Need To Know
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has died. He was 90 years old. His brother Salman has now been crowned the new king and by most accounts we can expect pretty much more of the same from him. But Salman assumes the throne at a difficult time. The kingdom is under pressure from both beyond its borders and from within.
First there is the sudden rise of the Islamic State, a powerful terrorist organization that seeks to establish a new Islamic caliphate. It has already taken over significant chunks of Iraq and Syria. And it has made no secret of its intentions to do away with the Al Saud dynasty.
Then there is the fast-moving situation in neighboring Yemen. Yesterday the country’s president, a key ally of both Saudi Arabia and the United States in the war against Al Qaeda, stepped down under violent pressure from the powerful Houthis. The Houthis are now in control.
This is a big deal because the Houthis are deeply suspicious of foreign intervention in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the United States, meanwhile, have been deeply involved there for decades. On Friday, the US pulled some of its embassy staff out of the country. This could mean no more drone strikes and more space for Al Qaeda — which not too long ago fought a deadly insurgency in Saudi Arabia and once nearly killed a prince — to expand its power right next door. As if that isn’t enough, the Houthis are Shia, which means they are aligned with Iran. Iran is Saudi Arabia’s primary nemesis.
And that’s not all! On the other side of the country is Bahrain, where in 2011 a Saudi-aligned monarchy faced down an Arab Spring protest movement from its marginalized and increasingly frustrated Shia majority. While it is still far and away the strongest power in the region, and the world's top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia may be feeling a little surrounded these days.
That's just some of the problems lingering on its borders. Domestically, the country is facing its first budget deficit in years because the price of oil is now so low. And there is increasing pressure internally from reformers who are growing tired of the strict theocracy. Women keep trying to drive. And one man was recently sentenced to 1,000 lashes and a decade in prison for promoting secularism online.
Want To Know
Ebola has killed more than 8,600 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Many more have been infected. It’s the worst Ebola outbreak in history and it caused a global panic not too many months ago. But there has been another victim of Ebola that almost no one is talking about.
Since the 1990s Ebola has wiped out one-third of the world’s gorillas and chimpanzees. The WWF says there are around 100,000 gorillas left in the wild, and between 150,000 and 250,000 chimpanzees. These animals are endangered.
Scientists don’t believe the virus is enough to wipe them out alone. But the virus coupled with poaching and deforestation? That’s another story. From a recent report: “While the Ebola virus alone does not threaten apes and chimpanzees with extinction, this epidemic has reduced the population to a point where it can no longer sustain itself in the face of poaching and other pressures.”
Strange But True
Technology and tradition sometimes meet in the most whimsical and weird ways. For instance, in many southern African cultures it is still common for the groom to pay a dowry when he wants to get married. That dowry, traditionally, is paid in cows. But how many cows? If you want to get married, how do you know how many cows your potential bride is worth? Well, now there’s an app for that.