One last shot at the Saudi crown prince?

One last shot at the Saudi crown prince?

Saudis got bad news this week: Their taxes are going up and the housing allowance the state provides for government employees will be cut. (Most Saudis work for the government.) The need for belt-tightening is obvious. Oil prices are less than half what they were a year ago, despite a new Saudi production cut meant to prop them up, and the coronavirus is having a big impact on the kingdom's economy. The state has ordered a full lockdown across the kingdom from May 23-27 at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.


This is also bad news for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler. His father, 84-year old King Salman, remains on the throne, but it's MBS who controls the kingdom's foreign and domestic policy. And it's MBS who bears responsibility when things go wrong.

The 34-year-old crown prince is known for three things: expensive foreign-policy failures, bold social reforms, and the iron fist he uses to defend both.

His mistakes abroad include a costly war in Yemen without positive result, a failure to contain Iran's regional influence, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the continuing damage it inflicts on the kingdom's reputation, and an oil price war with Russia that he had to abandon.

His domestic policy centers on his bold vision for the kingdom's future. To boost long-term economic potential, MBS has angered social conservatives by allowing women to drive, to move more freely in society and to join crowds that were once limited to men. He has also welcomed foreign cultural and sporting events into the country.

His iron fist has earned him many enemies. Since his father named him crown prince in 2017, MBS has ordered the detention (and public humiliation) of some of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the kingdom, some of them princes. In March, he upped the ante by moving against his cousin and former crown prince, Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, and Prince Ahmad bin Abdulaziz, the king's brother. These latest moves show two things: that the Crown Prince can still take bold action to try to further consolidate his authority over the royal family — and that he still feels he needs to.

Saudi Arabia is not in imminent economic danger, despite the austerity measures. Its wealth funds still hold more than $300 billion, and it can raise tens of billions more by selling shares in state-owned oil company Aramco. The Crown Prince himself still has his supporters, which include those who like his social reforms, especially young people, and those who hope to profit from the economic opportunities they create.

But this is still a crucial moment for the kingdom and its crown prince. The impact of the pandemic and low oil prices raise longer-term questions about the crown prince's grand economic plans and the future of Saudi prosperity. Some of his rivals within the family, especially those who fear that he will transform the kingdom in ways they hate, now face a sobering question:

Are they running out of chances to prevent this impetuous young man from becoming king?

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is the legacy of Colin Powell?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tragically died of complications of COVID-19. He was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first Black National Security Advisor and the first Black Secretary of State. And he leaves a legacy of a long career, dedicated almost entirely to public service.

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Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.

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5,600: Myanmar's military junta will release from prison 5,600 people who were jailed for protesting against last February's coup. The gesture, the first act of amnesty since the junta took power, comes just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which rarely interferes in members' internal affairs, said it would exclude the head of Myanmar's military from an upcoming regional meeting.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday, everybody. And a Quick Take for you. I wanted to talk a bit about Taiwan. I'll tell you, I've talked about it in the media over the last couple of weeks and almost every questioner has been trying to prod me towards, "are we heading to war?" Then I was with some friends at the Trilateral Commission on Friday. I like that group a lot. It's one of these groups that a lot of conspiracy theorists pretend secretly run the world, like the Bilderbergers and the Council on Foreign Relations. Now having attended all three, I can tell you, if they do run the world, they are not inviting me into the rooms where they're making those decisions. If they are doing that, they're also doing a lousy job of it.

Nonetheless, it was fun until I was on stage and the first question I got was about, "Hey, so the Chinese are changing the status quo. Do you think that means we're heading towards war?" I just want to say that, first of all, I am clearly less concerned about the imminence of confrontation and military conflict between the United States and China than almost anybody out there. Accidents are certainly possible, but particularly around Taiwan, where both sides know the stakes and have made them abundantly clear for decades now, and everyone involved gets it I think it's much less likely.

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Colin Powell's legacy

US Politics

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