Make Sense of the World: Weekly Roundup


November 19, 2013 07:43 EDT

Fair Observer's roundup of the week's events. [Note: Click here for the full report.]

This is the second weekly commentary on key developments across the globe titled “Make Sense of the World: Weekly Roundup.” After much feedback, we are playing around with the format and please continue to send your feedback to, with “Weekly Roundup” as the subject.

As we explained last week, this roundup examines the deeper story behind the most important events, trends and issues for the week. This is a summary version and you can click here for the full report.

Asia Pacific

The big news in Asia Pacific was the third plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. It signaled some major changes.

First, markets have been called upon to play a “decisive” role in the allocation of resources. Second, a “State Security Committee” will be set up. It will emulate the US National Security Council. Third, President Xi Jinping has emerged as the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaopeng. Fourth, the one-child policy has been relaxed and a baby bonanza of a million extra births per year is expected. Fifth, education reforms are also on the horizon to foster creativity and develop more rounded students. Sixth, the dreaded labor camps will be abolished as part of a reform of the justice system. Finally, those who cause environmental damage will be held “criminally responsible” and there will be a tax on the use of almost every natural resource.

On November 11, celebrated in China as “Singles Day,” shoppers spent $5.7 billion buying online. This is thrice what American shoppers spend on Cyber Monday.

Elsewhere in Asia Pacific, the Philippine government has botched the relief effort after last week’s typhoon.

Central & South Asia

Meanwhile, India is in electoral circus mode. Accusations are flying on a daily basis. The Congress-led government has declined to grant autonomy to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), making any independent investigation impossible.

India is in a row with Nigeria over the murder of a Nigerian in Goa, and is in the spotlight for its racist treatment of Africans.

In neighboring Pakistan, the Nawaz Sharif government is going to put former President Pervez Musharraf on trial for treason. Shi'a-Sunni violence has erupted in Rawalpindi, which remains under curfew. Dr. Nasiruddin Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Haqqani Network, was gunned down in Islamabad.

In Afghanistan, violence continues and opium production has reached a record high.

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi Arabia, with its massive oil wealth, has decided to clamp down on foreign workers. The kingdom aims for a Saudization of its labor market to decrease its 13 percent unemployment rate. However, it remains to be seen whether cosseted Saudis will take up the jobs so far done by poor immigrants.

It turns out that Saudi Arabia is not alone in mistreating immigrant workers. Amnesty International has slammed Qatar for treating workers like animals and even referring to them as such.

Civil war continues in Syria. A bomb attack on a government building near Damascus has killed 31 people, while two explosions occurred near the Iranian Embassy in neighboring Lebanon.

Libya’s deputy intelligence chief has been kidnapped as the central government struggles to control powerful local militia.

In Iraq, just as in Pakistan, Shi'a pilgrims have been targeted. Bomb blasts in Baquba killed at least 20 people and left many more wounded. According to the UN, “indiscriminate violence is constant.” Sectarian violence has reached its highest level since 2008.

Meanwhile, Egypt is conducting talks with Russia. The parties are discussing an arms deal worth $2 billion. If it were to go through, US influence on Egypt would diminish.

Hamas has appointed its first spokeswoman, while in Turkey, women can now wear trousers in parliament relaxing a regulation that only allowed them to wear suits.

Boeing has emerged as a big winner of the Dubai Airshow, netting $100 billion of orders from the four big carriers from the Gulf: Etihad, Qatar Airways, Emirates and flydubai.


The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) rejected a proposal to suspend the trials of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, for a year at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The proposal was put forth by Rwanda and supported by other African states.

Kenyatta and Ruto are accused of crimes against humanity for the role they played in the ethnic bloodshed that swept across Kenya in the aftermath of the 2007 elections. More than 1,100 people were killed, 3,500 injured, and up to 600,000 forcibly displaced as a result of the violence.

A French hostage held for nearly a year escaped in Nigeria but Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist group, claimed that it had kidnapped a French priest in northern Cameroon. The kidnapping occurred soon after the US designated Boko Haram and its splinter group, Ansaru, as “foreign terrorist organizations.”

As per the UN, 460,000 people have been displaced in Sudan’s Darfur region in 2013. This figure is higher than the combined figure for 2011 and 2012.

Gambia broke its ties with Taiwan for “strategic national interest.”

Forbes reported that the number of African billionaires surged to 27. In 2012, it was 16, marking a remarkable increase of over two thirds.

Ericsson declared that it expected mobile subscription in sub-Saharan Africa to reach 930 million by 2019. It estimates smartphones to reach 476 million and mobile data traffic to grow 17 times by that year.


The eurozone grew by an anemic 0.1 percent between July and September. Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain —collectively referred to as PIGS — continue to remain mired in high unemployment, low productivity and poor public finances. Even Germany’s economy grew by a mere 0.3 percent and it is under scrutiny from Brussels for running persistent current account surpluses.

Unemployment in parts of Europe has crossed the 50 percent mark. France has suffered a credit ratings downgrade by Standard & Poor’s because of the disastrous performance of the Hollande government. Brussels has warned Spain and Italy over their debt and deficit levels. French and Dutch plans have barely passed muster. Eastern Europe is not doing much better and the Russian economy, despite its energy bonanza, is in sorry state.

The far right in Europe is becoming more sophisticated. Dutch leader Geert Wilders and French leader Marine Le Pen held a conference in The Hague to announce cooperation in the next elections for the European Parliament to “fight the monster called Europe.”

Latin America

Chile’s elections will go into the second round after Michelle Bachelet failed to achieve an outright majority. She received 47 percent of the vote and Evelyn Matthei got 25 percent. Bachelet is still expected to win.

Colombia has elections next year but is already gearing up for them. President Juan Manuel Santos will be competing with Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who has the backing of former President Alvaro Uribe.

Talks with FARC guerillas suffered a minor hiccup because of the discovery of a purported FARC plot to murder Uribe. Negotiations with the guerillas continue as President Santos presses for a change in drug policy that includes alternatives to prohibition.

The murder rate in Latin America and the Caribbean rose by 11 percent in the first decade of the 21st century.

The rate of deforestation in the Amazon rose by 28 percent in Brazil over a year. In the last few years, while deforestation was proceeding apace, the rate of this phenomenon was declining.

Meanwhile, a Brazilian banker involved in a major corruption scandal fled to Italy. Henrique Pizzoloto has an Italian passport and was avoiding jail terms like 25 businessmen, bankers and politicians, including the chief of staff of ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The remains of Joao Goulart, a former Brazilian president, were exhumed so that the cause of his death could be ascertained. It is suspected that he was murdered by the military rulers who conducted a coup against him in 1976.

North America

Obamacare, President Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms, has been the focus of attention again. Bill Clinton, the former Democrat president, turned on Obama and asked him to fulfill his promise to let Americans keep the healthcare they liked. As the new website for healthcare exchanges malfunctioned, Democrats facing reelection grew uneasy and turned on their president. Obama eventually bowed to pressure and deferred the implementation of his reforms by a year.

The White House declared that, for the first time in two decades, the US is importing less foreign oil than it is producing domestically.

Snapchat, a hot Silicon Valley startup that began in Stanford, rejected a $3 billion offer from Facebook. Snapchat is a photo messaging platform that allows people to send messages that disappear once they are viewed.

Sony sold over 1 million Playstation 4s in the first 24 hours.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is building a long-range anti-ship missile to counter China.

Finally, Google won its longstanding copyright battle against publishers and authors. Its scanning project will put more than 30 million works in a digital library. The court accepted Google’s argument that its project is “fair use” and provides “significant public benefits.”

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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