Pakistan versus India: Nuclear powers by the numbers
India and Pakistan, two major nuclear powers, are facing their sharpest tensions in decades.
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India and Pakistan, two major nuclear powers, are facing their sharpest tensions in decades.
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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.
On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.
How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?
Tunisians are fed up. Over the past year, Tunisians have repeatedly taken to the streets in the largest numbers in a decade to decry the stagnant economy, rising inequality, inadequate public services, and dwindling job opportunities for young people (even before the pandemic, youth unemployment was already at 36 percent, the highest rate in North Africa.) Young Tunisians led the protests, often battling trigger-happy police.
COVID, of course, made everything worse. It crushed Tunisia's labor-intensive tourism industry, and forced thousands of Tunisian migrants to hop on boats across the Mediterranean headed for Europe via Italy, which saw a five-fold increase in arrivals in 2020. Right now, COVID infections rates are soaring while barely 7 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
More broadly, the people feel politicians remain as corrupt as they were under Ben Ali, and have failed to deliver on the promise of democracy to provide a better life for ordinary Tunisians. Trust in the system has plunged after highly fragmented parliaments have created a series of fragile coalition governments that slow-walk meaningful reforms, leaving the country in economic stagnation and a permanent political stalemate.
Constitutional crisis. Saied's sudden move has created a constitutional crisis because it's unclear he had the authority to dissolve the government on his own.
A former constitutional law professor who was elected as an independent in late 2019 to root out endemic corruption, the president says he's within his constitutional powers to govern by decree until he appoints a new PM. It's an unusually out-of-character performance by Saied, who styles himself as a moderate statesman and whom many Tunisians jokingly refer to as "Robocop" for putting audiences to sleep with his monotone delivery during speeches.
However, the moderate Islamist Ennadha party, as the largest force in parliament and the coalition government, insists it must nominate the next prime minister. (Ennadha — which was banned by Ben Ali for being inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood — won the 2014 and 2019 parliamentary elections, but both times fell short of an outright majority.)
The problem is that the separation of powers under Tunisia's mixed presidential-parliamentary system is somewhat confusing: just weeks ago, Saied and Mechichi were squabbling about who controls internal security amid the former's broader plans to reform the constitution. Interestingly, the constitution says a special court should resolve those disputes… but (surprise!) the executive and legislative powers still haven't agreed on how to set it up.
Next moves. Whether you think it's a power grab or a necessary intervention to address a crisis, Saied's action has captured the zeitgeist by moving against a political establishment that most Tunisians have long resented. However, it's hard to imagine how he will be able to govern once he restores parliament because he doesn't have a party of his own. As president, he controls the military, but the reformist Robocop would rather make Tunisian democracy work than become dictator of a police state.
At a minimum, the situation creates more urgency for Tunisia's politicians to fix a system that — imperfect as it may be — gives the people a lot more of a say than in any other country that experienced the Arab Spring.
Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:
As COVID-19 cases rise, are vaccine mandates coming?
Oh, you just want to get me in more trouble. Yeah, some mandates are coming, but they're not national mandates in the United States. In some cases, you're looking at federal and state employees, in some cases you're looking at lots of individual corporations, universities, and such. I mean I've already been to a number of events where vaccines have been mandated in New York. You've got this Excelsior Pass if you want to go to the Brooklyn Nets games, as I certainly do. You show it off and that gets you in with your vaccine. So I think it's really going to be a decentralized process. But clearly, given Delta variant and the number of people that are getting sick and dying because they're not vaccinated, you're going to see moves towards more mandates, as a consequence.
What's happening in Tunisia and how will it affect the broader region?
Well, massive unlimited employment, lots of corruption from the government and also COVID on top of all of that. And just, remember this was the one country that kind of successfully had a transition during the Arab Spring and didn't revert to authoritarianism. But it's a weak constitution, there's lots of open contestations in terms of what some of these rules really mean, who has power, what the separation of powers look like. And what ended up occurring was the president sacked the prime minister and suspended parliament and used the military in so doing. And it's absolutely unclear he has a constitutional mandate to do so. A lot of people demonstrating saying, this is awesome. A lot of people demonstrating saying this is illegal and a coupe. The United States in contact with the president and expressing both concern but also support in this early day. Economically these guys are in a lot of trouble and political stability kind of doesn't exist right now. So look, lots of countries around the world on the back of COVID going to experience much more political instability, Tunisia leading the pack in North Africa right now.
Are you watching the Olympics? What's your favorite event?
I've been watching a little bit of the Olympics, it is in Tokyo. I turned on the NBC coverage late evening the other day. Have to say my favorite event for Summer Olympics has to be the gymnastics. And it's really sad to see the United States unable to pull off the gold to the team that was formerly known as Russia, but has had their name suspended because of all of the doping. And very sad to see Simone Biles who is in a league of her own on planet have to pull out for medical reasons. But still I think the Olympics... I've always been a fan of the Olympics. I like anything that brings the world together and has us root for humanity. That's harder to find these days and any excuse we have, I'm all for it.
