Hondurans cast their vote Sunday in a largely peaceful, orderly election, that was nonetheless marred by deep polarization, technological shortfalls and fears of fraud.
The name of Honduras’s deeply unpopular current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, was not on the ballot, but many said his presence was palpable at the polls after his government spent the past eight years dismantling the country’s democratic institutions.
The race, which has been neck-and-neck for weeks, pitted Nasry Asfura, the pro-American mayor of the capital, Tegucigalpa, and a member of Mr. Hernández’s governing National Party, against Xiomara Castro, the wife of Manuel Zelaya, a leftist former president deposed in a 2009 coup. If elected, Ms. Castro would be the first woman to lead Honduras.
TTTurnout was among the highest recorded in recent decades, but few held out hope that anything fundamental might change in a country worn down by corruption and violence.
“I hope that these elections will be transparent, that there won’t be the same vote-buying as always,” said Dina Padilla, who voted in the working-class neighborhood of Pedregal in the capital, Tegucigalpa.
Ms. Castro led Mr. Asfura by 19 percentage points with 16 percent of the polls counted, according to the first official results announced by the electoral council on Sunday night. Ms. Castro captured 53 percent of the vote, compared to 34 percent for Mr. Asfura.
The election will test the council’s ability to deliver credible results after a profound overhaul of the electoral system, which was triggered by widespread accusations of fraud in the last general election in 2017.
The chief of the Organization of American States’s electoral observation mission, Costa Rica’s former president Luis Guillermo Solís, called the vote “a beautiful example of citizen participation,” noting the high apparent turnout. He also called on party leaders to abstain from declaring victory until results are counted.
Both main political parties, however, claimed to have won in nearly identical Twitter messages posted while people were still casting votes in the late afternoon.
Some voters have also complained of not being able to cast their vote because of the recent overhaul of the electoral roll. The process eliminated nearly one million people in what the reform’s proponents said rid the system of the deceased or emigrated voters whose data was utilized for electoral fraud.
The vote was also marred by the outages of the electoral council’s website, which was down for most of the day, breeding fraud conspiracies among the already suspicious population. The council said it was investigating whether the outage was caused by a cyberattack, without providing additional details.
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — The presidential vote is billed as Honduras’s last chance to avoid the abyss. What the danger is depends on which side you’re on.
The leftist opposition is warning voters that the governing party has increased its hold on the country’s security forces, courts and the congress over its 12 years in power, and one more term with it would push the country decisively into authoritarianism and the grip of organized crime.
The bloc in power, the National Party, is painting their leading challenger as a Communist who would ally Honduras to Venezuela and legalize abortion, upsetting a deeply conservative society.
Polls show a tight race between the National Party’s candidate, Nasry Asfura, who is the charismatic mayor of the capital, Tegucigalpa; and Xiomara Castro, the wife of Manuel Zelaya, a leftist former president.
The high stakes and the expectation of a close outcome are fueling fears of fraud and unrest among the supporters of both parties.
Both candidates, in different ways, promise a break with the deeply unpopular outgoing president, Juan Orlando Hernández, whose time in office was marked by endemic corruption, weak economic growth and accusations of drug trafficking.
The party of Ms. Castro, who is running to become Honduras’ first female president, is trying to capitalize on voters’ desire for change after 12 years under the National Party.
“We’re united by one expression: Get out JOH!” Ms. Castro told a chanting crowd of several thousand at a recent campaign rally in the city of San Pedro Sula, referring to the widely used acronym of Mr. Hernández’s name.
Mr. Asfura, a wealthy former construction businessman with the governing party, calls himself Papi, a Spanish term of endearment that means “Daddy.” He is running under the slogan “Daddy Is Different,” to set himself apart from the current president. Mr. Hernández, whose approval rating is close to single digits, is never mentioned at his rallies or seen on campaign materials.
In contrast to the aloof Mr. Hernández, Mr. Asfura has cast himself as a can-do Everyman, introducing himself to voters as “Daddy at your service,” and jumping into campaign crowds in whitewashed jeans and construction boots.
