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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2018
April
23
Monday
Marjorie Kehe
Deputy Weekly Editor

James Shaw Jr. is being hailed as a hero after wrestling a gun away from a shooter yesterday at a Waffle House in Tennessee. Mr. Shaw is the first, however, to reject the title. He told the press later that he was only trying to stay alive.

“It feels selfish,” he said. “I was just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it.”

What can’t be denied, however, is the fact that, although the shooter had already killed four, everyone else in the restaurant was saved by Shaw’s quick thinking and action. He took advantage of a pause while the shooter was reloading to charge him, tackle him, take the gun out of his hand, and throw it over the restaurant counter. (The suspected shooter was taken into custody today.) 

In the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting and the debate on arming teachers that that tragedy has reignited, Shaw’s actions have more than symbolic value. On social media, Shaw is being celebrated as the “good guy without a gun.” No gun – just quick wits and courage.

Then later in the day, Shaw created a GoFundMe account to raise money for the families of the victims.

And as for refusing the hero label, that’s “exactly what you’d expect a real hero to say,” noted one Twitter user.

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Next up: We’ve selected five stories intended to help you see justice, democracy, and compassion at work.

1. Voter redistricting: High court to take up a third key case

There's nothing new about gerrymandering. But gerrymandering plus big data creates a brand-new – and potentially more dangerous – equation. Will the Supreme Court make it harder for districts to redraw their lines?

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In a year marked by several potentially landmark Supreme Court cases, the most significant could be in a trio involving gerrymandering – the last of which is being argued tomorrow. Gerrymandering, the drawing of political district maps to advantage one candidate or party, is more than two centuries old. But with polarization deepening, and the rise of big data making it easier to profile individual voters, gerrymandering has never been simpler or more effective, experts warn. If the justices don’t establish new guardrails, the 2020 Census will bring “a festival of copycat gerrymandering the likes of which this country has never seen,” a lawyer told the Supreme Court last October. The high court has responded – taking on both the Texas case, which is examining whether the voting rights of minorities were violated in the state, as well as two other cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland, which were heard earlier this term and examine partisan gerrymandering. “It’s going to be a blockbuster term for redistricting cases, running the gamut from race to politics,” says Michael Li, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “They clearly want to do something. Exactly what that looks like we’ll find out.”

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Voter redistricting: High court to take up a third key case

For as long as the 27th Congressional District in Texas has been embroiled in litigation over whether it was racially gerrymandered, Nick Gilby has been working on Democratic Party campaigns there. Those seven years, he says, have been “like banging your head against a wall to see if you can move it.”

“He wins 60 percent of the vote or more every time, regardless of who the candidate is,” adds Mr. Gilby, referring to former Rep. Blake Farenthold, the Republican who held the seat from 2010 until he resigned earlier this month amid sexual harassment allegations and an ongoing ethics investigation.

Gilby’s frustrations are shared by William Whitford, a Democratic voter in Wisconsin, and John Benisek, a Republican voter in Maryland. There’s also Lorraine Petrosky, a Democratic voter in Pennsylvania, and Ersla Phelps, a Democratic voter in North Carolina. All four have told the United States Supreme Court this year that they feel, for various reasons, disenfranchised. Their state legislatures, they argue, redrew their district in a way that means their vote no longer matters.

In a year marked by several potentially landmark decisions, the most significant could be in the trio of gerrymandering cases the high court has reviewed – the last of which is being argued Tuesday.

Gerrymandering, the strategic redrawing of political district maps to advantage a candidate or party, is more than two centuries old. But with the rise of big data and advanced computing, gerrymandering has never been easier or more effective, experts warn, and is only expected to get more sophisticated. If the justices don’t establish new guardrails, the 2020 Census – and a new round of redistricting – will bring “a festival of copycat gerrymandering the likes of which this country has never seen,” a lawyer for Mr. Whitford told the Supreme Court last October.

The Supreme Court has responded. On Tuesday, the justices will return to the well-trodden issue of racial gerrymandering – where a district is found to be unlawful because it was drawn in a way that harms the voting power of minorities. Perhaps more strikingly, they also took the rare step this term of hearing two cases concerning partisan gerrymandering, one by Republicans in Wisconsin and one by Democrats in Maryland. It is legal, to a degree, for legislatures to redraw districts in a way that benefits them. Wary of becoming over-involved in local politics, the high court in the past has been reluctant to weigh in on when and how the exercise of redistricting ceases to pass constitutional muster.

But with another census less than two years away, “this could be the final word the court says this decade on redistricting,” says Michael Li, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

“It’s going to be a blockbuster term for redistricting cases, running the gamut from race to politics,” he adds. “They clearly want to do something. Exactly what that looks like we’ll find out.”

Every new round of redistricting involves a certain degree of partisan gerrymandering: The majority party in a state has a right to redraw political maps in a way that benefits them – up to a point. While the Supreme Court in both 1985 and 2004 acknowledged that redistricting can be so partisan as to become unconstitutional, on both occasions the justices said they couldn’t identify where that line is and what the remedy would be.

Partisan gerrymandering

The court took another look at the issue this term with Gill v. Whitford, a case concerning the statewide political map approved by Republicans in the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2011.

In the 2012 election, Republicans won 60 of the 99 seats in the Wisconsin Assembly despite only winning 47 percent of the statewide vote. In 2014 they won 63 seats with 57 percent of the vote, and in 2016 they won 64 seats with about 53 percent of the vote. In a 2-to-1 decision, a three-judge federal district court panel found the redistricting plan unconstitutional, writing that the 2011 map “secured for Republicans a lasting Assembly majority [such that] in any likely electoral scenario, the number of Republican seats would not drop below 50 percent.”

When the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case, the justices seemed to agree that partisan gerrymandering is, as Justice Samuel Alito phrased it, “distasteful.” But they seemed to agree on little else after that.

“If you can stack a legislature in this way, what incentive is there for a voter to exercise his vote?” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That larger concern with partisan gerrymandering, she added, is “something that this society should be concerned about.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, meanwhile, voiced concerns about whether the court should weigh in at all. “We will have to decide in every [future] case whether the Democrats win or the Republicans win,” he said. “That is going to cause very serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this court in the eyes of the country.”

The overriding concern of many justices, however, was the concern that dates back to 1985: what standards the court could create to test when partisan gerrymandering occurs.

“If we are going to impose a standard on the courts,” Alito said, “it has to be something that's manageable and it has to be something that's sufficiently concrete so that the public reaction to decisions is not going to be the one that [Chief Justice Roberts] mentioned.”

When the court announced a month later that it would hear a second partisan gerrymandering case, Benisek v. Lamone, observers speculated that the justices would use it to iron out questions they had been unable to in Whitford. In particular, the Republican voters in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District are asking a question of particular interest to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is considered a pivotal vote on the issue.

