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World Press on Pope Francis Backing Same Sex Unions, Intolerance of Dissent and Amy Coney Barrett: New Age Islam's Selection, 23 October 2020


By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

23 October 2020

• Pope Francis Backing Same Sex Unions Isn't A Surprise But It's Still A Big Deal

By James Alison

• Intolerance of Dissent Is the Cause of Brutal Treatment of Agitations

By Mahfuz Anam

• What Does Amy Coney Barrett Mean For The Supreme Court?

By Linda Greenhouse

• A Perfect Storm Has Hit Iraq’s Economy

By Sanar Hasan

• The End Game of Trump Politicking

By Atiqur Rahman

• Peace in Sudan: Patience Is Required For the Long Road Ahead

By David E Kiwuwa

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Pope Francis Backing Same Sex Unions Isn't A Surprise But It's Still A Big Deal

By James Alison

22 Oct 2020

 

Francis has previously spoken about same-sex unions, opposing gay marriage.

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I had no advance knowledge either of Evgeny Afineevsky’s documentary, Francesco, or the interview in it that contains Pope Francis’ new formulation of his earlier position on same-sex civil unions. However, it didn’t come as a surprise to me. Anyone with any pastoral experience knows that in dealing with an individual’s personhood, you start from where they are. Given a very gay and very closeted episcopate in many countries, for whom serene and adult conversation about these things has, until recently, been almost impossible, the question has largely been: how long would it take for the basic good sense of the majority of Catholic people and what they have learned about human sexuality to percolate upwards so that senior clergy needn’t be frightened of it? And it is here that Pope Francis has been so good. He clearly isn’t frightened of the issue.

This was apparent to me when he called me by phone to affirm me in my priesthood, nullifying an attempt that had been made to remove my clerical status because I’m an openly gay man. “Soy el Papa Francisco,” came the voice on the other end of the line, out of the blue, on a July afternoon in 2017. And then this: “I want you to walk with deep interior freedom, following the spirit of Jesus. And I give you the power of the keys. Do you understand? I give you the power of the keys.”

When friends yesterday started to bombard me with news links to the story that Pope Francis had stated his support for same-sex civil unions, I experienced both surprise and surprise at the surprise. As I see it, what he said is both something not especially new and yet genuinely “a big deal”. Not especially new in that it was well known that, prior to becoming Pope, the then archbishop Bergoglio had proposed same-sex civil unions during the debate about same-sex marriage in Argentina in 2010. That was at the time a very brave position: the Vatican had specifically and publicly forbidden Catholics from supporting any form of recognition of same-sex relationships, even as a “lesser evil” to supporting same-sex marriage. Since becoming Pope, Francis had referred to his Buenos Aires position in interviews on a number of occasions, though not, as far as I’m aware, on camera.

So why are these latest comments “a big deal”? In part because the holy father is clearly representing such civil unions as a good and desirable thing, to be actively promoted, rather than a lesser evil. And second, because he affirms the rightness of same-sex couples forming a family and being part of the family of the church. This will evidently create waves in countries where homosexuality is illegal, as well as causing heartache to conservative Americans who have sought legal exemption from the employment of same-sex couples who have entered into civil unions. While only apparently a tiny shift with regards to the “lesser evil” view, Francis’s position is inconceivable for someone who believes same-sex acts to be mortal sins, leading those involved to go to hell. If you believed those things you would seek to break up such couples, not stabilise them.

From which we can deduce that Pope Francis does not believe those things. And here I want to express my surprise at the surprise. I think the English-speaking world, with its enlightened and Protestant assumptions about how religious teaching works, doesn’t really grasp how the discussion of LGBT people in the Catholic church has been panning out. There are no major points of doctrine at stake, nothing in the creeds, putting at risk the shape of our salvation. And there are no real scruples about the apparently hostile biblical texts, since fundamentalist readings are, in any case, officially disapproved by church authority.

The presenting issue is one of anthropology, and is fairly simple: either it is true that being gay or lesbian is a vicious or pathological form of a humanity which is only authentically heterosexual; or it is true that being gay or lesbian is simply something that is a non-pathological minority variant in the human condition. If the former, then “giving in” to being gay or lesbian is to follow the path of your objective disorder, and ultimately to exclude yourself from grace. If the latter, then becoming who you are starts from who you find yourself to be, including your sexual orientation, and the appropriate humanisation of your sexual desire will be worked out in appropriate relationships over time.