His proposals have been limited to promising “jobs, jobs, jobs.” The National Party is relying heavily on handouts ranging from cash transfers to construction materials ahead of the elections. Their activists have warned voters that this economic aid would stop if they lost power.
The National Party has also painted Ms. Castro as a radical leftist, which could hurt her in a conservative country shaped by a close alliance to the United States during the Cold War.
Fears of a sharp leftward shift helped topple the government of Ms. Castro’s husband, Mr. Zelaya. He was elected president but ousted in a military coup in 2009 after following the policies of Venezuela’s late president, Hugo Chávez.
Ms. Castro has tried to both appease the leftist supporters of Mr. Zelaya and appeal to the more moderate sectors of society. She has built a broad coalition with centrist parties and brought respected technocrats into her economic team, which got the endorsement of Honduras’ business sector.
Nearly one million Hondurans living in the United States were eligible to vote on Sunday, but issues with getting identification cards made it hard for them to cast a ballot.
They are watching the race closely. But to vote, they needed new, digitally secure national identity cards recently issued by the Honduran government, and they say it has been difficult to get them.
“I think it was calculated politics,” said Juan Flores, a Honduran activist in South Florida who said he had planned to cast a blank ballot because no candidate offered solid proposals to solve the migration crisis.
Mr. Flores said Honduran national registry officials set up mobile consulates in the United States to sign people up for the new I.D. cards, but chose places where it would be hard for people to travel. Instead of Miami, where many Hondurans live, they picked Tampa, he said. Instead of Houston, they selected McAllen, Texas.
Just under 13,000 people in the United States registered for the new cards, which were scheduled with little notice to be distributed on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Mr. Flores said.
“They want us to abandon our jobs and run over there because we want to vote on Sunday?” he said. “Immigrants were discriminated against.”
Luis Suazo, Honduras’s ambassador in Washington, acknowledged that the process fell short of the government’s duty to guarantee the right to vote for all citizens.
The initial plans to launch the new I.D. cards failed to consider the diaspora, he said, adding that when events to enroll Hondurans outside the country were finally scheduled, time was tight.
“They worked basically one long weekend at every consulate,” Mr. Suazo said.
He pushed back on the suggestion that the government deliberately disenfranchised Hondurans in the United States, adding that the agencies in charge of the effort are run by committees in which opposition parties hold a majority.
Officials have said the cards would help prevent fraud.
Many Hondurans in the United States say the current administration has poorly managed the country, pointing to the corruption, unemployment and violence that led them to flee, said Suyapa Portillo Villeda, a scholar of Central American history at Pitzer College, in California.
Hondurans in the United States send billions of dollars home each year, accounting for at least 20 percent of the country’s economy. Although officially the number of Hondurans in the United States is one million, experts say it may be higher given that U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported nearly 400,000 encounters with Honduran migrants along the southwest U.S. border in the past two years alone.
The number of Honduran-born people living in the United States has grown more than threefold in the past two decades, according to the Pew Research Center.
MEXICO CITY — After President Juan Orlando Hernández claimed victory in elections tainted by irregularities in 2017, the Trump administration brushed aside the concerns of members of Congress and threw its weight behind the troubled leader’s hold on power.
That move did not immediately lead to a smooth working relationship between the two countries. Nearly a year after the election, as more than a thousand Hondurans marched toward the United States in a migrant caravan, President Trump lashed out at his ally for failing to halt the procession and threatened to cut aid to the country.
“The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” Mr. Trump wrote on his Twitter account.
Mr. Trump later said on Twitter that he was also prepared to end U.S. financial assistance not just to Honduras, but also to its neighbors, Guatemala and El Salvador, “if they allow their citizens, or others, to journey through their borders and up to the United States, with the intention of entering our country illegally.”
Those threats became policy. In 2019, Mr. Trump froze $450 million in aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in response to their inability to curb migration.
In the months after that decision, Mr. Hernández and his counterparts in Central America fell in line, signing agreements with the Trump administration that required migrants who passed through one of the three countries to first seek asylum there before applying in the United States.
