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Geopolitical Theory of Water

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Geopolitics, as an autonomous discipline, has a very particular cultural genesis, and it is not possible to ignore the deepening of the era in which it developed. His great forefathers can be considered the first geographers who in the nineteenth century began to think of the world as a relationship between human groups and territorial spaces. This relationship, of course, produced organizational differences and particularities, and in turn was produced by contextual differences and particularities, in a two-way relationship. This is the concept that will later be called localization [1]. This is how geography, according to its first systematizers, could be nothing more than “anthropic geography”.

Two great initiators of this type of discourse can be considered Karl Ritter and Friedrich Ratzel:

«Karl Ritter (1789–1859), German geographer, explores the relationship between the social and historical phenomena of man and the physical factors of the geographical environment. It is considered among the founders of modern geography. Over the years [he came] to an organicistic vision of the earth, where all its physical elements (rivers, mountains, glaciers, etc.) are seen as integral parts of a living organism, in relation with the other beings that inhabit it. Within this conception, man is in close correspondence with the elements of his habitat: his history, the forms of his social organization are therefore conditioned by it.

[…] Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904), German geographer and ethnologist, [was] the founder of anthropic geography, also called human geography and anthropogeography, based on the study of the distribution and manifestation of human phenomena on earth. It aims in particular to study how human societies adapt to the environment in which they live and how they interact.» [2]

These two authors have vastly influenced the development of geopolitics in different aspects, starting from the German school of Karl Haushofer. A certain type of approach focused on the almost inextricable link between man and the environment will find greater expansion in the ideas on the noosphere of Vladimir Vernadskij or on the passionarity of Lev Gumilëv, sometimes giving rise to deterministic extremes in the strict sense.

Although some interpreters of these authors still have a certain deterministic accent, it must be said, however, that the critique of determinism is precisely the heart of geopolitical doctrine, which introjects on this type of studies a whole other series of elements of analysis:

«Geopolitics is the synthesis of the world geographic landscape […] and it is […] the synthesis of the geographical, historical-political-social causes of the spatial dynamics of society. As such it goes beyond the sphere of political geography, that is more than political geography […] in short, it is the supreme ratio of geographical events. It is not a branch of geography […] but a synthesis of the dynamic branches of geographical science.» [3]

Thus was specified in the Italian magazine Geopolitica, the one that dealt with the matter first in Italy, in the first half of the twentieth century [4], and on the basis of this added:

«[It] cannot adhere to a determinism that considers man and society incapable of overcoming environmental phenomena.» [5]

Long before this, a criticism had already begun by those who, studying Ratzel, had learned its fundamental lesson on the relationship between man and territory, but had understood that there was something further to understand the world with respect to its geodeterminism [6]. Think, for example, of the famous criticism of this type of one-dimensional approach by Franz Boas.

«[The deterministic approach was] applied by Boas to his first research work on the Eskimos (Inuit) of the island of Baffin in 1883. Initially driven by this expedition from his geographical interests, Boas intends to deepen the connections that are established between the physical and geographical scenario in which the Inuit live and their knowledge and practices in that same context. In other words, inspired by Ritter’s theories of environmental determinism and the so-called anthropogeographic school of Ratzel, Boas is convinced of the decisive influence of the environment on culture. Instead, it is precisely the ethnographic study of these populations that, far from confirming this perspective, convinces him of the contrary, that is, men tend to develop survival strategies and practices that go far beyond the possibilities directly suggested by the surrounding environment.

[…] Like Durkheim in France, in those same years Boas began to argue that these facts should be understood in their own terms, without calling into question monocausal determinations, such as those relating to the environment. The latter, in fact, certainly exerts conditioning, but not to the point of no longer being able to conceive or explain social and cultural facts autonomous from nature.» [7]

Haushofer himself, together with Mackinder, one of the founding fathers of the geopolitical discipline, with his political theory of pan-ideas overcame the fundamentally ethnic conception of Ratzel’s lebensraum (among other things, this and his idea of collaboration with the Soviet Union earned him internment in Dachau). Indeed, Haushofer wrote:

«Geopolitics is and should be the geographical conscience of the state. [Its subject matter is] to study the major vital correlations of modern man within modern space and its aim is to coordinate phenomena that link to state with space.» [8]

The elements of statehood, including the possible awareness or otherwise that the state may have of the potential of its geographical position, the “modernity” of man and the spaces of which Haushofer spoke, the means of locomotion and the technique, are all elements that they helped to create not only a dimension of multiplication of factor analysis levels, but to revolutionize the deterministic attitude of the previous century.

As we know, territory and its morphology assume a main importance in geopolitics. The geographical element that conditions political relations is one of the factors of this discipline. As Mackinder will understand, at the dawn of geopolitical reasoning, if the earth is the space on which we live and on which we mainly do politics, the sea as an element of delimitation and as a real technical tool, is a very important factor [9]. Carlo Jean writes:

«Water can be used as a defense or attack tool; in fact, not only the seas and oceans, but also rivers and lakes can constitute both ways of communication and strategic penetration, and protective obstacles.