Some commentators have been quick to point to the distinction between same-sex civil unions and marriage, saying that the one is possible for Catholics while the other never will be. I think that’s a bit of a canard. As a priest who has been privileged to be a witness at several same-sex ceremonies, where on each occasion the couple gave their own title to what they were doing, I would say this: let the cake rise before you put on the icing. The cake in question is our shared culture and knowledge concerning publicly lived and legal same-sex couplings.

The important thing has been the achievement of legal guarantees for stable living. Soon the first generation of gay and lesbian kids for whom civil marriage was never an impossibility will reach marriageable age. That we have the cake, and the Pope’s affirmation that we should have it, is wonderful. The discussion about the shape and colour of the icing will no doubt be all that and more.

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James Alison is a Catholic priest and theologian

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/22/pope-francis-same-sex-unions-surprise-gay-people

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Intolerance Of Dissent Is The Cause Of Brutal Treatment Of Agitations

By Mahfuz Anam

October 23, 2020

 

A group of left-leaning students and civil society members organised a two-day “Long March” from Dhaka to Noakhali to protest against the growing incidents of violence against women. They came under attack on the second day, in Feni, on October 17, 2020. Photo: Anisur Rahman

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Here we are trying to tell the world, and justifiably so, that we are about to graduate into the outer periphery of the club of developed countries. For a country that was unfairly stigmatised as a "basket case" and thought of as a permanent drag by the international community—and one that has had humungous development challenges from its very inception—to come as far as we have is, by all standards, a remarkable achievement. The latest IMF's World Economic Outlook puts us ahead of India in terms of per capita GDP by the end of the year. Obviously, this further strengthens our credentials as achievers.

But how is our coming of age to be measured? Is it just by per capita income or GDP figures or such indices? There are many other such numbers that show us in a favourable light. They are all very important and we are proud of those achievements. But what about some other signs of development—decent and safe roads, clean air, a dependable public transport system, safe water supply, reliable public healthcare, public education measured not by quantity but quality, and most importantly, safety for women? What about freedom of speech, right to dissent and right to assemble peacefully? What about the way we treat the individual human being who has been reduced to a mere statistic? For example, we lustily wait for money from our expatriate workers and yet unjustly, and some would say illegally, imprison them when they return having lost everything, not to mention the sufferings we put them through when things go wrong. Have we advanced in these areas as we have done in others?

Permit me to focus on something very specific. A sight that I find particularly offensive and demeaning as a citizen of a free and independent country is that of the police routinely attacking groups of demonstrators with batons as if they are nothing more than an aggregate of flesh and bones to be beaten, injured, maimed and brutalised in every possible way, without the slightest acknowledgement that they are citizens of an independent country with specific legal rights and entitled to minimum dignity and respect. The footage we see on television and photographs that we regularly publish of these incidents in this newspaper and others make me feel as if we are still in the colonial era when white Saheb-run police would swoop down on the brown natives, breaking their bones, because they had the temerity to "demand". How dare they! Twice freed—once from the British and then from the Pakistanis—we still have not accepted the fact that every citizen has the right to inquire, question, demand and, when necessary, protest. We decry the colonial attitude in so many things but when it comes to treating a demonstration, the old colonial way of police brutality is still the norm—a police whose salary, uniform, every perk, and even the baton they beat us with are paid for by our tax money.

This is such an irony. The protest culture was almost a tradition for us, and it is rooted in our anti-colonial, anti-Pakistan and anti-military dictatorship struggles. Today's democracy—whatever is left of it—is the direct result of the anti-autocracy movement against the Ershad regime. Yet this tradition now lies in tatters, partly due to misuse but more so because of the present anti-democratic attitude and the resultant suppressive measures adopted. I will be the first one to admit that on some occasions these civic movements turned violent and did result in destruction of properties and loss of lives. However, by and large, our tradition of mass demonstration has been peaceful, and on the occasions that it turned violent, it was more due to police action and the presence of police agents and saboteurs within.

The saddest aspect of our present protest culture is the near-destruction of our student politics, which is among our most glorious heritage. What happened to it, and why, is a subject for another day.

As long as we are peaceful, we are within our constitutional rights to hold protests. Why then is there so much brutality towards the demonstrators? Next year, we will celebrate the 50 years of our independence. Are we going to enter it with this medieval attitude towards dissent? We have been independent for nearly half a century—no foreign ruler to extract our riches, no "superior race" to make us feel inferior and distort our values, no external master to rob us of our dignity, no hidden hands to divide and rule us. Why then have we not been able to introduce a minimum level of civility and decency in handling demonstrations where our people can be guaranteed a minimum level of respect?