Last year, Chad Wolf, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, met with Mr. Hernández in the Honduran capital and called him a “valued and proven partner” with whom his team shared “such a strong and productive bilateral relationship.”
Three months before Mr. Wolf’s visit, Mr. Hernández’s brother, Juan Antonio Hernández, known as Tony, was convicted in a New York court on charges of trafficking cocaine. Witnesses at the trial said the president, Mr. Hernández, looked the other way in exchange for bribes that financed his campaign, though he has repeatedly denied those claims.
Mr. Biden has tried a different approach in Honduras, with .administration officials keeping some distance from Mr. Hernández, a signal that the U.S. support for the leader has waned.
Earlier this year, Congress listed several Honduran officials among “corrupt and undemocratic actors,” including a former president from Mr. Hernández’s party. A group of Democratic legislators also put a bill forward in February that would cut aid to Honduran security forces and impose sanctions on the president, though it has not yet come up for a vote.
Brian A. Nichols, the top State Department official focused on the Western Hemisphere, visited Honduras in the week preceding the vote to “encourage the peaceful, transparent conduct of free and fair national elections.” Mr. Nichols did not meet with Mr. Hernández.
Hondurans had been fleeing their homes for years, escaping an impoverished country with one of the highest murder rates in the world and the failures of a government led by a president accused of ties to drug traffickers.
Then came a pandemic, a global economic downturn and two hurricanes last year that flattened entire towns and upended the lives of four million people, almost half of the population.
What followed was one of the largest movements of Hondurans toward the United States in recent history, helping drive an enormous buildup of migrants at the border that flummoxed the Biden administration and became the target of repeated Republican attacks.
Border crossings by Hondurans hit more than 300,000 last fiscal year, making the country the second-largest source of migrants after Mexico, whose population is 12 times bigger.
Border agents also encountered more families and unaccompanied children from Honduras than from anywhere else last year.
“They are hemorrhaging people,” said Adam Isacson, the director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America.
The Biden administration has leaned on Honduras to help lessen the pressure at the U.S. border, reaching an agreement for the country to build up the law enforcement presence at its border earlier this year.
But the relationship between the two governments has been uneasy, with corruption allegations and drug trafficking cases linked to President Juan Orlando Hernández and his allies.
Prosecutors in federal court in New York claimed that Mr. Hernández facilitated cocaine shipments from Honduras. Court documents suggest that Mr. Hernández also claimed to have used sham nonprofits to siphon off aid money from the United States. Mr. Hernández has not been charged with any crime and has denied those allegations.
Mr. Biden made the battle against corruption a cornerstone of his policy in Central America, believing that the only way to slow migration is to begin fixing the broken systems that force people to leave in the first place.
Though all the main political parties in Honduras have been accused of corruption or ties to organized crime, if Sunday’s contest goes smoothly, it could offer the Biden administration an opportunity to collaborate more closely with a new, legitimately elected leader.
SAN LUIS, Honduras —Nearly 30 candidates, political activists and their relatives have been killed in the run-up to Sunday’s elections in Honduras, creating a climate of fear that rights groups said could impact the outcome of the tightly contested vote.
Political violence has long marred elections in Honduras, which until recently had one of the world’s highest overall homicide rates. But lethal attacks on politicians and party activists have more than doubled this year compared with the prelude to the previous election in 2017, making Honduras one of the most dangerous places in the world in which to campaign for office, according to Isabel Maria Albaladejo, the local representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
There’s no evidence implicating Mr. Hernández in the killings, which have also claimed the lives of his party’s activists, but rights groups said the violence benefits the incumbent by depressing turnout and silencing dissent.
The government has dismissed the spike in the killings, saying that all but one of them had no connection with politics. Most did not lead to arrests.
“The effect is to create fear in the population, to demoralize people when the time comes to vote,” said Migdonia Ayestas, the director of the Observatory of Violence at the Autonomous National University of Honduras.
The violence’s toll is felt particularly sharply in rural areas like the coffee growing town of San Luis, where the lack of police presence and deep-rooted local political rivalries have left opposition candidates and voters exposed to frequent attacks.
