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NEED TO KNOW:
Today is Jan. 25. It was on this day five years ago that Egyptians first took to the streets to peacefully demand reform. They occupied the now infamous Tahrir Square. They drew up stirring manifestos for a new kind of democracy. They drafted a constitution that would protect human rights for everyone. The protests would grow huge over the weeks, culminating in the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak was Egypt’s US-backed autocrat for more than 30 years. He presided over a perpetual state of emergency that allowed him to jail anyone critical of his regime. It allowed him to control the press. The stability he brought to the region, however, won him the support of the United States, which gave billions in annual military aid during his long tenure.
So it was against all odds when the people of Egypt finally forced him out office. Their success was an inspiration to other people also living under authoritarian governments all over the world. It was truly awe-inspiring.
That was then, though, and this is now. There is not a lot for those former tenants of Tahrir to celebrate these days. The country has undergone a complete turnaround. Some activists say it is worse than ever.
The current Egyptian president, Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, was a general. He took power from Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first-ever democratically elected leader, in a coup in 2013. Incredibly, he won the following election with 97 percent of the vote. Those are Mubarak numbers.
Morsi now sits in prison, where he will probably remain for a long time. He joins untold numbers of protesters, activists, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and journalists. That’s just one of the ways Sisi’s presidency resembles Mubarak’s. There is also the annual American aid. After a brief pause, the United States resumed sending $1.5 billion a year to Egypt in 2014. For good measure, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced at the time that the United States would also send the Sisi government 10 Apache helicopters. Such generosity.
Meanwhile, in Cairo, security measures brutal. Sisi said in a speech over the weekend that the security and stability of the country would not be “toyed with.” Police have in recent days raided thousands of homes across Cairo, looking for anyone who might be planning protests. Some activists have been arrested; others are in hiding. Most of the figureheads of the uprising have long been in prison.
Five years after a revolution that electrified the world, Egypt is a police state again.
WANT TO KNOW:
A lot is changing with how the world interacts with Iran. The deal that was struck in July required Iran to dismantle its program to pursue nuclear weapons (a pursuit it always denied) in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Iran met its end of the bargain a little over a week ago. And so now everyone is frantically turning their attention to all the financial potential. Business partnerships are flaring up all over. It’s like Iran never was the pariah state Western governments insisted for so long that it was.
Boeing, an American company, is already in talks with the Iranian government to sell it more than 100 passenger planes. Iran’s fleet of commercial aircraft is old and needs to be updated. It’s a situation Boeing has surely been anticipating for a while now.
China is also taking full advantage. After leaving Saudi Arabia last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping went to Iran. Saudi Arabia and Iran don’t like each other. But that mattered little to Xi as he inked no fewer than 17 different accords involving energy, trade and industry. The two countries also agreed to ramp up trade over the course of the next decade, to the tune of some $600 billion.
The Iranian president himself, Hassan Rouhani, is wasting no time striking deals that could lift his country out of the crippling economic state that sanctions left it in. He is traveling to several countries in Europe this week. He’s not there to talk about politics. He’s there to talk business.
“I will be in Rome and Paris to speak about and possibly come to concrete results on different economic projects, like car manufacturing and the modernization of our civil aviation," Rouhani said before leaving for Rome.
STRANGE BUT TRUE:
China has built a lot of ridiculous things during its economic boom times, mostly with very cheap labor. Some of these things were meant to draw tens of thousands of people and serve as awe-inspiring spectacles of the country's economic ascent.
Well, China's economic ascent has swung right back into a descent. So a lot of these places now lay totally empty. Some of them aren't so appealing to visitors even during boom times. Take the “Pentagonal Mart.” It’s a giant mall designed to look like the Pentagon. Yes, that Pentagon. The one outside of Washington, DC that houses the Department of Defense.
Pentagonal Mart was built for Shanghai’s 2010 World Expo. It cost some $200 million to build and occupies 124 acres. It has sat virtually empty since it was finished in 2009. It’s worth taking a look at the photos. The whole thing is so eerie.