In the 2004 case, Justice Kennedy said that citizens have a First Amendment right to not be penalized for their past “associations with a political party,” which is precisely what the Maryland voters are claiming Democratic lawmakers are doing.

That appears to be a core question for Kennedy. If a state has a law or constitutional amendment saying redistricting “must be used in a way to favor party X or party Y,” he said during the Whitford argument, “is that lawful?”

Then “suppose the Maryland Constitution had a provision that required that partisan advantage for one party be the predominant consideration in any districting,” he said during the Benisek argument. “Lawful or not?”

If anything, the Benisek argument may have muddied the waters for the justices by putting the same issue in an entirely new context. While the Whitford case concerned an entire state map, the Benisek case only concerned a single district. While the Whitford case concerned claims of an Equal Protection violation, the Benisek case concerned claims of a Free Association violation.

These variations mean that, even if the court found a way to remedy the partisan gerrymandering in Maryland, “that’s not going to solve the other cases,” Justice Stephen Breyer said.

Furthermore, he noted that map drawers “are not stupid.” Technology is getting sophisticated enough that states could find new ways to gerrymander that the court has never seen before.

“If you think what's happened now is something, wait until you see those computers really working,” he said.

While there may be five justices who want to do something to address partisan gerrymandering, Amy How wrote for SCOTUSblog, the Benisek argument “once again demonstrated why [the issue] has vexed the justices for so long.”

Racial gerrymandering

For the final gerrymandering case of the term, the justices will be on more familiar legal ground.

While the Supreme Court has always recognized that some degree of partisan gerrymandering is acceptable, it has never done so for racial gerrymandering. The consistent challenge with these cases is determining whether the map drawers intended to create districts that diminish the voting power of minorities.

The case being argued tomorrow has spent seven years – and three elections – working its way up to the high court.

After the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature passed a redistricting plan in 2011, Democratic politicians and minority groups sued, claiming the new maps intentionally diluted Latino and African-American voting strength. (Those two racial groups accounted for 65 percent and 25 percent, respectively, of the state’s population growth between 2000 and 2010.)

With an election looming in 2012 and the lawsuit still pending, a federal district court in Texas ordered an interim map – which made some changes to the 2011 map, but left other parts the same – to be used in the election. A year later, the Legislature voted to adopt the interim map on a permanent basis.

The litigation continued, however, and in August 2017 a three-judge panel of the federal district court ruled that the 2013 map violated both the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The 27th District is one of those that has remained unchanged since 2011, and hundreds of thousands of Latino voters continue to be harmed by it, the parties behind the lawsuit claim."

In 1982, heavily Latino Nueces County was part of a new, solidly blue CD-27, which Democrat Solomon Ortiz held for 27 years. After Mr. Farenthold beat him by less than a point in the 2010 tea party wave, the 2011 redistricting dropped Nueces County into a redefined, red CD-27, removing its political sway.

“Nearly a quarter-million Latinos in Nueces County,” the appellees write in their brief, “are submerged in a sea of Anglo bloc voting.”

The state argues that it adopted the district court’s interim map, assuming that, since the map was drawn by a federal court, it had no legal problems. “A legislature does not engage in racial gerrymandering (or intentional vote dilution) by embracing, as its own, districts that a federal court ordered the State to use,” the state says in its brief.

In the new CD-27, the Latino population dropped from 73 percent to 51 percent. That made it difficult for Democrats to even challenge Farenthold for the district.

After winning the district by less than a point in 2010, he won re-election in 2012 by 17 points. To challenge Farenthold two years later in the veteran-heavy district, Democrats recruited Wesley Reed, a US Marine Corps pilot and lieutenant colonel. Farenthold won by 30 points, in a low-turnout midterm election. 

Ever since Gilby started working campaigns here, he says, the district has been involved in litigation. “We thought, ‘OK we’re running in this district now, but it could be a very different district come next week,’ ” he says. “But nothing ever happened. It just stayed the way it was and it’s stayed that way ever since.”

The Supreme Court will bring him – and voters in Wisconsin, Maryland, and North Carolina – some form of closure later this year.

When the court failed to issue firm guidelines in either 1985 or 2004, state lawmakers “saw it as green light that they could go to town in terms of gerrymandering,” says Mr. Li of the Brennan Center.

“I think the court is worried that if it deadlocks again, or doesn’t provide clear guidance, that it’ll be an even stronger signal that you can do whatever you want,” he adds.

“I saw signals [earlier this term] that the court understands the magnitude of the problem, and understands that they’re partly responsible for it,” he continues. “These are hard issues, even for the Supreme Court.”

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2. Their parents came to Britain to fill gaps. Now, many feel unwelcome.

They committed no crime. They evaded no laws. They simply grew up in the place their parents chose. But now they may be forced to leave the only country they've ever known. No, we're not talking about "Dreamers." Meet Britain's "Windrush generation." Will these children of immigrants benefit from a new approach by their government?

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They were brought to postwar Britain from the far corners of the Commonwealth by parents who had been invited to fill labor gaps. Growing up, many assumed they were British. They had moved to Britain before the countries they were born in became independent. Or they assumed that they were covered by legislation that allowed Commonwealth citizens who’d come before 1973 to legally remain. But landing cards were lost by the government. And the naturalization process often proved too costly. Now many of these descendants of the “Windrush generation,” named for the ship that brought the first of them from Caribbean ports, are at the center of a scandal that has been mounting over the past six months. That’s when the Guardian newspaper began reporting cases of people losing jobs, being denied social services, and facing deportation due to tightening in immigration rules. Britain’s Home Office has admitted that the scandal has been an “unforeseen consequence” of new policy. Apologies have been issued. Now, some 50,000 residents are waiting to see if the Home Office delivers on its promise of “a completely new approach”: a waiving of citizenship and naturalization fees and an assurance that long-term residents in Britain who were born in the Commonwealth will no longer be classified as unauthorized immigrants.

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Their parents came to Britain to fill gaps. Now, many feel unwelcome.

They are called “the Windrush generation.”

After World War II, Britain confronted a dual challenge: a shattered infrastructure that needed urgent work and a severe labor shortage. To solve the problem, the British government invited people from from the British Empire and Commonwealth to move to Britain to help rebuild the country. In 1948, the British Nationality Act gave British citizenship to all people living in the United Kingdom and its colonies, and meant they had full rights to enter and settle in the country.

Those who answered the call from the Caribbean are named after the Empire Windrush, the first ship to bring people over – mainly from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados. It docked in June 1948, carrying 492 people. Between 1948 and 1971 thousands more came over to work, encouraged by campaigns from successive British governments. Many went on to find work within the National Health Service (NHS), British Rail, and public transport.

Many of them also brought their children, as it wasn’t necessary for children to have their own passports then. Consequently many of the so-called Windrush generation don’t have documentation despite having lived, been schooled, and worked in the UK for most of their lives.

Why have they become the center of controversy?

