Friday. 18/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Mary Fitzgerald

Combat fatigue

Libyans could be forgiven for a sense of déjà vu in recent weeks. Since late August, protests have erupted across the country as ordinary citizens, polarised by years of conflict, have united in collective grievance. This reminds me of the Libyan demonstrations I witnessed on the ground in 2011 (pictured), when a popular uprising brought an end to Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule. Back then there were high hopes for what would follow; some young Libyans told me that they wanted their country to become “Dubai on the Mediterranean”.

Many of today’s protesters are those who came of age that year. Angry about corruption, the cost of living and the failure of public services, not to mention a rise in coronavirus cases, they are once again demanding change. Libya currently has two governments: one UN-recognised outfit, the Government of National Accord (GNA), in the capital, Tripoli; the other aligned with the Libyan National Army (LNA) and based in the country’s east. The rallies are taking place during a relative lull in the armed conflict after the LNA’s septuagenarian commander Khalifa Haftar failed to capture Tripoli following a year-long offensive. Authorities in both Tripoli and eastern Libya have tried to quash the demonstrations, arresting and sometimes firing at protesters. The head of the Tripoli government, Fayez al-Sarraj, said this week that he intends to step down in October and his counterpart in the east claimed that he is willing to do the same – but we can expect Libyans to keep up the pressure; they remember previous such promises that never materialised.

The war is not only among Libyans. The road to peace goes through several foreign capitals and some are not yet tired of war; external backers from Turkey to Russia and the United Arab Emirates continue to meddle. Some younger Libyans have become so desperate that they have started taking the smugglers’ boats to Europe. But others remain determined to reclaim their voice at home. The country’s leaders should take heed – and remember where street protests have led in the past.

Trade / UK & USA

External damage

One can assume that Joe Biden is trying to help. The Democratic nominee for US president warned this week that he would not allow the UK and Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement to “become a casualty of Brexit” if elected. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, made similar statements after meeting with UK foreign minister Dominic Raab (pictured) in Washington, noting that a US-UK trade deal would be impossible if international law was broken during the UK’s exit from the EU. Will Downing Street, which is considering reneging on a portion of the EU withdrawal agreement, heed such warnings? It’s unlikely. Back in 2016, when Barack Obama said that a vote for Brexit would push the UK to the “back of the queue” in trade talks with the US, pro-Brexit pundits simply dug their heels in – and the UK voted to leave two months later. It’s a reminder that even well-intentioned interventions from foreign powers can wind up doing more harm than good.

Design / Australia

Blueprint for success

Australia is hoping that good design will help its economy to rebound following the pandemic by re-establishing its Design Council this week. Back after a 29-year hiatus, the industry body will bring together top captains of industry and entrepreneurs in a bid to cultivate more design-led thinking in businesses down under. The reasoning is simple. “Organisations that embed design as a strategy in their operations grow faster than those that don’t,” council member David Thodey, chair of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, tells The Monocle Minute. To help kick-start growth on a national scale, the council’s first move will be to set briefs for a series of National Design Challenges. “We have a truly world-class design community here in Australia,” says Thodey. “Our objective is to provide the environment where this incredible design talent is connected to our businesses and industries.” Here’s hoping the council can encourage exactly that.

Urbanism / Paris

On the right path

If there’s one thing this year has taught us, it’s how quickly our cities can be reimagined. At Monocle we have welcomed the introduction of temporary measures such as new pedestrian areas, more bike routes and alfresco dining areas. But we also pondered what comes next: will people really go back to the old (bad) habits once they’ve had a taste of how much better their city could be? One person who has clearly understood this is the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who this week confirmed that 50km of temporary cycle lanes that were created in the city as a response to the pandemic are set to become permanent fixtures. It’s an impressive feat for such a car-centric metropolis, even more so because the scheme includes removing all private cars from Rue de Rivoli, one of the French capital’s busiest boulevards. We hope that Mayor Hidalgo’s decision inspires other cities to change lanes.

Cinema / Global

Hot seats

It’s a tough thing to ask the boss of an expanding cinema chain but is streaming the future of film? “It has certainly done wonderful things for storytelling methods but things are just better shared – and this comes out in the movies,” says Benjamin Zeccola, CEO of Australia’s Palace Cinemas group. “People are social animals, they want to go out and mix,” he adds. Titles acting as a bellwether for the cinema business have been in short supply in 2020: the summer belonged to small-budget releases, streamed direct to locked-down cineastes at home. But as cinemas around the world reopen their doors, the brightest and best are quickly getting back into their stride. From a grand art deco Capital Bio movie theatre in Stockholm (pictured) to a retro drive-in in New York State, flick through Monocle’s October issue to meet some enterprising players who are rethinking cinema for today’s audiences.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Plus X and NeueHouse

Mat Hunter is co-founder and co-CEO of Plus X, the first purpose-built facility for technology, innovation and hardware pioneers in the UK, which he created alongside Paul Rostas. Their first location is in Brighton, on the UK’s south coast, with plans to grow across the country. We also hear from Josh Wyatt, CEO of NeueHouse members clubs, on creating work and cultural hubs to connect cross-industry creatives and entrepreneurs.

Monocle Films / Tokyo

On the paper trail

Who needs paper in a world dominated by technology? Kenji Hall finds out as he visits Kakimori, a small stationery shop nestled in Tokyo’s Kuramae neighbourhood, which has been bringing customers joy over the course of three generations.

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