Recently, a group of left-leaning students and civil society members organised a "Long March" from Dhaka to Noakhali to protest against the growing incidents of violence against women. On their way, at Feni, they were attacked and the buses that were carrying them were vandalised by AL activists with the police either quickly following suit or watching the mayhem from a distance. The protesters were subsequently able to reach Noakhali and complete their programme without any further incident.

This attack on protesters was not an isolated event. The agitation for workers' safety rights following the infamous Rana Plaza incident was attacked by the police in 2013. In the following year, a protest against the coal mine in Barapukuria ended in police violence. In 2015, a demonstration by private university students against VAT on their tuition fees was set upon by the police, and many homes were raided and a number of students arrested. Many are still entangled in court cases even after several years have passed. In the same year, a protest against the Rampal coal power plant titled "Road March to Save the Sundarbans" came under police attack. In 2018, a student's demonstration against the quota system in government jobs faced police brutality, this time joined by the AL goons. Then school students, triggered into agitation by the sudden death of two fellow students under the wheels of a recklessly driven bus, spontaneously started the "Road Safety" movement. It was allowed for the first few days, and when the government saw it gathering momentum, it unleashed the police and party thugs against young students. Last year, a simple demonstration by jute workers demanding their arrears was attacked by the law enforcers. This year, state jute mill workers came under heavy police attack while they were demonstrating for their separation payments.

It is clear from the above instances—and there are numerous others that we did not cite due to space constraints—that the spontaneous agitations of general students later joined by the public at large all ended up under police baton, resulting in serious injuries, court cases, and arrests. Generally, the demonstrators are looked upon as enemies and, as such, have to be crushed and done so with brute force. Today, people are not only NOT allowed to protest but they are also treated with insult, humiliation and violence.

Intolerance of dissent is the primary cause of such brutal treatment of agitations. It could also come from fear… fear that if demonstrations are not nipped in the bud, they may grow into serious threats to the regime. The history of such fears is that they are often self-fulfilling.

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Mahfuz Anam is Editor and Publisher, The Daily Star.

https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/the-third-view/news/why-do-our-protesters-get-beaten-1982733

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What Does Amy Coney Barrett Mean for the Supreme Court?

By Linda Greenhouse

Oct. 22, 2020

 

Amy Coney Barrett

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We saw the future of the Supreme Court this week, and its name is Amy Coney Barrett. The court’s 4-4 deadlock Monday on whether Pennsylvania must count some late-arriving ballots said it all.

The four most conservative justices sided with the Republican Party, which has fought tooth and nail against permitting states to make accommodations to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Trump-induced collapse of the United States Postal Service by relaxing rules, including deadlines. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh voted to grant the party’s request for a stay of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision providing that ballots will be counted if postmarked by the night of Nov. 3 and received within the following three days.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court’s three remaining liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, in voting to let the decision stand. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would undoubtedly have voted with them. With her or without her, the conservatives would still be one vote short of the five needed to grant a stay.

Can I be certain that soon-to-be Justice Barrett, President Trump’s choice to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat, would have been that fifth vote? Can I assume that she would really have been so bold, so unabashed about carrying the Republican Party’s water within days of her arrival following the strong-arm tactics the party used to secure her confirmation?

No, of course I can’t. All I know for sure is who her friends are — and what she said and didn’t say during her two long days before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. I don’t know whether the four justices who voted to block the Pennsylvania court’s decision have ever met Judge Barrett. But they seem to consider her their ally-in-waiting.

I say that because when the Supreme Court denies a stay without opinion, as it did on Monday, there is no requirement or general practice for indicating the actual vote or the identities of the justices who voted one way or another. When a tie vote makes the court unable to decide a case it has actually heard on the merits, a more consequential step than the mere denial of a stay, the court says nothing more than “the judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.” We are left to guess who was on which side.

Yet here, the four justices who voted unsuccessfully for a stay chose to reveal themselves by noting that they “would grant the application.” Why did they do that? It’s not too cynical to suppose that they wanted to make it clear to the base how much they needed Judge Barrett to join them, now, before other cases like this one inevitably come along. Do Supreme Court justices have a base? These do.

