole bunch of other entities like Jigsaw, Verily - the health care company that Google runs, Waymo - the self-driving car unit. Also, it's important to know Google makes tons of money. Alphabet, all that other stuff loses tons of money.

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