A Long But Not Impossible March Toward The End Of Tyranny

After Latin America and Europe, the Middle East and Africa want to bury their dictatorships. But it is an arduous and often twisted process of political revolution.

 April 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad
April 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad
Jacques Hubert-Rodier


PARIS — After the Arab Spring, some say the "African Spring" is coming, and there is some real evidence to support it. Citizens of Burkina Faso recently ousted President Blaise Compaore, who, 20 years after taking command of the country through a coup d'etat, hoped to maintain power by changing the constitution.

Also in Ivory Coast, the people refused to let President Laurent Gbagbo stay in power after he lost the 2010 election.

So the question returns: Will the 21st century see the end of tyranny?

We recall that many welcomed the fall of Saddam Hussein, glad to see the Baghdad tyrant deposed after years of a brutal reign. But 11 years later, the picture from Iraq is grim: Almost 150,000 civilians have been killed, while the country has sunk into chaos, with territory increasingly divided into opposing entities.

The "creative chaos" theory of democracies advocated by American neo-conservatives is a resounding and terrible failure. Thirteen years after the fall of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan is not better off, and civil war marches on.

Of course, in these two cases — despite the absence of similarities between Baghdad's secular Ba'ath Party and the Taliban's Islamic law in Kabul — the armies of the U.S. and its allies did overthrow the regimes. But unlike with Germany and Japan after World War II, the U.S. not only failed to reorganize these countries with the kind of model democracies then-President George W. Bush envisioned, but wasn't even able to establish the rule of law.

Paradoxically, the uprisings in Libya, Egypt and Yemen led to similar results: chaotic situations or, as is the case in Egypt, the return to a military regime after the interlude of an anachronistic Islamist power. In Syria, the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, which started in March 2011 after peaceful protests, has led to a complex civil war that has already killed some 300,000 people.

Tunisia, the only country in the region to have avoided this turmoil so far, has just held elections recognized as democratic. But surrounded by unruly neighbors such as Libya and Algeria, its complicated transition is far from over. It must consider a national union between the secular movement of Nidaa Tounes, the winner of the vote, and the Islamic Ennahda Movement. The aim is to avoid a polarization like in Egypt between the Muslim Brotherhood, secularist reformers and the military.

Moving forward at all cost

Almost everywhere in northwest Africa and the Middle East, the time for disappointment has come. And yet neither the threat of a step backwards nor the risk of a new tyrant or military regime has prevented the world from moving forward.

In Latin America, dictatorships in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Central America have given way to democratic regimes; while post-1989 Central and Eastern Europe has seen an unstoppable desire for democratization and the establishmest of the rule of law.

The winds are now reaching Asia. The Hong Kong protests against Beijing's intrusion could be part of the same movement towards democratization, or at least towards a state that has more respect for individuals. According to the very incomplete figures of the American organization Freedom in the World, 122 countries (of 195) can be considered electoral democracies, which amounts to 63% of the total. In 1989, this figure stood at 69 out of 167, or 41%.

Umbrella Revolution protests in Hong Kong on Oct. 10 2014 — Photo: Pasu Au Yeung

Any step backwards could have serious consequences. The beginning of the 21st century has been marked by an awakening of civil societies. And despite a bleak outlook for the Arab world, this awakening "can't suddenly disappear," writes Frédéric Charillon, head of the the Institute of Strategic Research of the French Ministry of Defense (IRSEM). But this "democratic determination coming from the bottom" could "clash with the authoritarian tendencies from above that are for now clearly regaining control."

The return of tyranny, whether calm or violent, cannot be a solution to the state of chaos certain countries suffer. For several reasons. On the one hand, the revolutionary cycles are more or less long. It must be remembered that 1789 France did not establish democracy overnight, and periods of authoritarianism were necessary. Europe did not become a paradise just after the 1848 revolutions. In turn, the Middle East and northwest Africa, as well as a part of Sub-Saharan Africa, have entered long periods of transition.

On the other hand, the tyrannies and totalitarian regimes of the 20th century were themselves at the origins of the chaos slowing down the development of societies. As reflected by poor American management in Iraq and Afghanistan, any transition is essentially fragile. But authoritarianism uses force to smother the demands of society. That doesn't mean these demands are bound to disappear. Communist China is also dealing with protest movements, whose effects are presumably weakened by strong growth. But until when?

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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