On the subject of abortion, we don’t need to read tea leaves. We just need to know how to read. And I don’t mean the statement Judge Barrett signed back in 2006 opposing “abortion on demand” and supporting the “right to life from fertilization to a natural death.” I mean an opinion she joined in 2018 calling for her court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, to reconsider as a full court an opinion by a smaller panel of the court that had invalidated an Indiana anti-abortion law.

Because the opinion was a dissent, one that she joined but didn’t write, and because the requested full-court rehearing never took place, the case, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky v. Commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health, has remained under the radar. It emerged only once during last week’s hearing, in a question by Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. Judge Barrett deflected the question with an answer that struck me as close to disingenuous, and the senator, either pressed for time or not fully understanding the exchange, let the matter drop.

For that reason, and because I see this procedurally obscure case as providing the clearest indication of how Judge Barrett will approach abortion cases, it’s worth unpacking in some detail.

In 2016, the Indiana legislature passed and Gov. Mike Pence signed an abortion law with two provisions. One required clinics to treat aborted fetuses as deceased persons, by cremation or burial. The other prohibited doctors from performing an abortion knowing that the woman’s decision was based on the sex or race of the fetus or because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome or “any other disability.” A federal district judge barred enforcement of both provisions, and a Seventh Circuit panel upheld that ruling in April 2018.

One of the three judges on the panel, Daniel Manion, dissented from the fetal-remains portion of the opinion. He then said he found it “regrettable” that Supreme Court precedent required him to concur with his colleagues that the other provision was unconstitutional, acknowledging that the Supreme Court has ruled that before fetal viability, a woman has an absolute right to an abortion.

He then proceeded to rail against the court’s abortion jurisprudence in a separate 20-page opinion that contained the blithe assertion that “children with Down syndrome bring joy to everyone around them” — an observation that had no bearing on the legal issue and that coming from a 78-year-old man might well appear cavalier to a young family struggling to grasp the uncertain future that such a diagnosis portends; most families faced with a Down syndrome diagnosis choose abortion.

“Indiana made a noble attempt to protect the most vulnerable members of an already vulnerable group,” Judge Manion wrote, adding, “The Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence proved an insurmountable obstacle.”

The state sought rehearing before the full court on the fetal-remains provision. It did not ask the court to reconsider the validity of the provision prohibiting abortions sought for particular reasons. The court denied rehearing over the dissent of five judges in an opinion by Judge Frank Easterbrook. His opinion is a remarkable document. Even though the state had not put the prohibition portion of the statute at issue, Judge Easterbrook proceeded to address it at length, calling it “an anti-eugenics law.” Referring to the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Judge Easterbrook wrote:

Casey and other decisions hold that, until a fetus is viable, a woman is entitled to decide whether to bear a child. But there is a difference between ‘I don’t want a child’ and ‘I want a child, but only a male’ or ‘I want only children whose genes predict success in life.’ Using abortion to promote eugenic goals is morally and prudentially debatable on grounds different from those that underlay the statutes Casey considered. None of the court’s abortion decisions holds that states are powerless to prevent abortions designed to choose the sex, race, and other attributes of children.

He added, “We ought not to impute to the justices decisions they have not made about problems they have not faced.”

In other words, Judge Easterbrook, and the judges who joined him in dissent, would have, if they had the power, reinterpreted the Supreme Court’s precedents to uphold a statute that those precedents clearly prohibit. One of those judges was Judge Barrett.

Asked about the case by Senator Leahy, Judge Barrett said this, referring to “the eugenics portion of the bill”:

It is true the state of Indiana did not seek ‘en banc’ rehearing on that, but we had many other states enter the case urging us to take that claim up, and what Judge Easterbrook’s dissent did was explain why he thought it was an open question, but one that’s left to the Supreme Court, and we did not reach any conclusion with respect to it.

No, Judge Barrett. It’s not an “open question.” It’s a question with one answer and one answer only. For now.

(In May 2019, the Supreme Court, over Justice Ginsburg’s dissent, overturned the Seventh Circuit and upheld the fetal-remains portion of the statute. The court denied Indiana’s appeal on the prohibition portion, letting stand the panel’s decision on its unconstitutionality. A separate opinion by Justice Thomas mirrored, fervently and at length, Judge Easterbrook’s complaint.)

