Coronavirus Politics Daily: Iran's anguish, Gaza on the brink, Orban pulls a fast one

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Iran's anguish, Gaza on the brink, Orban pulls a fast one

Iran's corona quagmire – As the coronavirus death toll climbs in Iran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has rejected US offers of humanitarian aid, citing a bogus conspiracy theory that the virus was manufactured by the United States. In a televised address marking the Persian New Year, Khamenei denounced President Trump's "maximum pressure campaign" since the US walked away from the nuclear deal in 2018. Iran's leaders say that the Trump administration should instead lift crippling sanctions that block Tehran from exporting crude oil and accessing global financial markets. Iran is battling one of the world's largest COVID-19 outbreaks, with some 22,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,800 deaths. One person in Iran dies from the virus every 10 minutes, according to an Iranian health official. The message from Washington: we'll offer humanitarian help if you want it, but sanctions aren't going anywhere.


COVID-19 reaches Gaza – Late Saturday, Palestinian authorities confirmed at least two coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip, both recent returnees from Pakistan. Officials have now moved to isolate all travelers returning to the coastal enclave, but many say the quarantine facilities (schools, medical facilities) have extremely poor sanitary conditions that would allow the virus to thrive. Gaza, home to some 2 million people, is one of the most densely populated places in the world, complicating efforts at social distancing, and its healthcare system is already in disarray after years-long blockades by both Israel and Egypt. If the virus sweeps Gaza – which is already grappling with spotty electricity, corrupt leadership, and scarce resources – the outcome will be catastrophic.

Coronavirus infects Hungary's democracy – Hungary's defiantly "illiberal" Prime Minister Viktor Orban knows that a proper strongman lets no good crisis go to waste. After staying on-message early by blaming the pandemic on immigrants, he has now proposed changes to the country's emergency laws that would allow him to rule by decree indefinitely, while mandating jail sentences of up to five years for spreading information that raises panic or impedes the government's response. Orban, who has come under EU criticism for violating EU rules on democracy in the past, says he needs these new powers to grapple with the enormity of the crisis, but critics and human rights watchdogs warn that the measures are open-ended and threaten free speech. Hungary's legislature, which is controlled by Orban's Fidesz party, will vote on the changes this week.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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