People in protective clothing walk past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients in Tehran, Iran, March 26, 2020 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

Iran is one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus. As of March 30, it was behind only the United States, China, Italy, Spain, Germany and France in the number of confirmed cases, with more than 40,000. Its death rate is also one of the world’s highest, at around 7 percent, though it is well behind Italy’s staggering 11.4 percent. Yet in the face of this public health crisis, President Donald Trump is continuing his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran with crippling U.S. economic sanctions that were imposed after Trump unilaterally abandoned the international nuclear agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear […]

The “Wall of Welcome” in front of European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Sept. 14, 2015 (Photo by Wiktor Dabkowski for dpa via AP Images).

In 2015, more than 1 million people, mostly from Syria but also Eritrea, Sudan and other countries wracked by conflict and economic turmoil, found their way to Europe in search of asylum, where they struggled to rebuild their lives, often in the face of xenophobia and exclusion. Those were the lucky ones. Thousands of other refugees and migrants died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, a tragic waste of human life that was symbolized in a photograph of the lifeless body of a four-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, which washed up on the shore of a beach […]

A woman walks by an election campaign billboard for the opposition Blue and White party in Ramat Gan, Israel, Feb. 20, 2020 (AP photo by Oded Balilty).

Israelis went to the polls earlier this month for the third time in less than a year to elect a new Knesset and hopefully a new government. The unprecedented sequence of elections is a result of a combination of factors that have left Israeli politics deadlocked since last spring. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his conservative Likud party have led Israel’s government for 11 consecutive years, but three high-profile corruption cases against Netanyahu created an impetus for a new opposition party, the center-right Blue and White, to emerge in early 2019. Its platform is constructed not around stark policy differences […]

A pump jack operates in an oil field in the Permian Basin in Texas, June 11, 2019 (Photo by Jacob Ford for Odessa American via AP Images).

Saudi Arabia’s decision to launch a price war in oil markets earlier this month could not have been more poorly timed, coming amid plummeting global demand for oil due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Saudi announcement sunk oil prices to an 18-year low, near $20 per barrel, after five years at more than double that price, putting further downward pressure on already troubled financial markets. Saudi Arabia had gambled that by flooding the market and pushing down prices, it could punish Russia for refusing to cut its output, while recouping market share that had been ceded to U.S. shale oil […]

Ali Babacan, a former Turkish economy minister, speaks at the launch of his new Democracy and Progress Party, in Ankara, March 11, 2020 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

ISTANBUL—In a major political shake-up in Turkey, Ali Babacan, a former economy minister and once-close confidante of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently ended months of speculation and formally launched a new political party to challenge his old boss. Babacan, who resigned last July from Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, formally launched his new Democracy and Progress Party on March 11, at a rally in the capital, Ankara. The DEVA party, as it is known—Turkish for “cure”—unites a slate of former Erdogan allies, including three other former AKP ministers, six former AKP members of parliament and one sitting lawmaker […]

Migrants stand outside their makeshift tents on the perimeter of the overcrowded Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, Jan. 28, 2020 (AP photo by Aggelos Barai).

In mid-February, the United Nations issued a statement calling for the immediate evacuation of the Moria refugee camp, on the Greek island of Lesbos. Initially designed to hold fewer than 3,000 people, the camp’s population had increased from 5,000 last July to roughly 20,000. With ships bringing new arrivals every day, medical experts feared a looming public health crisis. Malnutrition was widespread, hygiene impossible to maintain and health care workers completely overwhelmed, leading many residents to die of treatable conditions. A regional government official called Moria “a powder keg ready to explode,” and a volunteer doctor told The Guardian that […]

Sudan’s prime minister, Abdallah Hamdok, center, is welcomed upon his arrival in Juba, South Sudan, Sept. 12, 2019 (AP photo by Charles Atiki Lomodong).

The transitional government in Sudan announced last month that it will extradite former dictator Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he is wanted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed in Sudan’s Darfur region. The move was a sign that the new government in Khartoum, which took over last year after Bashir was ousted by the military amid popular protests, is trying to present itself as a responsible member of the international community. It also wants to draw a clear line under the Bashir era domestically and undertake serious peace negotiations with rebel […]

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballot in parliamentary elections, in Tehran, Feb. 21, 2020 (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader photo via AP Images).

Iran’s parliamentary elections last month were an unmitigated success for conservatives and hard-liners. Aided by unprecedented low turnout and the disqualification of thousands of their opponents, they won 221 of the legislature’s 290 seats, while reformists and moderates took only 19—down from 121 in the 2016 elections. The outcome profoundly changed the balance of power in Tehran, which will have serious repercussions for Iran’s domestic and foreign policies. Forces loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei are now well-positioned to consolidate power over Iran’s governing institutions and likely win the presidency in 2021, when Hassan Rouhani, a centrist who was first […]

People walk past a banner showing Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman outside a mall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Mar. 7, 2020 (AP photo by Amr Nabil).