In March, a supporter of Mr. Hernández’s National Party shot Abraham Bautista, who was 8 years old at the time, in the head. The shooting happened after the candidate for mayor with the opposition Libre party visited the child’s home and posted a campaign leaflet on the outside wall, starting a political argument. The child miraculously survived.
Several months later, Ronmel Rivera, a mayoral candidate in San Luis, narrowly survived an assassination attempt when a gunman shot him seven times in a local shop. Mr. Rivera suffered minor injuries and now campaigns under the escort of three police officers and one bodyguard whose automatic weapons visibly scare voters in the impoverished outlying hamlets.
Elvir Casaña, who ran on the Libre ticket for a seat on the town council in San Luis, was killed with a shotgun outside his home as he chatted with supporters after a campaign rally.
No one has been detained for that fatal shooting or the attack on the child, Abraham, which occurred in the presence of several witnesses.
“No one comes here anymore. People are scared,” said Mr. Casaña’s daughter, Bercely Casaña.
Mr. Rivera, the mayoral candidate, says the violence has left him struggling to find enough volunteers to serve as his party’s witnesses at the polls, leaving him exposed to potential fraud.
Mr. Casaña’s death proved the last straw for his relative, Manuel Vigil, who renounced his councilor candidacy out of fear for his life. He is now trying to sell his land and join a migrant caravan heading for the United States.
“What they are achieving is terror because people like us can’t keep risking our lives in this country,” he said. “I can no longer even pray anymore because of all the impotence that I feel, the rage at not being able to change anything.”
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Honduras’s top anti-corruption campaigner can explain the system of impunity that’s helping drive thousands of her countrymen to the U.S. border every month without saying a word.
She unrolls a six-foot-long paper organizational chart full of names of officials and their connections to irregular public contracts, offshore companies and missing state funds. All the names eventually connect to the picture of a man at the top of the chart: Honduras’s outgoing president, Juan Orlando Hernández.
“Who do you denounce to if everything leads to the top?,” said Gabriela Castellanos, the head of the National Anti-Corruption Council, an independent body created by the Honduran congress in 2005. “The government is so corrupt that it incapacitates the entire state apparatus.”
The council estimates that about $3 billion goes missing in Honduras because of corruption every year, a figure that represents about 12 percent of the country’s entire gross domestic product. Yet only 2 percent of corruption cases are ever brought to court, according to the council.
“The impunity is near complete,” Ms. Castellanos said.
Honduras’s endemic corruption has reached very high levels under Mr. Hernández, who slashed funding for the council and dismantled a U.S.-backed team of international investigators charged with investigating corruption in Honduras. He is also accused by U.S. prosecutors of taking bribes from drug traffickers in return for political protection.
The corruption scandals multiplied during the pandemic, as officials took advantage of expedited public purchases to siphon funds intended for medical equipment, outraging the population and plunging Mr. Hernández’s approval ratings to near single digits.
Few believe the system of graft that flourished under Mr. Hernández’s rule will end after he leaves.
The three main candidates in Sunday’s election have all been marred by corruption accusations against them or their close relatives.
The main opposition candidate, Xiomara Castro, has promised to reinstate the international corruption investigators, but her plan may be undermined by Mr. Hernández’s allies in congress.
He is accused of meeting drug traffickers to accept bribes, discussing cocaine shipments to the United States, and financing his election campaign with funds hand-delivered by a notorious Mexican cartel boss.
The accusations made by numerous witnesses in New York courtrooms over the past two years against Honduras’s departing president, Juan Orlando Hernández, paint a startling picture of a leader who has allowed organized crime to penetrate every layer of the state to consolidate power.
These accusations, which Mr. Hernández denies, are adding complexity to Sunday’s already tense elections by raising the possibility that the president could face charges after leaving office in January. Speculations over his future have filled Honduras’s social media and village plazas, and have injected uncertainty into negotiations among the country’s political and business elites as they prepare to turn the page on his eight-year administration.
Any formal charges against Mr. Hernández in New York would complicate the new government’s relations with the United States, Honduras’s main economic partner and ally. They could also upset the balance of power in the bureaucracy and security forces, which Mr. Hernández spent years molding into instruments of his personal power.