A scandal has been mounting over the last six months after the Guardian newspaper began reporting cases of people who arrived in the UK as children losing jobs, being denied services such as treatment on the NHS, and facing deportation due to tightening in immigration rules.

One of the first stories to emerge was that of Paulette Wilson, who left Jamaica at the age of 10 in 1968 and has been living in Britain ever since. She received a letter informing her that she was an illegal immigrant and was going to be removed and sent back despite not being back to Jamaica in nearly 50 years. After being sent to a detention center, and then taken to Heathrow Airport, a last-minute intervention by her MP meant she was saved from being deported.

Another which has come to epitomize the scandal has been Albert Thompson (which is not his real name), who was told he would have to pay £54,000 for prostate cancer treatment after he was unable to produce the right documentation, despite having lived in the UK for 44 years.

As more similar stories have emerged, pressure has mounted on the government to address the problem.

Why don't they have the correct paperwork?

There are thought to be an estimated 57,000 residents who could face problems. Many assumed they were British, as they had moved to the UK before the countries they were born in became independent.

Legislation gave Commonwealth citizens who had arrived before 1973 indefinite leave to remain, but the British government did not issue paperwork to those affected nor keep proper records of them. In addition, thousands of Windrush-era landing cards, which are routinely used in immigration decision-making, were destroyed by the Home Office in 2010. Many of this generation have never applied for passports of their own and were put off from going through the naturalization process due to the high expense.

Why are top British politicians embroiled in the scandal?

In 2012, when Theresa May was Home secretary, she ushered in new legislation that required employers, landlords, and the National Health Service to demand evidence of legal immigration status. At the time Ms. May said the aim was to create “a really hostile environment” for unauthorized immigrants. Around the same time, the Home Office launched a campaign with vans that were driven around diverse neighborhoods and were emblazoned with the words “Go home or face arrest,” which sparked outrage.

The effect on the Windrush generation is likely to have been an “unforeseen consequence” of that approach, according to a former Home Office official. And Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused May, now prime minister, of being personally responsible for the Windrush generation’s problems.

On April 29, Amber Rudd resigned as Home secretary after receiving a barrage of calls to quit over her handling of the crisis, despite having issued an unprecedented five apologies. What had drawn the most criticism was the beleaguered Ms. Rudd’s insistence that she knew nothing of Home Office targets for immigration removals, which was later undermined by documents.

Many critics say that now the prime minister must answer questions on how the scandal was allowed to happen. Supporters of May, who has also apologized, agree she is far more vulnerable now that Rudd has fallen on her sword.

How can the migrants’ situation be resolved?

About two weeks before her resignation, Rudd announced the creation of a new Home Office task force dedicated to ensuring that long-term British residents who were born in the Commonwealth will no longer be classified as unauthorized immigrants. She also announced a series of measures, including the waiver of citizenship and naturalization fees and the setting up of an independently run compensation program.

In her resignation letter, Rudd said both the task force and the compensation program were working well. It is expected these will continue under the new Home secretary, Sajid Javid.

Diane Abbott, the shadow Home secretary, says more needs to be done and has called for the 2014 Immigration Act to be repealed. Also, more than 200 members of Parliament have written to May urging her to enshrine in law promises made to Windrush generation migrants so they are protected under future governments.

[Editor's note: This story was updated with the resignation of Home Secretary Amber Rudd.]

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3. How Egypt’s stubborn poverty threatens a strongman’s grip

He's been called a dictator and a strongman. He keeps a tight hold on the reins of power in his country. But Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is facing a population that is increasingly weary, struggling, and sometimes just plain hungry. How long can he hold on?

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
A man carries bread loaves along a busy Cairo street near a campaign banner for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

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Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won reelection with 97 percent of the vote in March. The contest featured only himself and a token loyalist candidate. But other numbers tell a fuller story of the president’s political standing. Despite efforts to push Egyptians to vote that included food handouts and threats of $28 fines for abstaining, voter turnout was at a mere 41 percent. Observers attribute the voter apathy to the economic conditions in Egypt, which are largely worse than when Mr. Sisi first came into office in 2014. Inflation tripled from 10.3 percent in 2014 to 33 percent in mid-2017 and has stabilized at around 15 percent. Unemployment has dropped under Sisi’s watch to 11.8 percent, but nearly 30 percent of youths remain jobless. Private sector job growth has dropped each month over the past two years. Without a dramatic turnaround, Egyptians’ patience with Sisi will run out, analysts warn. “The next popular uprising will not be about political grievances and social justice as it was in 2011,” says a senior analyst. “It will happen because people will be tired, exhausted, and desperate. And that is much more dangerous.”

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How Egypt’s stubborn poverty threatens a strongman’s grip

Despite his landslide reelection last month and renewed talk of constitutional amendments to make him president for life, Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s grip on power is far from absolute as he enters his second term.

Analysts warn that the retired general is presiding over a much more uncertain Egypt than when he first rose to power in a 2013 coup. Then, the military overthrow benefited from a wave of popular support as well as discontent with the then-ruling Muslim Brotherhood and Mr. Sisi’s predecessor as president, Mohamed Morsi.

Today, the Arab world’s most populous country is facing several economic, security, and diplomatic challenges that will test Sisi’s leadership and even his support within the military.

Of most immediate peril to him, analysts say, is Egypt’s chronically weak economy, and the consequential threat of instability.

So far, the vast majority of Egyptians have patiently given Sisi time for his painful, IMF-mandated economic reforms, agreeing to “tighten their belts” for the good of the country. There have been no protests in the tightly controlled country.

Yet if there is no dramatic turnaround of the economy and job creation within the next couple of years, that patience will run out, analysts warn.

“The majority in Egypt are the poor, the majority suffer from inflation and are affected most by these measures – and they are the most likely to mobilize because they literally have nothing to lose,” says Abdallah Hendawy, senior analyst at the Washington-based Arabia Foundation. 

“The next popular uprising will not be about political grievances and social justice as it was in 2011, it will happen because people will be tired, exhausted, and desperate. And that is much more dangerous,” Mr. Hendawy says.

Voter apathy

As widely expected, Sisi won 97 percent of the vote in a March contest that only featured himself and a token loyalist candidate.

Despite efforts to push Egyptians to vote that included food handouts and threats of $28 fines for abstaining, voter turnout was at 41 percent, well below the 47 percent in his first election as president in 2014.

Observers attribute voter apathy to the economy. After pushing through reforms as the condition of a $12 billion IMF loan, economic conditions in Egypt are largely worse now than when Sisi first came into office in 2014.

Inflation tripled from 10.3 percent in 2014 to 33 percent in mid-2017. Although it has stabilized, it still currently hovers around 15 percent.

Unemployment has dropped under Sisi’s watch from 13.2 percent to 11.8 percent, but nearly 30 percent of youth remain jobless while private sector job growth has dropped each month over the last two years. Egyptians under the age of 29 make up some 80 percent of the unemployed.