Judge Barrett had left the witness chair by Friday, the Judiciary Committee’s wrap-up day. But outside the hearing room, far from Washington, the lock-step march of the Trump administration’s anti-abortion judges continued. With two Trump judges in the 2-1 majority, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a Kentucky law that will have the effect of closing the two remaining abortion clinics in the state, a decision that the dissenting judge, Eric Clay, called “terribly and tragically wrong.”

The law requires abortion clinics, in order to maintain their license, to have a “transfer agreement” with a nearby Kentucky-licensed hospital to accept any patients needing care. This is a copycat law in imitation of the admitting-privileges requirement that the Supreme Court has invalidated in two successive decisions. Needless to say, the two Trump appointees in the majority, Judges Joan Larsen and Chad Readler, had to jump through many hoops to justify upholding this law.

But the richest part of their opinion was their assertion that the two clinics, neither of which has been able to reach a hospital agreement, hadn’t demonstrated with sufficient persuasiveness that they would actually have to close. That’s because the law offers the chance to apply for a 90-day waiver. To the clinics’ objection that they can’t remain in business if they can’t assure their staff of employment after 90 days, Judge Larsen had this to say in her majority opinion: “We must presume that the inspector general will consider waiver applications in good faith and will not act simply to make it more difficult for women to obtain an abortion.”

It was somehow fitting for this decision to appear on the day the Judiciary Committee finished its astonishingly rushed confirmation hearing for Judge Barrett. As I read the majority opinion, this thought occurred to me: Here, with Roe v. Wade still on the books, a state can force the closure of all abortion clinics within its borders. So at this rate, when the Supreme Court gets around sooner or later to overturning Roe, how will anyone be able to tell?

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/22/opinion/supreme-court-amy-coney-barrett.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

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A Perfect Storm has Hit Iraq’s Economy

By Sanar Hasan

23 October 2020

The drop in oil prices, the continued COVID-19 pandemic and months of political turmoil have left Iraq in a difficult financial situation.

As long as Iraq’s economy was dependent on oil income, corruption rendered it even more fragile. Infrastructure and human capital remained underdeveloped following the 2003 war, before deteriorating further following the ISIS invasion. A substantial proportion of the state budget is spent on defence and security, while other important areas such as health care, education and the environment remain largely underfunded.

Lack of government funding has hampered the hiring of thousands of medical college graduates and other health workers in Iraq. In response, a group of medical college graduates have started a campaign protesting the effective hiring freeze, which has been followed by protests by the Faculties of Engineering and Sciences demanding their inclusion in the 2020 budget amidst a financial crisis, spiralling pandemic and a bloated public sector workforce.

‘I am a young man and I cannot ask for money from my family. I studied to reap the benefit of my efforts’, said Mustafa Muhammad, a 26-year-old graduate student at the College of Science in Baghdad. ‘We have been here for 90 days, in high temperatures and facing the risk of coronavirus. I graduated in 2018 and I have not had an opportunity to get any work despite my need. With the pandemic, most jobs have disappeared’, Mustafa said.

The country remains heavily dependent on the oil sector, making it increasingly vulnerable to volatility in international oil markets. The government’s main priority has been to develop the petroleum sector, but in doing so they have neglected the non-oil economy, impeding any sustainable economic development. Even with this, the government has mismanaged the oil market, unable to take advantage of increasing oil prices to develop a stronger and more diverse economy.

Iraq had begun to recover after decades of sectarian wars and has witnessed transformations that changed the course of the political process since late 2019, starting with the October demonstrations, when protesters in Baghdad and central and southern Iraq called for the downfall of the government due to poor services, health and education, and demanded the provision of jobs. The movement evolved to push for a complete change in the political system and demanded new elections under the supervision of the United Nations. These demonstrations resulted in the overthrow of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and the installation of Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrations stopped in Baghdad and many governorates of Iraq. However, the ongoing campaign of assassinations of activists and journalists involved in the demonstrations fuelled violence in several governorates, including Nasiriyah and Basra. Failure to form a new government has delayed approval of the 2020 budget.

Ayat Sadiq is a 27-year-old graduate of the Department of Pathological Analysis at the University of Samarra. She graduated in 2015 and since then has been trying to find a job to help her family, having recently lost her job in a laboratory after she was infected with the coronavirus. Another graduate protester in Baghdad, Zahra Ali (24) from Basra province, said: ‘They don’t hire us nor issue our graduating certificates [so we are] able to leave the country. We [cannot] receive it until after 7 years, or in return for the payment of 27 million Iraqi dinars as compensation for academic years wages’.