[…] Water is a determining element in geopolitics, since most of the borders between states develop along rivers, lakes and ridge lines, which separate different water basins. Often, a river or a ridge line is considered the natural frontier of a community, and as such they take on symbolic value and determine geopolitical perceptions and rivalries.» [10]

Water, be it a sea, a lake or a river, first cuts out the habitable spaces and resizes the environments of conflict and politics. It has, if we want, a perimeter value. One of its uses is to facilitate division, which is a genetic moment in the organization of social groups. Furthermore, the fact that it constitutes a means of communication guarantees its usability as an instrument of conjunction or friction between the groups themselves. In short, it has a great instrumental potential. It is a constituent element of our aggregate life.

Water, like earth, has also been interpreted as a completely determining factor, or not. The first great anthropic geographer to be interested in the role of water in the constitution of different civilizations was Ernst Kapp. In the nineteenth century he developed a theory, the echo of which still finds its place in contemporary historiography, concerning the relationship of peoples with water [11]. In Kapp’s thought a whole series of deterministic conceptions flowed into a single historical process, a great drama, as will be defined later [12]. For Kapp, who was also a philosopher of history and science, the evolution of civilization and technology, the development of social ethics and man’s relationship with the environment were all parts of a single great process.

This process was divided into three stages of civilization: the first was that of potamic civilization, the ancient civilizations which, like Egypt or Mesopotamia, created their social and productive organization around large rivers (this type of definition is still widely used for these societies); the second was that of the talactic society, and referred to those civilizations that proliferated around the inland seas, with particular attention to the classical and medieval civilization of the Mediterranean; finally there would have been the oceanic civilization, whose birth was already outlined in the maritime power of Great Britain, and which would have constituted the last level of social evolution [13].

Dialectically, these principles were also picked up by another thinker, and at the same time criticized in their deterministic aspect: this is the reception that this idea of the different relationship that man has with the sea in Carl Schmitt, the famous German thinker, jurist and political philosopher.

It is famous how Carl Schmitt elaborated in a famous text, Land and Sea [14], a profile of contrast between the telluric and the maritime way of life. According to its definition, continental civilizations, telluric ones, had a different way of understanding life, economy and administration than maritime ones, which instead focused on colonial predation, mercantilism and war modes other than interstate ones. However, a third factor is added to these two models, which is precisely that of the talactic societies. They behave like telluric ones but have a different relationship with bodies of water and a better predisposition to trade [15].

The difference that we cannot fail to notice between Ernst Kapp’s and Carl Schmitt’s thoughts is this: as these civilizations constitute a series of three evolutionary stages for the former, so for the latter there is no historical determinant that necessarily transforms the relationship of man with water. Moreover, these models often end up living together synchronously, although clearly there are stages of technical development that allow, at a certain point in human history, to take better possession of ocean waters.

The imperial domination of Rome, for Schmitt, was the manifestation of the way of life of the talactic society which was opposed to Carthage, which had many aspects already of the oceanic society [16], as well as later the Crown of Spain, fighting for the colonies with the England will represent the last bulwark of the telluric conception before the end of common European law and Eurocentrism, although it often fought in the open sea and not in the inland seas [17].

In this regard, therefore, it becomes fundamental to understand the transition that England undergoes at any moment, which at a certain point of its existence, according to Schmitt, understands that its insular position can allow it to take off and finally become a fish [18].

«Obviously, England is an island. But with the ascertainment of this geographical fact, not much is said. There are many islands whose political destinies are very different. Sicily is also an island, even Ireland, Cuba, Madagascar and Japan. How many different and contrasting historical-world developments undoubtedly bind to these few names that all mark an island! In a sense, even the largest continents are all just islands and the whole inhabited earth is, as the Greeks already knew, surrounded by the ocean.» [19]

This means that culture, ideology, state of the technique, economic organization, are all aspects that contribute to options that are however allowed or not by existing structural factors: not an iron determination, but a set of possibilities guaranteed or not by geographic morphology. And what determination is basically greater than that of the sea, the limit par excellence of the mainland?

Thinking about geopolitics through water allows us to understand the limit point of the telluric foundation, to imagine the spaces as they are cut out from the geographical data even before the human one, to understand how much the sea flow can condition and have conditioned the mechanics of relations between peoples.

To date, perhaps the domination of water has reduced its importance following the extensive use of air but still remains primary. Moreover, as is known, «the scarcity of water or its reduced quality, due to pollution, produce emigrations, famines, internal disorders, pandemics and wars [20]», and to date these problems are increasing. Together with the growing limitations to access water of some populations, we also see the redefinition of the coasts due to climate change.

