In The News

Taliban Bans Women’s Sports, UK-France Migrant Feud, Awkward Ardern

Taliban Bans Women’s Sports, UK-France Migrant Feud, Awkward Ardern

North Korea celebrated its 73rd anniversary with a nighttime military parade including marching rows of personnel in orange hazmat suits.

Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 お早うございます*

Welcome to Thursday, where the new Taliban government bans women's sports, a UK-France cross-Channel migrant feud erupts and North Korea celebrates its national holiday with an unusually orange military parade. Indian news website The Wire also reports on the people possibly most at risk with the Taliban back in power.

[*Ohayōgozaimasu - Japanese]


• Taliban bans women's sports: The Taliban has forbidden women and girls from playing sports, especially those where their bodies might be seen. The Islamist group, back in power after 20 years, has agreed to the evacuation of the remaining 200 or so Americans and other foreigners who remain in Afghanistan.

• UK to send migrant boats back to France: The United Kingdom has approved plans to turn away any boats that are illegally carrying migrants to its shores, back to France. The decision is said to deepen the diplomatic rift between the two countries over how to deal with the surge of people attempting to cross the English Channel.

• Hong Kong police raid Tiananmen museum: Hong Kong authorities have raided the city's Tiananmen massacre museum a day after they arrested four members of the civil society group that ran it. The June 4th Museum is run by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which has been accused of foreign collusion under Hong Kong's national security law.

• Free contraception for women in France: Access to birth control in France will be free for women aged up to 25 years old from January 1 onwards, as announced by the French Health Minister Olivier Véran. Until now, the age limit was 18. The new measure will cost the state 21 million euros per year.

• Elizabeth Holmes trial: Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes "lied and cheated" for money and fame, prosecutors alleged on the first day of the former Silicon Valley star's trial. Holmes faces 12 charges of fraud and is accused of deceiving investors and patients by claiming her company could detect illnesses from only a few drops of blood.

• There goes Robert E. Lee: The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which had towered over Richmond in Virginia for 131 years, was removed amid an ongoing nationwide movement to take down symbols of the Confederacy following the killing of George Floyd.

• Awkward question for Ardern: Typically unflappable New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, was giving her daily press conference when a question about a COVID patient and visitor having "sexual relations" in a hospital startled her. Ardern's facial expressions rapidly switched from disturbed, exasperated, to bemused before answering that those kinds of relations shouldn't "generally be part of visiting hours.



Daily El Sol de México reports on the devastation caused by severe flooding in central Mexico and a 7.0 magnitude earthquake near the famed Acapulco beach resort. At least 17 patients died after a hospital flooded with torrential rain in Hidalgo state.



A smoke alarm went off during an automatic battery charging operation in the Russian section of the International Space Station, the latest in a string of safety concerns over the condition of the ISS's Звезда (Zvezda, Russian for "star") module.


Hide or flee? LGBTQ Afghans fear Taliban will kill them

While life was not easy under the former Afghan government, members of the LGBTQ+ community had relatively more freedom and formal support groups that helped them. That has changed now, with potentially grave consequences, reports Dr. Ritu Mahendru, who has been working in Afghanistan for over a decade, on Indian news website The Wire.

🏳️🌈 People from the LGBTQ community are one of the most vulnerable groups in Afghanistan. They didn't have an easy life in the pre-Taliban era but there were underground organizations that supported LGBTQ networks in certain parts of the country. The underground networks have shut since the Taliban takeover. LGBTQ communities and groups are gripped by fear so much that many of these organizations refused to speak even anonymously. They fear being killed by the Taliban, which will be justified by citing their strict interpretation of Sharia law.

🚫 Members of the LGBTQ community face insurmountable barriers in a country where heterosexuality is often presented as the only acceptable sexual orientation. Queer citizens are regarded as deviants, especially by the Taliban. While the rights of women have rightly come under discussion, the same has not happened with queer people, who also face severe threats. When I asked the LGBTQ group what their options are, they were unsure. The usual responses were "I don't know," "Hide," "Escape." Some even disclosed they were contemplating suicide.

⚠️ With Afghanistan falling in the hands of the Taliban, it is clear that the LGBTQ community feels terrified, and abandoned by the international community. Western governments are still in the process of forming policies for the "priority groups" who will be given refugee status. It is not yet clear what the priority group will consist of. These countries need to step up their game and adhere to the UN's Leave No One Behind agenda and support the Afghan LGBTQ community.

➡️



That is the dismal rate of full vaccination of Haiti, which like other poorer countries is in desperate need of the COVID-19 vaccine. The comparison to such wealthy nations as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which have fully vaccinated more than 75% of their populations, has been noted in the recent exchange between the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the White House over the distribution of vaccine doses.

The U.S. decision to move forward with a policy of a third jab was criticized by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom, who said wealthy nations should not go ahead with a third dose until every nation is able to vaccinate 40% of its population. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded to Tedros: "Our view is that this is a false choice."


I apologize that I could not make it end differently.

— Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement shared on Twitter, after he fled the country August 15 to take refuge in the United Arab Emirates as the Taliban were advancing on Kabul. Answering critics of his departure, Ghani said he was "forced" to leave Afghanistan by his security team, who thought there were high risks he could be captured or killed.

✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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