In compliance with the IMF loan, Sisi’s government has increased the Value Added Tax on goods and businesses, devalued the Egyptian pound, and cut fuel subsidies. The government is set to cut fuel subsidies a second time this June.

There are indications of a slow turnaround. Egypt’s GDP is expected to grow 5 percent this year, up from 3.5 percent in 2017 and a return to pre-revolution levels. Yet it is considered insufficient for Egypt’s rapidly growing population, and it’s unclear whether the growth will trickle down to the working class and poor, who have been hit hardest by the austerity measures.

In 2015, some 27.8 percent of Egyptians lived under the poverty line of $60 per capita per month, according to the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics. Due to recent inflation and austerity measures, economic experts believe the poverty rate now stands at 35 to 40 percent of the population – as many as 38 million people.

Amid the economic hardships, the minimum wage has maintained stagnant at 1,200 Egyptian pounds a month, but has dropped in real value from $170 per month in 2014, when Sisi was first elected, to $68 in 2018.

Security challenges

The promise of security and stability after years of revolution and upheaval was one of the main drivers of support for Sisi in 2013 and 2014. But the years since have been far from stable.

In his four years as president, Egypt saw more terrorist attacks than in the 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak, as emboldened Islamist militants, many now affiliated with ISIS, stepped up attacks not only in the Sinai Peninsula, but in mainland Egypt, including Cairo and Alexandria.

In the wake of a devastating mosque attack that killed 300 people last November, Sisi launched “Operation Sinai 2018” in February to “clear Egypt’s territory of terrorist elements.” Yet more than two months in, the massive campaign – involving the army, navy, air force, border patrol, and police – has made slow progress and has yet to dismantle, or seemingly contain, Wilayat Sinai, or Sinai Province, an ISIS affiliate.

On April 14, less than two weeks into his second term, eight Egyptian soldiers were killed in clashes with ISIS militants in central Sinai.

While analysts say it is unlikely for ISIS or Islamist militants to capture and hold territory as happened in Iraq and Syria, the long drain on the military and loss of life may shake the army’s faith in Sisi’s ability to lead the country.

Foreign aid

A hallmark of Sisi’s reign has been a reliance on international aid to keep Egypt’s economy afloat, whether it be from the IMF, the EU, the US, or, increasingly, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in Sisi, providing the strongman with $30 billion to strengthen his rule since he came to power. The UAE, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia combined to pump $30 billion to Sisi in 2014 alone.

Yet as oil prices remain low and Gulf states prioritize their domestic economy over foreign assistance, Cairo may suddenly find its cash flow reduced, or cut entirely.

Recent aid has been in the form of investment projects rather than cash handouts. On his first visit to Cairo as crown prince in March, Saudi heir apparent Mohammed bin Salman signed a deal providing $10 billion to develop a mega-city in Sinai. The UAE invested $6.2 billion in Egypt in 2017.

“It is coming down to a decision for Saudi Arabia and others of whether to give Sisi more money and increase electricity prices in Riyadh, or to give Sisi less money and keep electricity prices as they are,” says Robert Springborg, research fellow at the Italian Institute of International Affairs.

“Under this scenario it will be harder and harder for Egypt to get that funding.”

Dissent within military

In his recent reelection bid, Sisi was initially opposed by two army men; Sami Anan, a former member of the military supreme council, and Ahmed Shafiq, an ex-military man and former prime minister. The two only withdrew their candidacies after a campaign of harassment and detention by authorities.  

More unprecedented than their candidacies – a sign of dissent within the military – were their open criticisms of the regime, observers say.

“The question at the end of the day is: Is the military totally supporting Sisi? I don’t think so,” says Arabia Foundation’s Hendawy.

That loyalty may be put to the test yet again. Only days into his second term, Sisi loyalists in the media, parliament, and civil society are pushing for constitutional amendments to lift term limits, allowing Sisi to rule as president for life – a campaign many see as orchestrated by the president himself.

On paper, the move seems simple; the vast majority of MPs are Sisi loyalists, while the courts have been compliant to the strongman.

Yet the amendment, reminiscent of Mr. Mubarak’s corrupt 30-year rule, may serve to unite opposition groups, the middle class, concerned business elites and – most importantly – the military, which wishes to avoid a repeat of the Mubarak era, which led to the 2011 revolution in the first place.

“With everything pointing toward Sisi removing term limits, there might be a confrontation with the military over it,” says Issandr El Amrani, North Africa project director at the International Crisis Group.

“You may have people in the military who are supportive of continuity and stability right now, for a second term, but not supportive of Sisi for life – they want to avoid him running for a divisive third term.”

Should economic, security, or political situations deteriorate, there is a precedent for the army forcing Sisi out in favor of a preferred alternative. Experts say a united army could phase Sisi out as rapidly as it abandoned Mubarak in 2011.

“Otherwise, I think the best bet is that Sisi will continue to limp along, from crisis to crisis, unless one consumes him,” says Mr. Springborg.

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4. At US college-decision time, some conservatives face tough choices

For many years, it was simply accepted as a fact about higher education in the United States: A majority of students held liberal political views, as did most of their professors. But for some of today's young conservatives and their parents, that's not a system they're ready to buy into. And they're now finding alternatives.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Potential student Bryant Miller (c.) tours classrooms at the first open house at Sattler College, a Christian college in Boston, April 12. The college is starting its inaugural year with 25 students, and its founder, Finny Kuruvilla, is hoping to expand enrollment to about 300 students in the coming years.

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As students across the United States receive college acceptance letters, conservative families ask: Among all the factors we’re weighing, how important is it to choose an institution that will welcome our viewpoints? The percentage of conservative faculty has declined steadily over the past 30 years, and college campuses have hit record levels of polarization since President Trump’s election. As conservatives increasingly see academia marginalizing or opposing ideas they see as crucial to government, society, and even for some, individual salvation, they are establishing alternatives. Whether they choose one of the new programs or not, the decision of where to attend is freighted, especially in light of recent protests. “When I hear about Middlebury, I think, ‘That’s a great school, but I don’t want my daughter there.’ Same thing about Berkeley,” says Lisa Rosendale, a Texas mom whose daughter is a junior. Instead, she hopes her daughter might have an experience like that of hers in grad school. “I suspect that most of my professors were pretty liberal in their personal beliefs, but they didn’t really let that color our conversations in the classroom…. I never had professors shut me down, or give me a bad grade.”

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At US college-decision time, some conservatives face tough choices

As high school students across the US receive college acceptance letters, many are wrestling with the same kinds of questions: How much financial aid will I get? How far from home should I go? Are the course offerings what I want? 

But for conservative students, there’s often an additional, even more important factor to consider: Will the institution welcome, or at least tolerate, our viewpoints?