No one knows where the accusations against Mr. Hernández may ultimately lead.
Mr. Hernández was called a co-conspirator in a drug-trafficking case against his brother, Tony Hernández, in the Southern District of New York. He was also named a target of an investigation in a separate case brought by the same prosecutors against a Honduran drug trafficker, Geovanny Fuentes. Both Tony Hernández and Mr. Fuentes were convicted.
In a filing this year, prosecutors said Mr. Hernández “accepted millions of dollars in drug-trafficking proceeds and, in exchange, promised drug traffickers protection.”
Perhaps the most explosive accusation made by a defendant in New York is the allegation that the boss of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, Joaquín Guzmán, known as El Chapo, traveled to Honduras twice to meet with the president’s brother and to deliver $1 million in cash for Mr. Hernández’s first presidential campaign.
The shadow of organized crime on the Honduran elections goes beyond Mr. Hernández.
One of the two leading opposition candidates, Yani Rosenthal, recently finished a prison sentence in the United States for doing business with drug traffickers. And this month, the Honduran police arrested another presidential candidate, Santos Rodríguez Orellana, on charges of drug trafficking.
Mr. Hernández has not been charged with any crime, and he has dismissed the accusations as false testimony by convicted criminals seeking to reduce their sentences.
In recent months, Mr. Hernández has made overtures to the president of neighboring Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, who has been condemned by most of Latin America for quashing dissent. This has fueled speculation that Mr. Hernández may seek asylum in Nicaragua, which is already harboring two former presidents of El Salvador wanted on corruption charges in their home country.
Facing a court case in Honduras would give Mr. Hernández one advantage: According to Honduran law, facing a legal case within the country would protect him from extradition for as long as the case was ongoing. In Honduras, few investigations reach a verdict.
A Ban on 19 Singers in Egypt Tests the Old Guard’s Power
CAIRO — The song starts out like standard fare for Egyptian pop music: A secret infatuation between two young neighbors who, unable to marry, sneak flirtatious glances at each other and commit their hearts in a bittersweet dance of longing and waiting.
But then the lyrics take a radical turn.
“If you leave me,” blasts the singer, Hassan Shakosh, “I’ll be lost and gone, drinking alcohol and smoking hash.”
The song, “The Neighbors’ Daughter,” has become a giant hit, garnering more than a half- billion views of its video on YouTube alone and catapulting Mr. Shakosh to stardom. But the explicit reference to drugs and booze, culturally prohibited substances in Egypt, has made the song, released in 2019, a lightning rod in a culture war over what is an acceptable face and subject matter for popular music and who gets to decide.
The battle, which pits Egypt’s cultural establishment against a renegade musical genre embraced by millions of young Egyptians, has heated up recently after the organization that licenses musicians barred at least 19 young artists from singing and performing in Egypt.
The organization, the Egyptian Musicians’ Syndicate, accused Mr. Shakosh and other singers of the genre, known as mahraganat, of normalizing, and thus encouraging, decadent behavior, of misrepresenting Egypt and of spoiling public taste.
“They are creating a chaotic movement in the country,” said Tarek Mortada, the spokesman for the syndicate, a professional union that issues permits for artists to perform onstage and that while technically not an arm of the state, is governed by state law and its budget is supervised by the state. “What we’re confronting right now is the face of depravity and regression.”
The barred singers have been iced out of clubs, concerts and weddings. Some have continued to perform abroad or at private parties, but they have had to say no to advertising deals and other income opportunities. The syndicate’s stance has also cast a pall over Egypt’s cultural scene, sending a strong message that artists are not free agents and must still toe restrictive lines set by civil and state institutions. The musicians see the syndicate as an outmoded entity desperately clinging to a strictly curated vision and image of Egyptian culture that is smashing against an inevitable wave of youth-driven change.
“They can’t get themselves to be convinced that we’re here to stay,” said Ibrahim Soliman, 33, Mr. Shakosh’s manager and childhood friend. “How can you say someone like Shakosh misrepresents Egypt when his songs are being heard and shared by the entire country?”
