Tuesday. 17/5/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Reuters

Opinion / Leila Molana-Allen

Green shoots of progress

Lebanon held its first general election since 2018 on Sunday. In the past four years, the country has been shaken by mass protests, a devastating economic crisis and the 2020 Beirut port explosion, which killed at least 218 people – but few Lebanese voted. The turnout was a dismal 41 per cent, a clear indication that most people here simply don’t believe that the necessary reforms can be achieved through a flawed electoral system plagued by corruption.

Yet the election has delivered more change than many believed possible. If the preliminary results are accurate, the powerful bloc led by an alliance of Hezbollah and president Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement has lost traditionally safe seats and might even have relinquished the majority that allows it to dictate which legislation can pass through parliament. Independent candidates running on reform agendas also appear to have done better than expected; at least 11 are expected to take seats. Though they represent a small fraction of the 128-seat parliament, they insist that they will make their voices heard.

The election of a group of people who are unafraid to fight established interests can only be a good thing. The entrenched forces of those such as Hezbollah and Aoun have long used violence to keep the people whom they purportedly serve out of power. In the run-up to the election, many Lebanese said that the outcome would decide whether they would stay to fight for their country’s future or leave it behind. These results are an encouraging sign, however slight, that change is possible.

Leila Molana-Allen is Monocle’s Beirut correspondent.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Asia Pacific

Eastern promises

US president Joe Biden arrives in East Asia later this week for his first visit to the continent since taking office. Biden will be meeting the new South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul and consolidating his commitment to an open Indo-Pacific at a meeting with US Quad allies (India, Japan and Australia) in Tokyo. Also high on the agenda will be North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes, coupled with leader Kim Jong-un’s struggle to manage a coronavirus outbreak in his unvaccinated country: the state’s official Korean Central News Agency reported nearly 400,000 new “fever cases” in a 24-hour period on Sunday. The Japanese government has yet to make an official statement about whether it will offer assistance but Yoon has signalled his country’s willingness to help. “I’ll always be open to humanitarian aid, regardless of political or military issues that lie between South and North Korea,” he said. If the offer comes with conditions, however, Kim is unlikely to accept.

Hear more on this story from former UK ambassador to North Korea John Everard on the latest edition of The Monocle Daily on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Somalia

Best intentions

Somalia is looking with mild hope towards the future after its parliament elected a respected former leader as its new president over the weekend. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud defeated incumbent Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (pictured, on left with Mohamud) in a hotly contested run-off, ending a political crisis that had lasted more than a year. Mohamud will have his hands full: rising fuel prices triggered by the war in Ukraine, coupled with a devastating drought, threaten to drive more than 4.6 million Somalis into famine.

But the biggest task remains defeating the al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab. “Somalis are hoping that their new president will fulfil his promise to heal their broken nation,” Mary Harper, journalist and author of Getting Somalia Wrong?, tells The Monocle Minute. Still, after three decades of conflict, expectations are being kept in check. “There is no way that he will bring peace, stability and prosperity to the country during his four-year term,” says Harper, “but there is a good chance that he will do better than his unpopular predecessor.”

Image: Nikos Nikolopoulos

Cinema / France

Star attraction

The 75th annual Cannes Film Festival begins today with stars returning in full glitz and glamour after last year’s scaled-back event. The 21 Palme d’Or entries range from Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s social satire Triangle of Sadness to South Korean Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave. Other highlights include French film-maker Claire Denis’s return to the Croisette with Stars at Noon and David Cronenberg’s latest body-horror film Crimes of the Future; Cannes will also host the premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s new biopic Elvis. “The buzz around Cannes has rarely been at more of a fever pitch, with the likes of Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and Kristen Stewart [pictured, on left] mounting the red-carpeted steps with major films,” film critic Tim Robey tells The Monocle Minute. “After the cancellation of the event in 2020 and last year’s half-mast edition, this already has the feel of a festival making up for lost time.”

For more from Tim Robey at Cannes, tune in to today’s edition of The Globalist on Monocle 24.

Image: Parker Fitzgerald

Business / Iceland

(Very) soft power

Árni Örvarsson’s family-run farm in Iceland has protected eider duck nests and gathered their soft bounty for generations but it’s only now that he and his team see a chance for the homespun industry to take flight and professionalise. The price of eiderdown has failed to keep up with the pace of inflation over the past 20 years and its value is now lower than it was at the turn of the century.

But Örvarsson tells Monocle that this could be about to change. Since there’s no pulling or live-plucking involved in the eiderdown-collection process, the material is an ideal product for today’s market, in which consumers are clamouring for cruelty-free products like never before. Demand is rising and the trick for companies such as Örvarsson’s Icelandic Eider is to bolster and protect the supply chain of sustainable eiderdown, so that the Icelanders of today can safeguard this age-old craft for generations to come.

For the full story of Iceland's soft-power export, grab a copy of Monocle’s May issue on newsstands or subscribe today.

Image: Getty Images

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

Children of giants

In this special episode of The Foreign Desk, we speak to the descendants of major political figures. What is it really like to be the child of a head of state? How weird is it when everyone else’s president is your parent? And are the descendants of villains able to move on from their ancestors’ crimes? Andrew Mueller speaks to Josina Machel, Gerald Posner and Nina Khrushcheva.

Monocle Films / Sweden

Sweden’s Arctic: green innovation

Norrbotten in Sweden is blessed with natural resources but more recently has been turning heads because of its growing roster of innovative start-ups. We bear witness to the region's effort to change heavy industries into clean businesses.

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