Castillo takes over in Peru: After almost two months of protests, baseless allegations of fraud from his rival in the runoff election, and even rumblings of a coup, Pedro Castillo will be sworn in as president of Peru on Wednesday. A former rural school-teacher famous for riding on horseback, wearing a cowboy hat and waving a giant pencil to show how much he cares about education, Castillo has big plans to achieve big change. But he won by just a razor-thin margin in a deeply divided country, and Peru's dysfunctional political system will likely hobble his attempts to get major legislation passed. Moreover, despite having moderated his positions, half of the country still sees him as a communist who might turn Peru into another Venezuela. Castillo's most immediate task is dealing with the twin crises of a deadly pandemic and a COVID-fueled economic crisis that has hit poor Peruvians — his base — the hardest.
Bosnian Serb boycott: Bosnian Serbs are threatening to paralyze the country's decision-making institutions over the UN peace envoy's plan to outlaw genocide denial. The envoy, who has broad executive powers under Bosnia's 1995 UN-brokered peace accord that he rarely uses, unilaterally amended the country's criminal code last week to mandate punishment for those who deny that Bosnian Serbs committed genocide and war crimes during the bloody conflict in the 1990s. (Bosnian Serbs often downplay the Srebrenica massacre, which killed 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, and celebrate their former leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, both sentenced to life in prison for genocide.) The threatened boycott is a big deal, because Bosnia's joint presidency, parliament and government — which Bosnian Serbs share with the country's Muslims and Croats — rely on participation from all three ethnicities, and there's no easy way out of this mess.Haiti's assassination probe continues: Haitian police have arrested the head of Jovenel Moïse's security detail on suspicions he was involved in the July 7 presidential assassination. So far, more than two dozen suspects have been detained, including 18 former Colombian soldiers, but we still don't know who killed Haiti's president. Right now, the most plausible theory is that wealthy Haitians living outside the country — including a Florida-based doctor with presidential ambitions of his own — hired Colombian mercenaries to take out Moïse because he wanted to break a corrupt elite's grip on power in Haiti. Meanwhile, the country remains without a head of state and in total chaos. The Biden administration has rebuffed the Haitian government's request to send in US troops to restore order, and newly appointed Prime Minister Ariel Henry has a lot of work to do before Haiti is ready for another presidential election.
13: The two Koreas have restored their communication hotline almost 13 months after Pyongyang abruptly cut it in response to Seoul not doing enough to prevent North Korean defectors from sending propaganda leaflets across the shared border. The hotline was established in 2018 following a historic meeting between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
5: Five police officers were killed in a rare shootout between cops from two neighboring states at a contested area in northeastern India. Tensions have been rising recently over a long-simmering border dispute between Assam and Mizoram (Mizoram used to be part of Assam until it became its own state in 1987).
3: Three nephews of President Emomali Rahmon reportedly beat up Tajikistan's health minister and a senior doctor after their mother, Emomali's sister, died from COVID last week. Tajikistan only recently admitted coronavirus infections after months of denying the pandemic's existence and even now insists it has the situation under control, despite rising cases and deaths.
2: Two lawmakers in Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) have been arrested and charged with terrorism after speaking out in favor of democracy in Africa's last absolute monarchy. Dozens of people have been killed in rare anti-royal protests in the country, where demonstrators resent how King Mswati III spends lavishly while most people live in poverty.
Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.
Today — what's the smallest country (by population) to win a gold medal in a summer Olympics?
The island nation (population 63,000) erupted in joy on Tuesday when Flora Duffy won the women's triathlon in Tokyo. She smoked her rivals by finishing over a minute ahead of the second-place finisher.
"I think the whole of Bermuda is going crazy," said the 33-year-old Duffy, who as a teenager turned down the opportunity to compete for the UK, the former colonial power.
Fun fact #1: The 51-km (31.7-mile) triathlon event course is longer than the distance from end to end of Bermuda.Fun fact #2: The least populated country to win gold at a winter Olympics is... Liechtenstein in 1980 (current population 39,000).
Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:
Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.
So, a controversial and unpopular opinion from me, I think we should legally mandate vaccines. Unless you have a legitimate medical reason, let's make it the law. I understand a lot of you are not going to agree with me. I see no one in the government is willing to make this argument right now, Democrat or Republican. But I'm neither, and my mom wouldn't be happy if I was only saying stuff to everybody that you already agree with, so let me try to lay out this argument.
We have tried convincing people. We've tried cajoling, we've tried education campaigns, we've used the media, we've used government, we've used the doctors, we've used the scientists, we've done lotteries, we've done free MetroCards, and still, we're talking about 50% of the country that is fully vaccinated right now. We are awash in vaccines as Africa, a billion plus people, only 1% of the continent has been vaccinated fully. In the United States, people won't take them. We are not where we need to be. Furthermore, we've already been passed in vaccination rates by Canada, by the United Kingdom, and in the next few weeks, we'll be passed by fully vaccinated people in the European Union as well. Despite the fact that the United States has by far the biggest initial advantage in getting these vaccines produced and distributed.
