Hard Numbers: Iran cracks down on women, bestsellers sue AI, Venezuelan migrants get right to work, India suspends Canadian visas, Turkey jacks up rates
10: Under a new law passed Wednesday, Iranian women could be jailed for up to ten years if they refuse to wear hijab. The crackdown comes just days after the one year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini, who died in state custody after the morality police arrested her for not wearing hijab properly.
17: A group of 17 prominent authors are suing OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, accusing the company of “systematic theft on a mass scale.” The suit says ChatGPT has violated their copyright protections because it draws upon their texts to build its language models and responses. The complaint also alleges that ChatGPT can be used to plagiarize them, and includes examples for each writer — including a Game of Thrones prequel called “Dawn of Direwolves”. (Can I read it? - Matt)
472,000: As President Joe Biden left the Big Apple late Wednesday, his administration announced that Venezuelans already in the country could legally live and work in the US for the next 18 months. The decision will affect 472,000 Venezuelans nationwide and roughly half of New York City’s migrants, letting them support themselves and easing the strain on New York’s social safety net. (For more on the situation in New York, see our explainer).
80,000: India announced it would suspend visas for Canadians amid the ongoing row over the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Last year about 80,000 Canadians visited India. Should Canada reciprocate, it could threaten the visa status of over 320,000 Indian students in Canadian universities.
30: The central bank in Turkey raised interest rates by an aggressive 5 percentage points to 30%, as official inflation rates topped 58%. It’s part of a major reversal of the Erdogan administration’s policy after winning re-election back in May: the previous economic team insisted on cutting rates even as prices soared.
(Department of Corrections: While we’re talking interest rates, in yesterday’s edition we mistakenly said the Fed’s rate pause was their first in 18 months. In fact, they decided on a pause in June, 2023 as well. We regret the error and hope it doesn’t affect your rate of interest in the Daily)
Just one day after launching a fresh assault on the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan halted its offensive under a ceasefire in which ethnic-Armenian separatists there reportedly agreed to surrender and disarm.
This effectively marks the end of Karabakh’s decades-long de facto independence from Azerbaijan. As a reminder, Karabakh is officially part of Azerbaijan, but historically had an ethnic-Armenian majority and has been run by Armenian separatists since a war of independence in the early 1990s.
In a 2020 flare up of the conflict, Azerbaijan — with ample help from Turkey — reconquered parts of Karabakh and surrounded it.
The capitulation of the Karabakh authorities means that the enclave is now effectively under Azeri control. For Azerbaijan, retaking Karabakh has been a nationalist dream for decades. President Ilham Aliyev on Wednesday promised to turn Karabakh into “a paradise.”
But the fate of ethnic Armenians there is now in the balance. Both sides have carried out ethnic cleansing of each other’s populations over the past 30 years. Thousands of ethnic Armenians have reportedly rushed the airport already at Stepanakert, the Karabakh capital, looking to flee ahead of any Azeri reprisals.
Russia, whose peacekeepers have spottily overseen a ceasefire in the region since 2020, said that it would host talks on the future political and ethnic composition of Karabakh beginning on Thursday.
Hard Numbers: Peru declares crime emergency, EU cuts Somalia aid, Chinese weddings dwindle, McCarthy tests his majority, oil prices surge
160,200: Peruvian President Dina Boluarte declared a state of emergency in two districts of the capital, Lima, and one in the northern city of Talara amid a devastating wave of violent crime. Lima police collected 160,200 crime reports last year, up 33% from 2021, part of a larger spike in violence in South America.
7 million: The European Union has suspended funding for the World Food Program’s operations in Somalia, which last year amounted to over $7 million, after a United Nations investigation discovered widespread theft by local power brokers, armed groups, and even aid workers themselves. The graft has macabre costs: Somalia barely avoided a famine last year amid a drought that killed 43,000 people — half of them children under 5.
6.8 million: Love is decidedly not in the air in China, as the country registered just 6.8 million weddings in 2022, a drop of some 800,000 compared to 2021 and the lowest figure on record. Meanwhile, even those who are tying the knot are more hesitant to have children, a factor contributing to China’s first population decline in 60 years, and a major long term headache for policy planners in Beijing.