‘Medical graduate students work 24 hours a day, even during holidays, for a very small salary of about 800 thousand Iraqi dinars. Some doctors have bought personal protective equipment to guard against the coronavirus with their own money, and these doctors pay their own transportation costs between governorates if the work is far from their residences’, Zahra said.

‘Article 13 of the Financial Management Law No. 6 of 2019 stipulates that if the General Budget Law is not approved until December 31, the Minister of Finance is to issue instructions for disbursement at a rate of 1/12 of the total expenditures. As for the internal and external borrowing law for the year 2020, it is only according to which internal and external borrowing is possible for the year 2020 only’, Ali Al-Tamimi, a 40-year-old legal expert said.

The protest was not limited to students, but also included resident doctors, demanding improvements in hospitals’ health standards and their protection from repeated attacks by patients’ families and various militias, in addition to facing tribal persecution.

Abeer Farouk (28) from the College of Science in Baghdad says that since she graduated in 2014, ‘our main request has been to implement the third amendment to the Medical Graduation Law of 2000, which guarantees employment in health institutions as analysts’.

Facing a liquidity crisis, Iraq urgently needs more emergency borrowing. If parliament does not pass a new stop-gap financing law, the government has warned it will be unable to fund basic expenses. ‘Iraqi governments have not completed productive economic investment projects to diversify the sources of the annual budget revenues and remove them from the circle of dependence on crude oil export revenues. As long as global oil prices are falling, Iraq will be in a difficult situation’, Malath al-Muein, a 37-year-old economist said.

‘The government must continue its fight against corruption, and search for financial sources other than oil for the budget, such as taxes, revenues from border crossings, and fees for the use of Iraqi airspace by international airlines, to [allow for the] hiring of college graduates’, al-Muein added. ‘The state does not have funds in the 2020 budget for hiring these graduates, and any such government commitment would be met through borrowing from the banks. Internal revenues are not sufficient [to fund] the budget and the reason for its delays is due to the change in governments during the recent period.’

‘Iraq has all [necessary] human and economic resources, but there [has been] misuse of these resources and the sole dependence on oil revenues is the reason for the poor economic situation’, according to the Parliamentary Finance Committee representative, Ahmed Al-Saffar.

Graduating students are preparing to protest nationwide on 25 October, coinciding with the anniversary of the October protests against the government and corruption.

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Sanar Hasan is an Iraqi journalist covering the unfolding events in Baghdad with a special focus on youth and women's involvement in protests. She has also written on refugees and displaced women in camps in Iraq.

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/mec/2020/10/22/a-perfect-storm-has-hit-iraqs-economy/

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The End Game Of Trump Politicking

By Atiqur Rahman

October 23, 2020

The campaign for presidential election in the USA is turning out to be rather bizarre. It is divisive, fraught with deception, lies and anger, the kinds of which have never been seen before in US elections. Most Americans believe that it is not focussed on major issues (59 against 39 percent) and that it is too negative (51 against 31 percent).

The opinion polls are hinting at a Democratic win, with persistent leads in polls in the swing states too. In Pennsylvania, a key state taken by the Republicans in 2016, Donald Trump's numbers are reported to be sliding back further, giving Joe Biden a 7-point lead.

With about two weeks remaining before the election, these figures can change further, and one should not be surprised if the end game turns out to be different and nasty.

There have been persistent claims by President Donald Trump (without any evidence) of past rigging in postal ballots. This, some argue, is his way of preparing the ground for such action by his own party. The recent appearance of "illegal" and unofficial ballot boxes in churches and Republican offices in California to collect ballot papers hints at vote rigging. But it is difficult to imagine vote rigging and election-related violence in a country like the USA with its strong institutions, democracy, and rule of law. But recent events and the possibility of Trump using newly raised special forces to tame "violence" do not exclude such possibilities.

The demonstrations after the death of George Floyd and their suppression in the hands of police can be an indication of how nasty things may turn out to be. The stakes in the case of a presidential election are much higher, and in the event of any anomaly with the voting process, the scale of protest can be high.

Trump's survival in his roller coaster business career with reported failures and his massive "outstanding loans", both to local and foreign financial institutions, testify to his dark business instincts and skills. His navigation through the maze of tax laws, having paid only USD 750 in 2016 and 2017 each, and not disclosing the tax returns during the pre-2016 election process reflect his "skills and smartness".

