Friday 12 May 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 12/5/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Leila Molana-Allen

Back in the fold

The Arab League agreed to reinstate Syria as a member state this week, almost 12 years after the country was suspended in response to Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on protesters in 2011. The move is the latest in a series of steps towards the normalisation of relations between Arab states, which has included the restoration of diplomatic ties and trade in recent months between Syria and Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, among others.

Assad’s government is widely held to be responsible for the deaths of at least half a million Syrians and the displacement of more than 14 million people over more than a decade of war. The country now maintains a fragile peace. Though the Syrian government can access much of what it needs from its key allies, US and EU sanctions weigh heavily on the population, making international business impossible and preventing the import of building materials necessary to rebuild the country.

Representatives of the US government reacted to Syria’s readmission to the league with concern, describing it as a “grave strategic mistake that will embolden Assad, Russia and Iran to continue butchering civilians and destabilising the Middle East”. They might well be right but the reality is that a precedent for failing to hold Assad to account for his crimes was set in 2013, when Barack Obama backtracked from threats about a “red line” over chemical weapons at the last minute.

The Arab League’s decision confirms the direction of travel: Syria has been accepted back into the regional fold. Now, by opposing this reality, Western powers only deny themselves the opportunity to influence future developments in the country. For the US and EU to obstinately maintain the old course is to hand over power to their adversaries Russia and Iran, while condemning millions of people living in Syria to poverty and hopelessness.

Leila Molana-Allen is Monocle’s Middle East correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle magazine today.

Image: Reuters


Meeting in the middle

On Wednesday, Greece’s political leaders gathered at the studios of public broadcaster ERT for a highly anticipated televised debate ahead of the parliamentary elections on 21 May. The six main contenders (pictured) faced six journalists from major news channels. Among the line-up were the incumbent prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis of the centre-right New Democracy Party, and former prime minister Alexis Tsipras, leader of the left-wing Syriza. Polls before the debate indicated that none of the major parties would win enough votes to form an independent government and the country’s leaders have been unwilling to form coalitions. Though televised debates are relatively new in Greek politics – only eight have been held so far – they are useful for parties seeking to persuade undecided voters. Instead of stoking division, the main contenders should take a less combative approach to debates in future. At this point, it seems that only finding common ground and consensus will save the contenders from having to repeat an election in July.

For more on the parliamentary elections in Greece, tune in to Thursday’s episode of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Shutterstock


Happy medium

Councillors in Toronto have approved the construction of multiplexes of up to four units – previously banned in many neighbourhoods – across the city, hoping to ease its housing crisis. It’s a significant move for a city known for its unusually restrictive zoning, which has prevented high-density housing from being built in many neighbourhoods.

Toronto is populous and diverse. More than half of its 2.8 million residents were born outside of Canada and its growth shows no sign of slowing. As its technology sector gathers steam, the city is expected to add 700,000 new residents by 2051. Average rents are soaring too, having already risen by a third since 2008. Despite high demand for housing, about 70 per cent of the city’s land has been restricted to single-family homes under its “yellowbelt” policy. This has led to starkly uneven development: with quiet enclaves of semi-detached houses dominating the landscape, most residents have been forced out to ultra-dense pockets of residential properties on the city’s edges. For cash-strapped Torontonians, new medium-density builds can’t come quickly enough.

Image: Taipei Dangdai


Making the scene

Taiwan’s biggest art fair, Taipei Dangdai Art & Ideas, opens to the public today and will run until 14 May. In its first full-scale iteration since the country lifted pandemic restrictions and reopened its borders, it will showcase work from 90 exhibitors, from blue-chip stalwarts such as Gagosian and David Zwirner to smaller local outposts including Taipei’s Chini Gallery and Taichung’s Da Xiang Art Space.

Highlights include “Sense”, a large-scale installation by sculptor Tsai-Chien Lee, paintings by Taiwanese-American artist Mu Pan, whose work is represented by Hashimoto Contemporary, and talks by curators from around the world on topics such as Tokyo’s alternative art scene. “There’s a real energy in Taipei,” the fair’s co-director Robin Peckham tells The Monocle Minute. “There are many exciting emerging artists in Taiwan right now. Taiwanese art still has a long way to go in terms of recognition on the international scene but the quality is very much there.”

Image: Alamy


National anthems

Liverpool is gearing up for the finals of the 67th Eurovision Song Contest, which it is hosting for the first time on behalf of last year’s winner, Ukraine. There’s a joyous buzz across the city, whose streets are adorned with Ukrainian flags. Monocle’s senior correspondent Fernando Augusto Pacheco gives us an overview of the five acts who we should pay attention to this year.

“Cha Cha Cha”, Käärijä. Already a fan favourite, Finland’s song, an ode to drinking, incongruously mixes metal, hip-hop and europop. The lime-green bolero sported by Käärijä (pictured) is the most talked-about fashion item this year.

“Mama ŠČ!”, Let 3. The kind of fun, political-punk-in-drag Croatian band that we like to see in the Eurovision Song Contest, performing in underwear and dressed as caricatures of dictators. It’s an anti-war song.

“Unicorn”, Noa Kirel. Already a huge pop star in Israel, Kirel offers a sleek track with the kind of impressive dance break that fans love – think of Spain’s Chanel last year.

“Eaea”, Blanca Paloma. Spain has another strong entry this year. Blanca Paloma sings a modern flamenco song that’s full of drama and synths.

“Tattoo”, Loreen. Eurovision queen Loreen, who rightfully won in 2012 with the iconic song “Euphoria”, is representing Sweden again, this time with “Tattoo”. Her striking long nails and intense performance style make her a favourite to win.

For more on the Eurovision Song Contest, stay tuned to Monocle Radio.

Image: Dust Child

MONOCLE RADIO / Meet the Writers

Nguyen Phan Que Mai

The acclaimed Vietnamese author joins Georgina Godwin to discuss growing up in postwar Vietnam, where the country is today and her latest novel, Dust Child, about four people linked forever by decisions made during conflict.

Monocle Films / Global

Welcome to the Auberge Monocle

Monocle has so far resisted the temptation to open a hotel – but that doesn’t mean that we don’t spend time thinking about who we’d hire to oversee a renovation, run the bar or design the uniforms. With this in mind, here are the six house rules we’d strictly enforce to keep things civil and serene around the pool, in the lobby and on the balcony.


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