Fans were incensed. One meme depicted the leader of the syndicate, a pop singer of love classics from the 1970s, ordering people to stop singing in the bathroom.
The battle mirrors cultural conflicts across the region where autocratic governments in socially conservative countries have tried to censor any expression that challenges traditional mores. For example, Iran has arrested teenage girls who posted videos of themselves dancing, which is a crime there. And in 2020, Northwestern University in Qatar called off a concert by a Lebanese indie rock band whose lead singer is openly gay.
But online streaming and social media platforms have poked giant holes in that effort, allowing artists to bypass state-sanctioned media, like television and record companies, and reach a generation of new fans hungry for what they see as more authentic and relevant content.
Iran’s draconian restrictions on unacceptable music have produced a flourishing underground rock and hip-hop scene. The question facing Egypt is who now has the power to regulate matters of taste — the 12 men and one woman who run the syndicate, or the millions of fans who have been streaming and downloading mahraganat.
Mahraganat first rose out of the dense, rowdy working-class neighborhoods of Cairo more than a decade ago and is still generally made in low-tech home studios, often with no more equipment than a cheap microphone and pirated software.
The raw, straight-talking genre — with blunt lyrics about love, sex, power and poverty — mirrors the experience and culture of a broad section of the disenfranchised youth who live in those districts set to a danceable, throbbing beat.
But its catchy rhymes and electronic rhythms quickly went mainstream and now echo from the glamorous wedding ballrooms of Egypt’s French-speaking elite to exclusive nightclubs in Mediterranean resorts to concert halls in oil-rich Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
“Mahraganat is a true representation of this moment in time, of globalization and information technology, and of social media in directing our tastes,” said Sayed Mahmoud, a culture writer and former editor of a weekly newspaper called “Alkahera” issued by the Ministry of Culture. “If you remove the reference to drugs and alcohol, does it mean they don’t exist? The songs represent real life and real culture.”
They are certainly more direct, avoiding the sanitized euphemisms and poetic hints of sexuality that characterize traditional lyrics.
“We use the words that are close to our tongue, without embellishing or beautifying, and it reaches people,” said Islam Ramadan, who goes by the name DJ Saso, the 27-year-old producer of Mr. Shakosh’s blockbuster hit.
Many lawyers and experts say the syndicate has no legal right to ban artists, insisting that Egypt’s Constitution explicitly protects creative liberty. But these arguments seem academic in the authoritarian state of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which has stifled freedom of speech, tightened control on the media and passed laws to help monitor and criminalize so-called immoral behavior on the internet.
The syndicate’s executive members have adamantly defended their move, arguing that a key part of their job is to safeguard the profession against inferior work that they say is made by uncultured impostors who tarnish the image of the country.
And government authorities have reinforced the message.
In 2017, a special division of the police that targets moral crimes arrested the makers of a mahraganat song, and promised to continue searching for work that “presents offensive content for the Egyptian viewer or contains sexual insinuations.”
In 2020, after a video circulated showing dozens of students at an all-girls high school singing along to “The Neighbors’ Daughter,” the Ministry of Education warned schools against the “noticeable” spread of songs that incite “bad behavior.”
A short time later, the minister of youth and sports vowed to “combat depravity” by banning mahraganat music from being played in athletic arenas and sports facilities.
The head of the syndicate, Hany Shaker, defended the ban on a late-night television show, saying, “We can’t be in the era of Sisi and allow this to be the leading art.”
So far, the syndicate claims to be winning the fight.
“We have in fact stopped them because they can’t get onstage in Egypt,” said Mr. Mortada, the organization’s spokesman, adding that it went so far as to ask YouTube to remove videos of the banned singers. It has not received a response from YouTube, he said.
But who will win in the long run remains to be seen.
The syndicate’s very structure smacks of a bygone era. To be admitted and allowed to sing and perform onstage, an artist must pass a test that includes a classical singing audition. The test is anathema to a genre that relies on autotune and prioritizes rhythm and flow over melody.
While the syndicate’s efforts may be keeping mahraganat out of clubs and concert halls, the music has never stopped.
