Protesters chant slogans while burning representations of Israeli flags during a demonstration in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, May 15, 2021 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

Remember that astroturf conference back in September 2021, when a group of Iraqis gathered in Erbil supposedly to promote the normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel? No sooner had the conference concluded than most of the participants quickly disavowed it. Many claimed they had been misled about the purpose of the gathering, which was purportedly convened to discuss Iraqi reconciliation—not Israel. Some of the participants were threatened with prosecution under Iraq’s 1969 law against normalization of ties with Israel, although none has been formally charged. Shortly after the conference was held, I warned in this newsletter that it was mostly a stunt that distracted […]

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hands over an invitation to the G-7 Summit in Elmau to Senegalese President Macky Sall, before a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal, May 22, 2022 (DPA photo by Michael Kappeler via AP Images).

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made his inaugural visit to Africa with a three-nation tour that began in Senegal and concluded in South Africa. His trip came a little over three months after a visit by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was abruptly cut short by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The ongoing crisis there and its geopolitical ramifications—including for food and energy security, international security and the future of the international system more broadly—were prominent features of Scholz’s visit.  The salience of those issues is reflected in the countries on Scholz’s itinerary. Senegal is regarded as a regional pillar of stability and […]

Federico Gutierrez, right, and Gustavo Petro take part in a presidential debate in Bogota, Colombia, May 23, 2022 (AP photo by Fernando Vergara).

Colombians will go to the polls Sunday for the first round of a presidential election that represents a turning point in the country’s politics on several levels. The front-runner in the race, Gustavo Petro, would be the most progressive Colombian president since the 1930s should he win. A former leftist guerrilla, Petro has promised to expand the country’s social safety net, including improved access to health care and education, and reconfigure its economy by moving away from dependence on mining and hydrocarbons. His running mate, Francia Marquez, is one of five Afro-Colombian vice presidential candidates; prior to this year, no […]

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, May 24, 2022 (AP photo by Markus Schreiber).

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a gathering at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos this week that Russia is deliberately stoking a global food crisis as a form of “blackmail.” Her remarks underscore Brussels’ fears over an impending global food crisis. Recognizing the high stakes involved in global food security, European Union policymakers are now racing against time to prepare for what they anticipate will be a food security crisis unprecedented in the modern era. Russia’s weaponization of global commodities is not limited to the energy sector, von der Leyen told her audience in Davos. “In Russian-occupied Ukraine, the […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping leads other top officials pledging their vows to the party during a gala show ahead of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, June 28, 2021 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

China is gearing up for the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party to be held later this year, where, according to the consensus view, President Xi Jinping’s historic bid for a third term as the party’s general secretary is all but assured. But for many clear-eyed observers, including inside China, an unprecedented third term for Xi is hardly a cause for celebration. Under his rule, China’s assertive foreign policy has alienated foreign governments and trade partners, while its economy is faltering under the weight of Beijing’s “zero COVID” coronavirus policy. Over the duration of Xi’s tenure, dissenting voices […]

Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah speaks during a conference at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, Sept. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Nariman El-Mofty).

Editor’s note: This is the web version of our subscriber-only weekly newsletter, Middle East Memo, which takes a look at what’s happening, what’s being said and what’s on the horizon in the Middle East. Subscribe to receive it by email every Monday. If you’re already a subscriber, adjust your newsletter settings to receive it. The United States’ partners in the Middle East continue to enjoy impunity when it comes to Washington’s responses to their human rights abuses. Witness the ease with which Saudi Arabia escaped accountability for the murder in 2018 of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident journalist who lived in exile in the […]

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol listens during a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, May 21, 2022 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in South Korea yesterday, where he will spend the weekend meeting with the country’s new president, Yoon Suk Yeo, and visiting U.S troops based there. Biden then heads to Japan on Sunday for a three-day stop that will culminate in the second in-person leaders’ summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, comprising the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. As a candidate, Biden had expressed his intention of shoring up ties with U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, which suffered during Donald Trump’s presidency, should he be elected. Upon taking office, he followed through almost […]

President Umaro Sissoco Embalo of Guinea-Bissau arrives for a dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Nov. 11, 2021 (AP photo by Michel Euler).

President Umaro Sissoco Embalo dissolved Guinea-Bissau’s parliament this week and called for snap parliamentary elections to be held at the end of the year, in the latest twist to a long-running political crisis in the country. In a televised address to the nation, Sissoco cited “persistent and unresolvable differences” with parliament as the main reason for his decision. He also accused lawmakers of corruption and embezzlement, saying that several parliamentarians had “turned the people's national assembly into a place of political guerrilla warfare and conspiracy.” Sissoco’s party, MADEM-G15, currently holds a minority of legislative seats; the historically dominant and former ruling African […]

European Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager speaks at the EU headquarters in Brussels, May 18, 2022 (SIPA via AP Images).

The European Commission yesterday unveiled a watershed proposal to shore up the European Union’s ability to coordinate military decision-making among the bloc’s member states. The proposal to strengthen the union’s defense coordination powers takes on added significance against the backdrop of Turkey blocking Sweden’s and Finland’s bids to join NATO, underscoring the urgency of an upgraded EU military framework in the interim. The commission’s proposal to analyze and coordinate defense spending among EU member states, including a collective defense acquisition framework similar to its joint vaccines procurement strategy, came in response to a request made by EU national leaders during […]

Travelers wait in line at a check-in counter at Kunming Changshui International Airport, Kunming, China, March 22, 2022 (AP photo by Dake Kang).

