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Seven years on, the vestiges of the Arab Spring look forlorn. In Egypt, elections are taking place that are all but certain to renew the oppressive rule of president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi — every credible alternative candidate has either been detained or threatened into submission. In Libya last weekend, a US drone strike on al-Qaeda militants signalled the expansion of a shadow war in an already violent and anarchic state. Meanwhile, the destruction caused by the conflict in Syria continues apace.

Yet there is one part of the Middle East where a faint democratic pulse still beats, writes Gideon Rachman in his latest column. In Tunisia there are signs of hope. The country where the Arab Spring began is now governed by an elected coalition and is about to hold municipal elections, with a presidential poll to follow in 2019. After two terrorist attacks in 2015, security has improved and tourists are returning.

More encouragingly, Gideon notes, the leader of the main Muslim political party, Rachid Ghannouchi, who calls himself a “Muslim democrat”, has supported women’s rights of inheritance and to marry non-Muslims. Optimists hope Tunisia could serve as a role model for the rest of north Africa and the Middle East.

Secrets and lies
Bosses of big tech companies need to face facts and concede they are not charities and that their business models depend on monetising the data they collect, argues Robert Hannigan, former director of GCHQ. Because they are not honest about how they make their money, they are constantly on the back foot, driven to obsessive secrecy. Regulation, such as the EU’s new laws on data protection, will help to bring transparency where it is needed.

Voice of the nation
In the US, where gerrymandering has become an art, politicians are obliged to represent only a sliver of the population, observes Victoria Bassetti. This is evident in the frustrated struggle to pass gun control legislation. But democratic values have an alternative champion in big business: corporations like Walmart, which has a customer base of 95 per cent of American shoppers, need to represent the views of all their consumers. Increasingly they are turning their backs on politicians to do that.

The skies must open
Brexit is the perfect opportunity to update outdated rules on international air traffic, writes Philipp Goedeking. Airlines still operate under rules codified in 1944, in an era of propeller technology. It is time we replaced the thousands of bilateral inter-governmental agreements that govern rights to the skies with a universal framework. Britain should lead the way.

Best of the rest

Trump and Bolton’s plan to isolate allies and encourage enemies — Wendy Sherman in the New York Times

Cambridge Analytica: Why the outrage? — William Davies in the London Review of Books

The March for Our Lives presents a radical new model for youth protest — Emily Witt in the New Yorker

It’s just not cricket. But ball-tampering is what you’d expect in today’s world — Simon Jenkins in the Guardian

Can Mike Pompeo save US foreign policy? — Ana Palacio for Project Syndicate

What you’ve been saying

Last week, we asked readers to join the debate on whether the Big Four auditors should be forced to spin off their consulting businesses to avoid conflicts of interests. Hundreds of readers responded with suggestions ranging from making auditors liable if their clients go bankrupt to assigning all audits to a state-supervised non-profit. Here’s an edited selection of what you had to say.


Definition of welfare includes innovation— letter from Ed Black

The puzzling antitrust argument against Google and Facebook rests on a straw man — that the consumer welfare standard focuses only on prices. The definition of welfare, however, includes innovation. In fact, Microsoft and Intel’s anti-innovative actions were precisely what led to their respective antitrust actions. Ironically, Google and Facebook’s innovations have taken a dent out of cable companies’ monopolies.

Hammond, not the OBR, is responsible— letter from Robert Ford

Parliament charged the OBR with the responsibility for macroeconomic forecasts on which the budget is to be based. The chancellor must use that forecast as an input, but bears full responsibility for the budget itself. His decision to link budgetary decisions to the forecast is his alone, and one which he has full power to modify. He, not the OBR, is responsible for the consequences. This is just how the system is meant to work.

Today’s opinion

Companies champion democratic values in Donald Trump’s US
Supporting gun control is an easy call for businesses — if not for politicians

Free Lunch: Many taxation rules are biased against the left behind
How governments can improve their tax system such that it works for everyone

Britain has a chance to fly the flag for a global open skies pact
Brexit opens the way to rethink bilateral laws codified in the propeller era

Jeremy Corbyn’s response to anti-Semitism has been inadequate
The Labour leader would hardly have treated abuse of other minorities so gingerly

India’s lucrative exam-cheating industry reflects a broken system
A crackdown will punish individuals but is no remedy for wider education problems

Democracy’s faint pulse in the Middle East
Tunisia is keeping the hopes of the Arab spring alive

Opinion today: Forget big, investors should go small
‘When facing moments of great change, chaos and conflict, small can be safer’

The Big Read: How Alibaba and Tencent became Asia’s biggest dealmakers
Entrepreneurs like their valuations but fear being caught in the crossfire between them

It is Venezuela’s crisis that is driving the oil price higher
While the Maduro-military alliance holds, output is likely to fall further

Governments must intervene to build trust in data use
Obsessively secretive technology companies need regulation to force transparency

Banking and finance have vacuumed up the talent
Many engineering graduates have chosen Wall Street and the City over manufacturing

A Village with My Name by Scott Tong
A personal tour through the violent currents of 20th-century China

EM Squared: Pan-African trade bloc faces lengthy obstacle course
Successful pact could spur transition from commodity exports to manufactured goods

Investors should bet on smaller nimbler companies and countries
In a time of turmoil and conflict, the best strategy is to go south and nimble

FT View

FT View: The final frontier for Brexit talks
Galileo project tests collective security against commercial rivalry

FT View: Repairing the trust between users, data and politics
Facebook and its technology peers must shift to an opt-in sharing policy

The Big Read

The Big Read: How Alibaba and Tencent became Asia’s biggest dealmakers
Entrepreneurs like their valuations but fear being caught in the crossfire between them

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