All these factors cannot fail to induce us to think about the world through water. To do this we cannot ignore the authors who anticipated the issues of geopolitical discipline, while admitting the need for some methodological corrections. After all, what Ernst Kapp teaches us is that

«The necessary condition of all true historical knowledge is the philosophical knowledge of the Earth which can be considered as a preparatory school for politics: each place is in its becoming an observatory of its history; every act of the human will is potentially limited to a space delimited and inscribed in geography.» [21]

Only such a concrete realization can take us out of the deterministic aphasia that seems to have re-proposed itself in our day.

From our partner RIAC

1. Carl Schmitt, Il nomos della terra nel diritto internazionale dello «Jus publicum europaeum», Adelphi, 1991.

2. Sandro Piermattei, Antropologia ambientale e paesaggio agrario, Morlacchi Editore, 2007, p. 68 (translated).

3. Inquadrature, in Geopolitica, anno II numero 8-9, agosto-settembre 1940 (translated).

4. Giulio Sinibaldi, La geopolitica in Italia (1939-1942), Edizioni Webster Srl, 2010.

5. Inquadrature, in Geopolitica, anno II numero 8-9, agosto-settembre 1940 (translated).

6. Which, however, is partly questioned today: cfr. Alexandros Stogiannos, The Genesis of Geopolitics and Friedrich Ratzel. Dismissing the Myth of the Ratzelian Geodeterminism, Springer, 2019.

7. Sandro Piermattei, Antropologia ambientale e paesaggio agrario, Morlacchi Editore, 2007, pp. 68-69 (translated).

8. Quoted in Alexandros Stogiannos, The Genesis of Geopolitics and Friedrich Ratzel. Dismissing the Myth of the Ratzelian Geodeterminism, Springer, 2019.

9. Halford Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality – The Geografical Pivot of History, Origami Books, 2019.

10. Carlo Jean, Geopolitica del mondo contemporaneo, Editori Laterza, 2012 (translated).

11. Ernst Kapp, Philosophische oder vergleichende allgemeine Erdkunde als wissenschaftliche Darstellung der Erdverhältnisse und des Menschenlebens, Braunschweig, 1845.

12. Carl Schmitt, Terra e mare. Una riflessione sulla storia del mondo, Adelphi, 2002.

13. Ernst Kapp, Philosophische oder vergleichende allgemeine Erdkunde als wissenschaftliche Darstellung der Erdverhältnisse und des Menschenlebens, Braunschweig, 1845.

14. Carl Schmitt, Terra e mare. Una riflessione sulla storia del mondo, Adelphi, 2002.

15. Ibidem.

16. Ibidem.

17. Carl Schmitt, Il nomos della terra nel diritto internazionale dello «Jus publicum europaeum», Adelphi, 1991.

18. Carl Schmitt, Terra e mare. Una riflessione sulla storia del mondo, Adelphi, 2002.

19. Ibidem.

20. Carlo Jean, Geopolitica del mondo contemporaneo, Editori Laterza, 2012.

21. Claude Raffestin, La sfida della geografia tra poteri e mutamenti globali, in Documenti Geografici, n. 1 anno 2012, p. 57.

Graduated in Political Science to the Catholic University of the Sacread Heart (Milan), Expert of international relations and geopolitics

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Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders. 

18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?

Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit

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Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

   One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE)  hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).

 Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India,  could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:

, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s  T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’

GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league —  extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021.  Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal  met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.

GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman  — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.

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Analyzing the role of OIC

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oic

Composed of fifty-seven countries and spread over four continents, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is the second-largest intergovernmental body following the United Nations (UN). And it is no secret that the council was established in the wake of an attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Safeguarding and defending the national sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of its member states is the significant provision of the OIC’s charter. OIC charter also undertakes to strengthen the bond of unity and solidarity among member states. Uplifting Islamic values, practicing cooperation in every sphere among its members, contributing to international peace, protecting the Islamic sites, and assisting suppressed Muslim community are other significant features of its charter. 

Recently, the world witnessed the 11-days long conflict between Hamas and Israel. In a recent episode of the clash between two parties, Israel carried out airstrikes on Gaza, claiming many innocent Palestinian lives. The overall death toll in the territory rose to 200, including 59 children and 35 women, with 1305 injured, says Hamas-run health ministry. This event was met with resentment from people across the world, and they condemned Israeli violence. After 11 days of violence, the Israeli government and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire. The event of Israeli violence on Palestinians has called the role of OIC into question. The council, formed in the aftermath of the onslaught on Al-Aqsa mosque, seemed to adopt a lip service approach to the conflict. However, the call for stringent measures against Israeli aggression by the bloc was not part of its action. 