A growing number of Chinese middle- and upper-class citizens are seeking to emigrate, citing disillusionment with Beijing’s heavy-handed “Zero COVID” pandemic restrictions. The sense of despair and desperation driving their planned departures stand in contrast to the overwhelming sense of optimism that characterized public sentiment during China’s rise as a global power over the past two decades. On the Chinese social media platform WeChat, search entries for the word “immigration” increased more than fourfold between early and mid-April, the Economist reported. “It’s like an alarm bell has gone off,” said Miranda Wang, a Chinese videographer based in Shanghai, where a seven-week […]

A Lebanese woman casts her vote in parliamentary elections, in Beirut, Lebanon, May 15, 2022 (AP photo by Hussein Malla).

Lebanon’s parliamentary elections produced some heartening news for critics of the political establishment, with protest candidates performing better than expected in Sunday’s polls. Initial results show that no fewer than 10 anti-establishment candidates won seats in parliament. This wouldn’t be enough to create a sizable counter-establishment bloc in the 128-seat parliament, but it would be enough to give a real platform to many dissenting views. Hezbollah and its allies, which are collectively known as the March 8 bloc, lost ground, winning at least 61 seats, compared to 71 in the previous elections. Some of the candidates who won seats as independents will ally with […]

Judith Andeka, a worker in the informal economy, returns to her house in the Kibera informal settlement, Nairobi, Kenya (AP photo by Brian Inganga).

Kenya’s largest trade union federation hailed an executive order issued earlier this month by President Uhuru Kenyatta that increased the monthly minimum wage by 12 percent. The Central Organization of Trade Unions called the directive “a great win for Kenyans” during a period of economic hardship brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, high inflation and a rise in fuel prices. Kenyatta made the announcement during a Labor Day celebration on May 1, saying that higher wages would cushion workers against the erosion of their purchasing power and enhance Kenya’s economic productivity. He further described the increase as “an appreciation to workers for […]

A supporter of John Lee, Hong Kong’s chief executive-elect, holds a copy of Lee’s election manifesto during a 2022 chief executive electoral campaign in Hong Kong, April 29, 2022 (AP photo by Kin Cheung).

John Lee, Hong Kong’s former security chief, was confirmed as the city’s next chief executive with 99 percent of the votes from last Sunday’s election. Lee, a career police officer who rose to the highest echelons of the Hong Kong government ran unopposed in what critics call a “political farce.” As a hardliner approved by pro-China elites to carry out the orders of Beijing, Lee is expected to continue the assaults on political freedoms and civil liberties that have progressively eliminated space for dissent in Hong Kong, threatening its reputation as an international hub for commerce. Sunday’s polls marked the first chief executive “elections” […]

French president Emmanuel Macron gestures as he delivers a speech during the Conference on the Future of Europe, in Strasbourg, France, May 9, 2022 (AP photo by Jean-Francois Badias).

While Europe gets ready to tune into this year’s Eurovision Song Contest taking place Saturday in Turin, Italy, European Union officials in Brussels are engaged in a competition of their own: to spin the outcome of the recently concluded Conference on the Future of Europe that EU leaders say will shape the future of the 27-member union. The conference, which had been running for the past year, consisted of citizens’ groups that contributed policy proposals for reforming the EU, which were presented to EU leaders at its close on Monday. The brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron, who conceived of […]

Muqtada al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in Najaf, Iraq, Nov. 18, 2021 (AP photo by Anmar Khalil).

Iraq has blown past all the constitutional deadlines to form a government in the aftermath of its October 2021 parliamentary elections, the results of which initially threatened to upend Iraq’s system of sectarian kleptocracy. Instead, seven months after the election, Iraq’s government formation talks appear to have reached a stalemate, with the most likely outcome now being a government that reflects the exact same power-sharing consensus that has shaped every Iraqi government since 2005, election results notwithstanding. But the twisting negotiations and gothic political scenarios involved in the government formation talks mask significant long-term shifts underway. The country seems to […]

A migrant waits on the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico, Jan. 26, 2022 (AP photo by Marco Ugarte).

The war in Ukraine continues to occupy the attention of policymakers in Washington and Europe. As Russia shifts the focus of its invasion to the country’s south and east, it is becoming increasingly clear that the conflict has entered a new phase, becoming a war of attrition in which neither side seems likely to gain the upper hand anytime soon. While the Russian offensive once again seems to have stagnated, its destructive impact has not diminished. And while stepped up deliveries of U.S. and European military aid seem to be enabling the Ukrainian armed forces to hold the line, it […]

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres waves to the crowds upon arrival in Maiduguri, Nigeria, May 3, 2022 (AP photo by Chinedu Asadu).

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio visited Dakar, Senegal, this week as part of his first trip to the African continent since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The ongoing impacts of the pandemic, including its multiplier effect on public health, economics, conflict, climate action and political stability, have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and the collective response to that conflict, a major theme of Guterres’ visit to West Africa. During his three-nation tour to Senegal, Niger and Nigeria, which began last weekend and ended Wednesday, Guterres called on rich countries to increase their investment in African countries, at a time […]

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