WWN#33 – Ban Overturned: Women Can Finally Drive in Saudi Arabia!

Credits

What’s Been Happening?

Although Saudi women have consistently raised the issue by legal and social means, little progress has been made to allow them to drive due to the vague nature of Saudi law, which complicates the matter. Whilst Islamic law or Saudi traffic law does not prohibit women from driving, they are not issued licences and are detained if they attempt to drive.

Background:

  • In 1990, 47 women were arrested for driving in protest against the driving ban and some consequently lost their passports and jobs.
  • In 2011-2012, there was a social media campaign with Facebook and YouTube being used to encourage women to drive and inspire others to do the same, promoting change. Whilst the response was largely positive, women who were caught driving were still detained or arrested.
  • In late 2014, two Saudi women were detained for more than two months when they tried to cross the Saudi border with a licence obtained from the United Arab Emirates in an act of defiance.

What Now?

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has issued a royal decree allowing women to drive, in a historic decision that will make it the last country in the world to permit women behind the wheel. The decree stated that the majority of Muslim scholars on the country’s highest clerical council agreed that Islam allows women the right to drive. From June 2018, women will be able to obtain driver licences. Prince Khalid bin Salman has further stated that women will be allowed to obtain driver’s licences without having to ask for permission from their male guardian. This move is seen as part of the government’s “Vision 2030” plan for social and economic reform as the kingdom prepares for a post-oil era.

A newly-formed committee will first develop a plan on how to implement the order in accordance with religious and regulatory standards, presenting its recommendations in 30 days.

What’s Next?

The announcement is a move in the right direction but activists say that there is more to be done. Other violations of women’s rights persist due to the country’s strict laws and guardianship policies. A male guardian’s consent is required for any female to perform even the most mundane activities. Some examples are: getting a passport, travelling abroad, opening a bank account, getting a job and dressing how they want – all of which require guardian consent.

For Saudi women, gaining the right to drive is not the end of the struggle. As Muna AbuSulayman, a Saudi television presenter, has said: “It didn’t solve all the issues, but it made them one less.”

References:
http://abcnews.go.com/International/women-saudi-arabia-drive-things/story?id=50130702
http://www.news.com.au/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-to-allow-women-to-drive/news-story/c9fe37b5d87e4674011ed72d500014d2
http://www.bbc.com/news/business-41427772

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WWN21# – The Qatar Crisis: Trump Talks & Saudi Arabia Listens

 

What’s Been Happening?


A few weeks ago, President Trump made his first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia where he delivered an address to at least dozens of Arab and Muslim-majority countries at the Arab Islamic American Summit.

His speech focused on the long-standing fight against extremists as he urged Middle East nations to do more. “Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this Earth.”

Later on though, his speech turned to harsh criticism of Iran as a government that speaks openly of mass murder, with vows to destroy Israel, America and other nations in the room. The anti-Iran language is likely to resonate well with Saudi Arabia being a largely Sunni Muslim population as opposed to Iran who is the region’s Shia Muslim power.

 

What Now? Operation Isolate Qatar Commences

Trump’s speech seems to have successfully galvanized some Arab nations into action as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen simultaneously severed diplomatic ties with Qatar for supporting terrorism.

Some action points:

  • Saudi Arabia has closed its land border with Qatar through which the tiny nation imports most of its food.
  • All countries have ordered their citizens to leave Qatar and for Qataris abroad to return to their country within 14 days.
  • Diplomatic staff from the Arab nations will be withdrawn from Qatar and Qatar’s diplomats will be ejected.

All nations plan to cut air and sea traffic with some regional airlines having already announced that they would suspend services (e.g. Etihad, Emirates, Air Arabia, Bahrain’s Gulf Air).

Trump congratulated Saudi Arabia and himself, taking some credit for the action by tweeting on Twitter: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off… they said they would take a hard line on funding extremism and all reference was pointing to Qatar”.

All of this however, is actually a big problem for the United States who happens to maintain its biggest concentration of military personnel in the Middle East,at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base in its fight against ISIS. It needs everyone getting along for its operations to continue smoothly. U.S Intelligence Officials have said that they believe the diplomatic crisis could instead be the result of a Russian hack involving the planting of a fake news story with Qatar’s State News Agency. The false news item reportedly carried false remarks from Qatar’s ruler that were friendly to Iran and Israel.

What’s Next?

Trump’s twitter messages is likely to worsen the dispute between Qatar and the other countries. In fact, it only adds further to his own credibility crisis as the messages seem to directly contradict his previous praise of Qatar during the summit as a strategic partner in the war on terrorism.

Meanwhile, the Saudis will certainly be hoping that Qatar acquiesces to its demands including: curb its State news agency Al-Jazeera, agree to Saudi positions on various conflicts in Eygpt, Israel-Palestine, Libya and Syria, and most importantly, take a harder stance towards Iran. The last one would be the most difficult to achieve as Qatar and Iran share the world’s largest independent gas field beneath the waters of the Persian Gulf and have played at being friendly neighbours with each other in the past.

In the case of Qatar, they are more than likely hoping for some help from the international community in defusing the dispute and restore diplomatic ties with everyone. It seems that much of it may be up to Trump – whether he will walk the talk or simply talk the talk.

References:
http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/bahrain-cuts-diplomatic-ties-qatar-gulf-rift-deepens-47833417
http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/05/21/529378735/in-saudi-arabia-trump-says-fight-against-terrorism-a-battle-between-good-and-evi
http://www.smh.com.au/world/why-does-the-row-between-saudi-arabia-and-qatar-matter-20170607-gwm1ox.html
https://en.radiofarda.com/a/iran-qatar–relations-economic-gas-fields-south-pars/28529537.html

WWN#20 – Manchester Bombing: UK Terrorism Threat Raised to Critical

 

Theresa May - UK Manchester Bombing.jpeg

Credits: Telegraph UK 

What’s Been Happening?

22 people were killed in an explosion that occurred in Manchester Arena in England after an Ariana Grande concert as people were leaving. Around 59 others were injured, with some in a critical condition.

This was Britain’s deadliest attack since four suicide bombers killed 52 London commuters on three subway trains and a bus in July 2005.

Authorities have identified the suicide bomber responsible as 22-year old Salman Abedi. Unverified images published by New York Times show various elements that were photographed at the scene suggest the bomb was designed for maximum impact. The bomb appeared to have been concealed in a backpack that contained a high velocity charge with carefully shrapnel. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack but has provided no evidence and neither U.S. nor British officials have corroborated that.

Police have so far arrested eight men who they believe may have been a part of Abedi’s “network”. Searches continue as detectives believe there could still be more people at large who are a part of a terrorist network as bomb-making materials have been uncovered through raids in the south of the city.

Ariana Grande has reportedly returned to her hometown in Florida, United States following the terror attack with the remaining two concerts scheduled in London being cancelled.

What Now?

The UK has raised its threat level from severe to the highest level of “critical” for the first time since 2007. UK Prime Minister Theresa May concluded on the basis of investigations following the attack, the assessment is that “not only an attack remains highly likely, but that an attack may be imminent”.

Armed police officers will be replaced by members of the armed forces which will allow deployment of increased police presence at key locations. Military personnel will also be at public events such as concerts and sports matches to keep the community safe. This well-established plan is known as Operation Temperer.

What’s Next?

Further arrests are likely to be made over the Manchester terror attack as investigations and raids continue. The intelligence leaks to the US media (e.g. New York Times) is likely to have complicated ongoing investigations and Theresa May has vowed to raise these concerns with Donald Trump when they meet at the Nato summit. May has said that she would “make clear to President Trump that intelligence which is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure”.

The UK Prime Minister and her opposition Jeremy Corbyn both agreed to have their general election campaigning suspended until further notice following the tragedy but the deadline is fast approaching – June 8. It’s expected that the focus will inevitably shift from this event to the election that is taking place in next few weeks.

At this stage, it is also uncertain whether Ariana Grande will resume her “Dangerous Woman” tour. A shortened schedule is expected for the pop star and the tour to resume in Paris on June 7.

References:
http://www.news.com.au/world/europe/ariana-grande-concert-in-manchester-bomb-designed-for-maximum-impact/news-story/b3ea266cc0ccb4a8327c307c1018e876
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/deaths-injuries-confirmed-after-explosions-heard-u-k-concert-featuring-n763286
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/may/25/two-more-men-arrested-over-manchester-bombing
http://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/23/europe/manchester-terror-attack-uk/
http://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/24/europe/manchester-us-leaks-investigation/

WWN #18 – The Not-So Super Saver Scheme

What’s been happening? The First Attempt

Labour Party’s First Home Saver Account (FHSA) was a 2007 election policy of the Australian Labour Party. It offered benefits such as a variable interest rate, a tax rate of 15% and tax-free withdrawal.

The scheme only lasted until 2014 when the Federal Government decided to abolish it due to the slow uptake by the public. The problem with the scheme was that in order to close the account and access the funds, you had abide by the cumbersome “four year rule” – deposit at least $1,000 every year into the account for at least four financial years. At the time, there was 47,400 accounts with an average balance of about $12,800 each. It was expected that more than 750,000 accounts would be opened but this was never realised.

What Now? Let’s Try Again

On Tuesday night, the 2017 Federal Budget was released and the First Home Super Saver Scheme (FHSSS) was announced. The scheme allows people to put away a maximum of $15,000 per year into their super before tax, up to a total of $30,000.

Contributions paid into super this way will be taxed at just 15% instead of the usual marginal income tax rates (e.g. 32.5% for someone earning over $37,000). Any returns generated on the funds while they are held in super will also be taxed at the low rate of 15%.

The potential tax saving is reduced if you earn more than $250,000 per year where the tax rate rises from 15% to 30%.Earnings can be withdrawn along with the contributions when home is purchased. The withdrawal will be taxed at the individual’s marginal tax rate less 30%. This measure is estimated to have a cost to revenue of $250 million to the government.

Mortgage Choice CEO John Flavell remains sceptical that this scheme will succeed based on past experiences of the similar FHSA scheme. The new scheme has some great incentives but its main failing is that it doesn’t allow home buyers to save a big enough deposit. The ever-rising prices in the nation’s capitals means that a $30,000 deposit is not going to enough. According to Superfund Partners director Mark Beveridge, the average person would only save about $2500 extra a year. If you are a couple and save the maximum amount over two years, the total benefit is still less than $10,000.

On the other hand, some prospective buyers have backed the idea on the basis that it was better than another suggestion to allow first home owners to directly draw out funds from their existing super for a deposit.

For an indication of the potential benefit of the FHSSS to you, the government has prepared a handy estimator – click here.

First Home Super Saver Scheme (FHSSS) – Key Facts
Maximum contribution amount $15,000/year reaching a total of $30,000
Maximum term Unrestricted
Contribution Tax Rate on Deposits and Related Earnings 15%
Effective Start Date (Contributions) July 1, 2017
Effective Start Date (Withdrawals) July 1, 2018
Withdrawal Tax Rate Marginal Income Tax Rate Less 30%


What’s Next?

The FHSSS appears to be one of many “crowd-pleasers” in the budget – politically friendly measures that are not particularly meaningful.

As noted earlier, initial feedback is critical of the new scheme’s success and the potential benefit in tax savings may not be significant enough to convince many prospective first home buyers to implement the scheme. It is also argued that putting more money into borrowers’ pockets without increasing supply will likely to add to home price pressures.

There is a great deal of uncertainty ahead as any changes outlined in the Federal Budget (including this measure) must be passed by both the House of Representatives which is controlled by the government and the Senate. This means that any proposed changes may not necessarily become law.

References:
https://www.domain.com.au/news/federal-budget-2017-sorry-firsthome-buyers-this-isnt-the-budget-you-were-hoping-for-20170509-1nxvdg/http://www.theherald.com.au/story/4653576/federal-budget-2017-five-housing-changes-to-know-about/?cs=3968https://www.commbank.com.au/guidance/economy/federal-budget-2017–affordable-housing-201705.htmlhttp://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/national/federal-budget/the-first-home-super-savers-scheme-wont-get-traction-industry-experts-say/news-story/01605e56fe59032e4c0a2204af98c241http://www.news.com.au/finance/superannuation/notsosuper-home-deposit-scheme-will-leave-average-aussie-just-2500-better-off/news-story/10883f75182084c0eddfe95cffce8a92

WWN 14# – Russia: No Stranger to Terrorism As It Strikes Again

 

St Petersburg - The Guardian

Image Source: The Guardian

What’s Been Happening?

There were at least thirty eight people killed in 2010 when two female suicide bombers detonated bombs on packed Moscow metro trains. This was linked to the Chechen insurgency that was occurring at the time and forced the nation’s capital to brace for a terrorist comeback after several years of calm.

In December 2013, there were two separate suicide bombings in the city of Volgograd in Southern Russia. The first killed 18 people and injured at least 44 near the Volgograd-1 train station. On the following day, there was another suicide bombing on a trolleybus in Volgograd where at least sixteen people were killed. The blast tore apart the trolleybus, leaving a disfigured carcass and dozens injured. Most security experts linked these attacks to an Islamist insurgency that has sought to disrupt the Olympic Games in Sochi which was starting in a months’ time.

 

What Now?

St Petersburg. On Monday, a bomb filled with shrapnel exploded in a metro train in Russia’s second-largest city. Initial reports stated that the device appeared to have been stacked with metal nuts and bolts to cause maximum damage and had been left in the carriage in a backpack. A huge hole was blasted in the side of a carriage, with the door blown off.

Officials have put the death toll from the explosion at fourteen people with around forty five others being hospitalised for treatment of their wounds. Although no one has claimed responsibility so far, there has been speculation that this is yet another terrorist attack that has been carried out by a suicide bomber with ties to an Islamic militant group.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was in the city when the blast struck and he visited the scene of the explosion on Monday night. He was cautious in his response, as “the reasons behind (the attack) are not clear yet, and so it would be premature to speak about them”.  He laid a bunch of red flowers at a makeshift shrine to the victims near the Teckhnologichesky Institut subway station.

The Investigative Committee (Russia’s top investigative agency) have suggested that the likely suspect in the deadly blast is a Kyrgyz-born Russian citizen by the name of Akbarzhon Jalilov. He is the person who may have also planted an unexploded device that was found and defused at another metro station shortly after the blast.

 

What’s Next?

  • Thousands of people gathered outside the Kremlin walls on Thursday in solidarity with the victims of Monday’s bomb blast in St Petersburg. More “anti-terror” rallies are expected to take place in cities across Russia on the weekend.
  • Russia’s state investigative committee will continue its search for more information about the incident, including background searches on the suspect and any of his accomplices. There have already been eight arrests made in connection with the attack.
  • The blast has also raised security fears in other countries such as France. Having already suffered a series of attacks, it announced additional security measures in the immediate aftermath of the St Petersburg incident.
  • Putin and Trump have agreed over the phone that terrorism must be “decisively and quickly defeated” which suggests that there may be talks of a joint military effort between America and Russia to hunt down the Islamic terrorist groups responsible for the attack. Given the political scrutiny between the two presidents, it is unlikely that anything will transpire but it is certainly a possibility.

 

References:
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-blast-metro-idUSKBN17519G
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/30/russia-second-explosion-volgograd
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/29/AR2010032900007_pf.html
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/03/saintpetersburg-bombing-casualties-explosion-metro-train/
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/06/explosive-device-st-petersburg-residential-building-russia

WWN #11 – Blocked again?! Trump’s Travel Ban Version 2.0

What’s been happening?

Earlier this year, Trump signed an executive order which temporarily banned nearly all travellers coming from seven Muslim-majority countries (see WWN #6 – Trump’s Travel Ban & Appeal). It wasn’t received well to say the least, creating chaos at airports and confusion for everyone. After several attorney-generals took the matter to the courts and won, the ban was put on hold.

As a consequence, Trump seems to have decided to write a new ban, one that he has said himself to be a “watered-down version of the order that was blocked by another judge and should never have been blocked to start with”.  The second executive order excludes Iraq and narrows the countries down to six – Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. It also explicitly exempts people with valid visas and green cards while making it clear that US agencies will review case-by-case exceptions. These changes appear to be an attempt to

What Now? 

The order was supposed to take effect on 16th of March but in the hours before it could happen, judges in two federal courts (Maryland and Hawaii) have issued temporary restraining orders (TRO) that have blocked Trump’s second travel ban nationwide on the basis that his order is “likely” to violate the constitution. The federal judge in Hawaii said that the order was clearly “issued with a purpose to disfavour a particular religion”. In his ruling, he notes statements in January made by Trump’s adviser Rudolph Gulliani who quoted Trump as having said “Muslim ban” and “Show me the right way to do it legally”. As the rulings are only temporary, further hearing must take place to determine whether they should be extended as the “merits” of the case have not been fully argued.