4: US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is gambling that he can push through a temporary spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, despite fierce blowback from within his own GOP caucus. His margin is slim: he can afford to lose just only 4 GOP votes if he wants the measure to pass.
95: The price of oil hit $95 dollars per barrel, climbing some 26% for the quarter as Saudi Arabia and Russia have cut production to boost prices. Higher oil prices are likely to prop up inflation, complicating matters not only for households, but also for central bankers who had been hoping to ease off of interest rate hikes sooner than later.
The US and Iran on Monday traded prisoners in a high stakes swap that’s causing problems for President Biden at home.
After months of negotiations, the two foes traded 10 prisoners: five US citizens locked up in Iran, and five Iranians detained in the US, some of whom were charged but hadn’t been convicted.
As part of the deal, the Iranians also reaped almost $6 billion in frozen oil revenue held in South Korea. The US also placed fresh sanctions on former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but some critics say it’s a distraction as he has no power over Iranian politics.
While some claim this deal suggests a thaw in US-Iran relations, it comes just days after the EU and UK announced the extension of UN sanctions that were slated to be eased under a previous agreement, citing Iran’s efforts to continue to enhance its nuclear program “beyond all credible civilian justification.”
Indeed, for Biden, it’s proving to be a very hard sell at home, with Republicans – and some Democrats – saying that he gave the Islamic Republic too much for too little. Both Biden and Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi will speak at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, which will reveal more about where things stand.
Our intrepid Senior Writer Gabrielle Debinski is on the ground with our colleagues from GZERO World for the latest updates. Also, if you missed our rundown of the major items on the agenda on Friday, catch up here.
Please note, leaders are listed in the order in which they are expected to speak, but the schedule sometimes runs ragged. You can find a complete schedule here.
Major Speakers on Tuesday
- Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva: By tradition, the Brazilian president opens every General Assembly debate. Lula has complained about too much focus on Ukraine at the expense of other global issues, watch for his rhetoric here.
- U.S. President Joe Biden: The only leader from a permanent member of the Security Council who is attending the summit in person, expect lots on Ukraine and appeals for development aid and climate action..
- Colombian President Gustavo Petro: The left-wing leader called for an end to the war on drugs in his first UNGA speech last year — and now cocaine exports are booming.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Often the belle of the geopolitical ball the past two years, Turkey has played a crucial role in the Black Sea grain deal and is the only NATO member with good ties to Moscow. This one is worth your time.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: With his counteroffensive making slow progress and whispers of “Ukraine fatigue” spreading across Europe and the US, the actor-turned-president is looking to make a command performance to shore up support.
- Day 2 of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals
This Saturday marks one year since Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of Iran’s morality police sparked months of protests, and the authorities are taking steps to prevent another massive outbreak of unrest. They have preemptively arrested women’s rights activists, closed public spaces, and bolstered security forces in major cities. Yet public discontent continues to simmer in the Islamic Republic as ordinary people perceive a widening gulf between their hopes and concerns and the interests of the country’s clerical regime.
We asked Eurasia Group expert Gregory Brew if he thinks the authorities will be able to keep a lid on tensions in the coming days.
Do you expect Iranians to take to the streets this weekend?
Anniversaries are important in Iran, particularly those marking the passing of major political figures. The death of the 22-year-old Amini became hugely important for millions of Iranians, both in Iran and among the Iranian global diaspora, so there are bound to be demonstrations to mark the anniversary. They’re unlikely to be very large, however. The regime has been taking steps to deter new protests. Ordinary Iranians are reluctant to take to the streets since the crackdown last year, which saw security forces killing hundreds of protestors while wounding and arresting thousands more. Several high-profile trials and executions of arrested protestors hammered home the repressive message. The legacy of that crackdown will deter people from coming out in large numbers. But there’s sure to be some fireworks, both on 16 September and in subsequent days.
Did last year's protests achieve anything?
It’s true the protests were unsuccessful in forcing political change. Hardliners, led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, still dominate the system. But it would be wrong to say the protests didn’t have an impact. They revealed the depths of dissatisfaction with the regime and galvanized opposition to hijab rules that require women to wear headscarves in public. So, while they may not have changed the system, the protests made it abundantly clear that ordinary Iranians are fed up with the status quo and are more willing to defy the government.
What is the status of the hijab issue today?
