Wednesday 9 August 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 9/8/2023

The Monocle Minute

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Opinion / Andrew Mueller

No laughing matter

Whenever I visit the office of a reasonably prominent politician – or beam into their home via Zoom – there’s something that I always look out for: framed originals of newspaper cartoons making fun of them. The late UK Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, while serving as UN high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, lined a wall of his Sarajevo office with sketches brutally mocking his career to that point – just as he had done in London (pictured). The ability to enjoy a decent joke at one’s own expense is a hallmark of a well-adjusted individual. It is never a good sign when someone reacts furiously to mockery and an even richer hue of red flag when a regime does so.

Last month, Jordan blocked local access to AlHudood, a London-based satirical website. AlHudood is an Arab equivalent to The Onion, illuminating the ludicrousness of the news by either confecting absurdist fantasies or brutally boiling away all extraneous niceties. Recent headlines include “Hemedti and Burhan agree to open humanitarian corridor to heaven for Sudanese civilians” and “Meet the two presidential candidates that will not end the presidential vacuum in Lebanon”.

AlHudood is only the latest victim of Jordan’s depressing media crackdown. Though the precise reasons why the website has been blocked have not been made public, it is thought that the country’s royal family was unamused with its coverage of the recent wedding of Crown Prince Hussein to Saudi architect Rajwa Al Saif. Jordan’s royal house, or those acting on its behalf, might bristle that a monarchy – if you must have one – relies on reverence. But the UK recently crowned a new king; millions of his subjects appreciated the spectacle on its own merits while also mocking it online and, as of this writing, the House of Windsor appears fairly solidly ensconced.

The blocking of AlHudood is small, petty and beneath a country that has long positioned itself as a relative oasis of reliable sanity. It might also cause foreign correspondents, who have generally regarded Jordan as a haven of common sense, to rethink their choice of station. And for the Jordanian regime, it will be counterproductive: nothing encourages satirists like the knowledge that their barbs are wounding.

Andrew Mueller is a contributing editor at Monocle and presenter of ‘The Foreign Desk’ on Monocle Radio. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Getty Images

Economy / China

Hard sell

According to figures released this week, China’s exports suffered a 14.5 per cent year-on-year contraction in July – their biggest tumble in three years. This follows a 12.4 per cent drop in June. “The latest double-digit fall in Chinese exports is another sign that the economy that dragged the world out of the 2007-08 financial crisis is now sputtering under the weight of slow growth and stalled productivity,” Isabel Hilton, founder of China Dialogue, tells The Monocle Minute.

The worse-than-expected decline follows Western central banks’ decision last year to raise interest rates to tame spiralling inflation rates, weakening the spending power of their own countries. It’s a reminder that, for all the fears that China is a dangerous, unstoppable challenger to US dominance, it remains dependent on the economic health of its Western trading partners for its continued rise. The slowdown, meanwhile, will add pressure on Xi Jinping’s regime to take greater measures to revive the country’s economic growth.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Spain

Late to the party

More than two weeks have passed since Spain’s election ended in a stalemate, with neither right-wing nor left-wing blocs securing a majority. As a result, smaller parties, nearly all of which lost seats, could now potentially hold the keys to political power. The conservative People’s Party (PP) believes that it could break the deadlock and form a government after the hard-right Vox hinted that it will not insist on being part of a coalition in exchange for its support.

This could clear the way for minor parties, which objected to Vox’s involvement, to support the PP in an investiture vote. But Robert Fishman, professor of political science and sociology at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, tells The Monocle Minute, “The PP has almost no chance of forming a government because it has only one possible path to power – forcing a division in the Socialist Party or pushing the socialists to abstain. They have no interest in doing that.”

For the latest on Spain’s political deadlock, tune in to ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Tokyo

Push the boat out

Tokyo’s metropolitan government has announced its ambition to launch commuter ferries by March 2024 after running successful pilot programmes in 2019 and 2022. The tested route initially ran between the Nihonbashi office district in Chuo ward and a dock in the Kachidoki area, before expanding across the capital, picking up thousands of commuters for whom the service was free of charge if they had booked in advance.

The initiative aims to ease train congestion within the city centre by making use of Tokyo’s waterways during peak times, offering subsidised fares that are based on journey length and start from as little as ¥200 (€1.27). Free shuttle buses will also transport passengers from neighbouring subway stations to ferry terminals. With domestic travel in Japan on track to outpacing pre-pandemic levels this summer, commuters are likely to embrace cheaper and less crowded alternatives.

Media / Bulgaria

Power games

Bulgarian journalist and radio host Konstantin Vulkov is the editor of Bulgarian magazine Dolce Far Niente and programme director at Darik Radio. Vulkov is an occasional Monocle contributor and his most recent project is the photography book Play & Display. Here, he tells us more about the project.

Monocle: What’s the concept behind the book?
Konstantin Vulkov: As the host of a radio show, I’ve interviewed prominent figures as well as people from diverse backgrounds. One day a friend suggested that I not only interview people but take portraits of them too. For about four years now, I have been interested in the idea of power, so I started photographing these powerful men and women.

M: When you mention power, what do you mean?
KV: Beyond politics, there are other types of power. For example, I did a series with skateboarders (pictured) in South Africa, where skating is changing people’s lives. The power of artists has huge mental benefits for the youth.

M: Could you tell us more about Dolce Far Niente?
KV: My main idea was to produce a free magazine that is printed on good-quality paper and that has an opinionated voice on culture, travel and smart ideas. The title only exists in print format and every issue focuses on topics that interest us but are not usually considered newsworthy.

Hear more from Konstantin Vulkov on ‘The Stack’ – and you can order a copy of the book by emailing

Monocle Radio / Monocle On Design

‘Tartan’ and community consultation

We head to the Tartan exhibition at the V&A Dundee and talk community consultation with landscape architecture firm Scape.

Monocle Films / Affairs

Keeping the faith

In this digital age, do we need more forgiveness and sacrifice in our lives? And where can we look for direction? Monocle Films sat down with Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to find out how the church strives to address contemporary needs and remain relevant in the Greek society.


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