Likewise, the Kashmir issue, which has witnessed atrocities of Indians on innocent Kashmiris, looks up to the OIC for its resolution. Last year, during the 47th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) in Niamey, Niger, the CFM reaffirmed its strong support for the Kashmir cause. The OIC categorically rejected illegal and unilateral actions taken by India on August 5 to change the internationally recognized disputed status of the Indian Illegally Occupied Jam­mu and Kashmir and demanded India rescind its illegal steps. However, the global community seems to pay deaf ears to the OIC’s resolution. The Kashmir issue and the Palestine issue are the core issues of the world that are witnessing the worst humanitarian crisis. And the charter of the bloc that aims to guard the Muslim ummah’s interest rings hollow. About a year ago, the event that made rounds on electronic and social media was the occurring of the KL summit, which reflected another inaction of the OIC. The move of influential Muslim countries (Iran, Turkey, and Indonesia), to sail on the idea to establish another forum to counter the OIC, manifested the rift in the bloc.  

Many OIC countries are underdeveloped and poorly governed and are home to instability, violence, and terrorism. The consequences of the violence and terrorism in the OIC countries have been devastating. According to Forbes, 7 out of 10 countries, which suffer most from terrorism are OIC members. The Syrian conflict is another matter of concern in the Mideast, looking up to OIC for a way out. An immense number of people have lost their lives in the Civil war in Syria.

Several factors contribute to the inefficiency of the bloc. The first and foremost reason is the Saudi-Iran stalemate. Influential regional powers (Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) in the Mideast share strained links following the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Both sides dissent each other on many fronts. Saudi Arabia accuses Tehran of interfering in its internal affairs, using terrorism as a tool to intimidate neighbors, fuelling sectarianism, and equipping proxies to de-stabilize and overthrow the legitimate government. Locked in a proxy war in the Mideast, the KSA and Iran vie for regional dominance. Moreover, Iran’s nuclear program is met with strong resentment in the KSA since it shifts the Balance of Power towards Iran. Such developments play a vibrant role in their stalemate, and the bloc’s effectiveness is hostage to the Saudi-Iran standoff.

Political and social exclusion in many OIC states is the norm of the day, contributing to upheaval and conflict. In OIC countries, the level of political participation and political and social integration is weak. This fact has rendered OIC countries vulnerable to unrest. Arab Spring in 2011 stands as the best example. Furthermore, conflicts, since the mid-1990s, have occurred in weak states that have encountered unrest frequently. 

Saudi Arabia has tightened its grip on the OIC. The reason being, the OIC secretariat and its subsidiary bodies are in the KSA. More importantly, the KSA’s prolific funding to the bloc enhances its influence on the bloc. One example includes, in the past, the KSA barred an Iranian delegation from the OIC meeting in Jeddah. Saudi authorities have not issued visas for the Iranian participants, ministry spokesman, says Abbas Mousavi. “The government of Saudi Arabia has prevented the participation of the Iranian delegation in the meeting to examine the deal of the century plan at the headquarters of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,” Mousavi said, the Fars news agency reported. Given the Iranian growing influence and its access to nuclear capabilities, the KSA resorted to using financial leverage to reap support from Arab countries against Iran. For instance, in past, Somalia and several other Arab states such as Sudan and Bahrain received a commitment of financial aid from Saudi Arabia on the same day they cut ties with Iran. Furthermore, the summits of OIC, GCC, and Arab League are perceived as an effort by Saudi Arabia to amass support against Tehran. 

Division in the Muslim world and their clash of interests is yet another rationale behind its inefficacy. These days, many Muslim countries are bent on pursuing their interests rather than paying commitment to their principles, that is, working collectively for the upkeep of the Muslim community. Last year, the governments of Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that they had agreed to the full normalization of relations. Following this, the Kingdom of Bahrain became another Muslim country to normalize its links with Israel. Such moves by the Islamic countries weaken the OIC agenda against Israel. 

OIC’s efficacy would be a distant dream unless the Saudi-Iran deadlock finds its way. For this purpose, Pakistan can play a vital role in mediating between these two powers. Pakistan has always been an active player in the OIC and played its role in raising its voice against Islamophobia, Palestine Issue, and the Kashmir issue. Shunning their interests and finding the common goals of the Muslim ummah, should be the utmost priority for the members of the bloc. Every OIC member ought to play its part in the upkeep of the bloc. Furthermore, a split in the bloc should come to an end since it leads to the polarization of member states towards regional powers. Many OIC countries are rich in hydrocarbons (a priceless wealth, which is the driver for the growth of a country); if all OIC members join hands and enhance their partnership in this sphere they can fight against energy security. And OIC is the crux for magnifying cooperation among its member states to meet their energy needs.

In this era of globalization, multilateralism plays a pivotal part. No one can deny the significance of intergovernmental organizations since they serve countries in numerous ways. In the same vein, OIC can serve Muslim ummah in multiple ways; if it follows a course of adequate functioning.

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