Mr. Shakosh’s popularity continues to rise. He has more than six million followers on Facebook and over four million on Instagram and TikTok, and his music videos have exceeded two billion views on YouTube.
He is one of the Arab world’s leading performers. Since he was barred, he has performed in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iraq, and “The Neighbors’ Daughter” has become one of the biggest Arabic hits to date.
“It’s not the same old love songs,” said Yasmine el-Assal, a 41-year-old bank executive, after attending one of Mr. Shakosh’s concerts before the ban. “His stage presence, the music, the vibe, it’s fresh and it’s all about having fun.”
Mr. Shakosh would not agree to be interviewed, preferring to keep a low profile, his manager said, rather than to appear to publicly challenge the authorities. The ban has been harder on other artists, many of whom do not have the wherewithal or the international profile to tour abroad.
They have mostly kept quiet, refusing to make statements that they fear could ruffle more feathers.
Despite the squeeze, however, many are confident that their music falls beyond the grip of any single authority or government.
Kareem Gaber, a 23-year-old experimental music producer known by the stage name El Waili, is still burning tracks, sitting in his bedroom with a twin mattress on the floor, bare walls and his instrument, a personal computer with $100 MIDI keyboard.
“Mahraganat taught us that you can do something new,” he said, “and it will be heard.”
In the Trenches of Ukraine’s Forever War
“He did say something about the wedding,” Volodymyr said. “But we didn’t talk about finishing our service.”
“Well, he spoke of it just with us,” Yaroslav’s father said. “He didn’t talk about it with the guys yet. He’d bought a house, renovated it. All with his own hands, all how they wanted it. He said, ‘My contract will finish, and we’ll live like humans.’ If anyone would have told us. …”
He didn’t finish the sentence.
By that point, Yaroslav had been buried, in his hometown, Pidlypne, three hours northwest of Kyiv. In the morning, mourners began gathering outside Yaroslav’s house, its wood siding freshly painted a vibrant green. Family, friends, neighbors, classmates, fellow soldiers and local veterans carried flowers, many of them in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, all of them held upside down, a local custom. Some, like Yaroslav’s commander, had traveled from across the country to attend. By midday there was a crowd of several hundred.
At noon, a police car, siren flashing, pulled in front of the house, and the crowd parted to let it through. Behind it was a Humvee with an open rear. A coffin was draped in blue-and-yellow wreaths. An honor guard of cadets carried the coffin into the garden. A quartet of priests and army chaplains in olive drab surplices sang hymns. Yaroslav’s fiancée fainted and was carried into the house. As the coffin was carried back out to the Humvee, a cadet yelled, “Heroes never die!” The other cadets echoed, “Heroes never die!” A brass band struck up a dirge and started toward the church, the Humvee and crowd following behind.
I fell in with a man in his 60s walking with a single crutch. He was wearing an old telnyashka, the traditional striped undershirt of the Russian military, beneath a great coat. The medals hanging from it clattered.
He had been a Soviet paratrooper in Afghanistan, he told me, and was proud of it. But he was also a Ukrainian, from Donetsk, and when the war in Donbas started, he helped organize the volunteers from Pidlypne. He had been going to funerals like this one ever since. If this had been a few years ago, he said, the whole city would have turned out. There would have been thousands of mourners, not hundreds.
“Now everyone is tired of the war,” he said.
Though Ukrainian, he, too, longed for the days of the Soviet Union, he confided. Life was dependable then. The leaders might have been cruel, but they were honest. Now it was a mess. He didn’t know what to expect.
Netanyahu’s Lawyers Discuss a Plea Bargain to End His Graft Trial
JERUSALEM — The lawyers of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli former prime minister, are in negotiations with state prosecutors to reach a plea bargain in his long-running corruption case, according to a spokesman for the Israeli Justice Ministry and two people involved in the negotiations.
The talks are expected to finish by the end of the month and, if successful, would help conclude a legal process that contributed to years of political instability in Israel and, ultimately, to the end last June of Mr. Netanyahu’s record tenure as prime minister.
