Economist 6/3/16

  1. On June 5th 1916, Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the Ottoman emir in Mecca, turned on his Ottoman overlords and attacked the Turkish garrison in Medina. In the declaration of war that followed, the Hashemite ruler proclaimed that he was not fighting the Ottoman sultan, who for half a millennium had presided over a multinational empire encompassing most of the Middle East, but rather the Turkish nationalists and supremacists who had taken the helm in Istanbul.A year later, his camel corps took the Ottoman port of Aqaba, at the tip of the Red Sea. In October 1918 they reached Damascus, joining British-led forces marching from Palestine to push the retreating Turks from the Arab world.That high point of co-operation quickly receded. Britain had roused the Bedouin against their Sunni masters with sacks of gold, arms, training and prestige, but most of all with the promise that they would inherit the lands the Ottomans left behind. But it also promised much of the same territory to the French and the Jews, and harboured territorial aspirations of its own.With them it also lost its choicest lands: Syria in 1923 (to the French), the Hijaz in 1926 (to the Al Sauds) and Iraq in 1958 (to republicans). The largely barren rump of Jordan, ruled by Sharif Hussein’s great-great-grandson, King Abdullah II, remains their last surviving possession.A century on, the battle to succeed the Ottomans as regional arbiters remains unresolved.
  2. Official figures suggest that in the past decade the economy of rural Britain has barely grown. Cities, meanwhile, have boomed.The government proudly boasts that almost everywhere in the countryside has access to basic internet speeds; but “basic” only encompasses the ability to browse news websites and the like, rather than streaming video. With poor connectivity, rural firms struggle to break into the online economy. In addition, rural areas have lost out from the British government’s austerity programme. Public-sector jobs have been lost at a faster rate than in urban areas. The pressure of competition from countries like China has made manufacturing production even in rural areas unviable. The growth of the service sector, which across Britain has compensated for the fall in manufacturing employment, is, unfortunately for rural areas, highly suited to urban places.The government claims that it has a plan to boost the economic fortunes of rural areas.But since a report, launched last summer with much fanfare, not much has been done.
  3. A pronouncement by the advocate-general of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) came to the firm conclusion that private companies were entitled to bar employees from wearing the Muslim headscarf, as long as it was part of a general and consistently applied policy of banning all conspicuous displays of religious or ideological affiliation. It upheld the right of an employer to impose a dress code, as part of the broader principle that a firm should enjoy some leeway in the pursuit of its commercial aims.The Euro-pronouncement seems almost diametrically opposed to a ruling issued by the American Supreme Court exactly a year ago. In a decision which Judge Antonin Scalia described as “really easy” the Court found that the clothing store Abercrombie and Fitch had been at fault in denying a job to a headscarved woman, even though she had not spelled out the fact that covering her head was part of her Muslim belief.The European statement wasn’t a judicial verdict but it was a very significant piece of legal guidance.The governments of Britain, France and Belgium as well as the European Commission had all sent the ECJ opinions on the case.
  4. IF A baby is born in a rich country, she will have a longer, healthier life with more economic opportunities than one born in a poor, conflict-ridden nation. But quantifying the value of a person’s nationality compared with another is tricky.An inaugural “quality of nationality index” (QNI) by Henley & Partners, a consultancy, attempts to do just that by looking at the value of citizenship on two counts: to a person living in the country (the internal value) and the ability to live or work elsewhere (the external value). The internal value combines a nation’s economic heft, its score on the UN’s human development index, and its peacefulness and stability. The external value measures the number of countries that a citizen may travel to and settle in, and the weight of those in terms of economic strength and stability.In 2015 all of the top 32 spots were European, boosted by economic integration and the right to free movement and work.e. The United States ranks behind European Union states for two reasons: a lower score on peacefulness and a low score on settlement freedom.
  5. Nigeria is a devout country split loosely between a Muslim north and a Christian south: two halves which were brought together by colonialists and still butt heads today. A couple of decades ago, modern Judaism was almost unheard of.In Abuja, the capital, there are at least four small communities of Igbo-speakers that have opened synagogues.It might seem odd that people would sign up to join a small faith whose members have suffered centuries of oppression. Yet Uri Palti, Israel’s ambassador to Nigeria, reckons there are more than 40 such communities across the country.One community in eastern Uganda, the Abayudaya, adopted the faith almost a century ago.Yet the embrace by these communities of the laws of Moses has not been warmly reciprocated by the Orthodox establishment in Israel.Judaism go out of their way to make conversion difficult, insisting on a two-year programme of study and lifestyle changes.Israel’s Jewish Agency last month recognised the Abayudaya as Jews, meaning that they are allowed to emigrate to Israel.Israel’s Jewish Agency last month recognised the Abayudaya as Jews, meaning that they are allowed to emigrate to Israel.

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