Last Week in Foreign Affairs (November 5 - November 11)
Series of Floods in Sicily, Venice Kill 29
Violent storms pounded the Italian peninsula over the past weekend, killing 29 people and causing over a billion dollars in damage. Venice in particular has been combating rising sea levels since at least 2003 through a series of underground flood mitigation tunnels called ‘The Moses Project.’ The project has yet to be completed, with production being delayed by sprawling corruption and costs. The combination of sinking ground and rising sea levels has alarmed city officials, who fear that ancient historical sites could be destroyed by salt water. After the flooding in Venice, river flash floods in Sicily led to 12 of the deaths from the weekend. On top of this, 118 mph winds toppled over 300,000 trees. Warming Mediterranean water combined with cyclical natural rain cycles are thought to have contributed to the unusual severity of the storms.
Ethiopia Appoints Its First Female President
For the first time in the nation’s history, the Ethiopian Parliament has appointed a woman to lead the country in its highest elected office. Sahle-Work Zewde has represented Ethiopia on the world stage in several capacities, including serving as one of the country’s highest ranking members at the United Nations since June. The symbolic power of a woman holding the office of the presidency was not lost on other government officials. Fitsum Arega, the top aide to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, said “In a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalises women as decision-makers in public life”. This move is part of a larger reshuffle that has taken place within the government. Abiy Ahmed, who is the youngest PM ever elected in Ethiopia at 41, has also reduced the size of the cabinet, giving half the positions to women. While doing this, he was also able to bring about the end of the 20-year-long war with Eritrea, which suffered over 70,000 casualties.
Sri Lanka Faces Constitutional Crisis
The constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka has deepened as the president feuds with Parliament over the island nation’s new Prime Minister. President Maithripala Sirisena has dissolved Parliament and announced that snap elections will be held in less than a month. This comes after Parliament universally condemned Sirisena’s firing of former popular Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who he replaced with loyalist Mahinda Rajapaksa. The floor vote of confidence that Sirisena called for Rajapaksa failed earlier this week. This vote was the catalyst Sirisena needed to completely dissolve the legislature. The presidential election was similarly marred by corruption and political intimidation earlier this year, with critics going so far as suggesting the vote was completely rigged. The international community has watched Sri Lanka slip further and further away from democracy with alarm. The US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs even tweeted, “The US is deeply concerned by news the Sri Lanka Parliament will be dissolved, further deepening the political crisis. As a committed partner of Sri Lanka, we believe democratic institutions and processes need to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity.”
Gaza Strip Sees Restored Electricity and International Aid
Israel has attempted to ease tensions between Hamas and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) by allowing for the return of partial energy generation to the Gaza Strip. Residents now have access to eight hours of electricity a day, twice the four hour average a month ago. Qatar has furthermore donated over $15 million in cash to pay civil servants in Gaza who have not received a paycheck in months due to the embargo Israel and Egypt imposed. These developments are part of a wider push by both Israel and Hamas to ease flared tensions from the mass protests along the Israeli border. The Israelis have suffered crop damage due to the persistent use of fire balloons launched over the border fence, while protesters in Gaza have lost hundreds of people due to Israeli sniper fire. Conservatives in Israel are livid, perceiving any sort of negotiations with Hamas as aiding and abetting terrorists. The negative response from the PLO ,who claim a right to rule over all Palestinian lands but were kicked out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007, have only confused matters. While the two have generally been on good terms since the Arab Spring in 2011, the rivalry still exists, especially now that Hamas can claim to be providing tangible results for the Gaza people. While the temporarily eased tensions seem like a promising first step for peace in the region, there is little to suggest that the strategic, long-term goals of either Hamas or Israel have really changed.