It is political division in this country, it's disinformation, it's stupidity. It's a lot of people saying no and then getting dug in and refusing to listen to facts in an environment that is increasingly tribal. It's us versus them much more so than in any other advanced industrial economy in the world. Big numbers. A majority of people that say that they're not going to get vaccinated at this point in the United States, say that they believe that the vaccine will implant a microchip into your body. This is insanity. This is not something we should be presenting two sides of an argument. There isn't two sides. There's one side and there are a bunch of people that refuse to actually listen to facts.
I think that part of this is because Democrats and Republicans both find it valuable to be sniping at each other on every single issue. Part of it is that a small number of dishonest brokers can make themselves famous and money by pushing conspiracy theories and fake news. And part of it, is the ineffectiveness of social media in taking down this information because it drives more clicks and more eyeballs. The arguments are getting stupider. Mask mandates are getting caught up in all of this as well. I saw Dr. Fauci coming up and saying, "We don't need masks." Initially, because he was worried that there wouldn't be enough for everybody. He lied to the public. Didn't mislead, lied. And he did it for what he thought were good reasons, but undermined the science, undermine his credibility. I personally think that was indefensible by Dr. Fauci at the time. Now I hear him saying, "You're either getting vaccinated or you're going to get the disease, but also that we still need to wear masks." Which is it?
It's increasingly getting impossible to convince people that there is a scientific side of this argument that is correct. The "gotcha" politics have just made people go with their political team, their political side, and increasingly not know who to believe. I have to say, I don't like taking away people's liberties under any circumstances. I support gun rights, I support free speech, I support legalization of marijuana, gay marriage, you name it. But here, we are talking about saving tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands of additional lives in the United States. We've lost over 600,000 people in large part because we didn't have vaccines.
But going forward, anyone we lose is due to stupidity. It's due to political failure of our government, of our leaders. Not only that, but absent getting vaccines to everybody, millions of livelihoods are going to be affected because you're going to have more social distancing, and you're going to have more calls for a lockdown. You're going to have a stop-start, stop-start economy, which is problematic, particularly for those that are the poorest. Now, I want to be clear. I'm not talking about sending people to jail. A fine would work. It's like buckling up. You do it or you get fined. It's an imposition, yes. It's the government telling you what to do. A lot of people won't feel like it, but most people buckle up as a consequence, even if you think that it's an imposition on your liberties. I do believe that we are so divided right now, that carrots by themselves aren't going to work. We need some level of stick.
Is this authoritarian? Is it one step away from Hitler? I've seen people respond with crazy stuff because of course it's social media, and so that's what you need to do, is respond with crazy stuff. No. No. In fact, vaccine mandates and fines are American history. We've done it before with the smallpox vaccine. It was mandated after an epidemic. And an anti-vaxxer took the US government to court and the Supreme Court ruled on it in 1905. Jacobson vs. Massachusetts and the US Supreme Court, Democratic country, what did it say? It concluded that states can require vaccine via mandate, accompanied by a criminal fine. There you go. This is not something that is a slow step towards authoritarianism.
I also want to say that after 9/11, we took away liberties. We took away a lot of liberties. We spent billions and billions of dollars in the United States. I'm not just talking about the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I, you, can't get on a plane without taking off our shoes, our belt, our outer jacket, get all the metal out of our pockets, a full scan, arms over your head, take a look at us naked! Unless, you want to do a TSA PreCheck that gives all your info to the government, and then you can keep your shoes on. Awesome, right? How about the PATRIOT Act? Huge amounts of intrusion passed after 9/11. Because of national security, we've got all these surveillance laws, and now it's much easier for the government to spy on ordinary Americans by expanding their ability to get phone and email communications, to get your bank and credit card reports. We did that, so that 9/11 wouldn't happen again. We did that to save what we believe would be a few thousand lives in the United States from terrorism.
I understand why we did that at the time, and I understand why the entire country came together to support it, even though I believe that there were excesses, even though I believe that we spent too much, and then we went too far in taking away American liberties at the time. But I understand why we did. Today, this country is so divided that I don't think we could pass a seatbelt law. There's too much stupidity in just the political tribalism.
And so, if no one else is going to say it, I'm going to say it. I believe that saving those tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of lives is worth a vaccine mandate. Let's get it done, and as a consequence, let's save some lives in the United States. Thanks. Sorry to be a little annoying about all of this. We'll see what you have to say. I'll see all of you real soon.
24-year-old Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate recounts how in 2020 she was cropped out of a photo at Davos of her with other white climate activists (like Greta Thunberg) and what it revealed about how people of color and people in developing countries, like those in Africa, are frequently excluded from the climate conversation.
Watch the episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks