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Power struggle

CYPRUS — ENERGY

There’s a flurry of interest in natural-gas reserves off the Cypriot coast; reserves that could become a critical supplier to Europe. Foreign companies are renting offices in Nicosia, giving the island nation’s economy a boost as they aim to take advantage of the energy boom – not to mention Cyprus’s low tax rates.

Ever since gas fields were discovered off the coast of Cyprus in 2011, debate has raged over who on this divided island should benefit. The Greek-Cypriot government says that it’s willing to share revenue with Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway Northern Cyprus but only if talks to reunify the island are revived.

Turkey is staking its own claim to the fields by sending drilling ships, protected by navy gunboats and armed drones, into the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone (eez) where the reserves have been discovered. The move drew the threat of sanctions from EU officials in November, while Greek-Cypriot leaders say that Ankara is infringing on the nation’s sovereignty and endangering peace talks.

“Turkey has clearly made a decision to make the status quo increasingly painful for Greek Cypriots,” says Fiona Mullen, director of Nicosia-based consultancy group Sapienta Economics. But Turkey could be on a fool’s errand: Mullen says that the country will struggle to find buyers for gas extracted in a rogue operation.

Meanwhile, energy companies aren’t wasting time. Eni, Total and ExxonMobil have secured contracts to develop reserves in Cypriot waters and some have made significant discoveries. Richard Scrase, a spokesperson for ExxonMobil’s European operations, says that, despite the tensions, the company is moving forwards with preliminary drilling “to determine the full commercial potential of the resource”.

Turkey is also being cut out of lucrative gas-transit revenues. Other nations in the eastern Mediterranean have joined forces to develop the reserves and build pipelines from the Middle East, ignoring claims from Ankara that a pipeline through Turkey would be the shortest route to European markets.

Such moves risk isolating Turkey further. “As there are no negotiations, Turkey’s actions will only escalate,” says Andromachi Sophocleous, a political analyst and consultant in Nicosia. For a real future Cyprus needs to break the political deadlock that has stalled economic progress.

Cyprus natural-gas fields:

1. Calypso, discovered 2018. Stakeholders: Eni, Total
2. Aphrodite, discovered 2011. Stakeholders: Noble Energy, Delek Drilling, Royal Dutch Shell
3. Glaucus, discovered 2019. Stakeholder: ExxonMobil, Qatar Petroleum


Pivotal poll

IRAN — ELECTIONS

On 21 February, Iranian citizens will elect the country’s consultative assembly. Although candidates can only stand if approved by 12 unelected officials, the poll still serves as a test of the government’s popularity, which could be an issue for president Hassan Rouhani. After the US withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, Iran’s economy went into a tailspin. Protests against fuel prices were met with brutal crackdowns that decimated public trust. “The government could rebuild its legitimacy,” says Sanam Vakil of Chatham House’s Iran forum. “Or things could get much worse.” These elections should reveal which way the country is likely to turn.


Political animals

GLOBAL — PROTEST

If you’re going to succeed as a political movement, it helps to offer a bit of levity on occasion. And what better way to do it than to adopt an animal (real or make-believe) to show your fluffier side. Here are three beasts that have taken up the protest mantle and pawed their way into people’s hearts.

The Sardines
Born in Bologna as a flash-mob protest against far-right Italian politician Matteo Salvini, The Sardines (pictured) have grown into a movement that’s filling squares in cities across Italy. Sardines – the fish – travel in packs and unite against bigger enemies, making them a fitting mascot for standing up to power.

Dogs in harm’s way
Dogs – stray ones in particular – are a favourite of protest movements. There’s Negro Matapacos, a black dog in a red bandana who first barked at police during Chilean student protests in 2011 and remains a symbol of protest today; Chalo, a stray canine who joined a 200km protest march in Armenia; and the “democracy dogs” brought to city protests in Hong Kong by their owners. Canines unite!

‘Baby Shark’ calms a baby
The protests surrounding Lebanon’s volatile politics are hardly places for small children. But when a 15-month-old child found himself caught in the back seat of a car driving through a protest in Beirut, demonstrators restored calm by breaking out into the popular “Baby Shark” song and dance. The video quickly went viral, having captured a moment showing that protesters have a softer side too.


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