Conditions are no better now than last year - GulfToday

Conditions are no better now than last year

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Nontombi Tutu and Mpho Tutu, daughters of late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and his granddaughter Nyaniso Burris Tutu, follow the coffin as the casket containing his body arrives at St. Georges Cathedral, in Cape Town, South Africa.   Reuters

Nontombi Tutu and Mpho Tutu, daughters of late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and his granddaughter Nyaniso Burris Tutu, follow the coffin as the casket containing his body arrives at St. Georges Cathedral, in Cape Town, South Africa. Reuters

The death of South African churchman and peacemaker Desmond Tutu has deprived humanity of the sole surviving global politician with a moral compass while the retirement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has left Europe without a strong guiding hand.

The world enters 2022 without figures of the stature of Tutu and the effectiveness of Merkel while wars rage on multiple fronts and the ever-mutating COVID-19 dodges vaccines in both rich and poor countries, infecting larger and larger numbers of people.

The leaders of two of the chief Western trend setters, the US and UK, are stumbling while the third, Germany has a new coalition government which has not found its feet. French President Emmanuel Macron, who assumes the presidency of the European Union, has tried hard but failed to provide leadership for Europe. It remains to be seen if he can manage while in the presidency.

Following the November 2020 election of Democrat Joe Biden as US president, his administration had been expected to assume a position of world leadership. This did not happen. Biden attempted to mend relations with US allies alienated by his predecessor and returned the US to the Paris climate accord and membership of the World Health Organisation from which Donald Trump withdrew. However, Biden has not recovered the international credibility the US enjoyed before Trump.

Biden’s chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, turning that country over to the Taliban, has been a disaster which reverberates across the Indian Sub-Continent and Central Asia.

On the US domestic scene Trump remains a serious threat as Biden has been unable to reunite the sharply divided US. He has not curbed Covid which has infected 55 million and killed 825,000.

Despite the populist Black Lives Matter movement, white policemen continue to detain black men and women for trivial offences and gun them down during arrest. Migrants from Central and South America who arrive on the US southern border are still treated with hostility by Washington.

According to one source, middle class US citizens have shed their high expectations for 2022 and shifted to “realism” to deal with the unsettling, unstable “new normal” which less fortunate people at home and across the world face on a daily basis.

Although British Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a solid majority in the 2019 parliamentary election ahead of his country’s withdrawal from the European Union on January 31st, 2020, the cons outweigh the pros of his Brexit policy. The British economy is weaker, polarisation of the country has deepened and Britain has lost its reputation for solidity as well as influence in foreign affairs.

Supply chains have broken down leaving Britons without essential supplies, jobs have been lost, the Good Friday agreement for peace in Northern Ireland is under threat, and Britain has been unable to secure advantageous trade deals with the US and other countries. Johnson has also faltered badly when addressing COVID and protecting the National Health System from being degraded by the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Since they do not capitulate to US demands on issues affecting them, China and Russia face fresh US sanctions which can only increase anti-US attitudes in Beijing and Moscow and could encourage them to engage in risky adventures in Taiwan and Ukraine.

Chile enters an optimistic new year with Gabriel Boric as a new reformist president but most Latin American countries remain stuck with autocracy and no leaders of stature. This could change with Brazil’s presidential election in October if former President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, of the Workers’ Party, defeats right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro who has ruled that country in accordance with the destructive Trump mode.

India continues to focus inward. Having provided the world with the compelling, moral leadership of Pandit Nehru from 1947 until the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, India is absent from the international scene. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried and failed to suppress forcibly a mass protest by largely Sikh farmers against agricultural reforms which would have weakened rules protecting pricing, storage and sale of produce, leaving farmers at the mercy of large companies. He was forced to abandon these reforms and is under pressure to meet other demands of the farmers.

If the government has not repealed the rejected legislation by January 15th, the farmers threaten to return to the outskirts of New Delhi where they had encamped for 378 days.

Since the abolition of apartheid, the African National Congress has not provided effective and uncorrupt leadership for South Africa and guidance for the conflict-ravaged African continent where radical factions and warlords vy for power, destroying their countries.

Hundreds of millions of people in the wider Middle East are facing death, illness, displacement, and hunger due to the war in Yemen, low level conflict in Syria, unrest and deprivation in Iraq, political stasis and economic meltdown in Lebanon, and the revival of Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

Harsh Taliban rule in Afghanistan has driven tens of thousands of Afghans to seek refuge in Iran and Pakistan. Sanctions — the weapon favoured by the US for use against selected regimes — compound misery and destroy economies.

Israel continues to practise apartheid in Palestine, expropriate Palestinian land, kill Palestinians, demolish Palestinian homes and bulldoze Palestinian farms while the United Nations does nothing. Reports critical of Israel issued by the UN Human Rights Council and international human rights organisations are ignored, creating an explosive situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.

On climate change, the greatest threat to humanity, world leaders talk a great deal but do very little to curb greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants. While Biden faces opposition to efforts to expand solar, wind, and water-power from coal and oil interests, China has pledged to stop building coal-fired power plants abroad, but continues construction at home.

Inequality between rich and poor countries which leaves the latter with rising COVID cases and too few vaccines is likely to create new variants, like the highly transmissible Omicron, which will spread around the world in 2022, infecting hundreds of millions of people.

Unfortunately, the prospects for 2022 appear to be no brighter than those of 2021.

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