Trump has indeed whipped up extreme emotions among the American people as well as among many around the world. He is seen as an egoistic, self-serving person, a tax dodger, five times draft evader, and a sexist with very low respect for women. But he is also praised as smart and intelligent. Trump has "saved the United States", says former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. He's one of the "smartest, cleverest and most successful" presidents, says Fox's Jeanine Pirro. But he was also labelled "dumb and racist" by comedian Seth Meyers, and is guilty of "rampant corruption," according to commentators on MSNBC.

Caroline Giuliani, daughter of New York's ex-mayor Rudi Giuliani, wrote in an op-ed in Vanity Fair that Trump's policies are breaking families apart and that if being the daughter of a polarising mayor has taught her anything, "it is that corruption starts with 'yes-men' and women, the cronies who create an echo chamber of lies and subservience."

Trump created a lots of chaos this year, starting with the handling of Covid-19 and then peaceful protests of the "Black Lives Matter" movement. And in the process, America started counting deaths, around 230,000 by now. The Covid-19 death toll in the USA is expected to increase by another 160-170 thousand by February next year. Trump's show of force against the peaceful protests of George Floyd's killing also instigated violence.

And the last and the most damaging act he has engaged in is his nomination of a conservative judge, Amy Barrett, a month before the presidential election. This has never happened before. Abraham Lincoln, facing a similar situation, decided against a nomination in the election year, and Barack Obama's choice was blocked by the Republicans in the 2016 election year.

Donald Trump seems to have a three-pronged strategy for his re-election campaign. His first strategy has been to claim that Covid-19 is a hoax, and therefore there is no need to impose lockdowns, and hence avoid lockdowns and further unemployment. In so doing, he undermined his own health officials, but paid a heavy price through counting many more avoidable deaths.

The second strategy has been to reach the far right and white supremacist groups, and whip up their sentiments against immigration, the Chinese for giving Covid-19 to the USA and for taking their jobs (through unfair trade practices). He refused to condemn the white supremacists, only managing to say "stand back and stand by" when repeatedly pushed by the moderator Chris Wallace during the first presidential debate. He expects his call to "Make America Great Again" will again reverberate through American heartlands and the swing states. He engaged in orchestrating misinformation. Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor and now a Georgetown law professor, noted that Donald Trump has become "the greatest threat to our democracy".

The third and most damaging strategy has been to systematically undermine the neutrality of the judiciary through the nomination of Republican-favoured judges, sponsored by the shadowy right-wing networks, and eventually the nomination of Amy Barret to the Supreme Court. The composition of the nine-panel judge with a 6:3 ratio favourable to the conservatives can be of much comfort to the Republicans.

The Republican strategy to tinker with the judiciary also included the elimination of the system of civil judiciary, which is protected by law against any corruption. In the confirmation hearing, Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic senator, revealed how dark money was playing a role in putting people of influence in right places in the judiciary of America.

Violence can break out between armed right-wing groups and the moderates in case the election results do not go in favour of Donald Trump. He has asked his supporters to "protect" polling centres for him. And in case of "contentious claims on results and election frauds", the Republicans can expect to get a favourable hearing in the Supreme Court.

The end game of Trump politicking may not succeed in putting him back in the presidential seat, but he is not going to go out without a fight.

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Dr Atiqur Rahman is an economist, ex-adjunct professor at the John Cabot University, Rome, and ex-Lead Strategist of IFAD, Rome, Italy.

https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/news/the-end-game-trump-politicking-1982721

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Peace In Sudan: Patience Is Required For The Long Road Ahead

By David E Kiwuwa

October 23, 2020

“End the wars” and “peace in our land” were the rallying cries for the protests that ultimately ousted Sudan’s long-ruling strongman Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The country had been afflicted by a 40-year war with South Sudan, which resulted in South Sudan’s secession.

There is still intermittent conflict in the western region, particularly in Darfur, where the Janjaweed, an Arab militia, first clashed with the region’s black population in 2003. The conflict is rooted in ethno-religious and tribal divisions, economic disenfranchisement related to land, and profits from the oil industry.

The United Nations estimates that over 300,000 people died during the first Darfurian conflict, with over 2.6 million displaced.

The end of Bashir’s regime provided renewed optimism that these kinds of conflict would end for good, setting Sudan on a path to peace. And now with the signing of a peace agreement between the Sudan Transitional Authority and the Sudan Revolutionary Front, a broad alliance of armed and other movements, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has heeded one of the protestors’ most visceral demands.