Hijab rules represent the government’s commitment to enforcing a strict form of Islamic law that many Iranians do not subscribe to. So, they’ve always been a source of controversy. Since the protests, the issue has been one of the most salient in Iran’s domestic politics. The government initially eased off enforcing these rules and adopted a carrot-and-stick approach: As the security forces cracked down on demonstrators, they looked the other way when it came to hijab infractions. Though this helped the government avoid more unrest, it left Iran’s hardliner leadership with a huge problem. Millions of Iranian women now see the hijab as a matter of personal choice, rather than state mandate. Non-compliance is commonplace.
Yet the government cannot permanently retreat on the hijab, a key pillar of its ideology. So, in the last few months, there has been a gradual crackdown: The morality police have returned, women are monitored for infractions, and a sweeping new hijab law is set to take effect next year. But ordinary Iranians are likely to resist this enforcement. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle.
How will these developments affect next year’s elections?
While Iran’s political system is authoritarian, Iranian elections have historically featured high turnout and vigorous participation. That changed in 2020-2021, however, as authorities barred reformists and moderates from participating, clearing the way for hardliner dominance. The result has been a decline in participation. Most Iranians now regard the country’s elections as a sham.
Iran’s leaders want higher participation in elections, since they provide a basis for the government’s claim to legitimacy. But the authorities won’t risk allowing reformists to compete, since doing so could threaten their own position. So, the odds of a more open, permissive election are pretty low. Iranians are unlikely to return to the polls if their only options are more hardliners.
Given broad dissatisfaction and frequent bouts of unrest, is the status quo sustainable?
It’s clear that a majority of Iranians are dissatisfied – corruption, inflation, the effects of climate change, and general oppression all feed into this sentiment. The leadership isn’t capable of solving these problems. That means that it will have to rely on suppressing dissent to remain in power. That’s not sustainable.
The Islamic Republic has a vast capacity for oppression. It has proven, time and again, that it is comfortable killing its own people in large numbers. That explains why there’s been little appetite to return to the streets: Why risk injury, arrest, and possible death if the chances of political change are so small?
That said, it’s important not to lose perspective. Changes to Iran’s political system are possible, particularly in the event of a shift in leadership at the top. Khamenei’s death, which could happen at any time, will lead to a succession crisis that could create space for changes, and possibly reforms, within the system. The Islamic Republic appears resilient, but there are numerous cracks in the façade. And just as the regime has shown its resilience, so too have the Iranian people illustrated a tenacious interest in securing greater freedoms. That’s a struggle that will persist long after the anniversary of Amini’s death.
Edited by Jonathan House, Senior Editor at Eurasia Group.
Hard Numbers: Kerala reacts to lethal virus outbreak, Brazil insurrectionists on trial U.S. inflation stays stubborn, uranium prices spike,
2: Two people in the southern Indian state of Kerala have died from the rare but highly-lethal Nipah virus, forcing authorities to declare a containment zone over 7 villages and shut down public schools and offices. One more adult and one child are currently hospitalized with confirmed infections, while 130 more have been tested for the disease. There is no cure or treatment for Nipah virus.
4: Today the first four supporters of Jair Bolsonaro go on trial for their actions during Brazil’s January 8th insurrection. Thousands of Bolsonaro’s supporters, outraged over his loss in the October election, stormed the capital city Brasília-- vandalizing the presidential palace, parliament, and the same supreme court where they stand trial today. The court condemned the rioter’s actions as an attack on Brazil’s democracy, and will hear the cases of two hundred more insurrectionists in the coming months.
3.7%: New US inflation data for August showed that U.S. households paid about 3.7% more for goods and services than they did a year ago. That’s up half a percentage point from the July reading and still well above the Federal Reserve’s 2% target. Most of the cost bump was fueled by higher energy prices, as Saudi Arabia and Russia recently cut oil production to boost global crude prices. The good news is that consumers continue to get relief on products besides food and energy, as so-called “core inflation” continued its 6-month downward trend.
30%: The benchmark price for uranium has soared 30% so far this year, as the transition away from fossil fuels continues to spark fresh interest in nuclear power. A pound of the radioactive stuff now costs $62, more than double what it was just five years ago. And you know who is loving the price spike? Russia, home to 40% of the world’s uranium refinement capacity.