Coronavirus Politics Daily: Lebanese protests return, Japanese gangs help out, Ramaphosa capitalizes on crisis

A boost for Ramaphosa: Since President Cyril Ramaphosa came to power in South Africa in 2018, factional rivalries inside his own party, the African National Congress (ANC), have undermined the president's attempt to pass much-needed economic reforms. But the unprecedented coronavirus crisis seems to have provided him an opportunity to do just that. Ramaphosa has directed 10 percent of total GDP to a COVID stimulus and rescue package, the largest in South Africa's history, giving him political room to face down powerful unions and freeze public sector wages. And he has approached the World Bank and IMF for crucial financial support. ANC members aligned with former president Jacob Zuma have long rejected any deals with the IMF, in part over fears that the Fund's scrutiny would reveal their party's well-documented corruption. But as further coronavirus-related economic hardship stalks the 50% of South Africa's population who already live in poverty, Ramaphosa's political opponents have stayed largely mum on his plan to increase borrowing from international lenders to weather the crisis. Still, it remains to be seen whether Ramaphosa will seize upon the crisis to try for an even bigger prize: reforming South Africa's bloated and failing state companies.


Help from Japanese gangland: Japan's famed yakuza organized crime groups are reportedly using the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to boost their image at a time when the public is frustrated with the government's bumbling response. The heavily-tatted mobsters of the yakuza, who specialize in black market trading, extortion, and racketeering, have been using their networks to source and distribute scarce medical supplies to pharmacies and schools, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. They've also offered their henchmen to assist with disinfection of quarantined cruise ships, in an echo of their (illegal) efforts to help clean up the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. But not all of Japan's underworld is as magnanimous: newer less-centralized crime groups known as "hangure" are using the pandemic to launch price gouging schemes and other scams. Another example of the ways in which government shortcomings in a crisis open the way for all kinds of shadier players.

Lebanese protests resume: Lebanon has done a decent job handling the coronavirus – even if sketchy numbers from the Hezbollah-controlled Ministry of Public Health raise doubts about the official toll of just 22 deaths. But the country's beleaguered economy is faring far less well. Lebanon's government moved swiftly to close schools and non-essential businesses, and enforce strict lockdowns, but those measures have only compounded high youth unemployment rates and hurt an economy that was already crumbling. Even before the outbreak, the World Bank predicted that some 40 percent of Lebanese would be impoverished by the end of 2020. As a result, protesters in Beirut and Tripoli remember them? – have recently returned to the streets to call for "revolution," demanding an end to corruption. As Lebanon has now extended its lockdown until the end of April, these economic woes will only get worse.

Beyond simply accumulating too much waste, we also recycle and repurpose so little of it. 3D printers, however, can reverse this pattern. Among the most used tools in the "circular" economy, these printers help reduce production costs, release fewer greenhouse gases, and reduce the use of raw materials by allowing objects to be repaired.

See how they work on the 7th episode of Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.

It's the decision that could kickstart intra-Afghan dialogue, and pave the way to ending the US occupation in Afghanistan after 20 bloody years.

On Sunday, after days of deliberations that involved thousands of Afghan delegates packing into one tent (what's COVID again), President Ashraf Ghani agreed to release hundreds of Taliban prisoners from government jails. The move opens the way to intra-Afghan dialogue under a deal that the US brokered directly with the Taliban earlier this year.

The Trump administration has touted this development as a major step towards peace, but after nearly two decades of war, the relevant players are still miles apart when it comes to laying out a common vision for the conflict-ridden country. What do they all want?

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UAE and Israel strike historic deal: In an historic development, the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to normalize ties. As part of the deal, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to suspend his government's plans to annex swaths of the occupied West Bank in the near term (he made sure to emphasize that the plan was merely on hold, likely a nod to his right-wing base.) The peace deal, brokered by the Trump administration, marks the first time that a Gulf Arab state has established formal diplomatic ties with Israel — though it's widely believed that shared concerns over the threat posed by Iran have led to backchannel cooperation between Israel and the Gulf Arab states. Many analysts, therefore, say that the agreement is largely symbolic, formalizing ties that have existed for years. It's only the third Arab-Israeli peace agreement since Israel's establishment in 1948 (a deal was signed with Egypt in 1978 and with the Kingdom of Jordan in 1994). Two key takeaways: the move gives the Trump administration a big boost before the November 3 elections as he struggles to keep up in the polls. It also reveals that lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue will no longer impede powerful Arab states from establishing formal ties with Israel, long the official position of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on the biggest development in the US election this week:

Joe Biden has chosen his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California. She was the safe pick, she was the betting market favorite, she brings diversity to the ticket and a historic component, as the first woman of color to ever run on a major party ticket in the United States. Most importantly, what she does is she doesn't open up any obvious lines of attack for President Donald Trump and she doesn't bring the risk of creating a competing power center on policy inside the White House, the way a progressive candidate might have.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

You may have seen the big news, that the United States facilitating normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, one of the Gulf monarchies. It is a real change in the way we think about the geopolitics of the Middle East. And it just shows how much times have changed.

If you go around the Middle East and ask Arab leaders what their priorities are, they'll tell you Iran, they'll tell you ISIS, al-Qaida, they'll tell you Syria, and Libya, they'll tell you Yemen, they'll tell you domestic instability, but they will not say Israel-Palestine. And that is so different than five, 10, 20 years ago when no willingness to talk to the Israelis unless you actually had some sort of successful peace negotiations between the two. Well, what's happening is the common enemy of Iran is becoming more important, the Palestinians are becoming less important, poorly governed, less powerful, and their former erstwhile friends and supporters are saying, "eh, we've got other priorities."

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