In an evening rally in Nashville, Tennessee, a visibly irate Trump branded the rulings as an “unprecedented judicial overreach”. His administration contends that the president should retain the power to suspend immigration when he deems it to be in the national interest of the country.

What’s Next? A Legal Battle Ahead

In Trump’s words, he will “take the case as far as it goes”. It’s therefore likely that the revised order will be taken to the courts again, with the Hawaii decision expected to go to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This would be the same court that upheld the ruling made by a Seattle court to stay the original travel ban. Other states such as California, New York and Washington state are also looking to take legal action against the revised ban.

Trump also suggested that he may reinstate the first executive order that was blocked but the possibility of this occurring seems quite low as such a move is expected to lead to public backlash against the Trump administration which was apparent during the very short time that the first travel ban was in effect.

References:
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-06/donald-trump-signs-new-travel-ban-executive-order/8330020
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/live/2017/mar/16/trump-travel-ban-blocked-nationwide-hawaii-court-live?page=with:block-58c9e53be4b0a44f61c51a4a
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/lawyers-face-off-on-trump-travel-ban-in-md-court-wednesday-morning/2017/03/14/b2d24636-090c-11e7-93dc-00f9bdd74ed1_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-banner-main_travelban-1010am:homepage/story&utm_term=.4f803f1646ed

WWN #9 – Slowly but surely? Sydney’s Second Airport

What’s been happening? Not much.

Badgerys Creek Airport has been a hot topic of discussion for politicians since the 1940s. So far though, no construction has actually happened.

The new airport is expected to be a catalyst for the long-awaited economic transformation of the Western Sydney region. It is advocated that the airport is an essential piece of infrastructure that will ease pressure on Sydney airport while leading to the creation of more local jobs. According to Labor infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese, it will be more equitable for the two million people that call Western Sydney home. Currently , it can take longer for commuters to get to Sydney Airport than their actual flight to Brisbane or Melbourne and the taxi fare (~$150 AUD) can be more than the airfare (can be as low as ~$70 AUD).

In November 2014, residents in the area were given approximately six months’ notice to leave by the 15th of June 2015. By this date, most tenants had vacated their properties with their homes subsequently demolished. A small group of those tenants were able to extend the deadline by taking legal action in the Federal Circuit Court by arguing that the notices issued by the Commonwealth were “harsh and unconstitutional”.

The primary judge found that when residents entered into a tenancy agreement with the Commonwealth in the 1980s and renewed their leases in the following years, they were reasonably aware that the land was being acquired for the development of an airport. The judge also determined that while it may be difficult for the residents to find alternative accommodation, it was certainly not impossible. The Federal Circuit Court subsequently ruled in favour of the government and accordingly terminated the leases. An order was given that the tenants vacate their properties by December 2015.

What Now? It’s time to move on

“The remaining tenants of Badgerys Creek have lost their appeal against the federal government’s decision” – Sydney Morning Herald

The matter was taken by the residents to the full Federal Court which was officially dismissed this Thursday. They were also ordered to pay the government’s costs.

What’s Next? A Difficult Road Ahead For Everyone

Despite the loss, the residents could continue to pursue this case and take the matter before the High Court. They have been allowed to stay in their homes for at least the next 28 days while they consider their next course of action. If they fail to take action, they will be required to comply and vacate their properties.

As a result of the win, the Turnbull government has given Sydney Airport until May 8 to decide whether it will take up its rights to build and operate the new airport, which is scheduled to open in 2026. However, this is unlikely with Sydney Airport having previously described the project as a “deeply uneconomic investment proposition”. An options paper prepared by the state and federal government suggested that the price tag could be an expensive $25 billion (including servicing costs). This leaves the project fairly open to other land developers who might be interested.

References:
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/liverpool-leader/western-sydney-airport-to-end-unfair-situation-for-western-sydney-air-travellers/news-story/8d15e026ef1c777eca58ee2b76669274
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-03/badgerys-creek-residents-legal-action-over-move-out-date/6519880
http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/last-tenants-to-be-evicted-to-make-way-for-badgerys-creek-airport-20170302-guox12.html