While not all armed factions signed up to the accord, it is hoped the two holdout groups will not become a major stumbling block, and will eventually be persuaded to come on board at a later date.

But signing the agreement is the easy part. Implementing the finer details of the laboriously negotiated peace pact will be the real test.

Peace has eluded Sudan for a very long time. The signing of the peace agreements heralds an epochal moment, but it is overshadowed by the enormity of the task at hand. The legacy of the conflicts has created a complex set of circumstances that directly inform the fate of this accord.

The most crucial of all is the cost of peace. Simply put, Sudan is too broke to afford peace. But with its imminent removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, an economic reset could be in the offing.

This latest development comes after the country agreed to pay $335 million to American terror victims in compensation for its alleged role in the 1998 al-Qaida bombing of two US embassies in East Africa. Sudan’s removal from the terror list could result in the resumption of much-needed financial inflows to Khartoum.

Terms of peace

The peace deal is anchored by eight protocols. Perhaps the most crucial is the autonomy that has been granted to local governments in West Darfur, the Blue Nile, and South Kordofan. The stipulation of self-government envisages real devolution of power from the centre by empowering local political elites.

Also significant was the agreement that warring rebel outfits (notably the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North) would be integrated into the national army within a period of just over three years. This enables the demobilisation of thousands of men under arms and brings them into formal institutions of the state. Consequently, it turns them into security guardians of the nation.

A revenue sharing agreement was also reached. Up to 40% of revenue generated in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan will now be retained by the local authorities. This assuages local grievances of resource flight, exploitation and uneven development.

The return of internally displaced persons and creation of a commission for protection of religious minorities was also stipulated. Sudan’s protracted conflicts displaced millions from their communal lands; this stipulation ensures a return of lands to their rightful owners who can then engage in productive economic activities.

It was also agreed that there would be regional balance in the appointment of officials to national institutions, especially within the legislature and executive. This provides marginalised groups the opportunity to share power, influence policy, and shape legislation.

A perilous road ahead

Sudan has been here before. Peace agreements have been known to fall apart quickly.

There are many obstacles.

Firstly, the previous Sudanese government worked strategically to prolong the wars during the al-Bashir years. Some of these officials remain in the transitional government.

Equally, the conflicts were a profitable venture for war profiteers. Part of the military hierarchy benefited directly. Not only did this culminate in a “war economy” with up to 70% of revenue directed to the war effort, it also saw the emergence of a cabal of officer-businessmen.

Secondly, international and regional efforts to resolve Sudan’s conflicts were in the past frustrated by lack of political goodwill. Historically, there has been a tremendous trust deficit between the rebels and government. This meant that carefully negotiated pacts came unstuck because of the distrust between signatories and failure to implement what was agreed. The Koka Dam Declaration is one of many.

Ultimately, warring factions have gone back to what they know best: leveraging by armed confrontation.

This has been driven by pure self-interest on the part of the para-military establishment and al-Bashir’s notorious proxies like the Janjaweed.

Thirdly, the peace deal is expensive. In its current state Sudan can’t afford its peace agreement commitments. The mobilisation of funds to rebuild areas devastated by war, repatriation of displaced communities, reintegration of the armed factions, and land and criminal justice reforms will require billions of dollars. This is money Sudan doesn’t have, at least not yet.

US sanctions stemming from Sudan’s links to terror starved the country of foreign direct investment, debt relief, and international financial support. While these sanctions are soon to be lifted, how soon Sudan rebounds from economic collapse can only be speculated.

Real power and money still lies with the men in uniform. Bankrolled by patron states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, military chairman of the transitional council, and his deputy General Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo are pivotal to the fate of this peace agreement. They wield both military might and financial leverage.

Finally, Sudan’s victims of conflict deserve justice. The pact promises to bring to book those who committed crimes against humanity and other human rights violations. Ironically, these judicial reforms are supposed to be undertaken by the same military men who bear responsibility for some of the worst atrocities.

Next steps

The current peace agreement has been precipitated by the sheer pressure of domestic change forces. All parties appear to be grasping at this opportunity to co-write Sudan’s new chapter of peace.

Political goodwill and timing have coincided to beget compromise. But what remains to be seen, as is so often the case, is whether the signatories to the accord will have the patience to see the deal through.

Temporary setbacks are part of implementation dynamics, but a peaceful new Sudan is worth being patient for.

https://theconversation.com/peace-in-sudan-patience-is-required-for-the-long-road-ahead-148196?utm

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