To hear many conservatives tell it, the answer on many campuses is increasingly, “No.” One student, a standout from a Christian academy, came to MIT last fall to pursue his passion, computer science. But during the freshman diversity training, though there was a theme of encouraging discussion between people of different backgrounds – including different political backgrounds – he came away with a feeling that it favored a liberal point of view, especially on issues like sexuality and marriage. So he rarely discusses his perspective with fellow students.

Another, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, put a Trump-Pence sticker on his dorm room window, only to find it shattered. And a mother in Texas became afraid for her daughter’s safety after members of an organization she belonged to swore in a chat group they would ban or even kill anyone who voted for President Trump.

It’s a problem that's been growing for decades – with many interrelated causes. Young people typically tend to be more liberal than the rest of the population. Academia itself has also grown to be overwhelmingly liberal, with the number of self-described conservative or far right professors having dropped to less than 15 percent as of 2014, according to data from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles. This in turn has shaped the course offerings and overall tone on campuses. 

The gap between liberal and conservative views on campus has become even more pronounced since President Trump’s election, with college campuses hitting record levels of polarization, which has sparked passionate and sometimes violent protests over conservative speakers from Vermont to California.

“When I hear about Middlebury, I think, ‘That’s a great school, but I don’t want my daughter there.’ Same thing about Berkeley,” says Lisa Rosendale, a Texas mom whose daughter is a junior.

“What I’m hoping is that she’ll have an experience like I did at grad school at the University of Michigan,” adds Ms. Rosendale, who says she was one of only a few students in her program there who opposed abortion rights. “I suspect that most of my professors were pretty liberal in their personal beliefs, but they didn’t really let that color our conversations in the classroom…. I never had professors shut me down, or give me a bad grade.”

Steven Senne/AP
Students Anwar Omeish, of Fairfax, Va., (c.), and Salma Abdelrahman, of Miami, (r.), chant slogans as they protest a scheduled speaking appearance of author Charles Murray at Harvard University, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, in Cambridge, Mass. Mr. Murray, who co-wrote a book discussing racial differences in intelligence, touched off a boisterous protest earlier in 2017 at Vermont's Middlebury College.

For many, it’s not only a question of whether their views will be accepted – by peers as well as professors – but also what they will be taught. Because in many ways, the college experience imparts not only knowledge, but also a worldview. With a growing feeling among conservatives that academia is increasingly opposed to ideas they see as crucial – to government, society, and for some, even individual salvation – new institutions are cropping up around the country to provide alternatives.

This fall, a Harvard graduate will open Sattler College in Boston, which will require proficiency in Hebrew and Greek, the original language of the Bible – as well as rigorous training in hard sciences, such as biology. Arizona has recently established intellectually conservative schools and centers within the state university system, backed – controversially – by funding from the Koch brothers and the Republican-controlled legislature. And a private classical Christian school in Houston is piloting a K-16 model.

The conservative rethinking of higher education is being driven in part by a nationwide surge in the K-12 classical Christian movement, which offers a grounding in Western civilization as well as a Christian worldview that can range from evangelical to Eastern Orthodox. The Association of Classical Christian Schools has seen a 25 percent jump in the number of member schools in the past three years alone.

“There’s a wave building out there,” says Lee Wishing, vice president for student recruitment at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, an evangelical school that has seen a nearly 20 percent increase in applications since 2015. “When kids come out of that [classical Christian environment], parents and students may think, ‘I want to continue in a like-minded track.’ ” 

But it’s not just religion that’s driving this; it’s politics, too.

Searching for a familiar space

Independent education consultant Leigh Moore in Louisville, Ky., who guides families through the college application process, says none of the parents she works with – conservative or liberal – seek an echo chamber for their children.

But in a realm where conservatives are an increasingly small minority, academia presents a particular challenge for families on the right. 

Professors who self-identity as far left or liberal have increased from 41.7 percent to roughly 60 percent since 1990 according to HERI, while there was an opposite trend among those who identify as conservative. (The remainder reported themselves to be moderate.)

Jake Lubenow, who heads up one of the largest College Republicans chapters in the country, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, says he regularly hears from prospective students and their parents who are worried about liberal indoctrination. He tells them that he and other Republicans on campus find  being immersed in a liberal environment has taught them to better articulate their views.

Still, Bailey La Sage, a senior at the university, says she felt shut down last year when the professor in her gender and women’s studies course refused to discuss the views of those opposed to abortion rights in her conversations about abortion. 

“I firmly believe that in university you should be challenged,” says Ms. La Sage, the only Republican in her family. “But I want to be challenged intellectually, not because I have a moral compass.”

The gap between professors’ politics and the general population has nearly tripled since the 1990s and now stands at 30 percentage points, according to the Heterodox Academy (HxA), a new professor-driven initiative promoting ideological diversity. HxA also found that conservatives today are more underrepresented in college and university faculties than African-Americans.

Some liberal colleges are striving to create more space for debate; the Middlebury College Republicans in Vermont recently invited another controversial speaker, and while there was a counter-event, it did not turn violent. The student organization BridgeUSA, which began with “transpartisan” debates at Notre Dame, has expanded to campuses around the country.

And schools are working to include more students from the populations that elected Donald Trump. According to a 2017 survey of admission directors, about a third said they’re increasing recruitment from rural and low-income white populations. Some 8 percent said their colleges are specifically recruiting conservatives.

Conservatives are also going on the offensive. Campus Reform and The College Fix frequently highlight perceived professor biases or free-speech issues at colleges and universities. 

John Carpenter, a father of four whose youngest is set to enter college this fall, says part of what’s happened is a shift away from what he calls a foundational principle of civilization.

“Every religion has some form of the Golden Rule – treat others as you would like to be treated – and virtually everybody would give lip service to that,” says Mr. Carpenter, who is involved with Classical Conversations, a leader in the classical Christian homeschooling movement. “The problem is in practice.”

An Arizona experiment

The desire to debate a range of political views in a constructive way is at the heart of a new school at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, says director Paul Carrese, a Middlebury alum who taught political science at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

“For goodness sakes, Plato and Aristotle don’t agree,” he says.

This past year, the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at ASU has hosted a series of lectures, Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education and American Society. Among the speakers were conservative professor Robert George of Princeton University and Democratic socialist professor Cornel West of Harvard University, who within two weeks of a protest at Middlebury last spring, published a joint statement urging respectful engagement on college campuses. The statement has since garnered hundreds of other signatories.

After its first full year, SCETL has nearly a dozen full-time PhD faculty and 65 students enrolled, and has just gotten its courses and major and minor programs approved after a long faculty review process. But it has come under fire for being funded by Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature in a deal that critics say lacked transparency; for absorbing centers that were funded by the Koch brothers – high-profile conservative donors; and, according to a disgruntled professor who has since left, hiring people “more for their right-wing commitments than academic stature.” 

Dr. Carrese acknowledges that the program offers an intellectually conservative curriculum, but denies that it is partisan. “All the people in the university leadership above me are not intellectual conservatives … it doesn’t make sense that they would allow themselves to be controlled by dark-money ideological puppeteers.”  