With the global economy already teetering as the result of the coronavirus outbreak that is now officially a pandemic, Saudi Arabia’s young and powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has risked pushing the world into recession by firing a shot directly into the oil markets. It was a trademark move by the prince, known as MBS, who has shown he can be brazen and ruthless—and occasionally self-destructive—when he’s determined to get his way. On Sunday night, MBS announced that Saudi Arabia would sharply increase its oil output despite a steep decline in global demand. It was precisely the opposite of […]

A firefighter disinfects the shrine of Saint Saleh to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in Tehran, Iran, March, 6, 2020 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran is accelerating its production of enriched uranium. It was just the latest in a series of progressive breaches by Tehran of the 2015 nuclear agreement, as part of an effort to raise the pressure on the Trump administration for withdrawing from the deal and reimposing devastating economic sanctions on Iran. But last week’s announcement marked a key milestone: For the first time in years, Iran possesses enough low-enriched uranium to manufacture a nuclear weapon, although it would first have to enrich the uranium to a much higher level. Experts now […]

Newly approved Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh, right, and outgoing Prime Minister Youssef Chahed during the handover ceremony in Tunis, Tunisia, Feb. 28, 2020 (AP photo by Hassene Dridi).

TUNIS, Tunisia—Tunisia’s parliament voted late last month to approve a new government under Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh, ending months of political limbo. While a new president and a fresh crop of lawmakers were sworn in after elections last fall, the ballot produced a highly divided parliament that had been unable to agree on a government until recently. In Tunis when the new government was announced, many of the Tunisians I spoke with were breathing a sigh of relief that the country narrowly avoided fresh elections, which would have been likely had Fakhfkakh failed to win support. However, others, from young […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gives a press conference in Tehran, Feb. 16, 2020 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

Since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the international deal designed to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, the time it might take Tehran to build such a weapon if it so chooses has dropped from more than a year to just a few months. The world now has much less time to react if that happens—and no good options in response. After Washington, to the dismay of its allies, reimposed economic sanctions and demanded that Iran do more to change its behavior, there have been no new negotiations and no clarity on exactly what the Trump […]

Migrants run to avoid tear gas thrown by Greek police during clashes near the Pazarkule border gate in Edirne, at the Turkish-Greek border, March 2, 2020 (AP photo by Darko Bandic).

In this week’s editors’ discussion on Trend Lines, WPR’s Judah Grunstein and Elliot Waldman talk about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s escalating military confrontation with the Russian-backed forces of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and how Erdogan’s decision to wade into the Syrian conflict is coming back to haunt him. They also discuss the refugee crisis that erupted this week along Greece’s border with Turkey, and its echoes of the 2015 European migrant crisis. If you like what you hear on Trend Lines and what you’ve read on WPR, you can sign up for our free newsletter to get our […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrive for a news conference at the Kremlin, Moscow, March 5, 2020 (AP pool photo by Pavel Golovkin). The two held emergency talks to avert the possibility of Turkey-Russia war.

For most close observers, it has long seemed only a matter of time before the long, bloody proxy war between Turkey and Russia for regional predominance in the Middle East would break out into full-scale direct hostilities. That came closer to happening last week, when Russian-backed Syrian forces attacked a Turkish military outpost in Idlib province, leaving more than 30 Turkish soldiers dead. However, few observers would have predicted the utter impotence of Turkey’s ostensible military partners in NATO in the face of what is arguably the gravest threat to the future of the alliance since the Russian annexation of […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling party in parliament, in Ankara, March 4, 2020 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Russia on Thursday, seeking to persuade President Vladimir Putin to help stem disaster in Syria’s Idlib province. Turkish forces are locked in fierce combat there with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army in what has become the last bastion of the armed rebels fighting the regime. Before the trip, Erdogan made two other related moves to strengthen his hand. First, he pleaded with NATO to come to his aid. Then, to increase his leverage with his European allies, he opened Turkey’s borders for Syrian refugees to cross into Greece, raising the specter of another […]

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, center, attends the military funeral of former President Hosni Mubarak, Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 26, 2020 (photo by Gehad Hamdy for dpa via AP Images).

When I landed in Cairo in late January 2011 to cover the growing wave of demonstrations that had mobilized Egyptians, I was unsure whether or not the protest movement could topple then-President Hosni Mubarak. After all, he had been ruling for almost three decades, enjoyed Western backing and commanded a robust security apparatus. But as I drove through downtown Cairo from the airport, I saw the headquarters of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party in flames. It was difficult to see at the time just how much that burning building would come to symbolize about post-Mubarak Egypt. In the end, it took […]