Wednesday. 18/1/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Reuters

Opinion / Yossi Mekelberg

Divided they stand

For the sixth time in his long political career, Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s prime minister. But the longest-serving premier in the country’s history is also the weakest he has ever been. He is now held hostage by the most extreme partners of his coalition, who are hellbent on diluting Israel’s liberal-democratic system. Netanyahu desperately needs them to avert a possible conviction and jail term in his corruption trial. They need him to further their cause of hammering the last nail in the two-state solution’s coffin and promote religious legislation according to Jewish jurisprudence. To achieve this, they have embarked on radically overhauling Israel’s judiciary by curbing court powers and politicising the system. Much of the deep concern revolves around appointments to key ministries, including those convicted of corruption, inciting racism or supporting terrorism – and, more generally, those who are openly racist, misogynist and homophobic.

Different coalition members are already leaning on municipalities to finance ultra-Orthodox schools or change curricula, in addition to proposed anti-democratic legislation and policies. The appointment of Itamar Ben Gvir, a convicted racist, as the minister of national security and his colleague in the Religious Zionist party, Bezalel Smotrich, to oversee civil affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, was a clear message of accelerated de facto annexation – one condemned by the more than 90 UN member states earlier this week. Unsurprisingly, these and other measures caused more than 100,000 Israelis to take to the streets last Saturday to raise their voices against changing the democratic system beyond recognition.

Over the past few weeks, battle lines have been drawn between those who are determined to weaken the democratic foundations of Israel and aspire to rule in perpetuity the lives of the Palestinians, and those who vehemently oppose such a move. For the sake of democracy, justice and peace let’s hope that the latter wins the day.

Yossi Mekelberg is an associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Senegal

Unwanted attention

Former French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is in Senegal as part of her first visit to Africa since 2017. The trip is a difficult sell for a far-right politician who has taken a hard line on immigration and the decision to head to Dakar had been kept largely under wraps by her National Rally party. Unsurprisingly, many African leaders have previously rejected Le Pen’s approaches for a tête-à-tête. For the press, permission to cover the trip and details of the itinerary have been hard to come by.

Le Pen might be in the Senegalese capital to discuss the country’s representation at the UN Security Council, where no African nation currently has permanent representation. During her last African trip, she visited Chad, where she met then-leader Idriss Déby (pictured, on right, with Le Pen). The sojourn was condemned by Chad’s opposition, partly due to Le Pen’s anti-immigration stance. It remains to be seen whether this trip is enough to repair her fractured relations with Africa.

Image: Shutterstock

Society / Davos

High spirits

Today is day three of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos and the biggest discussion topics so far have included the global recession, the ongoing war in Ukraine and finding a path forward for European co-operation. Despite the world’s challenges, many leaders welcome the chance to debate away from traditional forums, high in the Swiss Alps. In fact, many of the delegates are regulars.

“One of the greatest things about the World Economic Forum is how it enables participants to take the pulse of the world every year,” Finland’s former prime minister Alexander Stubb tells The Monocle Minute. “And, contrary to what many people think, it’s very inclusive.” Today, Stubb (pictured) is director of the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute in Florence, which offers him a different perspective than his spell as Finland’s premier did. “There is a bit less pomp and fanfare, I don’t have five people following me around and, of course, I am also freer to say what I want.”

You can hear an interview with Alexander Stubb on yesterday’s edition of ‘The Globalist’.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Bangkok

Going the distance

Rail travel in Thailand is set to enter a new era this week with long-distance trains departing from the country’s new Bangkok terminus for the first time. Bang Sue Grand Station was built by the state railway company to replace the historic Hua Lamphong station, with construction costing close to €1bn. Commuter trains and the subway began connecting to the new station in 2021 but the final transition was delayed by the pandemic when Bang Sue served as the capital’s largest vaccination centre.

As Thailand gets moving again, tomorrow sees express trains leave for cities such as Chiang Mai in the north and Yala in the south. Modernising Thai rail travel is a work in progress, though; the country’s first high-speed rail line is still under development and the most rapid connection between Bangkok and Chiang Mai takes more than 10 hours – just the ticket for fans of overnight sleeper journeys.

Image: Gareth Sobey

Culture / UK & USA

Broken record

This week, UK music retailer HMV reported its highest profits since 2019, with revenues growing by almost 67 per cent year on year. The once-ailing chain’s comeback has largely been attributed to the revival of vinyl records, which now shift more units than CDs in the UK; US vinyl sales have similarly grown for 17 consecutive years and the format made up 43 per cent of all US album sales in 2022.

Yet vinyl’s future as an alternative to streaming remains uncertain. The format represents less than 5 per cent of US music consumption; while its market doubled in 2021, it reported just 4.2 per cent growth in 2022, suggesting that it might soon plateau. Record companies have marketed LPs as collectable luxuries; tellingly, half of last year’s US record-buyers didn’t even own a turntable. The music industry should invest more in the format and lower costs – otherwise, the revival might soon lose its groove.

Image: LHamour

Monocle 24 / The Entrepreneurs

Lhamour

The creator of innovative and disruptive personal-care brand Lhamour tells us about changing the landscape of the sector in her home market, Mongolia.

Film / Global

Designing the news

How do you unpack stories in the most engaging way while building a credible and comprehensive brand? Monocle Films showcases best design for paper and screen too.

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