“But we have not persuaded many skeptics,” says Carrese. “I say – come. Come watch what we do.”

Harvard alum's new school 

Finny Kuruvilla loved his seven years at Harvard, during which he earned an MD and PhD and lived in the undergraduate dorms as a premed and chemistry tutor.

But somewhere between chaperoning undergraduates lathered in soap suds at a half-naked dance party and watching them spend their expensive Harvard education on a highly eclectic mix of classes like Japanese cooking, he came to the conclusion that college is broken. He sums up the top concerns as cost, character, and curriculum.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Finny Kuruvilla, who has an MD and PhD from Harvard, stands for a portrait at Sattler College, a Christian school he is establishing, on April 21, 2018, in Boston.

That’s why he is establishing Sattler College in Boston, an epicenter of bold political, religious, and educational ideas, from the American Revolution to the civil rights movement. Sattler, which is named after a 16th -century Christian martyr who left the Roman Catholic church to join the Radical Reformation, promises a revolution of its own.

The school, which will charge $9,000 or less in annual tuition, has already heard from far more applicants than the 25 it can accommodate in its inaugural year. Among them is Bryant Miller, a homeschooler with an ACT score of 35 (out of 36) who is also applying to Ivy League schools. 

“To be honest, my first impression was – no thanks, that’s not what I’m interested in,” he says, explaining he wanted an academically rigorous education and is wary of political indoctrination from either end of the spectrum. But as he learned more, Mr. Miller – who, like most applicants, comes from a similar Christian tradition as Dr. Kuruvilla – came to see in Sattler “a community where I could actually feel at home.”

Kuruvilla is part of a cross-denominational grouping known as Kingdom Christians, which espouses nonresistance and includes individuals from Quaker, Mennonite, and Anabaptist communities. But he says he would also welcome someone like Mahatma Gandhi, the Hindu leader of India’s nonviolent resistance movement who cited the Sermon on the Mount – even as he criticized Christians for not following their own text.

The focus, however, is unapologetically Christian, and the school’s mission is based on a biblical principle of discipleship: students will become like their teachers.

“I think a lot of families are alarmed at the kinds of things they’re seeing in higher education today,” Kuruvilla says. 

The K-16 model

Perhaps the most radical new model for college education is one that includes kindergarteners. The Saint Constantine School in Houston has students as young as 4 years old and is working on gaining accreditation as a four-year college through a partnership with The King’s College in New York. (It is already accredited as a two-year college.)

John Mark Reynolds, who established the school three years ago, says there are currently four full-time college students and 50 high schoolers that are double-enrolled in college classes. The teaching is done through one-on-one tutorials. No one pays more than $12,000 for the year, and no one is turned away because they can’t pay. The school keeps costs low in part by not hiring administrators. Dr. Reynolds, the president, regularly takes out the trash and vacuums the office.

The teaching is Socratic, and Reynolds says that his students are more likely to have a robust discussion about issues like abortion or gay marriage than at a secular or liberal school where religious perspectives are excluded.

The key to his school and other similar initiatives, he says, is not closing students off from the world but rather opening academic inquiry to a broader range of views.

“We don’t want to be a Secret Garden,” says Reynolds, who says he’s graduated many an atheist student. “I view these alternative conservative Christian colleges as going wrong if we become hot houses and going right if we become Socratically oriented, engag[ing] with all ideas, but able to talk about issues that otherwise don’t come up in [mainstream] academia.”

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5. Naledi’s story: In South Africa, the promise of college is hard to reap

In South Africa, the biggest change in higher education in the past couple of decades has been the dramatic increase in access. And while that's good news, getting into college is only half the battle. For many, the biggest obstacles today are getting all the way through to a degree – and finding a way to afford it.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Naledi Thimbela sits with her half sister Pomotso at her grandmother's home in Jan Kempdorp, South Africa. Naledi graduated with honors from high school and hopes to go to college.

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When Olga Thimbela’s oldest daughter was born, the new mother had one resolution. Naledi – whose name means star – would study hard. She’d get an education. She’d make it out of poverty. And throughout high school, Naledi seemed poised to do just that. The mantelpiece in the living room is crammed with her academic trophies. She’s finished second in her high school class. But next year, will she be on a college campus? In the two decades since the end of apartheid, college access has expanded dramatically for South Africans, especially black students. And from a distance, it seems as if higher education should be the engine of social transformation. But only about half of all students who begin degrees finish them. Meanwhile, other students flounder for an even more basic reason: They cannot pay. Rapidly rising tuition set off a massive wave of student protests across South Africa in 2015, pushing education onto the political agenda – and the barriers that remain for students like Naledi. 

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Naledi’s story: In South Africa, the promise of college is hard to reap

Two hundred and eight dollars.

Naledi Thimbela turned that number over in her head again and again. That was the amount she needed to pay her high school, she says, before they’d give her a copy of her transcript. Before she could send in the college application that might get her out of this weathered little town. Before maybe, just maybe, she could become the first person in her family to get a college degree.

Two hundred and eight dollars. That’s what it would take.

The number hovered over her, and over her mother too. When Naledi was born, Olga Thimbela had decided, resolutely, what her daughter’s life wasn’t going to be.

She isn’t going to clean white people’s toilets, she thought. Not like me.

She won’t raise her kids in a shack. Not like me.

No one is going to make her feel like she’s nothing.

Not like me.

All of those thoughts hardened into one resolution. Naledi – whose name means star – would study hard. She’d get an education. She’d make it out.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Olga Thimbela stands in the yard of her home with two of her biological children, Amanda (center) and Bokamoso (right), in a township called Tshepisong. Olga adopted six AIDS orphans after two members of her family died. She struggles to feed and care for them as well as her five biological children.

And she had, or very nearly. The mantelpiece in the living room of the small house she shared with her grandmother was crammed with her academic trophies. First place this. Second place that. Certificate of merit. Certificate of achievement. In January, she received the final results from her high school exit exams. She’d finished second in her class.

“When I used to go to her school and ask if she was okay, the teachers would just laugh and shoo me away,” says Olga, whose family has, for the last decade, been part of an occasional Monitor series about the toll of AIDS on South African families.

“They’d tell me, ‘She’s too clever, your kid. She’s doing fine.’”

But now there was the question of this money, this $208. No one in the family had it. No one knew where they could get it. And the days to apply to the University of the Free State were quietly ticking away.

Two hundred and eight.

It was all Naledi and Olga could think about.

From a distance, it seems like higher education should be the engine of social transformation in post-apartheid South Africa. Stepping onto the campuses of elite schools in Johannesburg, Cape Town, or Durban, indeed, feels like stepping into one of Nelson Mandela’s dreamscapes, their quads and lecture halls packed with a kind of well-proportioned diversity that most American universities can only conjure up in glossy admissions brochures.

In fact, since the 1990s, access to these schools has democratized radically. There are now twice as many students enrolled in institutions of higher education as there were in 1994, and the vast majority of them are black. South Africa’s black population is more educated – by percentage and by absolute numbers – than at any other time in the country’s history.

But those gains obscure another trend. Only about half of all the students who begin a degree at a South African university or technical college each year will ultimately finish. And white students are almost 50 percent more likely to complete their studies than black students, many of whom are hobbled by their years in South Africa’s massively under-serviced public school system.

Meanwhile, many, like Naledi, don’t get a chance to rise or fall on academic merit. They falter for an even more basic reason: they cannot pay. The cost of attending college has roughly doubled in the last decade, and in a country where the average income for a black family is about $7,700, university tuition at many top public schools can run half that or more – never mind living expenses. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Olga hugs her daughter Naledi at her paternal grandmother Pule Mathe's home in Jan Kempdorp. Naledi went to live with her grandmother to finish high school.

In 2015, the rapidly rising cost of higher ed set off a massive wave of student protests across the country, which became known by its hashtag: #FeesMustFall. Though their initial aim was narrow – to stop an annual tuition hike – the movement quickly spiraled into a broader outpouring of grief and rage over the state of South African higher education, two decades after the end of apartheid.

For many students, the heart of the problem was the dysfunctional state of the country’s public financial aid scheme, which was meant to make college affordable to poor students. But payments, many complained, came late or never at all.

“It’s not uncommon for these scholarships to not be paid until two or three months into the school year, after you’ve already had to deal with costs like registration, housing, books, food,” says Zoheb Khan, a researcher at the University of Johannesburg who studies youth access to employment and education in South Africa. “If you can’t pay those, you’re likely to drop out.”

The protests shoved the inequalities inside the country’s universities into the public eye, and onto the political agenda. In December 2017, then-president Jacob Zuma announced that he planned to make college tuition free for anyone whose family earned under about $30,000 a year – the vast majority of students. (The government of Mr. Zuma’s successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, has been tight-lipped about whether they still plan to take that policy forward.)

For many young South Africans, however, the financial barriers to attending college begin long before they ever receive their first tuition bill.  

For Naledi and Olga, there had never been much money to go around, not since the two of them moved from Jan Kempdorp – a sleepy town in South Africa’s rural Northern Cape – to Johannesburg when Naledi was just a baby. But Olga scraped by working as a maid, and soon met and married a doting security guard, Pontsho. For a while, the family was just about making it.

Then came May 26, 2005. The day Olga’s sister Nono died of AIDS. The next morning, Olga caught a bus from Johannesburg to Jan Kempdorp for the funeral. When she returned a few days later, she had her sister’s four children in tow.

A year later, Olga’s aunt also died of AIDS, and Olga took in her two children too.

“I took those kids to be one family, to know that together we’re going to fight this,” she told the Monitor at the time.

Inside their drafty tin shack in a settlement of drafty tin shacks, Olga made Pontsho a frank offer.

This is my family, she told him. If you don’t want to stay, you’re free to go.

Don’t say that, he said. I will love these kids like I love you and yours.

But that wasn’t an easy promise to keep. Not when there were eight children needing to be fed every day. Eight sets of clothes to wash. And an endless parade of requests for help with homework that Olga – who had never gone to school herself – couldn’t provide.

Money came from Olga’s jobs cleaning the houses and offices of rich people and Pontsho’s jobs guarding them overnight, plus the small grants the government doled out for the foster kids. But it always seemed to run out before the month did. Relatives, meanwhile, wouldn’t stop asking for their share. We see how much you get from the government, they’d tell her.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Olga and her then-husband, Pontsho Monamodi, pose for a photo in their shack with some of their adopted and biological children in 2007.

Eventually, Pontsho gave up and moved out, and Olga carried on.

So did Naledi.

“She was always bringing home these medals and certificates [from school],” Olga says. “From the start, she was so good.”

But Olga worried. What if this life she had chosen raising her nieces, nephews, and cousins, what if the chaos of it, the always scraping by, was dragging her eldest daughter down?

So when Naledi began high school, Olga made a choice. She packed her up and sent her home to Jan Kempdorp to live with her paternal grandmother and finish school there.

And at first, the move was startling.

Joburg was crowded, loud, on-edge. Its suburbs were rimmed with razor wire and humming electric fences. In Jan Kempdorp, on the other hand, houses had the kind of low-slung walls that were meant to keep dogs in, not people out.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Olga, Naledi, and her grandmother and younger sister walk to church in the black township of Valspan.

You didn’t really have to keep anyone out, after all, in a place where everyone already knew where they belonged.

And in Jan Kempdorp, the border was hard to miss. A set of railroad tracks sliced the town neatly in two. On one side was the old white town, with its neat suburban yards and stout brick Dutch Reformed church, where the streets were still named for an assortment of white conquerors and apartheid leaders. And on the other side, the black township of Valspan where Naledi and her granny lived, jumbled and thrumming.

Since the end of apartheid in the 1990s, a few black people had moved across the tracks, but most had stayed put. And on the vast commercial farms of pecans, corn, and cotton that ringed the town, the order of things was the same as it had always been.

During harvest season, sunburned white farmers in khaki shorts and long socks drove empty pickup trucks into the township. Whoever wanted a job for the day jumped on.

On her school holidays, Naledi was among them, just like her mother had been. She’d work for eight or nine hours straight, just as her mother had. The farmers paid $11 a day.

So when she went back to school, she knew exactly what the stakes were.

“Without education, you are nothing in South Africa,” she says.

And so she decorated the bright pink bedroom of her grandmother’s house with tiny notes of affirmation. “In life I’ve heard that it’s either you’re here with a solution or you’re part of the problem,” she had written on one in neat bubbled script. “We need to aim to be successful.”

But the odds of success were never in Naledi’s favor. In the Northern Cape province, more than half of students drop out before the 12th grade. Another quarter of those who do make it to their final year flunk their exit exams. Of those who do pass, only 21 percent have high-enough scores to qualify for admission to universities.

This year, Naledi was one of them.

But her elation, and her mother’s, quickly faded.

During her final year of high school, before she had her final results, Naledi had applied to study agricultural science at a nearby research university, but was told the program was already full. (Nationally, that’s a common occurrence – South Africa’s public universities have space for less than half the qualified students who apply each year.) So she planned to try again after her exit exam results came back, figuring her high marks might give her a better shot for the following year.

There was just one hitch. Over the past few years, Naledi had racked up a series of small debts at her high school. By the time she finished, she owed them 2550 Rand.

Two hundred and eight dollars.

And if she didn’t pay it back, she says, the school wouldn’t release her final transcript.

No transcript, no university application.

Back in Johannesburg, Olga fretted. Every month, she earned about $150, of which she spent about $60 on transport to and from work. And she still had several children at home. Paying anyone $208 was out of the question – as it was for Naledi’s granny and dad, too.

Naledi wasn’t one to wait around. So she made plans to go back to Johannesburg. Maybe, she reasoned, it would be easier to find a job or classes to take there while she figured out the money for her transcript. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Naledi hugs a hymnal as the congregation sings during a Sunday service at Twelve Apostles church. Olga, who never went to school and can't read or write, is proud of her daughter Naledi's accomplishments in school.

A few weeks before she left, her mother came to Jan Kempdorp for a weekend visit with Naledi’s two baby sisters, and she and her granny took them to their church, a stately tin shack set in an empty lot at the border of Valspan near the railroad tracks.

Beams of white sunlight slid through the lace curtains and spilled across the grooved roof as the three women squeezed their way into the front row. Outside, groups of men ambled by clutching half-filled bottles of beer. Gospel music blasted from the speakers of a nearby car.

Clutching a leather Bible with its spine worn off, Naledi dropped her head.

“Now,” the pastor began, “it is time for us to pray.”

Editor's note: The Monitor has reported on Olga and her family for more than a decade. During that time, staff members have donated clothing directly to her family.

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The Monitor's View

Why a wave of Asian summitry

Two ways to read the story

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Asia, home to half of humanity, is littered with land disputes, a result of wars, colonial-era mistakes, and ambitions for dominance. A China-India summit this weekend will be just one of several high-level meetings in the region that may reflect a desire to ease territorial tensions. It will probably be overshadowed by another summit: Leaders of North Korea and South Korea will be holding talks. They are aimed mainly at ridding the North of its nuclear weapons. Yet that conflict is fundamentally a dispute over which of the two countries will control the peninsula – the land issue unresolved by the 1950-53 Korean War. The talks may help reveal if North Korea is finally ready to put prosperity for its people ahead of its desire to conquer the South. One reason China and India avoided a land war last year is the fact that their trade reached its highest level ever. Perhaps the region’s historic disputes over land are yielding to a need for common prosperity.

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Why a wave of Asian summitry

Less than a year ago, the world’s two most populous nations, India and China, almost went to war. In a tense showdown over disputed land in the Himalayas, their soldiers traded stones and punches. After 73 days, each side backed down. Now, on April 27 and 28, their leaders will meet and instead try to embrace what they have in common – ever the wiser in setting aside nationalist rage over territorial issues.

Asia, which is home to half of humanity, is littered with such land disputes, a result of wars, colonial-era mistakes, and ambitions for dominance. The China-India summit will be just one of several high-level meetings in the region over coming weeks that may reflect a desire to ease territorial tensions.

Despite the size of the two Asia giants, their meeting will probably be overshadowed by another summit also being held this weekend. For the first time in 11 years, leaders of North Korea and South Korea will be holding talks. The summit is aimed mainly at ridding the North of its nuclear weapons. If the talks go well, President Trump plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in May or June. Yet it is important to recall that the Korean conflict is fundamentally a dispute over which of the two countries will control the peninsula – the land issue unresolved by the 1950-53 Korean War. The talks may reveal if North Korea is finally ready to put prosperity for its people ahead of its desire to conquer the South by force.

One reason China and India avoided a land war last year is the fact that their trade reached its highest level ever, growing by 20 percent in 2017 to more than $84 billion. China is now India’s largest trading partner and a key investor. For its part, China is trying to build roads and ports across the region to boost trade and reclaim its historic role in Asia.

With both India and China facing internal pressures to foster growth, cooperation between the two looks more enticing than confrontation. The elephant and dragon now realize they need a dance card, not another military confrontation along their more than 2,000-mile border. The two fought a brief war in 1962 in the Himalayas that ended in a stalemate.

The summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will be informal, reflecting their serious intent to get along. Just as remarkable is the fact that Mr. Modi will again meet with Mr. Xi in June at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional body.

Their close call over war last summer was a wake-up call for both sides to look at the big picture and opt for a beneficial détente over a deadly contest in their remote mountains.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Another way to look at ‘DNA’

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Today’s contributor was healed of a hereditary, chronic back problem as his sense of identity shifted radically.

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Another way to look at ‘DNA’

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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As a teenager, I remember standing in a doctor’s office while he explained to me why I was going to have back problems all my life. He was showing me X-rays of my back and pointing out that my problem had been inherited from my father. He said, “You’ve got the spitting image of your dad’s back, and you’re going to have the same issues with it that he has.”

My dad regularly visited the chiropractor, and thus began my regular visits over the next few years. But the pain persisted. I was a basketball player, and it was sometimes so bad that I had to drop out of games.

Fortunately, I learned about another approach to healing – the spiritual method found in the teachings of Christian Science. My mom had begun reading a book called “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” written by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy, and it had shed some dramatically new light on the concepts of inheritance and identity. Mrs. Eddy perceived ideas in the Scriptures that she felt were actually “scientific” – able to be applied today as they had been centuries earlier, with healing results.

This gave me hope, and I reached out to a Christian Science practitioner, a professional who helps other people through prayer. The practitioner encouraged me to think about my back in a new way. Rather than seeing it in purely physical terms as a jumble of bones, muscles, and nerves, I learned to see myself as spiritual, conceived and supported by God. “Sometime we shall learn how Spirit, the great architect, has created men and women in Science,” Science and Health explains (p. 68). This is what I began glimpsing – that our real structure is purely spiritual, and that God, divine Spirit, is our creator, our real Father.

This means that God, who is purely good, is the source of everyone’s real inheritance. There’s an example of how powerful this profound idea is that I find particularly inspiring. It’s an account of Christ Jesus healing a man who was born blind (see John 9:1-7). A prevalent belief of the time was that such birth defects were the result of parents’ sins or the child’s. But Jesus disagreed: “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” And the man’s sight was restored.

As I prayed along these lines, the chronic pain in my back was entirely healed, and I have enjoyed a strong and pain-free back for decades.

This healing, along with many others since then, has caused me to think about “DNA” in an entirely different way. I see these letters as standing for our “divinely natural attributes” – the inheritance of spiritual qualities such as health and joy that comes to us directly from God. Science and Health sums this up beautifully: “In Science man is the offspring of Spirit. The beautiful, good, and pure constitute his ancestry” (p. 63). Beauty, goodness, purity – these are our divinely natural attributes, and there’s a lot more good where those came from!

Adapted from the April 19, 2018, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.

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Viewfinder

A royal reveal

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
Britain's Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wave and gesture as they leave St. Mary's Hospital in London with their newborn son April 23. The couple’s third child is fifth in line to the British throne.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( April 24th, 2018 )

Marjorie Kehe
Deputy Weekly Editor

Come back tomorrow: We’ll be taking a look at French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Washington. The relationship between the two leaders appears to have evolved into something that looks like a partnership. On their agenda this week: Syria and Iran.

Monitor Daily Podcast

April 23, 2018
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