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What did you miss while you were following the US elections?

Civil war broke out in Ethiopia, the French government doubled down on Islamophobia and Tanzania returned to ‘de-facto one party rule,’ say openDemocracy editors around the world.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
12 November 2020
Emmanuel Macron with Donald Trump in 2018
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The White House, Public Domain,

People across the globe have been mesmerised by the US elections, horrified by Trump’s failure to concede, and entertained by a certain landscape gardening business. I asked my colleagues what we’d all missed in the rest of the world.

France cracks down on Muslims and all who defend them

Can Europe Make It? editor Rosemary Bechler is alarmed by growing Islamophobia from the French government. In reaction to the horrific murder of school teacher Samuel Paty, President Macron has been “targetting a whole load of institutions and individuals who had nothing to do with the murder”.

His government and its allied intellectuals have also got in their sights “anyone who stands up with Muslims against the existing discrimination,” she told me.

“This has now become a big movement, led by the French government, to intervene in academic freedom of speech... basically it’s saying academia has to reflect republican values, and what that means is you have to present a history of your nation which doesn’t talk about colonialism, doesn’t talk about genocide… restricts itself to ‘we’re in favour of the republic… and against Muslims’.”

openDemocracy has published a letter responding to the French government crackdown, signed by 2,000 French scholars.

Tanzania moves towards one party state

The Tanzanian general election was “at least as dramatic, if not more dramatic” than the US election, said openDemocracy’s Africa editor, Lydia Namubiru. The incumbent president saw his vote soar to “a suspicious 84%" after “the government clamped down hard on opposition [and] slowed down social media”. Ten voters in Zanzibar were killed in clashes with the police, and the main opposition candidate was arrested “at least twice in the week of the election”. “One opposition party official was beaten so badly he was hospitalised,” she added.

“This election, which nearly wiped out opposition MPs in parliament, returns Tanzania to a one-party state. Tanzania had become a multi-party democracy in 1995, but now, with hardly any opposition MPs in parliament, it looks like it’s returning to a de-facto one-party state,” Lydia told me.

UK brings back furlough scheme

Last week, British Chancellor Rishi Sunak sneaked out “his biggest U-turn yet," according openDemocracyUK editor Caroline Molloy.

“He’d been pressured to extend the furlough scheme and had persistently refused, but on Thursday, he said that that scheme would be extended until March 2021, bowing to the inevitable," she told me.

Caroline criticised Sunak’s prevaricating, “we’ve seen record redundancies in figures released today, 314,000 people were made redundant in the three months to September, with a lot of employers saying they let people go because Sunak kept saying this scheme wasn’t going to be extended”.

War in the caucuses and continuing protests in Belarus

oDR editor Tom Rowley highlighted the “tragic” situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory in the south Caucasus. “At the end of September, Azerbaijani forces launched an offensive on Karabakh. That war has continued throughout October, until the weekend, and has led to thousands of people having to flee their homes, and thousands of deaths – we still don’t know how many people have died from the conflict,” he said.

Turkey, he explained, has aligned with Azerbaijan, forcing Armenia to give up territory in an agreement this weekend, which has been met by protests in the Armenian capital, including the occupation of the country’s parliament building and an assault on the speaker of the parliament. The events could mark the end of a period in Armenia which began with the overthrow of the previous corrupt regime two years ago, said Tom.

Meanwhile, he added, protests against the rigging of August’s election in Belarus continued, as the government cracked down with increasing violence.

War starts in Ethiopia, winds down in Libya

North Africa, West Asia editor Walid el Houri hailed positive signs of peace in Libya. “We’ve had a very important development – the agreement between warring parties to implement a ceasefire that they had agreed in October," he said. In what he called “an important step,” the different parties met in Libya, rather than abroad, and “agreed on actual practical steps to implement a ceasefire".

However, he added that, while this “is a very important agreement” which “will affect the lives of thousands, not only Libyans, but also African migrants trapped in the country,” it’s also “too early to celebrate… only yesterday, there was the assassination of an opposition figure.” Hanan al-Barassi, a critic of military strongman Khalifa Haftar, was killed by an unknown gunman soon after announcing she was about to expose corruption in his entourage.

Walid also raised concerns that “violence is mounting” in Ethiopia. “We have a new conflict that will likely be quite an important development in the region". The government “has gone to war with the Tigray province in the north of the country,” he said. “There is not much information from the ground, but we know that the two sides are heavily armed, and there are reports talking about hundreds of deaths”. He added that it was likely that the conflict would last for a while, and numerous refugees were arriving in Sudan already.

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