The proposed bargain includes Mr. Netanyahu’s admitting to some of the charges, all of which he still formally denies in court, in exchange for the prosecution’s downgrading the seriousness of one charge, dropping another entirely and allowing Mr. Netanyahu to avoid serving a jail sentence by instead performing community service, the two negotiators said.
The talks are currently stuck, however, because Mr. Netanyahu does not want to accept the charge of “moral turpitude,” a designation that would bar Mr. Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s biggest right-wing party, from public office for seven years, the negotiators said.
The details, first reported in Maariv, a centrist Israeli newspaper, were confirmed to The New York Times by one of the main mediators, Aharon Barak, a former president of the Israeli Supreme Court, and a second person involved in the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations openly. A spokesman for the Justice Ministry confirmed that talks were taking place, but declined to confirm any further details. The office of Boaz Ben Tzur, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s lead lawyers, declined to comment.
The talks are the latest twist in a legal process that began in 2016 with a police inquiry into claims that Mr. Netanyahu had accepted gifts from benefactors in exchange for political favors.
The investigation expanded after Mr. Netanyahu was accused of offering the owners of two media companies inducements in exchange for positive news coverage. The charges quickly divided Israelis between those who believed that Mr. Netanyahu should step down to avoid tainting the office of the prime minister, and those who thought that he was the victim of a judicial conspiracy.
The argument deepened a longstanding national debate about the power of the judiciary, and drew comparisons with the furor surrounding American efforts to impeach President Donald J. Trump.
Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Netanyahu framed himself as the victim of a biased justice system, describing the process as a “witch hunt” and an “attempted administrative coup” when his trial began in 2020.
Both Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to engage in negotiations and his engagement with Mr. Barak, a former judge considered a doyen of the Israeli legal establishment, have therefore surprised some Israelis.
Mr. Barak said that he had agreed to play a role because Mr. Netanyahu, in cases that did not affect him personally, had historically helped to protect judicial independence and because a partial confession by Mr. Netanyahu might help heal social divisions and restore trust in the judiciary.
“It’s of national importance that this thing should result in the accused himself saying, ‘I admit that I have done it,’” Mr. Barak said in a phone interview.
The case caused two years of political stagnation, largely because it splintered Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing voter base as well as his right-wing allies in the Israeli Parliament — a fissure that led to four inconclusive elections from 2019 to 2021. After the first three votes, Mr. Netanyahu’s remaining allies won enough seats to stay in power, but not enough to form a stable coalition government or pass key legislation like a national budget.
The impasse ended after a fourth election last year, when three small right-wing parties agreed to form a grand coalition with ideological opponents from leftist, centrist and Islamist parties to create a parliamentary majority large enough to force Mr. Netanyahu to leave office.
If Mr. Netanyahu, currently the leader of the opposition, does agree to the deal and leave politics, analysts said that the decision would destabilize, though not necessarily completely collapse, the fragile current coalition government. The logic that glues the alliance together would weaken if he were forced to abandon representative politics because it might tempt right-wing members of the current government to form a different coalition with the new leader of Mr. Netanyahu’s party, Likud.
But Likud will take time to elect a chairman. And once elected, the new leader might still be too closely tied to Mr. Netanyahu to be a viable partner for his right-wing opponents, said Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli political columnist and biographer of Mr. Netanyahu.
“Likud will remain Bibi’s tribute band until they have a strong new leader, and I can’t see any candidate for that job,” Mr. Pfeffer said, using a nickname for Mr. Netanyahu.
The office of the current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who leads a right-wing faction, declined to comment. But in a speech to the cabinet on Sunday morning, Mr. Bennett said that the government was continuing to work as normal.
“All of the various political analysts, with their graphs and scenarios, can rest assured,” Mr. Bennett said. “The government of Israel is working and will continue to work quietly and effectively, day after day, for the citizens of Israel.”
Most analysts believe that if a plea bargain is to happen, it will need to be agreed to by the end of January. The state official overseeing the case, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, is retiring in early February and his successor is unlikely to focus on such a divisive issue early on.
Opponents of Mr. Netanyahu protested outside Mr. Mandelblit’s home on Saturday evening, urging him to allow the case to be decided in court.